Back to the Garden by Laurie King


Description

A fifty-year-old cold case involving California royalty comes back to life—with potentially fatal consequences—in this gripping standalone novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series.

A magnificent house, vast formal gardens, a golden family that shaped California, and a colorful past filled with now-famous artists: the Gardener Estate was a twentieth-century Eden. And now, just as the Estate is preparing to move into a new future, restoration work on some of its art digs up a grim relic of the home’s past: a human skull, hidden away for decades.

Inspector Raquel Laing has her work cut out for her. Fifty years ago, the Estate’s young heir, Rob Gardener, turned his palatial home into a counterculture commune of peace, love, and equality. But that was also a time when serial killers preyed on innocents—monsters like The Highwayman, whose case has just surged back into the public eye.

Could the skull belong to one of his victims?

To Raquel—a woman who knows all about colorful pasts—the bones clearly seem linked to The Highwayman. But as she dives into the Estate’s archives to look for signs of his presence, what she unearths begins to take on a dark reality all of its own. Everything she finds keeps bringing her back to Rob Gardener himself. While he might be a gray-haired recluse now, back then he was a troubled young Vietnam vet whose girlfriend vanished after a midsummer festival at the Estate. But a lot of people seem to have disappeared from the Gardener Estate that summer when the commune mysteriously fell apart: a young woman, her child, and Rob’s brother, Fort.

The pressure is on, and Raquel needs to solve this case—before The Highwayman slips away, or another Gardener vanishes.

My Thoughts

Often, writers get pigeonholed into a single series. Truly gifted authors are able to transcend a single series and create new stories that are completely different. Laurie R. King has been doing this for years with the Russell & Holmes, Stuyvesant & Grey, Kate Martinelli, and her standalone novels. This new offering, featuring neuro-divergent San Francisco police detective Raquel Laing is one I hope will turn into a series, because Laing deserves more stories!!!

King tells a story here that has roots in the robber baron era of the American West that spread into a 1970s commune, and all the way to a present day California mansion. The robber baron era plays a very small part here, essentially setting background for the 70s commune and present day mystery involving bones discovered beneath a massive statue on the grounds of the Gardener Mansion.

King blends the Gardener mystery with a serial killer who operated during the same time as the commune and is only now being investigated for his crimes while he approaches death. There’s a lot going on here – plenty of story threads that somehow all converge to a very satisfying ending. King evokes the naive, counterculture, freelove of the commune perfectly and brings those characters into the present time with sensitivity and care. But, it’s the character development of Detective Laing that shines here. She’s one of the most interesting characters I’ve read in a long time and I hope we see more of her in the future.

King is a consummate storyteller, and that skills shines through here.

Highly recommended for fans of mystery & suspense.

Publication Date: September 6, 2022
Published By: Random House Publishing Group; Ballantine, Bantam
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Bird Cage by Eve Chase


Description

In the spirit of Lisa Jewell and Kate Morton, an emotional mystery set in the rugged remote landscape of north Cornwall full of dark secrets and twists, about three unusual sisters forced to confront the past.

Some secrets need to be set free…

When half-sisters Kat, Flora, and Lauren are unexpectedly summoned to Rock Point, their wild and remote Cornish summer home, it’s not a welcome invitation. They haven’t been back since that fateful summer twenty years ago—a summer they’re desperate to forget.

But when they arrive, it’s clear they’re not alone. Someone is lurking in the shadows, watching their every move. Someone who remembers exactly what they did…

Will the sisters be able to protect the dark past of Rock Point? Or are some secrets too powerful to remain under lock and key?

My Thoughts

Eve Chase has become one of my go-to authors for recommending something new to friends and library patrons who have tired of Gillian Flynn and Lisa Jewell but still want a twisted, ingeniously plotted domestic suspense novel. Chase totally delivers all that and more in The Birdcage.

As in previous Chase novels, we have a set of sisters who struggle with a deep dark secret from the past and with boatloads of unresolved emotions with the older adults in their now-adult lives. Chase takes the action back and forth between past and present, a technique that she has come close to perfecting in her novels.

Here, we have three very different sisters who have harbored serious emotions about one another, their parents, and the house at Rock Point for literally decades until they are ready to explode. Chase sets that scene with razor-sharp, prickly prose that gets under your skin until you’re ready to pop. Then, she brings you down gently with a full-circle ending.

My only issue with The Birdcage is the sheer number of characters. By the time I got to the end, I felt like I should have kept a notebook of all of them just to keep everything straight. Even so, this is every bit as suspenseful and well-written as Chase’s earlier novels and will be slurped up by fans of domestic suspense.

Recommended.

Publication Date: July 19, 2022
Published By: Penguin Group Putnam
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd


Description

From the critically acclaimed author of The Book of M, a highly imaginative thriller about a young woman who discovers that a strange map in her deceased father’s belongings holds an incredible, deadly secret—one that will lead her on an extraordinary adventure and to the truth about her family’s dark history. 

What is the purpose of a map? 

Nell Young’s whole life and greatest passion is cartography. Her father, Dr. Daniel Young, is a legend in the field, and Nell’s personal hero. But she hasn’t seen or spoken to him ever since he cruelly fired her and destroyed her reputation after an argument over an old, cheap gas station highway map.

But when Dr. Young is found dead in his office at the New York Public Library, with the very same seemingly worthless map hidden in his desk, Nell can’t resist investigating. To her surprise, she soon discovers that the map is incredibly valuable, and also exceedingly rare. In fact, she may now have the only copy left in existence… because a mysterious collector has been hunting down and destroying every last one—along with anyone who gets in the way.

But why?

To answer that question, Nell embarks on a dangerous journey to reveal a dark family secret, and discover the true power that lies in maps…

Perfect for fans of Joe Hill and V.E. Schwab, The Cartographers is an ode to art and science, history and magic—a spectacularly imaginative, modern story about an ancient craft and places still undiscovered.

My Thoughts

I devoured this book in one night! There’s adventure, mystery, danger, and daring imagination here all spun into one of the best stories I’ve read in ages.

The vibe reminded me a bit of Mr. Penumbras 24 Hour Bookstore, but the story is wholly original. As a librarian, the setting in NYPL added an extra appeal.

While this is a fantastic adventure, there is also an underlying cautionary tale about mapping and the increasingly intrusive role of AI in mapping our locations and movements. The megalomaniac mapmaker in this story is probably out there in real life and that is a bit scary. This would be a fascinating topic for book discussion group debate regarding the value of all the information gathering that occurs without our knowledge today through things like Alexa and Siri, our cell phone location services, our smart cars, our computers, our smart TVs, etc.

I’ll be recommending this a lot in the coming months.

Published By: William Morrow
Publication Date: 3/15/2022
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling


Description

Practical, unassuming Jane Shoringfield has done the calculations, and decided that the most secure path forward is this: a husband, in a marriage of convenience, who will allow her to remain independent and occupied with meaningful work. Her first choice, the dashing but reclusive doctor Augustine Lawrence, agrees to her proposal with only one condition: that she must never visit Lindridge Hall, his crumbling family manor outside of town.

Yet on their wedding night, an accident strands her at his door in a pitch-black rainstorm, and she finds him changed. Gone is the bold, courageous surgeon, and in his place is a terrified, paranoid man—one who cannot tell reality from nightmare, and fears Jane is an apparition, come to haunt him. By morning, Augustine is himself again, but Jane knows something is deeply wrong at Lindridge Hall, and with the man she has so hastily bound her safety to.

Set in a dark-mirror version of post-war England, Caitlin Starling crafts a new kind of gothic horror from the bones of the beloved canon. This Crimson Peak-inspired story assembles, then upends, every expectation set in place by Shirley Jackson and Rebecca, and will leave readers shaken, desperate to begin again as soon as they are finished.

My Thoughts

Whoa, I did NOT expect this book to be what it is. I was expecting a 21st century version of the gothic horror/romance. What I found was this weird and terrifying blend of Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, and even a little of Castle of Otranto thrown in for good measure. Still not quite sure how I feel about it.

The characters of Jane and Augustine are well-developed, a task that becomes increasingly difficult and hard to follow as they descend into madness or whatever state the author intended at the end. Jane especially goes from confident, determined, buttoned-up partner (not wife initially) as she negotiates her future, to her highly emotional state at the end. (Not really a spoiler because the ending is just HOLY HELL!)

The text is somewhat dense, but not weighed down by the flowery descriptive conventions of 18th and 19th century gothics which can truly dull the senses until – WHAM – the author hits you with a scene that makes your hair stand on end. Starling follows that path, but her writing is far more accessible.

Fans of gothic horror will enjoy this.

Publication Date: October 5, 2021
Published by: St. Martin’s Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Scorpion’s Tail by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child


Description

Following the acclaimed debut of Old Bones, this second “happily anticipated” new thriller in Preston & Child’s series features Nora Kelly, archaeologist at the Santa Fe Archeological Institute, and rookie FBI Agent Corrie Swanson, as they team up to solve a mystery that quickly escalates into nightmare (Booklist).

A mummified corpse, over half a century old, is found in the cellar of an abandoned building in a remote New Mexico ghost town. Corrie is assigned what seems to her a throwaway case: to ID the body and determine cause of death. She brings archaeologist Nora Kelly to excavate the body and lend her expertise to the investigation, and together they uncover something unexpected and shocking: the deceased apparently died in agony, in a fetal position, skin coming off in sheets, with a rictus of horror frozen on his face.

Hidden on the corpse lies a 16th century Spanish gold cross of immense value. When they at last identify the body — and the bizarre cause of death — Corrie and Nora open a door into a terrifying, secret world of ancient treasure and modern obsession: a world centered on arguably the most defining, frightening, and transformative moment in American history.

Preston and Child have done it again. Here’s another tautly plotted, adventuresome tale featuring super-cool characters, fascinating archaeological work, and the gorgeous scenery of the American Southwest. I really enjoy the friendship the authors are building between the archaeologist and the FBI agent. Two strong women surviving in fields dominated by men and successfully solving the crimes!

I really, really, really hope the next book finds Nora having left her post and taken a whole bunch of donors with her!

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner


A forgotten history. A secret network of women. A legacy of poison and revenge.

Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries.

Meanwhile in present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time. -From the Publisher

It’s been awhile since a story intrigued me like this one. The juxtaposed stories of the apothecary in the 17th century and the woman in the 21st century blend really nicely, although I will confess I was more interested in the apothecary’s story and the action taking place there.

The 21st century characters are definitely of the time – a little whiny, self-absorbed, and feeling unfulfilled – while the 17th century characters seem to pop. I definitely got the feeling the author enjoyed writing the apothecary’s story more! Nella and Eliza, and even the Lady Clarence, blaze off the page, while I was left with little sympathy for our modern day characters.

Overall, though, this is a captivating and fast-paced story that will appeal to fans of historical fiction.

Publication Date: March 2, 2021
Published By: Park Row
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Daughters of Foxcote Manor by Eve Chase


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From Netgalley & the Publisher:

An isolated forest estate.
A family with a terrible secret.
The discovery that changes everything.

England, 1970. On the one-year anniversary of the Harrington family’s darkest night, their beautiful London home goes up in flames. Mrs. Harrington, the two children, and live-in nanny Rita relocate to Foxcote Manor, ostensibly to recuperate. But the creeping forest, where lost things have a way of coming back, is not as restful as it seems. When thirteen-year-old Hera discovers a baby girl abandoned just beyond their garden gate, this tiniest, most wondrous of secrets brings a much-needed sunlit peace, until a visitor detonates the family’s tenuous happiness. All too soon a body lies dead in the woods.

Forty years later, London-based Sylvie is an expert at looking the other way. It’s how she stayed married to her unfaithful husband for more than twenty years. But she’s turned over a new leaf, having left him for a fresh start. She buried her own origin story decades ago, never imagining her teenage daughter would have a shocking reason to dig the past up–and to ask Sylvie to finally face the secrets that lead her back to Foxcote Manor.

Readers of Lisa Jewell and Simone St. James will delight in this haunting, touching story of mothers, daughters, and belonging–and the devastating lies families tell themselves in order to survive.

Eve Chase has given us this summer’s Family Upstairs with this twisted, tangled tale of love, loss, infidelity, betrayal, and the power of family.

The story moves between present time and a fateful summer of 1971. At the center of the story is Big Rita – nanny to a troubled family in 1971 and mother to the present-day protagonist. Rita’s story is unfolded gradually – the heartbreak and horror of that 1971 summer juxtaposed against the family disruption in in the present-day and Rita’s own health.

The full complexity of the connection is not revealed until later chapters, and Chase does a remarkable job of weaving in little hints of what’s to come here and there throughout the narrative. She strings you along so that you simply can’t put this book down. Several chapters end with a mini-cliffhanger, and I found myself skipping ahead to find out what happened, then going back and reading through.

As she did in Black Rabbit Hall, Chase has constructed a complex story that is rife with unbridled emotion held in check until it isn’t. She writes relationships with a deft hand and develops her characters in ways that evoke a visceral response. Recommended.

Publication Date: July 21, 2020
Published By: Penguin Group Putnam
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Cold Kill by Rennie Airth


cover181403-mediumAn American actress arrives in London to find herself the target of a ruthless assassin in this compelling standalone thriller.

Actress Adelaide Banks is swapping her native New York for London to spend Christmas with her widowed Aunt Rose. Rose wrote in her note that she was off to Paris for a few days and would be back in time for Addy’s arrival. But when Addy reaches Rose’s Knightsbridge address, no one’s home, and she has two unexpected callers . . .

Where is Rose, and what has she got herself entangled in? Dragged into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse on the snowy streets of London, Addy finds herself navigating a dark underworld of ruthless assassins, rogue agents and international crime. Can she survive long enough to uncover the truth?

I’ve been a fan of Rennie Airth’s John Madden series since River of Darkness debuted in 1999, so was curious to read this new stand-alone novel. I found a feisty female lead and a clever plot made even more captivating by the cast of memorable characters and a surprising ending. What a treat!

Airth steps away from Madden’s post-WWI world and ventures into international intrigue with a modern story that is every bit as good as his earlier work. I often envision stories on the screen, and could easily see John Madden in a BBC mystery series on television. Cold Kill, however, is a full-on, big screen spy thriller on par with the Bond and Mission: Impossible franchises. Will appeal to fans of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Publication Date: May 5, 2020
Published By: Severn House
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

 

The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey


cover178794-mediumA debut novel for fans of Sarah Perry and Kate Morton: when a young woman is tasked with safeguarding a natural history collection as it is spirited out of London during World War II, she discovers her new manor home is a place of secrets and terror instead of protection.

In August 1939, thirty-year-old Hetty Cartwright arrives at Lockwood Manor to oversee a natural history museum collection, whose contents have been taken out of London for safekeeping. She is unprepared for the scale of protecting her charges from party guests, wild animals, the elements, the tyrannical Major Lockwood and Luftwaffe bombs. Most of all, she is unprepared for the beautiful and haunted Lucy Lockwood.

For Lucy, who has spent much of her life cloistered at Lockwood suffering from bad nerves, the arrival of the museum brings with it new freedoms. But it also resurfaces memories of her late mother, and nightmares in which Lucy roams Lockwood hunting for something she has lost.

When the animals appear to move of their own accord, and exhibits go missing, they begin to wonder what exactly it is that they might need protection from. And as the disasters mount up, it is not only Hetty’s future employment that is in danger, but her own sanity too. There’s something, or someone, in the house. Someone stalking her through its darkened corridors . . .

I seem to be reading a lot of gothic mysteries lately…the genre is definitely making a comeback!

Here we have all the elements needed for a first-class, spooky gothic thriller – intrepid heroine who is made of sterner stuff than is believed by those around her; a creepy country house; a tragic inhabitant; a prickly, horrible mystery; and a horrifying climax followed by a new beginning.

There is, however, a refreshing difference here. In the old 1970s gothics, the tragic inhabitant of the creepy country house was invariably a man. Here, it’s Lucy. The beautiful, delicate, sleep-deprived daughter of the master of the house. The story spun around Lucy and Hetty is delicate and charming, a piece of lace on the grimy, icky cloth of the horrible mystery, and one that gets ripped off, preserved, and sewn into something beautiful.

The story is captivating and creepy, the writing skillful and eloquent. Well done.

Publication Date: March 10, 2020
Published By: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen

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cover173378-mediumIn this sophisticated, suspenseful debut reminiscent of Laura Lippman and Chloe Benjamin, two young women become unlikely friends during one fateful summer in Atlantic City as mysterious disappearances hit dangerously close to home.

Summer has come to Atlantic City but the boardwalk is empty of tourists, the casino lights have dimmed, and two Jane Does are laid out in the marshland behind the Sunset Motel, just west of town. Only one person even knows they’re there.

Meanwhile, Clara, a young boardwalk psychic, struggles to attract clients for the tarot readings that pay her rent. When she begins to experience very real and disturbing visions, she suspects they could be related to the recent cases of women gone missing in town. When Clara meets Lily, an ex-Soho art gallery girl who is working at a desolate casino spa and reeling from a personal tragedy, she thinks Lily may be able to help her. But Lily has her own demons to face. If they can put the pieces together in time, they may save another lost girl—so long as their efforts don’t attract perilous attention first. Can they break the ill-fated cycle, or will they join the other victims?

Evocative, eerie, and compelling, Please See Us is a fast-paced psychological thriller that explores the intersection of womanhood, power, and violence.

This book is one of the best debuts in the suspense genre that I’ve read in a very long time. Full of well-drawn characters and a clever, twisted plot that will keep you reading and shivering into the wee hours, this is a must-read for fans of psychological suspense.

Mullen carefully builds the relationship between boardwalk clairvoyant Clara/Ava and art gallery girl Lily in such a way that you find yourself rooting for both of them as they plunge into the dark side of Atlantic City and into the even darker recesses of a killer’s mind. At the same time, she also gives character to the girls who want to be seen – not just the victims in the marsh but all the lost girls who drift around the city, looking for…something.

Relationships are key here – the failed relationships that have shaped Lily and Ava, the tragic relationships between the girls in the marsh and their families, and the friendships that move the action forward. Mullen weaves those relationships into a taut, suspenseful story that will keep your eyes glued to the pages.

Fans of Laura Lippman and Kathy Reichs will enjoy this one.

Publication Date: March 1, 2020
Published By: Gallery/Pocket Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy