Gone by Midnight (Crimson Lake #3)

By Candice Fox

“So you didn’t do it?” “No,” Amanda said. “But I’m going to. I’m gonna smack that bitch so hard her grandkid will be born with my handprint on its face.”…“Aman-duh,” she imitated me. “You’re the one who told me I wasn’t angry enough about her pushing my bike over. I don’t get angry, Ted. I just sear my visage deep into my enemy’s brain with the flaming cattle brand of my devilish trickery. Then, in their nightmares, it’s my name they hear whispered on the winds of darkness.”

This is the third in the trilogy. I skipped the second one and cut right to the chase. I loved the characters and wanted more of Ted and Amanda, but the anxiety of Ted being unfairly hated and hounded by virtually the whole country of Australia took too much away from my enjoyment. In the second one, that I skipped, the true perpetrator of the heinous crime that Ted was imprisoned for was caught and Ted is no longer a suspect. Since the pervert was killed by the father of the girl though and was not tried in the courts and the court of public opinion, his innocence is not cut and dried. But it was enough to officially remove Ted as a person of interest. Even though he still has to deal with some ignoramuses, much of the cloud has been removed from over his head so I was able to concentrate on the case Ted and Amanda are investigating and enjoy them as characters and the side stories that involve them. Amanda on the other hand got herself into some hot water in the second one, so the tables are turned as far as being a target of the local police force. She is not vulnerable like Ted was so it wasn’t a huge worry.

The case that Amanda and Ted are called in to assist with was much more interesting and suspenseful than the case in the first book. An 8-year-old boy is missing so the stakes are high. As in the first book some aspects of the case were pretty outlandish or just wrong.

A character is arrested for going to the police for reporting a crime against children and in the process told them he too was a pedophile. But he never acted on his impulses. Can you be arrested in Australia for just wanting to do something illegal? I don’t think so.

**a little spoilery**

The crime is planned out in advance but the perpetrator has to rely on his/her ability to brainwash a group of children. A child psychologist with that deep knowledge of child behavior might know this might be possible, but there would be no way for even them to be sure enough to bet their life on it. It would only take one kid’s refusal to go along with the crowd to ruin everything. Yet the culprit has no doubt or worry about it. 

Towards the end of the book after a shocking event, the author gets mixed up as to who was a witness to it and who wasn’t. 

**big spoiler**

Ted saw the croc take Sara. Ted was the witness, not Amanda. Amanda was nowhere near. But Ted is allowed to go home and Amanda is kept at the scene to help the cops look for her body “because you know exactly where Sara disappeared from.” **end spoiler**.

This has huge consequences as to how everything played out.

As in the first book, the police obstinately ignore logic and evidence, (proof actually) that contradicts what they want to believe. And boy are they sorry in this one.

So apparently Candice Fox really really does not like local law enforcement. But for one exception, every one of them was either the scum of the earth and/or really really stupid. Especially as they are the bane of our dynamic duo’s existence, not to mention a menace to everyone else. Ted and Amanda keep getting work throughout the series because of their incompetence. It was bothersome and I think the books would have been better if there was some balance there.

But the mystery of the missing probably dead boy, Amanda’s relationship with the bikers, her confrontations with a crazed policewoman, the investigation itself, and the shocking twists and turns carried me through the book. Amanda is fascinating and priceless. Ted makes a sympathetic hero most of the time. Although justice was not fully served for everyone in the end, it was served enough to satisfy me. If this is the last in the series, I will be sorry. But it does make a fitting conclusion if it is. It looks like things are going to work out pretty well for both Ted and Amanda, and I wouldn’t want a continuation of the series to ruin that hope.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

August 14, 2022

Crimson Lake (Crimson Lake #1)

by Candice Fox

I bunked the pedophile trend in every possible way, and that frightened people. The Australian public had convinced themselves that they knew what child sexual predators looked and sounded and smelled like. They thought they had a handle on things. And then along comes Ted Conkaffey. A wholly new, and more sophisticated, breed of monster.

This is the first entry of a trilogy. I vetted the series carefully since there wasn’t a guaranteed “happy ending.” By which I mean, in a book that is not a romantic comedy or chick lit, that justice is done and closure is achieved. The little I read about it satisfied me that this would be a good bet.

Ted Conkaffy’s life is virtually destroyed by a false accusation of brutally raping a thirteen-year-old girl. He was imprisoned for 8 months until the charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence. To everyone, including his now ex-wife, this means he was guilty but got off on a technicality. He has to flee Sydney from the constant hounding by the press and the public for his own mental and physical health and also to protect his ex-wife and their baby daughter. Literally everybody hates him.

He settles in a very small town a few miles north of Cairns and, on the advice of his attorney, contacts Amanda Pharrell for employment. Amanda is a brilliant private investigator and Ted was a detective before he lost his job so he is well-qualified to work as a P.I. Unfortunately, no one is qualified to work with Amanda. She is an eccentric piece of work with some mental health issues who spent 8 years in the pen after being convicted as a teenager of stabbing a friend to death. She’s kind of impossible to describe, so I’ll stop there. I was very engaged with both of the main characters and their fates. They were interesting and likable. While working on their first case together, we also learn about their pasts and the crimes which brought them down. We know that Ted is innocent, but are not so sure about Amanda especially since she confessed and happily (really!) served her time.

Despite the occasional flashes of humor and the wry first-person voice, this was pretty dark. Ted’s lawyer is the only one who believes in him as the novel begins, and we never even meet him. Besides Amanda, who really doesn’t care either way, through most of the book he only gains one other ally. By the end he has one more, and we gain some measure of hope for Ted’s eventual exoneration. He is abused by the police, hounded by violent vigilantes and the tabloid press, and hated by old friends and complete strangers. When we think we see some light at the end of the tunnel it is quickly dashed. I just couldn’t stand it.

I didn’t find the case that Ted and Amanda were working on particularly interesting and the solution, I thought, was implausible. The pace was interrupted by the insertion of a nutcase’s fan letters to the author whose disappearance Ted and Amanda are investigating. They were necessary to the mystery, but were repetitive and got boring. In addition, I still don’t understand why Ted was not exonerated by law enforcement before his life was ruined. The evidence, though strong, was circumstantial, and forensics of his person and his vehicle should have shown he couldn’t possibly be guilty of the horrific crime. It’s never laid out how this could possibly have happened, and Ted is too passive and accepting of the situation. And the case against Amanda was just as weak.

The writing was engaging and entertaining, and it is an exciting book with very likable protagonists. There were just too many aspects that didn’t make sense, and that frustration brought my rating down.**3 1/2 stars**

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

August 3, 2022

The Guest House

by Robin Morgan-Bentley

Heavily pregnant Victoria and her husband Jamie are trapped in a house with no way out when Victoria starts having labor pains. The couple who welcomed them into the guest house is nowhere to be found. Until they are.

I spent about 2 to 3 hours with this book. I started reading it and got to about the 7% mark, and I did something I haven’t done with a thriller in, like forever. I skipped to the end to make sure the baby was alright. I have a similar problem with dogs. Then I went back and started reading towards the end to understand what happened and what was going on. Then I wanted to learn more so I read randomly. I guess this just wasn’t the book for me. At least not for me at this time. For those with more fortitude than I had, I think this was an excellent, suspenseful thriller with some legitimate shocks for most readers. While it was very well-written, the justifications as to why the main couple felt so trapped with no way out didn’t hold water with me. The story the other couple expected the authorities to believe was inconceivable. And it seemed there was less and less reason not to take action as events occurred. I’m still giving it 4 stars. The fact that the suspense was just too much for me at this time, probably speaks well for the book. The problems I had with the plotting might not have been so bothersome had I read it cover to cover.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

April 28, 2022

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 Huntress

By Kate Quinn

We don’t hunt the helpless, luchik. We hunt the killers. Is like villagers going after a wolf gone mad. Only when the wolf is dead, villagers go home and we find the next mad wolf.

Ian Graham, a former British war correspondent teams up with Nina Markova a former Night Witch, one of the legendary female Russian night bombers. Their mission is to find and bring to justice a vicious Nazi predator, The Huntress, with whom Nina has a personal score to settle. They track her to Boston, where Jordan, a young budding photographer’s widowed father has just brought home Anna, his serene and reserved new fiancée, and her traumatized daughter, Ruth. From Germany.

I hovered between 3 stars and 4 stars for this one. I re-read the ending pages again, and 4 stars it is. Part of the problem, if 3 stars is a problem, was that I didn’t really take to Nina or her lengthy story while she was in Russia. It wasn’t until she came to the United States that I really warmed to her.

“Is a Russian thing. Sit around, drink too much, talk about death.” She pushed her empty plate away. “It makes us cheerful.”

I guess it was because I just prefer light over dark. I was much more intrigued by Jordan’s domestic adventures with Anna and Ruth on the home front.

I hope there is a sequel someday. I would like to see all of the characters again and read more of Ruth, all grown up. I would also like to see more Nazis caught.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

July 14, 2019

Dark Matter

By Blake Crouch

“Imagine you’re a fish, swimming in a pond. You can move forward and back, side to side, but never up out of the water. If someone were standing beside the pond, watching you, you’d have no idea they were there. To you, that little pond is an entire universe. Now imagine that someone reaches down and lifts you out of the pond. You see that what you thought was the entire world is only a small pool. You see other ponds. Trees. The sky above. You realize you’re a part of a much larger and more mysterious reality than you had ever dreamed of.” Daniela leans back in her chair and takes a sip of wine.

Dark Matter is an original concept that delivers a lot of suspense, wonder, some shocks, and twists aplenty. Jason, an ordinary physics professor with a wife, Daniella, and son, Charley, is knocked out and kidnapped. He wakes up to learn he is really a celebrated world-renowned genius who has cracked the code to other worlds and alternate realities and how to go there. But Jason loves the only other life he knows. He loves his wife and son. Can he find that life again in the infinite other parallel lives he has lived and is living?

It was hard to get my mind around the science so I didn’t even try. I just went with it. I must give it all the stars, even though It didn’t affect me very much emotionally and it wasn’t funny which are two qualities which are usually very important to me in books. There were times that I didn’t like Jason, the hero, very much. But it was well-written and kept me reading. There were several difficult concepts and Mr. Crouch handled them very well and very believably. It is a real page-turner. I did figure out what Jason and his family were going to have to do to stay together. I loved the way his wife Daniela cut through the mess and took charge at the end. I wish Mr. Crouch would have figured out a way to involve Amanda, his fellow traveler through their alternate lives, at the end. Primo sequel material there!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

October 5, 2018

The Chemist

By Stephanie Meyer

“Kevin rolled his eyes. “I bet you always have a plan, don’t you, shorty? ”She regarded him with flat eyes. “I can’t rely on muscle, so I rely on brains. It appears you have the opposite problem.”

Stephanie Meyer can write a good page-turner. Say what you will, all of the books I have read by her have really engaged me, and The Chemist was no exception. It is a light thriller with a fair share of romantic mush. Although it has lots of violence and a high mortality rate, it is not very dark, terrifying, or heart pounding. Somehow you know everything is going to turn out OK. Our heroine is an emotionally damaged female John Wick, Jason Bourne, or Equalizer type, except she has the special superpower of being a brilliant chemist and former torturer who uses her expertise to protect herself and wreak havoc on bad guys. At least she hopes they are bad guys. She is on the run from a certain U.S government agency that is trying to kill her because she knows too much. She agrees to do one last job for them in exchange for them ceasing and desisting. A common trope, yes.

The book kind of bogs down at the beginning with the setup and her preparations to capture her prey. It was interesting and admirable but went on a bit too long. I almost quit. I hung on and it picked up considerably after her target proves himself to be a sweet, innocent victim with an extremely dangerous twin brother (Kevin), who turns out to be also targeted by another branch of the government. Alex, our heroine, reluctantly teams up with him to extricate themselves from their mutual dilemma and keep his beloved, but naïve, (and, sadly, a bit dim,) brother safe. And therein lies my main complaint about this book. I actually prefer beta heroes as opposed to the Alpha male heroes. But they don’t work so well when the book is set, not in the real world, but in the nether world of constant danger, evil, and death. Especially when our heroine is such a badass. I didn’t understand the romance. She had more in common and more chemistry with his crazy and dangerous brother. They really got each other. By comparison, Daniel seemed ineffectual. But a super-nice guy. A mensch. Yeah. He actually expresses qualms about stealing a car when they were running for their lives, pursued by the powers of hell. And he was apologizing all the way through the book for being so stupid. At one point, Kevin, the uber-tough agent, tells him to shut up so he can talk to his nemesis, Alex, because at least she has some sense. Those two are hostile towards each other through the majority of the book accompanied by a lot of amusing banter and snark, but they had mutual respect. They bonded over rolling their eyes at his brother and her love interest. But, to my disappointment, it was not foreplay.
Towards the end, I kind of sped-read, not feeling compelled to savor every word and development. As a side note, Kevin’s dogs also were a little over the top and added an almost fantasy element. (Think Dean Koontz’s Watchers). The ending was a little pat, but I didn’t mind that so much either. I like the way the epilogue was done. It was clever. All in all, an intriguing concept, competently done, but lacking any surprise or twists. She is not a great writer, like some non-literary entertainment-only novelists are, but she can spin a tale and keep you engaged. I’d give a sequel, if there is one, a chance. But please, first, a sequel to The Host!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 28, 2017

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 Silent Patient

by Alex Michaelides

“I’m forty two years old. And I became a psychotherapist because I was fucked-up. That’s the truth – though it’s not what I said during the interview when the question was put to me.”

This is the kind of book that might be better read than listened to. The narrations were great, no complaints there, whatsoever, and I had no trouble following it or remembering all of the characters, but I wish I was able to page through from the beginning to relive all of the clues and get a better handle on it all.

**Spoiler**

Especially the dual timelines. That was surprising, and a bit of a cheat. Were there any clues in the text, that it wasn’t a chronological story? I think it was signaled right from the beginning that there is something wrong with Theo and he is not a good person. Also that Gabriel was not the paragon that Alicia thought he was. The difference between what Alicia says about him versus how he acts on the page stands out. Theo’s crude language and anger was a giveaway for me. I really thought Alicia was innocent though. It seems like the police would have seen the marks of the wires on her wrists and ankles and figured out that there was more to the story of Alicia tying him up and shooting him. 

**end spoilers**

There were a lot of red herrings that were very well done.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May 22, 2019