Category: Thriller

“If She Wakes” by Michael Koryta

“If She Wakes” by Michael Koryta

Narrated by Robert Petkoff

Tara Beckley is a senior at idyllic Hammel College in Maine. As she drives to deliver a visiting professor to a conference, a horrific car accident kills the professor and leaves Tara in a vegetative state. At least, so her doctors think. In fact, she’s a prisoner of locked-in syndrome: fully alert but unable to move a muscle. Trapped in her body, she learns that someone powerful wants her dead – but why? And what can she do, lying in a hospital bed, to stop them?

Abby Kaplan, an insurance investigator, is hired by the college to look in to Tara’s case. A former stunt driver, Abby returned home after a disaster in Hollywood left an actor dead and her own reputation – and nerves – shattered. Despite the fog of trauma, she can tell that Tara’s car crash was no accident. When she starts asking questions, things quickly spin out of control, leaving Abby on the run and a mysterious young hit man named Dax Blackwell hard on her heels.

This story is fascinating, thrilling, and a little bit creepy. All the things I look for in a thriller. There is an urgency to the story from the very first words. A sense of something ominous about to happen. Tara is just trying to be friendly with the guest speaker she is escorting to the college event. Then it all goes terribly wrong.

I love the way the author uses Tara to push the investigation forward, even though she is suffering from locked-in syndrome and seemingly has no way to communicate. I really appreciated how he explored what was going on in her thoughts, the feeling of indignity when the nurses talked about her like she wasn’t in the room, the desperation she feels when she realizes that she can’t communicate, and the relief when her sister fights for her rights when she is helpless. This aspect of the story is a reminder that just because a person is medically unable to talk to you doesn’t mean that you can treat them with disrespect.

Abby, the investigator, is a whole different kettle of fish. She is intent on finding the truth but must confront her internal demons in order to get through this investigation alive. The path to the truth is twisted and full of the unexpected. When she finds herself at the mercy of a serial killer she uses every resource she can muster thwart his deadly intentions. I found it easy to identify with Abby and cheer her on. Her methods may be unorthodox to some but they are definitely effective.

I listened to the audiobook version of this story and was on the edge of my seat throughout. The narrator’s pacing was excellent and it was a real pleasure to listen to. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

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“Running Blind” by Lee Child

“Running Blind” by Lee Child

Narrated by Johnathan McClain

Across the country women are being murdered by a killer who leaves no evidence, no fatal wounds, no signs of struggle, and no clues to a motive. They are, truly, perfect crimes. In fact, the only thing that links the victims is the man they all knew: Jack Reacher.

Warning: this story has a lot of potentially triggering scenes about crimes against women. Jack Reacher is my latest fictional hero. “Running Blind” is his 4th story. The FBI suspects him of murdering women across the country who had, while in military service, reported sexual assault. Reacher had been the investigator in all the cases, therefore he must be guilty. Then the tables turn and he’s helping the FBI find the real killer.

I find Jack Reacher so fascinating because I just can’t quite figure him out. Every book reveals a little bit more about him and just when I think I’m starting to understand him he throws me another loop. This is a character that keeps my interest. In this book, he’s paired with an FBI agent who, I’m sorry to say, has no redeeming qualities in my mind. She’s just way more nasty than she needs to be, but Reacher just takes it all in stride.

The plot of this one really had me guessing. I’d say I was about 85% through the book before I started to think that maybe I was wrong about the suspect and of course I was. Because Lee Child is good at unexpected twists, there are plenty of them. I was also impressed with the way the author handled the trauma that the women experienced. He doesn’t dismiss or trivialize what happened which I appreciate, especially from a male author.

I would definitely recommend the audiobook version of this story. I think Mr. McClain did a great job of voicing this one. The characters are distinctive and his narration is very well paced so you don’t have a chance to “zone out”. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to the next one.

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“The Only Child” by Mi-ae Seo

“The Only Child” by Mi-ae Seo

Criminal psychologist Seonkyeong receives an unexpected call one day. Yi Byeongdo, a serial killer whose gruesome murders shook the world, wants to be interviewed. Yi Byeongdo, who has refused to speak to anyone until now, asks specifically for her. Seonkyeong agrees out of curiosity.

That same day Hayeong, her husband’s eleven-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, shows up at their door after her grandparents, with whom she lived after her mother passed away, die in a sudden fire. Seonkyeong wants her to feel at home, but is gradually unnerved as the young girl says very little and acts strangely.

At work and at home, Seonkyeong starts to unravel the pasts of the two new arrivals in her life and begins to see startling similarities. Hayeong looks at her the same way Yi Byeongdo does when he recounts the abuse he experienced as a child; Hayeong’s serene expression masks a temper that she can’t control. Plus, the story she tells about her grandparents’ death, and her mother’s before that, deeply troubles Seonkyeong. So much so that Yi Byeongdo picks up on it and starts giving her advice.

I find myself on a bit of an international tour with my reading. Recently, I was in Nigeria with a police procedural and now I’m visiting South Korea with this intense psychological thriller. I had a little difficulty getting going with the story at the beginning because of the names but once I decided in my head on a pronunciation this book was hard to put down. The writing also struck me as a little stiff at times but I’m wondering if that is due to translation rather than any failing on the part of the author. The author so effectively takes the reader into the minds of her characters that is was impossible for me not to be impressed.

What really fascinated me with this story is the psychology behind the three main characters. The reader gets to go right along with Seonkyeong as she works her way through her own reactions to Yi Byeongdo and Haeyong and tries to use her training as a psychologist to understand how each of them has been shaped by their experiences. There are unexpected twists along the way and the ending could have gone a few different ways and wasn’t quite what I expected. Overall, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Even though the story is set in South Korea, the issues addressed are universal.

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“Tripwire” by Lee Child – Audiobook

“Tripwire” by Lee Child – Audiobook

Narrated by Johnathan McClain

Jack Reacher, ex-military policeman relaxed in Key West until Costello turned up dead. The amiable PI was hired in New York by the daughter of Reacher’s mentor and former commanding officer, General Garber. Garber’s investigation into a Vietnam MIA sets Reacher on collision with hand-less “Hook” Hobie, hours away from his biggest score.

Jack Reacher is quickly becoming my newest hero. Parts of this story were very gruesome and hard to listen too, but that was definitely outweighed by the complexity of the story. Reacher starts to develop a personal life which I enjoyed and adds additional dimension to him as a character. The Vietnam War connection in the plot really points out Jack Reacher’s former years in the military and the death of his former mentor will have a completely unexpected outcome on his life. Reacher continues to be a loner, for the most part, and someone who wants to live by his own code, which I have to admit is an archetype that I relate well too. The ultimate resolution of this mystery took me by surprise by seemed very appropriate to the events that had taken place. This story represents to me another way in which war can destroy lives, and that’s something that I think we should all be reminded of frequently. There are multiple lives at stake in this story and the action is riveting. I think this story translated well to audio and the narrator did a great job of bringing the characters to life.

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“A Book of Bones” by John Connolly – Audiobook

“A Book of Bones” by John Connolly – Audiobook

Narrated by Jeff Harding

He is our best hope.

He is our last hope.

On a lonely moor in northern England, the body of a young woman is discovered. In the south, a girl lies buried beneath a Saxon mound. To the southeast, the ruins of a priory hide a human skull.

Each is a sacrifice, a summons. And something in the darkness has heard the call.

Charlie Parker has also heard it and from the forests of Maine to the deserts of the Mexican border, from the canals of Amsterdam to the streets of London, he will track those who would cast the world into darkness.

Parker fears no evil—but evil fears him.

It is no secret that I am a huge fan of Charlie Parker but this one really made me work, in a good way. The religious roots in this story are very complicated and I really had to pay attention while listening so as not to get completely lost. That being said, I love a complex story that makes my brain work along the way, so for me this is a winning characteristic. This installment also felt like it was more emotional for the characters as we are faced with a battle against cancer while trying to stop evil from destroying the world. I continue to enjoy the expansion of the roles of Charlie’s daughters as the series progresses. For me the incorporation of the children makes it all a little more real. Charlie and his team (my word for the group of recurring characters) are not just fighting evil as a theoretical concept or as a function of law enforcement, but as an actual living force that can end all hope of a future for mankind. This may well be my favorite so far, though I wouldn’t suggest this one as your first foray into this series. John Connolly continues to dazzle me with his creativity, and Charlie Parker is still one of my favorite heroes.

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“Front Page Fatality” by LynDee Walker

“Front Page Fatality” by LynDee Walker

Narrated by Therese Plummer

Blurb:

When two rookie cops are killed in a fiery crash near Richmond, Virginia, crime reporter Nichelle Clarke is sent in to investigate.

But as Nichelle digs deeper into the case, she discovers this was no ordinary accident.

People and evidence soon begin to disappear. Someone is one step ahead of her. A master criminal with a deadly secret, covering their tracks with ruthless efficiency.

The killer will stop at nothing to keep the truth hidden. But as she draws closer to unraveling the mystery of two dead cops, Nichelle realizes that she’s become the next target.

My Thoughts:

This one had a little different feel for me because the main character is an investigative reporter, not a detective. That being said, I really liked Nichelle. She’s still figuring out her job to some extent, but she is eager and ready to learn. What she doesn’t know is what she’s getting herself into when there is an explosion and two cops are dead. As the case heats up, she begins to wonder who she can trust. I really enjoyed the pacing of the story and the secondary characters who added drama and interest. I think the plotline is well crafted and executed. Overall, I found the story to be engaging from beginning to end. The narration was excellent if you prefer audiobooks.

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“Cold Water” by Debbie Herbert

“Cold Water” by Debbie Herbert

Narrated by Megan Tusing, Eric G. Dove, Sophie Amoss & Shannon McManus

Blurb:

Everyone thinks fourteen-year-old Violet is a murderer. After a summer-night swim with her best friend, Ainsley, Violet is found confused, wandering in the forest – and Ainsley’s never seen again. But without a body, murder charges won’t stick, so Violet is sent away.

After more than a decade in a psychiatric ward, Violet returns to her broken-down hometown of Normal, Alabama, to claim her dead mother’s inheritance and help her overworked sister care for their unstable, alcoholic father. Violet, still haunted by that night eleven years ago, endures horrific flashbacks and twisted hallucinations while townsfolk spit accusations – and for all she knows, they’re right.

As the summer heats up, details of Ainsley’s fate appear like a beast’s wild eyes, watching in the darkness, and grim revelations about Violet’s family threaten to devour her. Already on the edge of madness, Violet must fight to keep her sanity long enough for the terrible truth to burst from the cold, dark waters.

My Thoughts:

The relationship dynamics and their psychological effect on the characters are my favorite part of this story. The sisters with no common blood. The father who has always had a mean streak. And Violet who seems to just be a pawn in a dark-hearted scheme. You can’t help but feel for Violet, having just come out of a psychiatric institution. It’s a wonder she has any courage at all. She returns to a home where she is hated, hoping her memory of the last night with her friend will come back. This book has four different narrators which enables the listener to easily track the different perspectives and the timeline. For the most part, I found the narration to be well done and compelling. The story moved along very nicely with the flashback sections adding dimension to the narrative. I found the inclusion of the dead mother as a character to be a really interesting way to convey the story. Overall, this was an enjoyable listen, with compelling psychological thrills and a very dark mystery.

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“The Whisperer” by Karin Fossum

“The Whisperer” by Karin Fossum

Blurb:

How did a lonely, quiet woman come to kill a man—or did she?

Ragna Riegel is a soft-spoken woman of routines. She must have order in her life, and she does, until one day she finds a letter in her mailbox with her name on the envelope and a clear threat written in block capitals on the sheet inside. With the arrival of the letter, and eventually others like it, Ragna’s carefully constructed life begins to unravel into a nightmare—threatened by an unknown enemy, paranoid and unable to sleep, her isolation becomes all the more extreme. Ragna’s distress does culminate in a death, but she is the perpetrator rather than the victim.

The Whisperer shifts between Inspector Sejer’s interrogation of Ragna and the shocking events that led up to her arrest. Sejer thinks it is an open-and-shut case, but is it? Compelling and unnerving, The Whisperer probes plausible madness in everyday life and asks us to question assumptions even in its final moments.

My Thoughts:

This story had me intrigued from word one. For at least half of it, I had no idea where the story might be going but I certainly wanted to find out. As Detective Sejer questions Ragna over a period of days, her story begins to be revealed. At first glance, she appears to be just an ordinary person who lives alone, goes to work and is very introverted. But then things start to get weird. Ragna becomes convinced that she is being stalked and it certainly seems to be true, but is it? This is very much a psychological thriller which takes you deep into the mind of abnormal psychology. Ragna is a character that I couldn’t help feeling sorry for because of her disability but at the same time I was suspicious of her. I also really enjoyed the calm and almost sedate style of Detective Sejer. He skilfully gains her trust and draws her out of her shell. The winter in Norway setting added to the thrill and mystery of the story. This is one I thoroughly enjoyed and would definitely recommend.

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Thank you to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.



“Truth and Lies” by Caroline Mitchell

“Truth and Lies” by Caroline Mitchell

Narrated by Elizabeth Knowelden

Blurb:

DI Amy Winter is hoping to follow in the footsteps of her highly respected police officer father. But when a letter arrives from the prison cell of Lillian Grimes, one half of a notorious husband-and-wife serial-killer team, it contains a revelation that will tear her life apart.

Responsible for a string of heinous killings decades ago, Lillian is pure evil. A psychopathic murderer. And Amy’s biological mother. Now, she is ready to reveal the location of three of her victims – but only if Amy plays along with her twisted game.

While her fellow detectives frantically search for a young girl taken from her mother’s doorstep, Amy must confront her own dark past. Haunted by blurred memories of a sister who sacrificed herself to save her, Amy faces a race against time to uncover the missing bodies.

But what if, from behind bars, Grimes has been pulling the strings even tighter than Amy thought? And can she overcome her demons to prevent another murder?

My Thoughts:

Let me just start by saying how much I enjoyed this narration. I think she did a great job of bringing the various characters to life and keeping the story moving. As for the story itself, I was totally intrigued by Amy and her story. When she finds out who her real mother is it could have gone a lot of ways, but she managed to keep the job in focus and do what needed to be done to solve the case. It’s an interesting battle of the psyches of these two women. There is a lot of abuse in the story as it unfolds but I found the domestic abuse situation to be fascinating in the way the author presented what was occurring but also how the person involved was rationalizing the whole situation. I don’t want to give anything away but there is a lot of thought provoking psychology going on in this book. I took to Amy’s character right away. She is so driven to live up to what she thinks is expected of her that I found myself cheering for her through most of the book. She is very vulnerable at times during the story but she’s also tough and determined not to let her circumstances undermine her future. To top it all off, there is a cat in this story who “saves” the day and I just can’t resist a good cat character. If you’re looking for a good listen, definitely check this one out.

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“The Turn of the Key” by Ruth Ware

“The Turn of the Key” by Ruth Ware

Blurb:

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

My Thoughts:

Hang on to your sanity people, this one will definitely make you question what is real, what is ruse, and what is the truth. Rowan, I found to be likeable but a little rough around the edges. Her childhood had been rough and she seemed to be having a little trouble gaining traction in her adult life. She sees the opportunity at Heatherbrae House as a chance to put the past behind her and start a new life. But her new life quickly takes some very dramatic turns and will leave her questioning her own sanity. This is the best psychological thriller I have read in a long time. The twists are sometimes subtle and sometimes dramatic but always leave you guessing. The characters are great, with even the baby having a distinct personality. Alone in this isolated house with three young children it doesn’t seem possible that the things that happen are really happening. This house if full of mysteries and secrets and the author teases them out in a delicious way. However, nothing will prepare you for the ending when the final truths are revealed. You really must read this book.

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