Wishful Drinking, by Carrie Fisher

Seven stars

Turning to the first of her short memoirs, I was faced with some of Carrie Fisher’s most interesting sentiments and humorous anecdotes detailing a life about which I knew very little. Fisher adds as an opening disclaimer that she underwent electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), which erased some of her past memories, so things within these pages might not be as clear or succinct as their actual occurrences. Born in the worst possible situation, the offspring of two Hollywood stars, Carrie Fisher found herself in the middle of the most complex family tree imaginable. With Eddie Fisher (an apparently famous crooner of the 1950s) and Debbie Reynolds (famous Hollywood starlet at a young age) as parents, Fisher was forced to live in their blinding glory and make a name for herself. However, as with many star-studded couples, her parents moved on to bigger and better things, leaving her as a child of divorce. Does she use this excuse to explain away her decision to turn to drugs and alcohol? Not at all, or at least no more than any other child. Fisher tells of a life both in Los Angeles and New York, following her mother along her successful but fading career before she ended up on the set of Star Wars at nineteen and carving out a name for herself. This single character (Princess Leia) has permeated Fisher’s very being and she was forever unable to shake its presence. Pulling out some stories about her interactions with George Lucas to explain why wearing a bra on set would not make scientific sense, her brief marriage to Paul Simon, and eventually marrying a man who got her pregnant and eventually announced that he was gay, Fisher takes the reader through a whirlwind tour of some of her most memorable moments, all surrounding an ever-increasing dependence on pills, psychiatrists, and flashes of fame. An interesting smattering of thoughts and memories, instilled with enough humour to leave the reader feeling this is an extended comedy dialogue, Fisher presents something to tide the reader over between larger and more substantial reading assignments. Funny for what it is, but not a stellar piece for those seeking an in-depth exploration of Carrie Fisher’s life.

Some might wonder why I am reading Carrie Fisher after I panned her two novels so recently. I knew what I was getting into with this book and it delivered precisely what I expected. While I might have preferred something more linear, I found myself interested in all the adventures, follies, and downright stupidity that crossed Fisher’s path. I knew her only as Princess Leia (though I was not one to plaster posters upon my wall) and so all of this proved both intriguing and even a little entertaining. Fisher does not try to gussy up her writing or her stories. They are precisely as she remembers them, though she does remind the reader of her ECT throughout the piece, which acts as a means to understand some of the more random commentaries found herein. Engaging and even a little provocative, Fisher serves her purpose by presenting this piece, the first in what became a series. We shall see what else comes to pass as the Force flows through me for the other two memoir-ish publications.

Kudos, Madam Fisher for entertaining and intriguing me. A nice appetizer before I delve into a month of hard-going biographies

The Best Awful (Suzanne Vale #2), by Carrie Fisher

Three stars

In her follow-up ‘novel’, Fisher continues this quasi-biographical story about Suzanne Vale. In this piece, Vale seems to have come to the horrible realisation that the man who got her pregnant has since had the sexual epiphany that he is gay. Struggling with this, Vale tries to put it all into perspective while bemoaning the offspring of a dual-celebrity relationship and the issues that are sure to be bestowed on her daughter, Honey. While Vale tries to come to terms with these new realities, she begins a carefree life that sees her trying to better understand this major change. What follows is a series of events that leave the reader with ringside tickets to the slow and constant spiral of an addict still incapable of handling the hard pitches that life seems to throw. Fisher still seems happy to amass a scattering of thoughts in veiled fiction form, with strong parallels to her own life. While a decent wordsmith, Fisher may have wanted to move away from the smarmy life she lived and choose a new avenue.

I respect that everyone has their life and that an author ought to write about what they know best. That said, writing quality is a major factor in producing a decent piece of fiction (and one would hope non-fiction as well). This remained more of a train wreck than the first ‘novel’ in the series and I can only be thankful that there will be no others. The difficulties of a Hollywood star bleed through the pages of this book, though it is as though Fisher wants to excuse the behaviour that comes with the pressure of life under the microscope. I am not prepared to give her a pass, even as she has passed on, and blow rainbows into this review for something that was less than mediocre. Vale proves to be even more vapid than the first story and offers little of insight or entertainment for the reader, save her running off the rails when things get a little difficult. Another story with few characters of interest and where most were lacklustre. Again the search for a plot turns up less than the manner Jabba the Hutt might have shown on a good day. Fisher again tries to tell a monologue of her life, though does not stick with the short memoirs that she has released. This is by no means the best of anything, but it was awful.

Shameful, Madam Fisher that you would continue to offer up such fictional drivel. Thank god you know how to write or this would have been the hottest mess I have come across in a long time. 

Postcards From the Edge (Suzann Vale #1), by Carrie Fisher

Four stars

In her first piece of fiction, Fisher seeks to relay some sentiments through this quasi-biographical story. Suzanne Vale is an actress who has succumbed to the horrors of addiction and finds herself in a treatment facility. While there, she recounts some of her views on fellow addicts and the trials of life on the inside. Released back into her real world, Vale begins the slow process of re-establishing herself, securing a new agent while trying to return to the life she knows so well. However, as seems to be the yoke of all those who have tasted fame, she finds herself in a form of purgatory, unsure where she fits in and how others will see her. By the end of this short piece, she has found a form of amorous connection, though it is unclear if it will be long-lasting. Truly a scattering of thoughts that tries to relate back to her own life, Fisher may have work her side-buns too tightly if this is supposed to be high quality writing.

I respect that everyone has their life and ideas that shape them. I also am sure that it is difficult to be a Hollywood actress and face the rigours of the bright lights and paparazzi on a daily basis. However, like all people, actors are people and have to face the everyday world. Fisher seeks, I think, to portray a form of herself in the Vale character, but it comes across more as a justification for acts and serves as a trivial and superficial approach to life. A few characters who were lacklustre and a plot… was there one? At times I was unsure what I was reading, wondering if this might be some form of monologue that sought to tell stories and anecdotes. This was not a story as much as it was a means to express herself without using her own name and experiences. If only to honour her recent passing, I will likely try the second Vale piece and see what comes of this, but I am certain to list RETURN TO SENDER on this particular postcard.

Thank you Madam Fisher for your insights. Perhaps stick to recounting stories about yourself and not using a straw man in the form of Suzanne Vale. 

Private Delhi (Private #13), by James Patterson and Ashwin Sanghi

Six stars

In the latest Private novel, James Patterson and Ashwin Sanghi take the action back to India, this time focussing their attention on Delhi. Jack Morgan arrives in country for an international security conference, taking some time to check on Private Delhi and its head, Santosh Wagh. After a number of near-death experiences working for Morgan in Mumbai, Wagh quit his job and returned to drowning his sorrows in a bottle of booze. However, Morgan saw much in this man and convinced him to give things another chance. Soon thereafter, Private Delhi took shape and had been thriving for a time. When a number of bodies turn up in large containers, dissolving in acid, whispers about a new serial killer emerges with the posh community on the southern part of the city. However, upon further inspection, this is not a private residence, but a house owned by the state government, which only adds to the rumours and gossip. Morgan agrees to have Private handle the matter when approached by a high-ranking member of the government, even as Wagh warns that this is solely a political competition between two powerful men. Reluctantly, Wagh leads his team into a case that has many nefarious layers in a country where nothing is clear-cut. The bodies found in those containers are missing organs and new victims soon emerge, political figures with sordid pasts. Once there is a connection between the deaths and organ procurement, Wagh can focus the investigation and limit the number of suspects, or can he? With an investigative reporter out for political blood, the investigation takes new and curious spins, which might cost Wagh everything all over again. A culturally interesting addition to the Private series, Patterson and Sanghi entertain the reader who might not be familiar with the practices in this populated portion of the world.

The advantage of the Private collection is that Patterson is able to tap into cultural and geographic nuances by engaging authors around the world to keep things fresh and spot-on. While some past novels have missed the mark, I quite enjoyed this one that seemed chock-full of cultural aspects and local customs not seen in the novels I tend to read. While I cannot speak confidently about how realistic the narrative tends to be, certain areas about organ procurement and the vast economic diversity within India seems to match information I have previously learned about the region. The array of characters keep the reader on their toes and trying to keep track of the entire cast. Wagh’s struggles do not take centre stage throughout the novel, though there is limited time to see much character growth with the purported protagonist. The plot remains rich and multi-faceted, choosing to hang on the theme of healthcare availability and how there is a significant chasm between what the members of various castes can access. Patterson and Sanghi have done well scripting this story and keeping it short enough that the reader could tackle it in a short period of time, while still leaving them wanting more. Impressive for what it is, this book remains at the top of the Private collection to date. 

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Sanghi for entertaining and teaching me much about India in short order. I am curious to see if you two will come together again for another joint venture before long.

The Hermit, by Thomas Rydahl

Seven stars

Continuing my tour of mysteries the world over through the eyes of authors new to me, I came across Thomas Rydahl. Winner of a few Danish literary awards, I thought it worth a look, if only to compare it to some of the other Scandinavian work I have read over the past few years. Erhard Jørgensen enjoys the quiet life with his two goats. A Danish ex-patriot living on the Canary Islands, Jørgensen contradicts himself by driving his taxi around for tourists and tuning the odd piano when requested by locals. His isolated lifestyle has earned him the moniker The Hermit, though Jørgensen winces whenever he hears it, choosing to defend his lifestyle as one of a tranquil senior citizen. When the local authorities approach him for help on a case, Jørgensen throws himself into the investigation and turns this into his newest obsession. A baby has been found dead in a car, wrapped in the pages of a Danish news magazine, but no one can identify either the child or the vehicle in which he was found. As Jørgensen seeks to learn a little more, the police choose to take the easy way out and bribe a prostitute to take the fall. However, Jørgensen wants justice and and answers, even if he will have to do it alone. Where the investigation takes him, only Jørgensen knows for sure, but when he finds himself in the middle of a travesty, things take a definite turn for the worse. Now a man with secrets of his own to keep, Jørgensen struggles to keep from revealing too much while he continues to search for the truth. As things become clearer, the question remains as to whether Jørgensen will be able to convince anyone to believe him before he becomes the next victim. A superior noir mystery that takes many turns, Rydahl has a winner on his hands. Patient and diligent readers ought to take a look at this finely-crafted piece, if only to weigh-in on the discussion.

The art of reading a novel not in its original language is one that some readers may find difficult, as I have come to learn through numerous conversations and review analyses. I find that a writer cannot necessarily be held accountable for the flow and rhythm of a story when the reader is given something other than the original text, in which language has been put through some sort of sieve. While I love Scandinavian mysteries and find their stories so intriguing, they are not for everyone. This novel’s content differs greatly from the British, Australian, or even North American publications that saturate the market, which has both positive and negative attributes. With a decent translator, a story can hold its foundation effectively, though a poorly penned novel cannot necessarily be resuscitated. I would venture to say that Rydahl’s novel survived its linguistic metamorphisis, as the intricacies of the narrative work well. The great set of characters that emerge as the story flows prove highly entertaining and thoroughly captivating. Of course, Erhard Jørgensen remains the protagonist and his quirks prove both disturbing and very alluring to the attentive reader, especially his fiaxation on his life back in Denmark and the missing finger for which he metaphorically searched throughout. Rydahl develops Jørgensen slowly and pulls pieces of his backstory out throughout the narrative, as if to tease the reader into wanting more, but having to wait awhile before the full picture can be offered. The narrative is one that I would say remains uniquely Scandinavian, as it trudges along, but always gets to the key elements at just the right time. I recently read an Irish author who also enjoyed her ‘pulling molasses in January’ narrative, but Rydahl is perhaps even more methodical in his pacing. Detail is key and Rydahl certainly does that throughout, depicting the smallest thing with the most attention and pulling the reader closer to investigate. One major example is a depiction of a sexual encounter, which, while graphic in nature, is told in such frank terms with linguistic complexities that one could never feel that it is by any means smutty. I found Rydahl offering the reader doses of this detail, though no turning the entire novel into something gazed upon under a microscope, with minutiae filling the page. The symbolism is found throughout the story and the search for justice pushes the story and its protagonist forward from the opening paragraph, though there is also a keen banter in the dialogue, which peppers English, Danish, and forms of Spanish idiosyncrasies throughout. That being said, I am still not sure how I feel about the novel, Erhard Jørgensen, or the entire premise involved. Unique and memorable for sure, I am not ready to place Rydahl alongside some of my other favourite authors from the region. We shall see if time allows my thoughts to ferment a little more and for me to have an epiphany. Still, an interesting read that some who understand the noir mystery might find right up their alley. 

Kudos, Mr. Rydahl for impressing me in some places while also leaving me wondering in others. I will be sure to keep an open mind, though my first impression is surely one of an author deserving of the literary accolades that have been presented.

The Dry (Aaron Falk #1), by Jane Harper

Eight stars

Succumbing to some of the biblio-peer pressure surrounding Jane Harper’s debut novel, I thought I ought to make a little time and see what she had to offer. Australia has been hit with one of its worst droughts ever, turning fertile lands into blobs of brown. In the community of Kiewarra, rain has not fallen in upwards of two years, only adding to tensions. An emergency call is made and authorities arrive at the Hadler farm to find a bloodbath. Luke Hadler appears to have killed his wife and son, before turning the gun on himself. The town chalks this up to extreme duress and a cloud of murder-suicide hangs over the town, which accompanies the scorching sun. When Aaron Falk returns to his hometown to attend the funeral of his childhood best friend, townsfolk whisper. Falk is forced to remember what happened two decades before, when a friend, Ellie Deacon, was found dead in the river and a note addressed to him turned up. His alibi is flimsy and turns out to have been concocted with the help of Luke, though they thought the secret would prove impenetrable. While Falk has made a name for himself in the Federal Police, he remains that teenager whose name was bandied around as having been responsible. Falk faces those awkward memories as he tries to better understand what could have pushed Luke to kill his family, with whom he was apparently very proud when last they chatted. Falk works with some of the local authorities to investigate the deaths, turning up small inconsistencies. Could someone have harboured animosity for twenty years and finally sought revenge for Ellie’s untimely death? Could Falk be next on the list? Working to uncover what might have happened on the Hadler farm, Falk must clear his friend’s name, while standing firm as the past rears its ugly head. A wonderful first novel that allows Harper to show that she is someone to be taken seriously in the genre. Perfect for mystery fans and those looking for a superior story to enthral and entertain.

Harper has made a wonderful first impression on me with this novel, developing a strong police procedural alongside the complexities of small-town Australia. Aaron Falk serves as a wonderful protagonist as he keeps the narrative moving forward with his investigative skills, though the darker past that he has been forced to revisit keeps readers wondering about this man until the final sentence. This hint at a less than pristine Falk allows Harper to introduce a number of other characters whose importance varies, while pushing the narrative forward. Kiewarra proves also to be effective as a setting, as it mixes that proximity to big city life with the quaint farm living that has become destroyed with the current drought. A community that holds grudges while wanting to envelop its citizens away from prying eyes, Harper uses these traits to further enrich her narrative. Harper’s use of flashbacks throughout, rather than straight recounting dialogue, gives the reader a great deal of insight and provides a true ‘revelation’ perspective throughout the story, as if the reader were witnessing some of the events that had been mentioned in passing. The reader learns much from these glimpses into the past and it provides a telling connection to the larger story. Overall, a wonderful piece that should provide momentum for a series, should that be the route Harper wishes to pursue. Curious readers should not take the title to be indicative of the quality or presentation of the novel, but that stocks at booksellers will disappears as swiftly as an Australian brushfire. Get your copy today and you will not be sorry!  

Kudos, Madam Harper for such a great start you your published career. I can see that many others have come to like this work and I cannot wait to get my hands on whatever you have coming.

The Trespasser (Dublin Murder Squad #6), by Tana French

Eight stars

While my February binge-read of Tana French has reached its end, these mysteries remain some of the best novels I have read in a long while. They pull key aspects of police procedurals with a dash of Irish charm and leave the reader with a sense of completion, after a drawn-out story and systematic solution. Picking up a few months after The Secret Place, French turns the focus onto Detective Antoinette Conway, who came from a single-parent home and whose mixed-race background left her feeling out of place. Working the night shift with partner Stephen Moran, Conway joins him as they investigate an apparent domestic disturbance gone wrong. As they arrive to begin their investigation, Conway and Moran learn a little more about Aislinn Murray. Living alone, she appeared to have been expecting someone, with the table set for a nice meal. Conway soon learns that Aislinn had a new boyfriend, Rory Fallon, who had plans to meet her around the time of her murder. Fallon proves less than sinister during his initial interview, though his timeline for the night of the murder is flimsy enough that he could have turned up and committed the crime before following through with date night story. Turning up the pressure, in hopes of having Fallon spill, Conway gets nowhere and his forced to keep her options open.New avenues turn up potential leads, including that Aislinn apparently become fixated on her father, who disappeared from his family twenty years before. After being encouraged to forge onwards, Conway is left to chase down a gang angle. There is the additional angle as to why Aislinn changed her image a few years ago, dolling herself up and becoming more sociable. As she struggles to piece this case together, Conway receives a visit from her own father, who disappeared when she was little. This interaction is nothing short of a disaster and only serves to exacerbate a sense of being unwanted. Sensing parallels in her own life and Aislinn’s past, Conway takes a new approach and revisits all the information that have on hand. It is only then that the case takes an interesting turn and turns up ideas that were previously hidden from her investigation. Filled with wonderful storytelling and an evolving narrative, French remains on the top of her game in this explosive novel, perfect for series fans and curious folk alike.

All six Dublin Murder Squad novels have proven to be a delight to read, with their winding narratives and strong cast of characters. The dedicated reader will see a loose formula to them, but this is not to say that it presents anything close to ‘cookie cutter’ in nature. Pulling the reader in to learn more about Antoinette Conway was the perfect approach for this novel, as she played a minor role previously and might have left some readers wondering about this slightly abrupt detective who allowed Stephen Moran into her case at St. Kilda’s (see The Secret Place). French develops a number of other great characters, whose banter and placement in the story help push the narrative along, sometimes in ways the reader might not expect. Choice of the murder victim as well as the motive are also important to an effective story, which French has kept unique and yet timely as the series gained momentum. French is always keen on adding themes, which helps add new flavour to the story and keeps me entertained as I gather the threads together. The title proves to be the strongest theme for me, showing the various forms of trespassers that emerge. One could easily see that the murderer proved to be the most apparent trespasser that invaded Aislinn Murray’s home, entering and leaving her body strewn on the floor after a struggle. Fathers to both Aislinn and Antoinette could also be seen as trespassers, having left their homes but invaded these women’s minds at various points in the story’s development. Antoinette herself may feel like a trespasser in the Squad, as she is vilified and treated poorly by her fellow detectives, turning against the only woman investigating murders. This trespasser sensation could lead her to depart, which would only fuel the rumours that Conway cannot handle the intensity of murder and the “boys’ club” that it seems to be. The conscientious reader may see others, which are left to germinate for those who want a little more out of the mystery. These well-crafted tales are surely not for everyone, as the story takes time to evolve and the narrative offers slow and paced growth, but that is perhaps one of the greatest features, as the reader is forced to investigate alongside the Murder Squad. While I am caught up on the series, the binge complete, I cannot wait to see where else this series takes fans. 

Kudos, Madam French for leaving me needing more, which only goes to show how effective you are at writing. I hope that many who read this and other reviews will find the time to at least try one of your mysteries and see for themselves that Ireland holds many gems, not all of which require a rainbow.

The Freedom Broker (Thea Paris #1), by K. J. Howe

Eight stars

My curiosity piqued by seeing a promotional poster on Goodreads, I had to give this one a look. K.J. Howe storms onto the scene with her debut novel that pulls together a number of interesting perspectives and keeps the reader on their toes throughout. Athena ‘Thea’ Paris is a world-renowned and respected kidnap and rescue specialist, working for Quantum International Security. Her team has been able to facilitate the release of numerous high-ranking CEOs and members of the business community, though rarely without bloodshed. Heading to Greece for the annual celebration of her father’s name-day, Thea is rocked when she discovers the deck of Aphrodite, Christos Paris’ yacht, covered in blood and the bodies of his staff lay dead in the scorching sun. An oil tycoon and ruthless businessman, Christos is definitely on the radar of many kidnappers seeking a high-price payout for his safe return. All that is left on the yacht his cell, with a cryptic Latin message that has Thea sure that this is no run-of-the-mill kidnapper. While Thea assembles her team and tries to keep the news from making its way into media outlets, someone else is being summoned to help with the investigation. Gabrielle Farrah, former CIA and currently on the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, is on her way at the invitation of Maximilian Heros, part of the Greek police forces and a one-time flame. Farrah has a great deal of experience working with hostages as well, especially during her mission to track down Ares, a kidnapper and weapon’s dealer who has made his mark all over the world. While Thea tries to find clues to her father’s kidnapping, Farrah and Heros foist themselves into the investigation, hoping to help in any way they can, though they are not privy to the inside scoop. Thea must also handle her brother, Nikos, who has been estranged from their father, but who has a kidnap history of his own and wants to get to the bottom of the ordeal. Taken for nine months as a teenager, Nikos remains scarred with the memories of his African captors, though has made a name for himself as a philanthropist and advocate against child soldiers. The further Thea takes the investigation, the more cryptic messages appear, all of which relate to famous quotes but offer little insight into where Christos might be held. Those closest to the oil tycoon seem to be dying off, particularly when they have knowledge of what might have happened, but never in time to share insights with Thea. With an important negotiation for Paris Industries to secure the oil rights in Kanzi, located in sub-Saharan Africa, Thea heads to the region to represent her father and try to track him down. Nikos has his own plan and seeks to secure the best deal to ensure there is a monetary incentive for all the strings he has pulled, but is thrust into memories of his childhood terrors. As Thea inches closer to learning of her father’s whereabouts, someone has slipped her all the relevant documentation tied to her brother’s kidnapping and captivity, which offers a new perspective and might fuel new motives for kidnapping. With Ares potentially behind the kidnapping and Christos Paris still missing, Thea must use all the resources at her disposal to bring her father home with as little bloodshed as possible. A powerful story full of drama, action, and attention to detail that shows how some authors have the knack when they hit the ground running in the industry. Well worth investigating by any reader with a penchant for exciting thrillers.

I mentioned in a recent review that an author’s first impression is key for me. If I like what I find, I will usually try to keep them on my radar, though a poorly crafted novel can leave me pushing away and on to find my next great author. Howe enters the thriller genre with an interesting approach; a kidnap-ransom theme and a female protagonist. Thea Paris is developed well throughout the novel, including some backstory and complex personal struggles, which helps the reader better relate to her as she races around the world to save the rich and somewhat famous. Howe has also been able to complement Thea with an assortment of other characters whose stories will surely continue to play well in the next few novels, should Howe decide to keep writing. The kidnap theme, while not new in many of the novels I have read, is a central focus and will therefore allow readers to see things from this perspective. The plot advances nicely and keeps the reader wondering, with drama and action on two continents, but does take time to develop the narrative. The reader does not feel a sense of literary whiplash as they race around the world, nor is there a feeling that kidnapping is all about jet setting from one posh location to the next. Of particular interest is how the backstory of the Nikos Paris kidnapping serves as a launching pad for the plot as well as flavouring a number of the characters found in the narrative. I would strongly recommend this book and do hope that the ‘Thea Paris #1’ in the title is indicative of another fast-paced novel in the works. I can only hope many others find Howe as interesting as I have.

Kudos, Madam Howe for a great debut novel. The praise on the dust jacket by some of my favourite authors is well-placed and I will surely promote your writing to anyone who will listen. 

The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad #5), by Tana French

Eight stars

Tana French finds new ways to dazzle and impress me with the fifth Dublin Murder Squad novel. Readers familiar with Faithful Place will remember Holly Mackey, daughter of Frank Mackey, and Dublin Police floater Stephen Moran. Seven years later, Moran is now working on Cold Cases and receives an unlikely visit from Holly, who is now sixteen and enrolled at St. Kilda’s, an all-girls boarding school. Holly explains that the school has a wall where students can post anonymous comments about their lives without repercussions, called The Secret Place. Holly has come to Moran with one of the cards she found pinned to the wall, a photo of a young man from the nearby all-boys school who was murdered a year ago. On the back of this card, a message indicating that the card’s creator has information about the murder. Moran takes this and approached the case’s Murder Squad lead, Detective Antoinette Conway, in hopes of joining the investigation. Conway is leery, but agrees after Moran argues his rapport with Holly might be an asset. Trying to make headway, Conway and Moran encounter a clic of girls at the school, all of whom have sentiments about the victim, Chris Harper. This group of teenaged girls would make a murder of crows seem angelic, as they protect one another in one breath and roast the weakest links in the next. Holly is firmly rooted in one of these groups and the investigation shows how Harper used a number of these girls, emotionally and physically, before discarding them and moving onto the next conquest. The reader is given added insight through French’s use of a flashback narrative in numerous chapters, which fills in major gaps that Moran and Conway are not able to acquire. While it appears Harper sought to play the girls for his own benefit, which girl is ultimately responsible for his demise is not clear, nor is the witness who posted to The Secret Place. Perhaps the most challenging Squad case yet presented to readers, French does a brilliant job in drawing out the story and then showing how the murderer came to slay young Chris Harper. Fans of the series and new readers alike will find much to enjoy in his book.

As absorbing as these books have become, I sometimes find myself wondering when the other shoe will drop. Will French run out of ideas and have to replicate a plot or premise? I have yet to find that concern and her continued variety has me feeling constantly refreshed. Somewhat of a thriller and police procedural nut, I have been around the block and French stands leaps and bounds ahead of many other authors in the genre. Her constant rotation of protagonists proved even more effective here, as she broke the pattern of finding a minor character from the previous book and looked two novels earlier. She also chose to incorporate three past characters in the story, which forces series fans to remember the nuances that both Mackeys and Moran brought to the aforementioned third book in the series. The cast of school girls was also a significant feat and that it was done so well (and offered a variety of characters even within the group) speaks to French’s superior writing abilities. As with the past novels, I was able to extract a theme from the text, through the title. The ‘secret’ place has many meanings throughout the story, from the literal place that is used by the girls to air their private sentiments to the as yet unattainable Murder Squad job that Moran seeks. One might also find that these girls are seeking the secret place as a meeting spot to encounter Chris Harper or more metaphorically the ‘place’ in his heart. As the investigation proves intense and Frank Mackey makes an appearance, the reader might wonder if the ‘secret’ place could be thinking someone could be so dark as to travel down a path thought impossible before. However the reader chooses to interpret it, the dynamic between the girls, the police, and the overall mystery is formidable and should give the reader a high-impact mystery with the most unpredictable of characters. If it has not been clear up to this point of the review, or my sentiments in all books of the series, this is a must-read for anyone who has patience and interest in superior thriller novels.

Kudos, Madam French for proving how versatile you are and how the ideas seem never-ending. I am excited to get to the next novel, though it is a little sad that the binge is almost done.

Ill Will, by Dan Chaon

Three stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Dan Chaon, and Random House Publishing Group-Ballantine for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In my first attempt to decipher the writing (ramblings?) of Dan Chaon, I was left with a bitter taste I am unable to mask. This novel, set in both the early 1980s and 2012-14 tells of two sets of unsolved murders, which sounds interesting enough. The first centres around a young Dustin Tillman, who spends much of his time with his cousins and adopted older brother, Rusty. Being much younger than the other three, Dustin is not privy to their drinking, drug-addled states, or promiscuity as they explore one another. He is, however, able to see an odd nature in Rusty, whose previous foster placement ended when the house caught on fire and the entire family died. Recounting events that include Satanic Worship (an apparent buzz word in the early 80s), Dustin lays the groundwork for horrific possibilities. On the morning before a family trip, the youths discover that their parents have all been murdered, though the killer is not immediately apparent. Chaon has the reader meander through the story to learn that Dustin did, eventually, testify against Rusty, who was sentenced to thirty years in jail for the crime. Fast-forwarding to a more present time, Dustin is now a psychotherapist who has done some work with Satanic worship, but was eventually drummed out of that and now does some run-of-the-mill hypnosis and projection exercises. When a patient brings an elaborate theory about a serial killer who chooses young men as his victims, Dustin cannot help but scoff. But, the more they talk, the more the idea germinates and soon Dustin is out on the road trying to piece it all together. Dustin’s wife and two sons are left to wonder and go through their own tribulations, as the reader witnesses the evaporation of the family unit due to illness and drugs. With these two narratives running parallel, the reader is forced to make sense of what is going on, though there is little of a sensical nature. The premise is there, but the delivery, as strong as an over-boiled noodle. Beware readers who get caught up in the dust jacket summary, as I did. You are in for a flop!

I have always found author first impressions to be very important. If I cannot find a groove with an author after reading one of their books, I am usually leery to give them a second chance. This book has left me so confused with its lacklustre delivery that I am forced to question if Chaon’s past literary awards were delivered in error. As I mentioned above, the premise is sound, or at least it could be. Two narratives telling of two sets of crimes; a protagonist who lives through both sets of crimes at different points in his life; the struggle to determine if that past accusation was an error and who might have committed the crime. All in all, Chaon is sitting on a potential thriller goldmine. He creates some interesting characters and surrounds them with a few plausible scenarios. But then, he pulls out all the stops to ruin a good thing. Paragraphs and chapters that end in the middle of a sen (note: purposefully done to prove a point), chapters that appear as columns on the page with each stretching over four or five flips (in which the reader must then return back the pages to begin the next column), transition between 1983 and 2012-14 between parts of the book, but not flowing seamlessly. One might presume that Chaon used his past acolytes to publish this, knowing that his reputation would allow sales to skyrocket (the James Patterson Syndrome). Some who loved it may troll on this review and comment that if I could do better, why don’t I write a book. Alas, I am not being paid to write a book (or for this unbiased review), so I can hold those who do make a living of this to a higher standard. All around, a literary train wreck with toxicity spewing from all sides. Fair warning with flashing lights, bells, and blaring horns. Steer clear and find a better pick!

Oh, Mr. Chaon, one can only hope this was an one-off gaffe. That said, you surely did some literary bed defecation with this one.