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Staff Book Reviews by Genre: Mystery

The Girl Before
Delaney, J.P.
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

Would you like to read a book about psychopathic men exploiting vulnerable women? Well then, do I have the book for you!

After having a stillborn child, Jane needs a new start. What better way to start over than in a new apartment? One Folgate Street has weird rules to be sure, but the minimalist life style required by the owner actually sounds like the perfect way to reinvent herself. But after she moves in, Jane learns that a previous tenant, Emma Matthews, was murdered in the apartment. As Jane learns more about Emma, she finds that they have much in common - and that she might be the apartment's next victim. The Girl Before goes back and forth between Jane and Emma's stories.

This was...not good. The beginning of the book was intriguing, and until about 1/3 of the way through, I was thinking it'd be a 2-3 star read for me. And then, like a conversation with a stranger or a first date, the book took an unfortunate turn. This was, sadly, to be the first of many unfortunate turns. Ultimately, I finished the book as it truly is an easy read - there was almost no imagery or description, you spend most of the time in the main characters' heads or watching them do incredibly stupid things (have these women never heard of a hotel?). Oh, and as is often the case in these domestic thrillers, the characters were all extremely unlikable.

This genre is pretty hit or miss for me (for example, I liked Gone Girl but HATED Girl on the Train), and The Girl Before was no exception - I found it to be kind of terrible. It's apparently being made into a movie, and I think with some plot/character changes, it may be more successful in that format. Stay away from the book unless you just can't get enough of psychological thrillers. 1 star - I did not like it.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Traces of Guilt
Henderson, Dee
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Small town crime is the plot of the novel. Cold cases are reexamined by Evie Blackwell State Police Detective to launch a new state task force. The novel kept my interest to the end because I wanted to know if and how she solved the cases. It seemed unlikely that all these cases would have occurred in a rural town setting and many of them overlapping, but perhaps I am naïve about such things. . It was interesting to follow the thoughts of police work and the background that goes into solving cases. The characters were enjoyable, particularly the Thane brothers. I enjoyed these men of integrity, their caring hearts, and the family they belong to. Evie is tenacious in her thoughts and work. I enjoyed some visiting characters from other Dee Henderson novels that I had read previously. I wouldn't say there is a lot of action suspense, but rather character development more along the lines of regular fiction. There were some touch topics that affected the characters deeply. I would recommend it if you like character driven stories.

Reviewer's Name: Angie
The Trespasser
French, Tana
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In the early hours of the morning, a man places a phone call to the local police station reporting that a woman has fallen down and hit her head in her living room. He asks for an ambulance to be sent but hangs up before the officer receiving the call can ask any more questions. When the first responders arrive at the scene, they find a young woman lying against the fireplace, dead. Junior Detectives Antoinette Conway and Stephen Moran are assigned to the case, but as they dig into the facts they start to suspect that there’s more to it than a simple domestic dispute. Try as they might, though, every new lead seems to dry up when they look into it. And it isn’t just the case that’s causing problems; everything seems to be going wrong in Conway’s life. She’s being relentlessly hazed by the other detectives on the squad; her relationship with her friends is deteriorating between the long hours and her own depression; and no matter how high their clearance rate is, neither she nor Steve are having any decent cases thrown their way. Conway is tough as nails and dedicated to her job, but the animosity of the rest of the squad and the constant scut work are starting to make her doubt her career path. This case seems like their best chance to get back on track and finally win some respect -- provided they can prove that there’s more to it than meets the eye.

This is the most recent entry in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series. If you're not familiar with the series, I'll say that, while each book can be read as a stand-alone without issue, there are some recurring characters that make it rewarding to read them in order. The lead in this book, Antoinette Conway, was first introduced in the preceding book, The Secret Place, and her partner, Steve, started out as a minor character in Broken Harbor. All of French’s books are excellent character portraits, so it’s rewarding to get to see the same individuals first from an outside perspective and then from within their own head, but you won’t miss anything plot-wise by skipping them. The Trespasser centers around the idea of fantasy: the stories we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better, the stories we tell to other people to make them act the way we want them to, and the devastating effects it can have when those fantasies finally collapse. That applies as much to the detectives as it does to the victim, and so we get a nice mix of personal drama with our protagonists and the more straightforward investigation of the murder. I loved Conway as a character in The Secret Place, so I enjoyed getting to see things from her own perspective in this book. What I like about French’s books is that they have more going on than just the ‘whodunnit’. The mystery is always interesting to me, but what really shines is her portrayal of the characters and the setting: Dublin really comes alive for you in her books, and the characters feel like they could walk off the page.

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
113 Minutes
Patterson, James
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I was very curious to try one of James Patterson's Bookshots. He called them a pulse pounding thriller from beginning to end. I will say it lived up to the billing! I was immediately into the story and kept wondering what was going to happen next. 113 Minutes started off with a teenage boy dying from an overdose from crystal meth. Then there is a bank robbery, a heist of over a million dollars at a country club, and then a shootout with the Feds! Whew!!! I really enjoyed this one and can't wait to read more Bookshots!

Reviewer's Name: Melissa M.
The Amateurs
Shepard, Sara
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Seneca's life revolves around solving cold cases and unsolved murders. As soon as she found the Case Not Closed website online, she becomes obsessed to the point where she stops paying attention in classes and risks expulsion from her university. But when the sister of Helena Kelly, a murder victim who disappeared mysteriously in a sleepy Connecticut town, reaches out through through the website, Seneca knows all bets are off. Along with some friends from the site, she finds herself in Connecticut for spring break trying to solve the mystery of Helena Kelly's disappearance.

I recently read a book that was billed as "Twin Peaks" meets "Gossip Girl" and it sucked. I figured this one might fill that now existent hole in my life. While it was a bit more "Gossip Girl" than "Twin Peaks", the book was exactly what I wanted it to be: brainless but entertaining with a good mystery. It dragged a little in the middle, but otherwise, the pacing was pretty fast especially as the clues start to come together. The dialog is breezy and light, the mystery and background of the characters is, for the most part, pretty dark and the cast is diverse but underdeveloped. Shepard totally fooled me with the killer - I thought I knew who it was, but I had no idea.

If a slightly soapy murder mystery sounds like it could be your thing, look no further. I enjoyed this one - 3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
We Know It Was You
Thrash, Maggie
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

Popular school mascot Brittany Montague jumps off a bridge in her mascot costume. The only two members of the private school's "Mystery Club" are determined to find out why.

This book took me forever to read, mostly because it was kind of awful. I picked it up because I love a good murder mystery and this was billed as Twin Peaks meets Pretty Little Liars. While I'm not super familiar with either property, I figured that this meant it would be a dark and weird murder mystery with a touch of scandal and gossip, which, YES PLEASE. I was also pretty drawn in by that AMAZING cover. Kudos to whoever designed that. But the book itself was not so great. I've actually got so many reasons that I didn't like it that I'm going to present them in an enumerated list:

1. The "mystery" such that it is, is actually solved in the first 100 pages, and the book was seriously uninteresting after that.
2. BOTH main characters were freaking terrible, small, boring people.
3. Aside from the MCs, there were five "bad" characters in the book, four of which were people of color (three are Asians - does the author have something against Asians?). There's also a weird sort of anti-Semitic statement. So.
4. Adults are presented as being totally worthless. Something to this effect is actually said multiple times.
5. There is a weird unresolved child porn sex-ring subplot that will seemingly go somewhere in the next book? Somehow this is a series?
6. Our lovely main girl character refers to other lady characters as sluts, because, as mentioned earlier, she is freaking terrible. There is other fun sexist messaging as well. At one point, a coach basically calls women crazy because they get periods. Awesome.
7. Oh yeah, and there is rape. Because of course there is. Our main characters know about it, but do they do anything? No! Because they are terrible. The whole thing is basically shrugged off.

Sigh. This was clearly meant to be satire or a parody or funny or something, but whatever the author was doing, it was not working. Not for me, anyway. 1 star - I did NOT like it.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Journey's End
Hawkins, Rachel
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

After her parents split, Georgia girl Nolie Stanhope finds herself spending her summer in a mysterious town called "Journey's End" in Scotland while her father investigates a mysterious fog (known as The Boundary) that's plagued the local village folk for centuries. Nolie is pretty excited - in addition to some sweet international travel, she's an avid ghost enthusiast, and feels like the summer might be promising in that department. And she is pretty immediately proven right! When Nolie and her new Scottish friend Bel see a weird dude walking down the beach, they think they've seen a ghost. Have they? And why is the Boundary suddenly moving closer to shore?

This was a pretty great MG ghost story. The setting is wonderful - Scotland sort of lends itself to mystery, and Hawkins imbues the village of Journey's End with a ton of charm, personality, and a touch of creepiness. Both of the lead characters, Bel and Nolie, were pretty well fleshed out with distinctive and likable personalities. Their friendship, while quickly formed, was believable and would be a great example for young girls. There's a bit of bullying and some exposition about the effects of divorce, so some important relatable issues are addressed. The Boundary itself is a fantastic and appropriately creepy mystery centerpiece. Really, my only complaint is that there was a ton of build-up to a mystery/ghost story that was pretty quickly and too easily resolved. But I'm a tough customer when it comes to middle grade reads, and overall, this one was pretty great so I'll go with the 4 star rating. I'll definitely be booktalking this one with sixth graders in the fall.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
One Mile Under
Gross, Andrew
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Colorado is the setting for best-selling author Andrew Gross’ thriller, One Mile Under. From the Roaring Fork River, which starts at the Continental Divide and runs through Aspen to Glenwood Springs, to the state’s eastern plains, the central theme of the book is water.

After being summoned by his god-daughter, a rafting guide, to investigate a suspicious white water kayaking death, security specialist Ty Hauch joins Danielle Whalen in search of clues to the fatality on the Roaring Fork.

The investigation leads to Weld County, where water is every bit as important to farmers and ranchers as it is to the outdoor recreation industry in the mountains, and there is one more player in this adventure - the oil and gas industry. As Ty and Dani soon find out, extracting ore from far beneath the earth’s surface involves water…and lots of it.

The controversial process is commonly known as “fracking”, an issue that is a hot topic in Colorado today. One Mile Under is fast-paced, educational and a really good read.

Reviewer's Name: Susan
Arsenic with Austen
Hyde, Katherine Bolger
2 stars = Meh
Review:

I really wanted to like this book. I read a review that said it was a literate, well-written, tightly-plotted mystery with shades of Jane Austen. I was ready for a really good mystery - and it had a charming cover. Each chapter begins with a quote from one of Austen's books, but that's where the similarity ends.

Fiftyish Emily Cavanaugh inherits loads of money, property and a library of hundreds of valuable and first edition books. The inheritance allows her to leave her position teaching college literature and move into her aunt's Victorian estate in Stony Beach, Oregon. What's not to like? Upon arrival she learns that her aunt's death may not have been natural, the other legatee wants her inheritance as well as his, the mayor and his realtor girlfriend want her land for a massive development scheme and the man she loved who vanished from her life 35 years earlier is the town's chief of police. A number of felonies occur in attempts to gain her property. Emily sees all the suspects as characters from Jane Austen's novels.

The book started well and had real possibilities, but the author seemed to lose track of her original ideas and fall back on predictable story lines. The conclusion wrapped everything up too quickly and unrealistically. Original or at least interesting plot lines weren't developed. This is Katherine Bolger Hyde's first book. She had a good idea, but lost it in the details. It could have been so much better.

Reviewer's Name: Susan
Genres:
Serafina and the Black Cloak
Beatty, Robert
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Serafina is the Chief Rat Catcher at Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC in 1899. She and her Pa secretly live in the basement, where he is basically the electrical engineer of the place. Serafina's presence in the house is a secret so she mostly traverses the estate through tunnels and doesn't go outside. One night, she witnesses a man in a black coat magically abducting a child, which changes everything.

I listened to this book, and the narrator didn't really do it any favors. Her Southern accent was pretty terrible, but thankfully, she kept forgetting to use it. Narration aside though, this book had some problems. The author took a cool premise and an even cooler setting and then wrote a really boring book. There were kind of two main things going on that should have been really interesting, but weren't. The first thing was the identity of the man in the black coat, which was painfully obvious from the start. Had Beatty done a kiddo type version of an Agatha Christie novel (these are the people at the Biltmore estate...and one of them is guilty of MURDER MOST FOUL), I'd probably be typing a really different review right now. Alternatively, he could've played up Serafina's secret a bit more, and that might have made things more interesting. As it was, even though there was a lot going on, nothing of importance ever seemed to really happen.

I also found myself getting annoyed by a fictional Vanderbilt named Braedan (weird name for a kid of Dutch origins in 1899, dontcha think?) who is a bit of a love interest. Every part featuring him was pretty painful as Serafina basically becomes a useless quivering mess when he's around. Blegh. Oh, and at one point, a character says something along the lines of "you don't call girls heroes, you call them heroines" which, just, are you trying to say that girls can't be heroes? Because if so, gross. I'm paraphrasing, but that's what I took away from the statement.

But on the other hand... look at that cover! Gorgeous.

If 1.5 stars was an option, that's what we'd be doing here. I liked the beginning, the premise and the setting, but wish the author had done more with the latter two elements.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Mistress of the Art of Death
Franklin, Ariana
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Set in medieval England, Adelia, a female surgeon, is hired by King Henry II as a forensic expert to investigate a series of murders taking place Cambridge. Even though it is a fictional novel, Franklin adds lots of historical details to the story, creating multiple layers to the plot. The murders are not the only mystery in this story, the characters themselves have their own veil of intrigue making the story all the more exciting!

Reviewer's Name: Melissa S.
Awards:
Broken Monsters
Beukes, Lauren
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Broken Monsters is a thriller set in Detroit in which a detective investigates a serial killer who murders people with a nail gun and then attempts to meld their bodies with those of animals -- or at least, that's how it starts out. The chapters rotate between the perspectives of Gabriella Versado, the detective investigating the case; Layla, her teenage daughter (currently embroiled in a plot to lure out and expose pedophiles); Jonno, a journalist who quit his job and moved to Detroit to reinvent himself by reporting on their art scene; TK, a homeless man working to protect his friends and community; and our serial killer, who finds himself infected by a dream that seems to have the power to rewrite reality itself. While it initially seems like a pretty standard thriller, the murders quickly veer off into the realm of the supernatural. The book is a bit uneven as a result, ending up as a mix of magical undertones plus serial killer crime investigation plus family drama that never quite came together for me. The writing wasn't amazing by any means, but it got the job done, and the plot managed to keep me turning pages. Despite having heard some rave reviews from others, I wasn't wowed by it, but if you're a fan of horror/thrillers this is definitely unique.

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
The Transmigration of Bodies
Herrera, Yuri
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Redeemer has an unusual profession: he's a "fixer," paid to calm tempers and smooth over the difficult situations that arise in the criminal underworld of the unnamed Mexican city where he lives. Armed only with a gift for talking his way out of difficult situations, he works as a sort of middle man. When our story starts, an outbreak of a new strain of flu has led to a state of emergency. The bodies are piling up, people are panicking, and most of the city is locking themselves up at home to let the illness run its course. The Redeemer would gladly join them, but duty calls. In the middle of all this, two feuding crime families have, through a strange series of coincidences, ended up with the corpses of the other's child (you might be getting some Romeo and Juliet vibes at this point). It's The Redeemer's job to set things right before more violence breaks out.

This book has been out for a while but was just recently translated into English. It's more of a novella -- just 100 pages long -- but I enjoyed the read and felt that it wrapped everything up in a satisfying way. The characters are interesting and well-drawn even in such a short space, and there was a good balance of humor and more sad, reflective moments as we move back and forth between The Redeemer's attempts to seduce his neighbor ("Three Times Blonde") and his investigation of the children's deaths. I would recommend this to lovers of noir, but I think it has a broader appeal as well.

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
Nothing Short of Dying
Storey, Erik
2 stars = Meh
Review:

This book has recommendations from heavy hitters like Lee Child and Jeffrey Deaver that make it sound like the greatest thriller they've ever read. I picked it up based on a good review and the Colorado setting, which I usually enjoy. Disappointing all the way around. Generic tough guy antics and prose that fails to capture the feel of Colorado's high country do not add up to the second coming of Elmore Leonard. And this guy's a native, so we can't blame it on the out of state writer doing it by the numbers. For a much better written crime story with a Colorado setting, read The Painter by Peter Heller.

Reviewer's Name: Alan
Midnight Riot
Aaronovitch, Ben
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Peter Grant has just finished training to be a PC (police constable) in London. Right as he's about to get assigned to the paperwork unit (not his first choice) he chats up a ghost witness to a gruesome murder. After that, he discovers that he has some magical ability, and begins training to be a wizard copper whilst trying to solve the murder.

This was so fun! If I were to describe it, I'd say it's like the Dresden Files (both are urban fantasy series about crime solving wizards) but like a billion times better. It's fairly similar in premise, but different in most other ways. It has a lighter tone, a more likable protagonist, diverse characters, and was just a more enjoyable reading experience for me. The author used to write for Doctor Who, so fans of that show may also like this read. My only complaint is that it read like an ARC. Did anyone bother to edit this thing? The grammar was terrible (some of which was probably intentional, but some of it clearly wasn't), and occasionally character names were just wrong. Like, all of a sudden, a character who wasn't in a scene would "say" something and it was clear that her name was just transposed with the other lady main character - this happened at least twice.

Anyway, lack of editing aside, this book was an absolute joy to read. I've already checked out the next in the series and would strongly recommend this to urban fantasy readers. 4 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Awards:
Steeplejack
Hartley, A.J.
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Anglet is a steeplejack, a person who climbs buildings for a variety of work related reasons (chimney work, retrieval, the building of things, etc.). One day, at the end of a shift, she discovers a dead body on the ground. As being a steeplejack is quite dangerous, she isn't completely alarmed at first, until she realizes that the person did not die of natural causes - he had been stabbed in the back. After that, she takes it upon herself to solve the murder mystery as well as a few other mysteries that crop up along the way.

I feel like I should've liked this book more than I did. The beginning is extremely slow, but only due to the author having to do some serious world-building, which is something I often like. The world itself was pretty cool. It's a newly colonized version of South Africa, which made for a unique setting. Actually, the racism/discrimination bits were so well done as to be hard to read. The main character is likable. She's that lovely combination of fierce and vulnerable that is common in YA, but rarely successfully pulled off. Hartley pulls it off. He knows what he's about - this book was extremely well written.

So why didn't I like it? I'm kind of asking myself the same question here, but my overall feeling was definitely just "meh". I think that, for me, the book lacked any real tension or emotional impact. I liked Ang, but I never really cared that much about her, or anyone else in the story. I definitely didn't care about Berrit, the murder victim. Actually much is made about how NO ONE cares about Berrit and his life was one that wasn't going to be worth living anyway, so...who cares who murdered him, really? Aside from a few terrifying scenes featuring her would-be rapist/boss (and a few other emotional but spoilery scenes) the book went from action scene to action scene with no real emotional impact, and without feeling like it was fast paced. Somehow, in the midst of all of the action, the book felt like a really slow read, mostly because I just couldn't make myself care about the fates of most of the characters.

With a more compelling mystery and better developed characters, this book could've been very likable. Still, I think many will like it, and I'm definitely not opposed to picking up the sequel. 2 stars - it was ok.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Murder at Brightwell
Weaver, Ashley
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Amory Ames has left her philandering husband for a vacation by the sea with her erstwhile fiance on the pretense of talking his younger sister out of marrying her dastardly fiance. After a day of vacation, the dastardly fiance is murdered and the erstwhile fiance is suspect #1. Amory is convinced her old fiance is innocent, and works to clear his name.

At first, I was not at all sold on this book. The beginning is very slow and weighed down by constant descriptions of the sartorial choices of the many characters. The main character also initially comes off as a bit of a prickly doormat. Fortunately, about halfway through the book, the pacing picks up, the story gets really interesting, and our main character gets much less annoying. Her relationship with her husband, however, never ceases to be annoying because...did people not talk to each other in 1930s England? It was an unapologetically unhealthy relationship that was ultimately frustrating to read and was left (purposefully) unresolved at the end.

I don't read a ton of mysteries, but this one ended up being a lot of fun! Its kind of like an old school mystery where there is a cast of characters/suspects in one setting and you KNOW one of them did it...but which one? Based on what other readers have said, it's Agatha Christie-esque. I was able to guess the "who" but not the "why", and the book ended up being entertaining enough that I immediately checked out the sequel, Death Wears a Mask. I'd recommend it to mystery lovers who like their mysteries with a historical setting and a touch of fashion. 3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Awards:
Rivers of London: Body Work
Aaronovitch, Ben
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Peter Grant is part of the Special Assessment Unit, a police group in London that is called in to investigate the weirder cases. And the first case is pretty weird - it seems like there are a few cars in London that have developed a murderous bent. Grant and crew do their best to figure out what is going on...before someone else finds themself dead at the hands of their car.
This was really fun! The mystery was different from anything I've ever read, the world building happened quickly but thoroughly, and the characters were likable. While not spectacular, the art was pretty and made the story easy to follow. Oh, and major bonus, the characters were diverse! I liked this one enough that I just put the regular novel Peter Grant books on hold, and I'll definitely be checking out all future graphic novel installments. Harry Dresden fans, check this series out ASAP!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Crooked House
Kent, Christobel
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

This was a very disappointing read. The novel follows Alison, who was the sole survivor of the massacre of her family when she was a teenager. She has since moved to London, changed her name, and tried to put her past behind her, but a wedding invitation from her boyfriend’s ex draws her back to the community she thought she’d left behind. The book came well-recommended, and I went into it expecting a better story than the one I got. This was sold to me as a psychological thriller that follows Alison’s attempt to investigate the massacre, which had been treated as a murder-suicide committed by her father. Unfortunately, the characterization was clumsy, the writing was poor, and the ending, without spoiling anything, was badly explained and unsatisfying. I came to hate every character in the book, and by the end of it I was reading out of a sense of obligation rather than any actual interest in the plot (if you’re paying any attention, you’ll figure the ‘mystery’ out an agonizingly long time before our oblivious protagonist catches on).

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Christie, Agatha
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

When I was a teen, I read all of Agatha Christie's books and developed my love of mysteries! When I was a teen reading the mysteries set in England and other far off places, they seemed so exotic! But I always enjoyed the characters and trying to figure out who done it! After listening to the first in the Hercule Poirot series, the mystery still stands! Set during WWI, wealthy Emily Cavendish-Inglethorp is found dying of strychnine poisoning. Who did it? The younger husband? The step-sons? Or someone else after her fortune? I was intrigued and trying to figure it out the whole time! Knowing more about Agatha Christie's life and about the mystery genre in general, I enjoyed
the book even more the second time around!

Reviewer's Name: Melissa
Genres:

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