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Night Bird by Brian Freeman

Brian Freeman is a Minnesota-based author.  This is the second in his Frost Eaton detective triller series. Eaton is a handsome, single, cat-loving San Francisco police detective, a very likeable character.  The latest in the series, “The Night Bird” was just published February 1 by Thomas Mercer.

Night Bird” is a very scary psychological thriller about a serial killer who copies the techniques of a San Francisco psychiatrist, Francesca Stein, but with an evil intention.  Stein uses hypnosis and subliminal messaging to erase disturbing memories from patients and replace them with memories that will stop the phobias that developed around the trauma.  The psychotic maniac, instead, uses hypnosis and psychological and sensory torture to cause some of Stein’s patients to commit suicide upon command.  The killer wears a mask, which in San Francisco, does not cause a lot of notice.  He calls himself the “Night Bird” and uses all manner of technological tricks to spy on his victims and on Dr. Stein so that he knows what will trigger anxiety in the patients who become his targets. One of the songs he uses to trigger suicidal events in his victims is the song “Nightengale” by Carole King.  I don’t think I will ever be able to listen to that song again without thinking of this book!

It does not take long to get really sucked into this book.  One reason is the main characters all have interesting lives and stories built around their own unique situations so it became easy to feel empathy for some characters and disgust and revulsion for others. The characters are all memorable whether they are heroes or villains. One way or the other, the reader can picture these characters living and working in San Francisco.  The author appears to know the city well, even though he lives in Minnesota.

I am not totally convinced about the premise of the book that people who have been traumatized can be made to totally forget those traumatic experiences through hypnosis, drugs and subliminal suggestion, but I am willing to suspend my skepticism for the purposes of getting into the plot.  The premise is similar to that of the successful new TV show, “Blindspot.”  There are some nice twists to the plot as well that keep the reader guessing until the end.

Overall, Freeman has a winner with “The Night Bird.” It should be a hit with those who like to stay up late reading a real page-turner of a psychological thriller that will remain vividly in the memory bank for a long time to come.

Reviewed from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols


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Butterfly Skin by Sergey Kuznetsov

This English translation of Sergey Kuznetsov’s early 2000’s psychological thriller, “Butterfly Skin” came out in September of 2014.  It was translated from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield.  The novel may appeal to those who liked “The Silence of the Lambs,” or Nesbo’s “The Snowman.”  I would characterize this novel as “Fifty Shades of Gray” meets “The Silence of the Lambs.”  Whether or not it is successful at holding the reader’s attention is partly a matter of taste.  For my taste, I find the novel flawed.

In order to keep me interested in reading such a graphically violent and sexually demeaning novel I must be immediately riveted by the protagonist and find some element of the serial killer’s personality or story so fascinating that it is worth it for me to slog through pages of very descriptive horror in order to see how the story develops between the protagonist and the killer.

I have read the first third of the book and so far the first person machinations of the protagonist and the killer leave me cold and unmoved.

The protagonist is a young female e-newspaper editor who decides to do a special series on a Moscow serial killer who leaves most of his victims, raped, skinned alive and with eyes cut out and jammed in the females’ more private orifices.  The bodies are left in places where they will be easily found.  As it happens the newspaper editor prefers her sex to be of the S&M variety.   So far, this plot and the extremely self-absorbed characters leave me uncaring about there fates and unwilling to spend more time wallowing in the book to see if something sparks my attention further on.

It happens sometimes that a book is just not my cup of tea.  I recognize, however, that this book may appeal to some readers.  It may appeal to some as a social commentary on contemporary Russian social issues.  It may also appeal to some for the horror and the rough sex.

I am neither recommending nor giving both thumbs down on “Butterfly Skin.”  For myself, I have simply chosen not to finish the book.

Liz Nichols

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The Counterfeit Heiress by Tasha Alexander

Tasha Alexander, author of “The Counterfeit Heiress” seems to have one foot in the Victorian era.  She has a good grasp of the people and places in and around London and Paris during that era, and particularly the world of upper class Victorian women.

When Lady Emily Hargreaves and her husband Colin attend a costume ball in London they are surprised to see another guest in a costume that looks much like Emily’s.  Some guests recognize that party-goer as the world-traveling heiress, Estella Lamar.  The next day Emily learns that the woman she saw at the masked ball has been murdered and is not Lamar at all, but a woman who for some unknown reason was impersonating her.  Who killed the impersonator?  Where is Estella Lamar?

This period mystery is set between London and Paris in 1897.  The Hargreaves are asked to solve this double mystery by one of Lamar’s old friends, Cecile du Lac.  The settings in Paris give this mystery a rather Gothic, noir feel for many of the scenes take place in and around a Paris cemetery and the catacombs under the city.  This is also a psychological suspense story because it delves deeply into the mind of a reclusive young heiress and the actions of her apparent captor.  The chapters jump between the investigation into the murder and the disappearance of Lamar, and chapters that set up the story about Lamar, her captivity and her mental state that leads to some surprising twists and turns in the plot.

The Counterfeit Heiress” is an exceptionally well-crafted and complex mystery that will be enjoyed thoroughly by fans of her Lady Emily Mystery series and many other lovers of fiction set in the late Victorian era.

Liz Nichols

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Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth

Cathi Unsworth‘s “Weirdo” is another mystery in the British “noir” genre. Unsworth has been called Britain’s “queen of noir.”  The book alternates between events that occur in a small British North Sea town in 1984 with the investigation of what actually occurred back then by a former cop turned private investigator in 2003.

In 1984 quite a crowd of teens within the town of Ernemouth dressed in goth uniform, professed to worship satan and got caught up in what looked like a ritual murder.  One of the girls active in the clique, Corrine Woodrow, was sent to a mental facility for the killing.  There seemed no question as to her guilt in 1984 and she did not do anything positive to help her case.  By 2003 the advent of DNA testing enabled the case to be revisited and PI Sean Ward gets the assignment.  Did Corrine act alone or did she have an accomplice?  Was she framed? What really happened at the old World War II pillbox back in 1984? Sean finds a good deal of defensiveness and protectiveness by the residents of the town as he dredges up the details of this cold case but he does finally get the cooperation of the local constabulary to turn the cold case into a full-fledged investigation.

The juxtaposition of chapters covering events in 1984 followed by events in 2003 works well in unwinding the “Weirdo” story.  The characters are British, but the story is universal.


Liz Nichols

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Love Gone Mad by Mark Rubinstein

Love Gone Mad” is the second psychological thriller by Mark Rubinstein, who is or has been an attending psychiatrist at New York Presbyterian Hospital and a medical faculty member at Cornell University.  He knows psychosis, and the mad man in this dramatic story, Conrad Wilson, seems like a chilling example right out of the good doctor’s case files.  Wilson is the archetype for the psychotically jealous husband like so many who are responsible for spousal abuse and murder in this country.  The book accurately documents the ineffectiveness of our legal system when it comes to protecting spouses, children and the people who care for them in the face of an irrationally abusive spouse or ex-spouse.

I appreciate the way Rubinstein has used his knowledge to tell a tale that is too often played out in real life. The story is about a budding romance between a surgeon, Dr. Adrian Douglas and a nurse, Megan Haggarty, who meet and fall in love at a small hospital in Eastport, Connecticut.  Both were at Yale at the same time, but never met there.  Megan’s former husband, Conrad Wilson, suddenly shows up in Eastport after several years in Colorado, and Wilson is not about to believe his former wife never had an affair with Dr. Douglas when they were at Yale.  In fact, he believes Douglas fathered his child, Marlee, and it causes Wilson to reject the child as less then worthless.  Wilson claims he can smell the doctor on the child.  Strange threats start coming to Megan, Adrian, and family members around Megan that the police cannot quite pin on Wilson until the threats escalate almost to the point of murder.

Love Gone Mad” is a plausible story, and a very frightening one that many people will relate to.  What I don’t care for about the book is the prose.  It seems stilted and overly dramatic to me.  The speech seems unnatural to me also.  The book is part romance about the loving relationship between the doctor and the nurse and circumstances surrounding Marlee’s birth.  It is written more in the style of a romance than a mystery.  I also found the plot quite predictable.  Nothing that happens actually surprised me.  Even the turn of events surrounding Marlee’s birth is set up for predictable results well in advance.

Love Gone Mad” is a story many will relate to, but it could have been better written.

Reviewed from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols


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Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell

David Morrell has spent the last two or three years immersing himself in all things Victorian London.  The result is a superb fictionalized look at the life of the famous writer, investigator and opium addict, Thomas DeQuincey and a retelling of actual murders along London’s east end Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811 and 1854.  The readers get to delve deeply inside DeQuincey’s mind, and that of the killer he is trying to stop.  We get to experience the grimy fog, the dangerous streets, and the deeply divided society of Victorian England through “Murder as a Fine Art.”

I have to say that I found the murders especially heinous and repulsive, but as the killer’s motivations are gradually revealed, the method in the madness of the killer becomes more understandable and logical.  It was, to the killer’s mind, an art form to bludgeon and slit the throats of innocent men, women and children and to leave the bodies arranged very specifically. There is meaning in everything the killer does, and specific MOs to be followed in a specific order.  Once DeQuincey, his daughter, and the two police officers who believed in them came up with the pattern, the killer became fairly obvious.

This Gothic and psychological thriller is written in a style that is reminiscent of 19th century novels.  The style and the voice was specifically chosen to fit the topic.  Not every author could get away with older styles and maintain them so consistently; David Morrell is successful with the use of old fashioned prose.

This work is not for everyone.  As Morrell cautions, those with fundamentalist view and values that do not allow looking so deeply into early drug trafficking will not be able to stomach this book.  Those who enjoy looking at the seamier side of Victorian life will find “Murder as a Fine Art” quite enlightening.

Liz Nichols



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Joyland by Stephen King

Stephen King is arguably America’s best storyteller.  His new ghost story/mystery, “Joyland” proves the point.

Joyland” is the perfect read for that summer vacation at the beach.  It’s a fast page-turner that almost anyone can enjoy because it has likeable characters, a plot that almost everyone can relate to from their own past, and the story is spun out in King’s best “round the campfire” style.

The story is told in the first person by a young man, Devin Jones, during his first  job away from home on his summer break from the University of New Hampshire.  He works as a carney at an old-fashioned amusement park right on the border between North and South Carolina.  The park saw a murder 5 years before that was never solved.  A young woman’s throat was slit while she was on the Horror House ride with a guy who was seen accompanying her throughout the park.  There were pictures, but the man’s disguise could have made him almost any young to middle-aged man.  Now the ghost of the dead girl is said to haunt the park.

During that summer, Devin saves two lives, loses his girl friend back home, makes a friend in an 11 year old boy with muscular dystrophy, loses his virginity to the mother of the sick boy, and, with one of his friends from the summer work at the park, he tries to solve the mystery of who killed the girl, Linda Gray.  Devin also receives help along the way from a couple of psychics.

Joyland” will appeal to readers of many genres and period pieces as it has elements of the romance, ghost story/paranormal, mystery, horror story, sick kid tear-jerker, and 70’s nostalgic story.  Anyone who has ever visited an old-time amusement park or the midway at a state fair; anyone who loved and lost during the college years; anyone who ever had a summer job during college; anyone who lived through the 70’s– will appreciate “Joyland.”  Devin is super-likable, as is Mike, the kid with MDA, his mom, and several of the characters Devin meets during his summer at the park.  Even the bad guy and the “carney from carney” curmudgeons that are introduced in this book are likeable (or at least entertaining)  in their own way.

A definite summer read.

Reviewed with a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols

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