Book Review: Every Secret Thing

Every Secret Thing

Laura Lippman


432 pages

Ronnie and Alice are 11 years old and walking home from a pool party the day everything goes wrong.  They notice a baby carriage sitting on the front porch of a home in an affluent part of Boston; inexplicably, there is a baby inside.  They kidnap the baby.  While the details remain hazy throughout the book, the reader is aware from the start that something went horribly wrong and the baby had been killed.  It is now seven years later, and both Ronnie and Alice have been released from juvie.  They are both emotionally stunted, as they spent many of their formative years in lockup, so they struggle to re-acclimate with the outside world.

Meanwhile, there is a new little girl missing.  Detectives begin to wonder whether Alice and Ronnie could be involved, and through the investigative part of the book, the reader is also clued in as to the death of the first child years ago.

I was on the lookout for a thrilling read, as I was just coming out of my reading slump and I wanted to be sure that whatever book I chose would keep me fully engaged.  I have read two of Lippman’s other stand alone books in recent months and I absolutely loved them, so I chose Every Secret Thing in the hopes that it would fit the bill. It definitely did that, although I think it was Lippman’s first book–if not, then it is very close to the first–so I feel as though she hadn’t quite hit her stride yet.  There was an amateurish note that I haven’t noticed in her more recent books.

Regardless, Lippman is fastly becoming one of my favorite mystery writers.  I plan to read the rest of her standalone novels in the order in which they were written.  I am also very interested in her Tess Monaghan series.  Of those of you that have read both, which do you prefer–her standalone books or her series? I already have Baltimore Blues downloaded for my Kindle!

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Book Review: Faithful Place

Faithful Place

Tana French

Viking Adult

416 pages

In all your life, only a few moments matter.  Mostly you never get a good look at them except in hindsight, long after they’ve zipped past you: the moment when you decided whether to talk to that girl, slow down on that bend, stop and find that condom.  I was lucky, I guess you could call it.  I got to see mine face to face, and recognise it for what it was. I got to feel the riptide pull of my life spinning around me, one winter night, while I waited in the dark at the top of Faithful Place.

pg 1

For those of you who read The Likeness, you will remember Frank Mackey as having a minor role.  He works in Dublin as an undercover investigator and takes the lead in Faithful Place after his high school sweetheart, if you will, has gone missing.

By the start of the book, Rosie has been missing for twenty two years.  She and Frank had been planning to run away together to England after growing up on the lower class factory street Faithful Place.  Both wanted to escape their dreary lives and they had been carrying on a secret love affair quite some time.  Frank has been forced to live with an abusive, alcoholic father, while Rosie feels stifled by the expectations on her to work in a factory for the rest of her life.

Frank and Rosie had agreed upon a meeting spot on a cold, December night, where Frank ended up waiting for Rosie until dawn, eventually fleeing on his own after he determines that Rosie has left for England without him.  For years he has held out hope that he will see her once again, and until that time he has stayed away from Faithful Place and his family. He has no choice but to return though after Rosie’s suitcase is found stuffed up a chimney in an abandoned house on Faithful Place, calling into question everyone’s assumption that Rosie had indeed escaped to England.

I loved the character of Frank Mackey.  He was so raw and realistic that even when I had trouble sympathizing with his actions, I could understand where he was coming from.  I think that as much as I have loved French’s other books, she has really outdone herself on character development this time around.  In fact, I don’t know that the “mystery” in Faithful Place was as engrossing as the storylines in her other two books, but it made no difference to me!  I could not put this book down.  I read it in two days, which, given my recent slump, is pretty extraordinary.

As an aside, I am so unbelievably horrible at determining “whodunit” before it is finally revealed by the author.  I actually love that about myself, because my naivete ensures that I will be surprised by the ending in every mystery.  So I was a bit disappointed that I had figured out who the perp was by the halfway point in this book.  It didn’t make the book any less engaging, but I wish it had been more of a shock.  Anyone else have that issue?

I love that French’s books are all linked to one another but that it is not necessary to read them in order.  You could certainly read this book first, second or third and I doubt it would make a difference.  I am anxious for her to publish a fourth book!

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Book Review: The Likeness

The Likeness

Tana French


512 pages

Detective Cassie Maddox is back!  She is working on the Domestic Violence squad after we last saw her on In the Woods but she isn’t living up to her full potential there.  This all changes when a young woman shows up dead.  Cassie is called to the scene and is disturbed to find that not only does the dead woman look exactly like her, but she is using Cassie’s alias of Lexie Madison from Cassie’s stint as an undercover drug agent.  Cassie’s former boss from when she worked undercover comes up with a scheme to have Cassie go and live Lexie’s life in order to try and discover who the killer(s) is. 

Cassie, now moonlighting as Lexie, is thrown into Lexie’s old life.  Lexie lives with four eccentric friends in an old home that is the inheritence of one friend, Daniel.  The five friends see one another as family and have a “no past” rule, where the are precluded from talking about anything that happened before they met one another.  Cassie immediately begins to form a connection with Lexie’s friends and, as time goes on, she comes to appreciate Lexie’s lifesyle and is so drawn to it she almost gives up her investigation in order to live her new life.

Let me start by saying that this book draws many parallels to Donna Tartt’s A Secret History, one of the best books I have ever read.  If you have not read it, you need to. 

The Likeness was a wonderful read.  French’s books tend to be lengthy, which can be off putting, but it has always been worth it.  Neither of her books even felt long because they are so engrossing.  My book club chose this book for our June meeting on my suggestion, and I worried a bit that none of them had ever read the first book.  Some of the members chose to read In the Woods first, while other just went with The Likeness.  The consensus was that it really didn’t matter which order you read them in, so that was interesting (and made me breath a sigh of relief that I hadn’t totally messed things up by siggesting this book when no one had read the first!).

Another fear I had was that, being a mystery, The Likeness wouldn’t lead to a good discussion. I would surmise that most mysteries would not lend themselves well to discussion, but, in this case I was dead wrong.  I would say that our discussion on this book may have very well been the livliest discussion we have ever had.  Two members of our group had not finished the book when we all convened, so we forced them to sit there and at least read through the climax because we were all anxious to discuss it!

The ending, obviously, caused a great debate.  What really happened, under what circumstances.  I also had a hard time swallowing the fact that Lexie’s friends were led to believe that she was still alive when she had, in fact, died.  Morally, I didn’t agree with the deception.  I can see why it made sense in order to discover the culprit.  Does the end justify the means?  I don’t think so in the case, but obviously it made for a great storyline.

I am anxious to get my hands on French’s new book to see how Cassie evolves and what new caper she is a part of.  No one does literary mysteries better than French, and if you haven’t read her books, I urge you to do so.

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Book Review: 31 Bond Street

31 Bond Street

Ellen Horan


352 pages

When I first began noticing reviews for 31 Bond Street , by Ellen Horan, they plot description didn’t really catch my eye.  But then I noticed it was based on a true Victorian crime, and at that point I knew I had to read it.  Victorian true crime novels are so interesting to me—one of my favorites ever is Death at the Priory: Love, Sex and Murder in Victorian England , by James Ruddick (if you haven’t read it, I urge you to get a copy!)—so I had little doubt that I would appreciate and enjoy 31 Bond Street .

Dr Harvey Burdell is a dentist living on Bond Street when he is discovered brutally murdered one morning.  Honestly, he’s not the nicest guy, but citizens are outraged.  Such a savage crime is not supposed to happen to the members of the upper echelon of society, so the murder is big news around the city.  Meanwhile, Emma Cunningham is a widower boarding with Dr Burdell, along with her two teenaged daughters.  She immediately comes under suspicion and is charged with murdering Dr Burdell.  She swears upon her innocence and even proffers up a marriage certificate between her and Dr Burdell dated a few weeks previously, but that only adds more fuel to the fire and she is put on trial for murder.  The justice system not being what it is now, it appears almost certain that she will be tried and convicted, with the punishment being death.

Henry Clinton, a local lawyer, immediately offers to represent Emma, despite the ramifications it has on his professional life.  He quickly becomes enmeshed in the case, despite the fact that he has some reservations as to whether Emma is really innocent as she proclaims.  Nevertheless, he is determined that she be given a fair trial and works doggedly to help her case.

Emma is portrayed innocently, in my opinion.  As a reader, I never really considered her as the murderer.  I don’t know if that was Horan’s intention or not—I never knew for sure

Emma Cunningham

Emma Cunningham

obviously, as the killer was revealed at the end of the book (I won’t spoil it by saying who the killer was, and whether or not it was Emma), but given the evidence about the real Emma Cunningham, I would have expected her character in the book to have been portrayed a little differently.

I don’t know if I really appreciated the end of the book.  It didn’t seem plausible to me and, after reading about the actual Burdell murder case, I wish Horan had stayed more true to the facts.  In reality, no murderer was ever caught in regards to the murder of Dr Burdell.  I understand why Horan would have wanted to have an actual murder pinpointed in her book—who wants to read a mystery that remains unsolved.  So I can get over the fact that she made someone up.  After all, it is a novel, so she can do what she wants!  What I didn’t understand is that the case was even juicier than what Horan chose to include in 31 Bond Street .  For instance, Emma claimed to pregnant after Burdell died.  She was accused of stuffing pillows up her dress and was eventually caught in her scam when someone witnessed a nun delivering a baby to her door after the trial was over.  Emma was forced to fess up—apparently she had paid $1,000 to adopt the baby in order to keep up with her hoax.  After that, she was forced to drop her claim for Burdell’s estate.

I understand that maybe Horan just wished to streamline the story a little bit, so she left all that out, but geez—that would have made for some good reading!  Regardless of what I discovered after I finished the book though, I still enjoyed it immensely.  I did find Horan’s writing to be a bit juvenile at times, but it didn’t take away from the story and the way she constructed it.  I devoured this book as fast as I could and I would definitely recommend it to others.

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Book Review: Dismantled


Jennifer McMahon


432 pages

So I think we’re all familiar with the old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.  I hate to say it, but when applied literally to actual books, it’s hard NOT to.  So I admit it, and I am not ashamed at all—I always judge a book by its cover!

Dismantled is the perfect example of how I am affected by covers.  I saw it and I instantly wanted to read it. The girl on the cover looks both a little bit creepy and a little forlorn. And it seems more artistic than just a cutesy little girl.

The premise of the book makes it even better.  You have four college friends—Suz, Winnie (fka Val), Henry and Tess—who call themselves the Compassionate Dismantlers and spend the summer after graduation together in a little ramshackle cabin living in the middle of the woods in Vermont.  To understand what the Dismantlers are all about, here’s their creed—

To understand the nature of a thing, it must be taken apart

And there you have it.  They like to dissect, perform arson and basically just mess with people.  In fact, I wasn’t a big fan of the Dismantlers.  Suz was the group leader and to say she cared little about anyone else’s feelings would be putting it mildly. She just seemed like a raging bitch who expected everyone to bow down to her as she trampled all over them.  I am guessing it was some type of insecurity but I didn’t feel like the reader was given enough personal information about her to make a judgment either way.  I’ll just say that she had me more frustrated and irritated than any other character I’ve read about in a long time.  Any one else have that reaction?

Ok, so all of a sudden the Dismantlers summer ends in a horrible, tragic way with the death of Suz.  Obviously part of the mystery to the reader is how did she die? Why?  McMahon kept us in suspense!  All we know is that Tess and Henry, now the married parents of a nine year old named Emma, feel an enormous amount of guilt over what happened to Suz.  So when she all of a sudden seems to be haunting them, they try hard to ignore it while still coming to terms with what happened ten years earlier.

Did I like this book?  Honestly, I am not quite sure.  As far as a mystery goes, it was actually pretty sucky if you want my opinion.  Did I see it coming?  No.  The things that were happening though were so wacky and hard to string together though that I really couldn’t fathom what was going on.  It seemed like a novice’s attempt at writing a mystery.  I found the book readable and, like I was telling my sister, it reminded me of The Secret History, by Donna Tartt, albeit a subpar version.  Even so, it had that comparison going for it.

In a nutshell, I really disliked two of the main characters (Winnie and Suz), while I felt that Henry and Tess were both too passive.  For instance, their marriage is falling apart but they keep expecting the other person to make a move to fix things.  And then you have the unbelievable twists and turns of the story.  So while entertaining, this book definitely had some major flaws for me.  Even so, I would recommend it as a great summer read.

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Book Review: What the Dead Know

What the Dead Know

Laura Lippman

Avon A

400 pages

There was something about the description of this book that really did nothing for me.  That, coupled with the lackluster cover (for whatever reason, I really dislike this cover), turned me off about this book.  However, as I have mentioned before I am on a mystery kick and I began to notice great reviews for this one here and there, so I decided to give it a whirl.  That was a great choice folks, as this is really a novel worth reading.

The book opens with a pretty serious car accident.  One of the drivers leaves the scene and is found walking about a mile from the accident.  She is admitted to the hospital where she makes the claim that she is a girl that has been missing for thirty years.

Heather and Sunny Bethany disappear in the mid-1970’s when they take the bus to the mall.  They are both seen at the mall but when their father arrives at 5pm to pick them up it as if they disappeared into thin air. No one at the mall noticed anything suspicious and there seem to be no leads.  Decade upon decade the disappearance is a mystery and the girls are pretty much given up for dead.

Now a woman claiming to be Heather Bethany is back in town and refusing to talk.  She admits to being Heather but plays a game of cat and mouse with the detectives when it comes to giving any information.

I really didn’t like Heather at all.  She just rubbed me the wrong way because she seemed to have no desire to help put an end to the mystery that had been plaguing this town for thirty years.  Instead, she was contrary and petulant and seemed like she just wanted to play games.  It wasn’t until her mother showed up that she finally began talking.

I thought the mystery aspect of this book was great.  Is she Heather Bethany?  Is she not?  I was pretty convinced that she wasn’t an imposter but I also knew there had to be something fishy going on.  Not to mention, I wanted to know what had happened thirty years ago and where this woman had been all that time.  I will tell you this—I wasn’t let down.  I know others found the end a bit lackluster or they were irritated that they had figured the ending out before the secrets and details were unveiled.  The reason I like mysteries so much is because I am no sleuth.  I would be the worst detective you could ever imagine.  So you will not be surprised to hear that the ending slapped me in the face—that’s how oblivious I was to what was coming.  On the other hand, I can see how someone would be able to figure it out before getting to the end.

I wouldn’t classify this as a big thriller.  Yes, it’s a mystery, but it’s not as in your face.  You should read it though because it’s got literary elements and isn’t just an in-your-face mystery where there’s tons of action every second.  This would be a great pool read!

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I borrowed this book from my local library.