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Deep State by Chris Hauty and Lost Hills by Lee Goldberg

March is Women’s History Month and I’d like to be able to tell you my review choice reflects that but it doesn’t. Both of these titles have strong female leads but they are entirely fictional and contemporary.

The premise of Chris Hauty’s debut novel, Deep State, seems to have been pulled from current headlines, a populist president without previous experience and divisive politics. Hayley Chill, a new White House intern, steps into this situation seemingly immune to the tensions.

Hayley is an ex-military boxing champion. She is first introduced ready to defend her winning streak against a ringer. Her discipline, determination and intelligence result in victory and sure advancement. But she abruptly resigns her commission and has now turned up in DC assigned to Chief of Staff Peter Hall’s office.

Hayley is low man on the totem pole but her willingness to work and attention to detail soon find favor with Hall. Each morning she delivers a briefing book to his home at 5:00am. Then one morning he doesn’t answer the door and when she looks in the window he has collapsed in the kitchen. It appears he died of a heart attack but Hayley find a fresh errant footprint in the rapidly melting snow.

The suspicious intern starts digging for information and soon finds herself a target in a conspiracy to assassinate the president that reaches into the upper echelon of the government and the DC powerful. Even though after Hall’s death Hayley is moved to the president’s staff, she doesn’t know whom she can trust and is in a race against a powerful foe to thwart the assassination.

This novel requires you to accept some things with little or no explanation but the pace and action don’t give you much time to wonder.  The tension filled climax will entertain then shock you. My reaction was ‘No!’ then ‘What!!’ and ‘How did I miss that?’. But keep reading because the author has some explaining to do.

I like novels with good characters and Hayley Chill is unique. She’s self-possessed, skilled, analytical, detached and gritty. I hope she makes another appearance soon.

My second strong female is Eve Ronin in Lee Goldberg’s novel, Lost Hills. Eve doesn’t have Hayley’s skill set. She’s a recently promoted detective in the Robbery Homicide Division of the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department with the nickname Deathfist.

Eve is recorded taking down and arresting the star of the Deathfist movie franchise. The sheriff and the department is weathering a scandal and bad press for abusing prisoners at the jail. When Eve’s takedown goes viral the sheriff latches onto that good press and puts Eve front and center with a promotion she coveted. Her fellow officers are not happy with her stardom nor her promotion hence the nickname and a less than cordial welcome.

Eve’s partner, Duncan Pavone, is counting down the days, 163, until his retirement so he isn’t concerned with how Eve got her job. He is willing to impart some of his hard-earned wisdom if Eve takes the lead and he can stay safe until his 4 months are up.

Their first call is to the spot where 3 jurisdictions come together. A dead man in a truck is a possible suicide and the truck is in LA County Sheriff’s jurisdiction. But Eve soon realizes the truck was moved across the jurisdictional line courtesy of two LA city detectives. Their next call makes Duncan wish Eve wasn’t so observant.

Tanya Kenworth and her two children, Caitlin and Troy, are missing from the house she shares with her soon to be ex-boyfriend. No bodies are found but the blood in the kitchen, at the door, in all 3 bedrooms and especially the bathroom tell Eve and Duncan they are searching for bodies and a killer.

Eve has good instincts and follows the few clues there are to a suspect within a day. The challenge then becomes finding the bodies and proving guilt. Eve is sure she has the right man but his smug self-assurance has her searching for what she missed.

Eve is relentless and when she realizes where she went wrong it’s a race against time and an out of control wildfire to prove a killer’s guilt and to save more than her case.

Goldberg builds this novel to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion. Eve is a likeable heroine and has a good supporting cast. This is the debut of what I hope is a long-running series.

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Breaker’s Reef by Terri Blackstock

In our reviews the library staff often mention the variety of formats we have for some titles. For example Breaker’s Reef by Terri Blackstock can be borrowed as a regular print book, a large print book, an ebook, and an eaudiobook. If you choose ebook or eaudio you can get it using the Hoopla app or from our MissouriLibraires2Go (Overdrive) collection.

There are 2 apps for Overdrive: Overdrive and Libby. The Libby app was recently updated to improve how you manage your downloads and to be compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Even though I don’t often use ebooks and eaudio (I like print) I decided to try it.
I updated my Libby app and when it opened I choose Library then Explore, What’s Available then Audiobooks. Breaker’s Reef was on the list and the download took less than a minute. To listen in the car after the phone connected to the car I just opened the app, started the book and it worked seamlessly (Disclaimer: I did recently upgrade my phone and vehicle).

I choose Breaker’s Reef just to try the updated app but my attention was caught in the first couple of paragraphs and by the time I got home I was hooked. This is an older Blackstock title and as I found out number 4 in the 4 book Cape Refuge series.
Matthew Cade, Cape Refuge’s police chief, is awakened in the early hours by a phone call. A dead teenage girl has been found floating in a rowboat on the river. The case is being handled by the police in Tybee, the neighboring town where the body is pulled ashore, but the victim, Emily Lawrence, is from Cape Refuge.

The police officer who discovered the body is also from Cape Refuge. Scott Crown is a young rookie and made a huge mistake by going outside his jurisdiction and pulling the body from the boat, washing away evidence. Both departments and the state police team up to investigate.
As law enforcement works to find the killer, the local newspaper is also trying to piece together the story. The owner of the paper, Blair, and her young assistant, Sadie, are talking and listening to Emily’s classmates. The first break in the case, however, comes from Sadie’s mother, Sheila.

Sheila spent a year in prison and has finally landed her first job since being released, typing for author Marcus Gibson. She finds Gibson strange. He writes novels about killers and he puts himself in the lives of his characters. He will sleep in the woods, swim fully clothed in the river, and hang out with criminals and addicts.

Part of her job is putting Gibson’s early novels in a digital format. In doing so Sheila realizes that the murder in the first novel is eerily similar to the way Emily died. She takes her discovery to the police.
As law enforcement works to build a case against Gibson, Cade and Blair discover another victim. Jamie Maddox came to Cape Refuge with her best friend Amelia. Amelia came looking for her birth mother, Sheila. Now Jamie is dead, shot with the same caliber weapon as Emily, and Amelia is missing.

The evidence points to Gibson but he has been under surveillance. Then Jamie’s missing sandal and blood are discovered in Cade’s truck. Is there more than one killer and how is Sheila involved? The case has gone from one suspect to many. To complicate things further, once Sadie finds out she has a sister she is determined to find Amelia putting herself in harm’s way.

Even though I had not read the first 3 books I quickly got into the rhythm of the series. The characters are likeable and the story builds to a suspenseful climax. This novel is in the genre of inspirational suspense so the faith and struggles of the characters is a central theme. However it is the search for the killer that keeps you guessing and propels this story forward.

If you’re interested and want to know how to get started or need help using Overdrive and/or Hoopla just call or come to the Reference Service desk at the library. We are happy to help.

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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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I Am Behind You by John Ajvide Lindqvist

I’m a horror fan. Well, a lightweight horror fan. I much prefer horror stories I can explain away so I can sleep at night. If I haven’t watched a haunted videotape, the ghost can’t possibly get to me. Right? Right?! So when I heard John Ajvide Lindqvist, author of the vampire novel Let the Right One In, had published a new horror novel called I Am Behind You, I had to give it a read.

On a peaceful morning in the Swedish countryside, four families wake to discover they’ve been transported from their campground to a grassy plain with no landmarks, trees, animals, or cell phone reception. The group, made up of wildly different people, must figure out how to survive long enough to escape. As they try to find a way out, the group discovers that the peaceful countryside they’ve been transported to is full of danger.

Donald is quick-tempered and obsessed with firearms, while his wife Majvor is even-tempered and kind. Will Donald snap and kill someone? Stefan, Carina, and their son Emil appear to be an average family, but Carina’s past haunts her.. Lennart and Olaf are just two guys on a camping trip. They may seem like normal farmers, but there may be more to them than it seems. Finally, Peter, Isabelle, and their daughter Molly certainly seem like the perfect family, but there is something darker underneath. The secrets carried by each group member threaten to destroy everyone.

With no apparent escape available, the group turns to survival. They pool resources and try to explore their surroundings. They begin to encounter strangers in the strange countryside, but you can probably guess that these strangers are dangerous. As with many horror books, it’s difficult to write about the events of the story without spoiling it. The dangers that begin to surface are nothing, however, compared to the dangers the group members pose to each other.

As is also frequently the case, there are questions that simply aren’t answered. Where is the group actually at? How did they get there? What in tarnation is going on?! There’s plenty of content to analyze in any literature course.

Though some aspects of the story didn’t quite hit home, they seemed to stem from cultural differences. For instance, the songs of Peter Himmelstrand feature prominently in this novel. (In fact, the novel’s original title is Himmelstrand.) For whatever reason, the only songs that play on the campers’ radios are songs written by Himmelstrand, who was a popular Swedish songwriter in the 1960s and 70s. Perhaps if I knew more about Himmelstrand and his place in Swedish pop culture, this plot point in the book would make more sense to me.

I still really enjoyed the book. The characters were very well-written; I hated who I was supposed to hate, which is a huge hallmark of effective characterization for me. Perhaps my favorite character is Benny, a beagle. Several portions of the story are told from Benny’s perspective. Lindqvist doesn’t get overly sentimental when writing from the perspective of Benny, which helps make this viewpoint feel more realistic than other fictional animals I’ve read.

A little bit of research revealed that there are two other books that are part of this universe Lindqvist has created. Maybe, if those are translated into English, I’ll get some resolution to the bigger questions I have about what happens throughout the pages of I Am Behind You.

Overall, this was a really good read. I only needed two nights to get through it, which is pretty quick for a book that runs just over 400 pages. If you’re looking for a tense, scary read, I Am Behind You is probably right for you. I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for the translations of the two follow-up books in Lindqvist’s series.

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Book review by: Leslie Hayes