Fatal by John Lescroart

fatalThe main character in this fast-paced thriller is a likeable cop named Beth.  Beth’s close friend Kate tells her that she’s become obsessed with a man whom she and her husband met at a dinner.  Although she doesn’t even remember his name, she is determined to have sex with him.  Beth, who’s investigated plenty of crimes involving adultery, urges Kate not to act on her fantasy, since this is the sort of thing that ruins lives.

However, Kate wastes little time in getting the man’s name and contact information and luring him into a sexual escapade with long-lasting negative consequences.

Later, during a murder investigation, the victim’s friends tell Beth that everyone loved the victim – surely, no one had any motive to kill him.  However, Beth discovers that his behavior changed radically near the end of his life.  Now the list of people with possible motives to kill him is almost endless, and the police face a very difficult task.

Another plot involves a terrorist attack that injures two of the book’s characters.

Reviewers praise Lescroart, who wrote eighteen bestsellers previous to this one, for his character-driven fiction.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

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Coffin Road by Peter May

coffin roadImagine nearly drowning, and then not knowing who you are.

That is the fate of our main character, a man who is seen staggering onto the shore of the island of Harris in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.  Luckily, his landlady recognizes him, as does his dog, and the married couple living close by.  The wife apparently knows him much more closely than the others.

The only link to his past that he recognizes is a map of the island showing a trek through the mountains that the locals call Coffin Road.  When he hikes up there, there is something there that triggers memories.

Meanwhile, there’s an investigation into a murder on one of the Flannan Isles north-west of Harris.  As things progress, it seems that our amnesiac, identified as Neal Maclean, has been writing a book about the disappearance of the three lighthouse keepers from the Flannans over a hundred years ago, and he is known for making regular boat trips to the islands.

The third story thread concerns Karen Fleming, a rebellious teenager in Edinburgh who is still not herself two years after her father’s suicide.  As she finds out more from her godfather and confronts her mother, Karen becomes convinced that her father is still alive, although at what cost will there be to see and speak to him again?

Although the book starts out slow (as it might for anybody stumbling and disoriented out of the rough ocean), the pace soon picks up as the other storylines begin, and a strong sinister undertone will goad you into reading past bedtime.  There is also an underpinning environmental issue that will give the reader something to consider.

Peter May has been a prolific writer of television and crime fiction.  I read his Lewis Trilogy over the past few years and liked them very much.  Coffin Road, a standalone book, albeit one with a few repeat characters from the Lewis Trilogy, continues his fine evocation of the sea and terrain that make up the wild islands of western Scotland.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

 

 

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

marsh kings daughterJacob Holbrook breaks out of prison and kills two guards doing so.  Helena Pelletier hears this chilling news on the radio as she is driving her younger daughter home.

Jacob Holbrook is her father, a sociopathic recluse who kidnapped her mother at the age of fourteen and took her to a remote cabin hidden in an impenetrable marshland in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Helena was their child, born two years later.

As she grew up, Helena revered her father for his knowledge of the wild, and feared his unpredictable ire.  He would teach her valuable lessons about survival, and then viciously punish her for minor mistakes.

Her mother was not of much support initially to Helena – she had learned early on to keep her feelings hidden.

It is in remembering this brutal childhood that Helena understands the danger Jacob poses to her husband and children, and she is set on intercepting her father before he harms her family.

The Marsh King’s Daughter mixes Helena’s memories of her childhood and eventual escape to her present day dilemma, where Helena has to best her old man at his own game.  The book is a psychological exploration of 1) depravity, 2) the difficulties of adjusting to the modern world, and 3) how one can find solace from things appreciated during a time of suffering.

If you can get through the different time switches and the occasional interjection of excerpts from the fairy tale of the same name, you’ll find a worthy page-turner of exceptional grit and suspense.  Jacob Holbrook gave me some serious shivers.  His ruthlessness reminded me of the character of John Gload in the book The Ploughmen (and yes, it’s worth reading, too!)  I have to admit I had to put the book down from time to time – there are episodes where the author depicts violence without a flinch, so it’s not for the squeamish.

I imagine comparisons with this book will be made to Emma Donoghue’s Room and Claire Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days, if they haven’t already.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris

If you read this thriller, I’m warning you – you’ll want to put the rest of your life on holdbehind until you reach the last page!

Grace seems to have the perfect husband and the ideal life.  Most people who visit their home to enjoy her gourmet meals are amazed and jealous.  Grace’s husband, Jack, is movie-star handsome.  As an attorney who represents battered wives, he’s never – ever – lost a case.  Jack is not only accepting of Grace’s beloved younger sister, Millie, who has Down’s syndrome, but is eagerly looking forward to her coming to live with them.  Jack and Grace seem inseparable.

However, behind closed doors, Grace’s life is not what it seems to be.

Behind Closed Doors is the author’s first novel.  I have not yet read her recent thriller, The Breakdown.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson

The apartment building at 101 Bury Street in Beacon Hill is a hotbed of lonely pensioners,her-every-fear voyeuristic neighbors, apartment-swapping cousins – and now a murder.

Kate Priddy needs a new beginning.  She’s taken a fair amount of time recovering from a horrific kidnapping by her ex-boyfriend, during which she was locked in a closet for days.  When her American cousin suggests that they swap residences for six months (his in Boston, hers in London) she at first is skeptical but then is glad to accept.

His apartment at 101 Bury is large and quite nice.  But one of the first people she meets in the apartment building is a panicked friend of Audrey, a resident next door who has been unresponsive, and Kate, in her precarious state, suspects the worst.

She would be correct, and the first week of her half-year in America is a fear fest for Kate as she tries to make sense of the tragedy next door and suspects that she is not alone in her apartment.

Making things even stranger are her encounters with an ex-boyfriend of Audrey’s who is convinced that Kate’s cousin Corbin was the killer, and the nice-looking man living directly across the courtyard from Audrey’s apartment, who has a bizarre secret of his own.

Her Every Fear is a pot-boiler told in multiple voices that begs you to skip bedtime.  Some parts of it are a bit derivative (think Rear Window for the digital age) but that’s minor.  The author has written a quick read thriller that will make you check the door lock a few times after you finish reading.

Caution – in places, not for the squeamish.

(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)

 

Redemption Road by John Hart

Hart, a best-selling novelist with experience as a defense attorney, won the Edgar Awardredemption-road twice.  He was born in Durham and is a graduate of Davidson, although he has now moved to the Charlottesville, Virginia area.  Redemption Road is his first novel in five years.

Readers remember Hart’s novels for action and also for in-depth characterization and for Southern settings, this one in an unnamed North Carolina town.

As the page-turner begins, fourteen-year-old Gideon Strange prepares to shoot the man who killed his mother.  Cop Elizabeth Black faces accusations of unwarranted use of force for fatally shooting two rapists during the rescue of a teenage girl.  Former cop Adrian Wall will soon leave prison after serving thirteen years for second-degree murder.  As these and other characters interact, the plot becomes more complex, and the book becomes harder and harder to put down!

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)