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

Madam, Will You Talk?

Charity suffereth long and is kind.-1 Corinthians 13:4

“Where’s David?”
“Who’s Johnny?

This is the first published work of Mary Stewart, who is widely credited with inspiring what became a whole genre of fiction: Romantic Suspense. So I guess you could say that this is the book that started it all. Set in the early ’50s this first novel introduced readers to the evocative descriptions of exotic locales that she became so famous and appreciated for. To say the least, her heroines do not suffer from dreary lives. Mary’s exciting adventurous novels must have been a welcome respite from the gloom and hardships of post-war England.

It has been decades since I last read this story but there were a few things that I had never forgotten from the 4 or 5 times I read this previously. This time I listened to it on Audible read by famous actress Emilia Fox. The friendship blossoming between the young English tourist and a haunted but charming young boy in France and his evident fear of his father. She is determined to protect him at all costs. I remembered the tense cat and mouse chase between Charity Selbourne, our heroine, and her very scary “enemy” through the countryside and towns of France. Charity sabotaging his car using a secret trick her late husband Johnny taught her in order to buy her some time to get away from him. The ghost of Johnny, who was a race car driver before he was killed on a mission over France during WWII, is present throughout the novel. The war looms large in this story. Johnny taught Charity how to handle fast powerful cars. That skill saves her life.

“When you let excitement in, Johnny would add, in a lecture-room sort of voice, fear will follow.”

That quote always stuck with me.

The episode that stood out for me more than any other was her car race to rescue her love and the boy David from the hands of their potential murderers. Her use of her considerable driving skills becomes a deadly weapon. Charity’s development from just a nice and very frightened young woman to a formidable adversary is just awe-inspiring.

I remembered how quickly and shockingly the love story flared when I first read it. With my modern sensibilities, It was a little troublesome how firmly trust and long-term commitment between the two were established. But I went with it. I guess it does happen like that sometimes. Two other things that were also difficult for me on this re-read were the constant smoking and the way that Charity was marginalized and kind of infantilized by the hero after her courage and heroics.

But after the darkness and fear, the closure, joy, and hope of the ending were so satisfactory.

“And so it ended, where it had begun, with the little Jewish painter whose death had been so late, but so amply avenged. And, ten days later, with The Boy David carefully boxed in the back of the Riley, my husband and I set our faces to the South, and the Isles of Gold.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

January 7, 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.

The Haunted Fountain (Judy Bolton #28)

By Margaret Sutton

“This can’t be happening to me,” she thought. Never, in her whole life, had she felt so alone and helpless. She felt it was her own fault, too, for not calling Peter and telling him where she was going. But wouldn’t Honey tell him? She knew, and so did her father. Didn’t anyone care?…“They can’t let me just lie here and die,” thought Judy. She had never thought very much about dying. She had always felt so vibrantly alive. But now, suddenly, it seemed possible.

This book has it all! Judy, Lois, and Lorraine go to visit a fountain that Judy remembers from her childhood that seemed to talk to her. Lorraine reveals that she no longer trusts her husband, Arthur, and seems very upset. But she will not open up to Judy or Lois. Judy finds a diamond in the fountain and meets some intimidating shady characters. She enlists Horace to go back with her to the fountain to investigate and they end up getting trapped under it when someone turns the water on. Also under the fountain is a dying man, parolee Dick Hartwell, who discloses that he was coerced by a gang to forge important men’s signatures on incriminating documents for blackmail purposes. Because of leaky pipes, the room they are in starts to fill with water, and Judy and Horace realize that unless they escape, they will drown.

What follows is Judy’s very exciting and tense escape from the deadly fountain, her race to save Horace and Dick from drowning, a terrifying confrontation with hardened criminals (Judy gets slapped!), Judy’s despair when she thinks her brother is dead, a very romantic reunion with Peter, and ensuring the true criminals are brought to justice (remember the Vine gang from The Haunted Attic?. In addition to the action-packed adventure, we also have the marital drama of Lorraine and Arthur and their unhappiness with each other. Will they be reconciled?

By the end, Judy and Horace wind up in the hospital, and Blackberry, Judy’s cat, is awarded a medal for bravery. All the loose ends are tied up, including the mystery of why the fountain talked to her when she was a young teen. This mystery is many loyal Judy Bolton fans’ favorite book in the series. It is not hard to understand why. Her physical courage is at the forefront here as well as very tender scenes with Peter, Horace, and her father. Lorraine and Arthur’s problems lend complexity. It is exciting but it has emotional depth as well. Once again, Margaret Sutton ventures into territory seldom seen in juvenile series of this type.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

November 26, 2021

Suspense and Sensibility: Or, First Impressions Revisited (Mr. & Mrs. Darcy Mysteries, #2)

by Carrie Bebris

I’m a sucker for anything based on Jane Austen if it is well done. And sometimes when it is not. This is evidenced by the fact that I’ve read all of these Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries, though this is the only one I have actually written anything on. It starts off pretty well; the characters seemed pretty true to the originals, though Kitty is given a more positive spin. It is an improvement over Pride and Prescience. I actually chuckled a few times. Sadly, it degenerates pretty quickly once the mystery kicks in. Unfortunately, it is another paranormal mystery and it is positively outlandish. It was nice to see the Dashwood women again. Lucy Ferrars nee Steele starts out true to form, but her ultimate fate is positively ludicrous and cringe-worthy. The resolution has some tragic aspects considering the fluffy way it starts out. I was considerably less patient with the rest in the series, just skipping through the mystery part. I remember looking forward to more of Georgiana as she was pretty intriguing, and also an appearance of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Unfortunately, I do not remember anything about any of the other stories, which I guess is a review of the whole series in and of itself.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

September 15, 2014

The Trail of the Green Doll (Judy Bolton Mysteries #27)

By Margaret Sutton

“This must be the entrance to the cave…We never would have found it if Judy’s shoe hadn’t scraped against it when she fell.”
You were determined to find it, with or without me,” she retorted. “Isn’t anybody going to ask me if I hurt myself?”
Apparently nobody was.

Judy’s adventure starts out with her putting a sign on the road advertising her home as a place for tourists to stay. Without consulting her husband who is a secret FBI agent with an office in his house. Not Good, Judy, Not Good. Of course, It quickly attracts some really sketchy men and Judy comes to her senses. Anyway, a young single mother with two children whose car had just been forced off the road and her purse stolen also saw it, and Judy is off to the races.

What follows is a mystery involving a valuable jade collection that is missing from a mansion that has just burned to the ground. The rather flaky and secretive widowed mother was traveling to see her Uncle Paul, the owner. Besides being the key to the missing jade, her history includes a soap opera-ish love triangle between her, her late husband, and his identical twin brother, three cousins who grew up there.

This effort by Margaret Sutton is notable for its exploration of the Hindu mythological tale, The Ramayana, which permeates the story and the mystery. It surely would have been very strange and very educational to her young readers.

This book is not a favorite despite its exotic and interesting aspects. The little family and their troubles did not appeal to me, and one of the mysteries (Talking Trees!) had a very far-fetched explanation. Almost as implausible as the secret tunnel in The Black Cat’s Clue.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

October 8, 2021

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

Blindsighted

By Karin Slaughter

I thought this one was a good bet because of the fantastic reviews, and the backlist featuring the same lead characters with the promise of relationship development leading to a satisfying and happy partnership in crime-fighting. Unfortunately, I found this book to be way too gruesome and unnecessarily explicit in both the description of the gore and the torture both mental and physical.

I also could not understand and was very bothered by two other character’s unconscionable behaviors. 

**Spoiler**

How could Lena, as a supposedly good and tough-minded cop let a half-conscious pitiful victim steal her gun right off of her and ultimately blow her head off? When she took her gun, Lena had a chance to talk her down and change her mind. Instead, Lena pretty much did the opposite with her accusatory outburst. She as good as pulled the trigger herself. Other than her feeling bad, there were no consequences for her. After that, she was just dead to me. The other thing that really turned me off was Sara, our main girl, putting her own emotional preference of keeping the horrible details of her rape a secret from Jeffrey despite the jarring similarities and connections to what happened to Sibyl, the first victim, and then the second victim. I respect her right not to confide and I even understand it, but not when other women’s lives are at stake! Also she was really dense as to who the psycho was until it was too late. Speaking of which, the demented actions of the killer were so over the top, I didn’t think it credible that he could be such a normal nice guy with no hint of anything “wrong” there. Also, it is established the killer had knowledge and access to a certain drug. There was one pharmacist in town. Hello? 

**end spoiler**

I still give it 3 stars because it kept me reading and engaged. I’m not giving the aptly named author a second chance because I read enough about the series as a whole to know there is too much misery in store. I am a big fan of Midsomer County and the murders therein, but I will be stepping on the gas and leaving Grant County in my rearview mirror.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

July 20, 2019