A witty duo, the 1940s with a modern edge, and a whole lotta mystery. If you read anything remotely related to cozy mysteries or dynamic female duos being badasses, you NEED to have this on your radar.
It's the mid-1940s in New York City and Willowjean "Will" Parker is working as night shift muscle for an abandoned construction site. Will's always looking for cash in between circus gigs, and this one pays as well as anything. (And Will knows how to handle herself.)
What Will isn't expecting, however, is to witness Lillian Pentecost in action. Middle-aged, wielding an elegant cane for her multiple sclerosis (M.S.), and dressed in an impeccable tailored suit, Ms. Pentecost is here to catch a killer and completely unbothered by Will's presence.
Will ends up killing said murderer—with a throwing knife to the back—for Ms. Pentecost's sake.
The dynamic duo is born.
Months later, Will and Ms. Pentecost are the best private detectives in the game, with cases spanning from the mundane to the spectacular. And this time, it's a classic locked-room mystery that's piqued their interest. A rich man dies, supposedly by suicide. A year later, his widow dies in a locked room after a disturbing séance.
Are the two deaths connected, and if so, are they murders?
This was so. much. fun. I can't state that enough. For one thing, it's rare to find a cozy mystery series that packs a punch at every single level. Engaging characters? Check. Engaging plot beyond the basics? Check. Authentic bisexual representation? Check. Intricate world-building beyond the murder? Check. Humor for days? Check.
Fortune Favors the Dead had it ALL, folks. I am in love with these characters and their adventures. I hope the author writes many, many more to come. Do yourself a solid and pick this up, I promise you won't regret it.
A near-perfect blend of atmospheric fiction mixed with a mystery. Not a standard mystery/thriller by any means...but a spectacular main character voice. I've added this author to my immediate "to watch" list and can see myself rereading this novel many times to come.
Main character/Narrative Voice: ★★★★★
Actual Mystery(s): ★★
Pure Enjoyment: ★★★★★
So first off, I think that this novel is weirdly placed in the mystery/thriller category on the shelves when really, it's an atmospheric literary fiction with some dead bodies in it.
It's like alternative take on a Jennifer McMahon, if you gutted all of her unnecessary meanderings and subplots (some people like them, I do not) and left us with just the vibes and atmosphere—and added a main character that pops right off the page and into your living room. Don't come for the devious and hard-to-grasp mystery—this is not a Christie whodunit. This is an atmospheric stay.
Dark Currents follows the story of David, a transgender man who is returning to his childhood small town of New Compton, Rhode Island, a few years after his transition and right on the heels of his recent firing from a university.
Why is David returning to his hometown, you might ask?
Because his grandma, who lives there alone, is in the downward swing of degenerative memory loss and he received a disturbing voicemail from her one night. There's a body, there's a lot of blood, there's a lobster, and there's a man in the dark. Can David come now!?
David rushes to the scene, but by the time he arrives his grandma's forgotten the whole thing and is surprised to see him there. But the dead body is real, and its grandma's neighbor and life-long old friend. It looks like an accident, but David can't be sure and neither can the town—their witness isn't exactly reliable, after all.
With small town secrets, histories, family, and more colliding into one tangle, it's up to David and his ex-boyfriend, town cop Billy Dyer, to solve the mystery and untangle the threads of the past before it's too late.
WOW. This writing voice. Every once in a while, you come across writing that just leaps off the page and into your room with you—the voice of the narrator is so strong and so vivid without being a distraction in its own right. Dark Currents is one of those books. I could practically hear David's voice in my head as I read these pages. I loved this book for that vividness alone as hardly any fiction does that for me these days.
Another thing I loved about this novel was that the story wasn't really about the mystery. It was about the people and their histories and how they converged in this particular point in time. Dark Currents has a bit of an oral history vibe to it, with vignettes of stories interspersed as David's grandma's friends tell him about the past while he tries to untangle the present. It also has a strong small town and maritime vibe, which also appealed to me. The sea and its secrets, and those who keep them.
Also, last but NOT least--this novel was hilarious too. Amid the extremely dark topics of murder, transphobia/PTSD, and degenerative memory loss and its affects on family, the dry one liners and situational humor that the author managed to organically fit into this story was just *chef's kiss*.
I loved it.
Wow, this mystery packed a punch... but the true star of the show was the complexity of the main character/amateur detective, Frankie Elkin. Very strong opener for a woman I hope we see in more sequels.
A woman with a haunted past, Frankie Elkin has carved out a space within empty spaces for herself as a traveling amateur investigator. No home, no possessions, no family to encourage her to settle down and keep her roots.
She follows the trails of the missing. And she's found 14 of them so far. None were alive, but that's not what Frankie promised their family in the first place--Frankie promised to find them. And she does.
In Before She Disappeared, Frankie arrives in Boston with her nose to the ground on a missing persons case that's spent 11 months gathering dust by the local investigators. Angelique Badeau, a promising young Haitian immigrant attending Boston Academy high school, went missing after school one day. The leads dried up fast.
Her younger brother, Emmanuel, is convinced that she's still alive somewhere.
The cops, including the brooding Detective Lotham in charge of the case, don't think that's the case.
Frankie doesn't know who is right just yet, but she's determined to find out.
If there's one thing Frankie is good at, it's asking the right questions. And being such a pain in cops' ass that they begrudgingly ignore her tactics and let her stumble around the fringes of the case. With one begrudging Detective Lotham at her side, Frankie's ready to roll...
I thought this was one heck of a good mystery/thriller. There was just enough of a pacing issue to keep it from being an all-time favorite for me, personally, but it came close. Before She Disappeared is a tightly plotted, atmospheric, and memorable thriller with a rock-solid core in its protagonist, Frankie.
Frankie and her singular sense of drive really carried this novel for me, even when I struggled to engage with the plot at the beginning. I wanted to know more about this woman—why was she doing this? What in her past made her this way, and what would it take for her to recover?
Other elements that really worked for me was the setting and side characters. I've never been to Boston, and I'm definitely not plugged in to the Haitian immigrant population and their day-to-day flow, but in this novel the author breathed life into that scenario and I could almost believe that I was there and knew what the heck I was talking about (obviously I don't, but it speaks to the author's research and/or ability to convey a particular geographic imprint that I felt that "sold" onto the worldbuilding).
I'd strongly recommend this one to fans of Louisa Luna, Jane Harper, and other moody mystery/thrillers with killer writing and unbelievably real main characters.
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Another hypnotic, unstoppable novel from an author who can seemingly tackle any genre. Crime noir, interesting characters, and a plot that moves at the pace of a snail and yet captivates your attention. A very interesting read.
Happy Publication Day!
Velvet Was the Night is a study in interesting contradictions wrapped around a "true horror story," as the author herself notes in her afterword. I found it to be utterly compelling even despite of a few personal quirks.
Maite is a 30-year-old woman in 1970s Mexico City. She lives in an apartment that she can't really afford, she works as a dictation secretary in a law office she doesn't like, and she's desperate for love and yet unwilling to open herself up to the possibility of finding it.
She's not a likeable character, to be honest. But I didn't care--she was interesting. And interesting people are more fun to follow within a story.
When her neighbor, the beautiful and artistic Leonara, asks Maite to watch her cat while she leaves town for a few days, Maite reluctantly agrees. Maite has no idea how that one decision will change her life.
Leonara doesn't return. And things in Mexico City are about to boil over into a political nightmare with Maite, of all people, somehow at the center of the story.
Entwined with Maite's story is the story of Elvis, a young man working for the Hawks, a shady, guerilla/gangsterized form of enforcers operating in the shadows of the current Mexican regime. Elvis fell into the line of work when his petty thieving brought him to the attention of the wrong people, and now he's embroiled in the drama whether he wants to be or not. And Elvis isn't quite sure these days.
As Maite's and Elvis' lives meld into one noir narrative bubbling with intrigue, Velvet Was the Night embarks on a simmering adventure.
Now, I'm starting from a place of bias when I say that I love Silvia Moreno-Garcia already. I'm primed to—at a minimum—enjoy her work as I love her writing style and her way of delving into character development. This novel was no exception. I loved it too.
Velvet Was the Night was a different kind of Moreno-Garcia read, however, and I'm still chewing on the why. For one thing, it took Moreno-Garcia's already slowwww pacing and dialed it down even further. Which I didn't know was possible. Let's be honest: I struggled with the slowness of the pacing for the first half of the book because it was just that—tooooooo slowwwwww.
But then the simmering, never-at-rest and yet slow-as-heck vibe started to get to me. I was hooked, and even though I still wanted the ride to go faster, I was getting into it as a slow burn. Good synonyms for this story: simmering, digesting, creeping, enveloping. Slow and steady wins the RACE, y'all.
I also had a bit of a harder time with this novel as the characters weren't who I wanted them to be. I don't know why, maybe it's society's expectations or stereotypes of the genre or something else, but the fact that Maite and Elvis continued to thwart my expectations of them (sometimes even in negative ways) just really took me aback. Looking back on the reading experience, I liked that about the novel. But during the read I found it frustrating.
See what I mean? Contradictions. An odd, lingering, inescapable story. Another winner.
Silvia, what WILL you write next??? I am already waiting.
Thank you to Del Rey for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Really interesting. Hypnotic. Didn’t go where I expected it to go, and carried an uncomfortable edge from beginning to bitter end.
Writing style: ★★★★
Sense of unease: ★★★★★
Plot/Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
The Temple House Vanishing comes out on July 6!
As I write this review, there's a thunderstorm outside my window and we're on our 5th day of constant rain and storms. This feels almost creepily tied to the review of this book... so I'm rolling with it.
It was a dark, and stormy night...
But actually, it wasn't. It was just "a" night in the rural Irish moors when Louisa disappears from the Temple House school. The enigmatic young male teacher, Mr. Lavelle, disappears too. Many theories abound over the years as neither student nor teacher are seen again.
Did they run off together?
Was their something sordid in their closeness?
Where are they now?
What REALLY happened that school year in the all-girls boarding school?
On the 25th anniversary of the disappearances, a journalist decides to have a crack at solving the case. The students are now middle-aged women, the nuns who ran the school are dead, and Temple House itself is slated for demolition. If the case is going to be solved at all, it must be now.
But all is not what it seems, and as the layers unpeel from this gothic tale the lingering sense of unease creeps up on you. Don't get too comfortable.
I thought this was a very interesting novel. Is it a mystery/thriller? Kind of. Is it a twisted tale, meant to unearth the darkest aspects of human nature? I don't know if I'd say that. In the end, I'd say it's a character study and an exercise in the gothic classics. The Temple House Vanishing is perfect for those who enjoy Sarah Waters and Sarah Moss.
The writing style took a little getting used to, as it's very no-nonsense and deals in overt sentences laced with undertones. I found it really easy to get lost in the surface plot and glaze over some of the fine print in the details... and then that would bite me later, as those fine details were where the true story is unfolding.
A complex, multilayered dual-POV novel with a lot of interesting nuances.
Now, a brief NON-SPOILER section on the ending. As this novel is centered around a mysterious circumstance, there is a final series of reveals regarding The Truth of What Happened. I found myself surprised by the ending... and also slightly cheated... and also vaguely uneasy. It wasn't a comfortable, or frankly satisfying, ending. But it felt very real and not over-sensationalized and honestly fit right in with the overall sense of lingering unease that the novel provoked.
If this review doesn't turn you right off from the book, then I'd say you should pick it up! The target audience is on the small, niche side, but you'll have a good time here if that's your thing.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Disturbing, heart wrenching, powerful, and shattering. A Muslim lawyer takes on the hardest legal case of her career and finds the lines between professional and personal slipping as she defends a disabled white girl in her accusation of rape against four local Muslim boys. This is not a casual read by any description, but it is an extremely powerful one.
A court case surrounding a "he said, she said" rape trial with the added complexities of disability and racial tensions? Yeah, we went there. And it was as messy as you can imagine it to be.
Jodie is a a 16-year-old white girl with facial deformities and a story to tell. When she walks into the Artemis House, a legal institution that provides council to women, and tells her story... it's shocking. In it, she accuses 4 Muslim boys from her high school of violence and sexual assault.
Zara, a Muslim herself, is Jodie's case worker. She believes Jodie and vows to defend her no matter the cost.
However, Zara herself is dealing with several personal issues during this time as well. Her family life is shattered: when Zara flees her husband's family and a bad arranged marriage, she's branded negatively by the local Muslim community. Her family is upset at her lack of tradition, her lack of subservience, her mental fortitude and independence.
Adding this sexual assault trial against "their" boys does not help matters.
It also doesn't help that Zara's struggling with her emotional state and her dependence on prescription drugs. When life throws you curveballs, why not take a chill pill? When one becomes two becomes more.... Zara's sinking here too.
And then more things come out about the case, and Jodie's story...
Just who, exactly, is telling the truth?
It's a testament to the author's talent that she evokes such strong themes and visceral reactions to her story. For that reason, Kia Abdullah is one my list to watch for future books. While I think I'm done with sexual assault themes in novels for good—NOT the fault of this book, but something I've learned through trial and error this year is not a good topic for me to consume for personal reasons—this was an extremely powerful and well-told story.
One of the strongest elements of this novel is the balancing act between the two storylines and the actual truth. Like most court cases, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I appreciated the author's deft handling of the plot's conclusion... especially as it would have been so easy to misstep and deliver one of the more expected outcomes.
This is the kind of novel that continuously asks you, the reader, to check yourself. Are you experiencing bias by wishing for this outcome or the other? Who are you siding with, and why? How do you respond to Zara's personal quagmires? Just who exactly is "winning" here, or are there no winners?
A complex book. Recommended reading for all readers of the genre and, honestly, other adult fiction readers too. A powerful story that deserves a wide audience.
Thank you to St Martins Press for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
The perfect winter night read with a dash of murder and buried secrets.
Enjoyment: ★★★★ 1/2
Villain(s)/Reveal(s): ★★★★ 1/2
A car is found stranded on the side of a snowed-in road later one dark evening. The door is open. Inside the rapidly freezing car is a small baby boy staring out.
What happened to the mother? Why did she appear to go peacefully, yet leave her child to the freezing elements with the door open?
Vera Stanhope and her squad of British cops are on the case. It's Vera herself who discovers the baby and the car, and when she takes him to the nearest lit house in the dark she's shocked to realize that it's the ancestral manor home of her estranged father. That side of the family is rich and snooty and Vera's not thrilled to be back. But the baby and his mother take priority.
This interesting clashing of the classes occurs in the midst of the missing persons case turned deadly: within a few hours, the mother's body is discovered brutally murdered on the grounds of the estate.
With a closed list of suspects, a small town filled with buried secrets, and the threat of an undiscovered murder, it's time for Vera to connect the dots of the past and see just what happened on the darkest evening.
So this was my first Vera Stanhope and Ann Cleves novel, but it will NOT be my last one. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Vera took some getting used to and her team was odd, but overall a really solid mystery tale with all the hallmarks of the classics. Strong points in this novel were the final reveals, the atmosphere, and the unfolding of secrets.
Thank you to the publisher for my copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.
I don't think I'll be forgetting this book any time soon. "Haunting," is one word for it. "Piercing" is another.
Cultural relevancy: ★★★★★
The Night Swim is a novel that feels sharply of its time—and that's not a good thing for our modern world. In my opinion, this book shouldn't have to exist. But I'm glad that Megan Goldin decided to tell it, because it's poignant, important, and aches with past and present bruises.
Rachel Krall is now a household name. After starting her extremely successful cold-case crime podcast, Rachel has become something of an amateur detective, jury, and public figure all in one. Now in her third season of her podcast, Rachel decides to go into uncharted territory: covering a current, ongoing court case.
A small town is in the midst of a rape trial.
Immediately, your expectations can supply some of the details as—and I hope you can feel the angry in my words through the screen--this is not a unique injustice in our society.
A golden boy, a pillar of the Neapolis community, destined for a shot at the Olympic swim team when he graduates, perfect in every way according to the world and his parents and society--he's been charged with rape and assault. How could such a nice boy have done this? The town cries for this boy who's been "wronged."
The girl, of course, is living in a different kind of hell and hasn't been looked on as fondly by the town. Her family is hounded by the press, her name becomes synonymous with "asking for it," and her trial has been hijacked in the court of public opinion by her predator.
Rachel Krall is here to find out the truth behind this current rape trial. But what Rachel doesn't expect to find is a series of letters addressed to her, begging her to look into the "accidental" death of a teenage girl 25 years ago in the same small town. The town slut, the town's shining example of a girl gone wrong. That girl's fate was also determined by the court of public opinion, and her death was pushed under the rug.
With pulse-pounding suspense, lingering coastal atmosphere, and a social commentary as sharp as glass, The Night Swim is a great mystery/thriller. I hope its place in the canon does its subject matter justice, and I hope it sparks more conversations. As a woman, it made me rage and ache and want to not have daughters. As a reader, it made me appreciate Goldin's talent for the written word, and her bravery for tackling a topic that, as her own protagonist states, is somehow not a black and white issue.
If we can all agree that murder is wrong, indefinitely, irrefutably—why is rape somehow different? Like Rachel Krall's podcast concludes with, it's time for you, the audience, to decide for yourself who is right, and who is wrong.
Thank you to St Martin's Press via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
I was bored silly for 75% of this book, but the very very end did surprise me more than I expected it to, so I bumped the rating up a star.
Because my feelings for this one are so meh, this review is going to be short and sweet.
I think that fans of Alice Feeney may enjoy this one, but as this was my first Feeney novel I can't say that for certain. I CAN say that this novel didn't have the same polarizing negative representation that I Know Who You Are seemed to have. (I heard about the ending to that book - yikes.)
This was just... a seriously standard dual POV thriller. There's a dead body, and a male perspective and a female perspective. The man and woman are obviously linked together, and a third, "murderer" POV thrown in that could be anyone. There's enough shocks, red herrings, and twisted secrets for 10 lifetimes.
As you can probably tell from my lackluster phrasing—I'm so sorry to this book, it's not really its fault—I just didn't enjoy reading it. The writing seemed like it kept trying to reel me in, but the endless vague sentences, dual-meaning scenes, and flashbacks conveyed to be as sinister-yet-vague as possible all kept me from feeling like this was a real story with real stakes. It felt very fourth wall, very staged. And, despite its pulse-pounding premise, I was also extremely bored. I could have handled one or two of the above issues and still enjoyed the ride, but all of them? No dice.
Oh well. On to the next!
Thank you to Flatiron via NetGalley for my giveaway ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
A haunted house, a family with too many secrets, a girl-turned-woman caught in the crossfire. Many years later, it's time for the woman to come home and deal with the remnants of her past.
Final, final ending: ★★★★
This DELIVERED. I was gripped for the entire read. I was surprised at points and not at others. I had a heck of a good time reading it in one sitting. But but but...?
Maggie Holt grew up in the shadow of The Book. The Book: a haunted "nonfiction" account of one family's few weeks of horrors in a haunted Victorian mansion. The Book was written by her journalist father when she was very small, and captured the weeks that their family lived in Baneberry Hall and experienced the most terrifying time of their lives.
Or so the world believes.
Maggie, now a grown woman, believes The Book was a clever piece of fiction that her father wrote for money. The fact that she remembers nothing of her time in Baneberry Hall—good or bad—speaks to that fact. (Well, except for her lingering night terrors, which hang with her to this day...)
So when her father dies and shocks Maggie with the deed to Baneberry Hall, Maggie knows that now, finally, it's her turn. It's her turn to find out the truth about her past and reclaim her childhood in the eyes of the public. And time to lay old ghosts to rest, permanently.
But Baneberry Hall isn't ready to give Maggie up yet, and something is determined to go bump in the night...
What if The Book wasn't a lie after all?
What I loved:
I say this every time I read a Riley Sager book: I loved the writing. There's something to be said for a story that doesn't skimp on facts and yet doesn't overuse its details. This was another Sager novel that I read in one sitting late one stormy night (if you can control your weather, I highly recommend that experience). It's moody, it's dark, it's spooky. It's also a story within a story, with spliced sections of Maggie's POV in the present and spliced chapters of The Book itself recounting the past. I loved that element too—talk about a tried and true method of creating suspense. And also, the elephant in the room, I'm a sucker for haunted houses so I was, at a minimum, going to enjoy this novel for that element alone. Which I did.
What I didn't love:
The only thing I didn't love is a small spoiler from the very end. It wasn't enough to tip me from 5 stars to 4, but it was just enough that I went, aw, really? Really? Because this novel would have been perfection if it had done one more thing. I don't want to include it here because some folks will read it and then the story won't work for them the same way, but for those who have read it I'll send you to my Goodreads review so you can read the spoiler: (view spoiler)
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.