Paper Ghosts, by Julia Heaberlin

32912154Grace has gone a lot farther to figure out what happened to her missing sister than anyone can imagine. She has trained in self-defense and to master her fears. She has scoured the dark web for information and false identities. She has cooked up lies to cover her tracks. She has done all of this to break a possible serial killer with dementia out of a halfway house to get the truth out of him somehow. Julia Heaberlin’s Paper Ghosts is a tense ride through Texas, following a trail that leads who knows where for a story Grace might not want to hear. The more I read, the more I enjoyed this book.

We don’t know much about either Grace or Carl Feldman at the very beginning of Paper Ghosts. In a few short chapters, we learn that Carl has dementia, he was a photographer, and that he might have killed Grace’s sister. We also learn that Grace is going to bust him out and take him on a trip to the sites where he took pictures and young women disappeared. Somehow it’s all going to work, in Grace’s head. It has to. She refuses to think that it won’t work. Carl, of course, is not talking about his past no matter how much she prods or tries to jog his memory. Instead, he makes demands for fast food; stops to pan for gold; and to pick up stray, wounded animals. He is not the kind of serial killer Grace expected, especially when he starts to save her life from mysterious pursuers.

The question of what Carl has and hasn’t done kept Grace (and me) guessing about what really happened to her sister and three other young women. Carl was on trial for one kidnapping and murder, but acquitted due to lack of evidence. There’s circumstantial evidence that puts him in the right time and place. There’s his cunning intelligence and charm that can be predatory or flattering by turns. He seems like he ought to be a serial killer. And yet, there’s a delicious ambiguity that runs through the entire book that is only finally resolved at the very end.

I wasn’t sure about Paper Ghosts when I first started it. There were a lot of short paragraphs to get the story moving that made me worry that there might be a lack of depth—characterization and backstory sacrificed for the sake of a fast plot. But Heaberlin is very skilled at embedding information in such a way that you learn more about what’s happening and why without loading readers down with exposition. She’s also great at building up an atmosphere and rich setting that made me feel like I was in the car with Grace and Carl, worried every minute for Grace’s safety and wondering what Carl would do next. This book is a fantastic thriller. It was so good that I want to go and read the rest of Heaberlin’s books.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration. It will be released 15 May 2018.

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The Man Who Died, by Antti Tuomainen

35960911Jaakko Kaunismaa is having the worst day of this life. At the beginning of The Man Who Died, by Antti Tuomainen and translated by David Hackston, Jaakko learns that he has been fatally poisoned and that his wife is cheating on him with the delivery boy of their mushroom company. He only has a few weeks to live, according to the doctor, in which to figure out who wants him dead.

In almost any murder investigation, the family and friends of the victim are asked if the deceased had any enemies. As the soon-to-be-deceased, Jaakko is discovering that there are a surprising number of people might want him dead. There’s his wife. There’s his new competitors, a trio of very threatening men who want in on the surprisingly lucrative mushroom business in Hamina, in southeastern Finland. Jaakko can’t go to the police because there’s no proof that his poisoning is intentional or accidental yet. Because he’s not dead, there’s not really a crime for them to investigate. So, in spite of his declining physical condition, Jaakko sets out to solve his own murder.

Because Jaakko is an amateur detective, he blunders through his investigation like a bull in a china store. He makes radical decision about his company. He says provocative things to watch people’s reactions. He asks his employees to spy for him. His actions stir up hornets nests all over the place and no one has a clue what’s going on. Then, the stakes get raised even higher when some of those competitors try to speed up his murder.

The Man Who Died is a blackly comic novel, surprisingly given its premise, and I chalk it up to the fact that most of the characters have no idea what they’re doing. Things go spectacularly and hilariously awry more often than not. Jaakko does eventually find out who poisoned him, but I think this mystery ended up being more about the journey than the destination. It is a story about a man who is murdered, yes, but his murder is a catalyst to rip off his blinders and really examine his complacency. Once those blinders are off, Jaakko gets the chance to go out with a bang.

I strongly recommend this book for readers who like puzzles and off-kilter fiction. I loved this book, so much that I read it all in one sitting.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration. 

Mr. Flood’s Last Resort, by Jess Kidd

Mr. Flood’s Last Resort was previously published as The Hoarder in the United KingdomI’m honestly not sure which is the preferred title.

38128947Maud Drennan does not have an easy job. Taking care of the elderly, people who were previously perfectly capable of taking care of themselves, is hard. When the elderly person in question is Cathal Flood, a hoarder with a sharp tongue and a reputation for going after other do-gooders with a hurley stick, the job gets even more difficult. After you throw in the fact that Maud sees saints and the possibility that Cathal might have killed his wife, you have the absolutely packed and off-kilter adventure that is Jess Kidd’s Mr. Flood’s Last Resort.

We meet Maud in a situation that sums up her relationship with Cathal: she’s trying to make the downstairs bathroom hygienic while he shouts at her. Her boss thought that because they were both Irish, they might be able to manage each other. That is not the case, not with Cathal’s temper and his secrets. As Maud clears out the hoard, she starts to receive what look like messages…from Cathal’s dead wife. This is not as strange to Maud as it is to us. She has been followed around since childhood by about a half a dozen saints, who disappear and reappear and make comments on her sex life. Getting ghostly messages is not that weird for her.

Every chapter and every battle with Cathal reveals a new layer to the mystery about whether Cathal’s wife died in an accident, why he won’t talk to his son, and what might have happened to a girl named Maggie Dunne who disappeared without a trace fifteen years earlier. The Flood family have been sitting on a lot of secrets and, now that Cathal might be kicked out of his house, someone is determined to keep those secrets under wraps—violently if necessary.

I loved how Mr. Flood’s Last Stand rockets between mystery and psychological thriller. What I enjoyed most, however, were the characters. Maud is a strong but damaged woman who is trying to make a past wrong right. Cathal is ferocious and hilarious. The friendship that develops between them is delightful to watch blossom. Maud’s landlady, Renata, takes the cake for one of the best secondary characters I’ve ever read. She is an absolute delight. This book is the full package.

I received a free copy of this book for review consideration from the publisher via NetGalley. It will be released 1 May 2018.

The Forgotten Ones, by Steena Holmes

36097616I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book about digging up family skeletons in which the skeletons are so stubbornly buried. It takes a very long time for Elle to learn the entire story of where she came from and who her family is in The Forgotten Ones, by Steena Holmes. By the end of the book, her entire world will be turned upside down. There are answers, but there is an awful lot of heartache.

At the beginning of The Forgotten Ones, Elle is a nurse in Ontario with a mentally ill artist mother, Anna Marie. Her mother told her that her grandparents are dead. Because her mother has dissociative identity disorder, her only stability came from Grace, her mother’s caretaker and basically Elle’s second mother. This might have gone on indefinitely if Elle’s roommate hadn’t discovered that the dying man in her ward is Elle’s grandfather, David.

Anna Marie pleads with Elle not to talk to David. She wants secrets to remain secret. But Elle is too curious to leave things along. She visits David and wrangles out of him a promise to tell her about her mother and why Anna Marie hates David so much. My brain came up with plenty of reasons to explain the estrangement, but I was completely wrong about this very disturbed family. When the secrets finally come out of David and Anna Marie, I was floored.

The Forgotten Ones uses a writing trick that I find rather annoying. Especially at the beginning, Holmes uses a lot of one-sentence paragraph. This settles down after a few chapters, thankfully. And the strangeness and shock of Elle’s family’s secrets kept me going through my annoyance. In fact, I liked this book more and more as I kept reading. The Forgotten Ones ended up being a very original take on the uncovering-family-secrets subgenre. I’m glad I finished it.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration. It will be released 1 April 2018.

The Hope and Anchor, by Julia Kite

38168618Neely and Andrea are linked by one woman that they love, but don’t actually know. It’s only when Angela goes missing at the beginning of Julia Kite’s The Hope and Anchor that they realize how little they know about her. Her absence is a huge hole in their lives, especially for her girlfriend, Neely. As Neely wanders the streets, looking for Angela and questioning their mutual acquaintances about where she might have gone, the novel grows ever more tragic. By the end, I was stunned at the emotion pouring out of the book.

Neely and Angela live on Harrow Road, in West London, but neither of them is there at the opening of The Hope and Anchor. Neely is returning from an ill-advised one night stand with Sam. Angela never turns up after an evening of mysterious errands that Neely only learns about much later. As Neely walks up and down London’s streets, wracking her brains for any clue about where Angela might have gone, we learn about Angela’s tragic, brutal past and the mismatches between the two. Neely is middle-class, intelligent, but moans about how she just hasn’t made a success of herself. Angela is from a poor neighborhood. Her life with Neely is much better than what she had as a child.

Despite the mismatches of expectations, Neely and Angela make each other happy in that ineffable way that soulmates do. Which makes this novel all the more heartbreaking when we and Neely find out what happened the night Angela went missing. Most of the book focuses on Neely, but we also get to see how this disappearance affects Angela’s sister, Andrea. After getting the news, Andrea is beset by memories of how violent and angry she used to be in her efforts to protect her sister. Andrea had managed to put most of her past behind her after marrying and having children. But after learning about Angela, it all comes flooding back. Like Neely, Andrea isn’t sure how to be without Angela.

The ending of The Hope and Anchor is explosive. The beginning of the novel didn’t lead me to expect where it would end up. This isn’t to say that the ending was out-of-character. In retrospect, it fits, because this book is all about what one finds after kicking over metaphorical rocks to see what awful things are crawling around underneath. The last rock that gets kicked over in this book is a doozy. Readers who are interested in taking this book on should start bracing themselves around the halfway point. The Hope and Anchor really packs a wallop.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

Hotel on Shadow Lake, by Daniela Tully

36860698Maya Weisberg, the protagonist of Daniela Tully’s underwhelming Hotel on Shadow Lake, is on a quest to find out what happened to her grandmother. Martha Weisberg’s remains were found near a resort in upstate New York. This is strange because, as far as Maya knows, her grandmother would never travel outside of Germany and because the remains show that her grandmother was murdered. Maya travels to New York, twenty-some years after Martha went missing, to find out what happened and uncover her grandmother’s secrets.

This uncovering of secrets comes in the form of long sections of either flashback or Maya reading a letter. These chapters, at first, seem to have little bearing on the mystery at hand. Eventually, they do explain what happened to Martha and why. My problem was that these sections run longer than a chapter and just seem too long, which makes this book a clunky read. My other problem is that the one sex scene in the book is written in three or four cliché-ridden sentences that set my eyes to rolling. It is so nondescript that I’m really just assuming that two characters had sex.

Maya’s digging into the past reveals that her grandmother had a secret romance during World War II and how she came to die in another country, on another continent. I figured out what happened well before the end, so reading the rest of the book was a bit of a chore. I had high hopes when I requested this book on NetGalley. I really like stories about ordinary Germans during World War II, especially ones who become resisters. Unfortunately, it did not deliver. I think Hotel on Shadow Lake would have benefiting from a bit more editing to get rid of the clunky parts and weave the flashbacks, letters, and present sections more tightly together. And get rid of scenes that consist entirely of clichés.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

The Master Key, by Masako Togawa

36481157It’s such a lovely feeling to finish a mystery novel after the realization that the author not only fooled me once about what really happened in the book, but twice! Masako Togawa’s The Master Key, translated by Simon Grove, is a terrific and unusual mystery set in the K Apartments for Ladies, in Tokyo, in the late 1950s. The usual part of the novel is that it follows the travels of the apartment’s master key around the building as it is stolen and returned by various inhabitants. As the key changes hands, we enter the perspectives of those woman who take it upon themselves to spy on each other and investigate each other’s crimes.

The first crime to take place at the K Apartments is the death and burial of a child underneath the building. One of the people responsible becomes a recluse, while the other is killed in a car accident. Then, years later, we are given three clues about what might have happened through a series of short chapters in which we also learn a lot about the women of the Apartments. I’m trying not to reveal too much about The Master Key, because the plots are so much fun to read and take apart one’s self.

There were times when I go so interested in the other women in the Apartments that I lost sight of the original crime. By the time this short book is over, we learn about a kidnapping, a stolen Guarneri violin, an arson, a cult, and more murder-y shenanigans. For a building full of middle-aged and elderly women of limited means, they sure get up to a lot. Of course, they all have a lot of time on their hands. Perhaps it’s not so surprising that a five floor building of single women would contain so many secrets.

The Master Key is another novel rescued from obscurity (at least obscure to English speakers, I don’t know how popular this book was in Japan) by Pushkin Vertigo. It was originally published in the early 1960s. I’m so glad they’ve rereleased it. It’s complex, brilliant, and very, very sly. I enjoyed every page.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

Holmes Entangled, by Gordon McAlpine

35569734I’ve only read a few of the original Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. For some reason, I’ve been more interested in the character’s afterlife in other authors’ hands. In Holmes Entangled, by Gordon McAlpine, we have a fresh take on the immortal detective. The novel begins with a discovery by writer and librarian Jorge Luis Borges. Borges takes a manuscript he found to an unnamed PI that Borges dreamed of but who inexplicably exists. The manuscript appears to be written by Sherlock Holmes and covers what might be his real last case.

The manuscript begins with Holmes’ retirement. Instead of becoming a beekeeper in Sussex, Holmes began disguising himself as academics, studying up on various subjects, and lecturing at Oxford and Cambridge. The game seems to help keep his brain occupied, but it’s clear that it’s not a thrilling existence. Then, out of the blue, Holmes gets a visit from Arthur Conan Doyle, who tells him a very strange story about a séance, a ghostly prime minister who is still alive, and someone taking a shot at the author. Holmes leaps back into action, only to find a case that is weirder than he could have anticipated.

Because Holmes (or, this version of Holmes) is writing his own story, we learn a lot more about his beliefs, insecurities, values, and the like. He reflects on what it was like having John Watson tell his story for him, for creating the great Sherlock Holmes out of his cases. He also laments his fame. I think he likes having to outsmart people but, at 73, he’s getting a bit tired of dodging fans and going around in disguises.

What Holmes turns up in his investigation is truly incredible. I won’t reveal exactly what Holmes finds; that would ruin it. I can say that I love this take on Holmes and on the nature of fiction and authorship. Holmes Entangled is a great book for readers who like to think of characters as having a real life of their own.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration. It will be released 6 March 2018.

Rainbirds, by Clarissa Goenawan

33026565Ren Ishida arrives in Akakawa, Japan, for the worst reason. His sister was murdered there. He has come from Tokyo to pack up her things and scatter her ashes. When he learns that there are no suspects and that no one seems to have a clue about what happened, Ren stays. Rainbirds, by Clarissa Goenawan, is an unusual novel of grief and discovery.

Akakawa is a strange place. The first thing that we know about its strangeness is the way that Ren is invited by the people who knew his sister, Keiko, to take her place. He is offered her job teaching English. Her landlord lets Ren stay in her room under the same conditions Keiko was given: getting lunch for his wife and reading English novels to her. Keiko’s friends talk to Ren about her. It’s puzzling. And yet, no one is very forthcoming about her murder. Still, Ren asks questions and learns more about the secrets his sister was keeping.

Apart from the murder, Ren struggles with his sorrow and aimlessness after her death. Their parents were mostly absent while they were growing up. Keiko took care of her brother, cooked for him, and quizzed him about his girlfriends. She was the most important person in her life. Rainbirds is as much about Ren processing her death and absence in her life as it is about finding out who killed her.

Rainbirds is ostensibly a mystery, but this does get a bit lost at times as Ren learns more about his sister’s life. He does eventually figure things out, though I wasn’t entirely satisfied with his solution. I suppose it’s sort of fitting that Keiko’s life is treated as more important than her death. This is a bit frustrating for readers looking for a mystery. I admit to being a bit frustrating my life. What I found instead was a story about the ripples a woman’s life can cause to the lives around it, and the hole that’s left when she’s gone.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration. It will be released 6 March 2018

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Forty Dead Men, by Donis Casey

36035804George Tucker doesn’t know what he wants when he returns to the family farm in Boynton, Oklahoma after serving in World War I. He has blackouts and is hiding from memories of things that happened in France. George, known as Gee Dub by his family, retreats to a quiet wood every day to get some quiet and avoid his mother’s insightful questions. One day, he sees an exhausted woman walking in the rain. His protective instincts take over and land him in a world of trouble. Fortunately, his mother, Alafair, has experience investigating crimes. Forty Dead Men, by Donis Casey, is the tenth book in the series.

Forty Dead Mean is leisurely about setting up its mystery. It’s hard to be sure what’s relevant and what’s a red herring—which is something I very much enjoy. Sorting clues from dross adds verisimilitude to mysteries, I think, because a genuine investigation is going to kick up all kinds of interesting information about the people involved with a crime. And this case is certainly interesting. By the time the main crime actually happens, we have a soldier dead from Spanish Flu, bigamy, and mistaken identities.

The characters in Forty Dead Men are my favorite part of the novel. Even though this is the tenth book in the series and I haven’t read any of them, the characters are fully realized. I felt for Gee Dub, who is clearly a good man but who doesn’t consider the possible consequences of his actions. He struggles with post-traumatic stress and a brain injury. I also felt for Holly Thornberry, the woman who was walking in the rain. She is he unfortunate victim of an unscrupulous man. She is even less considerate of consequences than Gee Dub, which makes them an entertaining pair to watch. Gee Dub was always there to rescue her when she did something dramatically foolish. Alafair, however, is the beating heart of this book. (I expect she is in every series entry.) She is sharp and deeply caring. She’ll do anything to protect her kin. When Gee Dub gets in trouble, she mobilizes her vast family to help him. No one can resist her—at least, not for long.

I enjoyed Forty Dead Men a lot. More than I expected, to be honest. When I first learned that the primary detective was an Oklahoma grandmother, I was dubious. I requested this book from Edelweiss because of the soldier-with-PTSD element. The more I read, the more I liked Forty Dead Men. The mystery (which I have tried not to spoil in anyway in this review) is wonderfully constructed. It kept me guessing right to the end. And that ending! It was….I’m afraid any adjective I use will give things away. Let’s just say that I thought the ending was terrific.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration. It will be released 6 February 2018.