Category Archives: murder mystery

That Darkness by Lisa Black.

Stars 2 out of 5.

 

I must admit that I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it’s an interesting view on the nature of evil and the nature vs nurture part when it comes to creating monsters. On the other hand, the book drags out and lacks in suspense in parts. And I have a problem with the ethical and moral implications of the ending.

 

So what is this book about? It’s told from the perspective of two different protagonists. One is Maggie Gardiner, a forensic investigator who is very good at her job and is like a dog with a bone when she feels that something doesn’t adapt. Which ultimately sends her on a collision course with our second protagonist – Jack Renner, police detective by day and vigilante by night. Also quite possibly a serial killer, since he has a ritual for executing his victims and a distinct MO…

 

I kinda liked the idea behind this story and for the most part I liked how it was told and how it unfolded. I loved Maggie and how tenacious she is. How she is more than capable to hold her own in the very macho world of the law enforcement. How she doesn’t let go when she sees things that just don’t add up. He keeps digging and digging and asking often very uncomfortable questions until the picture in front of her makes sense. And she is not afraid to jump to some very dangerous conclusions – like suspecting that the vigilante is a cop.

 

It’s what she does with that information that baffles me. You suspect someone of being a serial killer, yet you still agree to go with him to the possible murder scenes? And you follow him inside one when he is clearly with his newest victim? Girl, you seemed so smart before that, did you just switch your brain suddenly?

 

And that sudden case of stupid doesn’t affect only Maggie, unfortunately. Jack seems to develop a chronic condition of it as soon as he meets her. In the first part of the book, he is shown as a meticulous and intelligent person who learns about his victim’s habits and plans the execution carefully, trying to leave as few incriminating clues as possible. Then why does he take Maggie around the crime scenes she wants to visit in the SAME CAR he uses for his killings? Really, Jack, really? It’s not even his car. He took it out of the police yard. Why not go and take another out of the dozens they have in there and NOT give a forensic investigator a chance to collect some evidence that would instantly make her suspect you?

 

I think that’s what really killed this story for me. If you portray your protagonists as smart people, then let them be smart until the end, and don’t force them to make stupid mistakes just so that you can advance your story.

 

Now the ending. I think it’s good, because it made me think about what I would have chosen in this particular situation. And let’s just say that’s where my decision defers from Maggie’s.

 

So all in all, it’s an entertaining crime novel that will help you pass a lazy afternoon at the beach, but don’t expect anything too complicated.

 

PS. I received an advanced reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest book review.

In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad Book 1) by Tana French.

Stars: 2 out of 5.

I am rarely upset about a book. I am excited if I love it and usually just sad or even indifferent if I don’t. After all, you can’t like them all. Well, this time I’m pissed off with this book. Really, really pissed off! In the Woods had all the makings of a 5 star, all-time favorite book, but those hopes crashed and burned about 2/3 in. Now I feel cheated, like a kid who was promised candy only to discover a piece of rock under all that bright glittering packaging.

 

I realize that I’m not exactly an expert in this genre – I rarely read murder mysteries. I watch plenty of those on TV though. I had picked In the Woods because the premise seemed interesting: Three kids go to play in the woods. Only one of them is found the next morning, wearing bloody shoes and no memory of what happened. Twenty years later, that kid, now a detective in the murder squad, is forced to come back to this town to investigate the murder of another child in the same woods.

 

Now my understanding of the murder mystery genre is that the author and the reader enter into an unspoken pact – if the reader sticks with the story, the author will reveal the mystery in the end. Most of the questions will be answered and the culprits found. The reader will know who had done it, why and how.

 

The biggest mystery in this book is what happened to Peter and Jamie 20 years ago. The book even begins with that disappearance, and Katie’s murder comes a few chapters later. So that’s the mystery that should be resolved by the end, right?

 

SPOILER ALERT!!!!

 

WRONG.

 

By the time I was maybe 10 pages away from finishing the book, I had the sinking feeling that the author would not answer any of those questions. We will never find out what Rob saw in the woods that night or what became of Peter and Jamie. I had invested hours of my time to read through 400+ pages just to end up with the lukewarm explanation that “some memories are just gone for good, and some mysteries are not meant to be solved.”

 

I realize that in real life that’s what happens about 70% of the time. I mean, just look at the amount of cold cases gathering dust in police archives around the world. However, book logic is different. I don’t want to get invested in a story that won’t give me a resolution. I want to feel a sense of fulfillment after I finish a book, not to feel cheated and frustrated.

 

I’m upset about this because the book has so much potential. It’s wonderfully well-written. The prose is just beautiful, and some passages are just poignantly poetic. The protagonist has a strong and interesting voice that I wanted to follow. And his personal involvement with this place just made me want to finally find out what had happened on that fateful day 20 years ago even more… So I dived into the book head first and fully expected an exceptional read.

 

The alarm bells first went off in my head when Rob decided not to come forward about his identity even when evidence found on the new crime scene linked it to the case of his missing friends. He chose to keep his mouth shut on the fact that Ryan Adams and detective Rob Adams were one and the same person and he reiterated this decision several times during the investigation. I find this decision stupid and irresponsible, because not only does it jeopardize his career, but the whole case as well, since all the evidence he collected will become inadmissible in court if the truth comes out. And his reasoning behind this decision makes less and less sense the further we get into the book.

 

My second problem with In the Woods is Rob’s partner Cassie. The way Tana French portrays her, she is “saint” Cassie who can do no wrong. She always has the right hunch about the case. She is smart and beautiful and has a keen understanding of people. Yet she chooses to stick with Rob no matter what he does. Even after that disastrous night, she isn’t mad at him for the abject way he starts treating her, but because she lost his friendship and somehow she thinks it’s her fault. Really? Hot, smart and sassy girl who is extremely devoted to her abusive boyfriend / friend. Hello trope!

 

But even though I didn’t like Cassie and had a tough time with some of Rob’s decisions, the story would still have gotten a 4 star review if the author had kept her end of the bargain and actually given me and ending. The fact that it didn’t happen was just the last nail in the coffin lid.

 

I’m upset. I won’t recommend this book. I had planned to read the next one in the Dublin Murder Squad series, but I have zero motivation to do that now.