August Minireviews – Part 1

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

The High Window by Raymond Chandler

//published 1942//

In this outing for PI Phillip Marlowe, the tough-talking-but-soft-hearted detective finds himself working for a rich but rather dreadful old widow.  Per usual, Marlowe is pulled into all sorts of shenanigans, most of which would seem unrelated to someone more optimistic than our hero.  The mystery in this one seemed stronger to me than the first few books, and I really enjoyed the story.  These books are pretty fast reads and I am finding them to be thoroughly engaging.  3.5/5.

Once Upon a Kiss by various authors

//published 2017//

This collection of short stories are all retellings of fairy tales by random YA authors.  I picked it up as a free Kindle book in hopes of maybe finding some new authors to check out.  However, none of the stories in this collection rated higher than a 3/5 for me, and some I didn’t even bother to finish.  To me, a short story should still have a coherent plot with a beginning, middle, and end, and some kind of driving force for the protagonists, but a lot of these stories just came across as ‘sample’ writing – a few stories literally just stopped and were like, ‘If you want to find out more about what happens next, be sure to check out my book!’ which annoyed me so much that I won’t be checking out their books.

Overall, not a complete waste of time, but almost.

The Cat Sitter Mystery by Carol Adorjan

//published 1973//

This is an old Scholastic Book Club book that I’ve had around for as long as I can remember.  I read this book when I was pretty little – it was possibly one of the first mysteries I ever read.  I was quite enthralled with the exciting and mysterious events surrounding Beth’s neighbor’s house!

Rereading as an adult, this story about a girl who moves into a new neighborhood and then ends up taking care of her eccentric neighbors’ cats, doesn’t really have a great deal of depth, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it.  Adorjan does a really great job of making the whole story plausible, and also setting up reasonable explanations for all of the shenanigans.  The side story about Beth trying to settle into her new neighborhood in the middle of summer is also done well.

My edition is fabulously illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush, who illustrated several other childhood favorites, like Magic Elizabeth and Miracles on Maple Hill.  They are probably most famous for their work with the original editions of The Borrowers and their sequels.  The Krush’s line drawings are just perfect, especially of the cats.

All in all, a comfortable 4/5 for this short children’s book, an old favorite that held up quite well to an adult reread.

The Story of Amelia Earhart by Adele de Leeuw

//published 1955//

Back in the 1950’s, Grosset & Dunlap published a series of children’s biographies called ‘Signature’ books – each one has a copy of the famous person’s signature on the front, and an illustrated timeline of ‘Great Events in the Life of…’ inside the front cover.  I really enjoy history books that are aimed at the middle school range because they usually hit all the high points without getting bogged down with a lot of details and political opinions.  It’s a great way to get a basic introduction to a person or event.  I’ve collected a lot of these Signature books over the years – they have those delightful cloth covers from the era and are just a perfect size to read.

That said, I wasn’t particularly impressed with this one.  While it was a fine read, de Leeuw’s choices about what random vignettes from Earhart’s life to include seemed really random.  For instance, an entire chapter is devoted to a random event in Earhart’s life involving a neighbor who treats his horse cruelly – and in the end, Earhart and her sister don’t actually get to rescue the horse – instead, it escapes and then dies leaping over a creek?!  It just felt incredibly random and didn’t really add any information about Earhart – it never came back as this big influential event or anything.  There were several other, smaller stories like that throughout, like de Leeuw had collected tons of tales and then just pulled out of a hat which ones to include.  It was definitely much choppier than other Signature books that I’ve read.

Still, Earhart had an amazing and fascinating life.  I really loved how so much of what she did wasn’t amazing because she was the first woman to do it – but just the first person.  I love biographies that emphasize a woman’s abilities, intelligence, and skills as those of a person instead of those as a woman.  No one is going to believe that women are just as capable as men if we constantly act like being a woman was a weakness they had to overcome.

All in all, this was a fun and interesting book.  I’m not particularly into aviation, but apparently Earhart herself wrote a couple of books – I’m especially interesting to check out her book 20 Hrs., 40 Min. about flying over the Atlantic – I’m curious to see how it compares to Charles Lindbergh’s account, which I ended up really enjoying a lot.

The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler

//published 1943//

The fourth Phillip Marlowe felt a little darker than the first three.  Marlowe seems a little jaded, and while he still manages to make fun of many of the terrible people he meets (usually everyone he meets is pretty terrible), sometimes it felt a little serious, like Chandler genuinely was starting to think that everyone out there really is terrible.  There is also a rather gruesome scene when a body is found – not exactly graphic, but so well implied that it didn’t need to be in order to make me feel a little queasy (possibly because I was trying to eat a baloney sandwich at the time).

However, the mystery itself was, I felt, the strongest yet.  The reader has access to all the same information as Marlowe, and while I was able to connect some of the dots, I didn’t hit them all.  I really enjoyed watching everything come together, but the ending was just a bit too abrupt to feel completely satisfactory.

Still, a really great read, if a bit darker than the earlier fare.  3.5/5.

The Big Sleep // by Raymond Chandler

//published 1939//

I’ve recently subscribed to two book boxes, one of which sends very new books (like the one I reviewed here), but the other, Bookishly, sends an older, used, somewhat classic book every month, along with some tea and other small goodies, like a notecard or notebook.  This one comes from England, and I have quite enjoyed getting some of the very classic Penguin editions that are different from what we have here stateside.

Anyway, one of the books I got was Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler.  When I realized that it was the second book in a mystery series staring a private detective named Phillip Marlowe, one of the founders of the ‘hard-boiled detective’ genre, I decided to start with book one, The Big Sleep.  

I genuinely had no idea what to expect, but was immediately captivated by Marlowe, who is not only the main character but also the narrator.

It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.  I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them.  I was neat, clean, shaven and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it.  I was everything well-dressed private detective ought to be.  I was calling on four million dollars.

This book was originally published in 1939, and I can see it offending some, as it contains much of the casual prejudices and racism of the day.  (And honestly, some of the negative reviews on Goodreads had my eyes rolling practically out of my head… why do people read books published almost 80 years ago and then get offended that the people in them have a completely different worldview?!  How ignorant do you have to be to not expect that…???)  But at the same time, its very casualness of those prejudices is incredibly revealing of its time, and an intriguing reminder of how times have changed.  For instance, I don’t think anyone could get away with writing anything like this –

“Don’t kid me, son.  The fag gave you one.  You’ve got a nice clean manly little room in there.  He shooed you out and locked it up when he had lady visitors.  He was like Caesar, a husband to women and a wife to men.  Think I can’t figure people like you out?”  …  he swung on me … it caught me flush on the chin.  I backstepped enough to keep from falling, but I took plenty of punch.  It was meant to be a heard one, but a pansy has no iron in his bones, whatever he looks like.

But it’s not really an overwhelming bit of the story, and the majority of Marlowe’s narration is genuinely hilarious and Chandler’s knack for writing conversation is brilliant; I found myself snorting with laughter on more than one occasion over bits like this –

Her hot black eyes looked mad.  “I don’t see what there is to be cagey about,” she snapped.  “And I don’t like your manners.”

“I’m not crazy about yours,” I said.  “I didn’t ask to see you.  You sent for me.  I don’t mind your ritzing me or drinking your lunch out of a Scotch bottle.  I don’t mind your showing me your legs.  They’re very swell legs and it’s a pleasure to make their acquaintance.  I don’t mind that you don’t like my manners.  They’re pretty bad.  I grieve over them during the long winter evenings.  But don’t waste your time trying to cross-examine me.”

This wasn’t a story full of action.  Marlowe meanders about making his own observations and doing his own thing, but we’re privy to pretty much everything he knows and does.  Chandler isn’t afraid to kill people off, and there are multiple corpses throughout, but nothing gory and no one dies that you’re particularly sad to see go.

While the old-fashioned prejudices may have been rather offensive, the old-fashioned morals aren’t, and I loved how the language in this book never went stronger than a ‘damn,’ and how a few criminals were running a pornography business, which seemed to genuinely disgust the majority of the characters.  I also really liked the Marlowe didn’t fall into bed with any of the women about – he’s way too crafty to fall for their lures, and it says a lot about his overall character, which is actually rather philosophical and introspective, despite his rough-and-ready exterior.

At one point, Marlowe has apprehended a possible bad guy.  When he confronts the kid, the kid responds with “Go _____ yourself” – blank included in the original text.  And that seems to be this kid’s default response to everything, although Chandler manages to mix it up quite a bit with things like, “He spoke three words to me and kept on driving,” or “the kid shrugged and said his three favorite words.”

Despite Marlowe’s hard image, I appreciated that he was genuinely disturbed by the easy murder of one of the characters, even if that character was a bit of a skunk.  There is so much drinking and smoking in this book that I was cracking up – for instance, I’m not sure if even the leaders of criminal rings these days have their own monogrammed cigarettes.

While I wasn’t racing to the ending in desperate fear of Marlowe’s life, I still really wanted to see how things were going to unwind, and with sentences like, “She’d make a jazzy weekend, but she’d be wearing for a steady diet,” luring me along, I found myself thoroughly immersed every time I picked up the book.

I’m looking forward to continuing Marlowe’s acquaintance.  There are only eight books total, plus a ninth that Chandler had partially written at the time of his death and was later finished by another author.  The Big Sleep was an easy 3.5/5, and a really fun start to a series.

#18 for #20BooksofSummer!

Threads of Suspicion // by Dee Henderson

//published 2017// Look, another solid cover, too! //

And here we are, the final Dee Henderson book!  It’s been a long and interesting journey, one that I began just because I wanted to read this book, which was generously provided to me by the publisher, Bethany House.  While I definitely appreciate the book, their gift doesn’t impact my review.

This is the second book with Evie Blackwell as the main character; we met her in Traces of Guilt.  This book opens a few months later with the newly appointed Missing Persons Cold Case Task Force (I’m sure they have a shorter, catchier name, but I don’t remember it) taking on their first official set of cases.  There are several members of the task force, but our story really only deals with one other member, David.  His missing person is from the same area as Evie’s, so they set up shop together, and even though each of them is primarily focused on his or her own case, they swap ideas and information throughout.

David’s missing person is a private investigator, while Evie’s is a college student.  Overall, it felt like Henderson did a good job balancing the two cases – they touch, but aren’t dependent on each other.  David and Evie have a good relationship; they were already acquaintances, but now they are working together and even though their work styles are different, they balance.  There’s not even a whiff of romance between them; both are involved in serious, steady relationships elsewhere, which makes their friendship more relaxed and comfortable.

There are definitely quite a few coincidences that crop up when the plot needs a nudge (although nothing quite as bad as Perfect Ann’s sweeping conclusion in the last book), and the ending wasn’t a complete cop-out, although it could have been a little tighter.

As always, Henderson handles the religious/Christian aspect of her stories really well.  I know I’ve been busy complaining about a lot of her other books and haven’t touched on this much, but she’s one of the few people who writes Christians in a way that feels genuine and honest.  They aren’t perfect people and they aren’t hypocritical puppets; they’re just realistic individuals who have made a commitment and are doing their best to follow it.  Conversations on the topic always feel natural and very rarely verge into the preachy.

All in all, Threads of Suspicion was a solid read that left me feeling like I actually will pick up Henderson’s next book, especially if Evie makes a reappearance.  I’ve had my ups and and a lot of downs with Henderson’s more recent novels, but this one is a good addition to her bibliography.  3.5/5 and recommended.

#5 for #20BooksofSummer!

 

Traces of Guilt // by Dee Henderson

//published 2016// Bonus! A cover that doesn’t make me cringe! //

Traces of Guilt is the first book a new series that Henderson is writing – the Evie Blackwell Cold Cases.  However, they actually tie in with a BUNCH of the characters from Henderson’s “standalones,” and I’m not completely sure if I would have understood all the character interactions if I hadn’t already read the earlier books.  Perfect Ann plays a pretty important part in this book (because guess what!  The ridiculously introverted Ann is also friends with Evie!)

This book was significantly better than the last few Henderson novels that I’ve read.  Evie is quite likable.  She works for the Illinois State Police, but is using her vacation time to work on a few cold cases in Carin County.  The governor-elect is planning to start a task force the following January (book is set in November), sending a team of specially selected individuals to work through cold cases involving missing people.  Evie is doing a sort of test-run in Carin County at the suggestion of Perfect Ann.

Gabe Thane is the sheriff of Carin County, as his father was before him.  Gabe’s brothers both live around Carin Lake as well – Josh and Will.  Because they’ve lived there all their lives, the two cold cases Evie is working on have a very personal feel for the brothers.

The first case involves the disappearance of an entire family – a deputy sheriff, his wife, and their 11-year-old son all disappeared, along with their truck and camper, on their way to spend the weekend camping.  No sign has been found of them despite an extensive search at the time, and several times of revisiting the case.  The second case is the disappearance of a young girl from Florida, who went missing while her family was staying a local hotel.

Overall, this story had much tighter plotting and an actual story, which was nice.  Like I said, I really liked Evie, and also Gabe.  I was really drawn into the process of searching for the missing family.  While there wasn’t a lot of urgency to this story, since presumably people who have been missing for 10 or so years are probably dead, it was still engaging.

I was moderately annoyed that every time the  narrative changed (third person) perspective, the person’s name was placed as a heading.  I really feel like the words Ann Falcon are a completely unnecessary indicator that we’ve switched perspectives when the first sentence of the paragraph starts with something like, “Ann was puzzled over Josh’s behavior.”  Why do authors do this??  The random headings were quite distracting to me – it’s annoyed me in books by other people, too.  I can understand when it’s a first-person narrative, but it makes NO sense when it’s third person.

The biggest thing that annoyed me by far, though, was when Perfect Ann announced that she “knew” what had happened to the girl who had disappeared.  She has literally NO evidence, and while I’ll admit that her theory does tie together some coincidences, making it probable, it’s a BIG jump from probable to definite.  But an entire room of supposedly experienced law-enforcement officers all nodded their heads, agreed that Ann was right, and then just didn’t bother investigating the case any further!?  Later, evidence does show up to, of course, prove that Perfect Ann was right, but I was SUPER aggravated that everyone just accepted Ann’s theory as 100% fact, as though there weren’t fifty million other possibilities out there.

It also confused me a little because the other books I’ve been reading of Henderson all act like they are these big mysteries and not a lot of romance, and then have ended up the opposite.  This one completely sounded like the main thrust of the story was going to be about a developing relationship between Evie and Gabe… and that doesn’t even kind of happen?!  I do not understand people who write synopses.

All in all, this was a 3/5.  While there was a lot more story and things of interest going on, the ending still really fizzled out.  After spending all this time working on the disappearance of the family, the solution to the mystery felt awkward and tacked on, and also, weirdly, felt like Evie didn’t really solve it.  It was a conclusion that fit the facts, but still felt weird.  Still, a decent and engaging read that did a fairly good job of setting things up for the next book as well.

Book #4 for the #20BooksofSummer!!!

Unspoken // by Dee Henderson

//published 2013//

As my Dee Henderson binge continued, I was leery of picking up the next title.  Full Disclosure had been such a terrible read that I was a little scared of Unspoken.  However, while Unspoken wasn’t one of my favorite books ever, it was back into the solid 3/5 range, with a decent story, interesting characters, and some excellent dialogue – even if I did have to suffer more interaction with Perfect Ann, one of the BFFs of this books protagonists.  (Despite the fact that Ann is a SUPER HARDCORE INTROVERT who CANNOT HANDLE PEOPLE AT ALL.)

I think the main problem with these books on the whole is that Henderson has put the thriller/mystery/action part of her books in the back seat (possibly in the back seat of a full-sized van), while the romance/relationship aspect takes the wheel.  So while these stories are alright, they tend to drag through the middle bits where it’s just the main characters meandering about wondering whether or not they should get married/analyzing feelings.  Instead of an active storyline, it’s mostly people who have suffered some kind of trauma in the past (Taken, which I haven’t reviewed yet, was really bad that way), so there is no sense of urgency.

In this book, Charlotte is the main character, and she was kidnapped and held for several years, so she has a lot going on as far as recovering from some serious trauma.  I actually did like her relationship with Bryce and felt like he was really good for her.  There’s this whole side-plot, though, where Charlotte can inherit a bunch of money if she gets married, and while it was overall handled well – and I think Henderson was really just trying to use it as a catalyst so Charlotte had to make a decision – it still felt a smidge like Bryce was also marrying Charlotte for her money (even though he’s also super rich…)

Speaking of which, I found myself snorting with sarcastic laughter when shortly after they get married, Charlotte and Bryce are talking about how their daily lives are going to look, and basically Charlotte is an artist and has a studio in their house and Bryce is working from home (his job is now giving away Charlotte’s money to charity?!), and they say something like they don’t want this to be a “marriage where they just see each other at breakfast and dinner and never in between,” as though most people have marriages like that from choice instead of necessity.  Like, yeah, I’d like my marriage to be one where I saw my husband between breakfast and supper, too, except, you know, he has to earn money to pay our bills because no one has handed us millions of dollars.  I mean seriously.

Even though I’m whining about this book a bit, it was actually a fine read as long as you went into it with the attitude that this was going to be a story about relationships.  I really wish that Henderson would either go back to writing thrillers, or would market her books as romance, because what she ends up with is a boring thriller that’s spread too thin because she’s so busy with relationships, while the relationship part feels really stilted and unnatural because of the “thriller” going on in the background.

3/5 for Unspoken.  Decent read, but nothing amazing.

However, this is Book #1 for #20BooksofSummer – progress!

PS I was really glad that I read most of these books on my Kindle because these covers are D R E A D F U L.  I mean, look at that poor guy.  He looks like he’s been constipated for days.  UGH.

The Witness // Before I Wake // by Dee Henderson

I had so many good resolutions when I last posted here, all these ways I was going to get caught up on my backlog of reviews and get this blog back on track!  …and then my internet went out for a week.  Ah well, such is life.  I don’t really get all that stressed about it, other than the fact that the piles of books around my computer are threatening to topple over…

As I mentioned, I’ve been reading through Dee Henderson’s standalone novels.  It started because I received her most recent book, Threads of Suspicion, as an ARC from Bethany House.  Now this book is the second book in Henderson’s new series – the Evie Blackwell Cold Cases.  Being myself, I thought I would just go ahead and read the first book, Traces of Guilt, first, and then I would be good to go.  I really have a problem of not being able to dip in and out of series… I basically feel a compulsion to read them all, in order.

So anyway, I open up Traces of Guilt and start to read… and on the very first page is a character that I definitely remembered from being in one of Henderson’s other books!  So then I started wondering if this really was a new series, or if there were going to be a lot overlapping characters……..and before I knew it, I had been sucked in, and ended up reading all of the novels she has published since her O’Malley series (which I actually really enjoyed).

Here’s the thing:  Henderson’s “standalone” novels aren’t really standalones… a lot of them have interconnecting characters, which, over time, does become kind of important.  I’m at the point now where I’ve been immersed in her world for eight books, though, so it’s kind of hard for me to say whether or not these books would make sense if genuinely read on their own.  Some of them would, I think, but others it seems like a lot would go over your head if you didn’t know some of the background for the characters.  What I really don’t understand is why, in general, authors don’t indicate when books are connected??  I’m not sure if they don’t want to scare people off by making their  books a series or what, but I’ve come across this with other authors as well, and it honestly drives me crazy.  I WANT TO READ THE BOOKS IN ORDER and it’s extremely aggravating when I can’t even figure out what order that is supposed to be because the author is pretending like they are all independent books when they AREN’T!  With Henderson, I had to go through and determine when each book had been published and read them in that order.  What.  Even.

SO.  General ranting about the concept of calling books standalone when they are not, in fact, standalone, is over – on to the actual books themselves!

The problem is that I really enjoyed the O’Malley series so much.  They were engaging, exciting, full of solid conversations, and tackled topics and themes in a realistic and thought-provoking way without ever sounding preachy.  And none of Henderson’s other books have lived up to those in my mind, so even though many of her books are pretty decent, I’m always somewhat disappointed because they aren’t as good as the O’Malley series.

With that in mind…  I found both The Witness and Before I Wake to be 3/5 reads.  They were interesting and had decent characterization, but somehow just lacked the zing.

//published 2006//

The Witness was just a bit slow, especially since it SEEMED like it should be quite exciting.  Luke is the chief of police and, in the first chapter, is on the scene shortly after a shooting takes place in a jewelry store.  The only witness is a young woman who, Luke eventually finds out, is on the run from a different crime she witnessed several years earlier.  While the story started well, it slowly devolved from a thriller into a gentle romance, a theme I found running through several of Henderson’s books.  It just doesn’t seem right to advertise a book as a romantic thriller when it’s basically just the romantic part…

Soon there were too many couples:  Luke and Amanda.  Connor and Marie.  Caleb and Tracey.  And several other pairs that Henderson kept hinting around should or would be dating soon.  After a very long middle section where basically nothing happens except for all the couples working through their internal problems (which are pretty easy to solve because everyone is ridiculously wealthy – another common Henderson theme), all of the sudden there is a bunch of action that feels quite abrupt and SOMEONE DIES, which was quite upsetting and felt completely unnecessary.

All in all, not a bad book, but not one I feel compelled to read again.

//published 2003// Also, she has some of THE WORST covers of all time, ugh //

There were some common issues with Before I Wake.  Again, the premise is completely engaging – several women, apparently unconnected, die in their sleep, despite being youngish and in apparently good health.  No sign of foul play or visitors.  Rae has recently moved to town to become a business partner with a guy she used to date, Bruce, who is a private investigator.  Rae used to work undercover for the FBI and had an assignment go south.  Still recovering emotionally, she’s left DC behind and moved to this small town outside of Chicago.

This book had a tighter story and more tension.  But there was this weird, super-polite love triangle as Bruce is still quite interested in Rae romantically, but the sheriff, Nathan, is also very interested in Rae.  Rae isn’t sure what she wants to do with her life or if she is interested in either of these guys, and in the meantime the three of them work together virtually with no tension, which didn’t really seem likely, given the interconnecting emotions.

This book would have probably gotten 4/5, except the ending felt like a total cop-out.  There were several suspects and a lot of different motives, but SPOILER, it’s just a random dude?  And then he just conveniently dies in a car wreck, so everyone’s problems are solved, hurrah!  There was also no resolution in the relationships between Rae, Bruce, and Nathan, and it honestly felt like Henderson was getting ready to start another series with this trio, as the relationships had that very open-ended feel to them.  But we actually don’t here from these guys again in the rest of the books, so oh well I suppose.

Overall, Before I Wake was a book that could have been really good but ended up kind of meh because of the weak ending.

This actually means that I have FINALLY finished reviewing all of my May reads, so maybe someday we’ll actually look at books I’ve been reading in June… even though June is almost over…!!!

Say You’re Sorry // by Michael Robotham

//published 2012//

In Robotham’s sixth outing for the Joseph O’Laughlin series, Joe himself is back as the main narrator (present tense, unfortunately, although Robotham does write it fairly well).  Some time has passed since the last book, but much of Joe’s life looks the same: still estranged from his wife (not divorced), but still working with her to raise their two daughters.  He has moved back to London, and the book begins with his daughter Charlie coming to stay with him for the weekend.

The other narrator of the story is Piper.  Piper was kidnapped three years before Joe’s story begins, and she and her friend Tash have been held in a small basement room ever since.  Her story is interspersed between Joe’s chapters, as we learn the back story of how Piper ended up where she is.  In Joe’s world, a girl is found dead and is identified as Tash.  In Piper’s story, we find out just how this all came to be.

Robotham balances these two narratives perfectly, giving just the right of information from one before switching to the other.  While Joe’s story takes up the majority of the book, Piper’s bits are critically important and emotionally devastating.  This isn’t a pretty story, as it involves kidnapping, rape, and even some torture, but Robotham handles all of this deftly.  We are told enough so that we know what we need to know, but he doesn’t smother the reader in excruciating details.

The tension really ratchets up in this book, and I found myself racing through the pages to find out whether or not Piper survives.  My only complaint was that while the clues were there to point to the true criminal, I also found it hard to believe that he had disguised himself so well.

There are always minor quibbles.  I’m still aggravated with Joe’s wife, who seems to think that it’s perfectly acceptable to keep Joe stringing along for years instead of just making a final decision as to whether or not she wants a divorce, especially when her reasons for not wanting him to stay with her seem flimsy at best.  I really miss the Julianne of the early books – I thought that she added an intriguing dimension to the story.  Ah well.  On the other hand, I’m really a bit in love with Vincent Ruiz, who reminds me quite a bit of Agatha Christie’s Superintendent Battle.  He is definitely my favorite character.

All in all, this has been a very enjoyable series so far.  While I’m definitely getting more out of them by reading them in order, they also seem like they would be perfectly readable as stand-alones.  I really appreciate Robotham’s ability to tackle some intense subjects without making his stories too bleak – although his willingness to kill off various people means that while I’m fairly certain that Joe himself will survive, I’m still rather worried about everyone else: the tension is real!

4/5 for this outing; recommended.