Tag Archives: murder

Lazaretto by Diane McKinney-Whetstone

After Sylvia helps deliver her first baby as an apprentice midwife, Meda, the mother, leaves believing the baby died at the request of the father, her wealthy, white employer. Meda tends to her grief by volunteering at an orphanage, where she takes on the care of two babies and helps raise them. Sylvia assuages her guilt by throwing herself into nursing, obtaining a post at Lazaretto, the first quarantine hospital in the U.S. Though from different socio-economic levels, Sylvia and Meda’s lives brush upon each other slightly throughout the years, though both women are unaware. A wedding party composed of black employees at the Lazaretto is quarantined due to a yellow fever scare. Sylvia must take charge of the ensuing chaos of racial terrorism upon the group on the boat over to the island and deal with white policemen whose purpose is unknown, but who are also quarantined with the wedding party. Meda’s boys end up in the middle and learn the truth of their mother.

McKinney-Whetstone deftly portrays the precarious position of characters in a society that considers them invisible at best, and how they must carefully balance dignity with always a thought toward self-preservation. Though the characters hold their integrity through actions, the dialogue alternates between formal, stiff language without contractions and colloquial dialect, seemingly randomly, and can be distracting from the story. Systemic racism is nearly its own character in the tale, as even refined, strong-willed Sylvia deems it important to pamper the stranded detectives based on their color. Readers of historical fiction, lovers of secrets, and fans of flawed, complex characters will appreciate this novel.


The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Macarenhas—pub date February 22, 2019

In 1965, time travel ignites Barbara’s manic depression, and the other pioneers—ambitious Margaret, compassionate Lillian, and social butterfly Grace—leave her behind to form The Conclave, an autonomous organization commercializing time travel. Multiple storylines converge to determine the identity of the woman found dead of four bullet wounds in a locked room. The investigation for this unique whodunit plays out in various timelines with characters’ ages often not corresponding chronologically. There’s manipulation, subterfuge, and espionage afoot throughout the nation and throughout time. The time travel details are concrete, with the fuel posing a danger if not handled appropriately. There’s even a time travel glossary included at the end, which makes one try that much harder to buy into the concept. Macarenhas gives the reader glimpses into the thoughts of characters, providing more depth to a story that might easily go astray with so much time-hopping chapters. Readers who like speculative fiction with compelling characters and complex relationships will appreciate this story that readily lends oneself to suspend belief, a realistic time travel story, if you will. It’s definitely worth the time! Ha! I was fortunate to receive a copy from the publisher through Net Galley.

Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach

At 17, David witnesses his father’s public assassination for turning state’s witness, his mother collateral damage, his life spared due to spent ammo. He spends decades piecing together evidence to determine the killer’s identity, all while living his life as an NFL quarterback for the Dolphins, a random lover of the famous dancer Sylphide (who lives across the pond from his childhood home) and her protege Emily—introduced by him, and a restaurateur. His sister parcels out relevant information on rare occasions, spending her grief-stricken adulthood playing professional tennis, fighting mental illness, and searching for her parent’s killer against her boyfriend’s pragmatic advice. As Sylphide moves in and out of David’s life, secrets come unmoored and land at his feet every so often. Roorbach has built a fine cast of complex and extraordinary characters, nuanced to the hilt, integrity intact throughout the novel, all maddeningly non-forthcoming for page-turning tension. It can be awkward to follow the timeline back and forth, and David’s discoveries can be out of sync, as when he realizes his sister’s major secret years after his parent’s demise, and then in a following flashback is explicitly told the secret by his sister herself. No opportunity is missed to reference Emily as “the negress”—was that even used as late as the 70s and into the 80s? Her parents could have been a bit more rounded out as individuals instead of representations. These few distractions don’t detract from a unique story with an intriguing storyline and intense meta sex scenes. Roorbach is almost his own genre. He’s the Mainer Carl Hiassen in his dedication to untangling and tying up multiple storylines and presenting humans in all their glory and warts.

The Girl of the Lake by Bill Roorbach

This collection opens with a tale so convincing dear reader will be googling Count Darlotsoff of the Russian Revolution. Roorbach’s stories ramble along pleasantly, with wit and wisdom, from a unique perspective. Then BOOM! Something astonishing happens, sometimes indicated by a simple line, “And fell into a basement hole,” and sometimes portraying a much larger concept, such as patricide. The tales delve into history—the aforementioned Russian Revolution; plunges deep into socio-political culture—“His father was an important king or chieftain in an area of central Africa he refused to call a country, an area upon which the Belgians and several other European powers had long imposed borders and were now instituting ‘native’ parliaments before departing per treaty after generations of brutal occupation;” and parses human emotions and relationship dynamics—“sharks unto minnows.” There’s even a ghost story, with elements of land conservation, familial squabbles, and burgeoning love. As diverse as the themes are, and as broad the representation of people, one story stands out for its LGBT ignorance, as a main character tells the benefactor of her theater, a widower asking for a kiss, “Marcia had politely allowed just one, then explained that while being a lesbian might not mean she was entirely unavailable, her long-term relationship did.” He then proceeds to win over her wife, and they merrily cavort about town, all three holding hands, doing everything as a threesome. Lesbian relationships are real relationships, and lesbians are not toys for a man’s pleasure. That being said, this is a blemish on a set of otherwise fascinating and weird and brilliant stories. The book is dedicated to Jim Harrison, whose fans will likely appreciate Roorbach’s work.

Flash Fiction Friday: delving into the past to fill out the rest of the year

Come one Come All

Life as a clown ages you in ways regular life don’t. Grease paint removes your identity, humor replaces your personality, and the big shoes are just plain heavy. All towns blend together till I’m not sure where I am anymore. I just sleep in my rollicking cot as they drive us to the next little burg.

Oh, but when I’m in full costume, under those lights spotlighting me—Me! The forty-five minutes I’m entertaining hundreds of children, those laughing faces are pure gold, a far better payment than the mere pittance they call my wage.

Afterward, I’m reminded of my reason for being here, makeup covering the scars that changed my life, the fact that no woman would want a man who frightens children and could never give her any. The circus is my only opportunity to observe those beautiful treasures. I people watched to my heart’s content—townies and cirkys.

Jenina, the horse trainer’s assistant and wife, cried nightly as a routine. As I said, it’s a hard life, brings the worst out of some. Franco prided his horses. She came to me one night in an unusual state, meaning she was naked as a jaybird, holding a toga in her hand. She’d been duped. Franco had bragged all day of his prowess as a lover, that he would sure be galloping tonight. We all could clearly see that it was young Lorraine, the Acrobat, who was in heat. But poor, sweet Jenina was blinded by love.

I led her into my carriage and put the toga around her. We drank some hot tea together quietly. I ignored that fact that she let the toga fall. Her eyes were blank. When she finished the tea, she dropped her cup, leaned over and started rubbing makeup off my face. Now no-one has ever seen my face in all its scarred ugliness since I joined this traveling caravan. So I jumped up and backed away.

Just as startling, she spoke, “Let me see. I have shown you my real face.”

I sat down, legs twitching, fingers jumping. She used her toga and the rest of the tea to reveal me. I felt nakeder than her, as though she had peeled my skin back and was even now counting my thoughts. She ran a finger down the daddy scar, over my nose and across my left cheek.

When life happens to circus folk, we don’t fix it, we don’t talk about it. We deal with bumps in the road and keep moving on. So when she came to me two weeks later in her usual lovely birthday suit, toga in one hand and two eyeballs the same grey-blue as Lorraine, the Acrobat’s, in the other, I told her to put her little things in a jar I opened for her. I then said we might go swimming in that pond nearby to get that red grease paint off her. I asked if she was done painting and everything was put away safe. She nodded.

She came to me looking like a snake had bit her. She left me with the relief that I had sucked the poison out. No one blinked. Circus folk run away all the time. Acrobats come and go. We had no fear of punishment from regular society. One less circus performer was nothing to them.

The Truth Waits by Susanna Beard

Anna finds a teenage girl’s body on the beach in Lithuania while on a business trip to her textile factory. Prevented from leaving by a natural disaster, she meets a journalist named Will, who moves into her carefully constructed life. He and her friends warn her against pursuing the girl’s murder, but her own past urges her on, until she finds herself in danger, and Will is incommunicado. Beard portrays a workaholic with repressed emotions and memories vividly, though Anna seems to throw up a lot and has quite a few anxiety attacks, not to mention the breakdown from grief. The story seems as self-oriented as Anna, focusing on her distress throughout, when it could have explored the horrors of sex trafficking further. Even as Anna is justified in her wavering faith in Will, his character is not developed enough for the reader to make a judgment call either way. Though the story is a good one, it could have given a little more weight toward other characters, and even considered location a main character in its cultural presence, but Anna simply comes across as too neurotic to notice anything else. I was graciously given a digital copy by the publisher through NetGalley.

Hunting Annabelle by Wendy Heard—pub date December 18

After leaving a California psychiatric prison, Sean Suh relocates to Austin, Texas, where he spends his days drawing people and their auras at a local Disneyland knockoff. A girl with a copper aura tempts him despite his understanding that he need protect her from himself. He witnesses her kidnapping, but no one believes him based on his mental health and conviction record, and suspicion falls more heavily on him as he conducts his own investigation. He learns interesting things about this girl he has immediately fallen for, but he could not have foreseen who did it. Heard brilliantly leads the reader through Sean’s emotional turmoil at each new piece of information; this could well be a manual for becoming a serial killer. Flashbacks from Annabelle’s point of view would have given her more depth. Being privy to Sean’s thoughts exposed his internal struggle, a fascinating insight that almost (but not quite) invokes compassion. Fans of Liane Moriarty and Gillian Flynn will appreciate this novel. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy of this fantastic thriller from the publisher through NetGalley.

Tell Me No Lies by Alex Sinclair—pub date October 25

Grace Dalton watched her husband die after being struck in a hit and run accident. After a brief period of submerging herself in the grief, she begins to move on, speaking with his lawyer to learn of a secret bank account and life insurance. Then she sees her husband, sending her best friend into conniptions for some reason, and she ends up in several bizarre emergency sessions with her psychiatrist. Much of this story, once you get past the repetition (and the repetition continues throughout the book), lacks credibility, such as Grace’s phone sessions with her psychiatrist, and then her best friend dragging her to so many emergency sessions instead of listening to Grace. Her best friend comes across as more like a mean sister, making the ending even less likely. This story had such potential, and then Grace ended up being more crotchety than the damsel in distress. The reader does not need reminding in every chapter that Grace wallowed in her grief for six weeks. The story is in there if you want to earn it! I was graciously given an early copy by Bookouture through NetGalley.

Feared by Lisa Scottoline—pub date August 14, 2018

In this continuation of the Rosato and DiNunzio series with alphabetized titles, Mary’s pregnancy weighs heavily in the story. Tables are turned on the firm when they are sued, and murder comes too close to home, with one of their own a person of interest. Unrelated to the discrimination case, religious bias seems to crack the fourth wall, as the lawyer for the firm comes across as ineffectual in his lackadaisical, eastern spirituality approach. The clue that exposes the murderer is generic and far-reaching as conclusive evidence. The writing is solid and flows, but the storyline and accoutrements fall short of Scottoline’s brilliance despite her winning formula. With Mary the lead in this book, her family makes broad appearances, which is always welcome to DiNuinzio fans. As a novel in a series, it’s worth reading for the continuity in anticipation of “G***”. I was fortunate to receive an early copy from the publisher #St.Martin’sPress through #NetGalley.

Lies by T.M. Logan—pub date September 11, 2018

Joe Lynch espies his wife in a heated debate with their friend Ben at a hotel restaurant after his son sees mommy’s car and they follow her to say hi. After she leaves too quickly to follow, Joe confronts Ben, who laughs off his suspicions. His wife explains away the argument as Ben’s obsession with her; then Ben disappears. Suddenly, Joe is being framed for Ben’s murder, seemingly by Ben himself, so that Joe must find the purposely evasive man to clear his name.

Logan deftly weaves in and out of the fast lane, with Joe’s wife Mel explaining away everything that Joe uncovers, to allay his fears until the next bombshell. The scene of resolution contains the dreaded trope of criminal shows, where the villain’s motivation and MO are thoroughly laid out—by the villain. The reveal explains questionable character actions that should have been questioned by Joe, but weren’t. All in all, the biggest bombshell will expose some readers’ unintended biases, and that’s okay. It’s good to shine the light into the nooks and crannies that seemed of no concern before, as uncomfortable as that can be, in order to become a better person. This book is a fast, fun read, and not soon to be forgotten. I was fortunate to receive an early copy from the publisher through NetGalley.