Quick Review: DOUBLE EXPOSURE by Ava Barry (Pegasus)

BarryA-DoubleExposureUSHCA young P.I. must unravel the secrets behind the murders of a Los Angeles heiress’s parents.

Four years ago, a beautiful young heiress survived an attack that claimed the lives of both of her parents. The crime made headlines all over Los Angeles, both for the vicious nature of the killings and the seemingly random nature of the attack: nothing was stolen, and the van Aust family had no obvious enemies. Melia van Aust fled the city soon after the murders – which were never solved – but her brother Jasper has not been seen since.

After a childhood spent in the shadow of her famous parents, Rainey Hall understands the dynamics of a dysfunctional family. She still hasn’t recovered from a tragedy that tore her own family apart six years before. It’s part of the reason why she started her own private investigation agency — to aid victims of crimes that might otherwise go unsolved.

When Melia returns to Los Angeles and moves back into her family home, someone begins sending her increasingly violent messages that allude to the killing of her parents. She hires Rainey to track down the culprit and find her missing brother. Touched by the similarities between their lives, Rainey feels compelled to protect Melia, even when it becomes clear that their relationship has become more than professional.

Soon, Rainey finds herself falling down the rabbit hole of Melia’s life. Her quest to find Melia’s stalker will bring her in contact with disgraced royals, seedy neighbors, violent ex-boyfriends and former staff, each one with their own set of secrets. As the threats against Melia escalate and the two women are drawn together, it’s only a matter of time before another victim turns up.

Windhall, Ava Barry’s 2021 debut novel, was one of my favourite reads of that year. Ever since Double Exposure was announced, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the chance to read it. I was lucky enough to receive a review copy, and I’m happy to report that it is another very good read. Continue reading

Quick Review: A SECRET ABOUT A SECRET by Peter Spiegelman (Knopf)

SpiegelmanP-ASecretAboutASecretUSHCA murder at a secluded research institute unveils decades of secrets

Looming high above the cliffside along a remote coastline, Ondstrand House is the headquarters of the shadowy biotech firm Ondstrand Biologic. When the body of the organization’s most gifted young scientist, Allegra Stans, is discovered in a walk-in refrigerator — her neck has been broken — Agent Myles is called in to investigate. Myles works for Standard Division, the most feared element of a vast state security apparatus, and he’s been dispatched to the brooding manor, a massive stone campus that once housed a notorious boarding school, to do what Standard Division agents do best — complete the task at hand.

As his investigation proceeds, Myles discovers that “gifted scientist” is only one thread in the complicated fabric of Allegra’s life. There are darker strands as well — of ambition, manipulation, and bitter grievance — all woven into a pattern of secrets, each presenting a reasonable motive for murder. It appears everyone has something to hide, including Allegra’s colleagues, lovers, and former lovers — even the very halls of Ondstrand House itself.

Questions continue to pile up: What interest does Standard Division, an organization best known for intelligence gathering and clandestine international operations, have in this seemingly straightforward case? Could the killing have anything to do with the sprawling estate’s sordid past? And what, exactly, is this research facility researching? Before long, another murder is discovered, and Myles finds himself an increasingly unwelcome presence in an ever more hostile landscape with few allies and fewer answers.

Peter Spiegelman’s Dr. Knox was one of my favourite reads of 2016, and I’ve been eagerly anticipating his new novel ever since it was announced. A Secret About a Secret is another satisfying read, one that offers a different take on the crime/mystery genre than did the aforementioned Dr. Knox. I very much enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE RESEMBLANCE by Lauren Nossett (Flatiron Books)

NossettL-ResemblanceUSHCA mysterious hit-and-run, a dedicated detective, and the many secrets of the privileged

Never betray the brotherhood

On a chilly November morning at the University of Georgia, a fraternity brother steps off a busy crosswalk and is struck dead by an oncoming car. More than a dozen witnesses all agree on two things: the driver looked identical to the victim, and he was smiling.

Detective Marlitt Kaplan is first on the scene. An Athens native and the daughter of a UGA professor, she knows all its shameful histories, from the skull discovered under the foundations of Baldwin Hall to the hushed-up murder-suicide in Waddel. But in the course of investigating this hit-and-run, she will uncover more chilling secrets as she explores the sprawling, interconnected Greek system that entertains and delights the university’s most elite and connected students.

The lines between Marlitt’s police work and her own past increasingly blur as Marlitt seeks to bring to justice an institution that took something precious from her many years ago. When threats against her escalate, and some long-buried secrets threaten to come to the surface, she can’t help questioning whether the corruption in Athens has run off campus and into the force and how far these brotherhoods will go to protect their own.

A detective with deep roots in the university community comes face-to-face with the worst of campus tradition and life, in this intriguing and engaging debut mystery from Nossett. The author keeps the reader guessing, raises the stakes nicely throughout the book, and delivers a satisfying mystery. I enjoyed this a lot. Continue reading

Quick Review: RED WARNING by Matthew Quirk (William Morrow)

QuirkM-RedWarningA long-dormant Cold War plan threats to devastate all of Washington, D.C.

CIA officer Sam Hudson races to find a deep cover operative loose in the U.S. and a mole in the Agency before they can launch a devastating attack on Washington, D.C. …

For years CIA officer Sam Hudson has been hunting Konstantin, a Russian deep cover operative responsible for a string of assassinations in the West—and he believes a well-placed source in Geneva can finally get him close to the killer. But when their meeting is ambushed, Sam’s partner is murdered and he barely makes it out alive himself.

Back in the States, the bosses put him on leave and want him to drop his obsession with Konstantin, but Sam can’t let a man who’s taken so many lives slip away again. When he gets a mysterious call at the Lincoln Memorial just before a bomb goes off, he realizes Konstantin has followed him to the U.S. — and is targeting him and everyone close to him. Teaming up with fellow CIA officer Emily Pierce, he sets out to redeem himself and uncover a plot that has been lying in wait since the end of the Cold War, its elements hidden among the most iconic buildings in the capital.

With enemies lurking both inside and outside the Agency and the Russian threat looming ever larger, Sam must use all his training and nerve to stop Konstantin before he can trigger the plot to devastate Washington and bring the U.S. to its knees.

I’ve been a fan of Matthew Quirk’s fast-paced thrillers ever since his debut, The 500 — which I read in one sitting, deep into the night. Each of his novels since has been equally gripping and action-packed. In Red Warning, he offers another action-packed thriller, but one that dials back the pacing just a little bit — which makes for a more substantial read. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: EXTINCTION by Bradley Somer (Harper Voyager)

SomerB-ExtinctionUKHCAn atmospheric wilderness mystery, set in the near future

In a lonely valley, deep in the mountains, a ranger watches over the last surviving grizzly bear.

With the natural world exhausted and in tatters, Ben has dedicated himself to protecting this single fragment of the wild.

One night, he hears voices in the valley – poachers, come to hunt his bear.

A heart-pounding chase begins, crossing forests and mountainsides, passing centuries of human ruins. Sometimes hunter, sometimes prey – Ben must choose the bear’s fate and his own.

Is he willing to lay down his life for a dying breed?

Is he willing to kill for it?

I spotted this novel what feels like a very long time ago — it was the cover, really, as well as the suggestion of an environmentally damaged near-future (at the time, the full synopsis wasn’t available). I read it shortly before it was published, and enjoyed it quite a bit. A shorter novel, and one that focuses more on atmosphere and place than plot (though there is one, so no fear), it was an excellent introduction to Somer’s work. Continue reading

Quick Review: DO NO HARM by Robert Pobi (Minotaur/Hodder)

PobiR-LP3-DoNoHarmUSHCLucas Page returns as a killer stalks medical professionals — including his wife!

A series of suicides and accidental deaths in the medical community are actually well-disguised murders and only Lucas Page can see the pattern and discern the truth that no one else believes.

Lucas Page is a polymath, astrophysicist, professor, husband, father of five adopted children, bestselling author, and ex-FBI agent — emphasis on “ex.” Severely wounded after being caught in an explosion, Page left the FBI behind and put his focus on the rebuilding the rest of his life. But Page is uniquely gifted in being able to recognize patterns that elude others, a skill that brings the F.B.I. knocking at his door again and again.

Lucas Page’s wife Erin loses a friend, a gifted plastic surgeon, to suicide and Lucas begins to realize how many people Erin knew that have died in the past year, in freak accidents and now suicide. Intrigued despite himself, Page begins digging through obituaries and realizes that there’s a pattern — a bad one. These deaths don’t make sense unless the doctors are being murdered, the target of a particularly clever killer. This time, the FBI wants as little to do with Lucas as he does with them so he’s left with only one option — ignore it and go back to his normal life. But then, the pattern reveals that the next victim is likely to be… Erin herself.

Lucas Page returns. Even more banged up than he was at the start of each of the previous novels in the series, his mind nevertheless remains as intact and sharp as ever. His personality, also, remains rather sharp… As a series of suspicious deaths inches closer to home, Page finds himself back in the FBI’s orbit hunting a devious killer. Do No Harm is another fast-paced, gripping thriller from Pobi. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: BATTLING THE BIG LIE by Dan Pfeiffer (Twelve/Hachette)

PfeifferD-BattlingTheBigLieUSHCA former Obama communications director examines the American right-wing and its use of disinformation, and the left’s struggles with messaging

In BATTLING THE BIG LIE, bestselling author Dan Pfeiffer dissects how the right-wing built a massive, billionaire-funded disinformation machine powerful enough to bend reality and nearly steal the 2020 election. From the perspective of someone who has spent decades on the front lines of politics and media, Pfeiffer lays out how the right-wing media apparatus works, where it came from, and what progressives can do to fight back against disinformation.

Over a period of decades, the right-wing has built a massive media apparatus that is weaponizing misinformation and spreading conspiracy theories for political purposes. ⁠This “MAGA Megaphone”⁠ that is personified by Fox News and fueled by Facebook⁠ is waging war on the very idea of objective truth — and they are winning. This disinformation campaign is how Donald Trump won in 2016, almost won in 2020, and why the United States is incapable of addressing problems from COVID-19 to climate change.

Pfeiffer explains how and why the Republicans have come to depend on culture war grievances, crackpot conspiracies, and truly sinister propaganda as their primary political strategies, including: 

    • Republican efforts from Roger Ailes to Steve Bannon and Donald Trump to sow distrust while exploiting the media’s biases and the Democratic Party’s blind spots.
    • The optimization of Facebook as the ultimate carrier of Trumpist messaging.
    • Educating the Left to stop clutching pearls and start “fighting fire with fire.”
    • How to fight back against the trolls spreading disinformation and hate on the Internet.

A functioning democracy depends on a shared understanding of reality. America is teetering on the edge because one of the two parties in our two-party system views truth, facts, and science as their opponent. BATTLING THE BIG LIE is a call to arms for anyone and everyone who cares about truth and democracy. There are no easy answers or quick fixes, but something must be done.

In his third book, former Obama communications director and Crooked Media host turns his attention to the 2020 election, the Republicans’ “Big Lie”, and the media and technology infrastructure that has helped to reinforce and keep that lie alive. As a long-time fan of Pfeiffer’s work with Crooked Media, I’m happy to report that his new book provides more of the clear-eyed, and well-written political analysis of his previous works.
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Quick Review: RIGHTEOUS PREY by John Sandford (G. P. Putnam’s Sons)

SandfordJ-P32-RighteousPreyUSHCLucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers return, and take on a powerful vigilante group

“We’re going to murder people who need to be murdered.” So begins a press release from a mysterious group known only as “The Five,” shortly after a vicious predator is murdered in San Francisco. The Five is believed to be made up of vigilante killers who are very bored… and very rich. They target the worst of society — rapists, murderers, and thieves — and then use their unlimited resources to offset the damage done by those who they’ve killed, donating untraceable Bitcoin to charities and victims via the dark net. The Five soon become the most popular figures on social media, a modern-day Batman…though their motives may not be entirely pure.

After a woman is murdered in the Twin Cities, Virgil Flowers and Lucas Davenport are sent in to investigate. And they soon have their hands full — the killings are smart and carefully choreographed, and with no apparent direct connection to the victims, The Five are virtually untraceable. But if anyone can destroy this group, it will be the dynamic team of Davenport and Flowers.

Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers, two of the best investigators in Minnesota (and sometimes Wisconsin) team up again to bring a dangerous, exceedingly well-funded group of self-styled vigilantes to justice. As with all Sandford novels, I was quickly swept up by the story, and was gripped from start to finish. One of the most reliable crime authors writing today.
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Quick Review: CITY ON FIRE by Don Winslow (William Morrow)

WinslowD-1-CityOnFireUSHCAn excellent start to a new, final trilogy

Two criminal empires together control all of New England.

Until a beautiful woman comes between the Irish and the Italians, launching a war that will see them kill each other, destroy an alliance, and set a city on fire.

Danny Ryan yearns for a more “legit” life and a place in the sun. But as the bloody conflict stacks body on body and brother turns against brother, Danny has to rise above himself. To save the friends he loves like family and the family he has sworn to protect, he becomes a leader, a ruthless strategist, and a master of a treacherous game in which the winners live and the losers die.

From the gritty streets of Providence to the glittering screens of Hollywood to the golden casinos of Las Vegas, two rival crime families ignite a war that will leave only one standing. The winner will forge a dynasty.

I’m a relative newcomer to Don Winslow’s novels, having started with The Force (2017). Since then, I’ve eagerly anticipated each new book, as well as gone back and read some of his older novels. He recently announced that the trilogy that City on Fire starts will be his last — he is retiring from writing to focus on political activism. Based on this novel, it looks like he’s going to be going out on quite a high — City on Fire is an excellent start to a series, and one that hooked me pretty much from the get-go. Continue reading

Quick Review: PORTRAIT OF A THIEF by Grace D. Li (Tiny Reparations)

LiGD-PortraitOfAThiefUSHCDiaspora, History, Heists, and Ennui

History is told by the conquerors. Across the Western world, museums display the spoils of war, of conquest, of colonialism: priceless pieces of art looted from other countries, kept even now.

Will Chen plans to steal them back.

A senior at Harvard, Will fits comfortably in his carefully curated roles: a perfect student, an art history major and sometimes artist, the eldest son who has always been his parents’ American Dream. But when a mysterious Chinese benefactor reaches out with an impossible — and illegal — job offer, Will finds himself something else as well: the leader of a heist to steal back five priceless Chinese sculptures, looted from Beijing centuries ago.

His crew is every heist archetype one can imag­ine — or at least, the closest he can get. A con artist: Irene Chen, a public policy major at Duke who can talk her way out of anything. A thief: Daniel Liang, a premed student with steady hands just as capable of lockpicking as suturing. A getaway driver: Lily Wu, an engineering major who races cars in her free time. A hacker: Alex Huang, an MIT dropout turned Silicon Valley software engineer. Each member of his crew has their own complicated relationship with China and the identity they’ve cultivated as Chinese Americans, but when Will asks, none of them can turn him down.

Because if they succeed? They earn fifty million dollars — and a chance to make history. But if they fail, it will mean not just the loss of everything they’ve dreamed for themselves but yet another thwarted at­tempt to take back what colonialism has stolen.

Who doesn’t like a heist story? I love them, so when I had the chance to read and review Grace D. Li’s debut novel, I jumped at the chance. Five amateur thieves thrown together by a wealthy benefactor, on a mission to retrieve stolen Chinese antiques. This had a lot of promise, and I’m happy to report that it lived up to my expectations. I very much enjoyed this.
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