Sunday, August 5, 2018

Heat and Murder in Australia in THE DRY

The Dry by Jane Harper is set in the barren Outback of Australia, where a small town is suffering from an endless drought and reeling from a horrific local crime.

Three members of the Hadler family are found dead in an apparent murder-suicide at their farm. It looks like the father, Luke Hadler, killed his wife and small son, then killed himself. The farm was nearly bankrupt, maybe Luke Hadler just snapped one day. At least, that's what it looks like on the surface.

Federal Agent Aaron Falk grew up in that town and he attends the funerals. He's an unwanted exile there after the suspicious death of a young girl Falk knew twenty years earlier, when he himself was teenager. Some locals blamed Falk for the girl's death then and still nurse ugly feelings toward him.

Falk can't wait to leave, but he gets drawn into the Hadler case. Luke Hadler was a close friend once. Falk can't believe he would kill his own family that way. As Falk joins the local police investigation, new evidence that doesn't fit begins to show up. But if it turns out that Luke Hadler wasn't the killer, it means one chilling thing: someone else in the town is the murderer.

The Dry is a compelling read, set under the unforgiving heat of a parched landscape, where the unending dryness has driven someone mad enough to commit a monstrous crime.

Saturday, June 9, 2018


The Death of Mrs. Westaway is a new psychological mystery by Ruth Ware, author of previous best sellers In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin Ten.

The main character of the new novel is Harriet Westaway, nicknamed Hal, a young woman who ekes out a living as a Tarot reader on the Brighton Pier. Hal gets a surprising letter naming her as an heir of a deceased grandmother. But Hal immediately realizes it's a mistake, the dead woman was not her grandmother. Yet Hal is in debt and desperate, so she makes a risky decision to try to claim whatever the inheritance is.

She travels to Cornwall to the Westaway family estate of Trepassen. There she meets the brothers Harding, Able, and Ezra, along with the aged and hostile housekeeper Mrs. Warren. Hal must pass herself off as the daughter of a sister, Maud Westaway, who went missing years earlier. Hal's appearance as an unknown heir is a shock to the suspicious family members.

As Hal continues her deception, she learns more and more about Westaway family secrets long buried. But someone doesn't want those secrets exposed and Hal finds she has stepped into a dangerous trap.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway is not Ruth Ware's best work. The novel is a slow-tempo read, with far too much of Hal's swirling interior thoughts clogging the plot. The frenzied climax stains credulity with its questionable motivations of a key character.

Friday, June 1, 2018

THE OUTSIDER by Stephen King a Crime/Horror Crossover

With his new novel, The Outsider, Stephen King has written a hybrid tale that begins in the Crime genre and then crosses over to finish wholly within the Horror genre. It's a dizzying switch for readers to make and the result may not be satisfying for some.

The novel opens with an impossible crime enigma. Flint City kids baseball coach Terry Maitland is arrested for the perverse murder of an eleven year-old boy. Fingerprint and DNA evidence from Maitland is conclusive that he is the killer. Eyewitness statements add confirmation it was him. There's just one problem. Maitland was with a group of fellow teachers at a conference seventy miles away at the same time the boy was murdered. Video camera footage at the conference confirms Maitland's alibi. He couldn't have been the killer. He couldn't be in two places at once. Or could he?

This is the compelling crime puzzle that King sets up. But to provide an answer, the novel has to shift radically into the supernatural realm of things such as doppelgangers and shape-shifters. It's a theme King has explored before in his work, notably in the novel, The Dark Half.

For readers looking for a straight Crime fiction story, The Outsider may be a disappointment with its sudden outright supernatural turn. For fans of the Horror fiction thrillers that Stephen King is best known for, the book may be just what they're looking for.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

TWISTED PREY a Bullet-Paced Crime Thriller

U.S. Marshal Lucas Davenport returns to face a diabolical enemy in Twisted Prey, a new crime thriller from author John Sandford. An assassination attempt is made on a U.S. Senator on a lonely forest road, and the Senator's companion is killed. When Lucas is asked to investigate, he finds that a ruthless enemy he has faced once before may be involved.

Two years earlier, Lucas came up against Taryn Grant, a cold blooded sociopath with political ambitions, who appeared to mastermind several murders in order to further her Senate campaign. Lucas was never able to get enough evidence to charge Grant for the crimes. Now an elected Senator in Washington D.C., Grant is out to remove a fellow Senate rival in her plan to get to the White House. She has links to a shadowy firm of ex-military mercenaries who will do her dirty work for her and leave no fingerprints behind.

When Lucas Davenport gets in Taryn Grant's way again, she is enraged. First, a violent attack is made against a member of Davenport's family. Then Lucas himself becomes the target of a murder hit from a tenacious adversary who won't be stopped.

Twisted Prey is a compelling Crime/Political thriller with a plot that moves at bullet speed. It's another great read from John Sandford that should end up on many beach blankets this summer.

Friday, April 27, 2018

THE DISAPPEARED by C.J. Box a new Wyoming Mystery

Wyoming state game warden Joe Pickett returns in The Disappeared, a new mystery novel from C.J. Box. The popular series is set against a rugged Western backdrop as Joe Pickett finds himself involved in often dangerous criminal situations.

A new problem arises for Joe when a British tourist vanishes after her stay at the upscale Silver Creek dude ranch. The local game warden from the same district is also suddenly missing. Joe Pickett is sent by the new state Governor to replace the missing game warden and at the same time, look into the disappearance of the British woman.

As Joe digs into the mystery, he begins to have questions about a big company, Buckbrush Power, which owns a massive wind power farm in the nearby mountains. Could the company be behind the recent losses of the tourist and the game warden?

Joe's investigation leads him in unexpected directions toward the surprising answers to two different mysteries. The Disappeared offers only a passable mystery plot, but new material involving familiar characters like Joe's daughter, Sheridan, should satisfy fans of the continuing series.

Monday, February 26, 2018

THE ALIENIST a Dark Historical Crime Thriller

The Alienist is currently airing as a mini-series drama on TNT cable. The series is based on the original crime novel best seller by Caleb Carr. For viewers of the TV version, the novel itself offers even richer historical depth and background to the story.

Set in 1896 New York City, during the Gilded Age period, the novel follows the hunt for a diabolical murderer of multiple young boy victims. The main character is the driven, acerbic Laszlo Kreizler. He works as an alienist, a term used for the then new field of abnormal human psychology. Kreizler seeks to use his professional training to catch the perpetrator of the string of boy killings. His methods are derided by the corrupt New York police force, who do not want his help in solving the case.

What Kreizler is really doing is trying to build an early version of what is now called criminal profiling in order to catch a serial killer. He is assisted by a team of colleagues, including a crime reporter, a female police secretary, and a pair of Jewish detective brothers. Backing up Kreizler's efforts is the young New York police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt.

The Alienist is notable for its combining of a chilling criminal investigation with a distinctive historical setting. At over 500 pages, the novel is a heavy read, given the author's dense, and often ponderous writing style. But the wealth of background material may be worth the reading effort.

After the success of this novel, author Caleb Carr wrote a sequel, The Angel of Darkness, which features the same cast of characters, this time on the track of a fiendish female serial killer.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Dark, Violent Forces Swirl Through ROBICHEAUX

Robicheaux by James Lee Burke is a grim new crime novel in the long running series built around troubled Louisiana Sheriff's detective Dave Robicheaux. Still grieving over the recent death of his wife in a traffic accident, Dave retreats back into alcoholism and haunted memories of his own brutish past acts.

The novel is a swirling narrative of entanglements among a cast of hard edged, deeply flawed characters circling around Robicheaux. Smarmy, corrupt politician Jimmy Nightingale. Sordid, dirty cop Spade Labiche. Dissolute author Levon Broussard. Obese, terminally sick mobster Tony Nemo. Tough, Western-dressing detective Sheri Picard. And Dave's longtime soul brother, Clete Purcel, a hulking, brooding time bomb of violent potential.

Into this volatile mix comes a truly hideous new presence: a doughy, red lipped hit man nicknamed Smiley, whose childlike thought process as he executes his victims is blood chilling. With each new body, Robicheaux struggles to find a connection behind the seemingly random death list.

As always, the author's lyrical descriptions of the Louisiana bayou country are beautifully done. The pastoral portrait of weather and terrain stands in mute contrast to the fruitless cycle of human venality and violence that runs through Robicheaux.