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Rituals of the Dead, Jennifer S. Alderson

Rituals of the Dead, Jennifer S. Alderson

Rituals of the Dead: An Artifact Mystery (Adventures of Zelda Richardson Book 3)

Rituals of the Dead is a tense mystery thriller that combines the sedate world of Dutch museums with a decades-old murder on the far side of the world. Zelda Richardson is an American expatriate, working as an intern to support her Master’s thesis in Amsterdam, when her research starts dragging up details that don’t quite mesh with the official version of events. Her off-books work almost costs her her internship, and that’s only the beginning of the trouble. Can Zelda figure out how the facts tie together before the consequences catch up with her?

Author Jennifer S. Alderson has a unique gift for taking a setting that should be incredibly tranquil, and smoothly weaving in the oddities that make her case until the calm of the academic atmosphere is well and truly overturned. Zelda isn’t a hardboiled and capable detective; in fact, she’s the opposite; timid and willing to allow people to treat her badly in case standing up for herself causes her to lose her position, but driven by curiosity to investigate the threads that don’t quite tie in. The world-building in this series is also outstanding, built on detail but without beating the reader over the head with a litany of research. Fans of mystery and crime will definitely enjoy this book.

The Long Road to Missouri, Bowdoin

The Long Road to Missouri, Bowdoin

The Long Road to Missouri: The Pivot Papers Chapter One

The Long Road to Missouri offered an interesting combination of thriller and horror. Missouri is ‘retired’, otherwise and unofficially known as too much trouble, and too well-connected, to kill. He’s living in a trailer in the backwoods and enjoying his solitude when the police shake him down for information on the murder of a detective—which he didn’t commit. When Missouri finds out that the corpse had had its right hand hacked off, he realises that he is involved, like it or not…and that involvement is likely to jeopardise his retirement.

When I started reading this book, it came across as a standard crime thriller, and then the supernatural elements started threading in. To be honest I found the mix of the action and supernatural elements was very well done; the lack of fanfare, and the victims’ disbelief, were both very effective tactics to build the effect. To help all that along, the scene-setting contained just enough to provide a mental backdrop without spending pages on detail. Unfortunately the ending feels more like a pause than a conclusion, and I’m not desperately fond of that type of finale. However, the book was well-written and thoroughly edited, and very much an enjoyable read; John le Carre with flavours of Anne Rice.

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Vileness, Rowan Waters

Vileness, Rowan Waters

Vileness (Samantha Brooks Thrillers Book 1)

In a twisty tale of betrayal and good intentions gone bad, Vileness follows Samantha Brooks as she begins to work as an agent for her brother’s network, working with victims of domestic violence to help them disappear and escape their abusers. However, when Sam moves to small-town USA, she starts to break one of the rules of the network…she starts to get involved. And once involved, she can’t help but realise that the details of the escapes she facilitates simply don’t match up…

With a compelling plot and characters, Vileness made a very strong start to the Samantha Brooks Thriller series. Personally, I would have chopped the opening chapter, where the past of a journalist you barely hear of again in the rest of the book is covered, but the main story more than compensated. Sam is a particularly refreshing heroine to read about: she doesn’t expect a knight on a white horse to ride to her rescue, and she’s not afraid to chase down unpleasant facts. The romance is a pleasant side-line to the main plot, without any attempted take-over of the storyline, and the action is reasonably plausible and well-paced. I also found that the writing was, with a few exceptions, well-edited, which allowed me to focus on the story rather than wrestling down my inner editor. I’ll definitely be watching for more releases from this author – this was a really enjoyable crime / thriller read.

Sherlock Holmes and the Cult of Cthullu, James G. Boswell

Sherlock Holmes and the Cult of Cthullu, James G. Boswell

Sherlock Holmes and the Cult of Cthulhu

When a series of gruesome murders among London’s upper crust stymies Scotland Yard, Inspector Lestrade reaches out to Dr. Watson and Mr. Holmes for help. Between the brutality of the stab wounds to each victim and the inevitable presence of a hidden symbol near each body, it’s up to Sherlock Holmes to prove a mundane connection between the murders where everyone else is pursuing a supernatural option…including his faithful partner, Dr. Watson.

Sherlock Holmes and the Cult of Cthullu was an enjoyable homage to the great consulting detective, with all the conflicting theories, and daring disguises a reader might expect. I found the final rationale for the murders was very plausible, although Holmes’s capture and imprisonment location slightly less so. It was clear that author James G. Boswell had done significant amounts of research into the period to support the plot; I did find that Watson marvelling at scenes of Victorian London pulled me a little out of the character, as these scenes would have been commonplace for him. This tendency also somewhat impacted the pacing in the beginning of the read. Happily, it largely disappeared after the early scenes of the book, and aside from that, the technical side of the writing was very clean, which I always appreciate.

Searching for Sam, M G Atkinson

Searching for Sam, M G Atkinson

Searching for Sam

Finn is a chimera, a serial killer with a marked pattern: he kills paedophiles, pimps, and human traffickers. The kills span countries and continents, and they’re both recognisable and brutal. Interpol’s file on him is extensive, but quite apart from the fact the man is a ghost who rarely shows up on surveillance and never trips border controls, there’s a barely-voiced but very present reluctance to put him in jail. However, recently his system has changed, and he’s begun to leave clues – and Inspector Shelby of Interpol has to make some dubious choices if he wants to bring his man in.

Searching for Sam is one of those novels where the plot of the book hooked me and re-hooked me, and the editing yanked me out again just as often. The premise of a serial killer targeting the dregs of society, paired with the supernatural element to Finn’s story, made for an excellent read. The characters in general were well-fleshed out and very readable, from the diminutive Nova-bug to Finn himself, and avoided a number of the common stereotypes. Unfortunately, the technical side of the writing, from punctuation to homonyms to sections that would have benefited from judicious pruning to avoid pacing impacts, did not do justice to the author’s plotting and story-telling ability. If this book went through a thorough developmental and copy-edit, I can see it being a five-star read. As it is, I can’t in all honesty give it more than three.

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The Burgas Affair, Ellis Shuman

The Burgas Affair, Ellis Shuman

The Burgas Affair

Boyko Stanchev, previously of the Burgas Police Department and now an agent with the State Agency for National Security, is drinking too much, smoking too much, and on the verge of running what’s left of his career into the ground. When an attack blows up a tourist bus full of Israeli tourists outside Burgas airport, he’s forced to confront his past, his choices, and not least, the female Israeli agent assigned as his investigative partner.

The Burgas Affair offers a fascinating close-up of Balkan and Israeli politics, and the setting, largely in Bulgaria, was vividly evoked. From my perspective, the settings and the backdrop to the story were the strongest facets of the read, although the character of Stanchev is skillfully written and dislikeable to a degree that merits applause. The underlying plot structure of the book is well-constructed and full of surprises. I did feel that the relative level of emphasis given to the romance detracted from the level of attention that the mystery itself deserved; tying all the stray elements of the attack and its circumstances together into a convincing storyline struck me as the more interesting part of the book. Certainly an enjoyable read for any readers of political thrillers.