Suspense

“The Rising” by Lynn Chandler Willis

 

Book Cover -The Rising

“The Rising,” by Lynn Chandler Willis, is the story of a baffling event that nobody – detectives, medical personnel, bystanders – can explain. A young child is found in an alley, apparently beaten to death. The crime scene is checked by a detective, and the lifeless, bloodied body is delivered to the hospital by ambulance.

 

After thirty minutes of testing for respiration, pulse, and brain wave activity, the ER physician pronounces the boy dead and has him moved to the morgue on a gurney. And yet, the next day, that same little boy walks into the morgue office with no bruises and no blood, wearing the toe tag on his foot, and asks to go to the bathroom.

 

Say what?

 

The Homicide Detective covering the case, Ellie Saunders, saw that the boy was dead. Everybody at the hospital saw that the boy was dead. And, now thirty hours later, he’s not.

 

Saunders and her partner are called in to investigate the (now) assault. The child does not know who he is or what happened to him and the hospital is labeling this a Lazarus Syndrome case – very rare and usually only linked to people who have ‘come-back-to-life’ after an hour or two. Unheard of after this long.

 

Saunders becomes obsessed with finding the boy’s family as well as the person that hurt him so badly. She is horrified at the fact that anyone could have done this to the child, and (without giving away the plot) wants to protect him from further insult or injury. Roadblocks are placed in Saunders way at many turns and as this unusual story unfolds, we are drawn into not only the investigation, but an exploration of faith vs science.

 

The supporting characters are fully fleshed out; a likably wacky morgue attendant, an assortment of interesting colleagues, quirky locals, caring as well as flirtatious doctors, reluctant witnesses, a supposedly lost love, an outspoken aunt, and an estranged preacher father. Saunders herself is complex, mostly in control of her actions and emotions until the case triggers memories of her troubled past. Those memories drive her to bend a few rules in her tenacious pursuit of the truth.

 

Willis’ depiction of the child is perfect. She draws on her considerable research with her own delightful family, but there’s another layer here that many writers miss when creating the children in their books. The child’s relationships and personality develop in a natural way through “The Rising,” revealing a combination of shyness, intelligence, appropriate language and reactions. Johnny Doe puts up with the adults’ questions for a bit and then his attention turns to trucks and coloring. Spot-on writing that will tug at your heart and remind you of a child you know. Willis also taps into an understanding of the unspoken messages that children reveal in their play, and makes that a part of the mystery that Saunders must solve.

 

Along the way, Saunders must come to terms with her own loss of faith and how it has impacted her decisions. Discussions with friends and family are not always welcome. Then, two parallel storylines merge nicely with the Johnny Doe case and Willis brings us home with an action packed, satisfying ending.

 

It’s easy to see whyThe Rising won the 2013 Grace Award for Excellence in Faith-based Fiction in the mystery/romantic suspense/thriller category.

 

By the way, Johnny Doe’s fictional situation is an actual medical condition – Google ‘Lazarus Syndrome’ and read the real-life case studies.

 

Please visit www.lynnchandlerwillis.com for more information about Willis’ other books and upcoming events.

 

 

“My Sister’s Grave” by Robert Dugoni

 

Book Cover - My Sisters Grave

 

In “My Sister’s Grave,” Tracy Crosswhite, a Seattle homicide detective, is still investigating her sister’s murder twenty years after the fact. A paroled rapist was convicted at the time and is sitting in jail for the crime, but Tracy believes the wrong guy was put away.

 

Her 18 year old sister, Sarah, disappeared the evening following their championship shooting competition, and though a thorough search was conducted, her body was never found.  Deep down, Tracy wanted to believe there was a chance that Sarah might still have been alive. But, if not, who killed Sarah? And why? Tracy’s obsession with solving the case has even driven away her sympathetic, once supportive husband.

 

When Sarah’s body is discovered in a now dry lakebed, Tracy returns to Cedar Grove and wants the case reopened. She faces resistance from unexpected directions as people urge her to let it go, saying that the town has suffered along with the Crosswhite family and wants to move on. What had been a place of unlocked doors has become a place of anger and sadness, without trust. The more Tracy pushes for answers, the more she suspects a cover-up has been buried along with her sister for all that time, the more her own life is in danger.

 

“My Sister’s Grave” is an absorbing look at the actions of a loved one left behind, consumed with guilt that she was responsible for her sister’s death. Who could move on from that in real life? We know that Tracy should not be shouldering that guilt, but we are drawn into the story and want to find the truth as well.

 

As always, Robert Dugoni writes fully fleshed out characters, people we can root for as well as people we can despise. Dan, a childhood friend, now a lawyer living in Cedar Grove, works nicely as Tracy’s sounding board and support system when she needs it. Their personal relationship develops naturally and provides balance to the intensity of the fast-paced, mature-themed storylines and jaw-dropping plot twists.

 

How does Robert Dugoni write the women in his books so beautifully? Get inside their heads in such a believable way? I learned this summer that the man has four sisters. ‘Nuf said. 

 

He also has a knack for creating memorable settings for the climactic scenes in his books. Not to give anything away, but I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough during the snowstorm section.

 

Dugoni revealed that the idea for "My Sister's Grave" came from an actual water diversion that caused water to recede and then expose previously covered land. His mystery-focused mind went in the direction of murder and an unsolved crime.

 

This is not an addition to Dugoni’s bestselling David Sloane series, but not to worry. Crosswhite is a character from “Murder One” and Dugoni has done a terrific job of building on that persona and giving her the strong voice she deserves in order to be the lead in “My Sister’s Grave.” If you’d like to read a bit of background on the Tracy Crosswhite character and what makes her tick, Dugoni published a novella a few months ago, titled “The Academy,” that works nicely as an intro to this book.

 

With so many missing persons on record in the www.NamUs.gov database, what is fiction for “My Sister’s Grave” may be tragic truth for some grieving family out there. What drives Tracy to keep digging would be natural for most families. It’s about closure. We want a wandering family member to be okay. If we suspect that a crime has been committed, we want justice for the victim. We want to help victims of amnesia, restore them to a loving home. Our humanity wants help for the lost, and if we felt that we had anything to do with the disappearance, we would feel guilt and maybe even an obsessive need to discover the facts. I’d like to think that if I had been trapped or lost, that a ‘Tracy’ in my life would not have stopped looking.

 

Dugoni mentioned on Facebook that he is working on the sequel. Can’t wait! (It is now 15 months later, and happily for us, he has written more books in the series)  🙂

 

Read my review of “Wrongful Death” here.

Read my review of “The Conviction” here.

 

Please visit www.robertdugoni.com for more information about his work, his book signings, and the writing classes he conducts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Submerged” by Dani Pettrey

 

Book Cover - Submerged

Dani Pettrey’s debut Christian novel, “Submerged,” is set in the world of Alaskan dive rescue, a frequently dangerous profession. The book opens with what may be an engineered plane crash into the sea, off the coast of Tariuk Island. Cole McKenna’s team attempts a harrowing rescue, with a tragic outcome.

 

When one of the deaths turns out to be the aunt of a former girlfriend, Bailey Craig, life gets complicated. Aunt Agnes owned a popular Russian-American store in Yancey, where McKenna and his family have a dive shop. Bailey reluctantly returns to Yancey to sell her beloved aunt’s business, knowing that her own dicey past will be painful to relive once she sets foot there. She vows to take care of the estate and leave as soon as possible. But, her position as a Professor of Russian Studies uniquely qualifies her to help with a murder investigation that may be tied to sunken treasure and so much more.

 

As romantic suspense dictates, Cole and Bailey are drawn to each other again, afraid to trust, but now ten years older and wiser. Their interaction is aching and intense; yet as they are forced to work together to solve the mystery of the ‘why’ of the plane crash, we hope that Bailey comes to understand what true forgiveness means.

 

There is a noisy, active family support system for Cole that Bailey envies and never had – dumped on her aunt’s doorstep, unwanted by her mother. The dialogue flies back and forth as people drift through rooms at gatherings, interrupting each other, teasing each other – as it would be for any large family and their close friends who depend on each other and know each other so well. Pettrey captures that verbal chaos beautifully.

 

The book is a tight read with plenty of dialogue to advance the story and the action scenes. My ebook version seemed to be missing a few scattered transitional sentences that would have clarified when some scenes were ending, but those small omissions did not keep me from enjoying this multi-layered story of a Christian family caught up in some challenging circumstances. Cole’s faith is more developed than Bailey’s and Pettrey manages to convey that without getting preachy.

 

“Submerged” won the 2013 Holt Medallion for Best First Book and the Colorado Romance Writers 2013 Award of Excellence in the Inspirational Category.

 

Readers who enjoy Dee Henderson’s books involving the O’Malley family might also enjoy Dani Pettrey’s ‘Alaskan Courage’ series. “Submerged” was followed by “Shattered,”  “Stranded,” and “Silenced.”  “Sabotaged” will be released in 2015. The personable McKennas are featured in each of the books.

 

For more information about Dani Pettrey and her work, please visit www.danipettrey.com.

 

 

“Ransom River” by Meg Gardiner

 

Book Cover - Ransom River

In Meg Gardiner’s “Ransom River,” lawyer Rory Mackenzie reluctantly returns home to Ransom River, California, after funding for the charity for which she worked, dries up. There was no place else to go, but her memories of the people in the place she grew up still haunt her. And she immediately gets called to jury duty on a high profile case. Not a great start to her homecoming.

 

She is chosen as juror #7 and settles in for the duration, notebook in hand. From Rory’s point of view, the capital murder case looks like an easy win for the prosecution, given the obvious false testimony of the two police officers on trial for killing a teenaged burglar. (The officers were having an affair, the teenager broke into the house on a dare, and everything went south.) The jury is watching a crucial piece of evidence, a video of the shooting itself, when two men storm the courtroom and take everyone hostage. Shotguns are very convincing persuaders as the jurors and spectators are threatened into following orders, and the casualties mount.

 

The action rapidly unfolds and the hostages are rescued, but the question remains, what did the kidnappers want? Rory had tried to signal for help from the courtroom windows and becomes a suspect for her troubles. The cops have her in their sights, needing someone to pin the courtroom debacle on. Her skanky relatives show up, and add to her misery, feigning interest in her well being, but looking as if they want to cash in on her sudden fame. The dead teenager’s father, a local crime boss, thinks she knows more than she’s telling.

 

But, Rory doesn’t know what she knows, except that the past is encroaching on the present in ways that terrify her. Seth, her old boyfriend (childhood friend and a former cop) gets involved and he’s about the only hope she has for getting at the truth. Gardiner has created another strong, yet vulnerable, young woman in Rory Mackenzie – worthy of her own series of books, although “Ransom River” is a stand-alone – and Seth is a convincing complement to her.

 

 

There are a number of twists and jaw-dropping surprises in “Ransom River,” and several well-written, deliciously slithery characters. Old friends may not actually be friends and help comes from unexpected places.

 

If I mention which people truly gave me the creeps and made me wonder if I really wanted to read into the night – that would be telling. I quashed the creepy feeling and kept going. Gardiner has a knack for writing ‘stay-awake-reading’ and I did need to find out how Rory got out of each of her dangerous situations. The reason behind the courtroom drama is much more complex than it first appears, and the ensuing action is non-stop in this intense thriller, as greed rules the day.

 

I must say that Meg Gardiner’s “Ransom River” has an ending that will blow your mind. Hopeful and a little scary at the same time.

 

Read my review of Ms. Gardiner's "The Memory Collector," here.

Please visit www.meggardiner.com for more information about her recent book releases, awards and appearances.

 

 

 

 

“The Conviction” by Robert Dugoni

 

Book Cover - CONVICTION

 

Top Seattle attorney, David Sloane, may be at home in the courtroom and able to outsmart his opponents, but he is out of his element when dealing with his troubled stepson.

 

Sloane’s wife has died and he has relinquished custody of his stepson to Jake’s biological father who lives in California, a move that has confused and angered Jake. “The Conviction” opens with Jake’s future at stake after he has been arrested for public intoxication (for the second time) and property damage. The judge decides to give him one last chance to straighten himself out in rehab or else go to jail. She assigns responsibility for Jake’s attendance to Sloane and they head back to Seattle.

 

Rather than re-bonding with his stepfather, Jake remains sullen and resentful. He’s back in the house where he witnessed his mother being murdered and can’t get past his grief and rage. When Jake and David are invited to go on a camping trip with an old friend and detective, Tom Molia, and his son, T.J., it looks as if a week in the woods might be a great way to reconnect with this young stranger that David no longer understands.

 

But instead, Jake tries to buy beer and cigarettes with fake ID on the first day of the trip, and drags T.J. along with him. The storeowner confiscates the ID, but the boys return later and break in, taking liquor and a rifle along with the recovered ID. Of course, they get caught by the police soon after, but not before they get drunk and shoot up the woods close to town. Sounds like a mess, with T.J. a reluctant participant, driven by his need to be accepted.

 

The boys are tried, convicted and sentenced to time in a local juvenile detention center (Fresh Start) before their fathers even know they’re missing from their room. That’s only the beginning of the nightmare that ensues.

 

The fathers attempt to get Jake and T.J. retried and released, or at least moved to a facility closer to home, but are stymied by the cops and judge in this small California town that seem to skirt constitutional rights. Sloane and Molia suspect corruption, but with what motive, what payoff?

 

Dugoni delivers an alarming story of a juvenile legal system gone horribly wrong, with teenaged inmates working as virtual slaves in boot camps, rather than receiving the rehab and guidance advertised in the fancy brochures. He takes a look at teens who make poor choices despite the help available, and the serious consequences awaiting them. Dugoni never implies that Jake and T.J. should not be punished for their actions, merely that they be counseled on their rights and then sentenced appropriately.

 

At Fresh Start, Jake grows up quickly when he discovers that something more is going on at the camp beyond their re-education, and that knowledge could get him and T.J. killed before David can get them out. The parallel plotline of the fathers trying to free the boys, while working against the clock and being threatened themselves, is gripping.

 

“The Conviction” moves from legal suspense to thriller mode in this pulse-pounding, page-turning, sleep-robbing tale. I had several ‘gasp’ moments as Dugoni built tension and advanced the dramatic story.

 

There are no false notes. Jake’s ability to deal with whatever is thrown at him physically, is set up early on and the action involving the supporting characters is completely believable, given their backgrounds. Those supporting characters, whether adults who oppose (or side with) Sloane and Molia, or teens who battle (or help) Jake and T.J., are so clearly drawn that I kept casting them in a movie in my mind’s eye.

 

This is the fifth book in the David Sloane series and in my opinion, the best so far.

 

Read the review of "Wrongful Death" here. Go to www.robertdugoni.com for information about all of his projects and where you can catch his next terrific writing class.

 

 

“The Book of Lost Fragrances” by M.J. Rose

 

Book Cover - Book of Lost Fragrances

MJ Rose delivers another suspenseful tale with The Book of Lost Fragrances.

 

A brother and sister have inherited the House of L'Etoile, and then discover the perfume company is in serious financial difficulty. They need a hit fragrance to save the corporation or else parts of it will have to be sold off, something Robbie does not want to do. Robbie feels that delving into the 250 year old family business history will uncover an ancient perfume formula that will save the day. He has the professional talent, but not the nose to sort through formulas that he knows the family possesses, somewhere hidden. His sister, Jac, has the nose, but not the interest in investigating something that she considers a fantasy. She is more pragmatic and wants to sell off bits to save the whole. Neither of them suspects at first that the lost fragrance could save more than just the business.

 

During the years since her mother’s death, Jac has suffered with unsettling dreams she does not understand. For a long time she (and others) thought she was mentally unbalanced and she never believed that she might be reliving the distant past. Her struggle with her own past, her trust issues, and her conversations with family ghosts – create a multi-layered, vulnerable lead character. We want her to make the right decisions, to be happy, trust, and find love again.

 

M.J. Rose believes that who we were influences who we are today, and her four books in the Reincarnation series apply that concept across the centuries. The Book of Lost Fragrances deals with the power of a love that endures from the time of Cleopatra. Fragrance is employed in the book as a memory tool to not only attempt to bring reincarnated lovers back together, but also as an aid in returning to a difficult time when one can undo mistakes and therefore ease the pain of the future. If it’s true that a memory tool exists and has that kind of influence, it would change the world as we know it. In The Book of Lost Fragrances, governments and religious institutions race to find this tool before it falls into the wrong hands.

 

The brother and sister have an interesting dynamic and as we learn the business and history of perfumery from the inside out, their desperate interaction rings true on every level, even after a murder is committed and Robbie is suspected. A former lover, who knows them both, adds tension and intrigue to the mystery. Dr. Malachi Samuels, a scientist working to prove that reincarnation exists, is a recurring character in the four books, continuing his search for ancient memory tools, sometimes involving others in dangerous schemes to achieve his own goals, always under scrutiny by the FBI.

 

Supporting characters are well written in this enthralling tale that addresses issues in Tibet and China, the Dali Lama, the French Revolution, lost and found again lovers, Cleopatra’s priceless perfume formula book, and more. Students of archeology will be drawn to the importance of ancient Egyptian pottery shards in the storyline.

 

Rose is a master at writing sensual descriptions and I found myself emotionally enveloped in the aromas of the flowers and herbs described. I was transported to memories of my own experiences with these same blossoms. The peonies in my own yard beckoned me, even though blooming season had long been over. 

 

Rose always does impeccable research in order to build the historical foundation for the ‘Reincarnation’ books. Each title spans several centuries and countries and she has openly admitted loving this part of her process. While working on The Book of Lost Fragrances, Rose sent the manuscript to a perfumer in France, who designed a fragrance (Ames Soeurs) inspired by the book. She subsequently showed the fragrance in NYC when the book was being launched. 

 

The Book of Lost Fragrances was on the ‘Indie Next List’ in 2012 and was named one of the Top Ten Mystery/Thrillers for 2012 by Publishers Weekly. While it is part of a series, it is a solid stand-alone title. Just don’t let it be.

 

For more information about M.J.Rose, the Reincarnation series, her other books, as well as her AuthorBuzz work, please visit www.mjrose.com

To read my review of "The Reincarnationist," go here.

 

 

 

“The English Girl” by Daniel Silva

 

Book Cover - The English Girl

 

Gabriel Allon is a master art restorer whose finally tranquil life is endangered by politics and demands of former bosses. Once a ruthless Israeli operative at the top of his game, he’d like to be left alone. He’s been shot at, tortured, threatened, held behind enemy lines, his family killed, and yet the ‘powers-that-be’ ask for more in the name of patriotism and helping old friends.

 

This time, a young English woman disappears in Corsica while on vacation. Why is Allon asked to help a foreign government find their missing citizen? She was having an affair with the British prime minister. The P.M. is embroiled in a political crisis at home and she was a rising star in British politics. Any scandal that breaks would be catastrophic. Any ‘handling’ of the situation by English operatives would be looked upon as misuse of MI5 funds. Of course, it would also be wildly inappropriate to use Israeli funds, so the operation would be privately financed.

 

Ever cautious, ever suspicious, Allon investigates the English girl’s disappearance and the subsequent ransom (meet the demands in seven days or she dies) before he agrees to take on the case. Allon works with former as well as current enemies to gain access to the people who are in a position to find out what happened and why. The pressing questions: Who were the players? What else was going on?

 

“The English Girl” is more than a spy story with international intrigue in the background. It is an absorbing character study of a man driven by patriotism once upon a time, but now haunted by his past. His life was ripped apart and the anger at what was taken from him still lingers, along with an inner sadness created by the knowledge that his profession is the source of his pain. The demons at first prod him to turn down the assignment, but then the assignment itself becomes a way to quiet his torment.

 

Silva studies politics on an international scale – the domino effect of decisions made by our country’s leaders, both personally and publicly, that shape global policies. Can the mere fear of public exposure of private matters really topple governments?

 

One of the interesting subplots in “The English Girl” is the interplay between two operatives who must work together out of necessity. During the time Allon and his counterpart, Keller, are together, they spar about the difference between a hired assassin and a Mossad agent – one does it for the paycheck, the other for love of country. Allon feels morally superior even though they both do the same things – interrogate, kill, rescue, scheme, save/steal secrets. But in this interplay, along with Allon’s relationships with those in his inner circle, a spy is shown to be multi-dimensional, not just an assassin, but having a home, a wife, and educated interests.

 

Silva has a compelling writing style, employing dialogue that works brilliantly. Several times the main characters made remarks that were repeated soon after for mild comic relief or for dramatic emphasis. He has captured the natural flow of interaction to such a degree that I always felt a part of the story, never sidelined or merely watching the action unfold.

 

“The English Girl” is a gripping page-turner, with plenty of twists and turns to satisfy. How will this operation affect Allon as aspects of the operation remind him of his dead wife and child? How will this operation change his future?  What deals does he have to make along the way?

 

Silva’s thirteenth novel in the Gabriel Allon series debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. The next one, “The Heist,” was released in the summer of 2014.

 

Please visit www.danielsilvabooks.com for more information about Silva and his books.

 

 

Scroll to Top