Mr. Mercedes

by Stephen King

“Everybody likes the ice cream man.”

“The woman says her name is Holly Gibney, but I think she’s really Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.”

“It’s as if there’s a fumble-fingered but powerful universal force at work, always trying to put wrong things right.”

One of the reasons I wanted to read Mr. Mercedes was because I heard tell of Holly Gibney, who is introduced in this book and is a character in several others of King’s works.

“I just love Holly, and I wish she were a real person. […] She just walked on in the first book she was in, Mr. Mercedes, and she more or less stole the book, and she stole my heart.”

-Stephen King

I was further encouraged because it won the Edgar Award for best novel of 2015. Unfortunately, Holly doesn’t make an appearance until halfway through, and I liked her, but I was a little underwhelmed considering the hype, including the miniseries which features her character. Just a little. I don’t think SK knew what he had with Holly Gibney until the book was almost finished. I look forward to seeing more of Holly. This was a good introduction and there is a lot of promise there. (I’m sure the great Mr. King will be relieved I think so) But I also hope Jerome and his family are in other related books because I loved them right from the get-go.

Mr. Mercedes is about the cat and mouse game between a twisted evil young man and a broken-down retired detective. The young man is Brady Hartsfield who has already committed mass murder by mowing down a group of innocents with a borrowed Mercedes.

“Most people are fitted with Lead Boots when they are just little kids and have to wear them all their lives. These Lead Boots are called A CONSCIENCE. I have none, so I can soar high above the heads of the Normal Crowd.”

The old before his time “ret-det”, Bill Hodges, is so done with life that he is flirting with suicide.

“What he knows now is that guilt isn’t the only reason people commit suicide. Sometimes you can just get bored with afternoon TV.”

Brady has already driven one innocent woman connected with his heinous act to suicide and now he is targeting Bill Hodges, who was the head investigator in the murder and failed to catch him before his retirement. But Bill is wily.

Once Brady makes contact with Bill, it gives him the purpose he needed to keep living. He starts to re-investigate. Thanks to the puzzle, what he learns along the way, and a lovely woman he meets in the course of his search, he is rejuvenated. When he learns that Mr. Mercedes had a role in the death of the woman who owned the car, whom he and his partner had wrongly accused of negligence, it ups the ante. When Mr. Mercedes victimizes someone closely connected to Bill, it gets personal. Along with his young friend Jerome and the neurotic emotionally disturbed Holly, his junior detectives, he is hot on Mr. Mercedes’s trail. But will they catch him before he can commit an atrocity that will make his first mass murder look like just a prelude to the main event? I loved that the car comes full circle from a force for evil to a force for good. It just depends on who’s doing the driving.

Most of the book is told from Bill Hodges’s point of view. But it was necessary to tell some of it from Brady Hartsfield’s as well. What we learn about him and his thoughts are so gross and disgusting, it actually took away from my enjoyment of the book. Every time we had to go there, I had to force myself not to skip through those parts. But don’t worry, the dog is not harmed.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 9, 2022

The Clue of the Broken Wing (Judy Bolton #29)

by Margaret Sutton

“I dozed off and didn’t wake up until I heard those police sirens.”
“Then what?,” asked Judy. “I don’t suppose you knew they were coming to arrest me?”
Peter grinned. “I should have known it. Past experience should have taught me that something was bound to happen. You enter a queer old house. The police arrive. You vanish. It all adds up.”

The cheer of the kitchen had vanished. Like the rest of the house, it was suddenly filled with ghosts. Their names were fear and suspicion and guilt. Prejudice was there, too, and panic that drives a person who runs away.

Like many of Margaret Sutton’s books, this one has some dark elements in it which reveal her social consciousness. Although those children reading it in the ‘50s or even today may not have picked up on these, an adult reading it today surely does.

A little girl, afraid of a temperamental and harsh mother’s punishment, runs away from her in a department store and is helped by a woman who finds her at a bus terminal. The little girl tells her she is alone in the world and the woman takes her with her while visiting her estranged mother who is neighbors with Judy Bolton. Her mother disapproved of the man she married, who is poor, and will not accept him. She tells her mother that “Anne” is her own little girl in hopes that when she dies (she has a terminal illness) her mother will not try to take her real daughter away from her husband and his mother. Anne is happy with her loving grandmother but still thinks of her real family and misses them.

The book picks up a year later with Judy and Peter traveling to New York City at Christmas time to visit her friend Irene, her husband Dale, and her daughter, little Judy. When they get to Irene’s address, they are surprised to find Irene’s house is razed to the ground and an apartment building in its place. She goes across the street while Peter, tired from his long drive, takes a nap, to find out what happened to Irene and her family. It is the home of the Lakes, the same family that lost little their little girl and believes, along with the police, that she is dead. They suspect that Judy is part of a gang that kidnapped their daughter “Sukey” for reasons I won’t go into here, and the adventure begins when the witch-like Mrs. Lake locks Judy in an upstairs room and calls the cops. Plus we have the mystery of what happened to Irene and her family. They soon find out that Irene and Dale moved out to Long Island and didn’t tell Judy and Peter because Irene wanted it to be a “surprise.” It was a surprise all right. Irene is a real dingbat among other things, but after we get past that bump in the road, she turns out to be a valuable partner to Judy while she tries to help the dysfunctional Lake family against their will.

While the ending results in a happy reunion between the Lakes and their girl, Mr. And Mrs. Lake’s behavior throughout the book has been alarming, to say the least. While their actions are smoothed over at the end, we can’t help but be concerned about their parenting skills and can only hope for the best as far as the fates of their younger children. (Polly, their oldest, seems to have escaped their negativity and is remarkably likable and well-adjusted.) Margaret does a good job balancing the bleakness of the Lakes with the cheerful Christmas celebrations at the Meredith’s new home. (when they finally find it.) Despite the loose ends, I think it’s one of her best. **4 1/2 stars**

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

January 8, 2022

Amberwell

By D. E. Stevenson

This is the story of Five Little Children and How They Grew. I listened to this on Audible read by Lesley Mackie. With her gentle voice and slight Scottish accent, she added a lot to my enjoyment of this sometimes somewhat dark novel. While we hear about the children and their story it almost felt like I was being told a fairy tale and it was lovely, hoping as I was for happily ever afters for the children after the storms had passed. And lessons learned and justice served for those that required them.

The Ayrton children, two boys, and their three younger half-sisters are the children of two parents who don’t know or love their children or even care to. They are not socialites, jet setters, or workaholics, or V.I.Ps who are too busy with their own affairs to pay attention to their children. They are conventional and stolid pillars of the community. They keep the children from church and school and pretty much just ignore them unless they are of use or can’t avoid them. They just do not have any love in them. It was very odd.

Left to their own devices, they bring themselves up, thanks to a loving Nanny who unfortunately has little influence with the parents, and they do a wonderful job. Roger and Tom, in time, go off to boarding school where they learn that their parents and family are not normal. The reader spends the most time with Nell and Anne. The beautiful older sister, Connie, is nice as a little girl, but grows up only wanting to avoid unpleasantness and difficulty and doesn’t feel things very deeply. She gets married because that is what girls did and like her parents before her, we learn she is a horrendous parent, but in a different way. Nell and Anne are almost pathologically shy (unsurprisingly) sweet, and very close, with Anne being somewhat of a free spirit. They are both bright but ignorant scholastically and socially. It is Anne who was the most interesting with her fey ways, stronger spirit, and her unusual infectious laugh which is triggered mysteriously and unexpectedly.

It was no use of course. When Anne began to giggle it was hopeless trying to stop her. Anne shook with internal convulsions; she was seized with uncontrollable mirth and flung herself upon the bank writhing helplessly. The others caught the infection and laughed too. “What are we laughing at?” asked Gerald at last in a trembling voice. He took out his handkerchief and wiped his eyes. “Come on, Anne. Tell us the joke.” “Anne can never tell you,” said Nell hastily …“Anne can never tell you the joke, and even if she does it isn’t a bit funny.

The war comes and has a dramatic effect on Amberwell, the center of the universe in this book. Mr. And Mrs. Ayrton are inconvenienced by the war, but that is the end of their involvement. But Roger and Tom go off to do their duty and become fine young men. Roger marries and has a baby. Nell comes out of her shell somewhat and becomes the dependable rock of the family. Anne, however, goes off to London with their Aunt and under her influence disgraces the family by eloping without the blessing of her parents. She disappears off the face of the earth. And we lose the most fascinating character in the book. Throughout the novel, the reader and Nell are consumed by Anne’s fate. Is she well and happily married? We have reason to hope, but why doesn’t she write? Or is she in dire straits? We don’t know until the end.

There are some sad and tragic times as well as a lot of growth and hope in this novel. Despite the happy ending, there were some disappointments and a boatload of loose ends and unrealized promise. Hopefully, the sequel (Summerhills)will resolve some questions and fates and provide some more closure. But I really liked this gentle and serious story with its intricately fashioned characters, insight, thoughtfulness, and atmosphere. **3 1/2 stars, rounded up**

Rating: 4 out of 5.

December 22, 2021

The Maid

By Nita Prose

The Maid engaged my interest from page 1 and kept it. We have a murder mystery, many interesting characters, a bit of a love story, some surprising plot developments, and an interesting twist at the end, which I was waiting for and had kind of given up on. Let’s just say when I came to it I went scurrying back to the scene of the crime. But the star of the book is the character of Molly, who tells us her story in her unique voice. She has trouble interacting with people because she is “on the spectrum.” As she explains, “It’s as though everyone is playing an elaborate game with complex rules they all know, but I’m always playing for the first time.”

Molly is a maid at the prestigious Regency Grand Hotel. She is alone in the world, is in precarious financial straits, and, now that her beloved Gran has died, she is misunderstood by everyone in her small world except for one person. But Molly is very very good at what she does and loves her job. She likes that there is a rule book for conduct, which she follows to the letter. In addition, she is obsessed with cleanliness. She revels in turning her guest rooms “to a state of perfection.” Mr. Snow, who is her boss appreciates her outstanding work, and a regular guest at the hotel, Giselle Black, treats her with kindness. As does Mr. Preston, the doorman. Most everyone else either overlooks her, (because she’s just a maid), takes advantage of her, laughs at her, or treats her with contempt. As Molly tells us her story, we see her world as it is, and how Molly thinks it is. This dual perspective is the source of humor as well as poignancy.

We get to know and become invested in Molly and her narrow little world. She tells us almost right off the bat that, today, she found a guest dead in his bed. In time, we learn he was murdered and Molly becomes a suspect. As we learn why the eyes of the officer in charge, Detective Stark, have turned toward Molly, the reader becomes very worried if not horrified. At least, I was. I felt very protective of Molly and cared about her welfare. How will she navigate the dangerous position she finds herself in? To me, the book is divided into two halves. The first half is before she finds friends who believe her and support her. This half is tinged with tension, distress, and dread. In the second half, after she is rescued by her friends, we know everything is going to be all right. But even then, there is lots more to go in the book. We still have a murder mystery to be solved, a criminal to catch, justice to be served, lessons to be learned, a love story to develop, and a future to be mapped out. We even have a surprising courtroom scene. By the end of the book, Molly has emerged as a force to be reckoned with. We are not worried about her anymore. Molly can take care of herself.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

November 29, 2021

Thank-You to Net Galley and Ballentine Books for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Apples Never Fall

By Liane Moriarty

Going OFF-GRID for a little while! I’m dancing daffodils 21 Dog Champagne to end Czechoslovakia! Spangle Moot! Love, Mum.’ Heart emoji. Butterfly emoji. Flower emoji. Smiley face emoji. ‘Off-grid’ was in capitals.” The beauty therapist’s mother used a lot of emojis in her texts too. Mothers loved emojis. She wondered what all that “dancing daffodils” stuff could possibly mean.

Moriarty once again has written an engrossing exploration of a dramatic family dynamic. I guess every family has its dark undercurrents, resentments, secrets, and challenges, but this is a family whose potential for both everyday and cataclysmic blow-ups is turned up more than a notch. First of all, although affluent and successful, they are a family of former athletes that never quite attained their dreams. The father, Stan, is a successful local tennis coach who had the potential for worldwide fame and greatness. The mother, Joy, gave up her own tennis career to raise 4 challenging kids and build the family business. As energetic and loving as she is she has had her plate more than full throughout her whole life. Like so many wives and mothers of her time, she feels cheated and unappreciated.

When the children were little they always called it “Daddy’s office” even though Joy was the one who handled all the business of the business. Yet they all had to maintain the pretense that because Stan was the man, whatever he was doing was automatically more important and deserved priority over any contribution from the little lady. Well, fuck you, Stan.

And then there’s the 4 kids: Amy, the oldest, who has all kinds of mental health disorders. Pick one. Logan, rather ordinary and scruffy, just broke up with his universally adored girlfriend, Indira, and is confused and miserable. Troy, a wealthy trader, and reformed drug dealer is now divorced from his lovely wife whom he cheated on. And Brooke, outwardly stable, has suffered from debilitating migraines since childhood. She too is divorced and trying, so far unsuccessfully, to start her own physical therapy practice.

Yes, Amy had her mental health challenges, but she was as tough as nails at her core; Logan pretended not to care about anything but cared about everything; Troy acted so superior because he felt so inferior; and Brooke liked to present herself as the most grown-up of them all, but sometimes Joy caught the fleeting expression of a frightened child crossing her face.

Things come to a head when a stranger knocks on Stan and Joy’s door seeking shelter and doesn’t leave. She worms her way into their affections and they become almost dependent upon her. Their kids are bewildered, worried, and start investigating. What’s her scam? When her lies and motives are exposed, she leaves, leaving seeds of destruction behind her. Some months later Joy disappears without a trace except for a perplexing text message to her children. Unbelievably, It starts to look to the police, his children, and the reader that her loving but complex husband of 50 years might have murdered her.

The build-up is slow but fascinating as we get to know each member of the family. I alternatively sympathized then despised then liked them again all at many points in the novel. That is a measure of Liane Moriarty’s talent and skill in constructing her characters. And we are mystified by Savannah. Who is she really and what is she up to? Things really start to pop shortly after the halfway point and the revelations come fast and furious.

In my experience, Lianne Moriarty really knows how to end a book. All is revealed and tied up in a very satisfying conclusion with happy endings, beginnings, and hope for all of the Delaney family.

Nico said there were good floorboards waiting beneath the vile carpet in the house they’d just bought. Amazing to think something beautiful could lie beneath the ugliness and all you had to do was peel it away. 

Then we get a shock of a second bonus ending which I read with simultaneous horror and guilty amusement.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

October 5, 2021

The Thirteenth Tale

By Diane Setterfield

I read old novels. The reason is simple: I prefer proper endings. Marriages and deaths, noble sacrifices and miraculous restorations, tragic separations and unhoped-for reunions, great falls and dreams fulfilled; these, in my view, constitute an ending worth the wait. They should come after adventures, perils, dangers and dilemmas, and wind everything up nice and neatly. Endings like this are to be found more commonly in old novels than new ones, so I read old novels.

I had very high hopes for The Thirteenth Tale. I was very intrigued at the beginning and thought the ending was excellent, with the fates of the secondary and bit players nicely revealed and loose ends tied up (see quote above.) It was very well written and had some beautifully written and thought-provoking passages. I should have loved it. I dealt in out-of-print and collectible books for years and there was so much that I definitely enjoyed and related to. However, sad to say, I found the middle a bit of a slog. The stories told by Vida Winter telling of her past were deeply unpleasant and disturbing. They were not enjoyable to read and seemed just setups to establish mysteries to be solved later.

I was never invested in Margaret Ley’s anguish over her lost twin and the dampening effect it had on her life. I guess maybe you have to be a twin to fully appreciate what she was going through and to also understand the key relationship between Adeline and Emmeline. But I just wanted to tell her to get over herself, you were just a baby and didn’t even know about her until you were 10. It was interesting, but I was not emotionally invested in her angst. The refreshing Dr. Clifton says it best, 

“You are suffering from an ailment that afflicts ladies of romantic imagination. Symptoms include fainting, weariness, loss of appetite, low spirits…. However, unlike the heroines of your favorite novels, your constitution has not been weakened by the privations of life in earlier, harsher centuries. No tuberculosis, no childhood polio, no unhygienic living conditions. You’ll survive.”

The final reveals were sort of compelling and surprising, but the reader knew something of the sort was going to be coming since twins were involved.

I had some major questions about some of the key developments in character. Many were answered in the course of the book, but many were not. The characters were deftly drawn but didn’t always hold up to scrutiny. 

**spoiler**

Hester arrived on the scene like a breath of fresh air and brought hope and renewal. But then she turned cold, heartless, and abusive. She and the doctor treated the children like laboratory rats. However good their intentions started out being, they ended up just using them as an excuse to be together without guilt. Then back into a positive character in the postscript. The fact that she had a happy and successful marriage and career at the end seemed to come out of nowhere. Could she really be happy with the patronizing Dr. Maudsley, her intellectual inferior?
Why was young Vida so passionately taken with the placid and dull Emmeline?
Could the violent and uncontrollable Adeline really be kept hidden all those teenage years?
Why was John the Dig so hostile to Hester? Yes, if she found out about Vida, she probably would have brought her out into the open and sent her to school. But would that have been such a bad thing? And why was the present-day elderly Vida so devoted to Adeline who was responsible for so much evil and tragedy? (Assuming it was Emmaline who died in the fire.) 

**end spoiler**

 I would have enjoyed some more closure between Margaret and her mother. I would have enjoyed reading more about the very likable Dr. Clifton, a beacon of sense and sanity. I feel like we should have seen much more of him and learned more about him.

The Thirteenth Tale is definitely a book that would benefit from a “knowing what I know now” reread, but once was enough for me.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 21, 2021

The Blind

By A. F. Brady

This was a well-written book that mostly kept my interest throughout. I cared about and hoped that Sam the psychologist heroine would conquer her demons and find the courage to save her own life from the personal and professional disaster in which she was engulfed.

**Spoiler**

Well everything ended up hunky dory! She conquered her raging alcoholism by just deciding to quit drinking. Who knew it was so easy? She finally left her monster boyfriend by simply ignoring his text messages. Pretty great final farewell scene in her office though! I hope it was final. She escaped being exposed at work and kept her position and status despite severe ethical breaches and being partially responsible for the death of one patient and the almost death of two others. But hey, they weren’t that important in her life, after all. As we see in the last chapter, she even managed to keep the relationship of her good friend and potential love interest. All do to confessing her Borderline Personality Disorder to her “mystery” patient. Hopefully, she will be getting some professional help for that, but maybe, like her alcoholism and her toxic relationships, she just decided not to have it anymore. And what about the smoking? Did she quit that cold turkey as well? And by the way, why was Richard, who turns out to be perfectly sane, always carrying around those old newspapers that held the key to the mystery? **End Spoiler**


The relentless descent of her fortunes and health was pretty gripping, but unfortunately, it was not balanced by a gripping hard-fought recovery. Like many others, I thought the wrap up was too quick and left too many problems and questions just sitting there. I guess it was done for shock value if you are a reader to whom the big reveal was a shock.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

June 25, 2019

My Best Friend’s Exorcism

By Grady Hendrix

“The devil is loud and brash and full of drama. God, he’s like a sparrow.”

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel about the friendship and loyalty of Abby towards Gretchen. Of course Gretchen was Abby’s friend too, as we see especially in the concluding pages, but for almost half of the book, Gretchen wasn’t there. She’d been replaced.
I loved the humor in the face of the horrific. Not especially the gross details of some of the fates of the teens involved and of course the possession and exorcism, but really the uselessness and terrible behavior of the adults. That was the scariest evil in this book.

“Families like that don’t listen to other people,” Mrs. Rivers said. “You get in the middle of whatever this is and you’ll be giving them an excuse to blame you for everything.”

Mrs. Rivers, Abby’s mother, was not a good parent and was a bitter person although not without good reason. But she was right in all of her observations. Her portrayal was fascinating and unpredictable. One of many gripping characterizations in the book.

Of course, some of the events just could not have played out the way they did for real. When confronted by the sights and smells and devastation that Gretchen’s possession caused, including what happened to one friend in particular, surely at least one parent, teacher, doctor, law enforcement, or clergyperson, would have stepped in, Like in The Exorcist. Denial caused by cognitive dissonance can only continue to a certain point. But that would have defeated the purpose of the book, I guess.

Someone had to do something. Someone had to say something. Teachers weren’t doing it. Her mom wasn’t going to do it. The Langs wouldn’t do it. That left Abby.

This was a real page-turner and one which was emotionally satisfying as well.

P.S. As I always do, I went on Google Earth to find some of the stomping grounds of the characters. Amazingly, Gretchen’s street not only exists, but her exact house is right there too. As are all of the other locations as well. I loved that authenticity.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

May 20, 2020

The Diana Chronicles

by Tina Brown

I picked this book up from the library; my interest prodded by Sally Bedell-Smith’s incredibly and obviously resentful and contemptuous take on Diana and mushy worshipful view of Queen Elizabeth. I was looking for a more balanced view of both women. The only quibble I have is how quickly Diana goes from a sweetly dumb romantic (and slightly “off”) teenager to a scary sophisticated savvy and strange woman. Perhaps the progression is unknowable; it seems to be a whole series of tipping points. But boy, it happened quickly! The writing is witty and engaging. Another thing that stands out so is how close the two might have been to making a go of it or at least hung on longer and made their time together much happier and more tolerable. If only Diana had gotten psychological help. If only Camilla Parker-Bowles had just backed off. If only Charles had not been such a jerk. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

February 12, 2012

The Nothing Girl

By Jodi Taylor

“Jenny, I’m so sorry. I think I may have encouraged you to marry a madman.’ ‘Yes, we’re going to be discussing this later. Oh.”

In reading The Nothing Girl, I have discovered a fresh funny voice in relationship fiction. And heaven be praised! She has a back list! I already had The first volume of The Chronicles of Saint Marys on my Kindle for some reason, and, to my surprise and excitement, she has written a sequel to The Nothing Girl, which I quickly bought as well. Hopefully she will fulfill the promise of the first book I read by her. I laughed, I cheered, I cried, I sighed in satisfaction.

I always thought donkeys said, ‘Hee-haw.’ That’s how you always see it written. Nice and neat. And brief. Hee-haw. Wrong. Our donkey goes: ‘EEEEEEEAAAAAWWWOOOOAARGGHHH,’ pauses briefly for the echoes to die away and then continues with: ‘EEEEEEEEEAAAAAWWWWWEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAWWWWWOOOOORRR. And it was loud. Good God, was it loud. Birds fell from the trees. The windows rattled. A low-flying jet did a quick U-turn and returned to base….

Rating: 5 out of 5.

July 25, 2017