Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “serial killer”

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #44: The Last Victim by Karen Robards

Karen Robards mixes the paranormal with a fairly standard serial killer mystery to mixed results. In this mash-up of genres, Dr. Charlotte Stone (Charlie) is a renowned forensic psychiatrist specializing in the study of serial killers (despite being only about 30 years old and no unique area of research noted). She is so renowned, in fact, that the FBI comes to the prison where she is working to request her help on a case. To be fair, they also seek out her help because Charlie, when she was a teenager, witnessed her friend’s family being murdered by The Boardwalk Killer. The FBI team, led by Tony Bartoli, are concerned that the current case may be a copycat, or worse, The Boardwalk Killer returned. To top it all off, Charlie has a special “skill” in being able to see the spirits of recently violently deceased. When the FBI agents interrupted her interview of Michael Garland, imprisoned for life for killing seven women, Garland is shanked in the halls. Charlie’s attempt to save him, somehow “seals” him to her, and she must deal with his presence while helping the FBI.

The book has some potential, but overall I just couldn’t love it. The mystery is often lost for chapters at a time in favor of paranormal stuff, especially when Charlie is initially dealing with Garland. Also, there is a totally bizarre and unbelievable love-plot with Garland as well. I assume that in future books we will discover that Garland is in fact innocent of the crimes, but it seemed so out of place that Charlie would be so emotionally attracted to someone she knows to be a murdered of women. Her attempt to “psychoanalyze” herself did not exactly justify this either (oooh Daddy issues. Give me a break).

Also, I just got the sense that the author must not have much background in psychology/psychiatry. All the psych stuff was so hackneyed and cliche it felt like Robards just mimicked things she’d seen on TV or read in other books. I hate to say it, but traditional psychodynamic orientations aren’t the most popular currently, yet that was clearly all Charlie knew. Combined with a misuse of the word “schizophrenic” made me just feel annoyed with any of the psychological aspects of the book.

The writing was a bit inelegant at times, and could have been tighter and more exciting. The dialogue and characters were fine, but nothing particularly inspiring. The ending was a bit out of the blue, especially given that the mystery was clearly not the focus of the book. Apparently, Robards has written dozens of books (I’ve never heard of her), but I doubt I will go out of my way to seek out her books in the future.

This was a netgalley advanced copy and is available now!

Read more of my reviews at my blog!

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #9 – The Killing of Emma Gross by Damien Seaman

I love a good murder mystery. The funny thing about this one is that you find out who did it right at the beginning of the book. Or, at least, you think you know who did it. And it works, because the rest of the book explains how we got to the point where a detective in the Dusseldorf police force is stabbing a prostitute in the chest (no spoilers there, it’s on page 1).

The book is inspired by, and based on, the true story of Peter Kurten, the “Dusseldorf Vampire,” who went on a killing (and raping) spree in Weimar Germany in 1929 and 1930. The story monkeys with the timeline a bit, but it serves the greater good. Seaman integrates the real people who were involved in the investigation with his fictional characters, and uses them all to serve his idea of who killed Emma Gross, and why.

Emma Gross was a real person. She was murdered, and her death was investigated as one of Kurten’s. Kurten even confessed to the murder. But in real life, and in the book, Kurten got the details wrong. He didn’t kill her. In real life, her murder went unsolved. In the book, Seaman gives Emma Gross a story. It might be made up, but Seaman humanizes Emma Gross; he gives a reason for her death, so that she is not just another victim. She is a real person. I admire that.

The story flows well, and the writing is conversational, from the point of view of the detective investigating the murders. It’s a quick, engaging read, that kept me guessing throughout (I honestly did not figure out who the murderer was until very close to the end). I highly recommend The Killing of Emma Gross, especially if you like mysteries or procedurals.  Or if you just like good stories.


Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #36: Twisted by Jonathan Kellerman

I’ve enjoyed Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series, so I thought I’d give his other character a try. Petra Connor is a detective with two open cases. One is a street shooting that ended up with four dead teenagers outside a theater, which is causing a lot of pressure from the public, and the other is a pattern that an intern discovered, where a murder occurs every year on the same date. That day is coming up, so there’s also a lot of pressure there, with a nebulous case and a tight deadline.

I know Kellerman isn’t exactly great literature, but this book just didn’t seem like his best effort. The mystery was fine, but not terribly engrossing. Petra was a little too stereotypical for me. She’s the tough cop chick, but still hot. She’s a loner, but partners up with her boyfriend to take down criminals. She doesn’t always play by the book, so her superiors are suspicious. It just all seemed very expected. Kellerman tries to add some interest with the socially awkward genius intern (yawn), but it was all pretty forgettable.

Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #69: The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

Well, here I am again, after having succumbed to the lure of Norwegian crime writer Joe Nesbo and read another of his books after vowing not to after the last. And it’s not that his thrillers aren’t terrifying. They are. And I do enjoy Nesbo’s protagonist Detective Harry Hole. Hole gives us the standard noir mix of lone wolf and hero complex that stamps some of the best characters in the genre, such as Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, and yet Hole’s unsustainable love relationships, his alcohol and drug dependency, and ever present suicidal leaning—gives him that uniquely angsty European flavor so familiar to readers of the Stieg Larsson trilogy and so tiresome when it is unrelieved by change.

When I had finished wading through the excessive layers of The Leopard’s plot, complicated by the tangle of Norwegian names and places which Nesbo rather liberally sprinkles his pages with, I once again had that unfortunate feeling of relief that the lengthy novel was finally finished.

The Leopard is the story of a murderer whose identity is up for grabs throughout the bulk of the novel, but when it is finally revealed, it somehow comes as no surprise whatsoever. He knocks off one victim after another in a variety of graphically gruesome ways, and they all turn out to have been random visitors to a ski cabin during an apparently fateful encounter to which they may or may not have been witness. At the beginning of the novel, Harry Hole has fled Norway and is living as an opium addict in Hong Kong while hiding from the Triad which holds his drug debts. He is rescued and whisked back to Norway by a pretty young detective, to help find this newest serial killer and say goodbye to the dying father he has never made his peace with. Hole finds himself in the midst of a battle over who gets to control Oslo’s crime-fighting resources, and he races to find the serial killer before the charismatic but immoral cop Bellman does and uses the victory to leverage himself into power. Add in the saga of his father’s slow death,  his affair with the young detective, various men with lisps and missing digits, and the overly-detailed family histories of many characters Hole meets along the way, and the story begins to clog up.

Nesbo has a fascinating way of switching viewpoints, so that one moment you’re in the mind of a victim just before his or her murder, the next you’re in the mind of the killer, while all the while following Hole down the rabbit hole. (Sorry!) In fact, Nesbo’s hero suffers more near-death experiences than I thought it possible to fit in a single novel, but unsurprisingly, fantastically, manages to survive each and every one. The story flits back and forth between a snowy Norway and a steamy Congo—both portrayed in rather stereotypical ways, I thought–and is stuffed with enough violence to make even this veteran thriller reader gag. The end, when it comes, is worthy of a Hollywood action thriller but not of a well-written crime thriller.

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR4 Review #14 Indian Killer


A few days ago I wrote about how comic books fixate on spectacle, and how you might simply assume that your average grown up novel will fixate on subtlety. However, there are plenty of gritty crime novels (particularly those related to gruesome serial killers who go the other way. Sherman Alexie’s Indian Killer eschews the straight-up spectacle of a racially motivated serial killer mystery (with its potential for red herrings and dramatic climaxes) and instead savors the subtlety of innumerable racially conflicted characters who seem equally capable of murder–and leaves the whodunnit unanswered.

I have an undeniable fondness for Alexie (I’m already planning how to teach his The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian at the beginning of the next school year). One of the things I appreciate about his work is the raw but uncertain emotionality that comes with reflecting on race and identity. Throughout Indian Killer, there’s a mixture of zeal and shame that pushes Native American characters to demonstrate their culture and yet assimilate to white society. Meanwhile a hodgepodge of lust and defensiveness leads many white characters to couple their interest in the other races around them with an attempt to maintain the privilege offered by whiteness. Alexie’s world is not black and white (or red and white), but a complex amalgam of shades and senses that seems just right in our “Melting Pot” society.

I can certainly see how Indian Killer might cause discomfort in readers, the more the violence and animosity between cultures escalates, the easier it becomes for readers to say: “well, that’s not me,” or “can’t we all just get along”. But when Alexie refuses to provide the spectacle of racists receiving the comeuppance, or of children of every creed joining hands to sing, the subtle truth shines through: race matters, and as long as it does, excuses, scape goats and utopias will simply distract from actual reflection on and analysis of race.

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #24: The Night Season by Chelsea Cain

The Night Season features two main characters from Chelsea Cain’s “Heart” series, Detective Archie Sheridan and reporter Susan Ward. It has been several months since the end of the Heart trilogy, and psychopath Gretchen Lowell is finally in jail, leaving Archie and Susan finally safe from her. Portland, Oregon is seeing the worst storm season, with the city in danger of flooding. Several people have seemingly drowned in the Willamette River. That is until the M.E. discovers some inconsistent evidence, and Archie begins investigating the case. At the same time, a 60 year old skeleton has been unearthed along the river bank. Susan becomes interested in this body, wondering whether it is related to a flooding many decades prior. The bodies begin to stack up and as the city becomes increasingly at risk of being swept away by the storm waters, Archie and Susan must race to solve the cases.

Read the full review on my blog! (Opens in new window)

Malin’s #CBR4 Reviews # 29-31: The Ash trilogy by Shiloh Walker

The Ash Trilogy:
1. If You Hear Her
2. If You See Her
3. If You Know Her

If you’re only interested in romance, these can be read independently, as all three books contain a couple getting together at the end. However, all the couples get together while investigating a brutal murder and trying to catch a devious rapist/serial killer, and the killer’s identity is not revealed until midway into the third book. So if you want an answer to the mystery/suspense part of the series, you’re going to have to read all three.

There are three couples in these books, and most of the major players are introduced in the first book. We get points of view from the serial killer (who’s clearly been going undetected for years), but all we know is that he is a local in the little town of Ash, Kentucky and that he lives a normal life, unsuspected by all around him, when he’s not kidnapping, raping and killing young women. In the first book, his plans start going wrong. One of his victims briefly escape, and while he initially enjoys the brief diversion of hunting and then recapturing his victim – the woman’s screams as she’s running through the woods are overheard.

Lena Riddle wakes up and hears the terrified woman screaming. Lena is blind, and living alone though, so she obviously can’t see anything to help the local sheriff’s department. They look in the woods close to her house, but it’s been raining, and there’s no trace of anything suspicious. While Lena is blind, she’s certainly not powerless. She lives alone with Puck, her trusty seeing-eye dog, and works as a chef at the local inn. Because she was woken up by the screams, several men at the sheriff’s department want to brush off the incident as a dream.

The only one who seems to believe her is Ezra King, who’s in Ash on leave from the State Police. A few months ago, he was nearly killed by a gunshot wound to the leg. The wound still pains him, but not as much as his missing memories from the night when he discovered that his partner (and sometime lover) was dirty, and he ended up killing her in the gunfight that nearly finished him off too. He and Lena went on one date, before Ezra realised he was still too messed up by his past, and certainly not ready to deal with the strong feelings he’s feeling towards Lena. When he overhears her at the sheriff’s department (he’s there reporting some vandalism on his property), he can tell that she’s distressed, and when investigating around his properties, all his instincts tell him that something is off in town, and he decides to help Lena get to the bottom of it. In the course of investigating the screams Lena heard, the two grow closer, and start a relationship.

The second couple, who find each other over the course of the second book, are Hope Carson and Remy Jennings. Hope is introduced in the first book, coming to Ash to help her (and Lena’s) friend Law Reilly, as his personal assistant. Law has lived in Ash for nearly a decade, but hardly anyone in town knows what he really does for a living. They know that he’s wealthy, prefers to keep to himself, lives on the edge of town and doesn’t seem to go to work like regular people, but only a select few know that he’s a famous crime writer. Law, Hope and Hope’s ex-husband Joe Carson grew up together, and Law blames himself for not realising that Joe was bad news. Joe and Hope got married shortly after high school, and because she and Law lost touch, he never found out how abusive and controlling Joe got. As the star football player, later a police officer and a golden boy in their little town, no one believed Hope’s side of the story, and she was driven to try to commit suicide and later involuntarily institutionalised by her husband, before finally managing to escape him and get a divorce.

Law is the only man she trusts, and she’s alone in his house (he’s away to attend an author colleague’s funeral) when the killer decides to shift suspicion onto Law by dumping his most recent victim’s corpse in Law’s shed. Unaware of Law’s absence (fully alibied because he’s surrounded by lots of credible witnesses) and that Hope witnesses his dark clad form dumping the body, the killer’s plans are further complicated, rather than helped by this turn of events. He decides to get rid of Hope and Law, by making it look as if the two killed a sheriff’s deputy, then Hope beat Law to a pulp with a baseball bat, and proceeded to slash her own wrists. Unfortunately for the killer, Ezra and Lena find both Hope and Law before either of them die.

Remy Jennings is one of two District Attorneys in Ash, brother of the Mayor, related to at least a third of the town, and Ash’s golden boy in the way Joe Carson was in Hope’s home town. It’s his job to prosecute Hope, but it quickly becomes obvious that Hope in no way could have carried out the attack, but her medical records show that she has a history of mental instability and suicide attempts, so it’s not that easy for her to convince the sheriff and Remy that she didn’t try to kill herself. Remy’s biggest problem is that he was instantly attracted to Hope the first time he saw her in town. Now she’s either the aggressor, or victim, in one of the most complicated cases ever in Ash. Getting involved with her would be deeply unprofessional, and it’s obvious that she has a lot of emotional baggage.

The third book centres on Law Reilly and Nia Hollister. Nia is the cousin of the poor woman who was found in Law’s shed. The first time the two meet, Nia (having heard wildly incorrect rumours in town) shows up on his doorstep with a gun, determined to get vengeance for her beloved cousin. She threatens Law and Hope, but almost instantly realises that neither Hope nor Law had anything to do with the abduction, abuse and murder of Joely Hollister. Law and Nia (like all the other couples in this trilogy – I suspect there must be something in the Ash water supply) feel an instant attraction to each other, but don’t meet again until about nine months later, when Nia arrives in town convinced that her cousin’s killer isn’t really dead (as it was meant to look at the end of book 2). She’s put her career as a photo journalist on hold to investigate her cousin’s death, and finds similarities to her cousin’s murder when reading about a victim in Chicago. As this took place six months after the killer supposedly was killed in Ash, it may mean that the killer is still on the loose, and that the inhabitants of Ash are completely unaware of the fact. Her explosive chemistry with Law ignites as soon as she’s back in town.

Ezra King is now sheriff in town, and married to Lena King. Hope and Remy are engaged to be married, and Law is trying to be happy for his friends. Neither Law nor Ezra were entirely happy with the solution presented to them by the sheriff’s department at the end of book 2, but until Nia shows up with new evidence, there is little they can do. The killer, thinking he’s now safe and clear, has realised that he needs to stop his “game” for the foreseeable future, as he only got away through pure luck last time. He’s not at all happy to see Nia back in town, poking her nose into places it doesn’t belong. He can’t remove her, as her disappearance would make everyone suspicious, and has to settle for trying to drive her out of town. However, his luck is about to run out, and the three couples join forces and resources to finally unmask and identify him.

In many ways, I think Walker’s Ash or If you trilogy work better as suspense novels than romances. All three romances, while different, are a bit too similar. All three couples more or less fall in love at first sight, even in the unlikely case where Nia points a gun at Law, and Hope, and instead of being afraid or angry, Law’s reaction is pretty much being turned on. It requires more suspension of disbelief than I am comfortable with. I also think Walker could have introduced more suspects with regards to the killer. It turned out to be pretty much exactly who I thought it was, without having really given the matter any conscious thought. In a suspense story, it would’ve been a bit more satisfying if we’d had more suspects and red herrings.

Hope and Remy’s story was my favourite of the three. Everything from the introduction of Hope into the story and her past and vulnerability, as well as the way she develops, learns to trust her own strengths and abilities was really well done, and I just liked her and Remy as a couple more than the others. This trilogy was a perfectly diverting read, but nothing mind-blowing, and I certainly don’t agree with the many superlatives I’ve seen it garnering on various review sites on the Internet. 3 stars to book 1 and 3, and 4 stars to book 2.

Originally posted on my blog:

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #14: Psychopath by Keith Ablow

I am going to borrow from Barnes & Noble’s description of this novel:

“Having achieved celebrity status with his last case, Clevenger is tapped by the FBI to catch an elusive murderer known as the Highway Killer, who has left twelve bodies strewn across twelve states. But the Highway Killer isn’t just a serial killer–he’s a psychiatrist whose brilliance as a doctor is matched only by his precision as a murderer.

When he writes to a national newspaper challenging Clevenger to cure him through an exchange of open letters, a gripping public therapy unfolds. With the Highway Killer’s brutality reaching new heights as he confronts his mind’s darkest demons, will Clevenger exorcise those demons before they spin completely out of control?”

Like all the Clevenger books, this story is told in the third person, interweaving the killer’s narrative with Clevenger’s. The killer himself is an interesting character, but as a doctoral student in psychology (with a particular interest in forensic work) I had a hard-time buying him as a “real” character. He was portrayed as possibly having schizophrenia which, based on what I know of the disorder, would certainly prevent him from becoming a psychiatrist and also being so organized in his thought process working with clients.

Read the rest of the review here!

Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #19: Darkness Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane

As promised in my recent CBR4 review of Dennis Lehane’s first novel, I have just finished reading Darkness Take My Hand, the second book in the Kenzie/Gennaro private eye series, and find myself blown away, as much by Lehane’s compelling noir tale as by his brilliant depiction of unutterable human corruption.

The duo get hired to find out who is threatening a lady psychiatrist and her son, and their early investigation takes them into the heart of Boston’s Irish Mafia which Kenzie and Gennaro know intimately. Here, they cross paths with a cluster of murderous sociopaths, who nonetheless pale in comparison to the pair of demented serial killers who spring from Kenzie’s past, take over the novel about half-way through, and ratchet up the terror considerably. Any more details would truly be spoilers, so that’s all you’ll get on the main plot. But there’s so much more.

The Boston in which Kenzie and Gennaro operate is a black hole which admits no light, an urban underbelly saturated with psychosis, fear, and blood. Lots of it! But where Lehane’s genius lies is in bringing his characters—and Boston is definitely one of them!—into bold relief, so that we cannot dismiss them as figments of the author’s imagination, but instead we are forced to acknowledge that they are terrifying inhabitants of our own world.

True to form, Lehane’s novel is a murder mystery, a political thriller, and a romance all rolled into one. But more than that, Lehane gives us highly complex parallel plots which repeatedly intersect until they merge. He also plays with the time line of his story, so that we are tossed back and forth in time to fill out the details and explain the references to this incident or that person from Kenzie and Gennaro’s past. So while walking in the footsteps of his two heroes, we also experience their histories, their loves—and their demons. Villains and heroes from the previous novel change places, and the moral line between what is right and what is necessary becomes increasingly and deliberately blurred, bringing the story to an incredibly explosive conclusion but also leaving this reader, at least, in a slight state of shock and in desperate need of some sunlight and a big hug!

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #8: The Scavenger’s Daughter: A Tyler West Mystery by Mike McIntyre


I love mystery thrillers, especially ones where the villain is a serial killer. However, after finishing this book (and having my last three or so books be a similar genre), I need a little break from this genre.

Tyler West is a Pulitzer-prize winning investigative journalist, working for one of the top newspapers in San Diego. He has been pushed out of position at the paper because of public pressure following his Pulitzer-prize piece which exposed scandal in the San Diego Police Department. The paper’s owner, in an act of vengeance, has Tyler cover the society section. His first story is the opening of a Medieval Museum, featuring torture devices used during the inquisition. Tyler is there as a prominent member of San Diego society is murdered in one of the torture devices. More murders follow and Tyler quickly begins investigating the story.

Read the rest of the review at my blog!

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