I’m just going to come out and say it. Barbara Petty is a little sneaky. When I began reading What Has Mother Done, the author introduced a story that could easily have been a cozy mystery. Sure, right off the bat, there’s a body. But we’ve got a main character who is wicked-funny with her internal thoughts and asides pitted against the proverbial small town where everyone—and I mean everyone—has a secret.
Petty’s Thea Browne is no ingenue, either. She’s a hard-bitten investigative reporter who has been around the block a few times. When we meet her, she faces the bleak prospect of looking after her recently widowed mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. During the investigation, Thea is forced to put up with her best friend, Annie, who has gone a little wonky of late. And she must also deal with her sister, Beryl. Yeah, they don’t get along. As if all that wasn’t enough, let’s throw in some hot flashes.
Yes, the story could have been a perfectly respectable cozy mystery. That is until the body count goes up. What Has Mother Done is a first-rate mystery thriller. The characters are engaging—and often frustrating. As Thea goes about trying to solve the mystery of her stepfather’s untimely death, I found my pulse quickening. If you enjoy smartly written scenes of small-town intrigue, violence, and questionable loyalties, then I suggest you check out this excellent novel.
In a small Midwestern town, on a cold, blustery March day, a man plunges to his death off a high, rocky cliff, setting in motion a string of events that lead to murders and rips open the long-hidden secrets of the town’s most prominent family…
The man is George Prentice, and the woman the police suspect of murdering him is his wife, Daphne. But Daphne has Alzheimer’s and, as she is likely to be incompetent to stand trial, has not been arrested.
Daphne’s daughter, Thea Browne, is a trained investigative reporter, who is furious that the police haven’t bothered to look any further for a culprit other than her mother. She suspects her stepfather made enemies when meddling in local politics and, according to one of his cronies, George wrote a memoir threatening to “blow the lid off this town.”
As Thea follows her own investigation, she discovers a widening circle of suspects, some much closer to home than she expected. Even her best friend from childhood, Annie Biggs, seems to be keeping a deep dark secret that she refuses to share with Thea.
More murders push Thea to the point where protecting her mother forces her to put her own life on the line to track down a diabolical killer.
As I read The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura, Holden Caulfield immediately came to mind. Both novels are told in the first person. And both characters are alienated, though Nishikawa gets the prize. He hangs out with friends he is not close to, has sex with girls he cares little for, and attends school because he has nothing better to do. Wandering the Tokyo streets seems to calm him. One night, when he discovers a dead body, his life changes. But it’s the gun lying next to the corpse that intrigues him, and he becomes obsessed.
Chekhov wrote that story elements should not make false promises. If we see a gun at the beginning, then someone must use it. Nakamura takes this principle to heart as he weaves his tale of ever-growing madness. He builds an almost unbearable tension as Nishikawa tries to decide when and where to fire the weapon. In the meantime, the character’s personal relationships continue to suffer. Feelings of hatred emerge, making the threat of violence more palpable.
The Gun is a taut thriller that begs the question, “Was Nishikawa already crazy, or was it the gun that made him so?” If you enjoy nail-biting crime fiction, then I highly recommend this book.
A Tokyo college student’s discovery and eventual obsession with a stolen handgun awakens something dark inside him.
On a nighttime walk along a Tokyo riverbank, a young man named Nishikawa stumbles on a dead body, beside which lies a gun. From the moment Nishikawa decides to take the gun, the world around him blurs. Knowing he possesses the weapon brings an intoxicating sense of purpose to his dull university life. But soon Nishikawa’s personal entanglements become unexpectedly complicated: he finds himself romantically involved with two women while his biological father, whom he’s never met, lies dying in a hospital. Through it all, he can’t stop thinking about the gun—and the four bullets loaded in its chamber. As he spirals into obsession, his focus is consumed by one idea: that possessing the gun is no longer enough—he must fire it.
Reading One For Sorrow by Sarah A. Denzil is like getting into the mind of a deeply conflicted, mental patient who must still function in society. Leah Smith is a tragic character whose need to help others while fighting her demons is heartbreaking. When she starts a new job at Crowmont Hospital and is put in charge of a troubled girl named Isabel, who may or may not be a murderer, the road to sorrow is perfectly paved.
Immediately, Leah falls under the girl’s spell, believing her innocent of the brutal murder of a small child. And we fall with the good-hearted nurse. Isabel is an incredible artist and always cheerful. She especially loves drawing birds—magpies in particular. She doesn’t remember what happened all those years ago, and she is grateful when Leah takes an interest in her. Will Leah’s kindness be rewarded in the end?
If you enjoy psychological thrillers with characters who ring true like notes on a piano, I suggest you grab this book. Oh, and one other thing. Beware of magpies.
A chilling psychological thriller by the million-copy bestselling author of Silent Child.
Who really killed Maisie Earnshaw?
Within the walls of the high-security psychiatric facility, Crowmont Hospital, reside many violent offenders. To nurse Leah Smith, no matter what, all offenders are patients first and foremost. When Leah is appointed as nurse to Isabel Fielding, she is determined to remain professional despite the shocking crime Isabel allegedly committed in her past.
Years ago, six-year-old Maisie Earnshaw was found face down in a duck pond, her body mutilated. Isabel—at age fourteen, found covered in Maisie’s blood—was convicted of murder.
As Leah spends time with Isabel, she comes to know her as a young woman with a sweet, gentle nature, someone she could never see as a murderer. Leah begins to suspect members of the Fielding family of framing Isabel as a young girl, and she’s not the only one. True crime blogger James Gorden thinks Isabel is innocent too.
Is Leah allowing her own dark past to taint her judgement as she grows closer to her patient? Or has a young woman been unjustly robbed of her childhood?
What do you get when you combine a homeless girl from New Orleans looking to avenge her best friend’s murder, a time-traveling psychic grieving the loss of his family, and Jack the Ripper? Why, you get a Jordan Dane supernatural thriller, of course. The Curse She Wore is a wild, unpredictable ride filled with twists and turns that would make a Disney Imagineer jealous. And it has heart—a lot of heart.
I’ve visited New Orleans several times in my life, and I have to say, the author brings the famed city to life in glorious Technicolor. And if that weren’t enough, she does a masterful job of recreating the Whitechapel district in East London at a time when Jack the Ripper was terrorizing its impoverished citizens with grisly murders that began in 1888 and ended in 1891.
What I love best about this novel is how adept the author is at combining the traditional elements of a serial killer story with those of supernatural tales such as Peter Straub’s terrifying Ghost Story. And trust me, the combination works. If you’re in the mood to be scared, then touched by the tortured yet loyal and loving Trinity LeDoux, I suggest you stop what you’re doing and acquire The Curse She Wore. Oh, and did I mention there’s humor? I’ll leave you with my favorite quote:
Tell me something while you’re here. Why do men go to bars to find women? It makes much more sense for them to go to a garage sale. Women are already looking for things they don’t need.
Trinity LeDoux, homeless on the streets of New Orleans, has nothing to lose when she hands a wealthy, yet reclusive clairvoyant a cursed vintage necklace.
During one of Hayden Quinn’s rare public appearances, he is unexpectedly recruited into Trinity’s perilous mission–a journey back through time to the exact moment of death for two very different victims.
Hayden and Trinity, two broken people with nothing but death in common, pursue the dangerous quest to stop the murderer emulating the grisly works of a notorious serial killer. Trespassing on Fate’s turf comes with a price–one they will never see coming.
This is my first time reading a Ty Hutchinson novel, and wow. With Abby Kane, he’s created a character who is tough but with a huge heart. A skilled FBI agent, she can hold her own with anyone, yet the tenderness she expresses toward her dead husband’s mother and his two kids is almost heartbreaking.
Suitcase Girl is set in modern-day San Francisco, a town with many dark secrets. Abby is Chinese—originally from Hong Kong—and much of the story centers around Asians. Many are good, but some are bad—really bad. Combine that with sex trafficking, rogue science, and violence, and you’ve got a story that doesn’t let you breathe. It’s as if the author wants you to be as tense and focused as Abby.
If you enjoy crime thrillers that feel like the bass line in a Nirvana song, then grab this book. Trust me—it’s fun.
Lilydale is the polar opposite of the idyllic paradise people usually think of when you mention a small town. In this place, there are secrets—lots of secrets. And they begin with the parents of a middle-school girl named Cassie. Though she and her sister appear to be fine, they know they need to keep silent about the goings-on in their own home, mostly centered around their father. A dark threat hangs over them like a poisonous cloud. And, to survive, they must hold their breath.
But then, things become worse. Inexplicably, young boys go missing for a time, then reappear, damaged and sullen. There’s a sexual predator loose in the town, and, although the police establish a curfew, they don’t seem to be doing enough to find the villain. Meanwhile, Cassie conducts an unofficial investigation, putting herself in danger and opening doors that are better left closed.
I enjoyed this novel, but I warn you, it is disturbing. Based on a real case, the author Jess Lourey has painted a picture of a slow-burning hell where children are at risk, and most of the adults are corrupt in one way or another. If you enjoy stories of mystery, suspense, and dark souls, then Unspeakable Things is for you. But don’t be surprised if, after reading it, you crave something—anything—to make you laugh.
Inspired by a terrifying true story from the author’s hometown, a heart-pounding novel of suspense about a small Minnesota community where nothing is as quiet—or as safe—as it seems.
Cassie McDowell’s life in 1980s Minnesota seems perfectly wholesome. She lives on a farm, loves school, and has a crush on the nicest boy in class. Yes, there are her parents’ strange parties and their parade of deviant guests, but she’s grown accustomed to them.
All that changes when someone comes hunting in Lilydale.
One by one, local boys go missing. One by one, they return changed—violent, moody, and withdrawn. What happened to them becomes the stuff of shocking rumors. The accusations of who’s responsible grow just as wild, and dangerous town secrets start to surface. Then Cassie’s own sister undergoes the dark change. If she is to survive, Cassie must find her way in an adult world where every sin is justified, and only the truth is unforgivable.
I don’t read a lot of crime fiction. I’m more of a horror and supernatural aficionado. But recently, I had the pleasure of picking up Lost Hills, a new novel by Lee Goldberg. This book is the first in a series featuring a young—and already hard-boiled—homicide detective named Eve Ronin. Now, if you’re up on Japanese history, you’ll know that ronin refers to a samurai warrior without a master or lord, In other words, a drifter. I wouldn’t say Eve wanders, but she positively does not react well to being bossed around by her superiors. This quality both serves and hurts her—a classic trait in a protagonist.
My favorite aspect of this novel is that it takes place in Los Angeles, my hometown. It’s clear the author knows this place intimately, and it was easy for me to picture where something took place whenever he called out street names and neighborhoods. It was almost like being on a ride-along with Eve and her sardonic, donut-eating partner Duncan.
I’ll warn you that things get bloody pretty fast. But the interactions between the cops in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and their counterparts in LAPD are sometimes hilarious, not to mention contentious. That, and the constant crap Eve has to take from men who consider her a skirt that didn’t deserve to get promoted to detective makes for some fun reading.
If you like crime stories with unpredictable characters and plenty of twists and turns, then do yourself a favor and get this book. And while you’re at it, treat yourself to a nice glazed donut.
“Lost Hills is Lee Goldberg at his best. Inspired by the real-world grit and glitz of LA County crime, this book takes no prisoners. And neither does Eve Ronin. Take a ride with her and you’ll find yourself with a heroine for the ages. And you’ll be left hoping for more.” —Michael Connelly, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“Thrills and chills! Lost Hills is the perfect combination of action and suspense, not to mention Eve Ronin is one of the best new female characters in ages. You will race through the pages!” —Lisa Gardner, #1 New York Times bestselling author
A video of Deputy Eve Ronin’s off-duty arrest of an abusive movie star goes viral, turning her into a popular hero at a time when the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is plagued by scandal. The sheriff, desperate for more positive press, makes Eve the youngest female homicide detective in the department’s history.
Now Eve, with a lot to learn and resented by her colleagues, has to justify her new badge. Her chance comes when she and her burned-out, soon-to-retire partner are called to the blood-splattered home of a missing single mother and her two kids. The horrific carnage screams multiple murder—but there are no corpses.
Eve has to rely on her instincts and tenacity to find the bodies and capture the vicious killer, all while battling her own insecurities and mounting pressure from the media, her bosses, and the bereaved family. It’s a deadly ordeal that will either prove her skills…or totally destroy her.
So, my friend Jordan demanded that I turn over my blog for this post. In fact, she pointed to a picture of my dog and, with a sly grin, said, “You do the math, Sparky.” Fine. Anyway, she’s an outstanding writer with a sharp sense of humor. If you haven’t done it yet, check out book 1 in her Ryker Townsend series, The Last Victim. I just bought it, so look for my review soon. Over to you, Jordan.
Horror makes me giddy. There, I said it. I’m not into overly descriptive gore, but the titillating anticipation of what is about to happen makes me tingle. I like the bizarro world of Dean Koontz when he tiptoes through scary notions and the paranormal. I watched the seductive Penny Dreadful on Showtime with equal parts abhorrence and glee, yet I’ve never seen the movie Jaws, by choice. I don’t want to have nightmares about turning into shark poop, but I put my readers in a front row seat to darkness in my crime fiction books, without shoving them off a cliff.
In The Last Victim, my FBI profiler’s secret is a gift and a curse. Ryker Townsend sees through the eyes of the dead. The last images imprinted on the retinas of the dearly departing become macabre puzzle pieces for him to decipher. These creepy flashes come to him as he sleeps. Hence, the tag line – When he sleeps, the hunt begins. Ryker is an open vessel for the dead, and they reach out to him, sometimes beyond his nightmares in broad daylight, until he’s unsure which side of reality he should be on.
Ryker’s Basic Framework In crafting Ryker Townsend, I wanted to look beyond his gift of communicating with the dead to solve heinous crimes. I formed him from two characters I love—Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes and Tom Mison’s Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow. Ryker has an eidetic memory. His mind is like a computer that spits out facts without a filter. He’s socially awkward and highly intelligent, but not exactly macho.
As an author, I have firsthand knowledge of the perils of an unfiltered brain. Writers need to “hear” the voices in our heads, but it can get us in trouble at social occasions. This I know.
Ryker’s Added Layers I wanted Ryker to have more layers to his personality and his past. I needed to heap on the right baggage to make his job more challenging. Being an odd child, he had a special bond with his mother who embraced his psychic gift. His father didn’t always understand it and Ryker’s sister Sarah became jealous of the extra attention from mom.
Ryker’s gift is at the center of all his strengths and his weaknesses to show how he lives with a trait most people would fear. When something happens to his dear mother, it creates a wedge between Ryker and his sister—and of course, it’s my duty as an author to torture him.
Ryker’s Journey I couldn’t write about Ryker without delving into his personal life and heaping emotional heft into his Samsonite. It’s what makes him real. I force him to confront his personal demons while he’s up to his neck in bloody murder.
The Last Victim (Novel 1) In book 1 of Ryker’s story, his life is laid bare. He’s in the middle of a hunt for a baffling serial killer who has eluded him. When a gory crime scene puts him in Seattle, home to his estranged sister (and her family that he’s never met), his life becomes an onion with layers to peel away.
He’s kept his psychic gift a secret from everyone and withdrawn into himself. His only outlet is his work, but he’s afraid of losing respect within the ranks of the FBI—and he risks his cases being overturned by the courts if it became clear how he investigates. He hasn’t told anyone about his nightmares, not even the trusted team who work for him.
After he realizes that the killer has targeted him personally, he must use his gift to hunt on his own terms—alone. Ryker learns what it’s like to become a victim and he’s forced to deal with his past, a theme that will become his journey through any story I write about him.
Following the novel that established him, I wrote novellas that allowed me to examine his life in different ways. A common theme for me is spirituality and how investigators deal with the violence they see. How does it change them?
Redemption for Avery (Novella 2) In novella 2, Ryker deals with the aftermath of becoming a victim and nearly losing his life. He’s confided in a special woman, and the relationship carries more risk and complications. Because this story deals with a brother who lost his younger sister to a serial killer when he was only fifteen, Ryker and his notions of family are put through an emotional wringer.
In the Eyes of the Dead (Novella 3) In novella 3, I wanted him to struggle with lingering PTSD from book 1 in a case involving Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and superstition. He’s forced to confront his own beliefs on the afterlife. I had to examine the things that truly get my heart pumping—my own mortality—and the things I sometimes wonder when I can’t sleep after the death of someone I love.
The Darkness Within Him (Novella 4) In story 4, Ryker must recreate a horrific moment in a young runaway’s life, the night his mother murdered his sister and tried to kill him. Imagine someone like Ryker—who had a close relationship with his mother—how would his feelings of failure with his own family affect him? He’s forced to confront the guilt he has for the way his mother died.
Fiona’s Salvation (Novella 5) In story 5, the reader sees his compassion for the dead, no matter who they were in life. He feels a profound duty to them in a grander scheme as if he has a role to play in death. He protects Fiona as she deals with her haunting demons, something he knows about.
Ryker’s Journey Is My Challenge Each character Ryker encounters becomes a mirror for him to see into his dark corners—and his journey becomes my own voyage of self-discovery. My characters explore where I sometimes don’t want to venture, but I push to discover things about me through them. They are my teachers. The old adage to “write what you know” never worked for me. I believe you should write what you fear and dig deep for the truth to breathe life into your pages.
For Writers. How do you tackle adding layers to your characters to make them memorable?
For Readers. What novels have remained with you long after you closed the book? What made the story and the character(s) memorable?
Author Bio Bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Jordan Dane’s gritty thrillers are ripped from the headlines with vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense novels to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag, naming her debut novel No One Heard Her Scream as Best Books of 2008. Dane is multi-published in crime fiction thrillers, has books in over seven countries, and has written young-adult novels for Harlequin Teen. Formerly an energy sales manager, she now writes full time. Jordan shares her Texas residence with two lucky rescue dogs. www.jordandane.com