Category Archives: mystery

Review: The Abduction

abduction

The Abduction (The Carnivia Trilogy Book 2)
by Jonathan Holt
Published by Harper
464 pages
Genre: mystery
4.5 / 5

Summary from Goodreads:

An unlikely trio must form an alliance to save a kidnapped young girl and untangle a nefarious plot that reaches back decades.

Second Lieutenant Holly Boland is an intelligence analyst trained to look for clues ordinary investigators miss. When a U.S. army officer’s daughter is kidnapped from an American base in Venice, Holly is sure that the mysterious abductors want more than a ransom.

Venetian police captain Kat Tapo has found a webcam feed embedded in the encrypted website Carnivia.com, a virtual Venice. It streams video of a terrified teenage girl, hooded and tied to a chair. A strand of text scrolls across the screen: “Sensory deprivation is not torture.” Is the girl the missing daughter of the American military officer? Who is behind the cryptic message?

Daniele Barbo, the genius webmaster and creator of Carnivia, has never let the government access his servers, and finding the missing girl is not his problem. But then secrets from Italy’s dark wartime past begin to surface-revelations that could put them all in danger. To save his own skin, Daniel must decide how far he’s willing to let them in.

In a race against time, Holly, Kat, and Daniel must find the shocking truth . . . or watch as more than one innocent life is sacrificed.

My Review:

At the end of Holt’s The Abomination, the first in the Carnivia trilogy, Kat Tarpo and Aldo Piola have faced the fallout of their affair, and Kat has decided to file charges of harassment against her boss and lover. American Holly Boland has helped them crack a case, and the three go about their lives.

The Abduction picks up a few months afterwards. Kat has been ostracized by her coworkers, blamed for accusing the beloved Piola of any impropriety. She was a willing participant, wasn’t she? How can she charge him with anything when she was fully aware, all along, that he was (a) married and (b) her superior? Kat is nothing if not hard-headed, though, and she resists questioning her decision.

When a new case falls to her, she attacks it as she does everything in her life: with no inhibition and full belief that she will be successful.

As the daughter of a high-ranking US military official stationed in Venice, teenaged (and sheltered) Mia is an easy target. She’s anxious to break free from her father’s watchful eye and experience life. That the Italians are none too pleased to have an American military presence completely escapes her, as it would most teenagers. She wants to smoke, drink, and maybe have sex. She yearns to just be free.

Similarly, Holly craves freedom, even if she doesn’t know what form it should take or even from what she wants to be free. She’s a proud American who was raised in Italy. She’s staunchly patriotic, yet she acknowledges her country’s faults in Italy. Yes, she loves being in the military, but she feels constrained. While she enjoys abiding by military precision, she wants something … different.

Also returning is Daniele Barbo, a kidnapping and torture victim who has created interactive website Carnivia. When Mia goes missing, Kat and Holly ask Daniele for help, and the three are reunited. Also, meanwhile, pursues an apparently unrelated case of a skeleton found on the base.

What is fascinating about this book is the way Jonathan Holt takes the American treatment of POWs and uses it to propel his story. He also makes a point about what is torture and what isn’t, but we’ll get to that in a little bit. His primary focus is on Mia’s kidnapping, taking us from one “experience” to another. Her kidnappers are intent on showing just how cruel Americans are, not just in how they treat their prisoners, but in how they are treating Italy. One begets the other.

The bad guys go step-by-step through the interrogation manual (so to speak) that guided how the US military handled prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Mia is waterboarded, sleep deprived, nearly starved, and struck harshly. Her abductors videotape each, airing the tapes through Carnivia. As Mia reacts to each ill treatment, we get a deeper, more affecting understanding of how torturous non-torture can be.

As Kat, Holly, Daniele, and Aldo race to free her, the mystery deepens and widens. Who is behind Mia’s abduction? What is their purpose? What do they hope to achieve? Can she be saved?

Holt writes with taut precision, keeping you riveted and turning the pages. There is quite a bit of history here as well, which helps us better understand the Italian (and international) perspective of US military encroachment and intervention. There is also some background on the Catholic church and its role in world events and wars.

I love – and I do mean love – the way Jonathan Holt writes. I can’t wait for the third installment, and the romantic in me wants Kat reunited with Aldo. Both of his books cast an unflattering eye on the United States military (and political) machine, and I wondered if Holt wasn’t making a point about that as well. So I did what any curious reader would do: I sent him a message, asking him about casting Americans as the bad guys and if he was concerned about a perceived anti-American bias.

Mr. Holt kindly replied, and here is what he said:

When I started writing the Carnivia trilogy I really didn’t know a lot about US Cold War foreign policy, other than that in Italy there had been some kind of secret anti-communist army called Gladio that was set up by NATO. It sounded like good background for a conspiracy thriller, so I stole it. But as I did more research, I became more and more amazed by the things the US had done in Italy in order to keep the communists out of government. From letting the mafia out of the prisons where Mussolini had put them, to creating and bankrolling newspapers and political parties, to recruiting or bribing government ministers or Vatican officials, there was almost nothing they wouldn’t do.

So on one level, I was just thinking ‘Wow, this is great material’. But on another, I was genuinely surprised by the extent of the US’s interference in the democratic process of a sovereign country.

Now, you could argue that Italy was already so chaotic, and so corrupt, that it needed to be interfered with. Or you could argue that the chaos and corruption partly stemmed from the interference.

I try, as a thriller writer, not to take sides in the debate, only to milk it for drama… and of course, the parallels between ‘the war on communism’ and ‘the war on terrorism’ also make for some thought-provoking plotlines.

All of which is a longwinded way of saying that I really hope my books don’t come across as anti-US, just as interesting and topical. THE ABDUCTION actually ends with one character admitting to another, an ex-CIA agent, that he jumped to an anti-American conclusion at one point which turned out to be wrong. But where I find a good fact that reveals how the most powerful country in the world operates, I use it.

And thank goodness he does.

If you enjoy a gripping mystery and exceptional writing, you will love The Carnivia Trilogy. And you will join me in anxiously awaiting the third one. You may even join me in hoping that Aldo and Kat realize they belong together (that’s a hint to Jonathan Holt, by the way).

Light up the comments and let me know what you think of this fantastic series.

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Review: Cruise

cruise

Cruise: A Thriller
by Suzanne Vermeer
Published by Open Road Integrated Media
238 pages
Genre: mystery, thriller
3.5 / 5

 

It’s all fun and games on a cruise ship until someone drowns.

Heleen and Frank, a Norwegian couple, are celebrating their anniversary with a European cruise. They’ve been together for seventeen years, most of them contented. Yes, there have been struggles, but they give each other the freedom they need. Frank works in travel and as such is away from home a lot, and Heleen is understanding. She has her own career, and she enjoys the autonomy their relationship provides.

In a twist of dramatic irony, we know – but Heleen does not – that Frank has been planning an escape. So when he mysteriously disappears, we sense that he will return one way or another.

Heleen is beside herself over her husband’s supposed death, and she returns home to grieve. But then strange things start happening. First, there is an insurance settlement in the name of a stranger living in France. Then there are other, odder questions.

Determined to understand what happened, Heleen heads to France to find out what Frank has been up to. Along the way, she becomes convinced that the Frank she loved and married is not the Frank she thought was true. The Frank who disappeared? That’s a whole other Frank.

There are twists and turns galore in this book. Just when you think it’s ending, it keeps going. And that is my one complaint: there is almost too much of the thriller and too little of the mystery. We never quite understand Frank’s motivations, nor do we ever quite understand why he and Heleen stayed together for as long as they did. You get the sense that they truly loved each other, which makes Frank’s decisions a bit of a head scratcher.

Still, Vermeer writes a book that will keep you hooked. Heleen is as admirable a character as you’ll find. She has spunk, if not a little innocence, and although her determination to suss out what happened to her husband leads her down one dangerous path after another, she never quits. The titular cruise becomes more about Heleen’s journey across unchartered waters as it does about the actual ship. As much as she learns about Frank, she learns even more about who she really is.

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Review: The Paris Lawyer

paris lawyer
The Paris Lawyer
by Sylvie Granotier
Published by Le French Book
280 pages
Genre: fiction; mystery 
4.5 / 5

 

Catherine is a newly minted lawyer looking to advance her career, both because she is ambitious and because she wants to catch the eye of her boss (she is attracted to older men … we’ll discuss her Daddy Issues in a bit). She receives the case of an African immigré who came to France to escape a horrific life in Africa (and to land a husband). Catherine is excited. Nervous, but excited.

The case sends her back to her hometown, which she left years earlier after being the sole witness to her mother’s murder. Catherine was a toddler at the time and remembers only flashes and senses, but then again, she was in a stroller with her back to her mother at the time of the murder. Her new case forces her to remember those dark days.

It also spurs her on toward an investigation of sorts into not just her mother’s death, but to her mother’s life. Catherine grew up a fairly happy girl, despite her earlier trauma. Her father is devoted to her, even if he never discusses or refers to her mother.

She also develops a relationship with Cedric, a man she defended in an assault case. They become romantic, although their relationship seems based more in sex than any true exchange of feelings.

It doesn’t take long for Catherine’s legal case, her investigation, and her relationship to converge.

What Sylvie Granotier does exceptionally well with this novel is develop her characters. We know Catherine. We understand her youth, her inexperience, her nervousness, her naïveté, her optimism, and her fears. She is desperate to impress her boss and her client, desperate to prove herself professionally. She is also desperate to understand her mother, a woman around whom her father has created an entire mythology. The question Catherine must confront is whether she needs the truth or the myth. Which one will cause her more pain?

This theme plays out across her life. Does she really want to know whether her client is innocent or not? Does she really want to know and understand Cedric? Does she really want to know and understand her mother? Or are the myths – the one her father created, the ones she creates – warmer comfort?

Some of the twists and turns are obvious and well broadcast. Others may surprise you. But even when you know what’s coming, Granotier keeps you riveted to her story. Catherine is a character who gets under your skin, and you will want to know what happens to her. Can she live with what she discovers?

Read it. You will enjoy The Paris Lawyer quite a bit.

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Blog Tour: Natchez Burning

Natchez BurningNatchez Burning
by Greg Iles
Published by William Morrow
800 pages
Genre: mystery; suspense; thriller; literature 
4.5 / 5

 

Do not – I repeat, DO NOT – begin this book unless you have some time to read it. For one thing, it clocks in at a whopping 800 pages. And for another, far more important, reason, it is nearly impossible to put down.

The first of a planned trilogy, Natchez Burning introduces us to Penn Cage, a mid-forties mayor of Natchez, Mississippi, whose father, revered local doctor Tom Cage, has been arrested for murdering Viola, a former nurse of his.

The story unfolds through the eyes of quite a few characters, including Tom Cage, Caitlin (Penn’s newspaper publisher fiancee), and a slew of bad guys. Only Penn speaks to us in first person, which makes him the character we get to know the best. Then again, even at 800 pages, it’s difficult to know all the characters in this book terribly well.

There are two story lines here: the present tale, centered around Tom Cage’s murder arrest, and the ’60s saga, in which a KKK splinter group ruled Natchez with cruelty, prejudice, and no small amount of viciousness. Led by Brody Royal, this killer crew targeted anyone who threatened the white status quo, regardless of skin color or socioeconomic status.

The stories converge when Tom is arrested, and as Penn slowly discovers the links between his father and Brody Royal’s organization, he also begins to grasp the extent of Natchez’s violent history.

Throughout the sprawling story lines, characters, plots and subplots, there is one thread that binds it all together: a man’s coming to terms with the knowledge that his father is not the stuff of super hero comic books, but rather a flawed, complex man. It is this simple, age-old truism that makes this book so compelling and riveting. We hold our breaths as Penn uncovers one secret after another, hoping – along with him – that his father is the man we think he is. When we are told at one point that Tom is exhausted from carrying the burden of other’s expectations, we empathize with him, even as we hope those expectations are deserved.

As much as I enjoyed this book, though, I do have some issues with it, namely its ending. Iles leaves several questions unanswered, which almost feels cheap and underhanded considering we just spent nearly 800 pages engaging with his characters. I cannot tell you how frustrating the ending is.

Some of the characters are straight out of Central Casting for bigoted bad guys, and their one-dimensionality stands in stark contrast to how well developed other characters are.

Still, though, this is one heck of a fantastic read. I can’t wait for the next one.

Links:Greg Iles

Purchase links:

 

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No Way Back

no way backNo Way Back
by Matthew Klein
Published by Pegasus
465 pages
Genre: crime fiction; mystery 
4 / 5

 

Gird your loins, faithful readers, because this book will take you on a ride the likes of which you have not experienced since, well, a long, long time.

Post-rehab for drugs, booze, and broads, Jimmy Thane is at the end of his tether. He’s been forced to move from the west coast to hot, sweltering, Florida, where he’s been installed as the CEO of a company in deep, deep trouble. Sort of similar to the deep, deep trouble in which Jimmy himself is in.

Jimmy’s marriage is also suffering, and his wife repeatedly tells him not to screw this up. You sense, as much as you are told, that Jimmy is a bad bet as husband material, and you empathize with his wife.

You also empathize with Jimmy, whose desperation to right his flagging ship is palatable. When you screwed up as much as he did, you cling to anything that will help you climb out of the morass, even if it’s a company in dire straits. Adding an extra sense of urgency is the timetable Jimmy has been given: he has seven weeks to weave his magic.

As Jimmy digs in, he receives one disturbing puzzle piece after another. Russian mobsters, a “he who shall not be named” bad guy, weird (and more than slightly suspicious) hypnotists, and creepy neighbors amp up the suspense. To compound a mood fraught with despair and fear, every time Jimmy seems to get close to understanding what brought him to Florida in the first place, someone either dies or Jimmy is told to back off.

This book will take you on a RIDE. There are as many plot twists as there are whipping turns on a roller coaster, and you will be forgiven if you occasionally (or in my case, more than occasionally) are confused by who’s whom.

Matthew Klein is one helluva storyteller. You will not be able to put this down once you start, so consider yourself forewarned.

This is a gripping novel in every sense of the word.

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The Accident

the accidentThe Accident
by C. L. Taylor
Published by AVON HarperCollins
Genre: mystery 
4 / 5

 

When Sue’s fifteen-year-old daughter Charlotte steps in front of a bus in a suicide attempt and winds up in a coma, Sue is determined to find out what happened.

We quickly learn that Charlotte had some secrets, but she is not the only one in her family to have them. Her father, a British politician, for instance, seems to have a few. Sue harbors some herself. But as closely as she values her own secrets, Sue is bent on understanding Charlotte’s.

Her investigation leads her down one path after another, and she quickly realizes that there is a whole lot to Charlotte that her mother never suspected.

At times the plot feels convoluted and a bit too reliant on coincidences, but C. L. Taylor tells this story in a way that will keep you turning the pages. One thing I particularly liked is that you’re never quite sure if you actually like any of the characters, just as you’re never quite sure if Sue is reliable and trustworthy.

I don’t want to say much more because there are some plot twists that must be enjoyed as you read them, not ahead of time in a review. But trust this: if you enjoy a good mystery, you will enjoy the heck out of this book.

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Blog Tour: Under a Silent Moon

Under a Silent MoonUnder a Silent Moon
by Elizabeth Haynes
Published by Harper
373 pages
Genre: mystery 
Thanks to the publisher for the preview
4.5 / 5

 

Gird your loins, faithful readers (literally – gird them), because this mystery will throw you in a martini shaker and jumble you up.

In a good way.

Detective Chief Inspector Louisa Smith is charged with investigating the murder of Polly, a young, vivacious woman working at a local horse farm.

Oh, sure, she was sleeping with most of the town. In fact, you sort of get the impression that Louisa is the only one who didn’t have sex with the deceased. Polly, you see, is non-discriminatory when it comes to the sexy times. Male? Female? Doesn’t matter. All you’ve got to be is open to having some fun.

As Louisa’s investigation delves into the crime, she discovers that Polly might have had a few people who weren’t too thrilled with her. Jealous spouses, hurt exes, and even a crime lord – any of them had a reason to do Polly in.

Assisting Louisa are two men, each as intrigued with Louisa as they are the murder: Andy, an investigator Louisa has worked with and with whom she had a fling – and would have continued having said fling, except for Andy being married and all, and Jason, a Canadian assigned to help analyze data and information. Lou is drawn to Jason, and even still a bit drawn to Andy.

Her investigation begins to uncover that there is a whole lot of spanky panky going on in the tiny little village of Morden, and Polly might have been involved. But is sex a reason to kill someone?

This is a delicious mystery, taking you from interrogation rooms to bedrooms. There is sex, there is murder, and there is even some human trafficking.

If it sounds like too much is going on, that is not the case at all. Haynes’ pacing is brisk and uncomplicated; the novel unfolds over the course of six days, and Haynes keeps us on task by using military time to check in with what’s happening and when. There are a lot of characters, but each has his or her own persona. You won’t get people confused.

Louisa’s love life is not the focal point, but it does play a role in the story. Louisa was hurt by Andy, and she’s a bit worried that she could be hurt by Jason. Is he all he appears to be, or will he disappoint her too? Jason is the least developed character here, and I suspect that’s largely on purpose. We are meant to wonder along with Louisa about him. We don’t want her to wind up in another Andy situation. Ah, Andy. He’s … interesting. He’s an unrepentant cheater, and he manages to justify his infidelity with all the aplomb of a seven-year-old sneaking a cookie when Mommy isn’t looking.

As for whodunit, let’s just say that hints are dropped, so while you may not be stunned at the “who,” the “why” might surprise you.

I enjoyed this book and could not put it down.

LINKS:Elizabeth Haynes

 

 

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