Wednesday, December 28, 2016

THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 by Ruth Ware

Laura Blacklock, still reeling from a home invasion, embarks on a mega-opulent cruise.  She writes for Velocity, a travel magazine, and is filling in for her pregnant boss.  The ship has only 10 cabins, and cabin 10, next door to Laura, is not supposed to be occupied.  However, Laura borrows a mascara from a harrowed woman in that cabin and then hears something being thrown overboard. Laura sees blood on the glass door and a woman’s body sinking in the ocean.  She reports these events to the crew, but they don’t seem to take her seriously, especially since cabin 10 is now completely empty.  Everyone tries to convince her that she was drunk and imagined the whole thing.  There is no one she can trust, and the only person who purports to believe her is Ben, an ex-boyfriend who is also on board.  We readers, as well as Laura, have to guess whether Ben is on Laura’s side or in collusion with whoever committed the murder.  Laura is wary of all the other occupants and has no way to contact friends and family at home, as the ship’s wi-fi is mysteriously out of order.  Laura soldiers on, sticking to her guns about what she witnessed.  She may be sort of a bumbler, but who wouldn’t be in such scary circumstances?  The fact that she makes some serious mistakes further humanizes her as someone trying to do the right thing without the tools to do it.  The format of this novel adds to its suspense, since Laura’s narrative is interspersed with news bulletins that report her as missing.  I found this book to be quite entertaining—not as good as The Kind Worth Killing but a whole lot better than The Girl on the Train.  A friend suggested an interpretation of the ending that I hadn’t considered, and I think she’s spot-on.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


This novel is full of deliciously depraved characters, and I couldn’t get enough of them.  The author delivers one jolting surprise after another, starting with Ted discussing his adulterous wife Miranda with Lily in an airport lounge.  Ted has more money than he knows what to do with and wants to avoid a long and costly divorce.  He would really like to do away with Miranda altogether, and Lily eggs him on, so that the next thing we know, we have a rich guy plotting a murder with a beautiful, willing accomplice.  And why not take out Miranda’s naughty paramour, Brad Daggert (“Braggert” as one character dubs him), while we’re at it?  There’s a lot more going on here, though, than meets the eye, especially with regard to the past history of some of the characters.  Then one huge twist cracks the situation wide open and sets off an avalanche of murders, hooking me completely.  In the hands of a less-talented writer, the plot could have fizzled at this point, but, no, the action just gets more frenetic, and the shock value amps up as well.  Amidst all the sociopaths, a detective finally emerges to give the novel some kind of moral balance and someone to root for, because surely all these murders are not going to go unsolved—or are they?  Gone Girl’s ending was one of its few disappointments, but the ending to this novel is perfect in every way.  Go ahead and treat yourself to this exquisitely twisted tale.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

FOOL ME ONCE by Harlan Coben

As her brother-in-law observes, death follows Maya Stern.  Her sister was murdered in a home invasion, and her husband Joe has just been murdered in a park right before her very eyes.  Joe’s brother supposedly fell overboard years ago during a trip to Bermuda, and that’s the last straw:  something really fishy is going on.  Plus, Maya suffers from PTSD after a stint in the Middle East in which one particular mission tarnished her record.  Now she’s a single mother and wants some answers, particularly given that the same gun was used to kill both her sister and her husband.  When an image of her supposedly dead husband turns up on her nanny cam, even more questions arise.  She has to decipher what is reliable information and what is misinformation and, more importantly, who is trustworthy and who is not.  As an amateur sleuth, Maya is better than most, and she’s an expert marksman--if firearms are required, and you can bet they will be.  Character development is a little slipshod for the most part, but Maya is fairly well scoped out.  She’s tall, fierce, fearless, confident, and never backs away from a possible confrontation, even with her wealthy and overbearing in-laws who seem to have something to hide.  We don’t have much to go on with regard to the personalities of the dead sister and Joe, but the mother-in-law is obviously a snake in the grass.  When Joe’s sister Caroline shares a juicy clue, we don’t know if she’s the only truthful person in the family or if she’s just playing a role to muddy the waters.  Of course, there’s a twist at the end, and I feel particularly gullible here, because I did not see it coming.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

GONE FOR GOOD by Harlan Coben

Will Klein is a New Yorker who runs a home for runaways, and his mother has just died from cancer.  His brother Ken has been a fugitive for 11 years since the murder of Will’s former girlfriend.  Will’s current girlfriend Sheila has a murky past, which becomes even more murky as the book progresses.  There’s suspense, violence, vengeance, betrayal, subterfuge—the usual elements of a good thriller.  I do think that the main character, Will, needs a little more depth.  We know that he let his older brother handle his fights when they were young, but I think that’s not so unusual.  His buddy Squares is much more lively, although I never figured out what changed him from a neo-Nazi to a yoga guru and general do-gooder.  He slides nicely into the big brother role for Will while Ken is on the run.  This novel is entertaining but not cerebrally challenging, and the author packs most of the twists into the last few pages.  Sometimes I just need to read some pulp fiction.  Actually, I think Harlan Coben is one of the better thriller writers out there, and it’s been a while since I’ve read one of his books.  This one does not disappoint, although one big surprise was not a surprise to me. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

FOURTH OF JULY CREEK by Smith Henderson

Pete Snow works for the Department of Family Services in a rural area of Montana during the Reagan era, ministering to fringe elements of society.  He tries to protect Cecil from a mother who cooks meth and sexually abuses her son, as well as Benjamin Pearl whose father Jeremiah expects the apocalypse to arrive at any moment.  Jeremiah’s religious beliefs are so strict that he doesn’t allow Benjamin to enjoy anything that might be construed as a graven image, such as TV.  Jeremiah also eschews currency of any kind and finds that there is a market for coins that he defaces by punching holes in the heads of the depicted Presidents.  While Benjamin and Jeremiah are living off the land as best they can, Pete keeps asking where is the rest of the family, but we readers assume the worst.  Pete himself is no paragon of virtue—an alcoholic whose adulterous, alcoholic wife has fled to Texas with their 13-year-old daughter, Rachel.  Pete is being stalked by his brother’s parole officer, who may be the most dangerous person in the novel, and that is saying a lot, as this has to be one of the darkest, bleakest, most violent novels that I have read lately.  The only characters who seem to be truly virtuous are the Cloninger family, who willingly take in the foster children who Pete manages to wrest from unsafe homes.  The fact that these types of family situations abound in this country in modern times is disturbing, especially since Pete’s options are so limited.  My horror and frustration with these characters and what they realistically represent totally overshadows almost everything else that I may have noticed about the novel.  Even law enforcement characters in the novel shoot or throw punches first and then sweep up the collateral damage.  This world is like a war zone, and it’s hard to distinguish the bad guys from the good—if, in fact, there are any of the latter.