Archive for the ‘thriller’ Tag

Racism Has No Boundaries   Leave a comment

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

Sandwiched between race riots in 1991 and 2019 is the story of two families, one Korean and one African American, connected through violence. Loosely based on the shooting of Latasha Harlins, author Steph Cha has crafted an important, engaging novel illustrating the prevalence of racism in the form of a who-dun-it in Your House Will Pay.

In 1991 teenager Ava Matthews is shot and killed in a neighborhood convenience store in South Central Los Angeles by the owner Jung-ja Han. Ava had gone with her younger brother, Shawn, to buy milk. Although Jun-ja Han is convicted, she served no jail time.

Fast forward to 2019, Korean immigrant Yvonne Park is shot outside the pharmacy where she works with her husband and daughter, Grace. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I’ll only say the shooting attracts Shawn’s attention.

Shawn’s cousin Ray has just been released from prison. Shawn, has a decent job and is a father-figure to Ray’s teenage children. The family no longer lives in South Central, but gang activity is never far away.

Cha primarily focuses on Grace Park, a twenty-something living with her parents. Although she’s in touch with her older sister, Miriam is estranged from the family. Grace is the more naïve of the two, while Miriam has a wider life view.

Suspects for Yvonne’s shooting are sought, including Shawn, who has an alibi, and Ray, who doesn’t. It’s impossible for Shawn not to reflect on his sister’s murder and the lack of justice in her death.

Your House Will Pay
Four Bookmarks
Harper Collins, 2019
304 pages

Hope and Lies   Leave a comment

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Lies, lies and more lies are at the heart of Miracle Creek by Angie Kim. This courtroom thriller is rich with possible culprits responsible for two deaths: a mother and an autistic child.

The novel’s first line is only a hint of what’s to come: “My husband asked me to lie.” Young Yoo, referring to her spouse’s request quickly acknowledges that it wasn’t a big lie. Yet as the author deftly illustrates, a series of falsehoods no matter the size, can lead to unexpected consequences.

The narrative begins with an explanation of what’s referred to as “The Incident.” Korean immigrants Young and Pak Yoo run an experimental medical treatment facility: the Miracle Submarine, named for its shape and proximity to Miracle Creek. This pressurized oxygen chamber is used for therapy by two autistic children, a wheelchair-bound teenager all accompanied by theirs mothers and a physician seeking a cure for infertility. A fire erupts leaving two dead thanks to an unknown arsonist.

Jump ahead to the courtroom where  the surviving mother is on trial charged with murder, hers was the child killed. Each chapter is told in the voice of those involved: the Yoos, their daughter and the adults in the submarine at the time of fire. The evidence points to the mother, and her indifferent attitude makes it easy to believe she is guilty.

Yet, many lies slowly surface with suspicion clouding every character. Ultimately, readers are left asking themselves how far they would go to protect their loved ones.

Miracle Creek
Four-and-half Bookmarks
Sarah Crichton Books, 2019
351 pages

Major Creep Factor   Leave a comment

The Hiding Place by C. J. Tudor

Creepy is the best way to describe The Hiding Place by C.J. Tudor. The setting, the characters and the story itself are all disturbing. It’s difficult to appreciate a book with no likeable characters; yet the author successfully creates an unsettling story that goes beyond masses of beetles crawling out of walls.

Narrator Joe Thorne returns to his hometown, a run-down former mining town in rural England. It was never a thriving community, but its position at the edge of economic ruin makes the old days not look so bad in Joe’s eyes. It’s clear he’s returned to settle a score. Yet, there are so many twists and characters lacking empathy, interest or both, that the obvious question of why hangs too heavy over the narrative.

Joe is a teacher, a liar, a gambling addict and also, somehow, a victim. He left his previous job under suspicious circumstances but is able to con his way into a teaching position at the school he attended as a youth. Many of Joe’s old pals are still in town, but it’s clear these are no longer friendly relationships. Another unfriendly sort is Gloria, a thug hired by the Fatman to collect the gambling debts Joe has amassed.

Before Joe’s arrival, a murder/suicide has occurred in the very cottage he knowingly chooses to rent. A mother has killed her son before turning a gun on herself. This strikes Joe as hauntingly familiar even though nothing in his past suggests something similar. Until it does.

The Hiding Place
Three-and-half Bookmarks
Crown Books, 2018
278 pages

Dark Thriller   Leave a comment

book cover of Nightblind

Once again, Ragnar Jonasson kept me in suspense throughout Nightblind. It picks up five years after Snowblind, the first in the Ari Thor Arason series set in a small town in northern Iceland.

Ari Thor’s new commander has just been murdered and Tomas, his old chief, is called in to investigate. Ari Thor was off duty thanks to being home sick. Part of the thrill is his feeling that had he been on duty, he would have been the victim.

Tomas has relocated to Reykjavik and doesn’t appear to mind being called back to his former stomping grounds. It’s apparent that Ari Thor is pleased to have his old boss around.

Of course, there’s more than just the murder to investigate. A new mayor, his assistant and an alleged drug ring in town arouse Ari Thor’s curiosity. Interspersed among the chapters focusing on the murder are excerpts from a journal written by an unnamed young man in a psychiatric ward. The reason for his presence there is only alluded to and never made entirely clear. It’s a tandem story: both mysteries with only the insinuation of a common thread.

Although Ari Thor is not officially part of the investigation since he’s a member of the local police, he still manages to keep busy following leads and trying to fit pieces together. Meanwhile, another murder and an uneasy feeling about the new mayor make for a fast-paced narrative.

Deceit, family secrets and small-town politics all figure into this engaging, satisfying mystery.

Nighblind
Four-and-half Bookmarks
Minotaur Books, 2015
206 pages

At Sea Without a Clue   Leave a comment

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Not all mysteries are thrillers; I like those that make me want to sleep with the light on – lots of lights. I expected to be kept awake by Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10. I wasn’t. I enjoyed it as a mystery, but it fell short as a thriller.

The story is intriguing enough: a small group of passengers aboard a boutique luxury cruise liner bound from England to Norway’s fjords. The 10-cabin ship is owned by an exceptionally wealthy man who has invited a few friends and members of the media for the maiden voyage. Part of the problem is the main character: Laura “Lo” Blacklock, a travel magazine low-level journalist who lucked into the assignment. Ware doesn’t imbue Lo with many attributes that evoke much empathy or interest.

The mystery begins when, after drinking too much on the first night of the cruise, Lo is convinced that the woman in the cabin next door (#10) was thrown overboard. It’s the same woman who had earlier lent mascara to Lo. The problem is, according to the ship’s manifest, the cabin is unoccupied.

Lo knows the woman existed; she had proof. The narrative follows her efforts to determine what became of the woman in the face of incredulity from others. In this, Ware is successful. However, the lack of intensity as Lo strives to prove the reality of what she saw, keeps the novel from reaching the level of thriller. It was easy enough to turn off the lights.

The Woman in Cabin 10
3.5 Bookmarks
Scout Press, 2017
340 pages

The Virus   Leave a comment

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Maggie Rider’s self-deprecating humor and sharp intelligence as narrator of The Virus by Janelle Diller elevate this sky-is-falling novel about the increasing threat of diminishing privacy.

Maggie works for a tech company that requires a lot of travel. Her husband, Eddy, is a freelance web designer. He’s actually more tech savvy than his wife, which evolves as a significant characteristic.

The novel begins with a smallpox outbreak in Colorado. Maggie and Eddy live in Colorado Springs; the story settings also include the Bay Area and Nebraska. At first, vaccinations are scarce. The rush to meet demand is fueled by government regulations requiring all who travel, work in the health industry and /or attend school to receive inoculations. Thanks to her job, Maggie is among the first to be vaccinated; something she willingly, almost gratefully, accepts. Suddenly, the immunizations are plentiful. Meanwhile, Eddy isn’t buying. His skeptical nature makes him leery of the outbreak in general and the vaccination itself.

Thus begins a race-against-time as more deadlines surface requiring all U.S. residents to be inoculated within a short time span.

Part thriller, part subtle love story (Maggie and Eddy are happily married) and a lot of intrigue make Diller’s story engaging. There’s an element of Big Brother along with the vulnerability that comes from being active on social media.

In general, the novel maintains a fast-paced tempo. Although not necessarily new, Diller raises important issues for consideration regarding the government and the ease with which we all share information about ourselves.

The Virus
Four Bookmarks
WorldTrek Publishing, 2015
359 pages

Held in Suspense   Leave a comment

Child44

Child 44 begins in such a predictable manner, with a vignette from the past, it belies the true suspense of Tom Rob Smith’s novel. However, as the tale unfolds each twist and turn is a complete surprise.

In Stalin-era Russia, Leo Demidov is with the State Security Force. In the midst of investigating a possible traitor, he’s ordered to address the death of a colleague’s young son. The family is convinced the boy was murdered but as Leo notes, “If left unchecked, the groundless chatter about murder could grow like a weed, spreading through the community … making them question one of the fundamental pillars of their new society: there is no crime.” The family’s concerns are dismissed.

Although he’s guilty of cold-heartedly dealing with those who denounce Mother Russia through actual or perceived actions, Leo has a soft side. Smith establishes a tangible fear and mistrust that permeate the Russian culture. Leo has kicked in more than his share of doors and had citizens banished, or worse, but the tide changes and he becomes a hapless victim when he refuses to condemn his wife, Raisa.

Consequently, Leo is assigned menial tasks with  small town police force, but a girl’s murder captures his attention by its similarity to the death he had previously scorned. Thus begins a secret investigation, cross-country pursuit, and unraveling of long-held secrets.

This is a rapid-heart rate page turner. However, one fault lies in Leo’s nemesis: Vasili, a one-dimensional character in an otherwise realistic, albeit frightening, world.

Child 44

Four and a half Bookmarks
Grand Central Publishing, 2008
436 pages