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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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Behind Closed Doors by B A Paris

Behind Closed Doors” by B.A. Paris was an instant best seller in the UK perhaps because it taps into the fears every woman has when she starts a new relationship that may lead to marriage.  It is, in some ways, the British answer to “Gone Girl.”  The novel will keep the reader constantly engaged, but it will be depressing as well.  It was published in the US in hardcopy on August 9, 2016 and is doing well in sales in the US also.

Behind Closed Doors” is about what seems to the outside world to be an ideal marriage of two professionally-oriented people, an attorney who takes on domestic abuse cases, Jack Angel, and a buyer for Harrods, Grace.  Jack wants her to give up her career when then get married, and Grace agrees both to have more time with Jack and to prepare to take care of her sister with Down’s syndrome, Millie, who will live them them in the countryside once she completes school.  Jack buys and decorates the perfect house and the newlywed couple befriend a few of the neighbors.  Things look deceptively rosy in the beginning.

Very shortly, Jack holds Grace hostage even when they go on vacation in Thailand. He subjects her to brutal psychological torture.  Grace initially believes that she can get away and convince others that she is being held against her will, but Jack is always two or three steps ahead and is good at convincing anyone who is asked to help by his wife that she is mentally ill.  The preparations to take Millie captive and to take even more than psychological punishment out on the mentally disabled girl becomes heart-wrenching for Grace and for the reader as attempt after attempt to foil Jack’s plan fails.

Readers who liked “Gone Girl” will also like “Behind Closed Doors.”  It is tightly written, the characters are multi-dimensional and explored in detail, and the plot is complex and heart-wrenching.

The sad thing is, almost everyone knows someone who is, or has, suffered psychological and/or physical abuse at the hands of the person who should be most trusted.  I have a niece who is not allowed to contact her parents or any of her old friends. She is closely monitored by a jealous husband. She and her daughter are held virtually as prisoners by her husband and his family and yet no one has been able to get her out of this situation because of the constant psychological abuse she has received and her reluctance or inability to turn her husband in for abuse.  “Behind Closed Doors” is a frighteningly real piece of fiction written to expose this type of domestic abuse.  It’s not a pleasant book to read, but it gives a message that must be heard.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed from a supplied early readers edition.

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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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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Girl Gone by Gillian Flynn

A friend recommended that I read “Girl Gone,” and I’m glad I picked this book up.  It is the most perfectly constructed psychological thriller I have ever read.

The book is almost equally divided by chapters written in the voice of Nick Dunne alternating with chapters written in the voice of his wife, Amy.  They start out as a typical New York professional couple.  She writes quiz questions and he writes articles for a magazine.  Amy is a trust fund child who’s parents capitalized on her childhood by writing the “Amazing Amy” series of children’s books.  The happy marriage storyline ebbs into the unemployed Nick and Amy take over as they become increasingly disillusioned about their marriage.  Then Nick discovers that his mother is sick with cancer and his dad’s Alzheimer’s is getting beyond the ability of his sister, Margo’s ability to cope, so Nick convinces Amy to buy a bar in Nick’s hometown in Missouri and they move.  Amy hates this new life.  Long story short, Amy disappears and Nick is suspected of murdering his wife.  I won’t reveal more of the plot in order to let readers discover the ingenious plot for themselves.

The plot twists and turns as more clues of the alleged murder are revealed.  Nick fervently believes (or is he just trying to make the detectives think he believes??) that his wife is alive and orchestrated everything.  He uncovers a couple of witnesses who were on the receiving end of Amy’s vengeance in the past and that gives him the idea that maybe Amy is playing an elaborate and deadly joke on him.  Or, has Amy actually been kidnapped and held hostage against her will?  One twist after another will keep the reader turning those pages as fast as they can.

I can’t emphasize enough to my mystery reading friends, read “Girl Gone.”

Liz Nichols

 

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The Leopard by Jo Nesbo

The Leopard”  is the sequel to Norwegian author, Jo Nesbo’s psychological thriller, “The Snowman.”  “The Leopard” is equally gruesome in the way murders are committed and equally suspenseful as former detective Harry Hole tries to find a serial killer before he murders everyone who spent an evening in a mountain cabin with him and everyone who gets close enough to the truth to become a threat.

Just when the reader thinks they know who the killer is, the author throws another twist into the plot.  There are also many subplots that create their own sets of intrigue.  Most importantly, Harry and his former colleagues at the Oslo police crime squad are pitted against the national crime fighters of Kripos to see which team can get to the serial killer first.  The internal politics keeps turning from one team to the other all to the detriment of catching the killer.  Only Harry seems completely focused on solving the crime while all his colleagues and political enemies spend their time posturing and trying to outdo each other.

There is also a personal subtext to this complex thriller.  Harry has his own demons to fight.  The book starts out with one of his crime squad coworkers finding him in a drunken and doped up state in Hong Kong.  He has never forgotten what the Snowman did to break up his family and to unsettle his own psyche.  He suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome among other problems.  He never is able to go cold turkey on his addictions and they serve to hinder his investigations as well as his personal life and threaten his career.  In the end, Harry must go back to Asia to try to find himself.

This book took some patience to get through.  There is such a complicated plot that it was easy to get confused, but in the end it turned out just as it should considering the personalities and weaknesses of the characters.

This book is not for mystery fans with weak stomachs.  The death scenes are horrific.  Those who enjoy sophisticated and complex psychological thrillers and Police procedurals and can stand gruesome murder scenes will love “The Leopard“.

Liz Nichols

 

 

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The Whisperer by Donato Carrisi

The premise of Donato Carrisi’s “The Whisperer” is that there is a rarely identified category of serial killer who instills in other people the urge to kill.  These “whisperers” if you will never get their own hands dirty, but are behind large numbers of murders carried out by their disciples.  The most famous of this category of serial killer is Charles Manson.  Here’s a link to a  video clip by Carrisi explaining his theory.

“The Whisperer” is a gripping story that is hard to put down about a team of law enforcement serial killer specialists who investigate the apparent abduction and murder of six young girls.  Six freshly sawed off left arms are found buried, but only five bodies are eventually recovered in places that help the serial killer to control every move of the crime team. What increases the intensity of the search and the anxiety of the crime team is knowing that there is a sixth girl out there who may still be alive.  An intriguing element of the plot is that by clearing up the case of the missing girls the cops are also solving a number of other, previously unknown, serial killing cases.  The investigators wonder if these killers know each other or have some common connection back to “Albert” the man presumed to be the abductor and killer of the young girls.

The plot builds very effectively with each additional discovery of a body.  By the time the body of the fifth girl is found the team is highly anxious about whether they can find the sixth girl alive.

In addition to being about the highly technical work of locating and stopping a serial killer, the book is also about the tormented life of one of the team members, Mila Vasquez, who is an expert on missing children.  It turns out that she was abducted as a child and now in her work she is forced to relive some of her own horror.  Mila brings in a medium who also provides an important lead.

One thing that particularly bothered me about the book is that there is no specific city or country setting for this book.  We can presume that it is not North America because the translation is British and there is no indication that the team members are from the FBI.  It looks to be either some British team, or more likely, Interpol crime-fighting group. I suppose this could be viewed as clever writing because then no matter what language the book is translated into it can fit that place.  The names of the characters are a mixture of Hispanic and eastern European.  I believe the translation would have been more effective if readers could pinpoint a specific city.  As it is, the procedural details are a little too generic to hold attention.

I noted that in some other review sites commenters felt that the plot did not hold together very well.  Some found the nun who is brought in to extract ideas from the mind of a dying serial killer too hokey to be believed.  It’s true that in order to believe the possibility that there are whisperers who can subliminally get to other people and turn them into killers it takes a little suspension of disbelief.

I feel that the plot has a nice symmetry about it.  I like that in solving this mystery the police find and stop a number of other killers.  The plot doesn’t have to be totally believable to still provide a tense, satisfying psychological thriller.  That is exactly what this book is: an intense, satisfying psychological thriller with a number of interesting characters. The translation from the author’s native Italian is not as clean as I would prefer, and the lack of a specific place for the plot detracts from its effectiveness, but overall I like “The Whisperer.”

Liz Nichols

 

 

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Bad Intentions by Karin Fossum

Bad Intentions” is a police procedural and psychological thriller in the  “Inspector Sejer Mystery” series by Norwegian author, Karin Fossum.

Konrad Sejer and his partner, Skarre, must discover how a mentally ill patient at a hospital psych ward let out for a weekend with his two best friends ended up several hundred meters off-shore drowned in a lake called Dead Water. The victim, Jon Moreno, did not show signs of being suicidal when he left the institution, and he did seem anxious about leaving his new-found girl friend to go off with these particular friends, Axel and Reilly.

The reader knows what happens early on.  The investigative team has suspicions, but no real proof, until they find the body of another young man in another lake, a man who had been missing for several months. The tension is palpable in this tightly written thriller right from the first chapter, and it keeps getting even stronger as the book goes on.

The best thing about the book is its focus on bringing these flawed characters to life by delving deep into their inner-beings.  Jon’s diary is one of the vehicles used to get to know the tragic Jon and his morally barren friends. Jon’s mother, the investigators, and Jon’s girl friend Molly all shed perspective on the inner nature of these three young men. Each gets worked up and “psyched out” about what they have done and what is going to happen to each of them if they tell the truth.

Each young man has a very different reaction to the situations that unfold.  Jon becomes anxious and blames himself; Reilly turns to drink, drugs and a kitten; Axel denies even to himself that he bares any blame in either boys’ death.  Axel sees the only solution as each agreeing to a pact to never reveal any of the details and he is upset as he sees the other two break down.

The question remains, did anyone actually responsible for the deaths of these young men, or were they just unfortunate accidents that got covered up? Is the crime the cover-up or the deaths?

A fascinating read.

Liz Nichols

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Nancy Grace’s Death on the D-List

This is my first time reading a Nancy Grace mystery. “Death on the D-List” is the second in the Hailey Dean Mystery series for this author.

Grace appears to have a lot of experience that she uses in developing her characters and plots. She has been a victim of violent crime and was a prosecutor in Atlanta where she had a perfect record of 100 felony convictions, just like her heroine, Hailey. Grace then moved on to Court TV and now has her own show, “Swift Justice with Nancy Grace.”

With the Hailey Dean series she is proving that she can write as well as prosecute and appear on TV. The dialogue is snappy and hard boiled. Grace spends a lot of time in psychological character development, particularly for the psychotic killers that inhabit her stories. We also get a taste of the phoniness of the show-biz lifestyle that gets 3 starlets killed, a lifestyle Hailey Dean would just as soon avoid. Can she avoid being targeted herself?

This is a psychological thriller with a New York City and Hamptons setting.

Liz Nichols

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