Tag Archives: crime thriller

Review: The Sleeping Doll (By Jeffery Deaver)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 530 pages

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

CBI Special Agent Kathryn Dance is the best in her field. She’s an expert in kinesics which makes her a very good agent and an exceptional interrogator. But she’s never tried to read someone like Daniel Pell. In 1999, Pell murdered an entire family, unwittingly leaving behind a young girl who was asleep, and hidden behind dolls. After eight years in prison, Pell evokes renewed interest by the CBI when new evidence connects him to another murder. The interview with Pell is meant for Dance to find the truth.

But things don’t go as planned. Within moments of the interview that leaves Dance unsettled, Pell is on the run, death and destruction in his wake. Now Dance has to rely on everything she could learn about Pell during the short interview as the CBI and local police begin an immense manhunt. But Pell behaves nothing like as escaped convict. He seems to have no interest in leaving the area. Dance struggles to identify the reason, and comes to a disturbing conclusion – she and Pell may be looking for the same person, the young girl who survived, the one called The Sleeping Doll. And as Pell outsmarts Dance and her colleagues at every step of the way, she begins to fear that her inability to read him might cost even more lives, especially those of the ones close to her.

The Bottom Line:

An interesting enough crime thriller, whose most positive factor is the technicalities of the protagonist’s profession.

My take:

I started reading Jeffery Deaver with his first novel, The Bone Collector (check out my review of that one here). What was most impressive about that book was the detail to the technicalities of forensics.

The Sleeping Doll mirrors Deaver’s skill in that regard. It goes into quite a lot of detail about kinesics, without becoming text-bookish. In fact, the theoretical angle actually paves the way for the story to move forward in many places.

The protagonist, Katheryn Dance, is… strange. For whatever reason, you don’t exactly like her right away. In retrospect, I think it’s because of her excessive ability to understand people’s actions, which makes her oddly reaction-less to a great extent (even though she isn’t emotion-less). She initially comes across as an aloof individual, but grows on you as the story proceeds and her personality unfolds.

Although the antagonist, Daniel Pell, is shown (through repetitive mentions by other characters) to be an extremely dangerous, sadistic psychopath, his character just didn’t have enough of a cringe factor to drive the point home. He falls short, seeming more like a villain who tries very hard to be coolly insane, but only manages to remain basically-negative.

As a story, The Sleeping Doll definitely has a lot of twists. As can be expected from Deaver’s work, it does a good job of maintaining the suspense until revelation time. Yet, it does seem to fall short of being an edge-of-your-seat-thriller. And I’d chalk this up to Pell’s character too. To be honest, he just wasn’t as scary as everyone in the story claimed him to be. And since most of the storyline is based on how brilliant and devious he is, the lacking in characterization greatly affects the overall feel of the book.

The supporting characters are (as expected) strong, with each person adding interesting elements to the story. You really associate with a lot of the characters, and Dance too, until you are invested enough to want to know what happens next. Which is why I would definitely continue to read the Dance series. I’d recommend this book to:

  • fans of crime fiction and crime thrillers
  • fans of Jeffery Deaver (may not be as good as the Rhyme series, but is definitely worth reading for its typical Deaver-ness)
  • fans of shows like Criminal Minds and Lie To Me (which I haven’t seen but know the premise of; I find some similarities in that and the kinesics-interrogation approach this book takes)

Let me know what you thought of The Sleeping Doll (or if I should ever actually watch Lie To Me)… share your comments below!

P.S.: I still prefer the Lincoln Rhyme series, although that may be because I’ve read more of them and there’s been significant character development. But, I’m still very keen to see where Dance’s story takes her.

Until the next book.

– Rishika

 

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Review: Into The Darkness (By Sibel Hodge)

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Source: Goodreads

Length:

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Eighteen-year-old Toni wants to study criminal psychology to be able to help people, especially children, affected by the evil deeds of which psychopaths are capable. But a week before her university course begins, she discovers something horrifying in the deepest corners of the internet. Before she is able to wrap her head around what she’s seen, she finds herself attacked, abducted, and locked in a dark cell. With no help from the police, Toni’s mother turns to an old friend for help. Ex-SAS operative, Mitchell, has seen the worst that the world and its people have to offer. He knows that evil is not a concept of fairy tales, but a very real threat that can exist in the form of anything and anyone. Uncaring about the law and only concerned with quick justice, Mitchell is a vigilante with a mission – bring Toni home safe, no matter what it costs.

DS Warren Carter has been a detective for so long that the job and the growing lack of justice are beginning to make him grow weary. He is two weeks away from retiring from the force and taking up a different job. Then, he’s called in to investigate the double murder of a simple, seemingly normal couple. Nothing is what it seems in the case. DS Carter is short on staff and has almost no support from his overbearing, bureaucratic boss. Yet, he won’t let the case go, relying on the instincts that have always had his back to try and solve the cold-hearted, heinous crime. But the case isn’t simple, and DS Carter finds himself falling into the depths of a world that is more twisted and evil than he could have ever imagined.

Time is running out for Toni as Mitchell tries desperately to find her in a world of shadows where anonymity is pivotal. And DS Carter is beginning to question everything he’s ever known. The Missing, the Vigilante, and the Detective are caught in a dangerous game, one that offers threats at every turn, and that none of them may win.

The Bottom Line:

An interestingly told thriller that does not shy away from the gory stuff, hits you in the face with the truth that you’d rather never know, and spins an intricate, well-plotted tale that is not made any less enjoyable by its predictability.

My take:

Writing in the first person isn’t always easy. Not too many people like the approach so you have to be exceptionally good at it to ensure that your audience can associate with the character they’re following. Writing from different points of view consistently isn’t easy either. It’s altogether too easy to get their personalities mixed up, and end up with one’s style seeping into the other.

Yet, Sibel Hodge does both these things with brilliant precision in Into the Darkness. 

The story follows a vigilante who believes that justice is best served instantly, a missing girl whose desire to help people takes her into the depths of unspeakable horror, and a detective who’s been worn down by the injustices he’s witnessed in his career but still, desperately, needs to trust in the legal system. All three are gray characters, and Hodge’s style allows you to follow their internal battles and really get into the story. She doesn’t break their characterization at all, which adds to the association that readers develop for the characters.

The story itself is quite interesting. It is based on a topic that has been done previously (in movies and books) – the dark web – but still manages to be fresh in its approach. It’s also painfully graphic, so those who aren’t used to too much gore may have a few cringe-worthy moments while reading. When you look beyond the near-horrific narrations though, you see that it’s less about the activity and more about the people behind it. Into the Darkness focuses a lot on what people, good and bad, are really capable of; on how far someone can go, how malleable their morals can become, if they’re motivated by greed and insane fetishes, or the desire to help people and enable justice.

The book proceeds at a good speed, taking you from one POV to another and back as you turn pages wondering just how (and even if) these three arcs meet. It’s not immensely unpredictable, but there are definitely some shock-factors. The characters within the story have apparently made appearances previously in other works, but the story is complete in itself. All in all, Into the Darkness is a well-paced, intriguing thriller; and while I wouldn’t say that this should be the next book you should read, it definitely should be on the TBR pile of anyone who enjoys the genre or wants to venture into it.

Recommended to:

  • those who enjoy thrillers
  • those who enjoy multi-POV or first-person focused books (both these aspects are done extremely well)
  • those who like crime fiction

A big thanks to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for an ARC of this book. It led to me discovering some very interesting characters and a new author to follow. Share your thoughts on how you liked (or are waiting for) Into the Darkness and any other books by Sibel Hodge in the comments section below.

Into the Darkness releases on 3rd June, 2018.

– Rishika

 

 

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Review: Silent Child (By Sarah A. Denzil)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 416 pages

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Emma was only twenty-four when her six-year-old son wandered away from school during a flood and was never seen again. She watched as they pulled his red coat out of River Ouse. They never found his body, but everyone knew what had happened – young Aiden had drowned. The tragedy tore her and Aiden’s father apart even before they could truly come together. When her parents died a few years later, Emma felt truly and completely alone.

But ten years after the flood that took her son from her, Emma has moved on as much as humanly possible. She found happiness again with her new husband and is weeks away from having a daughter. Life finally seems to have turned in her favor. And then Aiden returns.

Aiden is too traumatized to speak. But the signs of years of abuse and neglect evident on his small, frail body reveal the truth – Aiden hadn’t drowned, he had been kidnapped, and caged and tortured for ten years. And someone in their small town is responsible for the heinous act. Emma attempts to reconnect with her now-teenaged son but finds that she may not know him at all. Aiden has the answers she wants, but he can’t speak. And as Emma desperately searches for the answers that can help Aiden get justice, the world she’d carefully build begins to crumble all around her. And this time, she may not be able to survive the fallout.

The Bottom Line:

A book that has an interesting premise and well-developed characters, but that falls short due to its predictability and small, but many, inconsistencies.

My take:

The best part about Silent Child is the character of Emma. She is shown, through actions over the course of the story rather than in just a few narrative paragraphs, to be a very human, very raw person who deals with life because, like in reality, you don’t have any choice but to do so.

You clearly see her growth where she goes from a young, teenaged Mom, to a broken woman, to someone who finds it within herself to do that which is necessary for her survival, and the protection for her family. At the same time, you see the immense stress this causes her as she occasionally breaks down, makes very human mistakes, but moves on to try and do the right thing. In other words, her character is very realistic in its strengths and flaws, and the development of this personality over the course of the book is really well done.

Which is why the few random mentions of pro-feminism and anti-sexism seem so out of place. I have nothing against either of those concepts. But Emma’s story isn’t about that; it is about a parent’s fight for the protection and justice of their child. It doesn’t matter that she’s a woman, she is just a strong person. And Denzil does a great job of depicting this until those obscure moments, which honestly seem like jumping on the slimmest opportunities to toss in a social angle. From a reader’s perspective, it just seemed like unnecessary fluff to an otherwise good character arc.

The premise of the book is very interesting. Unfortunately, the story is just as predictable (at nearly every point of apparent suspense/revelation). The pace of the book is good, but it does seem like an equally effective story could have been told with a few pages reduced. There are sections that seem to go on for no reason.

The storytelling style isn’t as established as many others I’ve read, but by no means does Denzil come across as a novice. In fact, some parts are really well written, while the majority is well above average. The characterization has a similar feel where Emma’s personality is really well-developed, but the others just… hang about… until useful.

The most irksome part, though, is the loose ends. A lot of points brought up during the book seem to go nowhere and are never explained. A large part of this is related to Aiden and his story itself. The book ties up well on the major plot points but could have delved deeper into some smaller aspects (that’s where those extra pages should have been used).

Thrillers place a lot of importance on unpredictability and suspense development. Unfortunately, Silent Child falls incredibly short on both. Yes, you turn the pages out of curiosity, but you’re not compelled to do so. And the twists and climax are altogether too predictable. So, I would recommend that you go for this book only if you’re really out of options for thrillers and crime fiction. There are some great ones out there that’ll probably make for a better read.

Drop a comment below to share your thoughts on Silent Child and this review.

 

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Review: Fool Me Once (By Harlan Coben)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 387 pages

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Maya Stern is no stranger to death. Having served in the army, she’s seen her share of loss. And learned to deal with it. Which is how she manages to bear the pain of having witnessed the death of her husband in a mugging gone wrong. She’s forcing herself to get through one day at a time, fighting against the loss and the nightmares she brought home from the war with a smile on her face for the sake of her two-year-old daughter. But some things are too much even for Maya’s willpower. When she sees her husband on the feed from a secret nanny-cam – feed from a week after his death – she begins to question everything, and everyone. She begins digging to find an answer, but instead finds only more questions. And secrets that go back decades. Everything she’s ever known begins to come under suspicion, and Maya is forced to face the fact that she can trust no one – not even herself. Things simply aren’t what they seem. But is that the result of a conspiracy that goes back years, or the loss of Maya’s own sanity?

The Bottom Line:

A relatively typical crime thriller whose saving grace is its incredible, and unpredictable, ending.

My take:

Fool Me Once has an interesting story that is told with the nearly infallible skill that only an experienced author can possess. Harlan Coben has been around for a while and yet, this is the first book of his that I’ve read. And I can say that the man is, without a doubt, a really good storyteller.

Fool Me Once moves along briskly, and the suspense keeps you turning the pages relentlessly. It is written with the effortlessness that seems so simple, but is probably extremely difficult to achieve. And that translates into a smooth, effortless reading experience too.

The characters are well defined and very human. In fact, they’re human enough to like and dislike at the same time. This is another aspect in which complexity is presented exceptionally well, in seemingly-effortless simplicity. The most enjoyable thing in Fool Me Once is Coben’s skill; I definitely want to read more from him.

As a story, however, it’s pretty average. The premise is interesting, and it unfolds well. But the many twists and turns that were meant to be shocking are quite predictable. That’s not to say that they aren’t enjoyable. But at the same time, it leaves the book lacking the quality that gives it an edge, that pushes it to the level of evoking an, “I loved it!”

The one thing that was surely unpredictable though was the end. And that is what takes the book up from 2 stars (read: It was okay), to 3 stars. All in all, Fool Me Once is a very average thriller, but one that deserves to be read for its story-telling finesse and pretty awesome end. Recommended to:

  • fans of crime fiction and thrillers
  • fans of Jeffery Deaver and/or Agatha Christie
  • anyone who wants to read a fast-moving but not heavy crime fiction

Liked Fool Me Once? Or think that another Coben book is better? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

– Rishika

 

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Review: The Fix (By David Baldacci)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 428 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Amos Decker, the man who forgets nothing and who has just about managed to bring his life back on track, is walking along outside the FBI Headquarters. In front of him is Walter Dabney, a well-respected family man, and patriot who has built a successful business consulting on government projects. Everything seems normal. Until Dabney shoots Anne Berkshire, a high school substitute teacher in the head, and then himself.

The special FBI team of which Decker is a part is assigned the case. But they can find no connection between the killer and victim. And yet Decker can’t believe that anything about the shooting was random. Then Agent Harper Brown of the Defense Intelligence Agency orders Decker and his team off the case; the murder is part of an ongoing DIA investigation for which they aren’t cleared and which has now become an urgent matter of national security.

Unfortunately for Brown, Decker doesn’t care about rules. He only cares about finding the truth. Forced into a shaky alliance, Decker, his team, and Brown work against the clock to discover the truth behind the shooting and the connection between Dabney and Berkshire. The right steps will help them save the nation from an impending attack of unprecedented proportions. A wrong or delayed step leaves the nation vulnerable to an unknown but dangerous and armed enemy. Time and luck are against them; and this time, even Decker’s famous abilities may not be enough to solve the case.

The Bottom Line:

A compelling read that keeps you turning more for the combination of individual story and continuing (personal) story arc than just the story of Dabney and Berkshire themselves.

My review:

The Fix is the third book in the Amos Decker series. And it’s as good as its prequels. For more info on those, check out my review of Memory Man here, and The Last Mile here.

As with many of Baldacci’s works, The Fix takes a seemingly isolated incident and merges it with matters national and political angles. The book tackles the mystery of why Dabney killed Berkshire really well, slowly developing one angle into an elaborate story with an interesting political angle.

The characters are well fleshed out. They are very real, their human-ness being at the very core of everything that happens, and yet being something that isn’t made very obvious. That is what allows the story to unfold in the way that it does – the randomness and unpredictability that is inherent in people. And, this is more shown than told, making it seem all the more relatable.

The Fix introduces us to some new characters and re-introduces us to old ones too. One of the most appealing parts of the book was the development of the relationships between the characters, with each one really coming into their own. There is inevitable conflict, but there is also growth achieved by accepting and showcasing both vulnerabilities and strengths.

At the center of it all lies Amos Decker. A haunted hero if there ever was one, Decker is one of my favorite Baldacci characters. It can sometimes get annoying as to how much people expect from him. Or how much he takes on himself. But as the characters grow, the reasoning for this is also depicted. And it makes things a lot easier to understand and accept. In fact, it manages to give you new insight into a character who you may have considered easy to figure out, a character who can be painfully simply and oddly complex at the same time. But all within reason.

Overall, The Fix shows a lot of development in the arc continued across the series. The individual story is also very interesting. It does come across as a bit over the top at times. In retrospect, I realize that it’s not really about those seemingly fantastic parts. The story is about repercussions. And as a whole, it plays out well and makes for a difficult-to-put-down read.

I’d recommend The Fix to:

  • fans of Baldacci (this has enough background to be a standalone, but you may have a better experience if you read Memory Man and The Last Mile first)
  • anyone interested in getting started on a new series (The Amos Decker one is interesting, to say the least)
  • fans of political thrillers and crime fiction

Let us know what you thought about The Fix and why you love or hate Baldacci and/or Amos Decker. Shout out in the comments below!

Thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

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Review: The Coffin Dancer (By Jeffery Deaver)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 438 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

One of the best forensic experts in the world, Lincoln Rhyme loses almost everything when an accident leaves him a quadriplegic. Until he starts solving cases as a consulting criminalist, assisted by unlikely partner, Amelia Sachs. And when an old name comes up, Rhyme is pulled into one of his toughest cases yet. The Coffin Dancer is the best assassin in the country. And he’s outwitted Rhyme before, killing two of his tech-agents in the process. Now, he’s back to kill three key witnesses in a case against a nearly untouchable airline businessman. When the first witness Ed Carney’s plane blows up, killing him, Rhyme is brought in to protect the other two witnesses and stop the Coffin Dancer. But he has only two days before the trial, two days in which the Coffin Dancer will use everything he can to finish the job. This time, the expert criminalist finds himself facing an enemy who may be smarter and more determined. Because the Coffin Dancer never leaves a job incomplete, even if it means having to kill everyone who stands between him and his target, including Lincoln Rhyme and all the people he cares about.

The Bottom Line:

A fast-paced, edge of your seat read that packs a lot of surprises and remains highly unpredictable, with great character development.

My review:

The Coffin Dancer starts slow, in spite of starting with a literal bang. You take some time to get into the story, but once you’re about 10% in, there’s no looking back. It moves really fast and keeps you guessing right until the last page. There are parts where you feel like you know what’s going to happen, but Deaver manages to surprise time and time again, showcasing his talent for thrillers.

The book does have some references to its prequel – The Bone Collector – but they’re nothing so obvious as to put a dent in the reading experience if you haven’t read the first Lincoln Rhyme novel. As a mystery and story, it stands by itself.

There are some strong, unsaid references to the first book in its character development though. The many relationships that began in the first book move ahead in this one quite naturally. The personalities of characters also progress quite realistically. And that’s the best part of the book – the progression of the characters. The Coffin Dancer delves into those sides of Rhyme and Sachs that were only hinted at in the previous book. The characters have definitely changed (in both good and bad ways) and this change is depicted really well. In fact, Deaver shows off his craftsmanship in the way he handles both sides of his primary and secondary characters – their personal vulnerability and sensitivity, and the unforgiving hunger and drive for their work.

The only problem, I felt, the book had was a very slight lack of logic in a particular part. I get that things happened a certain way. I don’t get why, and it isn’t really explained except as part of a character’s choice. But there was no explicit (or implied) reason behind that choice being made; and “Because I said so,” doesn’t seem like the most fitting reason for a book that’s otherwise brilliantly logical. That’s the only reason this crime fiction doesn’t get to 5 stars.

The Coffin Dancer confirmed (for me) that I’m going to be reading a lot more of Deaver’s work. He’s published a lot too so that is going to be work-in-progress for a while. In the meanwhile, I’d recommend The Coffin Dancer to:

  • fans of crime fiction
  • fans of Simon Beckett and Lee Child
  • anyone who wants to give Deaver a try (may not be his best book, but it’s a good one)

For those who prefer to go in order to really enjoy the series, start with The Bone Collector (you can check out my review for that one here). If you’ve read The Coffin Dancer, drop us a comment below to share your thoughts. Or share some recommendations… I’m always looking for new authors and styles!

– Rishika

 

 

 

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Review: Two Girls Down (By Louisa Luna)

 

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Source: Goodreads

 

Length: 320 pages

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Jamie Brandt leaves her ten and eight-year-old daughters alone in her car for less than five minutes at a strip-mall parking lot… only to come back and find them missing. When the overworked police department fails to provide answers, Jamie hires Alice Vega – a bounty hunter known for finding missing persons. Vega comes to the small Pennsylvania town, learns more about the case, and finds herself facing a tight-lipped police captain who wants her to have nothing to do with their investigation. So Vega reaches out to Max Caplan, a disgraced former cop turned PI. Together, they begin the search for the two missing girls. But soon they discover that there is a lot more than what meets the eye in the kidnapping case. As stranger and stranger connections are uncovered, Vega and Caplan realize that the kidnapper will stop at nothing to remain hidden. And with time going by all-too-fast, that may lead to the girls being lost forever.

The bottom line:

Two Girls Gone has an interesting storyline and attempts to hit audiences right in the feels, but ends up being a little too confusing instead of intense.

My review:

Received an ARC – So a big thanks to NetGalley and DoubleDay Books!

First, let’s look at the good things about Two Girls Down. It’s a really good story with twists and turns that you don’t see coming. It contains a good amount of suspense and keeps you turning the pages almost relentlessly. It also does justice to the genre, does not shy away from violence, and keeps you guessing till the last minute. As a crime thriller, it does well and has a lot of interesting angles.

But, it also has aspects that take away from how good it could have been.

Alice Vega and Max Caplan’s characters are really interesting. They are honest, raw, and easy to associate with, and unfold as the book progresses. But, there are these random moments where their actions make no sense and don’t even remain consistent with their characters.

A large part of the writing is through thought based narration. So you can really tell what the characters are feeling in any situation and you get to see the entire moment through their eyes and thoughts. I’m assuming that this was meant to come across as “intense” and to a great extent, it does. But at times, the writing is just so convoluted in its attempt to be human that it becomes too confusing and even annoying.

The most irritating part, though, is Vega and Caplan’s relationship. It’s an interesting and honest relationship, for the most part. But there is this element of attraction that is weakly explored at odd times. Honestly, I think the story could have been even better if that aspect was either ignored altogether or explored more fully. The way the attraction angle is used comes across more as forced than the intended (I assume) impulsive.

There are also a lot of characters who are briefly mentioned and then play an important role. With so many names being thrown at you on every page, keeping track can get difficult. And this makes the story a bit cumbersome.

These tiny problems really reduce the reading quality of the book. And yet, the book manages to be interesting enough to want to finish. It also has some great “kick-ass” elements for both the protagonists that are a lot of fun to read. It flows really well and in the end, has a great story. Although it is being published as a standalone, I’m hoping that Luna will write sequels because I want to see the development of the very interesting partnership between Vega and Caplan as they take on new cases.

So, in spite of its flaws, it can definitely be enjoyed, especially by:

  • crime fiction fans
  • mystery and thriller fans
  • fans of female-centric books

Two Girls Down releases on 9 January 2018. If you’re a crime fiction fan, I’d recommend marking the date and getting a copy. In the meanwhile, let us know if you’ve already read the book or what you’re looking forward to about it by dropping us a comment below!

– Rishika

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