The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts by Laura Tillman

150110425X.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Book – There’s a building in Brownsville, Texas, one of the poorest cities in the country, where something terrible happened. A lot of terrible things happen in Brownsville — right on the Mexican border, it’s a center for drug trafficking as well as immigration, both legal and not, and the usual urban crimes born of poverty and desperation — but this was bad enough that the whole building lies under its shadow.

This isn’t the usual kind of true crime book, and if you try to read it that way you’re going to be disappointed. The facts were never really in doubt. In the spring of 2003, John Allen Rubio, with the assistance of his common-law wife, horribly murdered his three children. The oldest girl was only three years old. Less than a day later, they both confessed to the police; Rubio believed the children were possessed. Or maybe, he admitted when questioned, it was the spray paint he’d been huffing.

But Tillman isn’t telling that story as much as she’s telling the story of the community in which that crime occurred. What did the neighbors think of John and Angela, both before and after the murders? What was it like, to be them, to live in their world? And if John truly, sincerely believed that the children were possessed when he killed them, does that make him not guilty by reason of insanity? What if he had schizophrenia? What if he had brain damage from long-term drug use, or a low IQ from his mother’s long-term drug use? If the state of Texas executes him for his crime, what does that say about us, and the world we live in? And can the community ever come to terms with what happened? Tillman doesn’t offer answers to these questions, but she asks them with care, and I think they’re important ones.

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

17668473Book-It was a dark and foggy night. Gretchen Müller was in the car with her brother and friends when a Jew was seen walking across the street not too far ahead. Without warning, Kurt decides it speed up in order to hit the Jewish man. When that attempt failed, the boys left car with the sole purpose of beating the man to death. Why? Because to Gretchen and her friends, Jews were evil people. That is what Adolf Hitler told them and ‘Uncle’ Dolf would never lead them astray. Hitler was the man who took Gretchen and her family in after her father was killed saving Hitler’s life. They owed him everything.

But that night, instead of reveling in the idea of taking out the cancer of Germany, Gretchen found herself really looking at the Jewish man. His eyes were full of terror as he was about to be attacked by two members of the Nazi party. Going against everything she was taught by her parents and Hitler, Gretchen ran after the boys in order to stop them.

That night was the first small step on a journey of self-discovery that Gretchen goes on throughout this book. She takes her next step when a young Jew tells Gretchen that her father did not die to save Hitler’s life, he was murdered. In her pursuit of the truth, Gretchen learns some startling facts about Hitler and his party. Now she has to decide if her loyalties truly lie with Hitler and her family or Daniel, the Jew.

You can find Prisoner of Night and Fog on the Lincoln Award Shelf and on the Lincoln Award Kindle. Once you read it, check out the sequel Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke

Devil (2010)

devilMovie- Five people at an office building enter an elevator. Only one gets out. Devil combines a locked room mystery plot with the trappings of a horror movie. The five people trapped in the elevator all have guilty pasts and every time the lights go out in the broken elevator, they go back on to reveal that someone else is injured or dead. Police and security guards are watching through the security camera, comparing the sign-in sheet at the front desk to the elevator passengers and researching them and their histories to try to figure out who’s doing it. In true mystery fashion, just as they begin to suspect one passenger especially, that is the next passenger to die. Those watching from the security station are split on whether they are watching a horrific supernatural event (one security guard is superstitious and convinced that the Devil is roaming the Earth) or a bunch of frightened people acting irrationally (one of the police officers is determinedly cynical and irreligious due to personal tragedy). The audience, however, is not left wondering at the end of the movie. We get to see the big scary payoff scene of the Devil speaking through/being one of the passengers, and it is sufficiently creepy.

Devil will appeal to fans of both horror and mystery movies.  While it is not the cleverest movie ever, it has some good surprises and I did not predict too early which one of the people in the elevator was the culprit.

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

indexBook – What could possibly go wrong at a bachelor party held at a respectable middle-aged investment banker’s house in the suburbs of New York?  So thought Kristin, even knowing that some naughty entertainment was scheduled. She gave her husband, Richard, her blessing to host the event for his younger brother and went off to Manhattan with their 9 year old daughter. But something happens that Richard never fathomed and his life becomes a total nightmare. The two beautiful strippers providing the entertainment stab and murder their bodyguards, take their hard earned cash, and flee the scene of the crime.

Bohjalian does an excellent job telling of how Richard and Kristin’s life and marriage start unraveling as a consequence of that night. Richard admits that he had gone into the guest room with one of the girls, but swears that nothing happened, though Kristin has her doubts. Richard is also suspended from his job, is hounded by the press, and threatened with blackmail. Meanwhile we learn of the plight of the two fugitives.  Alexandra and Sonja are not really women, but girls from Armenia and not only are they on the run from the police, but the Russian mob, as well. The girls were kidnapped as adolescents and turned into sex slaves in Russia and then brought to the United States. We find out about their sad and desperate circumstances. And now with no identification, credit cards, or knowledge of any different type of life are they really free? This story of suspense and desperation will keep the pages turning.

Bohjalian wrote this book to bring awareness that human trafficking and slavery is very prevalent and profitable to the exploiters.  To learn more, please visit The Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking.

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

indexBook The Light in the Ruins is a wonderful blend of historical fiction and a murder mystery.  The story starts during World War II at the Rosati Villa in Monte Volta, Italy. The Nazis have a keen interest in an Etruscan tomb on the property and coerce the family into helping them seize Italian works of art.  Unfortunately, this cooperation and the fondness between Christina Rosati and one of the German officers is seen as betrayal to some of the locals.  What they did not realize is that the Rosatis also secretly sheltered partisans on their estate.

Years later in Florence in 1955, Francesca Rosati is found murdered with her heart cut out and displayed.  It is up to Serafina, a young detective to solve the crime.  Things are further complicated when the matriarch of the family, Beatrice is murdered in the same fashion.  The detective determines that this is a vendetta against the Rosatis and wonders if the family’s activities during the war had somehow triggered these killings.  It also appears that Serafina, who is severely scarred by burns received during the war, may also have had some sort of connection to the Rosati’s.

Heartbreak abounds during the war and as a result of the homicides for the remaining family.  The Villa is no longer grand but falling into ruin, since the Rosatis cannot afford its upkeep. The suspense builds as Serafina races to catch a murderer, before another Rosati is killed.

I think this book would appeal to fans of Kristin Hannah’s Nightingale and Chris Bohjalian’s other works such as Sandcastle Girls.

When Bunnies Go Bad: A Pru Marlowe Pet Noir by Clea Simon

indexBook – With a title like When Bunnies Go Bad, author Clea Simon had me hooked on her newest mystery novel immediately.  The brown, furry rabbit on the cover didn’t hurt.  I pictured a story of a once friendly and adorable creature wreaking havoc on an poor, unsuspecting town.

Instead, this novel follows Pru, a woman with secrets to hide, mainly her identity as an animal psychic.  In her small hometown, people know only that Pru seems to have a way with animals.  From pests to pets, Pru is friend and trainer to all creatures.  When Pru discovers the body of a rich vacationer, she can’t stand by and let the feds handle the case.  With her special skills, Pru manages to get inside information on the murder, specifically from the deceased’s beautiful young girlfriend and her tiny pup.

I enjoyed learning about Pru’s backstory, and the origins of her gift.  I liked the concept of this animal psychic crime solver, but I found the story to be a little jumbled, and confusing.  However, as a whole I enjoyed this cute “cozy” mystery.

When Bunnies Go Bad is part of the “Pru Marlowe Pet Noir mystery series,” which also includes other fun titles such as Kittens Can Kill, and Parrots Prove Deadly. What’s not to love?


The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah

19367226Book– In the vein of The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz (which uses Conan Doyle’s characters), Sophie Hannah has set out to write a new Hercule Poirot novel, with the permission of Agatha Christie’s estate. When a contemporary author sets out to reanimate the legendary characters of a deceased author’s canon, she has a tall task ahead of her and a lot of expectations to meet that do not apply to a wholly original novel, but I tried to be fair when I read her attempt.

Hannah does not do a great job of imitating Christie’s characters. For example, bumbling police inspector narrator, Catchpool (an original character), who exists as a reader surrogate for Poirot to be smart at, is afraid of dead bodies due to an apparently traumatic incident at his grandfather’s funeral. Barring how silly it is for a police inspector to fear murder victims, Catchpool is also gratingly incompetent and has all kinds of tiresome (if justifiable) doubts about his fitness for police work. Poirot is not rendered pitch perfect either. He overuses some typically Poirot-esque mannerisms, such as “little grey cells” and gratuitous French, but for reasons I cannot pinpoint, does not hit the mark.

Despite these complaints, I would still recommend this book. The mystery itself is elegantly constructed, with plenty of red herrings, and a beautiful resolution at the end. I did not correctly guess the murderer early on, which I typically do, and actually needed the scene at the end where Poirot explains the plot to everybody to wrap my head around how the murders went down. The Monogram Murders was a much better experience once I decided to read just for the plot, which is excellent, rather than the characters, which were not.

Find Her by Lisa Gardner

find herBook –Check out Find Her by Lisa Gardner for a murder mystery you can’t put down.

For 472 days, Flora Danes was held captive in a wooden coffin. On the occasions that she was released, Flora was raped and tormented by her kidnapper. But she is a survivor. Five years later, Flora is still trying to find a sense of normalcy in her life. She has the support of her mother, and her FBI victim advocate, Samuel Keynes. But Flora is caught in the past, actively searching out other girls like her that have gone missing, dedicated to hunting down their perpetrators.

Detective D.D. Warren arrives at a crime scene where a young women was left bound, naked, yet was somehow able to kill her attacker. Because Flora is no ordinary victim.  After learning of Flora’s traumatic history, Detective Warren grows suspicious of the intentions of this possible vigilante. When Flora herself ends up missing, Detective Warren must team up with the famed Samuel Keynes to find Flora against all odds.

I found Find Her to be reminiscent of author Gillian Flynn: an intense, driven thriller with a strong female lead. I thought the details of Flora’s captivity were terrifying, especially as someone who’s claustrophobic. It was an unsettling read, which for me constitutes the makings of a great murder mystery.


Sano Ichiro series by Laura Joh Rowland


indexBook- Set in 17th-century Edo (now called Tokyo), this mystery series follows the career of Sano Ichiro, a samurai investigator who rises from an ordinary policeman to the Shogun’s Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People. This position does not come without some attendant danger. In addition to the obvious dangers of police work, Sano must navigate the viper-pit of nobles, courtesans, and hangers-on that wield the weak-willed shogun’s power for him and who view Sano as a threat. The primary conflicts in the series derive from Sano’s strong idealized moral consciousness and samurai principles clashing with the actual degradation and corruption of the Tokugawa shogunate that he serves.

The series includes tons of fascinating historical details and personages and paints such a strong visual image that, despite the uncommon setting, it is not hard to picture Sano’s world. These novels will appeal to fans of other mystery series with a strong sense of place, such as Anne Perry’s Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mystery series. Sano Ichiro’s adventures are finished, clocking in at 18 volumes altogether, so there’s no agonizing wait for a sequel. Start with Shinju and see if you like it!

The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone

51-+74IGcjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book- Broke and unemployed Dahlia is pleased if rather confused when a handsome stranger at her roommate’s party offers her a dubious gig– to retrieve his spear (not a real spear, but a spear from fictional Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game Zoth).  Naturally, the promise of a $2000 payout after 12+ months of unemployment is too much to resist. However, nothing ever works out as well as it seems it should. Dahlia is quickly embroiled in at least one potential romantic entanglement, the interpersonal dynamics of her employer’s in-game guild, and, oh yeah, a real-life murder. The real pleasure of The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss is the narrator’s unique voice. Dahlia is steeped in nerd culture and has an acerbic, self-deprecating style that either the reader will love or hate.

This book (which I would not be surprised to see become a series) straddles the line between young adult and new adult and will appeal to fans of both chick lit novels and cozy mysteries. Set in St. Louis, I found that the novel had a surprisingly strong sense of place that I appreciated. My spouse is from St. Louis, and I recognized many of the places and streets mentioned as ones I’ve been to when visiting my in-laws. If you can get behind a novel where the detective wears a Jigglypuff toboggan hat instead of a deerstalker cap, this is the book for you.