Thursday, December 20, 2018

SUNRISE HIGHWAY by Peter Blauner

This review first appeared in Library Journal and is published here with permission. 

     In Peter Blauner’s second in a series (after Proving Ground), young and ambitious Latina NYPD Detective Lourdes Robles heads to Long Island to investigate the death of a young, pregnant woman whose body washes up on a New York City beach, leading to the discovery of a series of unsolved murders of women along the Sunrise Highway. Instead of cooperation on Long Island, Robles is stonewalled by police, the district attorney, and even the courts. 
     Chapters jump from decade to decade between 1977 and 2017 as details of the crimes are revealed, with focus on the advancement and concentration of power of the killer and the investigators tasked with bringing him down. The murder suspect was well developed and a pleasure to root against, evoking genuine anger and frustration making the book difficult to put down. Robles and her personal issues seemed sincere but underexplored, particularly her relationship with her boyfriend. 

VERDICT: A fast-paced, well-told police procedural and thriller with a serial killer, conspiracies, and police corruption that will appeal to fans of Reed Farrel Coleman and John Verndon. 

Blauner, Peter. Sunrise Highway, Minotaur, September 4, 2018. 
ISBN: 978-1250117410

A copy of Sunrise Highway was provided by the publisher via Library Journal. No compensation was provided for this review. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

THE THIEF OF ALL LIGHT by Bernard Schaffer

This review first appeared in Library Journal and is published here with permission. 

     Real-life police detective Bernard Schaffer makes his traditional publishing debut with this thriller set in rural Pennsylvania. Carrie Santero is a young, eager patrol officer, but the pace just isn’t fast enough, and she’ll do about anything to get an assignment on the revered County Detective squad. But when one murder becomes two, and the likelihood of a serial killer becomes evident, she discovers perhaps the detective work she craved is more than she can handle. 

     Schaffer’s knowledge of detective work, particularly the toll it takes on those tasked with it, is evident. Throughout the book, he dives deeply in the psyche of the police detective, the inner angst, frustrations, and doubts; working to get in the minds of the criminals they’re trying to catch while staying on the right side of the darkness, and dealing with the guilt and desperation that often results.

     VERDICT: Strong on the emotional struggles of police detectives, a bit weak on personal dialogue and as a police procedural. Would likely appeal to fans of Brian Freeman, JA Kerley, and Meg Gardiner

Schaffer, Bernard. The Thief of All Light, Kensington Books, July 31, 2018. 
ISBN: 978-1496717139

A copy of The Thief of All Light was provided by the publisher via Library Journal. No compensation was provided for this review. 

Thursday, December 6, 2018


This review first appeared in Library Journal and is published here with permission. 

     The sixth in a series by John Verdon featuring retired NYPD Detective Dave Gurney, the upstate New York town of White River is reeling after a police shooting claims the life of an unarmed black man. During resulting protests, a police officer is murdered and the obvious suspect is the Black Defense Alliance. An anxious district attorney brings a reluctant Gurney into the investigation, which has pit a law and order police chief and his department against the BDA. 

     A gripping police procedural that includes motives of hate, ambition, justice, and power, Verdon also involves many issues of social concern today: dystopian media outlets, police corruption, racial divide, and an economically distressed town doing its best to survive. Characters, especially that of Dave Gurney, are believable, if a bit static, and compelling. And while the story involves police corruption, it also includes several good, honest police officers who are disturbed by what is happening and will work to stop it.  
     White River Burning is a fast-paced police procedural that will appeal to crime fiction readers with an interest in current events and enjoy David Baldacci, Michael Connelly, and Carrie Smith.  

Verdon, John. White River Burning, Counterpoint, July 3, 2018. 
ISBN: 978-1640090637

A copy of White River Burning was provided by the publisher via Library Journal. No compensation was provided for this review. 

Thursday, November 29, 2018

CLOSE YOUR EYES by Michael Robotham

     Psychologist Joe O’Laughlin is summonsed by friend and police detective Ronnie Cray after a double murder has left police stumped.  Reluctantly, Joe accepts, on the condition that Ronnie never ask for his help again.  Joe helps on the case, but the timing couldn’t be worse. His estranged wife, Julianne, has asked him to return to the family home for the summer, extending, Joe hopes, an opportunity at reconciliation.  But as often happens, life has other plans. 

     This is the 8th book in Michael Robotham’s series featuring Joe O’Laughlin, though my first. I was not necessary to have read the previous novels to get a good sense of the characters and their relationships. The story was told in first person, alternating between Joe and the killer, with the majority being from the perspective of the former. Some characters, Joe’s friend and back-up man Vincent Ruiz and Cray in particular, could have been better explored, but I expect their relationships were established in the previous books in the series. 
      I enjoyed the United Kingdom setting, providing a change of pace from United States based books and offering some insight into law enforcement in other parts of the world.  
     Close Your Eyes is a solid mystery and psychological thriller.

Robotham, Michael. Close Your Eyes, Mulholland Books, April 12, 2016. 
ISBN: 978-0316267946

A copy of Close Your Eyes was provided to The Thirty Year Itch by the publisher via No compensation was provided for this review. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

BLEAK HARBOR by Bryan Gruley

   Carey Bleak Peters should be the Princess of Bleak Harbor, Michigan. The City, after all, was founded by her family during the boon of the steel industry—and made them rich, wealth that continued beyond the closing of the steel and timber mills and shipping in the harbor as Bleak Harbor transformed into a summer vacation destination for the wealthy. But Carey’s mother, Serenity Bleak, sole heir of the fortune estimated to be worth several hundred million dollars, has other plans. And they don’t include Carey, her autistic son Danny, or her brother Jonah, the mayor of Bleak Harbor. When Danny is kidnapped and held for an ever increasing multi-million-dollar ransom, there is no shortage of suspects with strong motives: Danny’s biological father, an ex-con with a violent history; his step-father, a struggling medical marijuana dealer with business problems of his own; his mother, looking for her share of the Bleak fortune; Carey’s boss, looking for leverage against her to protect his business. As the search for Danny advances, it seems like every lead opens a door on a new suspect, and everyone has something to hide. Even the police and FBI agents investigating the crime and looking for the missing boy have their own agendas, and finding Danny seems secondary to them. 

     Bryan Gruley has created in Danny a complex boy with interests that provide meaning to the book. In contemplating Danny’s near obsession with a poem by Wallace Stevens, Carey remembers:

     And he would tell her that the palm in the opening line, the one Carey mistook for a hand instead of the tree it was, “is forever out of reach.” 
    She always heard his declaration as defeatist, as if Danny had given up on whatever dreams swirled in his mind. It crushed her. Now, his observation strikes her as realistic, mature, even liberating. Danny wasn’t saying people couldn’t have what they yearned for. He was saying that the yearning would never cease, no matter what was gained or gathered. It was enough to embrace the yearning, then let it go. She wishes she’d listened harder. 

     Danny has a similar obsession with dragonflies and is known to stand and watch them for hours, seeming to see then when others can’t. He wonders, “whether any of the people…actually know what the dragonfly is about, how its flitting beauty, wings aglint in sun, masks the bloodless killer within. Probably not.” 
     In a book full of secrets and masked motives, even the victim has a side that is underestimated. 

    Bleak Harbor is a thriller that increases the pressure with every chapter; like pealing layers of an onion it slowly exposes the complex crime--and possible complicity of each character--with every page turn. 
Gruley, Bryan. Bleak Harbor, Thomas & Mercer, December 1, 2018. 
ISBN 978-1503904682

A copy of Bleak Harbor was provided to The Thirty Year Itch by the publisher. No compensation was provided for this review. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

BABY TEETH by Zoje Stage

    Seven-year-old Hanna doesn’t not have much to say. Nothing, actually. Ever. While she seems to otherwise develop normally, she can’t—or won’t—talk.  Her parents, Suzette and Alex, subject her to test after test to find out why. But mutism isn’t Hanna’s only problem, not even her biggest. She wants her father all to herself, even if that means getting rid of Suzette. Is there such a thing as evil? Demons? Witches? After spending time with Hanna, those are the questions most will be asking!
Zoje Strage
     Baby Teeth is written using alternate point of view of Suzette and Hanna. Suzette--smart, likeable, hardworking, loves Hanna despite her behavioral problems, and works hard to be a good mother—sometimes lets her frustration and get the better of her. Hanna--smart and diabolical--still has the emotional, intellectual, and physical limitations of a seven-year-old, manifested in the sometimes-childlike simplicity of her plotting and beliefs in spells and curses. Her evil plans often fail the way one would expect when made by a seven-year-old, adding a layer of childlike inculpability. 
     Even in the failed plans Hanna’s intent is clear, and Suzette is caught between Hanna’s wrath and her husband, who is reluctant to believe his beautiful daughter is capable of such things. 

Stage, Zoje. Baby Teeth, St. Martin's Press, July 17, 2017. 
ISBN: 9781250170750

A copy of Baby Teeth was provided by the publisher via No compensation was paid for this review. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

YOU WERE MADE FOR THIS by Michelle Sacks

Sam and Merry left the busy life of New York City and were living the dream raising their infant son, Conner, in Sweden. At least that’s what they were telling themselves, and anyone else who would listen. But the long winters and slower-paced atmosphere, raising their own vegetables and making their own bread, jams, and baby foods might not be all they’re making it out to be. When Merry’s oldest and best friend Frank sends word she’ll be coming for a visit to meet Conner, Sam and Merry double-down on their version of the utopia they have been portraying.  But Merry and Frank know each other too well, and the secrets—and rivalries—can’t stay hidden for long.  

You Were Made for This, the debut novel by Michelle Sacks, is told in the first person alternating between Sam, Merry, and Frank. All three are deeply developed, establishing themselves and providing insight into the current events of the novel by sharing their pasts. The relationship between Merry and Frank—how they’ve influenced each other since early childhood and still do today—is central to the story.  Sam, though wanting to be in control, is controlled by them both, and by the relationship with his mother, giving him a loathing for women that he just can’t seem to get over. 
Full of characters you'll love to hate, You Were Made for This shows us the worst of the human nature.

How far will this rivalry between Merry and Frank go? Adultery? Murder? And who will come out on top? You just can’t predict what a lifetime of love and hate can do among friends.

Sacks, Michelle. You Were Made for This, Little, Brown, June 2018.
ISBN: 978-0-316-47540-2

A copy of You Were Made for This was provided to The Thirty Year Itch by the publisher via NetGalley. No compensation was received for this review. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

JAR OF HEARTS by Jennifer Hillier

     Sixteen-year-old Angela went missing, without explanation, never to be heard from again. Fifteen years later, her body was found in the woods behind her best friend’s—Geo’s— house. She was the first victim of serial killer Calvin James, Geo’s boyfriend. Geo kept the secret, until the body was discovered, and she was arrested for the crime. She testified against Calvin and served five years in prison, while Calvin escaped shortly after his conviction and disappeared. When Geo is released from prison, a new string of murders begins, mimicking the death of Angela. Geo learns that some secrets can’t be kept buried, and her crimes continue to haunt her. 

     What an amazing surprise this book was. Jar of Hearts is my first book by Jennifer Hillier, and from the jacket description I was somewhat ambivalent about it. But the first chapter had me hooked, and it only got better from there. 

     I particularly liked that the story jumped from past to present, allowing for fragmented revelation of information so readers could eventually piece together what happened. Geo was a frustrating but likable character, largely because of her self-awareness. The guilt over her bad choices that led to and followed the death of her best friend, was always present despite the outward appearance that she was living her best life. Angela, Geo, and their third wheel and friend-zoned Kaiser Brody--who grows up to be the cop who arrests Geo and Calvin--are all well-developed, believable, and relatable characters. 

     Among many great books this year, Jar of Hearts is a surprise favorite. A perfect blend of mystery, thriller, and good characters.

Hillier, Jennifer. Jar of Hearts, Minotaur Books, June 12, 2018. 
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250154194

A copy of Jar of Hearts was provided by the publisher via No compensation was received for this review. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

TRUE FICTION by Lee Goldberg

     Thriller author Ian Ludlow unwittingly becomes the target of a private security firm making a play for outsourced CIA clandestine services. After he discovers he has survived two attempts on his life by luck and foils a third, he decides to become the secret agent he has only known in his imagination and on the pages of his books to take on the diabolical man that has the resources of a private army at his disposal. 

     True Fiction, it's larger than life characters, and far-fetched plot is a fast read filled with action and laughs. It's comic book superhero feel reminds me of movies like True Lies, RED, and books like the Nikki Heat Series by Richard Castle. A fun distraction!

Goldberg, Lee. True Fiction, Thomas & Mercer, April 1, 2018. ISBN: 978-1503949188

A copy of True Lies was provided through Kindle First Reads
No compensation was paid for this review. 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Sunburn by Laura Lippman

     Adam is hired to get close to Polly, whom his employer told his is a thief, liar, and worse. Adam does, but doesn't count on falling in love. Neither does Polly. 
    Their love, while true, is complicated by the lies and secrets it is based on. Each make sacrifices for each other and for their relationship, but they never make the sacrifice that could save it. They never share the truth. 

     Sunburn is a stand-alone novel by Laura Lippman, author of the series featuring Baltimore private detective Tess Monaghan. 
     I particularly enjoyed the complexity that was Polly. Among her secrets and lies, there was hope that there was something good in her. Was she created by circumstance, a victim of abuse who learned to adapt to survive? Or was she born cold, ruthless, diabolical? 
     Or perhaps I was rooting for Polly because those that surrounded her were worse--sadistic, abusive, greedy, selfish, envious.

     Sometimes I find myself liking least people who are neither good or bad, but painfully indifferent to anything but their own needs. Sunburn is a novel that demonstrates that sometimes those are people that finish last. And that sometimes love can conquer all, but perhaps not the love readers will expect. 

Lippman, Laura. Sunburn, William Morrow, February 20, 2018. ISBN: 978-0-06-238992-3

Friday, February 23, 2018

GREEN SUN by Kent Anderson

     At thirty-eight years old, Hanson finds himself the oldest cadet in the Oakland, California, Police Academy. He was a police officer in Portland for four years—a good one, he thought—before quitting to try teaching at a college in Idaho. That didn’t work out, so he went to Oakland, hired sight unseen by a Lieutenant who had departed the agency before Hanson even arrived, leaving him at the mercy of a department that opposed his hiring and would do what he could to rid the Oakland PD of the old recruit. But Hanson is not a quitter.

     Green Sun is the third novel by KentAnderson about Hanson following Sympathy for the Devil and Night Dogs. It starts at the end of his teaching career in Idaho and follows him through the Oakland Police Academy and about a year as a patrol officer. Despite his antipathy for police work and the people he works with, he takes the job seriously and does his best to do it fairly, usually avoid violence, and get through his eighteen months to earn his Peace Officer Standards & Training (POST) Certificate, so he can move on to another department.

 “A place where…he’d be the law, an armed social worker enforcing the social contract of that particular jurisdiction. Where justice would be more important that the California Penal Code…and hell, do it without a gun…He didn’t need a gun, only morons needed a gun.”

Hanson struggles every day with his job: the quotas, violence, and ulterior motives of his peers and supervisors.

“But he was an asshole, he thought. Didn’t matter, just another asshole cop. Pretty soon he’d fit right in, one of the guys finally. If he’d start arresting everybody he could, pile up citations and kiss enough ass, he might make sergeant someday, or get on a special drug squad with the special assholes.”

     Hanson doesn’t want to be the asshole he thought was becoming but was not perfect. He makes arrests to keep the brass off his back, nearly succumbs to seduction, uses force, befriends a drug dealer, and is no stranger to drugs and alcohol abuse himself. He sometimes feels as if he’s already dead, and therefore does not fear death, knowing it’s inevitable, even while finding peace with a woman and hope in a young man he befriends in his neighborhood.

     Green Sun has an abstract feel to it, Hanson being disconnected from much of the world and himself, in a state between life and death. Some chapters read like short stories, establishing Hanson as a character and police officer, giving the reader a look at policing in the 1980s, but not otherwise moving the plot forward. In some ways, those are the chapters I enjoyed the most and found most relatable.

     Green Sun offers a vivid look into the failures of policing of the 1980s through the eyes of an imperfect but hopeful character. Set solidly in the era of the establishment of professional policing--“…standardize cops, crank them out and deploy them as interchangeable cop units.” --that measured the successes in numbers of arrests and other data while minimizing the value of community policing while solidifying what became the drug war as we know it. The remnants of both of those arguably failed approaches are still being combatted today.

Anderson, Kent. Green SunMulholland Books, February 27, 2018. 
ISBN 9780316466820

A copy of Green Sun was provided to The Thirty Year Itch by the publisher via No compensation was provided for this review.