“We live not for today, but for the ages yet to come, and the children yet unborn.” — Mary Harris (Mother) Jones

Posts tagged ‘thriller’

Book Review: Small Secrets by Jennifer Hillier

The trouble with trying to review one of Ms. Hillier’s novels is that it’s extremely difficult to do so without spoilers. The latest is no exception, but I’m stubborn.

First, although I wanted to be empathetic with the protagonist, Marin Machado, the simple fact is that she’s not terribly likable. Of course, one suspects as the plot resolution approaches that’s how we’re supposed to feel, but it could just be me. Ms. Hillier’s characters are always painfully human, so it’s logical to react to them as if we were meeting them at a party and drawing our conclusions on short acquaintance.

Marin is doing some last-minute Christmas shopping at a crowded farmer’s market with her 4-year-old son Sebastian when she receives a text from her former lover and trusted best friend Sal. She lets go her son’s hand to respond—and he’s gone.

This is, as we’re reminded many times as the book progresses, is every mother’s nightmare. Marin’s guilt at having let go of a small child in a crowd is certainly justified. Her reaction to it is to essentially become the center of a universe in which anyone who doesn’t display an emotional level equal to her own is dismissed, never mind that her perception of those reactions is entirely narcissistic. No one can possibly suffer as much as she does.

The somewhat predictable effect of this nearly a year and a half after Sebastian’s abduction slowly evolves into a web of lies and betrayals that Ms. Hillier is so adept at weaving. Nothing—and no one—is what we think it is, and yet as the story advances one begins to suspect. Whether those suspicions are correct you’ll have to read to the end to discover.

I suspect many people will have a different reaction to Marin, and that’s why Ms. Hillier’s fiction is so compelling. Far too often in genre fiction the themes and tropes are so well-known we simply react on reflex. That’s not possible with Small Secrets, and that makes all the difference between a good book and a compelling one.

Book Review: Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

It’s a good thing I didn’t know this thriller was centered around a serial killer. I’m so burned out on serial-killer mysteries/thrillers/police procedurals I’ve begun avoiding them across the board. Fortunately, Ms. Hillier has done what I thought impossible—written a serial-killer novel that’s entirely original.

For 19 years, Georgina Shaw harbored a horrible secret—one drunken night in her junior year of high school she helped bury her murdered best friend. Then the dismembered body of Angela Wong is discovered in the woods near her home, and the man who killed Angela, Calvin James, is charged with the murder of three more people.The arresting officer is Kaiser Brody, her other best friend in high school, who loved her then and is forced to admit he still does.

Angela Wong was the poor little rich girl, beautiful and with the kind of charisma that led everyone to ignore her darker side. When her body is found and Geo’s part in her death is revealed, that darker side is erased; and Geo’s carefully constructed life of denial is over.

Geo is compelled to admit what she saw and did that night or spend the rest of her life in prison as an accessory; she is sentenced to five years. Calvin is convicted, but shortly afterwards escapes and disappears. Then, within days of Geo’s release the bodies of a woman and a toddler are found in almost the same spot where Angela was buried. And then another woman and child. Kaiser has no doubt Calvin is back. His partner, and erstwhile lover, isn’t as sure.

The title references a Mason jar of cinnamon hearts Calvin gave Geo. She disliked the candy, and he ended up eating them, emptying the jar the last time she saw him. The night he raped her.

It will seem to some I’ve just done what I swear never to do, which is write a review containing spoilers. You’d be wrong. If, however, you’re gotten a sense this is a story infinitely more complex than the standard fare, you win the prize.

Ms. Hillier has a new book coming out shortly, so I’m embarrassed I’m more than a year late posting this review of her first one. Which, per requirements, I’ll note I read as an advance review copy provided by the publisher. I swear I’ll try to be faster reviewing #2.


Book Review: The Guise of Another by Allen Eskens

Guise_coverFans of Dan Brown will probably find a lot to like about this novel. Those who prefer realistic characters probably not so much.

The first problem I had was identifying the main character. We start off with one who seems to fill that capacity but may not be, and the one who may be shows up about three chapters in. It’s a telling point that it’s all but impossible to critique said original main character without spoilers, which I will not do. Suffice to say I didn’t care for the way he was used.

Then there’s the villain, who is an Eastern European cliché straight out of every cop show in movies or TV. Ditto for the underlying villainous corporation for whom he works. Within two or three chapters, his behavior becomes so predictable the plot becomes a matter of waiting to see how his opposition responds.

What put me off most, though, was an underlying thread of misogyny wherein women are either cheating spouses, manipulative gold diggers, or impending murder victims. Again, one can’t go into detail without spoilers, and I know that’s frustrating. It’s also possible no one else will concur, but I tend to see patterns. The one I saw here was off-putting. I’ll also note in passing Mr. Eskens seems to have an aversion to pronouns.

All that said, the plot isn’t bad, with lots of twists and turns that may or may not have been intentional, as after the first few I couldn’t help feeling the author may have, from time to time, gotten bored with the way things were going and gone looking for something new to play with.

Think “action movie,” and you may find this book to your liking. If you like a bit more depth of character, this may not be as entertaining.

Book Review: Cold Vengeance by Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston

I’ve been a huge fan of Agent Aloysius Pendergast ever since I caught the movie based on the first book—Relic. For that reason, I was willing to accept the digression into his personal quest to discover who murdered his wife in Fever Dream. His obsession with the matter is something not unexpected, given his nature, and the book itself at least offers an interesting medical thriller involving John James Audubon and parrots. If the cliffhanger ending was a bit less than effective for anyone who knows Pendergast, it was forgivable.

Unfortunately, in the continuation of that saga, there are so many contrivances to keep the story moving, many of them directly contradictory to what we know of our hero, that for established fans this is bound to be a disappointment. The problem is that discussing them in any detail will result in multiple spoilers, something I won’t do.

To begin with, we know Pendergast had to know going in that the trip to Scotland proposed by his brother-in-law was a trap, yet for some reason he wasn’t intelligent enough to wear the bulletproof vest he did remember to put on later in the book. To further complicate matters, the authors have reintroduced a character from one of the earlier books whose only reason for existence appears to be to get into trouble and, perhaps, giving us someone else to worry about until the next book comes out

Then there is the conclusion—one can’t call it an ending, since it’s another cliffhanger—which is clearly set up for precisely that purpose, and which requires behavior so totally out of character for even an average law enforcement officer that one is tempted to wonder if Pendergast has suffered severe brain damage as a result of his previous injuries.

This isn’t to say there aren’t good moments, and there are some great action scenes. Also, a surprise development introduced in Fever Dream receives another hint that all is not what it seems. Granted, that, too, was no doubt assumed by longtime fans. I suspect therein lies the problem with a long-term series—the faithful know the characters so well it’s all but impossible to convince them those characters will behave in a, well, non-characteristic manner.

Overall, although the underlying conspiracy theme of the book has potential, I’ve ceased to care what really happened to Helen Pendergast. As endearing as Pendergast’s search for his lost soul mate might be, it really doesn’t have enough meat to it to support three novels. One can only hope that the barely discernible suggestion she has some importance to the new conspiracy will evolve into something stronger. As it stands, she comes across as mostly a useful tool for keeping things moving.

As a writer, I can well imagine that after this many episodes in the Pendergast saga Preston and Child may be getting a little burned out. I noticed the same problem with F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack series, the last one of which suffered from the same problems exhibited by this book. Preston and Child released what will probably be the first in a new series that shows some potential, although I found the protagonist rather lacked the qualities that make for a character able to support a series. On the other hand, Gabriel does have lots of room to grow.

So, although fans of the series should probably read this one and probably will for the same reason I did, it definitely lacks the quality of the previous installments. I think we’re hoping that what now appear to be weaknesses in execution are, in fact, leading us in directions other than the ones we believe we’re going.