Tag Archives: Thriller

The Footprints of God: A mix of technology and moral wrestling

Every now and then I get a Greg Iles book that doesn’t fit his standard genre. The Footprints of God is one of those books.

Dr. David Tennant has been overseeing Project Trinity as a ethics and morals specialist, by special request of the president. Things were progressing well on the supercomputer until Tennant and his friend and fellow colleague raised some questions and put the project on hold. When the colleague dies at work, Tennant quickly realizes that stalling the project has put his life in danger. On the run, Tennant can’t trust anyone except his psychiatrist, who ends up roped into the danger by crossing the professional line and checking up on Tennant at his home. Project Trinity is more than anyone on the outside can imagine, but in trying to solve the problem of humanity, the scientists may have created something worse.

Though still a classic Iles thriller, The Footprints of God is a different kind of story. It reads closer to Dan Brown, with maybe a sprinkling of Ted Dekker’s allegorical style. Tennant suffers from vivid dreams that his psychiatrist diagnosis as hallucinations, and these dreams end up leading Tennant to the answers he needs to save the world. The story seems also to wrestle a little bit with religion, specifically Christianity. Though the Tennant is not a religious character, his dreams take a religious turn and he ends up getting a look in the mind of “God,” who Iles writes as a sort of accidental creator.

The book was engaging, fast-paced and twisty, dropping just enough hints to keep me guessing without revealing too soon what was going on. I had a few issues beyond the questionable religious wrestling, primarily the obvious relationship development between Tennant and his psychiatrist. But for Dan Brown fans, this book will be a good read.

Blood Memory: A traumatic psychological thriller

Given that it’s pretty much the subject of the entire book, Blood Memory needs its content and trigger warnings right up front. This book deals a lot with childhood sexual abuse and the lingering effects. While it’s an exploratory story of one character regaining her repressed memories and reclaiming her life, it’s also a very intense read and I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone with that kind of trauma in their past.

Cat Ferry’s life has been a collection of manic highs and depressive lows. She’s functional only when she’s drinking or working, and while she knows the clues to her issues lie in her past, she can’t recall anything from before she discovered her father dead in the garden.

When Cat starts having panic attacks at crime scenes where she consults with the New Orleans Police Department, she decides to take a trip back to Natchez, Mississippi, to visit home. Once there, an accident reveals that there’s more to her father’s death than she knew, and it seems like everyone has been lying to Cat her entire life. Only by understanding her past can Cat piece together the clues and solve the serial murders in New Orleans.

Though Greg Iles writes an engaging and fast-paced story, it was challenging to read, given the premise of abuse. I have a lot of mixed feelings about Blood Memory. From a psychological and thriller standpoint, it was an excellent book. Iles leads his readers on, letting them question everything from the truth to Cat’s sanity. The only thing that seemed lacking was more hints toward the perpetrator of the murders.

But I can’t say that a really good story is grounds enough for me to be OK with reading that premise (though I suppose that’s part of the point, no one should be “OK” with it). Iles wasn’t gratuitous with his descriptions of abuse, and I did feel a bit better when I read his acknowledgments and thanked unnamed survivors for sharing their stories with him. I believe he approached this work with as much delicacy as he could and it could be a work that sparks important conversations.

In short, it’s a book I will be extremely careful in recommending, if I recommend it at all. With such heavy content, despite the rest of the story, it’s probably a book I will let most people discover on their own.

Turning Angel

I’m not sure whether I like series that don’t necessarily build on each other. And by that I mean the difference between, say, The Lord of the Rings movies and the Die Hard movies. Both are series with the same characters, but if you jump into The Lord of the Rings out of order, you’ll be playing catch up. With Die Hard, you’ll probably recognize that the character existed before but any background you need will be provided for you so you can dive into whatever movie you have on hand. Greg Iles’ Penn Cage series is like that, same character, references to the previous books, but not quite crucial to read in order.

Turning Angel, the second Penn Cage book, finds Cage still in Natchez writing and getting involved in the community. When his childhood friend, Dr. Drew Elliott, is identified as the prime suspect in the murder of a high school girl, Cage quickly finds himself in over his head. The only way he can vindicate his friend of the murder charge is by finding the real murderer–but as Cage starts digging he puts himself squarely in the danger zone, and saving his friend could cost Cage his own life.

I’ll be completely honest, this is the worst book I’ve read by Iles (and there was one book that I didn’t even bother finishing, so that’s saying something). Not only does it seem to fall completely flat compared to other Penn Cage novels, but the approach he takes to a 40+-year-old man having an affair with a 17-year-old girl is frankly disturbing. While I’m not so naive as to think there aren’t young girls who want to be involved with older men, I don’t really agree that it needs to be normalized. And the way Iles’ writes the character of Mia Burke, seeming to not care at all when older men–even teachers–check her out, seems rather unbelievable to me.

Although Iles writes the book with lots of fast-paced action and writes an intriguing court case-building story, I just can’t get past the premise. And given the premise, it’s not surprising then that the book is full of sexual content, consensual and non-consensual. Thus, it does warrant some trigger warnings for readers.

All in all, I can’t say the book is worth reading. I’m glad I got it at a 10 books for $1 sale so I’m not out any real money. It’s well written, but for me personally, I’m just not sure it was worth writing.

Sleeping Beauties

Horror isn’t really my genre, so I’ve not read a whole lot by Stephen King, but I’ve been starting to dabble the last few years (and by that I mean I’ve now read two books by him). I’ve not read anything by any of his family members, either, as they tend to be in the same genre, so Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King was a first in a couple ways.

Set in a small town in Appalachia, everyone is going about their normal lives when news reports start filtering in about women across the world falling asleep and becoming enshrouded by a kind of cocoon. In Dooling, Sheriff Lila Norcross has her hands full with family secrets, a double homicide, and a strange woman wearing almost no clothes and lots of blood.

As cases of Aurora start popping up in town, Lila begins to see that it’s all somehow related, but time is running out as fast as her energy. And if the women all fall asleep, it’ll be up to the men to find a solution–but the men are busy fighting among themselves and using violence to solve their disagreements. And if they can’t find something better within themselves, their women may never come home.

First of all, if this is horror than I’ve been misunderstanding it my whole life. But, I don’t think it compares to some of King’s more classic horror novels. But it was an interesting, fast-paced novel that kept me engaged as I worked to unravel the threads of the story. The father-son duo (and their editors, probably) did an excellent job of blending their voices into one cohesive narrative. I’ve read some multi-author books where you could tell the parts were written by two different people, but that wasn’t the case with Sleeping Beauties.

The book also explores the idea of moral superiority between men and women. The premise is clearly than women, left to themselves, could create a new and better world untainted by modern men. Nearly all the men in the story had serious flaws and problems or history that they hadn’t fully dealt with, all of which impacted their wives and the women they knew. The women, while far from being saints, were painted as more willing to be selfless and sacrificial, even toward their men who were less than deserving. It’s an interesting take on humanity, and probably one that’s very common, maybe even popular, within some groups.

All in all it was an engaging read, good for those who like thrillers, weird circumstances, and action stories. However, it’s littered with profanity, which can be a turn-off for some. And also includes references/scenes of violence and sexual abuse, which could be triggering to some audiences.

The Dry

After feeling a little stuck with reading (I know, unbelievable. I should get help), I returned to my love (and hate) of mystery/thrillers. And Jane Harper didn’t disappoint.

The Dry is set in the Australian outback. A small town is in the middle of an awful drought, and every one assumes the hard times led Luke Hadler to kill his family and himself. But Federal Agent Aaron Falk, run out of town decades ago, isn’t so sure. A cryptic note tells him, “Luke lied. You lied. Be at the funeral.”

Naturally, returning to the town that cast him out brings up a lot of history. Though Falk just wanted to attend the funeral and run back to the city, somehow he finds himself staying and poking around the supposedly open and shut case. Somehow he can’t shake the feeling that it’s all connected to the past, and the town isn’t quite ready to let things lie.

Harper’s story moved along at a fast pace, introducing ideas and allowing the reader’s mind to be anticipating each new reveal. She weaves the drama of small town living together with the drama of the tragedy, creating a layered story that engages readers from the get-go.

I found this book to be the perfect blend of being just lost in the story and occasionally trying to figure out the end. Though my few ideas were ultimately wrong, that was OK because I wasn’t trying so hard to work it all out. I was satisfied to just go along at the author’s pace and enjoy the story.

The book does need a few trigger warnings, though. The deaths at the beginning of the book are pretty gruesome, even though the author leaves a lot to the imagination. It also includes references to abuse and hints at sexual abuse as well.

All in all, it was a good crime thriller with a solid mix of procedural story telling mixed with drama.

The Guest List

I became aware of Lucy Foley earlier this year when her book The Hunting Party was selected as a Barnes & Noble book of the month. It was a popular choice, so when I saw an advance copy of her new book, The Guest List, I snagged it.

An isolated Irish island seems like the perfect place for a wedding—and the perfect place for a murder. While everyone should be celebrating, after the vows are said and cake it cut, someone turns up dead. Suddenly everyone is a suspect, and several people have hidden but compelling motives. But who really did it?

The story is told from a variety of perspectives, giving a good look at each character’s motives and thought processes. You start the book knowing it’s an Agatha Christie-esque mystery, where you know what’s happened, but not the who or the why. You’re left to piece things together through the narratives of the night before the wedding and the day of the event.

I was a little skeptical at first, because I know this is exactly the same style as Foley’s other book (which I didn’t read, but it’s just the principle). But I found the book actually quite engaging, even if I did hate every person in the book. What I will say, though, is that the way everything neatly traced back to the dead character was a little unimaginative. Each character had motive, and even though only one did the deed, everyone got revenge. The “got what was coming to them” feel left me a little dissatisfied.

So while it was a fast-paced read that kept me engaged and kept me linking all the stories together, it didn’t quite achieve the mind blowing climax I think Foley was going for.

The books isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, as it’s a little on the vulgar side in terms of language as well as content, which I found off-putting as well. I just don’t enjoy reading about characters who see women as sexual conquests instead of people. The book also touches on sensitive, triggering subjects, including suicide, abortion, and sexual exploitation via blackmail.

The Fragile World

Paula Treick DeBoard weaves another compelling story in The Fragile World.

The Kaufman’s were an ordinary family until tragedy strikes. When Daniel Kaufman is killed in a chance accident, his family is left to try to pick up the pieces of their lives. His parents split up, losing themselves in their work, and his sister Olivia becomes terrified of everything.

Olivia lives with her dad Curtis in California, but things start to change years later when Curtis starts them off on a journey to see Kathleen, Olivia’s mother living in Nebraska. But Nebraska may not be the ultimate destination, and in his course to right a wrong, Curtis may destroy what’s left of his family.

Written in first person, alternating from Curtis and Olivia’s points of view, the story gets deep into the minds of the two characters most motivated and affected by Daniel’s death. The chapters are short, moving the story along quickly without sacrificing depth and quality.

DeBoard’s characters get quickly into your heart. Each character is uniquely relatable in how they deal with the trauma and stress life throws their way. And the story, while heart-wrenching, celebrates family. Family is worth fighting for, and the Kaufman’s, in their own way, each fight for their family as best as they can.

With each book I read, I’m more and more convinced of DeBoard’s mastery of writing gripping, real-life stories that weave drama, suspense, and a dash of mystery together in the best ways possible.

The Girl Before

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney was really popular when it first came out, so when I had the chance, I decided to grab a copy and see what it was all about.

The story follows two women living in the same house at different times. Emma, who first moved in with her boyfriend, and Jane, who moved in a year later. The house was built by an architect who had lots of rules, making the house a fit for only the right kind of people.

Shortly after she moves in, Jane discovers that Emma died there, and while many people suspected foul play, there was never conclusive proof to point to a specific suspect. Unable to leave it alone, Jane starts investigating on her own, trying to find out what happened to Emma to make sure it doesn’t happen to her.

Although it was an engaging story, I wasn’t really sold. It’s was a story where I found myself not liking any of the characters, no one was quite who they presented themselves to be.

That said, the short chapters made it a quick read. The pages flew by, and it did engage your mind, trying to uncover the lies and figure out who each character really was.

It wasn’t a bad story, and I’d certainly recommend it to people who enjoy thrillers, but I’m not chomping at the bit to more of Delaney’s work.

True Evil

One of the things I enjoy about Greg Iles is that, even with standalone books, they are still interrelated, with characters from one book or series making appearances in others.

When FBI agent Alex Morse’s Sister dies, Morse is left with a charge: to save her nephew. Morse’s sister believes she was murdered. After some digging, Morse discovers what she believes is a pattern, but the hard part is proving it. Morse has a cluster of cases of suspicious deaths in Natchez, and the one common factor is a local divorce attorney who was contacted by the spouses– including Morse’s brother-in-law.

Now Morse has a new lead, because the attorney has a new client. Morse needs to convince Dr Chris Shepard that he’s in danger from his wife, and that she really has a case to pursue. But time is running out, and Morse stands to lose everything.

True Evil was a fast-paced story, kind of unique in it’s style. It sounds like an outlandish conspiracy at first, but Iles goes into the science and creates a scheme so his villains can commit the perfect crime.

My only frustration with the book is the addition of gratuitous sex scenes that really don’t make a difference to the storyline, nor add any depth to the character.

Otherwise, Iles proves himself as a quality thriller writer, creating relatable characters and intriguing situations that keep you interested right until the end.

Lie to Me

I’ve seen this book on a lot of displays lately, and had a lot of people asking about it, so I decided to give J.T. Ellison a try. After all, when it’s part of a 50 percent off Book Haul sale, how can you not buy it (and a few others…)?

Ethan and Sutton Montclaire have taken a lot of punches lately, but they thought their love was strong enough to withstand all life was throwing at them. But one morning, Ethan wakes up to a cryptic note from Sutton, saying she needs some time and not to look for her. Knowing how it looks, and how it will look, Ethan finally approaches the police and reports his wife as a missing person.

It seems like Sutton has disappeared without a trace, but everyone is looking at Ethan for answers, and as a suspect. It quickly becomes clear there is more going on than anyone first suspected–and nothing is what it seems.

Written essentially in two parts, from two different points of view, Ellison drops a few breadcrumbs to show you where she’s going while reserving the big surprise for the end. She also does an excellent job of making you suspect all sorts of things throughout the book. Highlighting how just one side of a story can skew perception, things don’t become clear until Ellison has told both parts, and starts picking out the real truths from her characters’ memories.

A domestic thriller all about revenge, Lie to Me is the story of a husband and wife torn apart by their secrets and suspicions. Ellison writes in a fast-paced style with short chapters that move the story along. Occasionally, you’ll want to reach through the book and smack some sense into one character or the other, and you may find that you don’t particularly like any of them, but it’s all worth it when you get to the end and remember the suspicion you had somewhere during the read that turned out to be right, but with more depth than you could have imagined.