Posts Tagged ‘mystery’

disintegration

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Random House Alibi

Length: 223 Pages

Release Date: May 26, 2015

eARC provided by Random House Alibi and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

While straight up horror will probably always be my first love, I have come to enjoy neo-noir in large part thanks to the stellar anthology Richard Thomas put together for Dark House Press, The New Black. So, when I was offered a chance to review Thomas’ latest novel Disintegration, I jumped at the opportunity.

Disintegration tells the story of an unnamed narrator whose life is in shambles. He lives in a spartan apartment, unsure of what day it is and dependent on a steady diet of pills and booze to help try to erase the despair that consumes him. His sole mission in life, the only thing that gets him outside of his apartment, is the jobs he receives from a mysterious Russian gangster known only as Vlad. He gives him jobs by simply sliding an envelope under his door. Before meeting Vlad, the narrator was living on the streets or in shelters like a nomad, stealing when he has to and left with barely 20 bucks in his pocket. This desperation is what makes him the perfect employee for Vlad, someone who is hardened by the crummy hand life has dealt them and willing to do things that no sane person would ever dream of.

For the purpose of this review, I will give the narrator the name of “Everyman”, a name he himself uses when describing his occupation. Everyman is a hit-man of sorts, though not all of his targets end up dead necessarily. He dresses in an inconspicuous way, blending into any social situation, the sort of person you wouldn’t be able to notice if you tried. And yet, he bears markings that instantly tell his life story and seem to serve as a total disregard to his own rule. He is covered in tattoos – black letters on his knuckles, wings on his back and a variety of other seemingly random pictures. The tattoos aren’t means of self-expression or individuality, they serve as a reminder of the things he has done and the lives he has taken.

As we follow Everyman, we witness him taking on a slew of “clients” – a pedophile, a man beating his dog in public, a drunk driver responsible for killing kids. These jobs offer him an escape from the trauma that haunts his life and the chance to deal out a form of justice that was denied to him. He is content living out this life, simply getting from one day to the next until a series of unsettling events occur that make him question everything. What is real and what isn’t? Is he being double crossed? As he begins to piece together the truth about his former life and his employer, he finds himself racing against time for answers before he ends up dead.

The one thing I loved most about this novel is the complex characterization of the narrator. At first glance, he seems like a nihilistic robot, hellbent on carrying out retribution and justice. But he is more complex than that. Thomas uses brief scenes to show that Everyman was not always a hardened badass who cracks skulls for a living; he was an average Joe, someone who could have been your neighbor or relative or friend. Flashes of a suburban life, memories of tender moments with his children that he barely remembers or is actively trying to forget show he is something more than a mindless lackey taking jobs for a man he hardly knows. It is these brief snapshots of his past that get the reader to care about Everyman and his journey for the truth despite the mistakes he has made in his past.

Disintegration falls a little outside of my typical reading habits, but Thomas’ action-packed journey through the seedy underbelly of Chicago held me captivated from the first page. Thomas’ writing is lean and possesses a gritty yet poetic quality and while the novel is full of darkness, despair and violence, you can’t help but be entranced by the dark beauty of it. Disintegration’s combination of interesting characters, a mind-bending mystery and breakneck pacing make this an essential read for mystery fans. This novel will definitely stick with me for a long time and I am eagerly awaiting The Breaker, the second installment in the Windy City Dark Mystery series!

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

Richard Thomas’ Official Website

Random House Alibi’s Official Website

Purchase Disintegration on Amazon

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withinthesewalls

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Gallery Books

Length: 464 Pages

Release Date: April 21, 2015

eARC provided by Netgalley and publisher in exchange for an honest review

Within These Walls tells the story of Lucas Graham, a true crime writer who went from being on top of the world with bestselling books and interviews on major talk shows to finding his marriage crumbling around him and his success all dried up after not releasing a hit book in ten years. Lucas feels like a failure and can see everything important to him slipping away, but his life changes when he receives a letter from Jeffrey Halcomb, a notorious cult leader who is currently in prison for life following what appears to be a satanic ritual that left 10 people dead. Halcomb has avoided interview requests for years, his silence making his legend grow even as interest in the case waned. He offers Lucas an exclusive interview to give his side of the story since he admires Lucas’ ability to bring the past to life, but only if he follows three conditions: all interviews must be done in person, Lucas must move into his old home on 101 Montlake Road in Pier Pointe, Washington and everything must be completed within four weeks. For Lucas, this letter seems like a beacon of hope, the chance he needs to get his career back on track and attempt to save his marriage.

Lucas seizes his last chance at redemption and moves out to Pier Pointe with his young daughter Vee to immerse himself in Halcomb’s world but realizes that something feels off about the house. His first night in the house he hears strange noises coming from the kitchen that sets him on edge and sees a shadow in the darkness. This sense of unease is also felt by Lucas’ daughter, who also begins to see apparitions and develops a fascination with the history of the house that threatens to tear her from her father forever. When Halcomb backs out of his agreement with Lucas, it upends his world and makes him desperate to finish his book by any means necessary. As the pressure mounts and Halcomb’s deadline grows closer, he discovers something far more sinister than he ever expected.

The structure of Within These Walls was a risky choice because the novel alternates between chapters told in the present from both Lucas’ and his daughter Vee’s point of view and sections set in the past from the point of view of one of Halcomb’s followers, Audra Snow. In addition to the timeline shifts, there are occasional references to snippets from police reports, paranormal investigations and news reports. While there was the potential for the plot and pacing of the novel to suffer from these timeline jumps and interludes, Ahlborn weaves these elements together masterfully. Each plot thread offers its own contained narrative, but the sections compliment each other when you realize the events Audra describe help bring light to the unsettling occurrences that Lucas and Vee experience in the Montlake Road house.

The characterization in Within These Walls, much like Ahlborn’s other works, is the highlight of this novel. I loved how Ahlborn handled Halcomb’s character. Though the story revolves around him and the crime he committed, the reader doesn’t really see anything from his point of view, but rather gets a glimpse of who he is through the eyes of the other characters. By seeing him through other peoples eyes, we see what made him such a powerful figure and why people were so eager to disengage from their past lives and follow him in his nomadic existence. Ahlborn also crafts a downright creepy back story behind Jeffrey’s past that sent chills down my spine!

Then there is the portrayal of Audra Snow, the daughter of a congressman who was one of the last people to join Halcomb’s group. She is living in her parents summer home, pregnant and trying to get her life together. She struggles with depression due to her uncaring upbringing and feels that she is not worth anything. That all begins to change when she meets Halcomb and the rest of his group. Initially it is a man named Deacon, who Audra bonds with over their similar lives of parents who provided them with all the material possessions they could ever desire but never the love they craved. When he explains that Halcomb’s group is her ticket to not feeling alone, Audra is drawn in to a world unlike anything she could have imagined. Despite the red flags that pop up in her mind when she learns more about the group’s beliefs, Audra pushes them aside for the promise of acceptance.

While Within These Walls offers plenty of scares and supernatural occurrences, the real terror comes from the very realistic portrayal of the cult-like nature of the group and the evil that resides within its members. The novel slowly builds tension throughout Lucas’ investigation, but as the mystery of Halcomb and his plans for dragging Lucas halfway across the country begins to reveal itself, Ahlborn ramps up the action before unleashing a clever and unsettling plot twist that left me stunned.

Within These Walls is an immensely engaging novel with the perfect balance of atmosphere, horror and mystery that make it a must read for any dark fiction fan. I couldn’t help but get sucked into the world Ahlborn created and frequently found myself saying “just one more chapter…” while reading, which is when I knew that I held a truly great book in my hands. What always impresses me about Ania’s work is the depth of her writing and diversity of each novel. There is the straightforward thriller The Neighbors, the creature-filled The Shuddering and her bleak haunted house novel The Bird Eater. Now with Within These Walls, Ania Ahlborn crafts a multi-layered novel that highlights her strengths as a writer and cements her as one of the genre’s most exciting authors to read. This year is going to be a good one for Ahlborn with the release of this stellar novel and the release of Brother and the novella The Pretty Ones later in the year, both of which are definitely on my list of most anticipated reads of 2015.

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

Ania Ahlborn’s Official Website

Gallery Books

Purchase Within These Walls on Amazon

A Life of Death2

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Books of the Dead Press

Length: 228 Pages

Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of reviewing Weston Kincade’s A Life of Death, a highly enjoyable coming of age novel that details the life of teenager Alex Drummond and his struggles with his paranormal abilities. Alex was put through the emotional wringer in Kincade’s first book, having lost his father at a young age, dealing with a nightmarish home life in the aftermath, and suffering a devastating loss. Despite all of these hardships, he was able to show a resiliency that made him an immediately likeable character.

The Golden Bulls is the second book in the A Life of Death series and focuses largely on Alex Drummond’s adult life and work as a detective in his hometown of Tranquil Heights. Despite Tranquil Heights reputation as a small, quiet town, a sinister serial killer is at work and has alluded the police for over 15 years. The victims are all residents of the town and every year on September 20th, a new body is found. There is evidence of a ritual sacrifice and all of the victims have been burned, destroying any evidence and making it virtually impossible for Alex to use his abilities to catch the killer.

Alex has a suspect in the murders and follows her to Washington D.C. under directives to catch the killer at any cost. While there, he meets up with his childhood best friend Jessie, who gives him a place to crash and assists Alex in his investigation. As they begin working together and discussing details of the case, Jessie begins acting weird and dismissing some of Alex’s theories leading Alex to believe that his friend may know more than he is letting on. The only lead he has to go on aside from the Tranquil Heights connection is that all of the victims had an ankh tattoo – a symbol of truth. Alex’s investigation leads him to explore the world of Ancient Egypt and as he begins piecing together the clues in his case, he gets the overwhelming sense that he is somehow connected. What Alex ultimately uncovers puts himself and everyone he cares about in grave danger in a plot twist that I definitely did not see coming!

The Golden Bulls offers flashbacks to Alex’s life immediately after the events of the first novel and while they are crucial elements to the story, the novel occasionally suffers lulls due to the frequent shifting of timelines. Just when the tension begins to escalate in Alex’s search for the killer, we are often pulled right out of the action by switching to his past and lengthy visions of victims from Ancient Egypt. The knowledge he gleans from these visions ultimately aid in his investigation, but having them grouped so close together hinders the main plot in my opinion.

I loved the fact that A Life of Death relied just as much on Alex’s real-life struggles as it did his visions and Kincade continues that balance with The Golden Bulls. As much as I enjoyed the first novel, I think The Golden Bulls is even better. Kincade crafts an intriguing mystery at the heart of the novel and a truly frightening serial killer, but it still contains the heart that made the first installment so engaging. Kincade is currently working on a third installment in the series and the revelations that come at the end of The Golden Bulls hints at a pretty interesting direction.

Rating: 4/5

LINKS

Weston Kincade Official Website

Books of the Dead Press

Purchase A Life of Death – Book Two: The Golden Bulls on Amazon

A Life of Death

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Books of the Dead Press

Length: 205 Pages

Review copy provided by author in exchange for an honest review

Weston Kincade’s A Life of Death is a highly enjoyable coming of age novel with a hint of paranormal occurrences. Alex Drummond is a detective who sits down with his son to discuss the most important moment of his life for a school project. What follows is a recounting of Alex’s teen years living in a three-bedroom trailer with his mom, his abusive stepfather and three step-siblings following the death of his father in a car accident. Alex soon discovers that he can see past deaths when he touches an object that a person touched when they died. He firsts discovers his gift while walking through town on his way to school. He touches a fence that surrounds the historic Brogand house and notices a musty odor before being transported into the past. Alex doesn’t simply see the murders happen, he inhibits the bodies of the victim. He experiences their thoughts and emotions and lives their final moments. Many of his visions involve other residents of Tranquil Heights and their families, but Alex begins to have visions that impact his personal life and set him on a path filled with sadness and tragedy.

A Life of Death is a very entertaining read and while Alex’s paranormal visions play a large role in the novel, they are not the sole focus. Instead, most of the action comes from Alex’s struggles at home as he attempts to protect his family from the violent and perpetually drunk Steve McCullin. Alex learns a dark secret about his stepfather that changes their interactions in an instant. No longer is Alex afraid of him and trying to solely avoid him, he gains the courage to stand up to Steve and protect his family.

While Alex’s visions may have frightened most people who found out they could suddenly see murders that have occurred in the past, Alex uses his new gift to try and fix past wrongs and learns a lot about himself in the process. He still mourns the loss of his father, but these visions give him a purpose. He is no longer on the aimless course he has grown used to (missing school and isolating himself), but rather standing up for what is right and trying to make a difference. Even though his world is swirling with chaos, his life begins to turn around when he falls in love with Paige and begins to build a relationship with his younger stepsisters.

The only real drawback with A Life of Death for me was the lack of back story regarding Alex’s abilities. I know that mediums often say their abilities manifested randomly at some point in their life and that could be what happened with Alex. However, there are is a moment in the book that indicates his abilities may not be so random and it would be interesting to see that angle explored.

A Life of Death is an emotional novel packed with terrifying visions, real life horrors and an intriguing premise that is sure to appeal to readers of a wide variety of genres. I am definitely looking forward to reading Kincade’s sequel, A Life of Death – The Golden Bulls, and seeing how Alex Drummond utilizes his unique gift in his career.

Rating: 4/5

LINKS

Weston Kincade Official Website

Books of the Dead Press

Purchase A Life of Death on Amazon

Summer is now just a month away which means it is time for me to begin winding down my “Most Anticipated Summer Reads” series! Last month’s installment included books from John F.D. Taff, Tim Curran and Stephen Lloyd Jones. This time around I will be featuring Tana French, Mark Matthews and Hunter Shea!

secret place

Tana French The Secret Place (September 2) from Viking Adult

The Secret Place is the fifth novel in Tana French’s outstanding series of crime novels that focus on the Dublin Murder Squad and this time the focus is on Detective Stephen Moran as he attempts to solve the year-old murder of Chris Harper, armed with little more than a mysterious photo of the victim with the caption “I know who killed him.”

I debated on whether or not to include this book because it comes out right on the borderline of summer and fall, but I had to make an exception for one of my favorite mystery writers! French’s novels are highly addictive reads that are nearly impossible to put down once you start them due to the depth of her characters and absolutely brilliant plot twists. While French’s novels are not classified as horror novels, they usually offer terrifying glimpses  into the real-life horrors that other people are capable of. French also has a tendency to add subtle, creepy additions that would be right at home in a horror novel – Rob Ryan’s mysterious childhood memories in In The Woods and the unidentified noises originating in the Spain’s attic come to mind.

I highly recommend all of French’s novels in the Dublin Murder Squad series and I can’t wait to see what she has in store with The Secret Place!

milkblood

Mark Matthews Milk-Blood (Summer 2014) from Wicked Run Press

Milk-Blood is the upcoming horror novel from Mark Matthews and after reading his heart-pounding novel On The Lips of Children, this quickly became one of my most anticipated reads! Here is a synopsis from the author:

Lilly is ten years old, born with a heart defect, and already addicted to heroin. Her mother is gone from her life, and there are rumors that she was killed by her father and buried near the abandoned house across the street. The house intrigues her, she can’t stay away, and the monstrous homeless man who lives there has been trying to get Lilly to come inside.

For her mother is there, buried in the back, and this homeless man is Lilly’s true father, and both want their daughter back.“

I read Matthews’ prequel, The Damage Done (available for free on Amazon), and it blends the horrors of addiction with a supernatural element to create a unique and horrifying short story that sets the stage for Milk-Blood, which is sure to be a truly terrifying and gripping read from this extremely talented author.

Hell Hole

Hunter Shea Hell Hole (July 1) from Samhain Publishing

This is the second time Hunter Shea has made my “Most Anticipated Summer Reads” list (The Montauk Monster was listed in Part 1) which isn’t surprising considering the slew of excellent novels he has published.

Hell Hole is the story of New York City Cop Nat Blackburn and his journey to Hecla, Wyoming on a mission from President Theodore Roosevelt. Hecla is an abandoned mining town that draws in explorers and fortune-hunters seeking to recover the supposed gold hidden deep within the depths of the mine, but those who venture into the mine are never heard from again. Nat and his partner Teta arrive in Hecla only to encounter “black-eyed children, strange lights and ferocious wild men” lurking within the cave.

I am a bit of a history buff, so Hell Hole’s historical western setting drew me in right away and I can’t wait to sit down and read Hell Hole this summer!