Slow Burn by Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Brisk pacing and a complex plot make this mystery novel a juicy, satisfying thriller.

slow burn

Slow Burn follows Fourth Down and Out as the second Andy Hayes mystery by Andrew Welsh-Huggins. Private Investigator Andy is struggling in both his personal and professional lives when the grandmother of a convicted arsonist/murderer contacts him with a request to clear her grandson, who confessed to the crime. The case looks like a loser, which makes it about right for Andy. This fast-paced, complex mystery will satisfy genre fans, while spotlighting its Columbus, Ohio setting.

…Click here to read the full review.


This review was published in the Summer 2015 issue of ForeWord Reviews.
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My rating: 7 book dedications.

The Secret Place by Tana French (audio)

secretI think I will call it a great credit to Tana French that even though this novel took me months to finish, due to my much-reduced audio-listening time, I never lost the thread or lost interest. It can be hard to read a book that slowly, over that much time. But The Secret Place is gripping, compelling, peopled by fine, interesting, and distinctive characters; it lent itself pretty well to this less-than-ideal reading (listening) schedule.

French’s dedicated readers will recognize several characters from earlier novels, although these books do not exactly form a series. The central detective in The Secret Place is Stephen Moran, who has been relegated to the depths of the Cold Cases unit, where he is not particularly happy. Then a gift is dropped in his lap: Holly Mackey, who was but a little girl in Faithful Place, is now 16 years old and boarding at a chi-chi girls’ school called St. Kilda’s. She brings Moran a card stating that the writer knows who killed Chris Harper, found murdered last year on St. Kilda’s grounds.

Moran takes this card to the Murder squad, where he has ambitions, and begins working with Detective Antoinette Conway, a prickly, defensive sort. The two form an unlikely, tentative team, and the rest of the novel covers a single, very long day they spend on campus at St. Kilda’s, solving the case.

Or at least part of it does. The Secret Place is split into two narratives, which alternate chapters: the story of Moran & Conway’s single long day, and the last 18 months or so in the lives of Holly Mackey and her three girlfriends. Holly, Selena, Julia and Becca are very, very close. They all knew Chris Harper, some more closely than they’ve let on to the police; their friendship and their lives are caught up in the case, and Moran knows it. As Moran & Conway work the case, the second narrative brings readers up to date in the girls’ lives.

As an audio production, this is effectively played by two readers, a male reader for Stephen Moran’s story and a female third-person narrator of Holly and her friends’ lives. The latter narrative is ghostly, compelling, and mystical; there are magical elements, although of course this is a realistic story; the magic is simply that of youth.

Moran is a sympathetic character who wants badly to “make it,” to fit in in Murder, to have a partner, to have a friend. He is sensitive and self-conscious, yearning. The girls wield their own self-referential magnetic power, very much evocative of the strange world of teenagerhood. Friendship, its meaning and its powers, are very much the central themes of this story.

In short, Tana French has done it again. Her characters are mesmerizing, both realistic and spell-binding. The plot is twisty: beware thinking you know where she’s headed! I love this stuff. Keep it coming.


Rating: 7 earbuds.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Secret Place by Tana French

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

It’s astonishing how long it’s taking me to listen to this book, isn’t it?* It’s certainly astonishing to me; and let me say that it’s no fault of The Secret Place itself, which is as wonderful as any of Tana French’s novels. (I’ll wait to rank it til I’ve finished, of course.) I’ve already teased you with it once, but here we are again.

secret

Today I’ll share with you a few lines spoken from Frank Mackey (who we remember from The Likeness and Faithful Place) to Detective Stephen Moran.

“Always fuck with people’s expectations, Sunshine. It’s good for their circulation.”

Good advice from Mackey, I’m sure. Keep that in mind, kids. And stick around: one day I will finish this book and review it for you.


*If you’re curious, my lifestyle is much changed these days, now that I don’t have a day job. I no longer have a lengthy commute during which to listen to audiobooks. I am clearly not spending nearly enough time in the gym or doing housework, either. I’m loving the new life; but it’s skewing me much more towards print and away from the audio. Bear with me.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Savage Professor by Robert Roper

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

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On just the opening pages, a characterization of person via his books. How could I pass this one by?

Inside, a scouth of books, as the Scotsman said. Some that had been with him since the beginning, since before he went to St. Paul’s, where he had been a subsidy boy, a scholar on the foundation. Books bought as a lonely Bohemian maths grind at LSE, where had gone instead of Cambridge, for “political” reasons. Plain paperbound books in French, bought at outdoor stands along the Seine, as they ought to have been. A solid selection of the approved high-lit product of the last forty years, books spoken of in the pages of the Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement, Les Temps Modernes. Mystery novels by the hundreds, by the thousands. Oodles of sci-fi, and pornography, an eclectic sampling, still consulted sometimes in the dead of night, with the left hand. Math texts read for brain tuning. The full epidemiological monty, of course, everything in any way relevant to his own lines of study plus all others, everything ever attempted by his busy generation, in special nine-foot-tall shelves of stained cherrywood.

Outstanding, isn’t it? We’ve only just met this character, and now look at what all we know about him, solely by what he stocks on his bookshelves. A whole personal history. We readers are not new to the concept, of course, but it’s nice to see it written out like this. And this is just the beginning!

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Suitcase City by Sterling Watson

A reformed drug dealer gets pulled back into the game in this tense, bloody thriller with a strong sense of place and a soft heart.

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Suitcase City by Sterling Watson (Weep No More My Brother) opens with an extended flashback to protagonist Jimmy Teach’s time in small-town Florida. At the time, Teach has just finished a brief career in professional football and is back in the game of smuggling drugs, or in his words, operating as a “maritime consultant.” When a business deal with Guatemalans goes sour, Teach competently cleans up the mess, and moves on.

The bulk of Teach’s story then takes place nearly 20 years later, in late 1990s Tampa, Fla., where a rundown neighborhood called Suitcase City gives the novel its name. Teach is reformed, more or less: he’s vice-president of sales at a pharmaceutical company and has rebuilt a relationship with his teenaged daughter after his wife’s (her mother’s) death. But a little incident inside a bar one Friday afternoon–a tiny mistake, a single piece of rotten luck–and suddenly Teach finds himself worried about losing his house, his job, the relationship he’s built with his daughter, and maybe his own life.

Suitcase City is nearly halfway over before the reader finds out who Teach’s enemies are and what the present beef is about, but this lengthy plot development is never boring or slow–quite the opposite. Every moment is riveting, making this a difficult book to look up from at all; the reader is every bit as concerned as Teach over the maddening mystery of who or what in his past is pursuing him, and why. To get answers and solutions, Teach has to look into his past as well as consider his future. Along the way, he gets his hands dirty with blood, gore, prostitutes and drug dealers more sophisticated than anyone involved in his “maritime consulting” two decades ago.

Watson’s magic is in pacing and taut prose, in the details that make his Florida setting so compelling–boats and bilge, lobsters and golf–and in a father’s love for his daughter. Diverse characters enliven Teach’s world, including his charming daughter, a pushy reporter and a colorful pair of police detectives who represent a range of competence and demeanor. In the end, Teach is flawed but likable, and Suitcase City is an absorbing thriller, a vivid adventure in a bright, humid, perilous underworld.


This review originally ran in the February 13, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 7 tee times.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Secret Place by Tana French

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

secret

I love Tana French. Obviously I was excited about her latest, which I am accessing via audiobook (because I have loved past audio editions of her work, especially The Likeness).

This one is shaping up to be as good as I’d hoped. Check out this passage about teenaged girls meeting at the mall. Probably we can all recognize the angst…

And at least back when they were twelve they just put on their coats and went. This year, everyone gets ready for the Court like they’re getting ready for the Oscars. The Court is where you bring your bewildering new curves and walk and self so people can tell you what they’re worth, and you can’t risk the answer being Nothing zero nothing. You like so totally have to have your hair either straightened to death or else brushed into a careful tangle, and fake tan all over and an inch of foundation on your face and half a pack of smoky eyeshadow around each eye, and supersoft superskinny jeans and Uggs or Converse, because otherwise someone might actually be able to tell you apart from everyone else and obviously that would make you a total loser.

Stay tuned.

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

A modern retelling of Strangers on a Train that is every bit as chilling as the original, with new twists.

killing

In The Kind Worth Killing, a masterful modern reworking of Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, Peter Swanson (The Girl with a Clock for a Heart) introduces his two protagonists, Ted Severson and Lily Kintner, on an airplane. Ted is a wealthy, successful businessman who discovered that his beautiful bohemian artist wife is cheating on him with the contractor building their new dream home. Lily is a woman with a difficult past–some experience of unhappy families, cheating and murder. Playing a game of truth after several drinks and the full telling of his tale, Ted casually admits, “What I really want to do is kill her.” And that makes sense to Lily: “Everyone dies. What difference does it make if a few bad apples get pushed along a little sooner….”

The resulting intrigues follow Highsmith’s outstanding original in atmosphere and spirit more than in specific details, which is a fine choice, because the new plot lines showcase suspenseful twists and turns, expert pacing and a breathless race to a surprise ending. Thus Swanson brings the best elements of Strangers on a Train–compelling but increasingly worrisome characters, the momentum of a chance meeting–to a fresh new setting, split between the Boston metro area and the rugged coast of Maine. Even readers unfamiliar with Highsmith will be enchanted by this captivating, powerful thriller about sex, deception, secrets, revenge, the strange things we get ourselves wrapped up in, and the magnetic pull of the past.


This review originally ran in the February 6, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 8 martinis.
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