Twist of Faith is a stunning story that turns on the eternal question, “Who Am I?” And it’s something that the heroes—if you think one of those exists in this novel—and the evildoers have in common as they go about their daily business. For me, the book reads like a madman’s dream where photographs can come alive, and the dead can speak. It’s a well-thought-out tale of intrigue and revenge—mostly revenge—that surprisingly leads to a high body count for a book that is not really a police procedural.
There’s a lot of anger in this tale, and I think the author was able to channel it in the lissome, paradoxical character of Ava. Though she defies reason, we want her. Bad. And maybe it’s the allure of danger that surrounds her. Or it could simply be that she was raised French and Catholic. Either way, watch out.
If you like the strange and mysterious, then grab this book. And you might want to crack open a nice Château Lafite Bourdeaux to put yourself in the mood.
Book Description When family secrets are unearthed, a woman’s past can become a dangerous place to hide…
After the death of her adoptive mother, Ava Saunders comes upon a peculiar photograph, sealed and hidden away in a crawl space. The photo shows a shuttered, ramshackle house on top of a steep hill. On the back, a puzzling inscription: Destiny calls us.
Ava is certain that it’s a clue to her elusive past. Twenty-three years ago, she’d been found wrapped in a yellow blanket in the narthex of the Holy Saviour Catholic Church—and rescued—or so she’d been told. Her mother claimed there was no more to the story, so the questions of her abandonment were left unanswered. For Ava, now is the time to find the roots of her mother’s lies. It begins with the house itself—once the scene of a brutal double murder.
When Ava enlists the help of the two people closest to her, a police detective and her best friend, she fears that investigating her past could be a fatal mistake. Someone is following them there. And what’s been buried in Ava’s nightmares isn’t just a crime. It’s a holy conspiracy.
Peeling away the layers of anything is usually a mistake. Just ask someone who has had to use sharp tools to prise old wallpaper off the plaster walls of an ancient house. Sometimes, you’ll discover a kid’s crayon drawing of a scarecrow. But other times, you might find something sinister—like dead cockroaches.
The Locksmith reminded me of this nasty renovation business because the protagonist, Jude, is naturally curious and insists on getting to the bottom of things, especially in relationships and usually at her peril. Unfortunately, her children and new life partner must be pulled along to suffer the consequences. But it’s for their own good, you understand.
The writing is accomplished and the characters vivid, but I was disappointed by the ending. The author does such a beautiful job of building toward a natural—inevitable—denouement, then snatches it away in a sharp turn to the right. No spoilers here, but I think she would have done well to adhere to Chekhov’s gun principle. That said, the book is most certainly worth reading for fans of dark mysteries and slow-boil suspense.
Book Description Jude doesn’t like secrets, they breed poison, but she knows her husband is hiding something from her. To uncover the truth she flees with her three young children to stay with her mysterious mother-in-law, Audra. Through Audra, Jude believes she can uncover the truth that will heal them all. Only Audra has secrets of her own and will stop at nothing to keep them.
After reading S. R. Mallery’s new novel, I am under the impression that nothing much has changed in Hollywood since the 1920s. Of course, movies are in color now. And people actually talk. But corrupt cops, substance abuse, and mistreatment of women are pretty much what you can get now. Which reminds me. How, with prohibition, is there so much freaking alcohol? Wow, I guess the politicians didn’t really think that one through.
One thing I love about this author’s work is her attention to period detail. For example, who knew that actors had to wear blue makeup and yellow lipstick in front of the camera? Fascinating! And she didn’t neglect details like having to crank your stupid car to get it to start—even when you were trying to catch a bad guy. I love that kind of world building.
This is an unusual Hollywood story. Sure, you’ve got the wannabe starlet through whose eyes we see the story evolve. And the hard-boiled detective, the earnest boyfriend, and a cast of crazy characters literally out of the movies—Clara Bow, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford! But you also have a sweet story about Rosie, who just wants to be happy. And despite the filth and corruption she seems to encounter at every turn, this girl just might have a shot.
Book Description Hollywood, 1926. Where actors’ and actresses’ dreams can come true. But do they? While silent screen movie stars reign supreme, a film producer is gunned down in cold blood. Enter Rosie, a pretty bit-player, Eddie, her current beau, and Beatrice, her bitter stage-mother. As real celebrities of the time, such as Clara Bow, Lon Chaney, Gloria Swanson, and Rudolph Valentino float in and out, a chase to find the killer exposes the true underbelly of Los Angeles––with all its corruption.
Let me start out by saying that Rachel Caine is an excellent writer. Her prose is concise, controlled, and chillingly violent when the occasion calls for it. This is the first book of hers I’ve read, and I enjoyed it immensely. I especially liked her protagonist, Gina Royal, who is single-minded in her determination to protect her children and herself from the memory of her soulless ex-husband and the thousands of trolls now pursuing the family on social media. Quite a challenge for a former housewife whose main concerns used to be centered around seeing her children off to school and putting dinner on the table.
If you like tense thrillers, I can say with confidence that you will enjoy Stillhouse Lake—with one caveat. For me, when someone says “serial killer,” I expect a high body count. I mean, that’s kind of what they do, right? And though Gina’s ex-husband, Mel, does live up to his reputation, most of it is in backstory. In fact, Caine spends most of the first half of the book on Gina’s inner life. By the time we get to the new peril she finds herself in, we know her intimately—a good thing if you enjoy believable characters. I only wish the author had peppered the introspection with a bit more action, that’s all I’m saying.
All in all, a terrific read. Can’t wait for the next book in the series.
Book Description Gina Royal is the definition of average—a shy Midwestern housewife with a happy marriage and two adorable children. But when a car accident reveals her husband’s secret life as a serial killer, she must remake herself as Gwen Proctor—the ultimate warrior mom.
With her ex now in prison, Gwen has finally found refuge in a new home on remote Stillhouse Lake. Though still the target of stalkers and Internet trolls who think she had something to do with her husband’s crimes, Gwen dares to think her kids can finally grow up in peace.
But just when she’s starting to feel at ease in her new identity, a body turns up in the lake—and threatening letters start arriving from an all-too-familiar address. Gwen Proctor must keep friends close and enemies at bay to avoid being exposed—or watch her kids fall victim to a killer who takes pleasure in tormenting her. One thing is certain: she’s learned how to fight evil. And she’ll never stop.
In many ways, Before You Leap is a book I admire. I’ll mention two. The author has a way of describing things that, frankly, is bound to make me work harder as a writer. And indeed, he has taken to heart the notion that it’s better to start in the middle of things, leaving the reader in a dizzying confusion of places and events that—ever so slowly—become more apparent as you wend your way through a pulse-pounding maze of violent emotion. It’s a technique I’ve used myself, and it’s very effective in the mystery thriller genre. The other thing is, the characters ring true to me—especially Greg. Although after finishing this book, I’ve come to the sad conclusion that he is more than a little disturbed.
Regarding the plot, I felt the story was a little convoluted and could have benefited from some simplification. Don’t get me wrong—I have no problem dealing with characters whose motives are mysterious and who consistently act in ways that deceive. But there were a few times when I found myself wishing for more of a straight line as Greg is forced to confront his painful past.
Overall, I liked Before You Leap and recommend it to fans of the genre. It’s a solid piece of work and definitely worth exploring.
Synopsis Peace of mind is all Greg Cole has wanted since the murder of his twin sister, Scarlett.
In his new sun-soaked Florida life, he thought he had found it. But when Scarlett’s killer is released early from prison with a cast-iron alibi, Greg realizes that his past is about to explode into his present, with terrifying consequences.
To expose the truth he must open up old wounds. As a talk therapist, Greg knows all about dark secrets, but when a childhood friendship comes to the fore and the police turn their spotlight on him, the thought of analyzing his own psyche is a disturbing prospect. How far can he trust his own memories?
With his life coming apart at the seams, and his grip on reality beginning to unravel, Greg must face the ghosts of his past if he hopes to prove his innocence and live to see another day.
If you plan on reading the TELL ME WHEN I’M DEAD series but haven’t gotten around to it yet, then stop right here! Go ahead—I’ll wait.
Okay, you know the title of this post is total clickbait, right? Admit it, though. It got your attention. Anyway, I want to talk about killing someone and actually getting away with it. Before you call 911, let me explain. I am a writer and I create characters. Many times the characters are expendable—bad guys, helpless bystanders … But sometimes I am forced to grapple with killing off a character who is not only central to the story but beloved.
This is what happened when writing my horror thriller trilogy TELL ME WHEN I’M DEAD.
Plotters and Pantsers
Before I go any further, I must tell you there are two kinds of writers—plotters and pantsers. Plotters like to create vast, detailed-filled outlines before writing a single word of their novel. When they are finished, they know exactly where they are going and how they will get there. Good for them. I hate plotters. Which brings me to pantsers …
We pantsers like to fly by the seat of our pants. We have only the vaguest notion of where we are going, and we have no frickin’ idea how we will get there. Welcome to my world, by the way.
Pantsers manage to move the story along through intuition and serendipity. When we are inspired, we happily travel in a westerly direction. When we are stuck, we curse and throw things and gain fifteen pounds. But here’s the dirty little secret—and it’s why no one in the history of writing has ever proven once and for all that plotters are better at writing than pantsers, or vice versa. Why?
Because we all end up in the same place.
Now, you could argue that plotters write faster because they already have the story down pat. But that’s not entirely true, since they must spend a fair amount of time creating their outline—a step pantsers like me happily skip.
So what does all this have to do with murder?
Death in Venice
I made the decision to kill off a main character in Book Two. And I did it after discovering she needed to be dead in order for the protagonist Dave Pulaski to fulfill his destiny in Book Three. For those of you who read Books One and Two, you’ll know I’m talking about Dave’s wife, Holly. And this was no easy task. Here’s the pivotal scene …
Holly stood there on the platform, paralyzed. Her slender body trembled. She couldn’t even cry. Next to her, Griffin and Fabian stood mutely, his fingers reaching for her hand and gripping it. I wanted to will myself to Holly’s side and made a move to reach her. The cop standing next to O’Brien pointed his rifle at my head. Warnick gripped my shoulder. Balls of red light streaked across my eyes. My heart raced. I wanted to rip out the throats of everyone who meant to harm my family.
“You took away everything from me!” the mayor said. “My wife, my sons … my future!”
The mayor let out a pitiful wail that echoed throughout the cavern. O’Brien eyed him uncomfortably. His voice softer, he said, “If you hadn’t come after me, they’d still be alive.”
Warnick wasn’t finished with him. “Why did you leave them behind? You could have saved them.”
“You don’t understand. This was supposed to be my ticket …” Choking up, he forced himself to go on. “It’s bigger than you can imagine. They got me out of there, they …”
“You abandoned your wife and children,” Warnick said, unafraid.
“They promised me,” the mayor said, weeping.
Overlapping voices echoed in the cavern, and I struggled to make sense of them. Sweat dripped into my eyes, and the vague forms of Holly, Griffin and Fabian wavered in front of me like ghosts in the harsh orange light, pleading with me to do something. I wiped my eyes, and Holly screamed. When I looked up I found her on her knees in front of the mayor.
The mayor tore the weapon from O’Brien’s hand and pointed it at Holly’s head. My heart thudded—I couldn’t breathe.
“Dave, I love you! I’ll always love you!”
“Please,” I said. “Please don’t.” I wept, unable to control myself. I was completely helpless—at the mercy of a madman. There was nothing I could do.
“I lost everything,” the mayor said, his voice a monotone. “Let me show you what that feels like.”
It was a dream. The bullet—a .45, I think—left the chamber so slowly. I could see it spinning as it raced home to its target. Every thought in my brain vanished, my mind laser-focused on the deadly projectile. And when it struck my wife in the head, exploding out the other side in a burst of blood, brains and bone, I died for a little while. That picture—that memory of Holly—the impact of the bullet twisting her sideways and down into the dirt—that photograph is burned in my memory forever like a cattle brand. And it’s always accompanied by the sound of screaming—Griffin maybe—and Greta’s desperate, urgent barking.
It was a dream—I knew it was. Not real. A nightmare. But if it was, why couldn’t I wake up?
Because it was real. There was no escaping it—not this time. If I’d been holding my weapon I would have used it to join Holly. There wasn’t any point in going on. She was all I had lived for. Nothing else mattered. And the baby. So blessed to be conceived but not to be born. I fell to my knees and could only remain there, sobbing.
I’m sure you’ve heard of writers who weep when their characters die. After I wrote that scene, I cried like a baby. Really. I loved Holly deeply, and I wanted with all my heart to let her live. But she couldn’t. She had to die in order to give Dave the hate he needed to exact his revenge in Book Three.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I wanted you to know that writers do care deeply about our characters. When they suffer, we suffer. And when you think about it, doesn’t that make for a better reading experience?