I signed up for a free trial of Kindle Unlimited, which I’m mostly enjoying. I also have a subscription to Libby through my library. These freebies add up to me listening to a LOT of “thrillers”, most of which aren’t terribly thrilling. Yet I keep downloading them, because sometimes they’re amazing (The Butterfly Collector! Burying the Honey Suckle Girls!). But mostly they fall right in that 3 star range that’s so hard to review. I’m only 21 reviews behind right now and determined not to let these guys hold me back — so here goes!
I’ve got these ordered from “don’t bother” to “will make a road trip go by slightly faster” to “pretty good”…
(2 stars) Need to Know by Karen Cleveland
Well, this was kind of terrible, but at least it was short?
Vivian Miller works as an analyst at the CIA, uncovering Russian sleeper cells in the United States. One day she sees a familiar face on a report — her husband and father of her children. In a split second decision, she decides to cover it up. From there, we watch her make (terrible) decision after decision trying to figure out if she can trust her husband, and keep her family safe.
This book does a great job of making it impossible to figure out who to trust — is her husband a bad guy? Is he a good guy undercover as a bad guy? Is he a good guy undercover as a bad guy being set up by the CIA? By the Russians? WHO KNOWS. *I* don’t even know because the back and forth and back and forth and terrible dialogue make my head hurt, and by the time I finished the book I couldn’t tell you a single thing that actually happened.
Apparently the writer actually worked as a CIA analyst, in counterterrorism. I’m sure she was excellent at her job but the writing…not so much. I definitely believe that she had behind the scenes knowledge but the stilted dialogue and constant twists and reveals just did not work here.
(3 stars) Hide and Seek (Criminal Profiler #1, although reviewers on Amazon says THIS is a sequel, which makes sense)
I definitely get the sense that Mary Burton has researched the technical details behind investigating a crime, particularly from an FBI perspective. However, I’m not entirely certain she has ever heard people talk in real life.
In Hide and Seek, FBI Special Agent Macy Crow joins up with local sheriff Mike Nevada (best sheriff name ever, sorry Hopper) to solve a series of crimes dating back 15 years — girls who’ve been raped or gone missing in this small town. Crow gets called in when the bones of Tobi Turner, a high school girl who disappeared 15 years ago, are discovered in a barn with DNA evidence on them that matches open crimes. The sheriff who held office before Nevada didn’t bother to do things like…process DNA from rape kits or like….attempt to investigate crimes. Crow and Nevada come up against a lot of “protect our own” attitudes, especially once they turn their focus on the very successful football team who ruled the school during Tobi’s time. Eventually, Crow becomes a target as well.
I liked tough-as-nails Macy Crow, and her backstory (recovering from a hit-and-run, struggles some with the physicality of the job — apparently these things happened in a previous novel that I somehow missed). Nevada could have been any dude, really, but he was fine. And the case was interesting (if fairly easy to solve). But OH MY GOD, the dialogue was SO BAD y’all. People do not talk this way in really life — stilted, lots of $10 words, so much exposition. It was likely made much worse by listening to the audio version, where I couldn’t skim. But wow.
(2.5 stars) Her Last Word by Mary Burton
This one I think I liked a little less than Hide and Seek, mostly because in addition to not speaking like a human, the protagonists aren’t very bright.
Kaitlin Roe was the last person to see her cousin alive 14 years ago, after an afternoon of partying with friends. When Gina was kidnapped right in front of her, Kaitlin was so intoxicated and terrified that she couldn’t help or, nor could she provide the police with any real help. Many people blamed Kaitlin’s boyfriend, and even more people blamed Kaitlin herself. Now Kaitlin has a contract to produce a podcast about the murder, so she goes back to her hometown to interview all the people involved — people who begin dropping like flies.
“And I’m stabbed.” She felt vulnerable and fought a rush of tears. “He’s not going to hurt you,” Adler said.
He did though. Because he stabbed her.
In addition to doing things like, showing up at empty houses to interview possible suspects, Kaitlin also gets way to close with a detective (Adler) on the case. He gets super obsessed with her, which never ends well. Kaitlin becomes a target (you know reviewing these two back to back even though I didn’t read them back to back is highlighting a lot of similarities…) and the detective has to rescue her dumb butt. Quit making serial killers mad, guys!
(3 stars) I Am Watching You by Teresa Driscoll
Here’s another dumb protagonist, although the writing is much better. Although, the narrator had a British accent which always makes me like it a little more…
Ella Longfield overhears (ahem — intentionally eavesdrops on) two teenage girls traveling on the train flirting with two recent ex-cons. She considers trying to find out who their parents are, but when she later overhears two of them hooking up in the train bathroom, she decides not to bother (well, they must not be such nice girls after all, right?). Then one of them goes missing. Ella gives her statement to the police, but the men are never found. A year later, Ella still blames herself — and apparently someone else does, too. She’s been receiving threatening notes.
“I read somewhere that by your forties you are supposed to care more about what you think of others than what they think of you –so why is it I am still waiting for this to kick in?”
Ella hides the notes from the police (she hires a private detective though) and her family. Meanwhile, someone is quite obviously stalking her. The book centers on Ella as well as the original case and the detectives investigating it. I was definitely surprised by the ending — the writing in this book was a little craftier than these others. I also liked something completely unrelated — Ella runs a flower shop, and the descriptions of her arrangements and what the flowers mean to her were really quite lovely.
I just wish she’d stop going to the flower shop by herself at 5am with a killer on the loose!
(3.5 stars) The Night Before by Wendy Walker
This book is told from two different viewpoints at two different times, and it works pretty well. Half of the chapters are told from the perspective of Laura, spread out over a few hours leading up to and then during a blind date — her first date in a long time. Interspersed with these are chapters told from the perspective of her sister Rosie — who wakes up the morning after the date to find that Laura is missing. So we see get little glimpses into Laura’s night as we watch Rosie and her husband and best friend investigate what might have happened.
It’s definitely a tense story, since we know Laura’s making choices on her date that have consequences, but don’t know how the parts fit together til the end. The ending goes a little off the rails, but these books aren’t really intended to be taken 100% seriously as real life, right? Laura makes for an interesting protagonist — between snapshots of her own mind and Rosie’s 3rd person perspective, we never really trust Laura, or fully understand how she got where she is. It keeps the reader very on edge til the end, which is effective, even if the end made me roll my eyes in a big way.
(3.5 stars) The Forgotten Ones by Steena Holmes
This was definitely the best of this particular batch. You’re going to have to suspend your disbelief a little bit, but it’s definitely a suspenseful novel. I spent most of it feeling pretty certain I had some idea what was going on — an idea that changed every few chapters as more information was revealed.
Our main character is a young nurse in the neonatal unit of a hospital in New England. Her best friend works in the ICU of the same hospital, and has befriended a curmudgeonly old man named David. After a few chapters, we eventually find out that David is Elle’s mother’s father, a man who she was told has been dead for years. Elle’s mother Marie is extremely psychologically unsound, and has a caregiver named Grace to keep an eye on her while Elle works. Elle has made her peace with the fact that she will likely never know more about her family, and even watches herself for signs of a psychotic break as she ages. When she brings David up to her mother and Grace, Elle is told in no uncertain terms NOT to speak to him. But she can’t help her curiosity when it comes to her family, so she meets with David in his hospital room to find out why her mother is so estranged from her grandparents.
The rest of the story is told in a series of flashbacks as David tells Elle all about the young woman and her daughter who came to stay with his wife and daughter when Elle’s mother Marie was a child. The story is bonkers, and the more of it I listened to, the more frustrated I became with David and his (mis)handling of his wife’s very apparent mental illness. The flashbacks take place in the 1950s, and we watch as David’s wife slowly loses her mind, while abusing her daughter and the young girl who comes to stay with them. He “handles” this by spending more and more time on the road as a long-haul trucker. He fails to recognize that she needs help, and the consequences are dire.
The story is definitely gripping, and like I said, it had enough twists and turns to keep me hooked and guessing. I found the end a little unsatisfying, but mostly because there really could be no happy resolution in a story like this.