Reviews by Cloggie Downunder

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The Kind Worth Killing
by Peter Swanson
brilliant crime thriller (1/5/2023)
The Kind Worth Killing is the first book in the Henry Kimball/Lily Kintner series by award-winning American author, Peter Swanson. On his way back to Boston from London, Ted Severson is still stewing about his wife’s recently-discovered infidelity. Flight delayed, he’s in the business-class lounge filling up on martinis when he shares his anger with a stranger. After all, he won’t see this woman again after today.

But the discussion is interesting: he admits to Lily that he’d like to kill Miranda, and she agrees that Miranda deserves to die. And she’s prepared to help him do it. Eventually, he’s satisfied that she’s not a cop wearing a wire, that she’s serious and genuine.

She tells him “The way to commit murder and not get caught is to hide the body so well that no one ill ever find it. If there was never a murder, then there can’t be a murderer. But there are many ways to hide a body. You can leave a body out in the open but make it look like the opposite of what actually happened.” Lily Kintner would know: she has first-hand experience.

The first half of the story is told through narratives alternating between Ted and Lily: Ted’s in the present day, while Lily’s begins when she was thirteen, from which it soon becomes quite clear what her attitude is to murder.

Thereafter, the first of several excellent twists (pre-book a chiro appointment?) precludes revealing further details without spoilers. Other characters take up the tale, one of those being Boston PD Detective Henry Kimball. When he eventually talks to Lily, he’s sure that she’s lying about something, and he’s unwilling to let it go.

Henry amuses himself (and the reader) writing dirty little limericks about those involved in the cases he’s investigating, something that turns out to be his undoing. And the ending? Well, who knows quite what is going to happen there. Readers who enjoy this brilliant crime thriller will be very pleased to learn there’s a sequel, The Kind Worth Saving.
Less Is Lost: Arthur Less Book #2
by Andrew Sean Greer
entertaining and enjoyable (12/15/2022)
Less Is Lost is the sequel to Pulitzer-winning novel, Less. It’s when Less and Freddy have been together nine months, our favourite Minor American Novelist has completed his first novel and is on his way to give a lecture when two calls derail his day: his agent has lined up a paying gig he doesn’t want to take; and a long-time rival for certain affections brings sad news. The sad news includes a funeral, and notification of a huge debt that Less naively never anticipated. Homelessness is on the horizon.

During all this, Freddy is in Maine, on a course, and receiving detailed daily calls that allow him to chronicle for the reader this upheaval in his partner’s (and his) life. Less decides to throw himself into the gigs he flatly rejected earlier, to cover the debt and save his beloved Shack on the Vulcan Steps: interview and profile sci-fi author, H.H.H. Mandern; part of a jury for a literary prize; a personal appearance with the theatre troupe performing one of his short stories, and anything else that comes up.

Mandern, however, throws a wrinkle into his ambitious plans, and Less finds he has inexplicably agreed to drive the author from Pams Springs to Santa Fe in an antique converted live-in van called Rosina, accompanied by a sleek black pug called Dolly. It’s not until they are well underway that Mandern reveals their mission.

Even more surprised is he to be driving Rosina further across the country, with Dolly as his faithful companion, and the daunting prospect of reconnecting with someone from his past looming. Mandern tells him: “You may not know it, Arthur Less, but you’re full of adventure. You’re a reckless man.”

Greer’s protagonist might remind some readers of those that David Nicholls creates: inept, accident-prone, awkward, sometimes graceless, and his ineptitude is often a source of humour: his woeful German language skills, his rogue moustache razor, blueberries that aren’t, an unintentional flood, a donkey ride, becoming an RVer, surviving a hurricane.

Indeed, Less bumbles his way through encounters with communes, Navajo guides, beertenders, propositioning campers, and his alter-ego. He regularly makes a fool of himself, yet things seem to fall into place for him somehow. Freddy expands quite a bit on what the reader already knows about him, Less and Robert Brownburn, making it hard not to fall even harder for this middle-aged gay white novelist. Greer’s plot, characters and prose are entertaining and enjoyable and more of this cast will be most welcome.
Now Is Not the Time to Panic: A Novel
by Kevin Wilson
a marvellous coming-of-age tal (12/14/2022)
“I had wanted people to care, to notice, but I hadn’t wanted them to put their own hands all over it, to try to claim it. But how do you stop something like that? You just tried to make more of it so you didn’t lose your claim to what was inside of you.”

Now Is Not The Time To Panic is the fourth novel by award-winning American author, Kevin Wilson. It’s a phone call from a stranger that casts Frances Budge’s mind back twenty years. Mazzy Brower is an art critic, writing about the Coalfield Panic of 1996, and she’s convinced that Frankie Budge started it. She’d be right, but does Frances want to talk about it?

Back during the summer vacation of ‘96, Frankie was sixteen, her mom was working, her triplet brothers flipping burgers at fast-food places, and her dad long gone, in Milwaukee with a new family. She was bored and a bit lonely. And so was Zeke, new in town from Memphis, his mom catatonic with grief over her cheating husband.

An aspiring novelist (Frankie), an aspiring artist (Zeke), a stolen photocopier, lots of paper and toner, and an idea: what could go wrong?

Their poster had an enigmatic slogan (The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with hunger for us) surrounded by some strange illustrations. They made copies, lots of copies, and put them up around town. And they made a solemn vow to tell no-one that they were the ones who made it.

The reaction initially pleased them, but the analysis of the meaning, that was a bit upsetting: “I kind of wanted other people to not understand it in ways that they assumed a really cool artist had made it. I didn’t want them to not understand it in a way that they think we’re devil worshippers who abduct kids.”

And then, in that pre-internet-as-we-know-it-now world, it went viral. It spawned copy-cats and a weird and dangerous dad militia, The Poster Posse. Violence, lives lost, none of that was what they wanted. But at sixteen, they too naïve to realise that once you release something into the world, you lose all control over it.

They never did tell anyone, so how does Mazzy Brower know? And if she tells the world, then what?

Wilson paints a vivid picture of how a single piece of American pop culture, a culture-altering poster, can expand into a phenomenon and cause mass hysteria. His characters are appealing for all their very realistic flaws; some of their seemingly inexplicable choices can be attributed to their tender ages but they can’t fail to elicit the reader’s empathy. Funny and thought-provoking, this is a marvellous coming-of-age tale.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Text Publishing.
The Marriage Portrait: A novel
by Maggie O'Farrell
Maggie O’Farrell never disappoints. (12/3/2022)
“Vitelli looked at Lucrezia for a long moment. His eyes travelled from her hair, divided down the centre, to her temples, to her eyes, cheeks, neck, arms, hands. Lucrezia quailed, trembling. She felt like a floor being swept by a brush, again and again.”

The Marriage Portrait is the ninth novel by award-winning, best-selling British author, Maggie O’Farrell. From the moment that Lucretia di Cosimo de’ Medici learns she is to be given to Alfonso II d’Este, Duke of Ferrara in marriage, she is afraid. The twelve-year-old already senses there will be danger in this contract. Yet, she is indeed married to him at fifteen and dead, less than a year later.

In a dual time-line narrative, O’Farrell details the day that Alfonso takes his young bride away from her servants, her women in the castello at Ferrara, to an isolated fortezza near Bondeno; and describes Lucrezia’s life in the decade and a half that precedes it. With exquisitely beautiful descriptive prose, she expands the scant known historical record into an enthralling tale rich in interesting minutiae.

Lucretia is a fascinating protagonist: her mother Eleanora blames her own distraction at the time of conception for the restlessness and intractability of her fifth child. Lucretia is intelligent and aware, a talented artist, but lacks close connection to her parents and siblings, feeling more love from her wet nurse and her mother’s nurse, Sofia, than her family.

“She recalled every word of the story the tutor told them last week – it was the way her mind worked. Words pressed themselves into her memory, like a shoe sole into soft mud, which would dry and solidify, the shoe print preserved forever.”

She pleads not to be wed to Alfonso, to have to leave Florence and live far away in Ferrara, but such is the mindset of the Grand Duke of Tuscany: children are for marrying off, matches necessary to form strong alliances; of course the wedding will go ahead.

The first weeks of her marriage are spent in the delizia near Veghiera, learning her imperious husband’s mercurial moods and understanding that this marriage will be nothing like the loving relationship her parents still enjoy. Her only ally is her maid-servant, Emilia, the daughter of her wet nurse.

When she can’t paint, any boredom or unpleasantness, she endures through dissociation. A disguise allows her to explore: “A maid in a brown dress might as well be a table or a sconce on the wall. She has access suddenly to the private hidden life of the castello, the wrong side of its embroidery, with all the knots and weave and secrets on display.”

Finally in Ferrara, while Alfonso is ever-busy with matters of state, Lucrezia is swept into the company of his sisters: Elisabetta, she takes to immediately; Nunciata, not at all. Alfonso engages an artist, assisted by apprentices, to paint Lucrezia’s marriage portrait.

O’Farrell’s extensive research is apparent on every page, but never is this a dreary tome full of dry historical facts; rather, the reader is gripped by the progress towards Lucrezia’s inevitable fate and the breathtaking final chapter.

And the prose! It’s hard to limit the quotes: “The tigress didn’t so much pace as pour herself, as if her very essence was molten, simmering, like the ooze from a volcano. It was hard to distinguish the bars of the cage from the dark, repeating stripes on the creature’s fur. The animal was orange, burnished gold, fire made flesh; she was power and anger, she was vicious and exquisite; she carried on her body the barred marks of a prison, as if she had been branded for exactly this, as if captivity had been her destiny all along.”

Also “The sentence seems to slide from her mouth and gather like smoke in the air between them” and “Sleep will not come for her; it is a steed she cannot catch or harness; it throws her off, it takes flight if she comes near, it refuses her entreaties” are examples. Maggie O’Farrell never disappoints.
The Bullet That Missed: Thursday Murder Club Mysteries #3
by Richard Osman
Very entertaining! (10/30/2022)
The Bullet That Missed is the third book in the Thursday Murder Club series by British TV presenter, producer, director, and novelist, Richard Osman. Back in 2013, TV journalist Bethany Waites was about to crack wide open a massive case of VAT fraud when her car went off Shakespeare Cliff. Her body was never found. This is the cold case that Joyce Meadowcroft has selected for Coopers Chase’s Thursday Murder Club to next examine.

It turns out that the pretext under which they invite Bethany’s colleague, the very well-known journalist/newsreader Mike Waghorn to join them, is totally unnecessary: Mike is very forthcoming, happy to share any skerrick of information he has with these four elderly sleuths. Elizabeth Best, though, is a little distracted by a series of vaguely threatening text messages.

It’s after Ibrahim visits a prison to ask an inmate for help that the object of their interest, a woman jailed for the VAT fraud, is murdered. Joyce enlists her daughter to look over the financials, giving the TMC a bit of direction for their investigation. Eventually, in the interests of gaining information, Ron shares a pleasant afternoon of snooker with a crook and a former KGB colonel.

Elizabeth and Stephen are abducted, treated civilly and released; Ron endures a massage; Elizabeth and Joyce attend the taping of a TV game show and Elizabeth does a bit of acting; it becomes clear that Ibrahim’s talent is definitely not cracking poetic code, although he’s quite good at anagrams; DC Donna De Freitas becomes a TV star.

Joyce dabbles in cryptocurrency; Ron’s new lady is called on to use her talents on a body in a freshly-dug grave; Stephen’s observational skills make a significant contribution; a money-launderer chooses the wrong mug of tea; Joyce tries her hand at writing crime fiction, though it seems she’s better, in this instance, at solving real-life crime.

Osman lays a few interesting trails for the reader and then drags some red herrings across them to keep everyone guessing right up to the reveal. And then adds a few more excellent twists just when you thought you had it all straight. All the regulars appear and Ron’s grandson Kendrick even makes a quick but important appearance.

By the final pages there’s a significant body count that could have been higher had a certain money launderer got his way. And also, had he not. Also, by the end of this instalment, quite a few rather delightful pairings have formed. As before, there’s plenty of humour, some of it quite black, as well as a lump-in-the-throat moment. More of this cast is most definitely welcome.
Demon Copperhead: A Novel
by Barbara Kingsolver
Moving and thought-provoking: a wonderful read. (10/27/2022)
Demon Copperhead is the ninth novel by award-winning best-selling American author, Barbara Kingsolver. It’s in August of his eleventh year that life falls apart for Damon Fields. Despite his inauspicious beginning and life in a double-wide trailer with his single mother, his first ten years are happy ones.

With strong Melungeon features, flame red hair, green eyes and darker skin, inherited from a father who died before he was born, Damon soon acquires the name Copperhead, Demon being the natural warp of his given name. A good student with a talent for drawing, he excels at school and enjoys spending his free time with his best friend, Maggot, grandson of his mother’s landlady, Nance Peggot.

The catalyst for change seems to be the arrival into their lives of Murrell Stone, known as Stoner, whom Damon quickly assesses as bad news. That he is a bully, expert in gaslighting, is soon obvious: “Mom took up with a guy that believed in educating with his fists, that bullied and brainwashed her till the day she died.”

By the time he arrives in his father’s hometown in Tennessee, the now-eleven-year-old has suffered the physical and psychological abuse of his new step-father, lost his pregnant mother, been fostered out into two differently neglectful homes, done hard physical labour, worked an illegal job, missed school to harvest tobacco, been half-starved, and robbed.

From there, the story follows Demon’s rollercoaster fortunes in life: patronage from his paternal grandmother, a football coach and an art teacher; recognition of his talents and abilities; injury and drug addiction; the deterioration and loss of people close to him. He proves to be resilient, and eventually learns that not all the people he chooses end up being true friends.

With her reinvented David Copperfield set in modern-day Appalachia, Kingsolver illustrates the potent impact on young lives of the poor choices that people themselves make, or are made by those charged with their care, often when there is, realistically, no choice at all.

When those people in his life who have good intentions but no means are unable to step up, her protagonist ends up at the mercy of people rorting the welfare system for their own gain or merely their survival, under the supposed care of poorly-paid and under-resourced people stuck in a poorly funded and disorganised system. All of this will feel wholly realistic to those with experience of said system.

Shown, too, is the Appalachian(?) mindset perpetuated by some teachers at less well-off schools that their students lack the intelligence to compete academically with richer schools. This can result is students believing, often to their detriment, injury-wise, that sport or unskilled labour is their only option. Credibly presented is the casually indiscriminate use of prescribed narcotics in teens with its ensuing downward spiral into addiction, and also the power of the intelligent cartoon.

Damon’s feels like an authentic voice which gives the story added credibility. Kingsolver gives her young protagonist insight: “A mean side to people comes out at such times, where their only concern is what did the misfortunate person do to put themselves in their sorry fix. They’re building a wall to keep out the bad luck.”

And makes him perceptive: “A dead parent is a tricky kind of ghost. If you can make it into more like a doll, putting it in the real house and clothes and such that they had, it helps you to picture them as a person instead of just a person-shaped hole in the air. Which helps you feel less like a person-shaped invisible kid.”

And, of course, the reader can rely on Kingsolver for gorgeous descriptive prose: “I found a good rock and watched the sun melt into the Cumberlands. Layers of orange like a buttermilk pie cooling on the horizon. Clouds scooting past, throwing spots of light and dark over the mountainheads. The light looked drinkable. It poured on a mountain so I saw the curve of every treetop edged in gold, like the scales of a fish. Then poured off, easing them back into shadow.”

Many of Dickens’ characters are easily identifiable by their slightly altered names and roles; several are sterling characters, although the one with that name is the polar opposite. Those familiar with it will find elements of the story somewhat reminiscent of AB Facey’s memoir A Fortunate Life. Included is a bonus essay revealing Kingsolver’s inspiration for this tale. Moving and thought-provoking: a wonderful read.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Faber & Faber.
by Andrew Sean Greer
entertaining and enjoyable (9/3/2022)
Less is the first novel in the Less series by award-winning best-selling American author, Andrew Sean Greer. Quickly approaching fifty, Arthur Less is dismayed to be invited to the wedding of a former lover. Attending is out of the question: Arthur Less devises a “cats cradle of junkets” that will ensure he is out of the country and very busy while Freddy Pelu marries Tom Dennis in Sonoma, CA.

First on his itinerary is New York City, interviewing an author of a sci-fi series with a cult following. This is preceded by a lunch with his agent, the outcome of which is a shock: his new novel will need a rewrite if it is to attract a publisher.

From there, Mexico City (an interview about his famous lover, poet Robert Brownburn), Turin (nominated for a book award), Berlin (teaching a five-week course), a short, unplanned stop-over in Paris (catch up with a friend), Morocco (to celebrate the birthday of a friend of a friend, and his own), India (a writing retreat, to fix his novel?), and Japan (to review some restaurant meals).

But at each destination, and often, during his travels, Arthur is overwhelmed by reminiscences, reveries, flashbacks, courtesy of those he meets, old friends and new acquaintances, and of little incidents that occur. Much as he would rather not, he recalls not just past lovers, but those he truly loved (and perhaps still does?), and fails to scrub Freddy from his mind and heart.

It’s on his fiftieth birthday that he is blessed with an epiphany about his apparently unwanted novel, and it’s a delightful irony that it just about describes what Greer has written: “What if it isn’t a poignant, wistful novel at all? What if it isn’t the story of a sad middle-aged man on a tour of his hometown, remembering the past and fearing the future; a peripateticism of humiliation and regret; the erosion of a single male soul? What if it isn’t even sad?”

Greer’s protagonist might remind some readers of those that David Nicholls creates: inept, accident-prone, awkward, subject to “those writerly humiliations planned by the universe to suck at the bones of minor artists like him”, whose “brain sits before its cash register again, charging him for old shames as if he has not paid before”.

And towards the end, his friend/rival tells him “You are the most absurd person I’ve ever met. You’ve bumbled through every moment and been a fool; you’ve misunderstood and misspoken and tripped over absolutely everything and everyone in your path, and you’ve won. And you don’t even realize it.”

The story is related by an unnamed narrator whose identity gradually becomes clear. Greer’s plot, characters and prose are entertaining and enjoyable, and it’s no surprise that this novel was awarded the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Literature. Fans will be pleased to know they can look forward to a sequel, Less Is Lost.
Shrines of Gaiety: A Novel
by Kate Atkinson
Superlative historical fiction. (9/2/2022)
“The war was history, and history didn’t interest Freda, she’d had no part in it. She was vibrant with the present and hungry for the future.”

Shrines Of Gaiety is the fifth stand-alone novel by award-winning, best-selling British author Kate Atkinson. It’s in the late spring of 1926 that the notorious Nellie Coker is released from Holloway prison, having served six months for a liquor licencing offence. Clearly, her paid policeman, DI Arthur Maddox, has fallen down on the job. Probably intentionally, Nellie thinks, and planning to take over her business as his own.

Her five nightclubs have been operating under the management of her adult children, but her stint in jail has diminished her. Nellie has her finger firmly on the pulse, though: she realises that Maddox isn’t the only threat she faces, and she won’t go down without a fight.

Gwendolen Kelling has come from York to look for two fourteen-year-old runaway girls. Freda Murgatroyd, half-sister of Gwendolen’s friend, Cissy has dragged her best friend Florence Ingram to London, promising a singing and dancing career on the stage. The reality isn’t as sparkly as they had hoped, but Freda is determined. She may not be entirely street-smart, but she’s far from the naiveté Florence evinces.

Having lost two brothers in the war, a father to illness, and then cared for her demanding, dying mother, Gwendolen quits her job at the library and seeks out DCI John Frobisher at Bow Street Police Station, assured that he is the man to help her find the girls. Frobisher is, indeed, concerned about the number of girls going missing in London over the last few months, believing that Nellie Coker’s clubs are swallowing them up.

Frobisher is on secondment from Scotland Yard, at Bow Street to root out the corruption that is rife. He is convinced that Maddox is the main actor, but the man remains frustratingly absent from duty, and Frobisher is unsure which of the men at Bow Street can be trusted: who knows if they are in league with Maddox? The ones that aren’t lazy or stupid, that is.

Frobisher quickly decides that there is clearly more to this librarian than meets the eye, and Miss Kelling’s timely arrival somehow has him sending a civilian undercover into Nellie’s citadel club, The Amethyst. She might spot her runaways there; she might just see something else useful…

Once again, Atkinson has written a brilliant story with a wholly believable plot that twists and surprises. In a tale that includes murder, blackmail, theft, corruption, and a prostitution racket, there is also plenty of dark humour, some delicious irony, a few farcical near-misses, and dialogue with many amusing mental asides. Loyalty, trust and a perceived lack thereof, also feature.

As well as main characters of surprising depth, Atkinson gives the reader a marvellously entertaining support cast: a war veteran who rescues damsels in distress, a somewhat precocious, perceptive pre-teen who fends well for herself, an aspiring novelist inclined to melodrama, a dissolute gossip columnist, and a jewel thief bent on revenge.

She gives them insightful observations: “Men talked in order to convey information or to ruminate on cricket scores and campaign statistics. Women, on the other hand, talked in an effort to understand the foibles of human behaviour. If men were to ‘gossip’, the world might be a better place. There would certainly be fewer wars”

Her extensive research into the era is apparent on every page, and as always, she is expert at setting a scene rich in detail with succinct descriptive prose: “The Cokers all had very eloquent eyebrows. They could conduct entire conversations with them, without saying a word” and “Sometimes he thought he could feel the weight of history in London pressing down on the top of his head” and “Much as he disliked being chained to his desk – Frobisher bound, his liver pecked at by bureaucracy – this pointless trailing around was time-wasting” are examples. Superlative historical fiction.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Random House UK Transworld
Dark Horse: Orphan X #7
by Gregg Hurwitz
Entertaining action drama. (8/2/2022)
Dark Horse is the seventh book in the Orphan X series by best-selling American author, Gregg Hurwitz. Evan Smoak is busy restoring his refuge on the twenty-first floor of the Castle Heights Residential Tower to its former pristine state when he gets a call for the NOWHERE MAN. Aragon Urrea’s daughter has been taken from their South Texas town by a Mexican drug cartel.

When he eventually decides that he can work on this man’s behalf, if certain strict conditions are met, Joey’s online skills give him an entry into the much-feared Leon Cartel, and his talent for bluff gets him in close to El Moreno, to the chagrin of the man’s lieutenants. When he eventually connects with Anjelina Urrea, there’s a wrinkle in the situation that need a massive alteration of his plans.

In this instalment, Evan spends a good bit of time in a sewer, watches an ultrasound, is faced with numerous scenes that really challenge his control over his OCD, and is distracted from his main mission by a medical emergency involving his ongoing love interest.

A visit to Evan’s personal arms dealer, Tommy Stojack is required for some very fancy gear and, as well as the usual firearms, knives, fists and feet, weapons wielded include a pencil, a scalpel, a defibrillator, a crowbar, a fully grown lion, and a Mont Blanc fountain pen. Readers should be prepared for a lot of violence, some of it especially cruel, some truly nasty characters, and a very high body count.

Joey Morales is a breath of fresh air and the perfect foil for serious Evan: every page that features Joey is pure entertainment. Her assistance, in his absence, with refurbishing Evan’s recently-destroyed condo becomes a bone of contention, though. His Castle Heights neighbours always add humour and tension relief. As usual with this series, it’s best to don your disbelief suspenders from page one and just enjoy the ride. Entertaining action drama.
The It Girl
by Ruth Ware
A gripping thriller. (7/29/2022)
The It Girl is the seventh novel by best-selling British author, Ruth Ware. When Hannah Jones arrives at Pelham College in October 2011 to begin her three years at Oxford, the last thing she expects is to be part of a group of six funny, clever students, but sharing a suite with intimidatingly beautiful and conspicuously wealthy April Clarke-Cliveden turns out to confer automatic acceptance.

“Now, as she stood there, her head spinning a little from the champagne she had drunk, she had the strangest feeling— almost as if she were surveying herself from a distance, marveling at the fact that she— Hannah Jones—had found herself surrounded by these exotic, clever, glamorous creatures.”

About the only fly in the ointment is that the guy who renders her weak at the knees, Will de Chastaigne, hooks up with April. None of them could ever have predicted that, less than a year later, April would be strangled to death. And Hannah would find her body.

Ten years on, Hannah and Will are expecting their first baby. Will is working crazy hours, trying to make full partner: they’re gong to need the income when Hannah has to give up her bookshop job. The nightmares and PTSD have finally decreased to manageable levels. Hannah has always felt guilty, both for surviving when April didn’t, and living the life April should have been living, with the husband she should have had, and now the baby she could have had.

Then, the news that the man convicted of April’s murder on Hannah’s evidence has died in prison. John Neville was absolutely resolute from the trial onward that he had nothing to do with her death and mounted several unsuccessful appeals. Will his death finally put an end to the media circus, the emails and calls that surround every appeal?

It seems that journalist Geraint Williams wants to look further into claims that the police and the court got it wrong, and his words have Hannah wondering, as do remarks made about the whole awful incident by others in that close group who re-establish contact: did she get it wrong? Did she put an innocent man into prison?

Hannah recalls that while brilliant, luminously beautiful April could be charming, beguiling and kind, she also had a malicious streak, revelling in cruel pranks, and what Hannah now learns from those friends has her guessing and second-guessing about who might have had motive and opportunity, other than John Neville.

Ware has crafted a dual-timeline mystery that is hard to put down: plenty of clues and red herrings and a brilliant twist to distract the reader in the lead-up to a nail-biting climax. It does lose half a star for a poorly-researched factual error that is integral to the resolution, but the Oxford scenes cannot fail to strike a chord with anyone who has lived in the residential college of a long-established university. A gripping thriller.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Australia.
Two Nights in Lisbon: A Novel
by Chris Pavone
definitely a page-turner (5/9/2022)
Two Nights In Lisbon is the fifth novel by best-selling American author, Chris Pavone. When Ariel Pryce wakes up alone in a Lisbon hotel on a July Monday morning, she expects to find her (ten years younger) husband of three months in the dining room having breakfast. She doesn’t. John Wright hasn’t been seen by the staff; everything but his phone is still there; the phone goes to voicemail.

When Ariel takes her concern to the local police, they are almost dismissive: he hasn’t been gone long enough for it to be a concern. But they do find her interesting enough to tail. From the smirks the smarmy fellow at the US Embassy gives her it’s clear he is equally indifferent, although he does take some intriguing information about the couple to the CIA Chief of Station down the corridor. An American journalist hanging around the embassy offers help, which Ariel politely declines. No sign of John at the hospitals she contacts.

The hotel’s CCTV shows him leaving early in the morning, not dressed for the client business meetings he has scheduled, and maybe getting into a car. The male cop is still sceptical: Ariel’s ignorance of her husband’s clients doesn’t help. But his female colleague is a little more willing to make an effort. What happens next changes the complexion of his absence, but much more can’t be said without spoilers.

The opening chapters are intriguing enough to draw the reader in, but it’s not until things hot up that Ariel’s steel is revealed. And how! With flashbacks to her recent past, and a bit of action with a tail, Ariel demonstrates just how self-sufficient she can be. And it’s those scenes where she is fending for herself that provide plenty of dark humour.

It’s soon clear that neither Ariel nor John is quite who they seem; nor do all those claiming to want to help find John have entirely benign intentions, but most of them definitely want to know what is behind Ariel’s apparent power over a certain influential figure.

The main narrative is carried by Ariel, but many of the minor characters contribute, and the narrative often switches between them, relying only on context to denote whose perspective is being given. Rather than adding confusion, this seems to give the story an immediacy that keeps the reader engrossed.

While there are hints at espionage and the influence of foreign powers, the apparent immunity to prosecution of privileged white males who indulges in sexual harassment of the worst kind (and who closely resembles a certain president), is central to the story.

Very little suspension of disbelief is required in this tightly plotted story which has plenty of red herrings and enough twists to possibly necessitate a chiropractic consult. Pavone’s latest is definitely a page-turner.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
French Braid: A novel
by Anne Tyler
Wonderful, as always! (4/23/2022)
“So this is how it works. This is what families do for each other - hide a few uncomfortable truths, allow a few self-deceptions. Little kindnesses. And little cruelties.”

French Braid is the twenty-fourth novel by best-selling, award-winning American author, Anne Tyler. The Garrett family, people would tell you, is fairly unremarkable. They’re living what they see as fairly unremarkable lives Baltimore. Yes, there are little quirks, minor grudges, small resentments, as in every family. But also love in its many manifestations.

To pique our initial interest, there’s Serena Drew, meeting her (newish) boyfriend’s Philadelphia parents. A chance encounter, on the journey home to Baltimore, with her cousin, draws attention to the fact that the Garretts don’t see each other very much, unlike the boyfriend’s sprawling family. To understand why, we need to go back to the late 1950s.

The Garret family on their one and only vacation, at Deep Creek Lake: Robin demonstrates his inexperience with relaxing; Mercy gets out her sketchbook and pencils and indulges in her art; seventeen-year-old Alice takes over the responsibility of feeding the family and watching over her siblings; at fifteen, Lily is quickly distracted from her sulk about leaving one boy behind by the attentions of another, older one, from whom she seems to expect a proposal; and David, to his father’s frustration, is uninterested in the water, or learning to swim.

It is always such a pleasure to read a book by Anne Tyler, and this one has you chickling all the way through, unless you are laughing out loud or saying “oh, dear” or “oh, my”, and once or twice, choking up or shedding a tear. Nothing terribly dramatic happens: readers wanting action and excitement need to look elsewhere; but Tyler’s special talent is making ordinary lives shine.

Tyler is wonderful at character description: “It always puzzled Alice, how boys would flock to Lily. Oh, she was pretty enough, in a round-faced, dimply sort of way, but that didn't explain why they grew so alert when she walked into a room. It seemed she gave off some kind of high-pitched signal that only male ears could detect. (Grown men as well as boys. Alice had noticed more than one friend's father sending Lily the same sharp arrows of awareness.)”

As always, many of her characters are a little eccentric, but their observations on life are insightful at the same time as being amusing. Serena illustrates “I can criticise my family, but you can’t”; Mercy tells her granddaughter “Sometimes people live first one life and then another life... First a family life and then later a whole other kind of life. That's what I'm doing” but she does it subtly to spare feelings from being hurt; Alice considers herself the sensible one, even if some see her as a killjoy.

Each of eight chapters is from the perspective of a different family member, giving their particular view of certain events or circumstances. If Lily’s husband sees the Garretts as narrow and unfriendly and judgemental, it’s not how they see themselves.

And Tyler’s prose is a joy: “The only sounds in the studio were the whiskery strokes of their two brushes. She'd grown used to hearing old-people music but evidently Mercy preferred to work in silence, and Candle saw her point. Silence made what she was doing seem more important, somehow - more purposeful, almost like praying.” Wonderful, as always!
The Unsinkable Greta James: A Novel
by Jennifer E. Smith
funny, moving, heart-warming and uplifting. (2/27/2022)
The Unsinkable Greta James is a novel by best-selling American author, Jennifer E. Smith. It is literally the last place Greta James wants to be: on a cruise ship off the coast of Alaska. Her mother had planned the week-long cruise as a celebration of forty years of marriage. But three months earlier, an aneurysm had put Helen James into an early grave. Now here she is with her father and two other couples of his vintage: Helen and Conrad’s best friends over the last several decades, having the vacation Helen can’t.

Losing her mother plunged Greta into such deep grief that she had a meltdown on stage during her last live show, a week after Helen died. A meltdown that went viral. Despite pressure from the label, her manager and her publicist, Greta has withdrawn from public life since then. She knows if her career as an indie singer/songwriter/guitarist is to survive, she needs to come back controlled and confident, with a new song. A song that’s not coming…

On top of all that, she’s broken up with her boyfriend and just learned the man who’s been her fallback most of her life has gotten engaged.

So she’s on a ship full of mostly oldies who haven’t a clue about her, which is OK. The two other couples provide a buffer between her and Conrad, necessary because, although she’s here to keep an eye on him (at her brother’s insistence), they haven’t seen eye to eye since she entered her teens. Her mother may have been her greatest fan, but her father still thinks she should, at age thirty-six, have quit travelling, got a real job, and settled into a steady relationship, like her brother.

While she can relax in relative anonymity, an enthusiastic young teen of south Asian descent is thrilled to meet her idol, and Greta recalls her own teenaged obsession with making music. And among the activities to which she does accompany Conrad and his friends, a talk by Ben Wilder, a history professor at Columbia with a best-selling novel: an enigmatic figure who piques Greta’s interest. Somehow they connect, and see unexpected parallels in their lives.

It’s when she’s agreed to spend a whole day excursion with her father, meticulously pre-arranged by her mother, that things with Conrad come to a head. Can they salvage something from their decades-long estrangement?

In this novel, Smith offers a well-rounded protagonist and an appealing support cast, most of whom endear themselves to the reader despite, or perhaps because of, their very human flaws and foibles. Her portrayal of the various relationships is convincing and certain turns of the plot are likely to have the eyes filling with tears and a lump forming in the throat, although there is also plenty of humour, especially in the witty dialogue.

Smith’s depiction of the cruise, the activities and excursions, and life aboard a cruise ship perfectly captures the atmosphere and she so skilfully sets the scene of Greta’s performances, readers will wish they could be there. A tale that examines family dynamics and throws in a little romance, this one is funny, moving, heart-warming and uplifting.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Quercus Books
The Midnight Hour: Brighton Mysteries #6
by Elly Griffiths
This is addictive historical crime fiction. (1/22/2022)
The Midnight Hour is the sixth book in The Brighton Mysteries series by British author, Elly Griffiths. When elderly impresario Bert Billington’s youngest son, Aaron suggests to the Brighton Police that his mother, former variety dancer, Verity Malone poisoned her husband, she engages Holmes and Collins Detective Agency to investigate.

It’s a little awkward: the first time Emma Holmes is at odds with her husband, Superintendent Edgar Stephens, as his team tries to discover who fed Bert rat poison. Police and PIs question many of the same people for information, but sometimes their methods yield different results. What does come to light is that there are plenty of people with potential grudges against the old man, and that there was a mystery caller to the house in the hours before Bert died.

And then there is another murder: a different MO, but with certain common aspects, with the result that Emma and WDC Meg Connolly head to Liverpool to interview a couple with a historical bearing on the cases, and from there, unexpectedly to Whitby, where Bert and Verity’s middle son Seth and Max Mephisto are filming a Dracula movie.

Bert’s reputation as a philanderer swells the list of those with grievances to the families of used and discarded women, some of whose lives he ruined without qualm. Nor do all of his own family hold him in high esteem. But the second victim was a favourite with almost everyone: what could the motive be?

Griffiths certainly has the reader second-guessing themselves as they settle on a perpetrator, only to be pointed elsewhere as further facts come to light. There are a number of red herrings and plenty of misdirection, from both the characters and the author. At one stage Emma reminds herself that she is dealing with “Actors and acting. Costume and disguise.”

Once again, Griffiths uses multiple narrators to convey different parts of the story as well as to give different perspectives on events. The story plays out over about six weeks against a background of The Moors Murders. The mid-1960’s era ensures the absence of mobile phones, internet, DNA and even many personal vehicles; thus the detective work relies on heavily on legwork, and intelligent deduction.

Fans will be pleased to have another peek into the lives of this particular cast as the characters grow and develop and face the challenges of the changing world that was the nineteen-sixties. Despite the still-rampant sexual discrimination to which they are subject, Emma, Sam, Meg and Ruby are coming into their own, quietly taking charge of their lives and making their own decisions. This is addictive historical crime fiction.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Now You See Them: Magic Men Mysteries #5
by Elly Griffiths
Excellent historical crime fiction, once again. (1/16/2022)
Now You See Them is the fifth book in the Stephens and Mephisto Mystery series (now apparently titled The Brighton Mysteries) by British author, Elly Griffiths. It is set over ten years after the events of The Vanishing Box. DI Bob Willis and Superintendent Edgar Stephens are called out of a post-funeral gathering for one of the wartime Magic Men: a teenaged girl is missing from her exclusive boarding school, Roedean. Her father, local MP Sir Crispian Miles demands their immediate action.

Rhonda Miles left a note claiming she has gone to London, and her friends are convinced she’s there to see matinee idol Bobby Hambro: they are all manic fans. It happens that the star’s agent is trying to entice Max Mephisto to co-star in a proposed film with Bobby: Edgar enlists Max’s help to gain access to Bobby to request vigilance for Rhonda among his many fans.

Edgar’s wife Emma, formerly DS Holmes, is finding marriage and motherhood less than stimulating and jumps at the chance to be more involved when her friend, journalist Sam Collins brings news of two earlier, unreported, disappearances of young women who have left similar notes. The women hatch a scheme to draw out the kidnapper, much to Edgar’s disapproval.

Meanwhile DI Bob Willis sends WPC Meg Connolly to London undercover to mingle with the loyal Bobby Hambro fans massed outside his hotel, hoping to gain information about Rhonda’s whereabouts. She returns with something that links her disappearance to the previous two. And then a body is discovered along the undercliff walk at Rotterdean.

In this instalment, Griffiths uses four narrators, Max, Edgar, Emma and Meg, to convey different parts of the story as well as to give different perspectives on events. The story plays out over three weeks. The mid-1960’s era ensures the absence of mobile phones, internet, DNA and even many personal vehicles; thus the detective work relies on heavily on legwork, and intelligent deduction.

Griffiths gives the reader a tale that set against a background of conflict erupting between mods and rockers, and includes smugglers tunnels, a prison escape, pop-star hysteria, racial discrimination and the emergence of a hitherto unknown group: teenagers. The kidnappings come very close to home for the main protagonists before a dramatic climax reveals who is responsible.

In different ways, Emma, Sam and Meg are subject to sexual discrimination, being relegated to menial tasks, denied the right to work, not permitted to drive a police car, denigrated by comments from colleagues, denied promotion and always expected to make the tea. But these women have plans!

Griffiths gives the reader characters that are real and flawed; some are immature but eager; others are distracted by their emotions. The plot is clever and original and even the most astute reader is unlikely to guess the perpetrator. The atmosphere of sixties Britain is skilfully evoked with description, dialogue and the attitudes common at the time. Excellent historical crime fiction, once again.
Cast Iron: An Enzo Macleod Investigation #6
by Peter May
Enjoyable crime fiction (11/19/2021)
Cast Iron is the sixth book in the Enzo Macleod Investigation series by Scottish journalist, screenwriter and author, Peter May. After refreshing himself on the details of Roger Raffin’s sixth cold case with him, Enzo heads in the direction of Bordeaux to meet the parents of Lucie Martin, whose unexplained disappearance in 1989 became a murder case when a nearby lake dried up during the drought of 2003, revealing her skeleton.

But not long after meeting the Martins, Enzo feels ambushed when he finds himself in the middle of a gathering of the families of six young women who are missing or dead, all of whom believe a certain killer of three prostitutes is to blame. While a letter from pimp Régis Blanc was found in Lucie’s bedroom, he has a cast iron alibi for when she disappeared.

Enzo talks to Lucie’s boyfriend, the ex-cop whom the families of the Bordeaux Six hired to investigate, Blanc’s wife and the women he pimped. He locates Lucie’s missing skull and makes a discovery that changes the whole complexion of the case. The more he hears, the less he is convinced that Blanc is Lucie’s killer.

When he meets Blanc in Lannemezan Prison, he becomes intrigued by the motive for the three murders for which this enigmatic man was incarcerated. But then he is distracted by his younger daughter. And in the crisis that follows, Enzo, true to form, has four women falling over themselves to assist in any way they can.

Sophie and her fiancé Bertrand discover first-hand just how dangerous being beloved of Enzo can be when his investigations displease certain people. Bertrand certainly gets a chance to prove his love, and Sophie shows herself to be resourceful and undefeated by challenging circumstances.

In what feels like the final book in the series, the action ranges from Paris to Cahors to Bordeaux to Biarritz. Some clever deduction and plenty of legwork is done, and there are plenty of twists and red herrings before the shocking reveal of just who is trying to kill Enzo, and why.

Both of Roger Raffin’s remaining cold cases are solved and loose ends are tied in a fairly neat bow, so fans of the series will doubtless be interested to know what May has planned for Enzo and crew in the seventh book of the series, The Night Gate. Enjoyable crime fiction.
The Blood Card: Magic Men Mysteries
by Elly Griffiths
excellent historical crime fiction (10/14/2021)
The Blood Card is the third book in the Stephens and Mephisto Mystery series by British author, Elly Griffiths. It’s May, 1953 and the former Magic Men are busy with their lives; DI Edgar Stephens is investigating the death of gypsy fortune-teller, Madame Zabini (Doreen Barton) in Brighton; magician Max Mephisto is performing at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.

They’re puzzled to be summoned to Whitehall by General Petre, even more so when he explains they are to look into the murder of their former CO, Colonel Peter Cartwright. Certain things about the murder scene have led Petre to call them in: a playing card left on the body; a newspaper cutting about an American mesmerist; and a 1939 Liverpool Empire playbill.

Petre stresses urgency: there is a threat to the imminent coronation of the new Queen. Max makes an international phone call which yields only a cryptic clue. Ed is sent to Albany, NY, arrives too late for his purpose, is almost the victim of a hit-and-run driver and has his motel room ransacked.

Back in Brighton, DS Emma Holmes is keeping a close eye on the Barton family when it transpires there may be a connection to Cartwright’s murder. Soon enough, Max and Ed conclude that all is not as it seems with the now-elusive General Petre, and the connection between the two deaths strengthens.

Griffiths gives the reader characters that are real and flawed; some are vain and selfish; others distracted by misdirection and convinced by illusion. Her plot is clever and original and has a few twists that even the most astute reader may fail to anticipate. The atmosphere of post-war Britain is skilfully evoked with description, dialogue and the attitudes common at the time.

The immediate post-war era ensures the absence of mobile phones, internet, DNA and even many personal vehicles; thus the detective work relies on heavily on legwork, personal visits and intelligent deduction.

Before the puzzles are solved and the murderers apprehended, there are communists, mafiosi and anarchists to investigate, there is arson, assault and attempted kidnapping, a bomb has to be defused on live TV and a knife thrower saves a young magician. Ed’s short stay in America is quite entertaining, and there are plenty of unresolved situations to draw the reader to the next book, The Vanishing Box. Excellent Historical crime fiction.
Last Girl Ghosted: A Novel
by Lisa Unger
A guaranteed page-turner. (10/10/2021)
“Once you ditch that phone, everything that you think tethers you to your life will fall away. Cash. A burner phone. A map—a real paper map!—marked where she should stop for gas, to spend the night. Places that took cash, that didn’t have cameras. It’s not forever, he told her. Think of it as a life reset.”

Last Girl Ghosted is the nineteenth novel by award-winning best-selling American author, Lisa Unger. After three intensely romantic months with Adam Harper, Wren Greenwood is suddenly, inexplicably, ghosted. What was a hook-up from the Torch app soon developed into more; it felt like the real thing, and Wren just can’t believe she got it so wrong. Her best friend Jax tells her to chalk it up to experience and move on, but Wren can’t let it go.

Then PI Baily Kirk turns up on her doorstep, looking for Adam Harper or Raife Mannes or the man who goes by any number of other names. His client’s daughter hooked-up with the man on Torch: now she and all her money have been missing for nine months. She’s one of at least three similar stories, all of whom have had some trauma in their early lives, all of whom have connected with this apparently charismatic, Rilke-quoting ghost.

Wren too, has had trauma in her youth, but she’s a survivor, a success: her popular advice column, Dear Birdie runs in the New York Chronicle, helping many; she owns a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights; she has friends and interests. But she wants to find Adam too. Do she and Bailey join forces? Does she actually believe the disturbing things that Bailey tells her about the man she had fallen in love with? And what happens if she finds him?

The story is told in a first-person narrative that is addressed to Adam, which sometimes makes for momentary confusion, but ultimately works well. While Wren is a protagonist with whom many readers can empathise, it’s disappointing that Unger inserts her into that overdone trope of naïve arrogance where she enters an almost-certainly dangerous situation alone, without any protection or means of summoning help, and without telling anyone what she is doing. Sure, it does later allow her to be kick-ass, but it’s getting a little tired.

However, she does give the reader a gripping thriller, the bones of which are easily believable: the potential dangers of online dating are well-documented. There’s plenty of enjoyable banter between friends, some good detective work, and a few action scenes in the lead-up to a nail-biting climax (or two). The support characters are an appealing bunch that Wren is lucky to have beside her. A guaranteed page-turner.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and HQ Fiction.
Oh William!: Amgash Series #3
by Elizabeth Strout
another powerful read (10/1/2021)
Oh William! is the third novel in the Amgash series by best-selling, Pulitzer Prize winning American author, Elizabeth Strout. Not long widowed and still very much grieving her second husband, David Abramson, Lucy Barton relates recent events in the life of her first husband, William Gerhardt.

Two life-changing things that occur in fairly short succession see her travelling with William to Maine to perhaps connect with a relative of whom William was, until recently, unaware. It’s a journey of many revelations, both about newly-discovered family, those already departed, each other and themselves.

Lucy’s narrative comes across as a little rambling, at first, but it soon becomes clear that all those casual asides, those frequently inserted anecdotes from earlier, are given to illustrate a certain point, a feeling, an opinion.

Musing on what she had with each husband, she tells the reader that even though “At times in our marriage I loathed him. I saw, with a kind of dull disc of dread in my chest, that with his pleasant distance, his mild expressions, he was unavailable”, William was her home, that she felt safe in his presence.

She does not talk much about David, noting what they had in common “It is hard to describe what it is like when one is raised in such isolation from the outside world. So we became each other’s home. But we— both of us felt this way—we felt that we were perched like birds on a telephone wire in New York City” and concluding that “David was a tremendous comfort to me.”

Strout gives her characters palpable emotions, wise words and insightful observations. When Lucy is unable to understand why William married her, a nothing, he tells her: “Lucy, I married you because you were filled with joy. You were just filled with joy. And when I finally realized what you came from—when we went to your house that day to meet your family and tell them we were getting married, Lucy, I almost died at what you came from. I had no idea that was what you came from. And I kept thinking, But how is she what she is? How could she come from this and have so much exuberance? …. There has never been anyone in the world like you. You steal people’s hearts, Lucy.”

Strout’s writing, both in style and subject matter, is reminiscent of Sebastian Barry with shades of Anne Tyler. Strout writes about ordinary people leading what they believe are ordinary lives (although there are definitely some quirky ones doing strange things amongst them) and does it with exquisite yet succinct prose. Another powerful read.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Penguin UK Viking.
These Toxic Things
by Rachel Howzell Hall
brilliant crime fiction (9/28/2021)
These Toxic Things is the seventh novel by American author, Rachel Howzell Hall. Twenty-four-year-old Michaela Lambert is a digital archaeologist for the Memory Bank, and her latest client is Nadia Denham. Nadia’s Memory Bank will be a digital collection of those things she holds most dear, together with their background stories.

Nadia owns Beautiful Things Curiosities Shoppe, located in a run-down little plaza next to a diner, a locksmith, a hair salon, a boarded-up bar and a carpark that harbours a collection of somewhat derelict RVs. Real-estate developer, Peter Weller is keen to get his hands on the plaza but, to his annoyance, the remaining four shop-owners are standing their ground, despite some underhand tactics.

At their first meeting, Mickie’s new client has arrayed her precious keepsakes on a table with notes for each item detailing when and where it was acquired, and from whom. But before they get together for a more thorough discussion, Nadia is found dead, an apparent suicide, something that sits completely at odds with Mickie’s impression of an enthusiastic woman eager to digitise her memories for her own future reference.

Mickie’s boss insists she go ahead with the project, for which he has been paid, but she has to endure the chagrin and disdain of the store manager, Riley. The items and their backstories are quite intriguing, although Mickie notes that they all seem to have come from desperate women, some of whom later met with nasty ends.

Meanwhile, Mickie’s personal life is in upheaval: creepy notes under her door; threatening texts ordering her to stop what she is doing; a car tailing her home; and a weirdo confronting her in a café. Luckily, she has a very supportive family with police connections, and some good friends. She’s a smart girl, shares whatever concerns her and listens to their sound advice and observations.

While her ex-boyfriend (inconveniently also her boss) is not quite off the scene, Nadia’s rather dishy son seems interested, and interesting. But Mickie is being careful: there’s some nutjob out there grabbing young women and killing them, and no way is she going to add to the list of victims.

Howzell Hall gives the reader a story that is cleverly plotted with several red herrings and a chilling twist. This is a tale that may have us considering where we perceive personal danger lies. Her characters are believable and Mickie’s family and friends are so appealing that many will envy her relationship with them.

It is certainly refreshing to have a protagonist who is fairly security conscious, one who doesn’t assume she’ll be OK but, instead, lets people where she’s going and when to expect her back, who doesn’t go and investigate a strange noise on her own but calls for help. The Magic 8 Ball predictions as section headings is a cute touch. Another brilliant crime fiction read that puts Howzell Hall firmly on the Must Read list.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Thomas and Mercer.

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