The Confession by Jo Spain

the confessionUltra-rich Harry McNamara is viciously beaten nearly to death in his house by a perpetrator who doesn’t even know him, and his wife Julie witnesses the whole thing with barely a flinch.

J. P. Carney, Harry’s assailant, turns himself in the following day, so you know who did it from early on in the book.

It’s not that Harry didn’t have enemies.  A high level banking wiz during Ireland’s boom years, Harry led a charmed existence, making deals over and under the table.  After the financial crash of 2008, he went through a highly publicized trial for bank fraud and managed to avoid any charges.

So, Harry and Julie are one lucky rich couple – that is, until his assailant puts him into the hospital with a golf club.

Through backstories, the author fleshes out Julie and J. P., and another storyline follows Detective Alice Moody and her investigation.  Moody is interesting, a physically large person who is extremely diligent at her job and quick for verbal banter with her boss.  Her interactions with Sargent Gallagher add some bawdy humor into the book (spoiler – lots of Irish-isms, but it didn’t bother me).

When reading J. P.’s personal background, the author creates him as a sympathetic person who has gotten the raw deal on practically everything.  One almost can see his chief motive behind the attack as that of resentment of Harry and his kind – the high rollers who played with Ireland’s economic boom and then left the country in shambles afterward.  Of course, there’s something much more personal than that.

Julie is…well, interesting.  A country girl originally, she falls for Harry early on and rides her good fortune with ease, but sees the cracks in Harry’s façade long before his would-be fall from grace.  There’s also much that Julie doesn’t say at the beginning that the narrative teases out of her.

To put it bluntly (no pun intended) The Confession is a gripping page turner, definitively for fans of thrillers who have an interest in the recent history of Ireland, particularly the crazy years of the Celtic Tiger and the aftermath.

(William Hicks, Information Services)


Himself : A Novel by Jess Kidd

HimselfThe circumstances of truth and the supernatural turn a small Irish town on its ear when a stranger arrives to town wanting answers.

Mahony, a youngish man of long hair and fine looks, comes calling from Dublin in the spring of 1976 and ingratiates himself among the locals of Mulderrig, a town at the end of nowhere.  He takes a room at the town’s dilapidated bed and breakfast and makes fast friends with one Merle Cauley, an elderly ex-actress who has been living at the B & B for eons.  She picks up quickly on Mahony’s talents, not just as a charmer, but as one who can see and converse with the dead.

Mahony’s visit is a homecoming of sorts – it seems that his mother was the town shame,  an errant teenager from years ago who had him out-of-wedlock, and then promptly disappeared.  Mahony then grew up in a Dublin orphanage, and had no connection of her other than a tattered photograph that he recently got from a priest associated with the orphanage.

As Mahony and Mrs. Cauley pry for clues about his mother, it’s soon apparent that someone wishes they wouldn’t pry so much.  Certain villagers, initially friendly, are not so much anymore, and an occasional unnerving happening is enough for the two to hesitate with their search.

But the dead are becoming more vivid to Mahony, and some of them need their stories told.

Himself is a murder mystery in places, a picaresque lark in others.  Amidst the scary elements there is sheer glee.  The book itself is a laughing finger pointed at small town life, where the fear of the unknown mixed with dark secrets propel all involved to an uneasy future, and perhaps some sort of redemption.

Kidd’s ghosts are playful, bawdy, and profane, a sort of Greek chorus to their living counterparts.  Most say very little; it’s in their actions where the humor kicks in.

There are lots of shifts in time and narration, so be prepared for this.  Aside from these quirks, and lots of Irishisms in the dialogue, Himself is a rollicking book.

(William Hicks, Information Services)


Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica

Quinn wakes up to find that her roommate, Esther, is not in their apartment.  In spite ofdon't you cry the cold weather, the door leading from Esther’s room to the fire escape is open, and Esther’s phone is still in the apartment.

As hours go by without Esther’s return, Quinn becomes more and more concerned.  Surely, she thinks, Esther would have left a note explaining her unusual behavior.  Quinn eventually calls the bookstore where Esther works; she did not show up for her shift.  Again, this is totally out of character for Esther.  Quinn contacts the police, who assure her that adults who go missing will eventually return on their own.  Esther does not.  Quinn searches the apartment, desperately seeking clues to Esther’s disappearance.  Her findings eventually lead Quinn to rethink everything she’d thought she knew about Esther.

Meanwhile, in a small town some miles from the apartment, Alex, a young man working as a dishwasher in a coffee shop, is intrigued by a beautiful young woman who enters the shop.  It isn’t tourist season, and few strangers enter the shop at this time of year.  Why is she in town?  Who is she?  He fantasizes that she might become his girlfriend, but the better he gets to know her, the stranger she seems.

This novel, after a rather slow start, gradually becomes more and more suspenseful.  Stick with it; you’ll be glad you did!

Mary Kubica wrote the bestselling novels The Good Girl and Pretty Baby.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

Undertow by Elizabeth Heathcote

undertowZena Johnson is beautiful, charming, and driven – and beguiling enough to separate Tom, a successful lawyer, from his wife and children.  After his divorce, Tom and Zena buy a cottage on the eastern coast of England, and seemingly have a perfect setup.  Or do they?

Several months later, Zena, a determined swimmer since childhood, goes for an evening swim in the ocean and doesn’t return.  A mother with her child and dog find Zena’s body washed up on a beach a few days later.

Tom remarries, this time to Carmen, and doesn’t tell her everything about this chapter of his past life.  As such, Carmen begins to have doubts about their supposedly idyllic relationship, particularly when she notices Tom’s peculiar behavior; behind his calm lawyer demeanor is an unpleasant temper.

Carmen delves into Tom’s past with as much secrecy as she can muster, and what she finds gets increasingly unnerving.  And Zena, dead for three years, haunts Carmen’s dreams and thoughts.

Undertow brings the Rebecca motif into the modern age.  Tense and nervy, the book will have you doubting Carmen’s sanity as she skirts danger and finds help from some unlikely sources.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

The Life We Bury by Allan Eskens

the-life-we-buryJoe Talbert is a college student with more on his plate than most.  Besides working and classes, he has an autistic younger brother and an abusive alcoholic mother.  Joe lives a couple of hours from home, and periodically drives there to sort out troubles with his family.

Joe is having a hard time with an English assignment, in which he is to interview and write a biography about someone.  One of the places he considers for material is a nearby nursing home.  Most of the residents there suffer from dementia, but one recent one, a Vietnam veteran, appears to be an apt candidate.

Carl Iverson is getting older, but he isn’t in this nursing home for the age factor.  He’s been serving a lifetime prison sentence for the rape and murder of a fourteen year old girl in 1980, and has been paroled here, as he is dying of cancer.  Carl is still lucid, though, and once he warms up to Joe, there’s a long story to tell, with more to it than a convenient conviction and thirty years of jail time.

Joe gets into the case more than he should, with help from the young lady down the hall.  Lila is elusive at the beginning but makes friends with Joe’s brother Jeremy, who is staying temporarily at Joe’s apartment during an absence of their mother.  As the two delve into old court records and Joe talks to an old friend of Carl’s, they find startling truths about Carl and the reality of the case, and tread some dangerous territories.

The Life We Bury got good reviews when it came out a few years back.  I found it an enjoyable thriller, sort of written in young adult mode, but considering the main character, this seemed appropriate.  Joe is older than his years, but naive in some respects.  He does impulsive things, has anger issues (take his home life into perspective), and gets himself into very bad situations without thinking things through.  He also has a good heart and wants a future for both himself and his brother.

A cold case, family dysfunction, and a noble-meaning but flawed young hero – what more could you want to start out 2017?

The author has two newer books that have both gotten good reviews –  The Guise of Another and The Heavens May Fall.

(William Hicks, Information Services)


A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

fatal-graceCC de Poitiers, eager to push her personal philosophies of mind and style, manages to antagonize everyone in her path.  The list of those slighted by CC is great, and she does nothing to ingratiate herself to her adopted town of Three Pines, an isolated bucolic place somewhere in the eastern townships of Quebec.

CC dies in a freak electrocution during a curling event on one of the coldest days of the year.  In the wake of her death, it’s up to Armand Gamache, Chief Inspector of the Sûreté du Québec homicide division, to comb through the complications of this case.  As he does, Gamache is also working on a different incident as a courtesy to another department, and the two cases become intertwined.

As the temperatures drop down to the sub zeros, the intrigue heats up, and the congenial residents of Three Pines find themselves suspecting the worse in others.  Thankfully, the body count is limited, if not the snowfall.

Louise Penny writes intelligent, chatty whodunits in which good food and camaraderie take first place before sheer gore.  To be sure, there are murders and mystery in her books, in addition to some dastardly villains, but she always maintains a strong sense of decency in her usual cast of characters, even as she plumbs their past.  Even the best have their dark secrets.

I read the first in this series (Still Life) over three years ago, and then skipped to some of the later ones.  An ardent fan of her books exhorted me to go back and read the earlier ones, of which Fatal Grace is the second.  And yes, even though I cheated and read ahead, I still plan to fill in the blanks.

And by the way, Penny’s got a new one out – A Great Reckoning.  Go ahead and read it if you’ve been good and read all the rest.

(William Hicks, Information Services)