The Couple Next Door – Shari Lapena

the couple next doorPublished by Penguin Books in 2016 (316 pages) the third novel from Canadian writer Shari Lapena. It’s a masterclass in plotting a fast pace thrill ride… although I think the term is a bit over used, by the second half this book is a real page turner… and I’m glad to be reading a physical copy for the shear joy of actually tuning pages! Much like watching a movie meant to be seen on the big cinema screen.

It’s an intensely intimate look into the characters, their inner world, their life together, not so much their hopes and dreams but their fears and suspicions. Right from chapter one we jump into the heart of the crime… the next ten chapters really focuses on Anne and Marco, but chapter three, Anne becomes ‘the mother’ and Marco becomes ‘the husband’ and it isn’t made clear why. Perhaps this is a chapter written from the detective’s point of view.

Then… click bait alert, chapter eleven is straight out of left field. Things are not what they seem. And by chapter seventeen, the curves start flying – and we know the theme of this is all about the secrets… those we keep from others, but so much more those we keep from ourselves.

But let’s talk about the ending, those last five chapters… the dominoes have been falling one by one and from here the pace just accelerates to a point where all the remaining dominoes are just dumped in a heap, but the truth wins out through a strangling thicket of thorns, and no one comes up unscathed.

And just when you think it’s over… the final chapter holds that sign reading ‘but wait, there’s more’ and as for Anne, in the end, I like to think of her outcome as … ambiguous. But that’s just me, I’m an optimist.

“So what if the babysitter cancelled? They should have brought Cora with them, put her in a portable playpen. Buy Cynthia had said no children. It was to be an adult evening, for graham’s birthday. Which is another reason Anne has come to dislike Cynthia, who was once a good friend – Cynthia is not baby-friendly. Who says that a six month old baby you isn’t welcome at a dinner party? How had Anne ever let Marco persuade her that it was ok? It was irresponsible. She wonders what the other mothers in her mom’s group would think if she ever told them. We left our six-month old baby home alone and went to a party next door. She imagines all their jaws dropping in shock, the uncomfortable silence. But she will never tell them. She’d be shunned.”

Last Breath – Robert Bryndza

Last BreathI’ve read the kindle edition of this thrilling British police procedural. This is the forth in the DCI Erika Foster series.

As this story begins, a body has been uncovered in a trash bin in London. DI Peterson is called to the scene. Erika tags along on this snowy evening despite the fact that she is no longer part of the Murder Investigation Team. Peterson reports to DCI Marion Hudson, who though not on the scene, is still in charge of this investigation. Erika in her fashion ‘crashes’ in on the scene. Her current duties have her compiling administrative reports in Bromley. But being at the murder scene, and seeing it run poorly, gets Erika’s inner detective sparked, that, and Superintendent Sparks chasing her off probably had as much to do with her motivations. But a behind the scenes police investigation and an unforeseen circumstance align in such a way as to promote DCI Hudson to Acting Superintendent and DCI Forster can work the investigation.

While investigating this killing, Erik, through her connection with the pathologist Isaac, finds out that sloppy police work caused a killing with the same signature markings from going unnoticed, these are slow killings where the murderer seems to torture his victim a few days before killing them. So, now there are two brutal homicides. The killer has both luck and skill in hiding his identity as well as his crime and a third killing takes place. But as clues turn up and connections are made, Erika and her team get closer to the truth… As news that a third victim has been taken. With an increasing sense of urgency and a ticking clock until this next victim is killed the pace of this story really starts to race. And luck won’t be on the killer’s side for long…

This story certainty has Erika at her most introspective. As a reader of this series we’re starting to see much more growth in Erika, especially in her interactions with her various superiors up the chain of command. She still shows her indignation at police ‘perception’ motivations. When called in by the Assistant Commissioner she stands her ground while not getting much support from Acting Superintendent Hudson. But through her outside interactions with former Assistant Commissioner Marsh and her nemesis Superintendent Sparks, she begins to see things from their perspective. Which is one of those areas we see Erika becoming more forgiving of those around her.

And towards the end of this story, through her interactions with Isaac, Peterson and Hudson, Erika is really starting to take stock of her life. The choices she herself has made, as well as the circumstances that life has dealt to her. It seems that a certain amount of healing is taken place within her, and I look forward to seeing her in the next thrilling case!

   She went on: ‘Getting over the loss, that bit people can sympathize with and understand, but moving on, trying to fill the gap the loss has left, is impossible… You know I’ve been seeing Peterson – James – since before Christmas.’

Isaac nodded. ‘You like him, don’t you?’

Erica nodded and got p, grabbing the box of tissues from the desk opposite.

‘He just wants to be with me, and I keep pushing him away. He’s such a good guy… Like Mark, he was the one everyone loved. I just don’t know why Mark had to die and I’m still here. He was a great guy. I’m just a bitch.’

Isaac laughed.

‘I am, it’s not funny.’

‘You’re not a bitch, but you have to act like one sometimes. It helps you get the job done.’

Erika laughed. ‘No, thank you, but I just want to be alone.’

‘No, you don’t… Every day I have to do post-mortems on people, and so many of them had their hole lives ahead of them. They probably died wishing they could have done things differently, wishing they has been nicer, loved more, not stressed so much. Go and see James. You could be dead tomorrow and lying on that slab in there.’

‘Brutal, but true,’ said Erika. ‘You should give advice more.’

‘I do, but most of the people I see at work can’t do anything with it. They’re dead.’

The Woman Aroused – Ed Lacey

woman arousedPublished in 1951 I read the PlanetMonk Pulps Book 8 Kindle Edition. This is the first novel by Ed Lacy who, up to this point was mostly a short story writer, and this does read a lot like an extended short story. Although a death by mysterious circumstance does take place in this novel, I wouldn’t consider it a mystery… nothing about the death is really investigated, and questions about the death are not formally resolved. However, like the protagonist George, we do have a strong circumstantial case against one of the other characters.

And that is really what this story has going for it, characters. Characters up the Wahoo as we would say; distinctive, quirky and varied. Though not a mystery its more a slice of life story told in a tight first person narrative that has a short story feel to it. You can almost hear George sitting across from you telling you this account about his fall from grace and possible redemption by means of a young woman, the widow of a childhood friend from the neighborhood just returned from overseas Army duty.

And its this friend who has George hold some money for him so that his wife wont get it should they divorce as he anticipates. However, he falls out of the window of his fifth story apartment before he can divorce his wife. Now, George finds himself entangled with this wild foreign woman.

I really did enjoy this story particularly for the realistic sense of New York City in the post world war two late forties with the experiences of the veterans, those who served during the war, The character Eddie (whose political views seem very autobiographical to Mr. Lacy) who is George’s ex-brother-in-law, and the experiences of those who served in the time just after the war Walt, the son of George’s friend and co-worker Joe.

And then of course, there are those classic ‘pulp’ descriptions peppered throughout the book:

   I went into the kitchen and I heard them kissing, then Joe told her,

“I’d best go in and help Georgie boy.” He came in and put a heavy arm around my shoulder, turned on the water in the sink so she couldn’t hear, said, “Jeez, what a night. I tied a big one on. Hey what do you think of Stella? Some sex-boat.”

“Not bad,” I said, pouring the beer. I knew all about Stella – all the Stellas: with a husband someplace in the background, maybe a kid or two, a busted marriage, a routine job during the week, and the frantic week-ends with any guy who treated her “nicely,” as she tried to regain her illusions of bright romance and youth over some bar; a dozen drinks fogging reality.

For a short Bio on Ed Lacy click here ED LACY

Black Cherry Blues – James Lee Burke

black cherry bluesPublished in 2011 by Mulholland Books, 288 pages I read this on my kindle at a very nice price.

This is the third book in the Dave Robicheaux series, and it seems to pick up right after the death of his wife. Her death, as well as her ghost haunts him through this story. But it’s a friend of his from College that brings the former New Orleans homicide detective to check into a pair of oil company men his friend Dixie seems to have gotten himself in bed with.

One thing leads to another as they say, and when thugs send a not to subtle threat involving his adopted daughter, its payback time. Then, when one of the oil lease-men turns up dead, Dave follows the leads to Montana to clear himself and finds that his old friend Dixie has taken refuge with a mafia family who’ve helped him in the past.

With missing Indian activists, oil company land deals and mafia drug transactions… well as picturesque as the landscape is, it may not be the healthiest place for an ex-lawman to be asking too many questions.

I’ve read this book having just finished his novel New Iberian Blues (2019). Its been thirty years between these two books and it’s a clear demonstration of something I’ve been calling the “Stephen King effect”. This novel has a fairly simple linear narrative with a limited number of characters moving through it… whereas New Iberian Blues has several narrative threads weaving through numerous characters over a sweeping story arc, and it shows how James Lee Burke has grown and developed as a masterful storyteller.

And, though this novel is smaller in scope than its latter novels it is no less dramatic in is descriptive landscapes:

“I headed for the Blackfeet Reservation, on the other side of the Divide, east of Glacier Park. In the early morning light I drove up the Blackfoot River through canyons of pink rock and pine, with woodsmoke drifting through the trees from the cabins set back in the meadows. The runoff from the snowpack up in the mountains was still high, and the current boiled over the boulders in the center of the river. Then the country opened up into wider valleys and ranchland with low green hills and more mountains in the distance. I started to climb into more heavily wooded country, with sheer rock cliffs and steep-sided mountains that ran right down to the edge of the road; the canyons and trees were dark with shadow, and by the time I hit the logging town of Lincoln the air had turned cold and my windows were wet with mist. I drove into clouds on the Divide at Rogers Pass, my ears popping now, and rivulets of melted snow ran out of the pines on the mountainside, bled across the highway, and washed off the dirt shoulder into a white stream far below. The pine trees looked almost black and glistened with a wet sheen.”