In The Dark, by Loreth Anne White

>> Saturday, March 14, 2020

TITLE: In The Dark
AUTHOR: Loreth Anne White

PAGES: 407
PUBLISHER: Montlake Romance

SETTING: Contemporary Canada
TYPE: Suspense

A secluded mountain lodge. The perfect getaway. So remote no one will ever find you.

The promise of a luxury vacation at a secluded wilderness spa has brought together eight lucky guests. But nothing is what they were led to believe. As a fierce storm barrels down and all contact with the outside is cut off, the guests fear that it’s not a getaway. It’s a trap.

Each one has a secret. Each one has something to hide. And now, as darkness closes in, they all have something to fear—including one another.

Alerted to the vanished party of strangers, homicide cop Mason Deniaud and search and rescue expert Callie Sutton must brave the brutal elements of the mountains to find them. But even Mason and Callie have no idea how precious time is. Because the clock is ticking, and one by one, the guests of Forest Shadow Lodge are being hunted. For them, surviving becomes part of a diabolical game.
Lately there seems to have been a spate of homages to Agatha Christie's masterful And Then There Were None coming out in the book world -possibly because of the recent TV adaptation? In any case, I find them irresistible. Loreth Anne White's In The Dark is the latest I've found.

The structure of the book is quite interesting, but requires the reader to pay attention, as it moves between two different groups of characters, and back and forth in time. The earliest timeline concerns a group of strangers who have been invited for different purposes to a wilderness spa which is about to open. One has won a stay in a contest. Another owns a cleaning company and has been invited to bid to provide the spa's cleaning services. Another is the pilot of the tiny plane that flies them all to the very remote location. And so on; each thought the invitation came for a pretty normal reason.

But pretty much as soon as they arrive they realise the supposed spa is not a spa at all, and it doesn't take long before they are stuck there without a way to leave again or call for help. And it soon becomes clear that all they have some relation to a tragic event in the past, and that someone with a fondness for Agatha Christie's book has brought them there. There are even an ominous nursery rhyme and figurines that get destroyed as guests are killed... which soon starts happening.

We switch between these people and Mason Deniaud and Callie Sutton. Mason is a cop, and he's working with Callie, a search and rescue specialist. The wreck of a small plane has been found with a corpse inside, and not one who died in a plane crash. Callie soon figures out where the group is stuck, and she heads over to help with her rescue group and Mason.

And in yet another timeline, we see that Callie and Mason did find a survivor. We don't know who it is, and they seem to have something to hide.

This was loads of fun and I really enjoyed it most of the way, although I found it fell a bit short in the end.

The suspense element was particularly good most of the way through. What's going on is not really a mystery to the reader, but the fun is in seeing how it all comes out, and the increasing tension amongst those stuck in the isolated cabin. White succeeds in making it believable that the characters would immediately figure out the "And Then There Were None" connection, and yet behave in ways that gave the killer the chance to pick them off one by one. The interactions between them are super interesting, and very effective in making the atmosphere more and more tense. The one thing that was not as effective for me was the final revelation, which I didn't completely, 100% believe.

I liked the structure and the going back and forth, even though at times I had to stop and remind myself where we were in the timeline. I felt it was very effective in ratcheting up the tension. I did want to find out more about Callie and Mason, and White left me wanting more on that end. But that's not necessarily a bad thing (as long as White is intending to bring them back in another book!)

Which means I should warn possible readers that although the book is published by Montlake Romance, it's not really a romance. Best to know this before going in!



The Ruin, by Dervla McTiernan

>> Wednesday, March 11, 2020

TITLE: The Ruin
AUTHOR: Dervla McTiernan

PAGES: 380

SETTING: Contemporary Ireland
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: Cormac Reilly #1

It's been twenty years since Cormac Reilly discovered the body of Hilaria Blake in her crumbling Georgian home. But he's never forgotten the two children she left behind...

When Aisling Conroy's boyfriend Jack is found in the freezing black waters of the river Corrib, the police tell her it was suicide. A surgical resident, she throws herself into study and work, trying to forget - until Jack's sister Maude shows up. Maude suspects foul play, and she is determined to prove it.

DI Cormac Reilly is the detective assigned with the re-investigation of an 'accidental' overdose twenty years ago - of Jack and Maude's drug- and alcohol-addled mother. Cormac is under increasing pressure to charge Maude for murder when his colleague Danny uncovers a piece of evidence that will change everything...

This unsettling crime debut draws us deep into the dark heart of Ireland and asks who will protect you when the authorities can't - or won't. Perfect for fans of Tana French and Jane Casey.
The Ruin starts a new mystery series set in Galway, Ireland. DI Cormac Reilly has just moved back there after many years working in Dublin, and for the last few weeks he's been stuck working cold cases. It's clear that his new bosses aren't welcoming him with open arms, and there are some difficult dynamics going on amongst his fellow officers.

One of the cases he's given is one from his past. When Cormac was just starting out, he was sent to check on a report of a domestic disturbance. But in an isolated house in the country, rather than what he expected, he finds the corpse of a woman who's died of a heroin overdose. Her death was reported by her teenaged daughter, Maude, and also in the house is a young boy, Jack, clearly neglected, possibly abused. And right after the two kids are taken to the hospital, Maude disappears. Now, in the present day, Cormac is being asked to look into the accidental overdose, since information has come up that it may not have been accidental after all, and Maude may have been responsible.

This all seems to be happening at a very coincidental time, since not long before Cormac was assigned the case, Jack died. The police consider it to have been a suicide and are refusing to look into it further, no matter how much evidence Jack's sister Maude, just returned after decades abroad, presents showing his dead was not suicide or accidental.

The Ruin was a really good, promising start to this series. McTiernan has an engaging writing style, and the action flows well. She also creates a very interesting case. It was one I was genuinely interested in, and I wanted to know what had happened. I couldn't wait to find out how the older case connected with Jack's death in the present-day, and spent a good couple of evenings wondering about it. The solution was a good one, and one that made complete sense. McTiernan had very successfully led me in completely the wrong direction, but in a way that felt perfectly fair. I had felt the actual culprit's behaviour was suspicious, but I had guessed a completely wrong reason for it.

I was also very intrigued by Cormac's relationship with his girlfriend, Emma. He's moved back to Galway mainly due to her job (even though he has some very credible rationalisations regarding why it makes sense from a career point of view for him to do this anyway), and there seems to be a bit of difficulty in them settling in. Emma is super busy setting up her team at the lab where she works, and their attempts to spend some time together seem to fail every time. Additionally, there are hints about them having got together in an unorthodox way, one that may cast some negative lights onto Cormac's behaviour as a police officer, but no real details are given. I wanted to know more, but I'm content to wait, because it seems the next book will provide that.

The only thing I wasn't crazy about was that the police in this book are not great. There seems to be a good deal of unprofessional behaviour, verging (if not going right over the verge) into corruption, and it wasn't really resolved. I always find that frustrating to read, as I prefer my detective main characters to be able to concentrate on the case, not to have to fight against the authorities to be able to do their job. I did find it frustrating here, but it was not too bad. I'll definitely keep reading.



A Madness of Sunshine, by Nalini Singh

>> Sunday, March 01, 2020

TITLE: A Madness of Sunshine
AUTHOR: Nalini Singh

PAGES: 352

SETTING: Contemporary New Zealand
TYPE: Romantic Suspense

New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh pivots in a new direction with her first mainstream thriller that will be sure to keep readers on their toes.

Anahera Rawiri left New Zealand at twenty-one, fleeing small-town poverty and the ghosts of her childhood with no plans to look back. But eight years later, she returns, seeking familiarity as respite from the shattered remains of her new life. And despite the changes brought on by a bump in tourism--the shiny new welcome sign at the town line and a decidedly less shiny new police presence--Golden Cove appears much as it ever was: a small settlement on the savage West Coast of the South Island, populated by all the remembered faces and set against a backdrop of lush greenery, jagged cliffs, and crashing waves.

Detective Will Gallagher knows all about ghosts; his own chased him out of a promising career in Christchurch, landing him as the sole cop in a quaint town where his most pressing concerns are petty theft and the occasional drunk. When Golden Cove resident Miri Hinewai goes out for a run and fails to return, Will finds himself heading up a missing person's search that rapidly escalates into an official investigation after this case is connected with similar ones from the past. As an outsider, Will begins to rely on Anahera's knowledge of the area and its residents to help him delve into Golden Cove's secrets, and to determine whether it shelters something far more dangerous than just an unforgiving landscape.
Right at the start of A Madness of Sunshine, Anahera Rawiri returns home to Golden Cove, a tiny town in the West Coast of New Zealand, after almost a decade abroad. Her superficially shiny life was not a happy one, and she feels the need for a refuge and the comfort of a familiar place. But before Ana is able to even start to settle in, a young woman disappears while out on a jog.

Will Gallagher is a former big-town police officer who's recently been assigned to Golden Cove. Like everyone else, he initially assumes Miri must have had an accident during her run. But the search and rescue operation soon turns into an investigation, when clues emerge that Miri's disappearance may be related to the disappearance, several years earlier, of a couple of visitors. Back then it had also been assumed that the visitors, also young women, had encountered difficulties while hiking. But as Will investigates, it becomes more and more possible that all of the disappearances may have actually been foul play.

I was really looking forward to this book, but unfortunately, it didn't work for me at all. There were a couple of element that I liked, though, so maybe I should start with those. First was the setting. It was vivid and interesting. I liked how Singh described the contrast between the oppressive claustrophobia of such a small town and the comfort of being in a community where everyone knows each other, and then how the high-end tourism developments overlay it all. I also liked the feeling that while the wild nature surrounding the town is incredibly beautiful, it's also deadly, and it's necessary to be always on your guard against it.

I also liked that there isn't a "you must forgive your abusers" message here. Ana grew up with an abusive father, and is understandably angry at him still. This anger is portrayed as valid, and when Ana refuses to simply forgive and forget, it's made clear that this is ok. This shouldn't be so revolutionary, but it is.

And I'm afraid that is it for the positives. What bothered me the most, I think, was how the latest victim was portrayed. First of all, Miri herself didn't really make sense to me as a character. She did not feel like the real, contemporary young woman she was supposed to be. She felt like a dated stereotype, especially when we got to her her voice late in the story. And even worse was how everyone seems completely obsessed by her beauty. All the men lust after her and want her, and a lot of them end up behaving horribly, and it it's portrayed almost like 'oh, they couldn't help themselves'. It was disturbing.

Actually, the portrayal of men in general was disturbing. The sheer amount of domestic abuse and general psychopathic behaviour amongst the men in the town made the book feel really heavy, and made me wonder why anyone would want to live here.

The mystery itself was quite mediocre. I found the revelations about what had happened psychologically unsatisfying, and felt they were unbelievable. It felt like cheating, rather than something that felt like an organic solution. I want an 'ahhh' moment at the end, but the reaction I had was more like 'really?'. Maybe the problem was that it was all a bit too convoluted. It was reminiscent of Jayne Ann Krentz's latest romantic suspense books.

And the romance element was just as mediocre, I'm afraid. I never connected with Anahera or Will, and I certainly didn't feel any sense of connection between them. The word that came to me when I thought about them was 'humourless', which is a bit weird, since this is certainly not a book that is supposed to be humorous. I guess what I mean is that their inner worlds are all heavy and oppressive and there is not a single bit of lightness in them. I did not want to spend any more time with them.

MY GRADE: Unfortunately, this was a C- for me.


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