A Stranger at the Door (Rachel Marin #2), by Jason Pinter

Nine stars

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/review-a-stranger-at-the-door/

Jason Pinter dazzles with a protagonist whose past is anything but clear in this electrifying sequel to his newest series. In A Stranger at the Door, Pinter creates a murder mystery that has deeper and more complicated plots, as Rachel Marin must again face her past and the risks she’s taken to protect her children, one of whom finds a new form of trouble. With a mixed civilian-police procedural story, Pinter slowly and deliberately weaves a web and traps the reader into forging ahead, guessing who is behind it all. Recommended for those who loved the first novel in the series, as well as the reader who might like something a little different in a crime thriller.

Rachel Marin may not be her real name, but it is what folks in Ashby, Illinois call her. When Rachel receives an email from her son’s teacher, asking to meet and discuss a private matter, she’s intrigued. However, before she can make it to see Matthew Linklater, he’s been murdered and his house set ablaze. Who could want to do this to a man that many describe as quiet and salt of the earth?

Rachel is still as keen as ever to thrust herself into the middle of a criminal investigation, something that her boyfriend, Detective John Serrano, has come to realise he cannot deter. As they work the case, it soon becomes apparent that one of the students at school may have had a beef with Linklater, but no motive is yet clear.

Things take a definite turn for the worse when Rachel’s son, Eric, sneaks out to the local ball field in the middle of the night. With a little help from Detective Serrano, they discover that it is a collective of teenage boys who are being targeted to begin selling a wide range of products. It would seem they prey on the vulnerable, creating a safe space for them. While not illegal, Rachel wants Eric out of this group and can only see trouble lurking. Everything seems to be led by one Bennett Brice, who uses foot soldiers and some violence to keep the boys in line.

As Rachel tries to head up the investigation, she is neutered repeatedly by Serrano, which does not sit well with her. Attempts to get Brice to stay away from her son also fail miserably, when Rachel is attacked one day as she follows Eric discretely and lands in the hospital. However, Brice could be the key to the Matthew Linklater murder, though the pieces are still not fitting together.

Things get even more complicated when someone from Rachel’s past arrives in town. Evie Boggs has a secret that Rachel cannot have come out, but must play her cards right or things could get even worse for Eric. With a killer on the loose and more victims emerging, Serrano will have to utilise the mental acuity of his girlfriend and the grounded nature of his own partner to solve the case, or a number of teenage boys could end up in the morgue themselves.

I only recently discovered the work of Jason Pinter and am kicking myself for waiting so long. I devoured the series debut and was highly impressed with the writing and presentation, which led me to rush out and get my hands on this novel. Mixing a police procedural with civilian criminal investigator keeps the reader busy as they try to piece it all together in a format that is not entirely orthodox.

Rachel Marin recaptures her role as protagonist, offering more pieces of her life throughout the story, though her reveal at the end of the last novel sets the table for much of the vague backstory. Marin is sharp and on point when it comes to the investigation, but still has trouble when it comes to ceding control of the situation to the professionals, including her boyfriend, Detective John Serrano. Rachel loves her two children, who could not be more opposite to one another, taking risks to keep them safe. This familial dedication does, at times, blind her and pushes Marin into making poor choices.

Pinter crafts a stellar supporting cast of characters as well, providing fodder for the numerous plot lines. While the criminal element drives the story, there are personal struggles as well, which are effectively shaped by those Pinter uses to hash out the details. There is never a lull in the story telling, which drives many of the characters to grow in their own way and provides the narrative with something worth exploring. With a handful of returning faces, the reader can learn a little more about them, but the new cast definitely takes the story in some interesting directions.

The story definitely proved unique for me in the thriller genre. The melding of an active police investigation with an overly keen civilian investigator keeps the story moving and allows the reader to feast on a few perspectives simultaneously. Pinter pulls the reader in with a strong narrative that never stops evolving. The narrative works well with the clipped dialogue, offering a sense of realism and great banter. Chapters are predominantly short, which keeps the reader on their toes, never knowing what’s to come. With a personal thread that takes Rachel Marin out of her usual ‘distanced observer’ role, the reader is treated to some wonderful magic throughout this piece. While some have said this works well as a standalone, I question why anyone would want to do that. There is so much to enjoy in both books together that the reader would be foolish not to start fresh and enjoy the ride!

Kudos, Mr. Pinter, for a great series that kept me guessing. I am definitely going to keep my eye on your future publications and may look back to see what other gems you may have written.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Hide Away (Rachel Marin #1), by Jason Pinter

Eight stars

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/review-hide-away/

Looking for a thriller that would keep my mind racing throughout, I turned to this new series by Jason Pinter. With a woman who’s hiding her past from the authorities, but it adamant about helping with a murder investigation, Pinter pulls readers in with Hide Away. He reveals everything in a slow and deliberate fashion, keeping the reader guessing and trying to piece it all together. A police procedural with a twist, this will appeal to fans of the genre, as well as the reader looking for something across numerous timelines.

She calls herself Rachel Marin, but that’s not her real name. Something happened a number of years ago that’s forced her to flee with her two children and try to stay two steps in front of someone who’s lurking in the shadows. Whatever it is, the threat is real and ongoing, forcing Rachel to stay hyper vigilant, while living just outside of Chicago.

After the Ashby PD are called to the scene of a body found on the ice below a bridge, the first thought is suicide. Things must have been going wrong for the victim, which is substantiated once the woman is identified as former mayor Constance Wright. Her fall from grace, like this leap from a bridge, was anything but graceful.

While watching the news the following morning, Rachel Marin sees the story and does some of her own calculations. Marin calls the Ashby PD and reports that this was a murder, citing the physics of the event as being impossible to replicate by a suicidal jumper. Intrigued, two homicide detectives take her information under advisement and commence their own questioning. When Marin appears at the home of the victim’s ex-husband, she worms her way inside and finds additional information that points to a potential suspect. While the information is welcomed, Marin’s presence is not and she’s told to steer clear.

As the police investigation gains momentum, it is soon apparent that there is more to Constance Wright that meets the eye. Her downfall came from an apparent affair with a staff member, but her admits under questioning that he was paid to fabricate it, something that Marin discovers as well. She is trying to work the angles and provide a pathway for the police without stepping on any toes. All this, while balancing two children who are at completely different levels of acceptance of her sleuthing.

When Marin appears on the scene again, her involvement crosses the line one too many times and she’s taken into custody. It’s now time to look at Marin, not as a suspect, but to determine who she is and why she has such a connection to the case. Background checks turn up empty and the cash purchase of her current home raises red flags. She is a mystery without a past, not something that Ashby PD sees often.

While Constance Wright’s killer is out there, they remain as yet unknown. Marin and her family have already been put in danger, which does not seem to be dissipating the more this amateur sleuth sticks out her neck. It’s time to take action or wait for another body to appear, one currently named Rachel Marin.

Having never read anything by Jason Pinter before, I was unsure what I ought to expect. That being said, I was highly impressed with the writing and presentation of this piece, which mixes a police procedural with civilian criminal investigation and adds some layers of mystery to keep the reader guessing.

Rachel Marin proves a great protagonist, offering bits and pieces of her life throughout the story, while shielding much from the reader and those she encounters. Her backstory is a little hazy, but with use of flashback chapters, the reader learns a little more, without fully understanding the story behind her husband’s apparent murder. Marin is sharp and on point when it comes to the investigation, laying out her theories effectively and staying active, while crossing the line when her enthusiasm gets the better of her.

Pinter adds a strong set of supporting characters as well, keeping the story interesting on many levels. The detectives drive the story as the police investigation progresses, while the suspects and various witnesses offer some interesting theories for the reader to ponder throughout. Those who can help shape Rachel Marin’s story as a person are an essential part of the piece as well, as the reader seeks to assemble things and answer the ‘who are you’ question that lingers.

The story itself was unlike many I have read in the thriller genre. The mix of civilian sleuth with an active police investigation will prove useful as the series continues. Pinter also adds a layer of mystery surrounding the story of Rachel Marin’s true identity and whatever she’s fled. With a strong narrative that evolves throughout, Pinter hooks the reader in the early chapters. Flashback chapters that fill in some of the Marin gaps prove helpful, while still keeping the reader in the dark as to what’s really going on. Chapters not only alternate in time period, but also with their length. This keeps the reader on their toes, never knowing what’s to come or how detailed the analysis will be. Great banter between characters and a stellar plot with a handful of nefarious characters provides something for all readers to enjoy, while trying to peel back the ‘whodunit’ portion of the story. I cannot wait to get my hands on the sequel to see if it packs just as much of a punch.

Kudos, Mr. Pinter, for a great start to a series. I think you found a definite fan in me, which leaves me wanting to read more of your work!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons