Winter Work, by Dan Fesperman

The eleven months between the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the reunification of Germany in October 1990 must have been a strange time. Strange is probably an understatement. For decades, Berlin had been one of the foci of the Cold War. It was a place where East Germans had tried to escape to the West. Spies and police from both the West and the Soviet sphere of influence battled covertly throughout the divided city. But then, the wall came down and everything changed. There was suddenly space to speak freely and renegotiate old alliances. Dan Fesperman’s Winter Work takes place in that space, among people who were used to following the old rules but now find themselves scrambling for safe harbor before someone decides that they know too much.

Winter Work centers on two characters. Emil Grimm is a former high-ranking officer of the Stasi, a feared organization that recruited an estimated 16% of the East German population as informants (figure given by one of the characters in the book). Our other protagonist, Claire Saylor, works for the CIA. Under the old rules, the two would be enemies. With the wall down and secrets going at a premium, there’s a chance that Emil and Claire could become allies.

The novel opens with a disturbing interruption to Emil’s daily walk. Not far from his house in the exclusive woods north of Berlin, Emil finds a group of special police investigating the scene of an apparent suicide. The dead man is Emil’s old comrade from the Stasi, Lothar. Because the man in charge of the special police on the scene is an old semi-enemy of Emil’s, Emil has to watch his words carefully when he talks to Krauss. For example, he refrains from pointing out to Krauss that the gun is being held in his Lothar’s off-hand. Emil only really managed to get out of the uncomfortable situation when a detective with the Volkspolzei turns up to officially investigate the death. (Krauss’s people only do unofficial investigations. Mostly they make things disappear). Meanwhile, Claire is trying to find a way to get back out into the field, after being roped into a CIA operation that amounts to cold-calling everyone in their East German Rolodex in order to buy secrets. When her boss offers her a chance to meet with someone who says he has something to sell, Claire leaps at the chance.

We learn that Emil and Lothar were planning to sell some of the secrets they’ve collected from the Stasi, in exchange for money and a safe place in the West. With Lothar dead, Emil has to take the lead, even though he’s always worked desk jobs for the Stasi. He uses everything he remembers from training field agents to sneak around the upheaval in Berlin after stepping into Lothar’s shoes. First, he attempts to meet with the CIA agent (Claire) Lother arranged to meet, only for that meeting to go bad when Soviet thugs blunder in with threats of violence.

All of this happens in the first chapters of Winter Work and things never really slow down as Emil and Claire try to work their schemes. The only places where the plot slows down (as if for a breather) offer backstory for the protagonists. We learn about Emil’s wife, who has ALS, and the more-than-friend who takes care of both of them. We learn about Claire’s frustrations with superior officers who won’t let her follow her own initiative. And on top of the main plot and the backstory, we get plenty of lessons in the free-for-all fighting between the CIA, the Soviets (who don’t seem to realize that their regime is going to fall pretty soon), and East Germans over scraps of information. Oh, and real-life super-spy Markus Wolf has a not-insignificant role in this book. It’s a lot.

Winter Work is one of the best thrillers I’ve read in a while. Although the plot races along, character development is never sacrificed. The stakes remain high and Fesperman does outstanding work at recreating the tense and wild atmosphere of Berlin during the winter of 1989-1990. I highly recommend this book to fans of the genre who like their thrillers based in real history.

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

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin, c. 1963 (Image via Wikicommons)

The Rabbit Factor, by Antti Tuomainen

All Henri Koskinen wants is for things to be logical, sensible, and optimal. He is—as he constantly tells people—an actuary, which means that he’s very good at figuring out the most likely outcomes for events or working out the most efficient way to do a thing. This does not impress people. In fact, his inability to do anything other than math makes it very hard to get along with other people who don’t want to be logical, sensible, or optimal. You know, the rest of us. Shortly after the opening of Antti Tuomainen’s latest off-kilter thriller The Rabbit Factor (perfectly translated by David Hackston), Henri’s manager sacks him from an insurance firm because Henri refuses to take part in the firm’s ultra feely trainings and initiatives. Then he gets the news that his brother has died and left Henri his adventure park, YouMeFun. Things could not get worse.

Except, this is Tuomainen. So of course things get worse for Henri, in the form of two reptilian and menacing men who curtly (and painfully) inform Henri that his late brother was hugely in debt to the Reptiles’ boss. They give him an ultimatum: his euros or his life. And because this is Tuomainen, this is where things start to get really entertaining. Henri is forced to live two lives. He has a public one as a reluctant owner of the park and manager of its strange collection of employees. In his private life, Henri has to think faster than he’s ever had to in order to find a way to save his life and the park that he comes to think of as his to protect. And then things get even more complicated, in the form of a woman who Henri—for the first time in his life—clicks with.

The Rabbit Factor is a wildly entertaining ride into shadowy finances, baking mafiosos, artistic cons, managers who get way too into feelings, revenge, self-defense, and—above all—learning to shed all the limitations we’ve learned to live with so that we can become new, more optimal selves. I really enjoyed this weird little thriller. I would definitely recommend it to readers who like stories that get their hearts pounding but who are tired of the same old thriller fare. Tuomainen is doing stellar work reinventing mysteries and thrillers by demolishing tropes and creating original characters.

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

Velvet Was the Night, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I used to pet sit fairly regularly for co-workers and friends. It was a fun way to meet new critters and the pocket money was always appreciated. Thankfully, none of my pet-sitting gigs ever turned into the deadly, bewildering ride protagonist Maite Jaramillo finds herself on in Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Velvet Was the Night. Near the beginning of this thriller, Maite’s neighbor asks her to feed her cat while she’s away for a few days. The neighbor then disappears, landing Maite right in the middle of student protesters, menacing government officials, and a paramilitary group that specializes in cracking dissident heads.

Maite is thirty when Velvet Was the Night opens, sometime in the early 1970s and somewhere in Mexico City. She has her own apartment and a killer record collection, but those are about the only things she has going for her. She has no love life to speak of (although she makes things up for her coworkers), a dead-end job for a lawyer with unspeakably smelly feet, no friends, few hobbies, and a car being held hostage at the mechanics. Meanwhile, Elvis works for El Mago as a member of the Hawks. He goes where El Mago tells him and does whatever dirty work he’s been ordered to, although he loathes his cohorts and their machismo. Like Maite, Elvis (his pseudonym) is stuck in a dead end—neither of them has the education for anything better than what they’re doing, not the ambition to try and get out of their current situations. That said, they’re both aware enough to know that there is more in the world to want than what they have.

Shortly after Maite agrees to feed her neighbor’s cat, Elvis gets the word from El Mago to follow Maite. Since the neighbor is gone, Maite is the Hawk’s best chance to recover incriminating photos taken by the neighbor. Maite has no clue about these photos initially, at least until she learns more about the neighbor’s dissident activities and realizes that she’s being followed. Those photos are a great McGuffin. No one seems to know what’s on them; all anyone knows is that they could be explosive if they were made public. The Hawks want them. The Dirección Federal de Seguridad (Federal Security Directorate) wants them. People who have ties to the Hawks and the DFS want them. The student dissidents want them. Everyone comes out of the woodwork to get Maite and those photos.

Because we readers are tagging along with both Maite and Elvis, we get the see events in stereo. It’s only near the very end that Maite and Elvis meet properly. The dual narratives gave me the curious feeling of being the hunter and the hunted at the same time. The dual narratives also turned out to be a very clever way to dole out information about motives, conspiracies, counter-conspiracies, and all the other machinations going on in Velvet Was the Night. While Elvis is learning more about all the people after Maite and developing doubts about El Mago, Maite learns just how illusory her world of respectabilty really is—and we get a fast dive into life during what is now known as the Mexican Dirty War.

My education was woefully lacking when it came to Mexican (and Canadian, for that matter) history, politics, literature, etc., etc. As I read about Maite’s perils—and the parallel narrative featuring one of those paramilitary thugs—I had to hop over to Wikipedia more than once to learn more about the Mexican Dirty War, Luis Echeverría, and the Tlatelolco Massacre. Funny enough, my lack of knowledge about Mexican politics matched up with Maite’s, since she never reads the news. I know that my preference for learning about the world and its history through fiction isn’t ideal (but fight me!), but books like Velvet Was the Night make history a lot more entertaining and somehow more real. When I read historical fiction, characters come to life and navigate their way through complex realities in a way that I think even the best nonfiction falls short of. The characters of Velvet Was the Night remind me that all of those people we read about (or, more likely, are glossed over) in history texts are real people, with personal failings and dumb luck, who mostly just want to grab a bit of comfort and happiness for themselves before it’s all over.

The Hidden, by Melanie Golding

Trigger warning for domestic violence.

Ruby is a special person. She has a big heart, but is haunted by family secrets and loneliness. Unfortunately, she’s also prickly—prickly enough that it’s hard for people to learn about the kindness and loyalty underneath Ruby’s apparent standoffishness. Everyone gets Ruby wrong. And when Ruby gets caught up in sinister events in The Hidden, by Melanie Golding, it means that a lot of people end up surprised while they chase her across Great Britain.

Ruby is one of the narrators of this odd genre-hybrid. The other is her putative sister, a detective named Joanna. On Ruby’s side, The Hidden is a story of rescue and folklore come to life. On Joanna’s, it’s a manhunt involving a missing child. For us readers, it takes several chapters and some backtracking to find out what’s really going on. I’ll admit I wasn’t sure about this book at first. I worried that it would try to do too many things and The Hidden would be a shallow experience or that the two genres wouldn’t mesh together enough to be a cohesive narrative. Thankfully, The Hidden worked for me.

So, just like the narrative, let’s backtrack. One day, Ruby is caught spying on a very attractive neighbor doing yoga in his flat. The next couple of days sees Ruby and the man doing the dance of the socially awkward who are into each other. I thought it was cute, too, until Ruby accepts an invitation over to yoga man’s apartment only to find a toddler and a woman who really, really doesn’t want to be in that apartment. This is strange, but not as strange as the woman’s fixation on a coat she believes yoga man has hidden away from her. When we join the narrative, some months later, Joanna and other police officers break into yoga man’s apartment and find him near death in an overflowing bathtub. This is strange, but not as strange as what happens when yoga man wakes up from his coma and violently escapes the hospital.

There is a lot going on in The Hidden‘s plot, but what really made this book work for me was the attention the author gave to the shifting psychologies of the characters. So many characters flip from good to bad, dubious to heroic, rulebound to rebel in totally believable arcs that I was kept guessing right up until the last pages. This book was a wild, fascinating ride—although, I’m curious to see if the combination of genres works for other readers, too.

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

The Nameless Ones, by John Connolly

I’ve been dipping in and out of the Charlie Parker series for years, ever since I picked up the first book in the series, Every Dead Thing. Since that book came out in 1999, John Connolly has been building on the complexity of his haunted private investigator’s world by adding supernatural elements of pure evil beneath the more ordinary human variety of evil. Connolly has also created an amazing cast of characters with complex ethical codes that push them to eliminate both types of evil wherever they find it. In The Nameless Ones, the nineteenth volume in the series, we go on an international journey of revenge with two of Parker’s best friends and allies. Louis, an assassin known as the Grim Reaper, and his partner Angel, a thief, travel to Europe to take out a group of Serbians who took their own revenge so far that they must be put out of commission.

The Nameless Ones brings in a full complement of previous characters (although Parker himself and the always entertaining Fulci brothers only have a brief scene). Sadly, a character introduced in a recent installment of the series meets a grisly death—along with his family—in the first quarter of the novel. He and his family are tortured and killed by Spiridon Vuksan and his henchmen. Spiridon and his brother, Radovan, are evil men. They, unlike some of the other villains tackled by Parker et al., are motivated by greed and prejudice against anyone who isn’t a pure-blooded Serb. During the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Vuksans participated in the massacre at Srebrenica and countless other atrocities. After the war, they used Serbia and people still loyal to them to create a criminal empire that no one would touch. At least, that’s what they thought. Their act of bloody revenge in Amsterdam not only draws down the wrath of Angel and Louis, it also makes a lot of governments decide that the Vuksans are too dangerous to be protected anymore.

As Louis and Angel track their quarry from Amsterdam to Vienna, Connolly treats us to snippets of history about Josip Broz Tito and the terrible wars and atrocities that followed the collapse of Yugoslavia, how much it costs to get new passports and guns, high-level human smuggling in Western Europe, and some interesting tidbits about Serbian folk beliefs. There are also some amazing set pieces as Louis has to get creative with his methods when his targets seem to be completely safe in their hotels and when there are showdowns in dramatic corners of European cities, like the Friedhof der Namenlosen (German) or a once quiet restaurant in the Skadarlija district of Belgrade. The Nameless Ones is the kind of book I adore: entertainment mixed with history and travel.

If you’re looking for a mystery series that is completely original, deeply affecting, and never disappointing, I highly recommend the Charlie Parker series and this latest entry—as long as you have a strong stomach for violence.

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

Such a Quiet Place, by Megan Miranda

“If you see something, say something” is a dangerous phrase. On the one hand, we need to watch out for each other. There are plenty of stories that serve as evidence that a sharp eye and willingness to speak up have saved lives. On the other, sometimes we speak up when we’re not sure we’ve actually seen something. This dilemma lies at the heart of Such a Quiet Place, by Megan Miranda. This book takes place in a small community that, a year before the book opens, was the scene of the surprising death of two long-time residents. There was enough evidence to convict one of their own of the deaths. Now, a year later, the conviction has been overturned and everyone is very uncomfortable that the person they all firmly believe is a murderer has returned.

Harper, one of the residents of Hollow’s Edge and one of several who testified at Ruby’s trial, spends the entirety of this novel twisted in anxious knots. She’s always wondered if she was right to speak up at Ruby’s trial, even if she didn’t say anything particularly damning. Her anxiety isn’t helped when Ruby sneaks up on Harper in her own home. (Ruby was her former roommate, until her arrest and conviction.) We quickly learn that Ruby is a mercurial person. I’m not sure if her personality rubbed people the wrong way before the deaths of the Truetts. Ruby certainly does now that she’s come back, especially since she’s determined to prove that she’s innocent and wreak some kind of revenge on the people who sent her to prison.

Throughout the novel, Harper and the other residents confer about what they will and won’t say. Everyone—except doubtful Harper—wants to stick to the story they all agreed on. With Ruby back and doing her own investigating, Harper decides to start asking questions, too. She also thinks back on the night the Truetts died and starts to wonder if she really saw what everyone thinks they saw. What about the fact that the cop who lives in their neighborhood is now facing scrutiny at work for railroading Ruby? What about all the others in Hollow’s Edge who clam up when Harper tries to ask deeper questions? And what about Ruby herself? Did she through up enough red flags with her behavior and criticism of others that she might really be a murderer? And if it wasn’t Ruby, who killed the Truetts?

In addition to asking questions about the balance between being too suspicious and watching out for each other, Such a Quiet Place also makes us take a good look at the lengths some people are willing to go to in order to preserve appearances. Before the Truetts and Ruby and the trial, Hollow’s Edge was an exclusive community. The residents created their own unofficial homeowner’s association to make sure that everything stayed respectable—or at least protected each other’s secrets enough to avoid scandals. I could easily imagine the residents of Hollow’s Edge, four hundred years earlier, taking justice into their own hands. Ruby is just the kind of person who would’ve been accused of witchcraft, too.) Although we don’t light torches and swing pitchforks anymore, Such a Quiet Place makes us wonder if we’re really all that different from our ancestors.

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

What’s Done in Darkness, by Laura McHugh

What’s Done in Darkness, by Laura McHugh, presents a classic dilemma for book reviews. How do you rate a book if you think a bad ending ruined an otherwise good story? I’ve run across this before. Every reader has. But I’ve never experienced such a change from enjoying a book, being engaged in the mystery, to an ending I absolutely hated. I’m afraid to say that this is the case with this book. It’s a pity. I really was enjoying this book right up until the protagonist figured things out.

Five years before What’s Done in Darkness opens, Sara was kidnapped. Unlike many other young girls who are taken off the street (or highway in Sara’s case), Sara is not sexually assaulted. Her captor strips her of most of her clothes and brutally scissors off her hair—but then Sara is inexplicably released after a week a few miles from her home. We learn in flashbacks that no one believed Sara when she told her version of events. The police believed that she’s somehow staged the whole thing. Five years on, Sara is rebuilding her life. She’s cut ties with her very religious family. She works at an animal shelter and lives with a rescued mastiff. Sara is mostly holding it together, but the panic is never far below the surface. Her control evaporates when she gets a call from an Arkansas cop who wants to go over her case because more girls have gone missing.

The chapters in What’s Done in Darkness alternate between Sara now and Sarabeth, five years ago, when she was still struggling against the rules and expectations of her parents. I felt so bad for Sarabeth five years ago. For her parents and her church, the only path forward for a girl is to marry and then “be fruitful.” Sara isn’t sure what she wants, but she knows that she doesn’t want to marry a man picked out for her by her parents. So when Sara is snatched from her family’s fruit stand, it’s not hard for the police to jump to the conclusion that Sara arranged the whole thing. It’s also little wonder that Sara deals with her past by not dealing with it. She is very reluctant when Nick calls her. She only agrees to work with him when he plays on her sympathies about other girls who have gone missing near-ish to her old hometown in Arkansas.

What is a wonder is that Sara takes to being a detective like a duck to water. Using her sister’s imminent wedding to visit her old home, Sara starts asking questions that slowly lead her to the truth. McHugh threw in a few twists that, at first, I thought were headed to some very interesting places. I don’t want to ruin the book for readers who might be interested in reading this book, but I think I can say that I first thought that McHugh was going to challenge the conventions of the genre by not wrapping things up in a single bow, with a single culprit. But then McHugh forces the plot back into ship-genre-shape and writes a fairly simple solution to the mystery, with a dollop of the thriller genre for flavor.

Mysteries that buck genre conventions are tricky. They demand that authors create something original that also pleases readers. Traditionally, readers don’t like ambiguous endings or, for mystery readers, books where the villain gets away with the crime. But when the author pulls it off, we readers end up with a great read that pushes us to think about bigger questions than whodunit. That’s what I was hoping for with What’s Done in Darkness. This might explain why I was so disappointed when the plot veered away from some very interesting ideas and pulled into such a conventional ending. I’m trying not to completely trash this book. Like I’ve said, there’s a lot to like about What’s Done in Darkness. My problem is that all my good feelings evaporated in a rushed, cliched, simplified ending.

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

Dust Off the Bones, by Paul Howarth

I have a few rules about reading. If a book doesn’t hook you within 50 pages, stop reading it. Dog earring and writing in a book is okay, but only if it’s yours. And, if I finish a book before going to bed, I have to immediately start a new one. While I might bend on the first of these rules, books like Paul Howarth’s Dust Off the Bones remind me why I made the third rule in the first place. The ending of this book had my pulse pounding so hard that I needed the start of a new book to wind myself back down so that I could sleep. Howarth takes us into the outback of Australia, before and after the turn of the twentieth century, to give us a harrowing story about violence, racism, guilt, and the ties that bind.

The violence starts early in Dust Off the Bones. The book opens with a brief prologue set in Queensland in 1885, in which an itinerant minister stumbles across the scene of a massacre of an entire tribe of Aboriginal Australians. The minister rushes to the nearest town to report it to the magistrate, only to be strongly “encouraged” to let it go. The next chapters jump ahead five years and to new narrators. As the pages tick by, we learn a little more about what happened in 1885. Our new narrators, Billy and Tommy McBride, are the surviving members of their family, who were violently killed in 1885. The official story has it that the family’s Aboriginal servant killed the McBrides while the boys were off fishing. A unit of Native Police—a horrific paramilitary group who killed an untold number of Aboriginal people as white settlers moved further and further into Aboriginal territory—go off after the servant and, ostensibly, kill him, his companions, and also a lot of members of the Kurrong*.

The man in charge of the unit of police is absolutely terrifying. Edmund Noone is a virulent racist who thinks nothing of torturing, raping, or killing people. Noone haunts the McBride brothers. He pushed Billy into doing terrible things, then holds the knowledge over the man, adds threats against everyone he loves, to get Noone a little further along his career path. The mere thought of Noone—and an accidental killing plus a whopping dose of post-traumatic stress disorder—send Tommy running from Queensland to Victoria. Dust Off the Bones jumps ahead from 1890 to 1897 to 1906 and beyond, dropping in on the characters as they try to build lives in the shadow of what they did. And, as if this wasn’t complicated enough, a crusading, anti-racist lawyer from Brisbane is trying to uncover the truth of what happened and finally nail Noone to the wall as he deserves.

All the blood and betrayal in the dusty Australian Outback gave me strong Western genre vibes. This is one of the best of the genre I’ve read because the women are complex, strong characters and the racism of the white characters doesn’t extend to the characterization or actions of the Aboriginal people. The plot is also absolutely fantastic; reading it was like the literary equivalent of being a frog in heating water. The longer I read, the faster I went. I just had to know what would happen. Who would survive to the end? Would the truth come out? Would there be justice? Could there be justice?

Dust Off the Bones is an extraordinary read and I would recommend it to any fan of historical fiction who also has a strong stomach.

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


*As far as I can tell, the Kurrong are fictional, but what happened to them was not uncommon before, during, and after the years that the Native Police were active.

Attack Surface, by Cory Doctorow

I read the first book in this series way back in 2013. Little Brother was a fast-paced response to increased surveillance and eroding civil rights in the face of terrorist threats. Homeland built on that theme by looking at the extra-legal activities of a government contractor that was prepared to use deadly force to keep their secrets secret. Cory Doctorow’s new novel, Attack Surface, is the darkest and most terrifying of the series yet. I recommend that interested readers go back and re-read the first two books to refresh their memories, because this book heavily references them.

Masha Maximow drifted away from her friends in high school, physically and ethically. Where her friends Tanisha and Marcus became big league hacktvists fighting against a host of nefarious things that the government and their contractors have been up to in the name of fighting terror and crime. Masha’s ability to come up with ways to weaponize relationships and technology lands her a job with people Tanisha and Marcus view as the enemy. In the decade since Homeland, Masha has made a lot of money doing things she spends a lot of time not thinking about because, as she points out to her very scary bosses, the information they collect catches a lot more normal people than it does criminals or terrorists.

At the beginning of Attack Surface, we meet Masha in the middle of a job in what appears to be a former Soviet state. On the clock she helps the government install tech that collects and analyses information collected from ordinary citizens’ and activists’ phones. Off the clock she helps the activists avoid that surveillance. When things go extraordinarily pear-shaped, Masha is fired and cut adrift from the clandestine world she was hiding in for ten years. Now that Masha doesn’t have an official job to do, she returns to her hometown of San Francisco.

In Little Brother, technology was a tool. It was neither good or bad except when humans put their hands on it. Marcus, the protagonist of that novel, saw technology as a way to a future utopia of sharing and equality. That hope is far, far away now that Masha is the protagonist. She’s so cynical and burned out that she spends most of the novel telling people all the ways that they’re fucked. Masha is a prickly person, so much so that I was strongly reminded of Lisbeth Salander from the Millennium trilogy. The more I read, the more paranoid I got. I started heavily side-eying my cell phone and wondering about how many apps I needed to give up. Technology, in Attack Surface, reads more like a weapon and a drug. We’re addicted to our devices for so many reasons. But in the hands of unscrupulous police departments, governments, and government contractors, all of our devices might as well be tattling on us all the time, giving up data that could be used to charge people in the event that they need to disappear and stop making “trouble.”

This really is a frightening book. And I think it might be my favorite because, on top of a plot that keeps twisting and turning and scaring the hell out of me, it also contains an intriguing psychological portrait of a damaged woman who has spent too much time ignoring her now-shouting conscience and thought-provoking ideas about cybersurveillance, civil rights, and social justice.

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

The Nothing Man, by Catherine Ryan Howard

Trigger warning for rape.

The Gardaí called him the Nothing Man because they had nothing on him. It’s been almost twenty years since the multiple rapist and murderer committed his last crime, but a new book by one of the survivors of the Man’s attacks has just been published. The Nothing Man, by Catherine Ryan Howard, opens with a security guard in a large department/grocery store spotting a woman with a copy of the survivor’s book and suddenly panics. The book comes with a promise that the survivor will finally hunt down the man who killed her family—the very same man who just furtively stole a copy from the store where he works.

It takes a few chapters before the name of the security guard is revealed, but we know that it’s him. We know more about the survivor. Eve Black tells her stories through the book-within-a-book, also called The Nothing Man. Brief sections show the security guard spinning with increasing anxiety that he might finally be caught. Most of the book is comprised of chapters from Eve’s book. Not only does Eve’s book contain terrifying rapes and murders committed by the Nothing Man, it also contains Eve’s life after the mass murder of her family.

Compared to the Nothing Man’s own sections, all of which are heavily flavored with his disdain for everyone he encounters and his desire not to be finally caught, Eve’s chapters are beautifully, honestly written. Eve has thought a lot more about the Nothing Man than he ever thought about her. Because she’s spent the last almost twenty years thinking about what happened and what it means to be the victim of a crime, Eve’s words make us think about crime in a way that traditional procedurals and thrillers do. Eve makes us think about the survivors as individuals, as more than just a hit count. She also makes us think about what it’s like to live as a person who others vaguely recognize as someone they’ve seen on the news.

What I liked most about The Nothing Man (Howard’s, not Eve’s) was that, in addition to its psychological depth, are the final chapters. I won’t say too much because I don’t want to ruin this book for other readers. I’ll just say that those last chapters are a brilliant conclusion to a story about a man who thought he got away with his crimes and a woman who refused to let those crimes remain in the past.

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