Dead Angler

Dead Angler_VictoriaHouston_13348208

MISPLACED HATE

4 STARS

Dr. Paul Osborne is a dentist in Loon Lake, Wisconsin, a small town that supports itself on the spending habits of tourists who love to fish and on the wages from a paper mill. Taking early retirement from his practice, Osborne had intended to spend his golden years occupied with his most enjoyable hobbies, hunting and fishing. It had not been his intention to become, without warning, a widower. And after his wife’s death, steeped in grief, he became a flaming alcoholic.

Now the grief that sent him spiraling into the bottle was not from losing the love of his life. Several years into his marriage, Osborne discovered that he did not like the person his wife, Mary Lee, had become. Perhaps she had been that type of person all along, shielding her true nature from him by conscious intent, but she was now a social climber and a status seeker. She lived for the parties, the “things” she possessed and the life she plotted for her oldest child. And she was an inveterate nag, with Osborne the most frequent target of her displeasure.

So when Mary Lee died unexpectedly, there was no more nagging, no more social pressure, and the children were gone in more ways than one. Love, affection and friendship had long since fled from Osborne’s life, leaving only pride, loyalty and responsibility to hold his part of the relationship together. While Osborne’s practice, his hunting and his fishing had been effective shields against his wife’s greed and rancor, now there was nothing for them to shield him from.

Thus, Paul Osborne was lost. Nothing he had done for the last 30 years to survive his legal and religious vows needed doing anymore. And the shame he felt for being glad it was over engulfed him. Fortunately, that pity-party didn’t last long. After an early intervention by his youngest daughter and after several very productive months in rehab, Osborne came back, loving life, drinking ginger ale, and especially loving his fishing.

Now, with the slip of a foot in a roiling river while night fishing, the past threatens to come roaring back. Osborne has stumbled, quite literally, on the submerged body of Meredith Marshall, the younger sister of Alicia Roderick, his dead wife’s best friend and fellow bully.

At the time he discovers the body, Osborne is taking his first refresher fly-fishing lesson from Lew Ferris, the newly minted Loon Lake Chief of Police. The nickname “Lew” is short for “Lewellyn” and she is everything Osborne’s wife wasn’t. She is attractive but not beautiful, strongly built and comfortably dressed rather than fashionable. She achieved her position in life through determination rather than through money and social bullying, in spite of a divorce and the death of one of her three children. She has even more intelligence and knowledge of human nature than she has competence with fly-fishing – and she is an expert in that field.

 Finding a cracked skull but not enough bruising to account for the current’s speed and the rocky river bottom, Osborne suspects the death is not an accident. When he determines that every gold filling has been removed from her mouth, he knows it’s not. Knowing Osborne’s background in forensics and with the town’s incompetent coroner on vacation, Lew immediately deputizes Osborne to help with the case.

This first entry in the Loon Lake series could probably be classified as a cozy. While there are several murders, accomplished by some rather inventive means, we are spared the overly graphic, splashy (no pun intended) details. This book is not about gore or titillation or shock value. This novel is centered more on ethics, family dynamics, small-town secrets and societal expectations, or the lack thereof, with murder as the major dynamic and vehicle.

This first entry in the series could also fall into the romantic suspense genre. But don’t expect hot steamy sex. There is not one single sex scene, not one single kiss, not even the holding of hands. But there is serious interest on Osborne’s part concerning Lew, who is easily more than a decade younger. He tries not to be obvious or overt about his burgeoning feelings, but his daughters and his best friend and neighbor, Ray Pradt, are not fooled. Lew plays it just as close to the vest as Osborne does, but you can practically feel her personal interest sliding right in there with her respect for his investigative skills. They play off each other well when dealing with both suspects and theories and the reader can sense the team that is being formed, both personally and professionally.

Although written in third person, Houston makes it clear that Osborne is the main protagonist. The only internal monologues and descriptive observations are from his standpoint. And because Osborne’s view is all we have, the suspense in this “cozy” ratchets up page by page. While the identities of the villains are relatively easy for the reader to pinpoint by about half way through the book, the task of proving it is not so quick and easy. And the last 20% of the book contains several scenarios that will suck your breath away from fear and wondering who will survive and how well they will survive.

I truly enjoyed the gradual but thorough buildup of the characters’ personalities and the systematic way in which the author builds the tension. I also enjoyed that Houston used a blend of backstory and present circumstances to get us invested in the lives of the vulnerable Osborne, the intriguing Lew and the eccentric but highly versatile Ray. I even enjoyed the way that Houston tied the techniques of fly-fishing to the techniques of police work and people-handling.

What I didn’t enjoy were the editing errors and the poor formatting. This book was published in 2000, fourteen years ago as I write this review. It appears that, when this book was translated into e-format, the translation didn’t go too well and has never been updated. The most obvious formatting problem is that the text is not fully justified. Therefore, the irregularly shaped white areas in the right margin are distracting and wreak havoc on flow of consciousness, especially when a character’s dialogue encompasses more than one paragraph.

The editing errors include misspelled words, missing words, repeated words, and jumbled word combinations that make no logical sense. And these errors occur frequently enough to break the natural flow of reading, causing an internal comment of “Do what?” These errors appear to be rooted in technology rather than in ignorance of the rules of grammar and sentence construction, but they still present a poor impression of the author’s attention to final detail in the finished product.

Regardless of these technical difficulties, Houston has presented us with a well-crafted and intriguing mystery, with a realistic denouement, that holds great promise for the rest of the series. And it is quite refreshing to read a tale in which the protagonists are middle-aged instead of being young guns, who are competent and trained in their chosen fields rather than being prodigies, and who are average in appearance rather than being inordinately handsome or beautiful.

It is also a breath of fresh air to encounter protagonists who are essentially happy, who have a healthy, positive and realistic attitude toward life rather than being wounded, brooding, angry and defensive at every turn. They are good people, who have faced bad circumstances, and who have come out battered for a time, but not broken. They are literally and figuratively the people next door, and Houston has formulated a premise which, for me, is worth the time and money to pursue.

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Kisscut

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RAW, GRITTY, INTENSE

4 STARS

The crime in this second entry of Karin Slaughter’s Grant County series is one of the nastiest that an author can explore and that a reader can digest. That crime is pedophilia.

Now, as Slaughter is quick to point out in one of her mini data dumps, pedophilia is not the same as child molestation. Molestation is about using sexual behavior to cause pain while pedophilia is about someone believing that the only person upon whom he/she can bestow true love is a child. A pedophile denies that any pain or destruction is involved.

So, by way of warning, before you start thinking, based on the last book, that this will be an exciting murder mystery, it is not. It is a story about murder all right, but what is being killed is innocence and hope and souls. What this book does is detail the story of two families whose only reason for having children is to commit pedophilic acts upon them.

These parents pimp out their children to other pedophiles and photograph the acts. They also publish these photos and the photos of children they have kidnapped as toddlers in a cheaply printed magazine that is distributed all over their state and several states adjacent. For these people, it is not only the type of family life they believe in, it is a business.

With this said, if you choose to proceed with this book, understand that Slaughter does not pull any punches in her narrative. While the pedophilic acts are not detailed graphically, what is implied is raw, gritty and gut wrenching. And don’t even think for one minute that there is an HEA in the last chapter. Quite frankly, there is no fairy godmother and the wicked witch wins.

With that caveat in place, here is the set-up:

What starts out as a date to skate for Sara Linton and Jeffrey Tolliver turns into death by cop for a 13-year-old girl. Moments after arriving at the skating rink, Jeffrey observes Jenny Weaver holding a gun on 16-year-old Mark Patterson in the rink’s parking lot. Unable to talk her into relinquishing the gun and knowing that she is a crack shot, even at 13 years old, Jeffrey shoots Jenny just as she begins to pull the trigger of her gun.

Before the night is over, Jenny’s death will be just the first of three devastating scenarios that Sara and Jeffrey will have to deal with. The second situation occurs almost simultaneously with the standoff in the parking lot when Sara finds the mutilated corpse of a 28-week-old fetus in the skating rink’s bathroom, a room Sara has just seen the overweight Jenny leave. And, thirdly, when Sara performs the autopsy on Jenny, she discovers deep, self-inflicted razor cuts all over her body and she discovers that Jenny has had a back-alley female castration.

Jenny’s death, the condition of her body and the aborted fetus start Sara and Jeffrey on their investigation. But the words Jenny slung at Mark just before she died and the reactions of the parents upon being notified are what propel the investigation to the next level and ultimately into the world of pedophilia.

Sara is appalled with herself, wondering how she, as the town’s pediatrician, could have missed the signs of abuse in these children. And Jeffrey is engaged in anger, depression and self-flagellation over killing a child. In all his years as a cop, he has never even had to fire his gun directly at anyone, let alone kill someone. And in the midst of all this self-doubt and heartbreak is the personal relationship that they are trying to rebuild.

But the vast majority of the storyline focuses on Lena Adams, one of Jeffrey’s detectives. In the previous entry in the series, Lena was kidnapped by a religious fanatic. He nailed her hands and feet to a floor and raped her repeatedly over a period of days before Tolliver and Linton affected her rescue. However painful the crucifixion, the rapes themselves were never brutal. Instead, he used psychotropic drugs and seductive techniques to make her mentally and physically ready for his sexual actions.

Only four months have passed since her rescue and Lena is not just damaged goods. She is essentially broken. Steadfastly refusing psychological counseling, she is still trying to work. She is doing anything to stay busy, to regain some sense of control over her life. And she is failing miserably at every turn because, to the core of her soul, she believes that she abetted the killer/rapist in his attacks, drugs or not, just so she would not have to be alone or in the dark.

When she interviews Mark Patterson for the first time, she senses the exact same damage in him that is in her. And she senses that his damage is from the same source as hers – seductive rape. Slaughter then takes these two characters down parallel paths of self-confession and self-destruction. As we reach the final pages, both are still breathing but only one is alive. And both will have come to grips, in their own chosen way, with believing that doing wrong is better than doing nothing and with believing that being abused is better than being ignored or unloved.

Slaughter has written a tough read about a psychosis that is deeply disturbing on multiple levels. And the worst part is that she makes you realize that the pedophiles may be sick but they don’t look sick and they don’t act out their sickness in public. She makes you realize that they look like, and often are, the people who are sitting next to you on the church pew, in the PTA meeting or at the ball field. And she makes you realize that you will be thinking about this book long after you’ve read the last page.

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Cold Comfort

Cold Comfort_QuentinBates_11263424

SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION

4 STARS

DISCLAIMER: For ease of typing and transferring content on specialized web pages, I have chosen not to use the accents that normally accompany the Icelandic names in this story. I do not mean any disrespect.

 

The first book of Quentin Bates’ Officer Gunnhilder series, “Frozen Assets,” uses the impending 2008 global collapse of the banking and financial markets as a backdrop and as a motivation for murder. This second book picks up in the early spring of 2009 and uses the resulting collapse of the real estate and construction markets as the motivation for yet another murder. Bates also uses the precarious financial situation in Iceland as background for the problems in manpower and resources the Reykjavik police force are facing.

As our story opens, as far as the police, in general, and Sergeant Gunna Gisladottir, in particular, are concerned, two seemingly unrelated crimes have been committed. First, Long Ommi has escaped from a minimum-security prison only months before a scheduled parole. Secondly, Svana Geirs, a fitness guru and has-been TV personality, has been murdered. Both cases are assigned to the Serious Crime Unit, of which Gunna is the de facto head.

The ongoing financial crisis has prevented Gunna’s promised promotion to Inspector and Gunna’s Chief Inspector is on extended, and probably permanent, medical leave. So that leaves only three investigators in the entire unit to deal, with Gunna in charge and with Helgi and Eirikur reporting to her.

Helgi is currently spearheading the formidable task of retrieving Long Ommi, who is leaving in his wake a trail of bloody and badly beaten former associates. While none of the victims, who all testified against him at his trial, will identify him as their assailant, the assaults have been relatively public. Ommi even forces one of his former associates, a mentally challenged young man, to commit armed bank robbery with no mask. Gunna and her team, upon reviewing Ommi’s original case, come to believe that he took the fall for someone else at the time and is now exacting revenge.

Then Svana Geirs is found bludgeoned to death. Trace analysis of her apartment yields the very fresh prints of four wealthy and prominent men, a property developer, an import/export entrepreneur, an accounting firm executive and a Minister of Parliament. Apparently, Svana Geirs was a very popular woman. However, there is also a fifth set of fingerprints, all over the kitchen where the body was found – the prints of Long Ommi.

With two seemingly disparate cases now related through Ommi and with the inclusion of several very well connected personages as murder suspects, Deputy National Commissioner Ivar Laxdal jumps in to lend Gunna and her team political and tactical assistance. He is a smart, savvy individual and he uses his administrative and political skills to run interference for Gunna so that she and her team can do what they do best, which is to investigate, interrogate and incarcerate.

Four men are involved through what Gunna terms the “Svana Syndicate.” A fifth person, Ommi, is involved through connections to both Svana personally and a member of the Syndicate professionally. And then the sixth degree of separation strikes Gunna’s team.

Quentin Bates has, since the opening pages of the novel, traced the financial and personal downfall of one building contractor, a kitchen and bath specialist, who was destroyed when the company he sub-contracted to declared bankruptcy after the banking crisis destroyed the real estate market. He lost his business, his house, his vehicles, his furnishings, his marriage and his child. Even after the repossessions, the banks are still hounding him to repay the loans. All that is left are a few tools, an old ragged van and people who pay him under the table to fix their plumbing. He sleeps where he can find a spot, with barely enough income for food, petrol and child support. And the man he blames for it all, the developer who declared the bankruptcy of one of his lower lever contracting companies while retaining all his other considerable assets, is one of the Svana Syndicate. It is the goal of our plumber to make both the developer and the bank’s loan officer pay for their poor ethics.

Before this novel is over, Bates will have us experience desperation, depression, vengeance, revenge, blackmail and vigilante justice. We will encounter baseball bats, broken table legs, carpet knives, fists and a sawed off shotgun. We will witness so many people lying about so many things that we will begin to suspect that the only legitimate response to anything is “whatever.”

Bates’ narrative style is a bit unusual for a mystery novel. He accomplishes almost all scenarios through the use of dialogue only. We gain almost all our information and clues through the conversations that the characters have with each other. With the exception of the plumber and Gunna, very few internal monologues are included. And the descriptions of scenery and people are both sparse and concise. This type of narrative, along with the Icelandic colloquialisms, is a bit difficult to deal with at first, but the challenge to solving the murder is heightened by both.

However, two actions by Bates gave me a bit of pause. First, the storyline is quite complex and convoluted when what starts as three separate incidents merge into one large conflagration. But Bates adds to the complexity by having two sets of characters with very similar names: Bjartmar and Bjarki along with Skari and Skuli. Since some of these characters are good guys, some are bad guys and some fall on both sides of the fence, it really slows down the reading process when you have to mentally sort and match the names to their relationship with the Svana Syndicate.

The other problem is what I perceive as a prejudice against wealthy or politically influential women. Every female character that fits those criteria, in both this book and the previous one, is portrayed as an insensitive, opportunistic, angry, jealous and vengeful witch – from the formerly upward-moving plumber’s wife to the wives of each member of the Syndicate. The “working class” female characters are crafted with the same serious problems as the wealthy women, including spousal death, infidelity, abandonment and loss of assets from the banking crisis. But they are portrayed as having a level of sense that over-rides their jealousies and misfortunes, a common sense that pushes them to work through a personal or financial issue rather than to beat someone over the head with it.

The first of these two issues is petty and surmountable. The second is perhaps an interesting account of situations that the author had an opportunity to witness during his many years as a resident of Iceland. Either way, neither will stop me from continuing with the series and trying my hand at solving a murder when all I know is what I “hear” the characters say out loud.

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Shadows of Bourbon Street

Shadows Of Bourbon Street_DeannaChase_21807299

“I LIED”

5 STARS

At the end of the previous novel in Deanna Chase’s Jade Calhoun series, the Angel Council blackmailed Jade Calhoun and Kane Rouquette into becoming shadow walker agents for the council. Jade’s fractured half-soul, a condition caused by the Council itself, was in imminent danger of being completely possessed by the ghost of a murdered sex witch and needed to be healed. Since Jade possesses angel blood, only the Angel Council could approve and conduct such a procedure.

So a very nasty version of quid pro quo is demanded. The Angel Council agrees to heal Jade’s soul if she and Kane will commit to eternal servitude to the Council. Since her only other choice is death, Jade and Kane agree and are transformed into eternal mates and shadow walkers.

As I read this ending, I was perplexed as to why the Council wanted Kane, who is only a dreamwalker, as part of the deal. Well, in this novel, we find out exactly why they want Kane. We learn what they deliberately chose not to tell Jade and Kane prior to the healing and bonding. And we come to know that the angels in this series are not the kinfolk of those spirits rife in the Debbie Macomber books. As Jade and the reader finally realize, the physical, ethical and moral boundaries between Chase’s angels and their demon counterparts are thinner than a hair’s breadth.

As this novel begins, several weeks have passed since the bonding procedure. It is Jade’s and Kane’s wedding day, with honeymoon to Italy planned, and shadow walker training to begin shortly thereafter. Just as the minister asks the age-old question of whether anyone has an objection to the marriage, Chessandra and Drake, from the Angel Council, blast into the ceremony. And, just like that, the wedding is aborted and our principle characters are spirited into another dimension.

It seems that Chessandra’s sister, Matisse, is a witch working for the Council and Matisse has been caught in a shadow realm by a failed spell. No other shadow walkers have been able to retrieve her and she is near death. Wedding day or not, Jade and Kane are ordered into the breach.

Needless to say, this early into the book, the rescue attempt fails. In fact, only Jade makes it into where Matisse is located. Kane is thrown back into the real world because Matisse is not in the shadows. She is in a different plane of existence altogether, not Hell, not Purgatory, but a void. And dreamwalkers cannot travel between the different realms.

When even Jade is unable to return Matisse to the present, she and Kane begin asking some serious questions as to why Matisse is really there. They learn that Matisse is not only Chessandra’s sister, she is also the niece of the coven leader for the Coven Pointe witches in New Orleans. Now, Jade has never heard of this coven, a group literally in her own backyard. No one in her own coven has ever mentioned the slightest word about the existence of other witches in the area.

When Jade and Kane approach Dayla, the other coven’s leader, to get information on Matisse, Dayla, without warning, brutally attacks Jade with potentially lethal spells. Barely surviving the attack, Jade realizes why her coven has shunned these other witches. The Coven Pointe members are sex witches, a type of witch who derives her power, not from the earth, but from successful sexual congress. And Jade quickly discovers that this group will use anybody in any manner to get their power and they will use that power in any way they see fit to achieve their goals, regardless of who it hurts. They are not black witches, but they are not the nicest souls in the universe either.

Before Jade can get the answers she needs, Dayla puts a binding spell on her powers and captures Kane into a trance. What Dayla knows – and what Chessandra has failed to tell Kane – is that dreamwalking is not really a psychic phenomenon, as Kane believes. Dreamwalking is actually a genetic trait possessed by a supernatural being whose true nature and consciousness lies dormant until it is unleashed by a sex witch. And Dayla unlocks Kane’s dormant creature against Kane’s will.

At this point, Deanna Chase does far more than just curve the story arc in a new direction or throw in a slight twist to capture the reader’s attention. The bombshell she levels on the reader, and on the lives of Jade and Kane, is nothing short of being literally mind-altering, body-bending and potentially lethal – particularly to Jade.

Do not expect to get much done in your daily life from this point on. Sleep is definitely out of the question. Just this one twist alone is enough to give you high blood pressure, if you don’t have it already. By the time Chase expands this new plotline and deals with several issues recurring from previous books that leech into this storyline, you will be exhausted from the non-stop tension and fear. And there are at least three characters, including Dayla, and particularly Dayla, that you will want to snatch right out of your book or reader and choke into oblivion.

By the end of the tale, you may well be looking over your own shoulder, waiting for the next attack. You will definitely be wary of calling the ending an HEA. Quite frankly, the outright lies generated, the lies of omission discovered and the change in Kane’s supernatural status do not bode well for the newly established Rouquette family. But, in any event, for better or for worse, Chase’s next novel in the series should be quite the adventure.

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A Vision In Velvet

A Vision In Velvet_JulietBlackwell_20414721

WHAT PRICE THIS FAVOR?

4 STARS

For once, I found the title of a fictional work easily understandable and clearly pertinent to the story line. Lily Ivory dons a VELVET cloak that is not only giving off paranormal vibrations but is virtually calling to her. When she secures the clasp at her throat, Lily experiences a VISION in which she witnesses a witch being burned at the stake. And thus, we have the title: A Vision in Velvet.

Backing up about an hour or so, we find Lily purchasing a battered old trunk full of dry-rotted clothing – and a well-kept velvet cloak – from an antiques dealer by the name of Sebastian Crowley. Sebastian claims to have acquired the trunk from the relative of an older man who is trying to clean up his condo. Supposedly, the trunk originated in Boston around or before the time of the Salem witch trials and was brought west during the California Gold Rush. Feeling the psychic vibrations from the cloak, Lily purchases the trunk and its contents.

The moment she fastens the clasp of the cloak, Lily sees the vision of the witch burning and she hears someone screaming the word “deliverance.” Then she feels as if her fingers are burning off as she observes the witch’s ashes being scooped up by a set of hands positioned just in front of her eyes. Forced out of the vision when her worried friends unclasp the cloak, she remembers that she, herself, has no fingerprints. She was born without them, and her fingertips look as if the prints were burned off.

Shortly thereafter, the antiques dealer is shot to death in the park near Lily’s shop. His body is found beneath an extremely old and dying oak tree that the park authority has slated for removal. Not believing in coincidences, Lily decides to investigate the provenance of the trunk and the cloak, hoping to find a clue to the identity of the murderer and a clue to the identities of the people in her vision.

With Sailor along to help with a little after hours B&E into the antique store, they learn the identity of the trunk’s seller, Bart Woolsey. Upon talking to him and a college professor who specializes in witchcraft as a religion, Lily determines that “deliverance” is not a concept but the name of the witch who was burned. She also learns that, from the pyre, Deliverance put a love curse on the Woolsey family, a curse that seems to have transcended generations. Based on this information as well as evidence discovered at the murder scene, Lily and her familiar, Oscar, go back to that dying oak tree for answers.

Now, the promotional blurb for this book clearly states that Oscar disappears sometime during the story. That word “disappear” is an understatement for what really happens to Oscar when they get to the tree. At that point, the plotline shifts sideways, with Lily’s focus completely on rescuing Oscar, rather than on the solution to the murder. Even the store is essentially left to run itself.

Juliet Blackwell has crafted an intense 6th entry in her Witchcraft Mystery series. Once Oscar disappears, the pace of the novel quickens and so does the danger to Lily. And by the end of the novel, you are not really sure if there has been an HEA or not. Blackwell has not left us with a cliffhanger, but she has left us with far more than just a hook leading to another adventure.

Too many characters have classified their “help” as favors that require payback. One supernatural character was vanquished far too easily. And one major character, in particular, may become more of a nightmare to Lily than the burning witch in her “vision in velvet.”

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The Affair

The Affair_LeeChild_12015122

WHEN THE LIGHT GOES OUT

5 STARS

 

In this 16th book of the Reacher series, Lee Child takes us back to 1997 for the last case of Jack Reacher’s Army military police career. We get to read about, in exquisite detail, the events that led to his early and involuntary separation from the military. And we get to witness the exact moment when the light in his eyes – that desire to be a career army officer – goes out.

Janice May Chapman, an exceptionally beautiful woman, has been murdered, her throat slashed and her body drained of all its blood. Her body has been found in an alley beside a bar popular with the soldiers stationed at Fort Kelham in Carter Crossing, Mississippi. Ft. Kelham is a base that houses and trains two companies of special black ops Rangers and the manner of death is consistent with their methods.

Since the same kind of wound could have come from a hunter’s skinning knife and plenty of the locals are hunters, it would seem to be as much a civilian issue as a military one. However, the deceased woman is the very recent ex-girlfriend of Captain Reed Riley, one of the black ops company commanders. And to throw gasoline on the Army’s fire, Riley is the son of a U.S. Senator, specifically the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Therefore, the Army has both political and budgetary dogs in this fight and a potential public relations nightmare on its hands.

Within a day of the woman’s death, Army CID sends two of its best investigators to Carter Crossing. Major Duncan Munro, five years younger than Reacher and rumored to be just as good an investigator as Reacher, is sent publically to Ft. Kelham to investigate on the Army’s behalf. Reacher is sent in undercover to monitor the efforts of the local sheriff to solve the case and report said efforts back to Washington.

Unfortunately for the Army, Reacher’s cover is blown within minutes of meeting the sheriff. Instead of the backwoods, beer-bellied hick that Reacher had been led to expect, the sheriff is well-toned, well-educated and good looking. And the sheriff is not a “he,” it’s a “she.” On top of that, “she” is a former Marine CID investigator.

And even more unfortunate for the Army, the background of the sheriff is not their only point of ignorance. It seems that there have been two other murders in Carter Crossing within the past year with the exact same MO. Both victims were also beautiful women and both victims were former girlfriends of Captain Riley. But these women were poor, black and invisible while Chapman was independently wealthy, white and a former Senate employee.

For Reacher, his orders to “observe” and “evaluate” are synonymous with an order to “investigate.” After he reports these initial findings as well as some other nasty and incriminating current events back to his boss in Washington, Reacher learns that not only is the Army going to disassociate itself from those incidents, it is going to frame a local for the deaths. And the Army is deliberately going to let a serial killer go free, posted to an iceberg in Greenland, but still free. For Reacher, neither of these outcomes is acceptable, not personally and not within the Military Code of Justice.

We may be reading the story of Reacher’s last mission as an Army officer, but we are also reading about a great many firsts that will become the staple of his civilian life. We witness the first time Reacher puts a collapsible toothbrush in his pocket. We read about the first time he puts on civilian clothes. We read about the first time he travels by bus with no luggage and no ID. We read about the first time he hitchhikes just to get himself from point A to somewhere in the vicinity of point B. We witness the first time he buys new clothes and throws the old ones away instead of washing them. We watch him take off his watch and rely only on the infamous internal clock within his brain. We watch Major Jack Reacher become simply Reacher, the capable and talented nomad that we have come to respect and admire for over a dozen books.

Some readers think this entry to be a prequel since it concerns events that occurred prior to the first book in the series, “Killing Floor.” However, these events are not told as if they are part of a new and fresh story. Child has Reacher in the present day, recollecting events in the past that forever changed his life. And the reader knows this from the first page. Having an intimate understanding of just who and what Jack Reacher is inside, because you have read all the previous entries, is what makes this book such a memorable read. No, it’s not really a prequel. It is just a form of reckoning, an explanation of why one set of lights went out and a whole new set turned on.

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A Suitable Vengeance

A Suitable Vengeance_ElizabethGeorge_234232

MURDER IS NOT THE MAIN STORY HERE

4 STARS

Technically, this fourth entry in the Inspector Lynley series is a prequel, taking place about a year before the events of the first novel, “A Great Deliverance.” Realistically though, this book is placed exactly where it needs to be in the series. After the bombshell that Deborah Cotter St. James laid on her husband, Simon, at the end of the previous book, Elizabeth George takes us back just far enough to get a real understanding of the original dynamics that led every character to that last point in time in that previous book.

Although written in third-person, the primary POV in this novel is that of Simon St. James. A brilliant move on Ms George’s part, Simon is practically the only character, major or minor, who does not wish “a suitable vengeance” on someone. Quite frankly, he hates himself too much to hate anyone else.

As for the others, Scotland Yard Inspector Thomas Lynley, the eighth Earl of Asherton, has sought and achieved vengeance against his mother for fifteen years. At the age of 17, he caught her “in flagrante delicto” with his father’s doctor in the room next door to the dying man. For well over a decade, as the Earl, he has controlled both the property and the purse strings of the extremely large estate in Cornwall. Punishing her with long silences, few visits and absolutely no physical touch, Lynley will not even allow a single portrait or photograph of his father to be displayed at the estate as long as his mother chooses to reside there. Oh, yes – vengeance is mine, sayeth Lynley!

Deborah Cotter has, in her mind and her heart, declared vengeance against Simon St. James. Even though Deborah is eleven years younger than Simon, they basically grew up together as her father was a highly placed employee in the wealthy St. James household. Deborah’s mother died when she was seven and Simon was critically injured and severely disabled in a car accident with Lynley shortly after the mother’s death. Despite their age difference, these circumstances bonded them together tightly. However, when Deborah was seventeen, Simon sent her to America to finish her college studies in photography, despite the fact that he loved her and she had professed her love for him. And for the last three years, Deborah has heard not one word from him, not a letter, not a phone call, nothing. But she has heard from Lynley, Simon’s best friend. He has called her often and has visited her in America multiple times. He has courted her slowly and dearly. She is no longer a woman scorned. She has become Lynley’s lover and she has accepted his proposal of marriage. Now, at age 21, she is returning to London and has made very specific plans as to how she will make Simon pay for the hurt he laid on her. Oh, yes – vengeance is mine, sayeth Deborah!

Peter Lynley is Thomas Lynley’s younger brother. When their mother betrayed their father and then the father died, Thomas, in his hate and his grief, essentially abandoned his pre-teen little brother. With no one to guide him during these critical years of youth, Peter eventually descended through self-pity and depression into an addiction to cocaine. Thomas has the title, the estate, the money, the Bentley, the rank with Scotland Yard. And Peter hasn’t enough for his next fix. Hearing that Lynley is bringing Deborah to Cornwall to celebrate his engagement, Peter heads there too, with plans and announcements of his own. Peter is determined that Thomas will pay for all those years of abandonment, and not all the payment will be in money. Oh, yes – vengeance is mine, sayeth Peter!

And let’s not forget Sergeant Barbara Havers. She is not yet Thomas Lynley’s partner. In fact, she does not even personally know him at this point. She just knows him by reputation – his title, his wealth, his position in the Yard, his purported sexual conquests. And for this, she despises him. When Peter Lynley falls afoul of the law in relation to a murder and her boss is assigned to the case, Barbara is ecstatic. She looks Thomas Lynley straight in the face and telegraphs her glee and her intentions. Oh, yes – vengeance is mine, sayeth Havers!

Unfortunately, the dance card of hate is still not yet filled. One other character feels that he has been humiliated at the hands of his peers. And the plans for vengeance he sets in motion even transcend death.

So where is the murder in all this soap opera? On or about page 115 of the mass-market paperback edition, we find the body of Mick Cambrey, with a fractured skull and sexually mutilated. He is a journalist, son of the Cornwall paper’s owner, the son-in-law of Lynley’s estate manager and reputedly a notorious womanizer. Thus, the sexual mutilation comes across as yet another instance of “a suitable vengeance.”

Mick is just the first of four people who will die within one week, that same week that Lynley has taken Deborah, Simon and Lady Helen Clyde to Cornwall for the engagement festivities. Lynley is out of his jurisdiction from a police standpoint, although he and Simon investigate anyway. However, almost everyone involved is either related to Lynley by blood, employment or emotion. He is really not at the top of his game and he knows it. Simon’s ability to compartmentalize in the face of physical and emotional pain pulls the investigation together. But, basically, Lady Helen is the only principle character without a dog in this fight, so to speak. So she does what she does best, she mediates, she coordinates, and she uses both her high society skills and her acting ability to gain information for Lynley.

Elizabeth George’s writing throughout this novel is rich, full and expressive. Her characters are, for the most part, high born and/or well educated and she writes a vocabulary to match. Her physical descriptions of people and locations are crisp and clear. Her characters are multi-dimensional and she does not paint them by description or dialogue with any particular society’s morality brush. They are who they are, they think and say what they will, and they live with the consequences.

The entries in this series are usually classified as British police procedurals specializing in murder investigations. But this book, in particular, and the series is general, is not really about murder. It is about five intertwined characters: Lynley, Simon, Deborah, Lady Helen and Havers. Murder is only the catalyst that effects changes in these characters’ lives and affects the dynamics between them. This series is about people’s lives, not about people’s deaths.

Even being about people’s lives, these entries, particularly this one, are not capable of being classified as romantic suspense either. Even if there are intimate relationships involved and there are mysteries and murders, the emotional, as well as the investigative, content is dark and sometimes quite stressful to absorb. There are no overt or erotic sexual scenarios. While much is alluded to or implied, nothing is gratuitous or sensationalized. And, if you need an HEA at the end, don’t look here. In this particular entry, Prince Charming does not get Cinderella, justice is not served, and every one of our characters reaches the last page grappling with some form of a personal living hell.

Cover Art From Goodreads