Blame by Jeff Abbott

BlameJane Norton is a damaged soul who almost died two years ago in a car wreck that killed her close friend and next-door neighbor David.  After awakening from a coma, Jane has no memories from the three years prior to the accident.

She is soon to become an outcast in her neighborhood due to a suicide note in her own handwriting, found at the wreck site, which implicates her intent to kill them both.  David’s mother Perri, who was close to Jane for years, now hates her.

After flunking out of her first semester of college, Jane is now living illegally in a friend’s college dorm room and avoiding her mother when she can.  Most of her few former close friends are distant now, although her friend Kamala made the best attempts to help Jane acculturate socially after the accident.  To put it bluntly, Jane is a mess – until she gets a message through her social media account from an entity named Liv Danger, who threatens her and all involved with the wreck, and gets into a tussle with Perri at David’s gravesite.

From then on, the book becomes an intense page turner, as Jane, trusting nobody, finds she has to take chances – with old relationships, neighbors, her mother, and a graduate student who takes an unusual interest in Jane’s situation, not to mention a persistent down-on-his-luck journalist who wants to continue her story in a series he had begun right after the accident.

It soon seems that Liv Danger has a bone to pick with lots of people, and that Jane and Perri have more in common than mutual loathing.

My lone excursion into Jeff Abbott territory was his earlier book Adrenaline (the first in the Sam Capra series, and a cracking good thriller).  Blame is a standalone novel.  To be honest, the book started out as domestic melodrama for me, but this didn’t last long.  Abbott kicked it in overdrive soon enough, and provided plenty of juicy turns throughout.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

 

 

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The Devil’s Wedding Ring by Vidar Sundstøl

devil's wedding ringWith news of his former friend Knut’s death, Max Fjellanger returns to his native Norway to attend the funeral, and remains much longer then he’d intended.

Knut Abrahamsen killed himself, or so the police have decided, after they dredge his body from a river, his pockets stuffed with rocks.

Max, who is a private investigator, doesn’t accept the finality of the case, and decides to look further into his friend’s alleged suicide.  He joins up with Tirill Vesterli, a librarian who has a theory of her own about a previous murder in the area – one concerning a college student writing her thesis about an ongoing ritual of the residents of Eidsborg.

The medieval stave church in this village in Telemark is the center of interest.  Parishioners there have revived a yearly ritual in which they immerse the wooden statue of a local saint in a nearby lake to insure good fortune.

As Max and Tirill pick at the meager clues, others in the community begin to show their displeasure and the danger ratchets up, especially as Midsummer Eve, the time of the ritual, approaches.  It would appear that something older and more sinister is afoot than a yearly immersion of a saint’s effigy.

The Devil’s Wedding Ring brings together strands of folklore and paganism into a satisfying industrial-strength thriller that fans of Nordic Noir will probably enjoy.

Although the book is fiction, the Eidsborg Stave Church still exists today – read the Author’s Note at the book’s end to find out more.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

 

 

 

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)

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)