In a Dark, Dark Wood

9781501112324_p0_v4_s192x300Ruth Ware expands on the spooky setting of her title in her first mystery thriller – In a Dark, Dark Wood.  A glass house with no curtains or phone service; a group of six forced together for a “hen” party, the British term for bachelorette bash before the wedding; a Ouija board spelling out murderer, a gun over the mantle – mix these with a self-possessed bride and the groom’s ex girlfriend – and you get revenge, murder, suspicion, surprise.

The story flips back and forth from the main character, Nora, recovering in a hospital bed, with a police guard outside her door, and flashbacks to the “hen” party events leading up to her current distress.  Her amnesia adds to the dilemma, and keeps the reader wondering who is telling the truth.  Nora herself is not sure what she has done, and a secret from the past she holds with the bridegroom threatens her resolve.

Ware cleverly throws in plausible red herrings and scary scenarios to keep the pages turning quickly.  If you enjoyed The Girl on the Train and Before I Go to Sleep, add In a Dark, Dark Wood to the books that will keep you awake at night.

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Her by Harriet Lane

9780316369879_p0_v1_s260x420Harriet Lane’s suspenseful thriller – Her – uses an unlikable revengeful protagonist to methodically stalk her unknowing prey.  The book is a page-turner: you will know early in the story who the victim, Emma, is and her past relationship to the sly Nina – but you will wonder exactly how far Nina will go to exact her revenge.  The ending will have you holding your breath.

As in her first book – Alys, Always – Lane focuses on the characters, slowly revealing the unlikely villain, until you are caught in the story and wanting to alert the poor target of the venom.  In Her, Nina recognizes an old foe and carefully calculates how to exact revenge for something that happened so long ago that Emma doesn’t even remember it.  Nina remains incognito as she slyly insinuates herself into Emma’s life – stealing her wallet and then pretending to have found it, luring her toddler into the woods and then alerting the police to his rescue.  The chapters alternate between Emma and Nina, each relating the same incident, but from a different perspective –  Nina, the stalker; Emma, the vulnerable target.

A great read – not only for the comparison of the lives of two forty-year olds – one who wears Prada, the other stumbling through parenting a toddler and a newborn – but also for the intense psychological thrills as the story quickly progresses to a climax.  Harriet Lane has mastered the art of the dangerous female protagonist; I can’t wait for her next one.

Related ReviewAlys, Always

 

The Cuckoo’s Calling

9780316206846_p0_v3_s260x420Would I have read Robert Galbraith’s detective mystery – The Cuckoo’s Calling – if I had not known J.K. Rowling was hiding behind the words? Probably not.  But having loyally followed her from Harry Potter to her less stellar adult book, Casual Vacancy, I curiously wanted to know what this prolific author would do with a mystery.

The storyline follows a familiar formula. The grizzled war hero detective, Comoran Strike, and his trusty secretary/assistant, beautiful and young Robin, are on the case of a murder that the police have closed as a suicide. The victim is a model with a past and a shady boyfriend.  As the duo fend off red herrings, other characters and the setting offer a distinctive British flavor.

Galbraith/Rowling reveals the clues through endless conversations between possible suspects and Strike.  The tough Colombo-like detective (he is missing a leg, not an eye) with a soft-spot for his bright adventure-seeking new secretary, solves the case about halfway through the book, from crucial but mysterious clues that only he can decipher. What was the significance of the drops of water on the stairs and the victim’s missing note, written on a blue slip of paper?  How did the search for a birth father change the victim’s life?

“The dead could only speak through the mouths of those left behind, and through the signs left they scattered behind them.”

The clues drop out fast, and you might want to use Strike’s note-taking method to keep them all straight.  If you enjoy solving a crime as you read, the author happily gives you all the pieces, and dutifully reveals all in an Agatha Christie wrap-up at the end.  The murderer is a surprise but you might figure it out.

In the book’s last lines, Rowling may be sending fans a message with Comoran’s quote from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses.”

I cannot rest from travel:  I will drink
Life to the lees; all times  have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those 
That loved me, and alone; on shore and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name…

Not as clever as Harry Potter’s magical escapades, but The Cuckoo’s Calling had enough to keep me reading to find out whodunit, and wonder if Rowling/Galbraith has created the beginnings of a detective series.  Comoran Strike and Robin make a good team.

The Sound of Broken Glass

9780061990632_p0_v1_s260x420When I started to read The Sound of Broken Glass, Deborah Crombie’s story seemed familiar.  Although I had not read it before (I checked), the mystery neatly followed the formula of a police procedural, with detectives investigating the murder while slowly revealing their own personal lives.  Like two of my favorite detective series – Ruth Galloway and Claire Ferguson – the chief investigators are women. In this case, Gemma James is an Inspector in London, with her husband on leave from Scotland Yard to care for their new foster daughter, and her sidekick is Detective Sergeant Melody Talbot.

The life of a young handsome musician with the tortured background of a true artist  leads the plot, flipping back and forth from his past in the slums of South London with his alcoholic mother to his present day breakthrough as the newly discovered supertalent who haunts the guitar shops on Denmark Street in Soho.  His connection to the kinky strangulation of two London barristers twists the investigation into likely possibilities, until the real murderer is discovered.

This is my first experience with this British mystery series based on the adventures of Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Detective Gemma James of London’s Scotland Yard.  Crombie doesn’t waste pages explaining their background and I will have to read her previous books to discover how the relationship led to marriage and the adoption of two foster children with tragic backgrounds, but none of the missing information detracted from this latest adventure.  Crombie is an American author now living in Texas, but her clever insertions of local London dialect, food, and lifestyle as well as detailed descriptions of the Crystal Palace and Notting Hill sustained a comfortable British flavor while offering a satisfying puzzle easily solved for fans of the British crime mystery.

 

Best Kept Secret and Be Careful What You Wish For by Jeffrey Archer

9781250000989_p0_v3_s260x420The third book in Jeffery Archer’s saga of the Clifton and Barrington families – Best Kept Secret – resolves the inheritance issues from the second book, and introduces the next generation.  Sebastian, son of Emma Barrington and Harry Clifton, manages to uphold the family drama with his own escapades; one involves  Third Reich money laundered through a South American villain.  Beware – the ending is another cliff hanger, but since the principals of soap operas rarely die, the probable outcome is predictable.

My library request was granted the day before I was to leave on a trip.  Thinking I would savor the easy drama on my red-eye flight, I checked out the “hot pick” (due back in 7 days) – but couldn’t resist and read the book in a sitting the night before leaving.  Fast-paced fun family drama with a few diversions in the simple plotting.  If you are a fan, this book is the midpoint in the series, and Archer doesn’t keep readers waiting long for the next installment.

Be Careful What You Wish For

9781250034489_p0_v1_s260x420Almost a year later, the next installment of the Clifton Chronicles has appeared, with Harry a successful best-selling novelist and Emma as Chair of the Board.  This time someone significant does die unexpectedly in the middle of the story, but the drama continues as the Barringtons have their first luxury liner ship ready to sail.  The family may narrowly escape a financial destruction but the family nemesis, Martinez, may be leaving behind two sons bent for revenge.  Some of the principals may not survive the final pages with an IRA bomb imbedded in a vase of lilies.    – until the next installment.

Although Archer fills in the back story for those who either have not read the first few books – or for those, like me, with bad memories of who is who, I’m starting to think it would be more fun to read them in tandem – a marathon read that would take one cliffhanger into the next without as much of a wait.  Then I might remember who the good guys and bad guys are.

Reviews for Books One and Two: