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)

Sorrow Road by Julia Keller

sorrow-roadThis one is the fifth in the Bell Elkins series, and Julia Keller proves she can still craft a page turner.

It’s expected that there will be deaths at a new care facility for Alzheimer’s patients, but the most recent three occur very close to each other.  The latest deceased is Harmon Strayer, and his daughter Darlene thinks something is suspicious.  She’s come all the way from Washington DC to discuss this with Bell, the prosecuting attorney in adjacent Raythune County.

Needless to say, Darlene doesn’t make it back to DC.  Due to a significant snowfall, the mountain roads in this part of West Virginia are quite treacherous, and her car is found shortly after, off the road after a particularly nasty switch back.

Darlene’s partner arrives wanting answers.  The body count jumps when an aide at the care facility and a friend of hers are found brutally murdered.  And things get even more interesting when Bell’s daughter, twenty-one and with secrets of her own, comes back home to live.

The author has kept it consistent with this whole series.  Keller’s books are highly readable, and she is not averse to including social issues in her books.  The beauty of rural West Virginia and the hard living of its people always play a part in this series.  Along with poverty and drug issues, Sorrow Road takes on the situation of Alzheimer’s and doesn’t flinch, and for that alone, I commend the author.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

Bitter River by Julia Keller

Julia Keller won a Pulitzer Prize for her work as a reporter and editor for the Chicago bitter-riverTribune, and authors Michael Connelly, C. J. Box, and Scott Turow highly praise her mysteries.

After reading Bitter River, I discovered that it’s the second in a series, but I had no difficulty in understanding it without reading the first book, A Killing in the Hills.  After Bitter River, the series continues with Summer of the Dead, Last Ragged Breath, and Sorrow Road.

The setting of the series is a West Virginia town so small that “everybody is next of kin to everybody else.”  The fact that West Virginia is Keller’s birthplace no doubt helped her in describing that state’s beauty, as well as the desperate desire of many residents to move away from it.

Bell Elkins, the series’ main character, grew up in a series of foster homes in West Virginia, escaping her difficult life to become a lawyer in Washington, D.C.  This novel finds her divorced and back in her home county, where she is now the prosecuting attorney.

Lucinda Trimble, a lovely, talented sixteen-year-old, was the pride of the town.  Everyone was confident that she would leave her economically unprivileged home to attend an elite university.  Then a hiker sees a car at the bottom of Bitter River, and the sheriff discovers Lucinda’s body inside it.

Bell becomes actively involved in this case, which is especially painful for her, since her daughter is only a year older than Lucinda was.  As the townspeople are still reeling from the shock, there’s a shooting at the courthouse and an explosion in the downtown area – and that’s just the beginning!

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)