Missing, Presumed // Persons Unknown // by Susie Steiner

Manon Bradshaw is the central figure of these two books.  A middle-aged, single, slightly-abrasive police officer, she made for a (mostly) likable and somewhat unusual heroine.  It’s been a while since I read these two books – for some reason these reviews got skipped somewhere along the line – so bear with me if this is a bit more vague than usual.  :-D

//published 2016//

Both these books ranked as 3.5* reads for me.  I really liked the multiple 3rd-person POV format.  I liked Manon most of the time, and was in love with her younger colleague, Davy.  The mysteries were decent and engaging and kept me turning the pages.

What I didn’t really like were the long sections devoted to Manon’s personal life.  I wouldn’t have minded a bit of this, but in some sections is just kind of felt awkward, especially since there is a lot about sex, and how Manon wants it, and how she randomly sleeps with guys on first dates so she can “smell” if they’re going to be a potential match for her.  (I feel like her smeller may be off since she’s single and 40, but then again maybe every single one of those guys really was a loser??)  I just wasn’t interested in the nitty-gritty details of Manon’s love life, and felt like it didn’t really add anything to story.  In my mind, that was definitely where things dragged.

At the end of the first book, Manon adopts a kid.  And I’m wondering if originally Steiner wasn’t going to write a second book?  Because Missing, Presumed kind of has a feeling of finality in its little epilogue.  In many ways, I wish that is where the story stopped, because at the end of book one it sounds like everyone is going to finally be on their way to happiness… and then in book two we find out that no, not really.

//published 2017//

Why?  The main reason is because Manon is pregnant.  However, she isn’t in any kind of relationship, so it’s all very vague and confusing.  Steiner doesn’t bother to tell us how Manon ended up pregnant until about a third of the way into the book!  So I had no idea how I was supposed to feel about this major event.  Like Manon is happy to be pregnant, but was she happy to get pregnant?  No idea.  It felt completely unnecessary to keep me in the dark about this.  Later, when I found out more details, it just left me feeling aggravated with Manon who really came through in this situation has being very self-centered.

Both of these books were kind of like that, just these really random scenarios where it might have been alright to have one weird thing going on, but having a bunch of them just made the whole book feel kind of weird.  I’m not describing this very well because it’s been a month since I actually read these books, and all I’m left with are vague feelings haha

I felt like the second book was just weaker overall anyway.  There were several things that were left kind of unanswered – red herrings that ended up not really making sense because there was no point/explanation.

Anyway, I really did enjoy them, and cautiously recommend them.  There was a lot of humor and some interesting twists, and I liked the characters enough that I can definitely see myself reading a third book if it comes along.

I originally read about Missing, Presumed over at Reading, Writing and Riesling (Carol has a much more coherent review!).  Fictionophile also has a great review of both Missing, Presumed and Persons Unknownso be sure to check them out!

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Adam Dalgliesh Mysteries // by P.D. James

This was my first foray into the writing of P.D. James.  I’ve seen the Dalgliesh mysteries mentioned here and there around the interwebs, and decided to give them a try.  I ended up reading the first 4 1/2 books in the series, but it just wasn’t for me, so I decided not to finish.  I read:

  • Cover Her Face (1962)
  • A Mind to Murder (1963)
  • Unnatural Causes (1967)
  • Shroud for a Nightingale (1971)
  • The Black Tower (partially) (1975)

Cover Her Face was a 3.5/5 read for me, and a decent, although not riveting, start to the series.  Dalgliesh himself is honestly a very minor player in this book – he doesn’t even appear until page 59, and most of the story is more about the murder victim’s family than it is about the detective.  Virtually everyone in the book was unlikable, even Dalgliesh’s potential love interest.  One of the characters in particular (Stephen) was just flat obnoxious, and I basically dreaded every time he appeared on the page.  Still, the story and mysteries were decent, and I was quite willing to give the next book a go.

I liked the second book a great deal more, and gave it a 4* rating.  While the initial cast of characters was a bit confusing, once I got everyone sorted, the mystery was quite engaging.  The pacing was very good and the red herrings excellent.

Unnatural Causes went a bit off the rails in my mind.  It was an incredibly depressing read, with yet another set of characters out of whom not a single one was pleasant.  Dalgliesh’s role in the entire thing was quite murky (since he was technically on holiday), and it made the whole book feel off-kilter.  James also used what is virtually one of my least-favorite writing techniques of all time: where the main character has a sudden revelation and magically knows everything that happened… but doesn’t let us know until multiple other characters have been told.  And in this case, there was (a) not really any way that I could have arrived (or jumped rather) to the conclusion Dalgliesh did, and (b) the information was obviously just being withheld so there would be this grand revelation in the end.  I don’t mind this  method as much if I’m following a character who’s a bit slow (say, Dr. Hastings in a Poirot tale), or when the author has at least given me ALL the clues so that I could have figured it out if I was clever enough – but neither of those things was true here, so it just felt awkward, with things like, “he explained everything to the detective, who shook his head in disbelief.”  That makes for aggravating, rather than interesting, reading.  And, like I said, the ending honestly felt like a cheat.  I just could NOT grasp how Dalgliesh could have POSSIBLY figured out how the murder was committed.  I had trouble understanding how the murderer thought of it to begin with!  It was absurdly complicated (and honestly rather disturbing, ugh).  All in all, this was a 2* read for me.

Book #4 was somewhat better (3.5/5), but still just weirdly depressing.  There were weird things that I guess were supposed to be red herrings, but ended up just feeling random and never really had a good explanation, like the way that one of the suspects was once engaged to a man who died, and then it turns out that another suspect is that man’s brother… and Suspect #1 had an affair with Suspect #2.  But…  why??  Why was there a connection between them??  I guess this is just supposed to throw me off??  But it seemed very out of character for Suspect #1 so I just felt confused.  In another chapter, one of Dalgliesh’s underlings has sex with one of the witnesses, and then spends the evening dancing with someone else he’s supposed to be questioning, and the entire chapter felt like a bad dream.  And of course, once again, I had to suffer through not getting to know what Dalgliesh knows, for not really any good reason:

“But I think I know how it was done.”  [said Dalgliesh.]

He described his theory.  Sergeant Masterson, cross with himself for having missed the obvious, said:  “Of course.  It must have been done that way.”

“Not must, Sergeant.  It was probably done that way.”

But Sergeant Masterson had seen an objection and voiced it.

Dalgliesh replied:  “But that wouldn’t apply to a woman.  A woman could do it easily.”

Do you see why this annoys me??  It’s not necessarily because I don’t get to know what Dalgliesh is thinking – it’s because there is an entire conversation going on about something that I don’t get to know.  And, for instance, I never find out what Masterson’s objection was, even after I find out what the heck they were talking about!  (Which, by the way, doesn’t happen for at least another hundred pages.)

Still, despite feeling a bit meh about everything so far, I picked up The Black Tower.  And I can’t explain exactly why I didn’t finish it.  I think because James had set up an entirely new cast of characters, all unlikable, all depressing, in a depressing setting, and I just found that I couldn’t face another 300 pages of Dalgliesh moping about his job (because he is a great one for being morose and withdrawn, constantly agonizing over some life decision, always on the verge of a crisis, etc.).  So I stopped.  And I sent the whole batch of books back to the library and moved on with my life.

While these weren’t bad books, they just weren’t for me.  I’m not fond of a dark and dreary brooding hero who is full of introspection.  I don’t like it when I feel like I wouldn’t care if someone came by and poisoned the entire cast of characters.  I hate it when authors withhold information just so their hero can appear even more clever later (even if it makes the writing awkward in the short term).  I don’t like finishing a book and feeling vaguely sad about life.  So while I can see why people enjoy these stories – because the writing is good and the mysteries are decent – I just couldn’t get into them myself.

March MiniReviews – Part 2

Still not feeling the whole blogging thing, so here are some more notes on recent reads.  Part 1 for March can be found here.

The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald

//published 1872 & 1883//

These are a pair of adorable little stories that follow the very traditional fairy tale format of the good being very good and the bad being very bad.  That said, I still quite enjoyed them, especially The Princess and the Goblin.  There is a lot of adventure here and some fun characters, even if the ending of the second book was a bit abrupt.

I also didn’t realize that these books were so old, because the edition I have is both stories in one volume, which was published around 1970.  But it turns out that the original stories are from the late 1800’s!

The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham

//published 2007//

This is technically a standalone novel, but I was quite excited to see my old friend Vincent Ruiz from the Joseph O’Laughlin series make an appearance.  Actually, Ruiz is what kept me reading a lot of this book as it didn’t always completely engross me.  For some reason, I just couldn’t get into the sense of urgency, and I didn’t really like Ali all that well.  Also, Ali has been dating a guy named Dave for quite some time when this book opens, and we continue to see a decent amount of him throughout the story.  But Ali tells us when we first meet him that his nickname is “New Boy” Dave (just like that, with quotations around “New Boy”)… and then proceeds to constantly refer to him as “New Boy” Dave for the entire rest of the book.  I can’t explain why this annoyed me, but it did.  Seriously, does Ali always think of this guy she is really serious about dating/is sleeping with/considering marrying as “New Boy” Dave??  It was SO annoying.   I decided to stop by and talk with “New Boy” Dave on my way home.  What.  Even.

Anyway, the story itself was fine.  I feel like it’s really difficult to write a book about immigrants/refugees without becoming somewhat polemic, and because it is such a complicated and nuanced topic, I don’t always appreciate reading books that turn it into something incredibly simplistic (e.g., all immigrants are precious innocents and if you don’t agree it’s because you are a money-grubbing fat cat), but this book handled the topic fairly well.  All in all, a decent read that I did enjoy, but not as much as some of Robotham’s other books.  3.5/5.

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

//published 2001//

Velde introduces her slim volume of short stories by outlining what she perceives as the big issues with the classic fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin:  basically, it doesn’t make any sense.  But she then presents five alternative retellings that help make a nonsensical story feel at least slightly more plausible (at least in worlds with fairies and magic).  While nothing earth-shattering, they were fun stories and a quick, entertaining read.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

//published 1978//

This is an old favorite of mine that I have reread many times over the year.  It’s such a fun retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  A lot of reviewers complain that it’s too slow and that too much time is spent on Beauty’s life before she meets the Beast, but that’s actually the part of this story that I love.  In this version, Beauty’s family is so kind and happy that I would have been perfectly content to spend the entire story just hanging out with them while they adjusted to their new life.  My only real beef with this version is that Beauty spends an inordinate amount of time talking about how plain she is, how ugly, how physically unappealing, etc.  I get really tired of listening to her run herself down, when it’s quite obvious that she just isn’t as stunningly beautiful as her older sisters – probably because she is only fifteen when the book starts and they are in their early 20’s.  Other than that, though, this is a really fun and engaging story, and even if it isn’t action-packed, it has a lot of characters that I love.  4/5.

Rescue Dog of the High Pass by Jim Kjelgaard

//published 1958//

This is one of the rare Kjelgaard books that I didn’t devour as a child, probably because the library didn’t have it.  Recently I acquired it as a free Kindle book, and while it wasn’t my new favorite, it was still an interesting story about Kjelgaard’s theory of the origin of the St. Bernard dogs (an event that is actually lost in the mists of time), which of course involves a young hero and his faithful canine companion.  Nothing amazing here, but an enjoying and interesting little story that I would sometime like to land a hard copy of for my permanent collection.

September Minireviews

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.

Recently, life has felt crazy, so I’m attempting to catch up on some reviews…!!!

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

//published 1953//

This book definitely felt like Chandler had his footing back.  While it wasn’t quite as hilarious as the first couple of books, it was way better than The Little Sisterwhich was downright depressing.  In this book, a lot of Marlowe’s snarky narration is back, and there was a nice trick to the mystery.  It did at times feel like everyone was a bit too casual with the body count, but you’ll have that.

Kiss the Bride by Melissa McClone, Robin Lee Hatcher, and Kathryn Springer

//published 2016//

These three novellas were basically all very average.  Each one had some niggling thing that really aggravated me, but overall worked alright.  On the whole they were just pretty forgettable.

Playback by Raymond Chandler

//published 1958//

This is the final Phillip Marlowe book that Chandler wrote (although he left another incomplete at the time of his death – more on that to come), and fell more along the lines of the earlier couple of books, with a lot of snark and dry humor.  The mystery had a good tempo to start and I was completely engaged as Marlowe is hired to follow a mysterious woman.  However, this story had 100% more sex than the other books – in other books it’s either been bypassed (woman always seem to want Marlowe more than he wants them) or glossed over, but in this one it felt like Marlowe was having sex every couple of chapters, and it happened with at least three different women.  So that felt really weird, and through it all he keeps quietly pining for this woman he met in The Long Goodbye.  In the end, the mystery sort of fizzled out, and Marlowe suddenly gets back together with The Long Goodbye woman.  All in all, another 3/5 for an interesting read, but not one I’d visit again.

An Unlikely Duet by Lelia M. Silver

This one is a DNF at around halfway, just because it’s become so boring.  I really liked the idea of just a straightforward sequel to Pride & Prejudice that focuses on Georgiana.  The story starts well, with her meeting a charming young man while visiting Charles and Jane Bingley.  However, despite the fact that they talk all the time, the two never really seem to talk.  At one point, it seemed to me that he had stated his intentions to court Georgiana pretty clearly to her brother, but then there are misunderstandings and everyone is spirited away and they never get to talk……. the book just never really engaged me and since I haven’t picked it up in a least three weeks, I don’t think it is ever going to.

Poodle Springs by Raymond Chandler and Robert B. Parker

//published 1989//

When Chandler died, he left four chapters written of his next Marlowe book.  In 1989, thirty years after Chandler’s death, Poodle Springs was finished by Robert Parker.  Overall, I thought that Parker did a decent job with this book, capturing the essence of Marlowe’s narrative voice and keeping the mystery nice and twisty.  The biggest difference to me was that in Chandler’s books, Marlowe is always one step ahead.  He may get caught and beaten up, but he still knows what’s what – he may appear to be wandering aimlessly, but in the end we find out exactly what he was up to.  But in Poodle Springs, it kind of felt Marlowe really was wandering aimlessly, always a few steps behind what’s going on.  In multiple places he says things like, ‘I wish I knew what was going on; none of this makes any sense.’  So Marlowe felt a lot more like a stooge than an intelligent investigator.

I enjoyed the book, even if I felt like the conclusion to Marlowe’s romance was quite weird and, frankly, illogical (‘We love each other too much to get married’???), and it ranked a solid 3/5 for me.

All in all, I’ve enjoyed my foray into the gritty detective world, but if I ever come back to these books, it will only be to the first four.  They were funnier and more engaging than the second half of the series.

July Minireviews – Part 2

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.

I had a lot of minireviews for July, so Part 1 can be found here.

Water Song by Suzanne Weyn

//published 2006//

This book was a retelling of The Frog Prince, but set in World War I Belgium without (much) magic.  I really, really liked the concept and setting for this story, but honestly the book was just too short for what was going on.  This ended up feeling more like an outline/draft for a story instead of a full story, which meant the characters were very flat and I couldn’t get behind the main love story because it felt so abrupt.  The ending felt rushed and a little strange, and after a big build up around the locket, the actual reveal was quite anticlimactic.

This was a book where I found myself wishing that Weyn had taken the time to turn it into a real, full-length novel.  There was so much potential in the story and characters, but this book barely skimmed across the surface.  3/5 for a decent read and a fantastic concept, but not a book that I would bother reading again.

#16 for #20BooksofSummer!

Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

//published 1940//

This is the second book starring hard-bitten private detective Phillip Marlowe.  As with the first book, The Big SleepMarlowe’s narrative is what makes this book worth reading.  While the story is fine, with a decent mystery and fair pacing, it’s Marlowe’s slang-ridden, dryly humorous observations that keep me turning the pages.

After a little while, I felt a little better, but very little.  I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country.  What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun.  I put them on and went out of the room.

This book is, as with the first, very reflective of the ingrained prejudices of its time, and the easily offended will probably not make it past the first page, where ‘negro’ appears three times, but I found the story to be all the more engaging because of its unvarnished view of its time – so much more interesting to read the books written then, where these words and concepts flow naturally because it was just the way it was, rather than books set during that time but written now, that frequently try too hard to belabor the point that there were prejudices.  It was genuinely disturbing to see how no one really cared about the first murder in the story because the victim was ‘only a negro,’ and that the case was given to a man on the police force generally considered to not be important or skilled enough to deal with something ‘more worthwhile.’  In the end, when Marlowe mentions to the murderer that he may have been able to get away with killing ‘just a shade,’ he really won’t be able to get out of also killing a white woman.

So yes, a fun story with a lot of twists and a fairly satisfying (if somewhat hurried) ending; Marlowe’s voice is absolutely hilarious; and, to me, an absolutely fascinating look and reminder of how in the not-so-distant past, having separate ‘joints’ for blacks and whites was not only normal, but considered completely unlikely to ever change.  3.5/5, and I plan to continue reading more of Chandler’s works.

The Methods of Lady Walderhurst by Frances Hodgson Burnett

//published 1901//

This is the sequel to The Making of a Marchionesswhich I read earlier this month.  I found myself a bit ambivalent towards that read, and I actually enjoyed this one even less.  The story begins with the marriage of Emily and Walderhurst, but the majority of the book focuses on Emily’s relationship with Walderhurst’s current heir, Osborn, and his wife.  Osborne has spent his whole life anticipating becoming the next Lord Walderhurst, and is quite upset when Walderhurst marries a reasonably young and healthy wife.  The entire book is a bunch of melodramatic nonsense that would have been a good story if Emily’s devotion to Walderhurst (who is mostly absent in India for the book) actually made a bit more sense.

I would have been willing to go along with the whole thing if the ending hadn’t been so odd and abrupt.  Just – quite, quite strange.  All in all, I think that I’ll stick with The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, and leave Emily Fox-Seton on the shelf.  2/5.

#19 for #20BooksofSummer!

Martin’s Mice by Dick King-Smith

//published 1988//

I’m not sure whether or not I’ve rambled on about King-Smith on this blog before, so even if I have it’s been a while.  While he’s best known for his classic Babe: The Gallant PigKing-Smith was an incredibly prolific writer of children’s books.  While I don’t love all of them – some are really just too fast and shallow to be considered good reading, even for a children’s book – others have become lifelong favorites, like The Fox Busters and The Queen’s Nose.  

In this tale, we have the story of a farm kitten, Martin, who doesn’t like eating mice.  He thinks they are so beautiful and precious.  When he discovers that the farmer’s daughter keeps rabbits as pets, he is intrigued by the concept – and when he catches a mouse one day, he decides to keep her as a pet.  The rest of the story follows the adventure (especially when his long-lost dad finds out), and involves all sorts of funny critters, like an extremely intelligent hog, a crafty fox, and some quick-thinking mice.

While this isn’t a book that’s likely to win a lot of awards or to cause you to ponder your life, it’s still a very fun and witty story that would be a great read aloud or early reader book.  4/5.

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!

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!!!