REVIEW: STILL LIFE, BY LOUISE PENNY

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When seventy-six year old Jane Neal was found dead in the woods, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache was brought in from the city.

Before we learn more about her mysterious death, Still Life: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel takes us back…before. And shows us the quaint little country village of Three Pines and its residents. Into this seemingly placid community, could violence have descended?

Then we learn about the three teenagers that threw manure at the bistro owned by two gay partners, and we see that all is not necessarily well here. We see some history that is not necessarily good between some of the residents, and we catch a glimpse of overwhelming animosity in Ruth. But then she is angry at everyone, all the time. What is her story?

Jane was beloved, we are told. Single, she has quirks that others have become accustomed to, like the fact that nobody has seen into her home beyond the kitchen…ever. And that she has never submitted her art until now…and it is accepted by the Arts Williamsburg jury, to be shown. Those who saw it were astounded. Some thought it childish, while others said “brilliant.” Behind closed doors, startling secrets are about to be revealed. And something lurks within the Fair Day painting that Jane submitted; something that could lead to the culprit.

Who, if anyone, in the village could have killed Jane? Is it really a murder, or an accident? Why would someone kill her at all? And what can her friends, like Clara and Peter, or family, like Yolande, tell us about her life that would reveal the answers? And what about Ben Hadley, an old friend who seems kind…the one who found Jane’s body?

When Gamache strides into town with his inspectors, he is immediately a presence. He has a unique way about him, and the reader is soon caught up in his methods, his calm interrogations, and the way he deals with his underlings, especially one Yvette Nichol, a newbie, who has exaggerated ideas about her own abilities. And a smug arrogance that could cost her everything.

There were numerous red herrings, and amongst the villagers, possible suspects began to emerge. In this quote of a conversation between Gamache and Myrna, a former psychologist who owned the bookstore, we get a sense of something, a clue previously unseen:

`You described a personality type. The ones who lead what you called “still” lives. Do you remember?’

`Yes, I do. The ones who aren’t growing and evolving, who are standing still. They’re the ones who rarely got better.’

This was my first book in the Gamache series, and I am enthralled by his style, his techniques, and how he brings the reader into the midst of it all. And just when I thought I had everything figured out, I was stunned by the reveal. But then again, perhaps the signs had been there all along. 5 stars.

REVIEW: THE CINDERELLA MURDER, BY MARY HIGGINS CLARK & ALAFAIR BURKE

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This book was featured as my First Book of 2015, hosted by Book Journey.

 

Laurie Moran, TV producer of a new show, Under Suspicion, has plans to feature a twenty-year-old murder as the next installment in her series. The unsolved murder of Susan Dempsey, dubbed “The Cinderella Murder,” because her body was found with only one shoe next to it, has gleaned the interest of her boss at the studio as well. But only after she has done considerable pitching and with the promise that some of the more noteworthy participants will be available.

This was a Hollywood story, in a sense, since Susan was a student at UCLA and a budding actress, who on the night of the murder, was supposed to go to the home of Frank Parker, a director, for an audition. She was a no-show.

Why did Susan’s roommate Madison show up so quickly to take her place? And why had Susan’s body been found in Laurel Canyon Park, minutes from the director’s home, when her car was at the university?

As Laurie and her crew begin investigating the possibilities in preparation for the show, several more questions present themselves. What, if anything, connects Susan’s murder with a cult-like organization called Advocates for God, which has enlisted none other than Susan’s ex-boyfriend, Keith Ratner? How is the leader of that group, Martin Collins, involved in a secret that Nicole, one of Susan’s old roommates, has been keeping for many years?

The Cinderella Murder: An Under Suspicion Novel was more than a Hollywood story, as there were many references throughout to a highly successful technological company launched by a former student and friend of Susan’s, Dwight Cook, and their former professor, Richard Hathaway. How does this multimillionaire dollar company tie in to what happened to Susan?

Secrets seem to be coming out of the woodwork as we move quickly through the short, terse chapters that made this novel a true page-turner, with the stunning reveal building up with a heart-pounding intensity that literally made it impossible for me to stop reading. Recommended for all fans of the author and those who enjoy murder mysteries. 5.0 stars.

REVIEW: THE LAST WINTER OF DANI LANCING, BY P. D. VINER

17262454Twenty years have passed since that last hard winter of Dani Lancing’s life. The life that had been cut short by her brutal murder. The case is long cold, but the mourners are still haunted by not knowing what had happened to her, trying to piece together the few clues to discover the answers.

The parents, Jim and Patty, are each obsessed: Jim, haunted by fleeting images of Dani at various ages in her life, and seemingly, now, after her death; Patty is on a quest to find the murderer(s), even going to such extremes that now, twenty years later, when the police are reopening the case, she is determined to find her own answers. She doesn’t quite trust the police to find them. Patty and Jim have long since lost their connection to one another, their marriage destroyed.

DS Tom Bevan is the police detective assigned to the cold case. He was also Dani’s friend for years…and suffered from unrequited love.

Set in London and Durham, from the 1980s to 2010, the story jags back and forth through time, in a fractured fashion, revealing the The Last Winter of Dani Lancing: A Novel through the various voices of the characters, past and present. The answers do not come all at once, but in bits and pieces, and the stunning surprises at the end reveal a quagmire of corruption, vengeance, cover-ups, and flawed humanity. This is not a story for the faint of heart, as the human condition is exposed in its greatest darkness and frailty. It is definitely a twisted tale with much to ponder about the lengths to which people will go for those they love. It is also difficult to follow at times, with the peripatetic narrative, and some of the conclusions seem a bit incredible. But the reader will want answers, so the book is impossible to put down. 4.0 stars.

A MYSTERY & A FAMILY STORY, WITH FUNNY DIALOGUE — A REVIEW

16045124Shortly after Mary DiNunzio earns partnership at the law firm of Rosato & Associates, a thirteen-year-old girl named Allegra Gardner retains her as counsel to investigate her sister Fiona’s murder five years before—Even though a young man named Lonnie Stall had been found guilty and was serving time for the crime. But Allegra is persistent, and soon shows Mary a few good reasons to question it all.

However, Allegra’s wealthy and powerful parents are so opposed to the reopening of the case, and even do everything possible to halt the investigation, that Mary is even more determined than ever to find out the truth.

Why are the Gardners so opposed to the investigation? Is there a possibility that a former boyfriend of Fiona’s could be a suspect? And why did Lonnie Stall agree to a guilty plea, especially since he waited until the end of the trial to do so?

I thoroughly enjoy this series, and when I revisit the characters in Mary’s big Italian family, I feel embraced by them as well. And in this particular story, Mary is newly engaged and trying to incorporate her big family into her fiance’s, without hurting anyone’s feelings.

Accused: A Rosato & Associates Novel (Rosato and Associates) is a mystery, a family story, with enough funny repartee to keep me smiling, while holding my breath at the dangerous parts. I especially liked the unexpected twists and turns that brought a satisfactory resolution to this delightful read. Definitely five stars.

PLAGIARISM, MEAN GIRLS, & MURDER — A REVIEW

11011295When celebrity biographer Phoebe Hall is accused of plagiarism, her Manhattan life starts unraveling. Needing a break and a chance for a fresh beginning, she accepts a job as an instructor at Lyle College in Pennsylvania, where her old boarding school friend Glenda Johns is the president.

But she’s barely in town for any time at all when a young girl, someone with whom she had a conversation just weeks before, washes up on the bank of the river. And a series of seemingly unconnected deaths begin to arouse suspicion in the minds of those in charge at the college, especially Glenda, suggesting other possibilities.

She asks Phoebe to informally investigate. But when the clues suggest that a secret society called The Sixes may be involved, Phoebe’s life takes on a nightmarish quality. What does this organization have to do with the odd things happening to Phoebe? And what about the bar, Cat Tails, where every deceased person spent time on the night of his/her death?

As Phoebe starts following the clues, she uncovers more and more, but how is anything connected? And why does she have a strange feeling that a secret society from her own boarding school days, a group that bullied her mercilessly, might be part of what is happening now?

The story was a page-turning thriller that had me sleeping less at night, and not just because I couldn’t it down, but because The Sixes: A Novel was one of those books that totally engaged me. I enjoyed how the author showed the reader the ordinary details of each day, along with the investigating, like a romance brewing. And it struck me as quite plausible that, when everything started to get even more mysterious, Phoebe became suspicious of even those closest to her. I even suspected numerous characters along the way, and as the answers began to unfold, I was stunned by some of them, and not so much by others. A good mix and a captivating story, with a few predictable elements. Four stars.