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The Burglar by Thomas Perry

Thomas Perry’s latest novel, The Burglar, has many of the elements I enjoy in a novel. A smart interesting character, action, and mystery in a story that pulls me in and keeps me turning pages.

Mystery and suspense novels are some of my favorites. I like having something that keeps me thinking and I like that the ‘good guys’ usually win. However, in this novel the ‘good guy”, Elle Stowell, is a thief. She’s smart, daring, meticulous and robs homes for a living.

Elle is pretty, small in size and keeps herself in excellent shape. From her appearance to the cars she drives, Elle fits in to the neighborhoods she burglars. Part of her fitness routine is running and she uses daily runs in affluent areas to find her targets.

Elle needs cash and her last job netted her only some nice jewelry before the police showed up. Despite her close call she heads out the next day to find another target. Once she picks a house, a second look convinces her no one is home and she enters through the attic.

The halls are full of fine art but Elle knows she can’t sell art. The master bedroom is the place she will most likely find what she wants. What she discovers is three dead bodies and a running camera that may have filmed the murder and now Elle. Knowing she can’t be caught on camera, she takes the camera and exits the way she came in.

After watching the video and being pretty sure she cannot be identified, Elle makes copies of the full recording from the memory card. After hiding the 3 copies she puts the memory card back in the camera and erases the end starting just before she entered the bedroom.  

Elle’s a thief and the police are not her friends but this is a triple homicide. She returns to the house and puts the camera back where she found it. She was quick but as she is leaving the police arrive but she manages to get out undetected.

Her civic duty done, Elle is back home but she still needs cash. She doesn’t like to work at night but heads out to a house she had previously worked up. On her way she cruises by the murder house out of curiosity. The job is successful but when leaving she senses someone close. As a precaution she loops a long way around to get back to her car. She makes it safely but soon realizes she’s being followed.

With good driving and some luck, she manages to lose the black SUV tailing her. Did the police spot her when she cruised by the murder house or is it someone else? At her friend Sharon’s urging, Elle agrees they should leave town until things die down. To do that Elle needs to sell some of her acquired merchandise.

The trip to Vegas gets her the money she needs but she now has two vehicles tailing her. Also, two men and a woman have been visiting her favorite hangout place asking about her. In her effort to evade the people looking for her, Elle inadvertently exposes Sharon to a cold-blooded killer.

This can’t be the police so who is hunting Elle? Leaving town is no longer an option. Elle has to find out who murdered the three dead people she discovered and why. She’ll have to use all the skills she’s honed as a thief to find the killers before she becomes the next victim.

The novel builds momentum quickly and for the first two thirds is hard to put down. The action slows as Elle searches for and finds the who but it picks up again as Elle takes a huge risk to pull together the why. The library has this title in both regular and large print editions.

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Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

When I first read the summary of BITTER ORANGE by CLAIRE FULLER, I thought it would be a fast-paced murder mystery. I was wrong. Bitter Orange is tense, with plenty of moments that work together to build toward a shocking ending. With a small cast of characters, Fuller intimately explores the intricacies of human nature and the bonds that we form with one another.

Frances Jellico lies on her deathbed. She is dying of what she calls a wasting disease. A vicar visits her to hear her last confession, and Frances takes the opportunity to relive the particular summer that would change her life forever.

Frances is a sheltered woman who lived with her mother. Though she is not an academic, her interests lead her to research architecture and write a paper on the subject. After the paper is published and her mother dies, Frances is hired to survey the garden architecture of an English mansion called Lyntons. When she arrives at the mansion, she discovers two other people living there. Peter has been hired to inventory the estate and is accompanied by his girlfriend, Cara.

Cara and Peter have a volatile relationship, arguing frequently and loudly. During one of these fights, Frances discovers a peephole in the floor of her bathroom that looks down into bathroom of Cara and Peter’s living quarters. Through this hole, Frances sees intimate moments of their relationship.

Frances and Cara become friends and soon, they spend all their free time together. Frances and Peter begin shirking their duty of surveying the Lyntons estate in favor of picnics and swimming with Cara. But as their friendship deepens, Cara’s mental health seems to decline. Cara reveals that she had to give up a son for adoption. Frances assumes this is the source of the couple’s conflict and is filled with sympathy for the young woman.

The trio discover a locked room labeled “Museum” that Peter insists they open. As he bashes down the door with a sledgehammer, Cara tells Frances that her son had been the product of immaculate conception. For the first time, Frances begins to doubt Cara’s sanity.

The situation in the Lyntons mansion quickly escalates, with truths about Cara and Peter revealed to a stunned Frances. She has simply never been around people other than her mother. She becomes convinced that Peter is in love with her and that Cara’s erratic behavior stems from jealousy. After Peter rejects Frances’s advances, the situation in the house deteriorates further.

Ultimately, we discover that there is far more to the story than Frances has revealed. Of course, I don’t want to ruin the ending for you, but I’m sure you can already figure out that nothing in Bitter Orange is exactly what it seems to be.

Bitter Orange would be perfect for analyzing in a literature class. There are a plethora of elements to explore: the theme of motherhood, the recurring symbols of cows, water, ruined houses, and the bitter oranges that grow on the Lyntons estate. Without going into detail (because that would take far more space than I have), I will say that this is a novel that’s full of symbols and symbolic moments. Nothing happens without having meaning.

Fuller’s writing style works well to build a feeling of uneasiness. The story is told in first-person, from Frances’s point of view, which means readers have to rely totally on Frances’s observations and thoughts. My biggest issue with this book comes from this aspect. Personally, I think if a novel is written from one person’s perspective, the reader ought to be able to trust the narrator. Frances’s fragile mental state makes her naïve at best and unreliable at worst.

There are plenty of well-written, fast-paced murder mysteries on the shelves at Joplin Public Library. But if you’re looking for a slow-burning novel that’s about mental health, motherhood, and human nature, then Claire Fuller’s Bitter Orange should be your next read.

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Book review by: Leslie Hayes