Here's something that's definitely not normal: a serial killer as a sort of bumbling hero. Maybe "hero" is too strong, but the unnamed protagonist in British author Cameron's debut is, outside of kidnapping and murdering girls, darkly funny and even likable. His lifelong killing spree kicked off when he took out his bad dad, and now he's moved on to prostitutes and other girls, sometimes killing them and burying them in the woods, sometimes keeping them in a cage on his property. Add in some real, non-sociopathic feelings about a few of his victims, plus cops circling about a disappeared hooker, and you've got one strange story on your hands.
Erica regarded her new cellmate with a mixture of elation and disdain. Whilst a problem shared is a problem halved, she clearly wasn't overjoyed at the prospect of sharing hers with a bleeding, screeching harridan.
The hooker had told me that her name was Kerry. Then again, she'd told me that she was clean in every respect, where both her profession and her trackmarks suggested otherwise.
I'd picked her up a mile from Jeremy's house on a foolish and immediately regrettable impulse fueled by raw adrenaline and the sheer bloody-minded need to catch something, so to speak. She'd directed me to a remote riverside picnic area on the south side of the city, and had been only too eager to jump into the back of the van, the false promise of mattresses and pillows offering a welcome relief from the repeated prod of a gearlever in the sternum.
Until that point, this, in a nutshell, was the reason I never interfere with ladies of the night: it's just too damn easy. It's a game for impotents and bed-wetters. These women queue up to get in the car with you, for Christ's sake. They actually expect you to take them somewhere dark. That they exercise free will in putting themselves in harm's way only makes obligingly slaughtering them all the more cowardly.
What are you reading?
Fans of best-selling author C.J. Box expect a lot of action and suspense, delivered in clear prose and paced expertly. The author has won a number of awards for his satisfying high-country thrillers, including the Edgar for Best Novel (Blue Heaven, 2009), but his 15th Joe Pickett novel, Endangered, is a cut above. It's darker, tighter and proof that even though Box's a seasoned thriller writer, he's still a writer to watch.
Joe is out surveying a field of massacred, engangered sage grouse when he gets a call about a woman found in a ditch. She's alive, but badly beaten. The victim is Joe's adopted daughter, April, who ran off with a rodeo rider in Stone Cold. Joe's ready to hunt down the rider—until an anonymous tip points Joe toward survivalist Tilden Cudmore as April’s abductor. All this is going down when Joe's old pal Nate Romanowski, who has just been released from prison, is found dead. And the twists just keep coming.
Blunt force trauma.
The very words were brutal in and of themselves, Joe thought as he and Marybeth trailed April's gurney down the hallway. He could hear the helicopter approaching outside, hovering over the helipad on the roof of the hospital.
April was bundled up and he couldn't see her face. He wasn't sure he wanted to. Joe was grateful Marybeth had positively identified her earlier.
He was unnerved by the number of suspended plastic packets that dripped fluids into tubes that snaked beneath the sheets. An orderly rolled a monitor on wheels alongside the gurney. Her body looked small and frail beneath the covers, and she didn't respond when the orderlies secured her to the gurney with straps.
Joe reached down and squeezed her hand through the blankets. It was supple, but there was no pressure back.
"Let me know how it goes," Joe said to Marybeth, raising his voice so as to be heard over the wash of the rotors.
"Of course," she said, pulling him close one last time before she left. Her eyes glistened with tears.
Joe watched as the gurney was hoisted into the helicopter. A crew member reached down from the hatch and helped Marybeth step up inside. Seconds, later, the door was secured and the helicopter lifted.
Joe clamped his hat tight on his head with his right hand and silently asked God to save April, because she'd suffered enough in her short life, and to give Marybeth the strength to carry on.
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Right off the bat, this debut from British writer Seskis displays impressive control and pacing. Hints are doled out at just the right time, with Seskis' excellent prose keeping her reader's attention.
Emily has run away from her husband and children and started a new life as "Cat." But Seskis isn't so careless as to allow the reader to pass judgement on this abandonment; rather, she jumps back and forth in Emily/Cat's story, as well as in the story of her parents', to reveal what's really going on. One of the first elements of the mystery that readers learn is that Emily/Cat has (had?) a twin, named Caroline, who was wholly unexpected to her pregnant mother:
The doctor tried again. "Congratulations, Mrs. Brown, you're soon to be the mother of twins. You have a second baby to deliver."
"What d'you mean?" she'd screamed. "I've had my bloody baby."
Now she lay there in shock and all she could think was that she didn't want two babies, she only wanted one, she only had one crib, one pram, one set of baby clothes, one life prepared.
Frances was a planner by nature. She didn't like surprises, certainly not ones this momentous, and apart from anything else she felt far too exhausted to give birth again—the first birth may have been quick, but it had been fierce and traumatic and nearly three weeks ahead of schedule. She shut her eyes and wondered when Andrew would arrive. She hadn't been able to get him at his office, he'd been out at a meeting apparently, and once the contractions had quicked to every minute and a half she'd known her only option was to call an ambulance.
So her first baby arrived in a gush of red and a gash of loneliness—and now she was being told to deliver a second and still her husband was absent. Andrew hadn't seemed too keen on having one baby, so God knows what he'd think of this development. She started sobbing, noisy snot-filled gulps that rang through the little hospital.
"Mrs. Brown, will you control yourself!" the midwife said. Frances loathed her, with her mean features and squeaky, grating voice—what was she even doing in this job, she thought bitterly, she'd suck the air out of any situation, even the beauty of birth, like a malevolent pair of bellows.
"Can I see my baby?" Frances said. "I haven't even seen her yet."
"She's being checked. Just concentrate on this one."
"I don't want to concentrate on this one. I want my real baby. Give me my real baby." She was screeching now. The midwife got the gas and air and held it over Frances's face, pressing hard. Frances gagged and finally stopped screaming, and as she quieted the fight went out of her and something in her died, there on that hospital bed.
One Step Too Far goes on sale in a few weeks. Think you'll check it out?
It's not often that the wife of a Mormon bishop acts as an amateur sleuth in contemporary crime fiction, but Linda Wallheim finds herself wrapped up in a woman's disappearance in The Bishop's Wife, which was inspired by an actual crime and written by practicing Mormon Mette Ivie Harrison. Linda's search leads her to question her church's troubling patriarchal structure and secrecy, and themes such as gender roles, the pressures and expectations of motherhood and the limitations of faith and religion surround the central mystery.
The press conference with the Westons appeared on local television (on Mormon church-owned KSL, of all stations) at noon the next day. The two parents stood together in a picture of marital harmony in front of their local church, which looked much the same as ours. Aaron Weston did most of the speaking, as he had at our house. Kurt was at work, and I was sure he was fielding plenty of calls there, but within minutes of the end of the conference, I had to deal with the frightened women of the ward who suddenly thought Jared Helm was a danger to them.
The truth was, Jared Helm wasn't a danger to anyone, except perhaps his own daughter. The real danger to the women in the ward was the same danger they had faced yesterday and the day before that, and ever since they were married: their own husbands.
What are you reading today?
Anthony Horowitz earned the first official endorsement ever from the Arthur Conan Doyle estate, which makes his 2011 thriller The House of Silk the first new Holmes novel in more than a century. In short, he's the real deal, not just for fans of Cumberbatch and RDJ but also readers who loved the original books.
If you placed his new mystery, Moriarty, on the Doyle timeline, it would fall during "The Great Hiatus," when the world believed Holmes was dead. Holmes and Moriarty are gone, vanished together over the Reichenbach Falls—which presents an opening for any successors. Scotland Yard Detective Athelney Jones and his sidekick (and our narrator) Pinkerton Agent Frederick Chase are on the case to catch the newest criminals in the London underworld—in particular, up-and-coming criminal mastermind Clarence Devereaux—and to answer the impossible question: What really happened when Holmes and Moriarty tumbled over the falls?
Speaking of successors, Horowitz seems to have mastered that tricky balance between respecting the original and keeping things fresh. Disguises, fakes, twists, red herrings and violence—the game is afoot!
HoLmES WaS CeRtAiNLY NOt A DIFFiCulT mAn to LiVe WItH. He wAs QuIeT iN HiS WAYs and his hABiTS wErE REgulAr. iT wAs RARE fOR HIm To BE up AfTeR TEN at nighT aND hE hAD INVariABLY breAKfasteD AND GoNE OUT BeFOrE i RoSe in The morNINg. SOMEtImEs He SPeNt hiS DAy At ThE ChEmiCal lABoRatORY, SoMeTimes IN THE dIsSeCting ROoms And oCcAsionaLly iN lOnG WALKs whiCH ApPeAREd TO taKE HIM INtO THE LOwEsT PORTioNs OF thE CITy. nothINg COuld exCEed HiS ENErgY WHeN tHE wORkING FiT WAs upOn HiM.
'Do you really believe,' I said, 'That there is some sort of secret message contained on this page?'
'I not only believe it. I know it to be the case.'
I took the paper and held it up to the light. 'Could it be written in some sort of invisible ink?'
Jones smiled. He took the page back again and laid it between us on the white tablecloth. For the moment, all thoughts of our dinner had been forgotten. 'You may be aware that Mr Sherlock Holmes wrote a monograph on the subject of codes and secret writings,' he began.
'I was not,' I said.
'I have read it, as I have read everything that he has, generously, allowed to come to the public attention. The monograph examines no fewer than one hundred and sixty forms of concealed communication and, more importantly, the methods by which he was able to bring them to light.'
'You will forgive me, Inspector,' I interrupted. 'Whatever the relevance of this letter, it cannot be in code. We both recognize the contents. You said as much yourself. It was written, word for word, by Dr John Watson.'
'That is indeed the case. But there is of course one peculiarity. Why do you think it has been copied in this way? Why has the writer taken such care with his presentation of the text?
What are you reading today?
Talk about a killer collaboration! MWA Grand Master Mary Higgins Clark and best-selling author Alafair Burke have teamed up for the brand new Under Suspicion series, starring characters from Clark's I’ve Got You Under My Skin.
The series centers on "Under Suspicion," a cold case reality TV show. With the help of lawyer and "Under Suspicion" host Alex Buckley, TV producer Laurie Moran takes on the 20-year-old "Cinderella Murder." The body of UCLA theater student Susan Dempsey was found in L.A.'s Lauren Canyon Park, after she missed her father's birthday party to audition for a movie. The Buckley-Moran slething duo is in hot pursuit of some new evidence, and their adventures together will surely satisfy Clark fans.
Rosemary Dempsey was Laurie's reason for moving The Cinderella Murder to the top of her list for the show's next installment.
The network had been pressuring here to feature a case from the Midwest: the unsolved murder of a child beauty pageant contestant inside her family's home. The case had already been the subject of countless books and television shows over the past two decades. Laurie kept telling her boss, Brett Young, that there was nothing new for Under Suspicion to add.
"Who cares?" Brett had argued. "Every time we have an excuse to play those adorable pageant videos, our ratings skyrocket."
Laurie was not about the exploit the death of a child to bolster her network's ratings. Starting her research from scratch, she stumbled onto a true-crime blog featuring a "where are they now?" post about the Cinderella case. The blogger appeared to have simply Googled the various people involved in the case: Susan's boyfriend was a working actor, her research partner had gone on to find dot-com success, Frank Parker was... Frank Parker.
The blog post quoted only one source: Rosemary Dempsey, whose phone number was still listed, "just in case anyone ever needs to tell me something about my daughter's death." Rosemary told the blogger that she was willing to do anything to find out the truth about her daughter's murder. She also said that she was convinced that the stress caused by Susan's death contributed to her husband's stroke.
The overall tone of the blog post, filled with tawdry innuendo, left Laurie feeling sick. The author hinted, with no factual support, that Susan's desire to be a star might have made her willing to do anything to land a plumb role with an emerging talent like Parker. She speculated, again with no proof, that a consensual liason may have "gone wrong."
What are you reading today?
We know who the killer is (or do we?) in the new thriller by Japanese author Nakamura (The Thief), so the question at hand—it would seem—is why. But even that doesn't really sum it up, as this dark and twisty thriller dives to nightmarish depths to explore the ugliest parts of the human mind.
Photographer Yudai Kiharazaka has been sentenced to death for the murders of two women who were incinerated in two fires. After becoming fascinated by one of Kiharazaka's photographs—of black butterflies obscuring a possibly female figure—the story's narrator sets out to write a book about the murders. The story unfolds through letters from Kiharazaka to the narrator and to his sister, and through the narrator's eyes.
When reading Last Winter, We Parted, it feels like I'm exploring the minds of characters in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood or Werner Herzog's documentary Into the Abyss. It's a creepy feeling. An excerpt from one of Kiharazaka's letters:
I would look away from the butterfly. For that instant, the butterfly was no longer mine. Or when I photographed it from the right side, I couldn't capture its left side. That's why you think it would make sense to film it, right? Wrong. What I wanted was a single moment. I Wanted a single moment of that butterfly. Yet for the butterfly, that moment was one of countless moments. And there was no way that I could capture all of them.
I spent entire days clicking the shutter at that butterfly. I must have fallen in love with it. I don't know. I put it in a cage and kept it, but I was in despair over the fact that I could never completely possess the butterfly. Well, actually, it was probably despair about the way that the world itself works. Why, when a "subject" is right in front of us, are we only capable of recognizing, of grasping, that one small part we see? That butterfly was the reason I was hospitalized the first time. I don't remember, but apparently I wouldn't stop taking photos—not even to eat—and when I collapsed, my sister was the one who took care of me. Then I went to the hospital. I was given a psychological diagnosis. Anxiety neurosis, I think it was. In the medical field, I guess they like to be able to put a name to it when people deviate from the norm.
I wonder if I've made myself clear about the fact that I have no interest in butterfly specimens. I don't understand why those guys like to collect and mount them. I mean, they kill their butterflies, thereby preventing any further possibility of their motion. Which means they will never possess the butterflies in their beautiful flight . . . Do you know what I mean?
What are you reading?
There might not be a lot of action in David Bell's new novel, but there's plenty of moodiness and tension-filled looks to slowly build a mystery. And I sure do love a slow burner, expecially when a book fills the air with on-point characterization.
The questions begin after Jason Danvers' sister Hayden, a former addict, appears at his doorstep with an apology and her teenage daughter in tow. Hayden is super cryptic about some "things" she has to take care of, so it's no surprise that she leaves her daughter with Jason and his wife and doesn't come back. All of this is curious timing, considering that Jason was recently questioned by police about his missing friend, Logan, who disappeared 17 years ago. The truth has to come out sometime . . .
Jason drove with no destination in mind. He considered going home but decided that Nora was right and what Sierra needed more than anything was distraction. She didn't speak as they drove away from the Owl and back toward downtown. She stopped commenting on passing sights. She didn't say anything. She pulled her feet up onto the seat and stared out the window, her fingernail in her mouth again.
"Do you want to see the house your mom and I grew up in?" Jason asked.
"Always," Sierra said.
"You've always wanted to see it?"
"Why did she say 'always'?" Her voice was hollow. She kept her head turned away from Jason. "It would be one thing if she just wrote and told me that she loved me. She does that kind of stuff all the time. But why did she say she'd always love me? Isn't that what you say to someone when you think you're never going to see them again?"
What are you reading?
It's not uncommon for a mystery or thriller author to have a pretty cool backstory. I'm thinking former CIA agent Jason Matthews (author of Red Sparrow), former MI6 agent Matthew Dunn (whose upcoming thriller Dark Spies will be reviewed in the October issue of BookPage) and Stella Rimington, the first female chief of MI5—and that's just off the top of my head. So Patrick Hoffman's history as a former private investigator isn't all that exciting—that is, until I cracked his debut and discovered this guy's eye for detail.
Hoffman transforms San Francisco into a noir playground for all sorts of shady characters—the kind that can only come from the mind of a writer who really gets people, their secrets and the lengths to which they'll go when they have no good choices.
The White Van opens on Emily Rosario. One moment she's drinking whiskey with a Russian businessman, and the next she's drugged up, in and out of sleep, and being prepped to perform a bank robbery. Cop Leo Elias finds himself in pursuit of the stolen cash, but not with entirely honorable motives. Read on for an excerpt, a flash from Emily's unnerving drugged-up perspective:
It had been six days in the hotel now. Six days filled with sleep. When she wasn't sleeping, when she floated back up into the world, Emily was greeted by the Russian, the woman, or both.
"You need to start doing a little more work," said the woman at one point. "We're paying you!"
"What?" was all Emily could manage to say.
"Look," said the woman, pointing at the table. Emily loked and saw a Styrofoam container filled with food. "You're making a fucking mess," said the woman.
"That's not mine," said Emily.
"Come," said the woman. Emily stepped toward the table. The woman, her face made ugly with anger, stuck her fingers into the brown gravy, held them up for Emily to see, and then smeared the gravy across the table. "Clean it," she said, holding a bathroom towel out for her.
Emily stepped forward and cleaned the gravy with the towel. The woman lifted the container and dumped the remaining food onto the table. "Clean it," she said.
Emily began wiping at it with the towel, but the woman, her eyebrows raised, interrupted her by pointing at a trash can. Emily, feeling a strange disassociation with her own body, brought the trash can to the table, put the Sytrofoam container into it, and then, with the towel, pushed in the mess of gravy and food off the table and into the trash. She then wiped up the remaining mess.
"See, good, not too hard, right?" said the woman. "A little work never killed anyone."
They fed her candy as a reward. They gave her Starbursts. The three of them, Emily and the woman and the Russian, would sit at the table and eat candy, piling wrappers in the center. They made her drink soup and eat slices of bread. The sore under Emily's mouth had healed. She was being taken care of. She slept.
The woman would stand over Emily's bed and—in a voice that was meant to sound comforting—sing Sinatra songs. She would sing It had to be you, her accent pronounced and her voice flat. It had to be you.
What are you reading?
There's something ominous circling the three characters in David Shafer's debut novel, but quite frankly, I haven't been giving it much attention. I've been far too caught up in Shafer's unrelenting humor—which is wicked and dark, just how I like it—and his spotless characterization. That being said, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot also fulfills all the requirements of an outstanding technothriller, with pulsing strains of paranoia and those all-seeing technological powers-that-be.
The story centers around 30-somethings Leila, Leo and Mark. Leo and Mark were friends at Harvard, but Leo is now a bit of a loser, while Mark is a phony self-help guide who works for the Committee, a data collection agency that seeks to privatize all information. Leila is a disillusioned nonprofit worker on the other side of the world. The only thing keeping the Committee from its goal is a secret underground Internet called Dear Diary. With jabs at every political angle, a love story and plenty of cool tech, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a pageturner of the highest order.
Read on for an excerpt from Leo's first scene:
There was no one even near Leo when he flew from his bike. His mind cast about for a culprit, for someone to blame other than himself. The bike just ceased its forward motion and he did not. How surprising, how nifty physics was. And as he trebucheted toward a four-inch curb, aware at once that his meeting with it would be physically calamitous, he remembered that he was wearing no helmet, and his surprised turned to fear. A month ago, at a party to which his friend Louis had brought him, Leo had heard (well, overheard) the host claiming that he wasn't afraid of death. That particular claim seemed to Leo to be demonstrably false. So, costumed as Jesus (for this was a Halloween party), Leo had decided to explore the man's reasoning. Not afraid of death, huh? My, that must make you a real psychopath. But he had seen almost immediately that he should not have told the man that he was like a Holocaust denier. "I said like a Holocaust denier. Like," he protested lamely when Louis escorted him out of the party and told him to enjoy the bracing walk home dressed as Jesus.
No, thought Leo, as he landed his right hand, fingertips first, on the cold nubbly of the curb, I am definitely more than a body, but I believe I am less than a soul.
Then, with a fluid agility that hadn't been his in years, Leo tucked his head and vertical body behind the leading edge of his rounded arm. Some latent muscle memory from five months of jujitsu at the McBurney YMA on West Sixty-Third Street from when he was ten? Leo seemed to recall that this YMCA had in fact served the adventurous class of men described in the song. Now, he felt a point beneath his stomach become the axis of his spinning mass, and he knew to use that dragony breath to take the hit when, after about 120 degrees, his trunk met the sidewalk, hard. Next was his hip and ass, which rolled over not just the concrete but also a busted padlock on the scene by chance. Then came his knees and feet, with a thwack. That was followed by his trailing left arm, which lay down gently, and his gloved palm, which landed and sprang back, the way a conguero lands a hand on the taut hide of his drum.
Leo stood up. He was fine. Just fine. Right as rain.
Leo stood up again, this time more carefully. Okay, maybe fine was an overstatement. But ambulatory and intact. A bit exhilarated, actually.
His bike lay twisted in the street behind him, its front tire still clamped in the groove of the new light-rail system tracks they were laying all over town. Only now did he notice the yellow-and-black warming signs that would have made him aware of the hazard his bike had to cross. The graphics depicted pretty much what had just happened: a bicycle with its front wheel caught in the maw of the track, the blockish pictogram rider hurtling over the handlebars. An honest piece of graphic art; a tiny, two-line picture poem, thought Leo, and he started to upbraid himself for his carelessness and lack of attention.
But wait. On one corner—the direction from which he'd come—the warning sign was there, but it was swathed in black plastic, taped up tight.
The thought came like a revelation: This was no accident. They obscured that sign because they want me eliminated.
Some part of him said, No, don't be ridiculous. But then why was only one sign shrouded?
What are you reading today?