The Dry

Rating: 
Author: Jane Harper
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pub Date: May 2016 (read Jun. 2016)

I’ve been hearing such good things about this book and after reading Kristen Lepionka’s What You Want To See, I was in the mood for another good PI/mystery story. I had no idea “the dry” was referring to the setting (although in hindsight it’s kind of obvious looking at the cover), which is set in rural Australia during the height of a years-long drought. Everything is dry and dying and after a grizzly murder/suicide, tensions in town reach on all time high, threatening to set fire to the brush around them.

Aaron Falk is a cop in Melbourne, but returns to his childhood town when he hears the news that his childhood friend Luke has succumbed to the pressures of trying to keep a farm running at the height of a drought by murdering his wife and son before killing himself. Luke has always been a bit unpredictable and his shocking death raises questions about the death of Aaron and Luke’s friend Ellie 20 years prior. Falk had no alibi for Ellie’s death, but Luke insists the two of the them were out shooting rabbits together. Aaron is never convicted of anything, but the town was never convinced of his innocence and eventually drove him out. In light of Luke’s death, Aaron starts to wonder if maybe Luke was lying to protect Aaron, or lying to protect himself.

The setting of this book is genius. You can feel the immense strain on the town. No money from farming means no money for anything else either and everyone is starting to feel the financial strain. The heat just compounds on the town’s troubles. Even after 20 years, Aaron still isn’t welcome in town, but when the new police chief, Raco, confides that he has some suspicions about how the Haddler’s murder really plays out, Aaron decides to stick around and investigate the crime.

As Falk investigates further into Luke’s life, he raises new questions about what happened to Ellie 20 years ago. I was totally intrigued by both crimes and even though it’s a common troupe, I love stories that simultaneously examine both a past and present crime that appear to be linked. It reminded me a little of In the Woods by Tana French, but with a more satisfying ending.

I didn’t have any theories about how either crime might have been committed, but I loved the ambiguity about Falk’s role in Ellie’s death. We assume he’s innocent, but Harper never really answers that question and leaves us guessing and second guessing to the very end. I had no theories about how either crime had been committed, but I was convinced I knew who might have been involved in one of them and was a little disappointed when the plot seemed to be following that suspicion (funny how you always want to guess what happened, but are disappointed when you’re right). In this case though I was not right and that made the story all the more intriguing! Half of the red herrings in mystery novels are obvious, but I love when another red herring successfully manages to lead you astray.

Overall, I loved the traditional mystery novel aspect of this with the added person vs. nature element. I’m excited that Jane Harper already has a second book published in this series and was thrilled when I read the synopsis and discovered it would be another person vs. nature conflict! Plus it’s hikers vs. the wilderness, which I find totally intriguing as someone who loves to hike!

Can’t wait for book 2!

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What You Want To See

Rating: 
Author: Kristen Lepionka
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pub Date: May 2018 (read May 2018)

Okay, so DO NOT read the synopsis of this book! Fortunately I did not read the synopsis because I loved the first book in this series and knew I wanted to read this anyways (and because I hate having even one thing ruined by the synopsis). But I was just reading through some other reviews of this book and one mentioned that the synopsis ruins almost the entire plot of the book and when I went back and read it, I actually couldn’t believe how much the synopsis steals away from the reader! Shame on you publisher/whoever writes these things!

Anyways, Roxane Weary and Kristen Lepionka are fabulous and that’s pretty much all you need to know. Ignore the synopsis and pick up a copy of her first book The Last Place You Look, because it is great! I was not disappointed with this book either.

Roxane Weary is a bi-sexual private investigator who is struggling to move on with her life after the death of her father on the job as a police officer. She had a complicated relationship with her Dad, which later developed into a complicated relationship with her Dad’s partner and her ex-girlfriend. She mostly just tails adulterous spouses, but when her most recent tail, Marin Strasser, is shot on the street, she can’t help but get dragged into the murder investigation that just doesn’t seem right to her. Despite warnings from the police force to mind her own business, she continues her investigation into Marin Strasser and her tangled web of acquaintances.

I really liked Roxane in the first book because she was complicated without being too cliche. She is a bit of an alcoholic, but she’s not really destructive and she knows her shortcomings. I became just as invested in her personal life as I was in her cases and I really liked how Lepionka grew her relationships in this novel and the development of some of the secondary characters. I was so done with Catherine after the last book and Lepionka somehow made me kind of like her in this book? Plus I loved that she kept Shelby in this story, which I was totally not expecting, and I think really added to the development of Roxane’s character.

This book had a strong mystery element too. I did kind of see the ending coming on the last book, but this book kept me totally mystified throughout. Lepionka actually answers several questions for us early in the second half of the novel, which is surprising in a mystery novel, but she still leaves other questions unanswered to keep you intrigued while simultaneously escalating the drama in the story.

Kristen Lepionka is also fantastic at making you mad. You know the term ‘righteous anger’? That is what Lepionka is so good at making you feel. I was so enraged in the first book when the police threw Roxane in prison and basically ignored her and all her rights, and parts of this book were also rage inducing. I hate nothing more than when female characters are ignored or dismissed, and the author’s use of subtle sexism in both of her novels is so effective because it is so accurate and I can immediately relate with Roxane and her frustration because literally every woman has been ignored or dismissed or belittled at some point in her life.

To conclude, I really liked this and now I am just really sad that I will have to wait again for the next book. Book 3 already has a name on goodreads though!

Sometimes I Lie

Rating: 
Author: Alice Feeney
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pub Date: Mar. 2017 (read May 2018)

Okay this was good! I don’t think I would have picked this one up if my book club hadn’t selected it, but it is definitely a nail biter and I loved the twists in this book. You know you’re missing something while reading this, but I did not guess any of the twists, and there were many in the last 25% of this book. It reminded me a little bit of Claire MacIntosh’s I Let You Go, but way better.

Sometimes I Lie tells the story of Amber Reynolds. She has been in some kind of accident and “wakes” up in the hospital in a coma. The only problem is, she doesn’t actually wake up. She becomes aware of the world around her, but can’t move or communicate with anyone. The story then takes us back in time to about a week before the accident, as well as through some of her childhood diaries. Amber can’t remember what happened to her in the accident and is slowly trying to piece things together from the snippets of events taking place around her.

This is definitely a book that is best to go into blind. I don’t think I even read the synopsis – all I knew about this book was that it featured a woman in a coma. Like I said, I thought the twists were brilliant, my only complaint was that I got a little bit bored with the coma stuff because it seemed to drag on a bit too much for me. I was fascinated with Amber’s job on morning coffee though and was super interested in what was happening in that timeline.

I’ll keep this review short because I don’t want to give any more of the story away. This is getting fantastic reviews and they are correct. It’s not a 5 stars for me, but I did really enjoy it and I was totally impressed with the last quarter of this book. Great debut!

 

SPOILER BELOW

This isn’t really a spoiler, but I don’t want to ruin things for new readers. My favourite part of the book though is probably the title, Sometimes I Lie. Amber tells us straight up in the first chapter that sometimes she lies. You know she can’t be a reliable narrator, and yet you still believe what she says. I was wondering if there was going to be some kind of Gone Girl scenario to mess us around, but I loved that Feeney just kept making these small reveals about things that didn’t happen. They would make you question everything, but then the narration would continue and I’d be back to believing everything Amber said, even though I knew I should be questioning it. I was totally impressed with the writing in that way because everything was so subtle and things still loosely make sense, but then you find out you’ve been deceived and things somehow start making more and less sense at the same time. So I thought the writing was wonderful. 

The Death of Mrs. Westaway

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Ruth Ware
Genres: Mystery
Pub Date: May 29, 2018 (read Apr. 2018)

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster Canada for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Okay, first off I love Ruth Ware and I don’t know why! I generally give her books 3 stars and yet I find them so compulsively readable that I always come back for more. I should probably start rating them higher because I cannot say no to a Ruth Ware mystery.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway was quite different from all of her other novels. It still features a young English woman as the protagonist, but the mystery element was structured differently in this book and I wouldn’t call this one a thriller. At times the central mystery seems quite obvious, but you’re never really sure what is going on or if you have it right.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway tells the story of Hal Westaway and the Westaway family. Hal is just 21 years old and after losing her mother 3 years prior in a hit and run, she is very much alone in the world. She has no family and in her struggle to make ends meet and pay the bills, she has lost contact with any friends she once had. Her mother was everything to her and she takes over her mothers booth as a tarot card reader on the Brighton Pier to survive. But Hal is falling further and further in debt and they are starting to catch up with her.

Then one evening she receives a letter about the death of Mrs. Westaway, her grandmother, and that she has been named in the will and requested at Mrs. Westaway’s estate. The problem is that Hal’s grandparents have been dead for 20 years and she believes she must have received the letter in error. But the promise of a handout is too alluring and Hal wonders if she can trick this estranged family and walk away with enough money from the will to pay off her debts.

Things are definitely off with the rest of the Westaway family though and Hal quickly starts to wonder whether everything is actually as it seems. I think Ware does an excellent job writing Hal in this story. She is totally believable and I could totally empathize with the financial mess she’s found herself in and the desperation of trying to do whatever she can to pay her bills. I enjoyed her story arc and growth throughout the novel.

I didn’t like the rest of the Westaway family though, which I guess is kind of the point because they’re all flawed and their flaws make you wonder what is actually going on with this family and what is their real history. But I found it hard to connect with any of the other characters and I didn’t find the main twist very surprising. It’s more of a “wtf is going on in this book” moment and when the twist is finally revealed it’s not really that shocking – it was totally what I was expecting, I just wasn’t really sure how the author would take me there. I also thought the red herring was super obvious, although still pretty ominous and I do think it added to the story.

Overall not my favourite Ruth Ware book, but don’t doubt for a second that I won’t still be first in line to read whatever she writes next!

The Child Finder

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Rene Denfeld
Genres: Mystery
Pub Date: Sept. 2017 (read Mar. 2018)

I tore through this short mystery novel in 2 days. The Child Finder tells the story of Naomi, a private investigator who specializes in lost children and has gained a reputation as the ‘Child Finder’. She’s been hired by a couple in Oregon whose daughter disappeared 3 years ago into a snowy forest and was never found. Naomi grew up in Oregon and the return to the woods reminds her of her own upbringing with her foster mom and foster brother, as well as the dark past she has blocked from her memory. As she searches for Madison and her foster mom’s health declines, she must face her own past and relationships in order to ever be whole.

Setting and atmosphere are key in this novel and I loved them both. The story takes place deep in Oregon’s wilderness and in a land of perpetual winter. Denfeld integrates fairy tales into the story and I thought they worked so well against the backdrop of the snowy forest. Everything is so secluded within the park that you feel transported back in time to when trappers still ran the land and lived in their log cabins in the woods, living off the land. Naomi is very much an island herself and the setting mirrored her struggle to build relationships and set down roots. She is always on the move from one missing child case to the next, always running from her past.

I liked this as both a mystery novel and a character study. I really liked Naomi and I’d be interested in reading a sequel to see her deal with her own ghosts and guilt. She was complex, yet simple. I was impressed with how well the author crafted her character in such a short book. I love when characters are so well crafted that they take on a life of their own and you can almost anticipate how they will react because you feel you’ve come to know them so well. I felt this way about Naomi and as much as I wanted her to settle down, I understood why she always had to keep moving.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about the plot. It’s a pretty simple story overall and it felt more about Naomi’s growth than the actual mystery. I liked that the author included two missing children cases, as well as snippets of Naomi’s back story, because it added a bit more intrigue to the book. I quite liked the writing. It was simple but it also had this dreamy quality to it which I thought flowed well throughout the story and is what really helped to create the atmosphere.

Disclaimer, this book does have some disturbing content, but I thought it was actually handled really well by the author. Some books are needlessly gratuitous about physical and sexual violence, and while this book has both, I thought it was well written. It offers some interesting insight into the cycle of abuse and how isolation and never knowing love can impact children and the people they grow up to be.