Review: Kathy Reichs – Temperance Brennan Series (books 1-8)

Temperance Brennan Series (books 1-8)
Kathy Reichs

“Dr. Temperance “Tempe” Brennan is a forensic anthropologist, who investigates human remains at crime scenes where the flesh is too degraded for a coroner to obtain evidence (victims of arson, mutilation, advanced decomposition, etc.). She is a native of the Carolinas and one of only fifty board-certified forensic anthropologists in North America.”

Let’s hear it for a middle-aged, moderately attractive, highly skilled scientist. One of the best parts about these novels is that Tempe is highly flawed and quite relatable. I love the science that is inherent in everything she does, and I have a morbid interest in death in all its forms!

Let it be said that the only reason I decided to read these is because I enjoyed the TV series “Bones”. The reason I stopped watching Bones is very much like the reason I stopped reading these – they became repetitive. I mean sure, it’s a different victim and a different death measure, but overall the theme is the same. Temperance always catches the bad guy, and her sidekicks are always telling her she knows nothing.

These did make good retelling stories when asked to fill a silence in the car! My only problem was that I wasn’t sure how much of it was likely or true. For example, there is a case where the victim has been removed from Mt Everest in an icey form! There is a ‘Death Zone’ which is just colourful from all the jackets of people who have frozen to death there… Likely? Maybe (yes it is, and you can check out this link for more!).

I’ll give these 3-4 stars – once I started each novel, I had a compulsive need to keep reading it, but I wouldn’t go and reread them now that I know who the bad guy is!

Review: Catherine Ryan Howard – 56 Days

56 Days
Catherine Ryan Howard

Ciara and Oliver bump together in a seemingly-innocuous moment of time – both waiting to buy their lunch. Ciara seems shy, and is surprised that Oliver would pay her any attention. Oliver is worried about getting her attention, but it’s not clear why. When lockdown against COVID-19 occurs, Oliver invites Ciara to move in with him. 56 days later, there’s a body in Oliver’s apartment.

This was gripping! For a while, I wasn’t even sure which character was the one who had ended up dead. I was even vaguely hoping that it was a total stranger dead in there, but then I noticed the blurb, and that ruined it for me. So trust me, just pick up the book and read it, don’t read the blurb. I stayed up late and got told off – but I just needed to know what happened next!

This novel keeps twisting, but not in a way that is at all predictable. You think that you know everything about all three of the perspectives, but it turns out that 2/3 of them are only telling the reader a partial truth. I had forgotten how much I can enjoy an unreliable narrator when it’s a three-perspective novel (even though normally multiple perspectives isn’t my thing).

I’m absolutely raving about this novel. Go out and buy it. You’d think that a novel set in our current pandemic would be depressing or gloomy, but instead we see people making the most of the opportunities they have – even if it might be to get away with murder. I’ll be interested to see crime patterns in the real world in years to come too!

I can’t wait to unleash this book on others in my life. I’m going to make sure they don’t read anything about it first, and go in blind. Then I’m going to pick their brain at each step to see if they can work out the TRUTH. It won’t be quite as good as a reread for me, but I think it’s still worth it. 5 stars from me.

Allen & Unwin | 5th January 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Catherine Steadman – Mr Nobody

Mr Nobody
Catherine Steadman

Dr Emma Lewis is a specialist in memory loss and brain damage. Perhaps it comes from her own past, a man who did something terrible and a memory Emma couldn’t forget. Mr Nobody has no memories of his own, but he knows things about Emma that he shouldn’t know.

There is a beautiful slow pacing in the first half of the novel which potentially could be considered glacially slow if you prefer a novel with a bit more action. I wasn’t in a hurry because I’d only brought one book! I enjoyed the perspectives, although I felt like there was perhaps too much insight into each of their minds. I also didn’t really ‘need’ all of the characters. For example, the nurse wasn’t that necessary.

The ending to this one was a bit of a twist, but not quite as twisty as I thought? I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Honestly, after all the build up I thought something exciting might happen in the final pages. I was wrong, and it made me sad. It seemed like Emma had given up (something nebulous that I’m not going to say because it’ll spoil the book).

Thanks to COVID-19 I’m more than a year behind on reviewing this novel. With all the bad stuff that was/is happening in the world I couldn’t face a thriller. This is worthy of three stars – 4 from the beginning and 2 for the ending! If you want a gripping crime go check out Before Her Eyes.

Simon & Schuster | 1 February 2020 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Brad Parks – Closer Than You Know

Closer Than You Know
Brad Parks

Melanie aged out of the Foster Care system and is determined to never be like her parents for her own son. When she arrives to pick up her son from childcare, she finds herself being reported and jailed for domestic disturbance and an unknown drug charge. In the pages that follow, Melanie cannot defend her innocence,

This novel is told from the perspectives of Melanie (the accused ‘Drug Mom’) and Amy (the prosecutor), with interjections from the whispering rapist. The perspectives felt noticeably different while I was reading them, and their interactions felt real. I would have liked to be able to identify the rapist myself, as in other novels (Before Your Eyes), but that is a minor complaint. I could feel Melanie’s anguish at the same time as I saw things from Amy’s frustrated perspective.

I didn’t pick up this novel for almost a year because I thought it would be focused on the problems with the Foster Care system. Instead, despite the blurb, I found this to be a fast-paced thriller, even if it wasn’t totally psychological – it was more about how some disasters can’t be prevented, and that sometimes you just have to trust other people to have your back. I also learnt an interesting fact that prisons will let you keep your underwear (at least in Virginia), so if you’re going to be arrested, make sure you are wearing plenty of pairs so that you can use your own underwear. YMMV (pun intended)

When I was 3/4 of my way into this novel, I thought to myself that the ending would either make or break it. Thankfully the ending was really quite satisfactory, if not quite creepy enough for me. I felt that the ending really wrapped up a bit too quickly for me, as I wanted a little more information about Marcus (ew). How did the reader not see that coming? Or was it just me in the dark… 4 stars from me.

Allen & Unwin | 28th March 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Cecily Gayford (Ed) – A Very Murderous Christmas

Christmas should be a time of joy and family. In these 10 crime short stories written by the best classic crime writers Christmas becomes a time of murder and mayhem instead. Well… as long as you are in the Northern Hemisphere and have a snowy Christmas.

So I’m not usually one for crime novels, and you wouldn’t expect me to enjoy a set of crime short stories. However, I’m in a bit of a reading slump at the moment, and I figured what would it hurt if I read it? As I have always said, short stories are a good way of working out whether you want to read more by a specific author.

The Man with the Sack by Margery Allingham – Nifty! I actually rather liked this one. I’m not sure it was the right short story to start the volume though, not enough oomph.

The Adventure of the Red Widow by Adrian Conan Doyle and John Dickson Carr – I was underwhelmed by this one. I know that Sherlock Holmes is the namesake of crime (along with Agatha Christie), but I didn’t really enjoy the writing style and I would have preferred more clues so I could solve it myself.

Camberwell Crackers by Anthony Horowitz – This was a good one! I find it interesting how so often the ‘bad guy’ briefly exposes themselves with a look, but the detective isn’t sure what to make of it. 

The Flying Stars by GK Chesterton – Eh, average.

A Problem in White by Nicholas Blake – I could have liked this one because it offered me the clues to solve the ‘whodunnit’ by myself. However, I was irritated by the way the different characters were referred to by their types and therefore that I couldn’t always follow who was who.

Loopy by Ruth Rendell – This was an interesting premise, but so loopy 😉 that it didn’t work for me.

Morse’s Greatest Mystery by Colin Dexter – Average. I hardly remember what it was about, and I only just read it!

The Jar of Ginger by Gladys Mitchell – I was keen to read this one from the name. However, it didn’t actually play out the way I expected it to. What kind of ginger was it exactly? Crystalised ginger? I expected powdered ginger.

Rumpole and the Old Familiar Faces by John Mortimer – This actually had a lot in common with one of the other stories (The Man with the Sack) and so didn’t offer much new.

The Problem of Santa’s Lighthouse by Edward Hoch – This one was ok, but I would have liked some more clues so I could solve it for myself.

Overall this set of short stories was rather underwhelming. I’ll still give it 3 stars, but I feel that your reading time could be spent better elsewhere.

Allen & Unwin | 28th November 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Jack Jordan – Before Her Eyes

Before Her Eyes
Jack Jordan

Naomi Hannah has been blind since birth, abandoned in a bus shelter and brought up in a loving family. She’s always felt alone, but at least safe in her little town. When she stumbles across a body in an alley, and the murderer caresses her, it starts a chain of reactions that steadily get more sinister. Who is leaving her alive at each crime scene, and why?

This novel put the creepy factor up high right from the beginning and it only got worse (or better?)! This is a true psychological thriller that caused me to shiver and make sure I had a good grip on myself (and my stomach). Some of the passages when Naomi were alone almost took my breath away.

Oh, the ending was perfect! I read the novel at a frantic pace for about two hours straight, holding out for an ending that would be satisfying and amazing. And it was everything I could have hoped for. Even possibly more than I could have hoped for. Go read it for yourself already!

This could have simply been a thriller and I would have enjoyed it, but having a disabled, black woman as the protagonist warmed this novel up from another run of the mill (but very good) crime novel to a great one with a diverse range of characters. Her unique perspective put me literally into her shoes. However, I could have had more insight into Lisa as the eventual explanation of her character didn’t exactly ring true for me.

Having finished the novel I can say that it was a totally engrossing read. Since I’ve read it, and I know the thrilling ending now I don’t think I’d reread it. But I think that if you’re a psychological thriller lover you are going to really enjoy this novel. 4 stars from me.

Allen & Unwin | 12th September 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Bernard Schaffer – The Thief of Light

The Thief of Light
Bernard Schaffer

Carrie is a rookie cop determined to become a Detective. Imagine her delight when it looks like a serial killer is once again on the loose in her tiny township. Assisted by the grumpy Chief Bill Waylon and the tortured Jacob Rein, can Carrie find the killer in time?

I’m surprised they managed to catch the killer as they were so busy swearing at each other and cracking stupid jokes. I never got Carrie’s motivation for being a cop and her naivety and bright-eyed shine weren’t authentic. It seemed to me that there was a huge focus on the previous child serial killer, but I struggled to work out what the gory details really were.

It swapped unpredictably through the perspectives and I don’t get why that was useful. I didn’t get any additional insight from the Chief. The only one that was useful was from Rein, that dark tortured soul that the book’s worth rides on! Otherwise Carrie’s inauthentic babbling would have done the job.

It was tense but I lost hope early on. I fully expected more deaths to take place. 3 deaths wasn’t nearly enough. The ending was a let down. All that chasing and it turns out to be the 2nd person they tried. I expected more. I knew everyone would survive.

I just noticed that this is the first book in a series with Rein. I wouldn’t expect Rein to feature again – after all he’s lost an important appendage! I wouldn’t be averse to reading another novel by this author, I’m just not sure I can put up with Carrie being so bright and bubbly (and insensitive in her own way).

3 stars from me. If you’re looking for serial killers, try Find You in the Dark or the Kendra novels.

Penguin Random House | 20th August 2018 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Janet Evanovich – Stephanie Plum series

Stephanie Plum series
Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum is a terrible daughter, neighbour and employee. Most of these qualities are due to the fact that she’s employed as a bounty hunter for bail jumpers – but leaves her cell phone flat and her gun in the cookie jar. This lovable/hateable unlikely heroine regularly finds herself being shot at but with the help of her love interests Morelli the cop and Ranger the sexy beast, and her ex-ho friend Lula she’ll live to fight another day.

You don’t need to have read the first novel in the series. You don’t need to have read any of the series in the middle to the novel you’ve gotten your hands on! Evanovich sets the scene of Stephanie very simply at the beginning of every novel. In the past, I read Turbo Twenty-Three without having touched the novels before! I read 5 or so of these in a row before I couldn’t take anymore.

Steph is so clueless, and the jokes so stupid and the badguys so unbelievable it just makes you laugh the whole way through. The novels are set up in such a way that the reader can predict the ending but Steph is left wandering around in the dark (literally, half the time). When she got the dog, Bob, the funniest moments were when he ate too much and she took him to poop on her arch-nemesis’ front lawn. So I’m not immune to toilet humour, sue me. I can’t believe they made this into a movie! I fear for my eyeballs.

This is just like the Mercedes Thompson novels I just read! A cruisy light read that encourages your brain to switch off for vacation time. However, the plot and execution of the Mercedes Thompson series is more my style in the end (also, there is 25+ novels in that series!).

I’ll be giving three stars to this harmless crime-romance series. Just don’t read too many in a row or your brain may fall out from Steph’s sheer stupidity.

Review: Nathan Ripley – Find You in the Dark

Find You in the Dark
Nathan Ripley

Martin has a slightly disturbing hobby of hunting down the missing bodies of women hidden by serial killers. Not to mention that he is married to a woman who’s sister’s body was never found. When his informant suddenly starts wanting recognition and threatens blackmail, Martin decides to give up his hobby. But it’s too late – someone else has recognised him and they want him to escalate his behaviour to killing.

This book was entrancing and meaty and I lost quite a lot of my day to it! This novel had just the right edge to it in terms of creepiness. I found myself drinking it in in small sittings because I had to process what had just happened. It kept me awake thinking about it. It raises questions – do serial killers always act on their urges? Is it something you can treat?

The use of several perspectives made this novel had me sitting on the edge of my seat. The author got it just right with my sympathy for the main character so that I never suspected or interpreted him as a dangerous creep. That poor detective! Sandra’s instincts are awesome, but Martin is just too smart. Sometimes I felt like her brain and analytical nature was overplayed, particularly in her relationship with Chris.

Go get your sneaky hands on this novel and let it keep you up late at night. It’s going to have to wanting to double check your doors are locked and that you brought something in your handbag to ward off attackers.

Text Publishing | 2nd April 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review update: 13 December 2021 – Woah. I couldn’t remember the end of this, and man, it was creepy! I couldn’t put it down! So three years later and I’m still giving it 5 stars. I had forgotten how thoughtprovoking it was – are serial killers nature or nurture? Can they ignore their instincts for the greater good?

Review: Chris Carter – Gallery of the Dead

Gallery of the Dead
Chris Carter

Hunter is known to be brilliant at psychological evaluations and getting inside the Killer’s mind. With a new killer on the loose that seems to be creating fantastically horrible art with his victims, will Hunter be able to stop them before he creates a whole series?

Keep in mind that I have not read any of the first 8 books in this series. Thus I think I was missing some background information that could have been useful in helping me interpret Hunter’s particular personality traits. This was less about his ability to read criminal minds, and more about his ability to interpret weird clues. In the end though, the solution was pretty simple, and didn’t really need that much fancy interpretation. Try any of the Kendra novels or Sanderson’s Legion instead for that.

Again, my problem with this ‘Thriller’ / Detective novel was that I wasn’t given enough information to work things out for myself. I’m all for an insight into the perp’s brain (think The Admirer), but I need it with some suspense and fear for the main character as well. I had this problem with Corpselight and The Fix as well, and would make the suggestion of Name of the Devil or babydoll instead. There are so many other better options out there that I have read!

I finished reading this novel, but I think I wouldn’t have necessarily started (and finished) it on the same day it arrived had I known the ending. It was in the end a lot of flopping around during the text with no suspense. Also, a couple more victims would have been interesting. Morbid as that sounds, it IS just a novel. I wanted to know what other things The Artist might have done, given time. Did he want to collect a whole series of focal pieces?

I’m giving it 3 stars because of that relatively simple ending and lack of suspense. Also, all I seem to have done in this review is compare it to other novels, and that’s never a good sign for the uniqueness of the plot.

Simon and Schuster | February 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review update: 7th December 2021 – I actually had forgotten that I only gave this novel 3 stars! I find it interesting that I came up with different complaints about the storyline this time. What I found was that there were too many unimportan details and telling me about information, rather than showing me. I also still experienced frustration that I couldn’t work out who the bad guy was!