Category Archives: Crooked Lane Books

Review: Lies She Told by Cate Holahan

Title: Lies She Told by Cate Holahan
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

From the author of one of Kirkus Reviews’ best books of the year, The Widower’s Wife, comes an electrifying story of love and deceit.

The truth can be darker than fiction.

Liza Cole, a once-successful novelist whose career has seen better days, has one month to write the thriller that could land her back on the bestseller list. Meanwhile, she’s struggling to start a family, but her husband is distracted by the disappearance of his best friend, Nick. As stresses weigh her down in her professional and personal lives, Liza escapes into writing the chilling exploits of her latest heroine, Beth.

Beth, a new mother, suspects her husband is cheating on her while she’s home caring for their newborn. Angry and betrayed, she aims to catch him in the act and make him pay for shattering the illusion of their perfect life. But before she realizes what she’s doing, she’s tossing the body of her husband’s mistress into the East River.

Then, the lines between Liza’s fiction and her reality eerily blur. Nick’s body is dragged from the East River, and Liza’s husband is arrested for his murder. Before her deadline is up, Liza will have to face up to the truths about the people around her, including her own. If she doesn’t, the end of her heroine’s story could be the end of her own.

Review:

In Lies She Told, Cate Holahan skillfully utilizes the book within a book format which makes for an extremely  riveting read as chapters alternate between author Liza Cole and the protagonist in her work in progress, Beth.

Liza is extremely  stressed as she and her husband, David, struggle with infertility. Adding to their difficulties is the disappearance of David’s close friend and law partner, Nick Laundau, who disappeared a month earlier.  Liza is also on a tight deadline for her next novel so she is immersed in her latest project as she departs for a  writer’s conference. With her editor Trevor pressuring her for a sexy romantic suspense novel that will put her back on the bestseller’s list, Liza is exhausted, hormonal and frustrated by David’s preoccupation with finding Nick while at the same time trying to keep their law practice afloat. Liza is soon unable to tell fact from fiction as events in the present begin to bear eerie similarities to the  novel she is writing. Is life imitating art? Or is there a far more sinister reason for the shocking parallels?

Until recently, Liza’s twelve year marriage to David has been quite happy and fulfilling. Until she failed to conceive, the only blight on their happiness is the fact that Nick intensely dislikes her and he makes no effort to keep his feelings about her secret. Her infertility has begun to take a toll on their marriage but she refuses to give up on becoming pregnany even though David is no longer an active participant. Liza is resentful of her husband’s lack of support and she is not exactly sympathetic to his concern over Nick’s disappearance.

Escaping her real life problems by focusing on her work in progress, Liza finds it surprisingly easy to get inside the head of her protagonist, Beth. Beth is a new mother who stumbles across irrefutable proof her husband is cheating on her. Instead of confronting him, she becomes obsessed with him and his mistress. This obsession culminates with a horrific act and eventually the events in Liza’s novel begin to mimic the harrowing experiences happening in real life. Which begs the question: is Liza’s work in progress a product of her imagination?

From the chilling prologue until the action-packed conclusion, Lies She Told by Cate Holahan is an engrossing, suspense-laden read. Liza is a fascinating protagonist whose flaws make her sympathetic and relatable. The chapters from the work in progress are intriguing and just as interesting as the drama unfolding in Liza’s everyday life. This intricately plotted novel has plenty of twists, turns and a brilliantly executed book within a book concept that will keep readers on the edge of their seat until the shocking dénouement. An absolutely outstanding mystery that fans of the genre do not want to miss!

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Filed under Cate Holahan, Contemporary, Crooked Lane Books, Lies She Told, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Suspense

Review: All the Secret Places by Anna Carlisle

Title: All the Secret Places by Anna Carlisle
Gin Sullivan Mystery Series Book Two
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Gin Sullivan is back in her small hometown of Trumbull, Pennsylvania on an extended leave from her job at the Chicago medical examiner’s office and rekindling an old flame with her high school sweetheart, Jake. Gin is readjusting to life at home when Jake receives harrowing news early one morning. The new housing development his construction firm is building has caught fire and underneath one of the burnt homes is a dead body.

When the body is identified as a man who may very well be the violent offender who terrified Gin’s childhood town years ago, the pool of suspects broadens and it becomes a greater challenge to pinpoint his killer. Gin is determined to unearth old demons, hers included, but soon finds some people will kill to keep them buried.

Small town secrets cast daunting shadows in All the Secret Places, Anna Carlisle’s riveting second Gin Sullivan mystery.

Review:

All the Secret Places is an intriguing addition Anna Carlisle’s Gin Sullivan Mystery series.

Still on leave from her job as a medical examiner in Chicago, Gin is uneasily settling into life in her small hometown in Trumbull, PA.  Having rekindled her romance with her former high school boyfriend, Jake Crosby, the couple are living together but Gin is concerned about the future of the relationship. During a fire at Jake’s construction site  for an upscale home, firefighters unearth a badly decomposed body on the property. Gin is less than thrilled when abrasive Detective Bruce Stillman is assigned to the case and she is worried that his bias towards Jake will have a negative impact on the investigation. Will Gin, along with some help from the newly hired Trumbull Police Chief Tuck Baxter, find out the cause of the fire and the truth about the corpse before it is too late?

Gin and Jake’s relationship is already a little troubled and in the aftermath of the fire, the tension between them continues to grow. Communication is not exactly their strong suit so Gin is mostly in the dark about how things are going with Jake’s construction business.  Although Jake knows she cannot discuss the case with him, he is very frustrated at not being kept in the loop. With so much dissent in her personal life, Gin is taken off guard by her unexpected attraction to Tuck who makes no secret of his interest in her.

Amidst all this uncertainty, Gin does everything she can to uncover the truth about what happened on Jake’s construction site. An uneasy evening with Jake’s construction foreman and his wife seemingly provides some much needed information about the fire.  However, Gin is confused by contradictory details when she investigates the lead before taking the information to the police. The preliminary examination of the buried remains is somewhat discouraging but Gin notices some  inconsistencies that she is hopeful will help Jake.  However, she is disheartened by her inability to find the proof to back up her suspicions.

What should be a straight forward murder mystery becomes rather bogged done in Gin’s personal dramas, Detective Stillman’s lack of partiality and  political posturing. Gin is also rather prone to jumping to conclusions and making impetuous, ill-thought out decisions that put her into dangerous situations. It is also somewhat frustrating (and a little unrealistic) that Jake is once again fighting to prove his innocence when he is at the center of another investigation.

Despite a few frustrations with the storyline and a somewhat slow start, All the Secret Places has plenty of unexpected twists and turns.  Although the culprit for one of the mysteries is rather easy to figure out, the resolution of the other crime is quite unexpected. Old and new fans will enjoy this latest installment in Anna Carlisle’s Gin Sullivan Mystery series.

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Filed under All the Secret Places, Anna Carlisle, Contemporary, Crooked Lane Books, Gin Sullivan Mystery Series, Mystery, Rated C+, Review, Suspense

Review: At What Cost by James L’Etoile

Title: At What Cost by James L’Etoile
Detective Penley Mystery Series Book One
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

What would you do to save your child?

Detective John Penley and his new partner, Detective Paula Newberry, of the Sacramento Police Department are tasked with leading the investigation into a local serial killer who has dumped three bodies in the past six weeks–and all of them are missing their internal organs. But while pursuing a lead, the detectives stumble upon a personal message the killer left behind for Penley. And it’s attached to a human kidney.

How could the killer know Penley’s son is on the kidney transplant waiting list? Now Penley’s baited into an impossible trap that could jeopardize his entire career. Will the detective take down the killer and place his faith in the medical establishment to heal his son? Or, will he make a deal with the devil for the transplant organ his son needs to live?

At What Cost, James L’Etoile’s engrossing new mystery, is a heart-stopping thrill ride that will keep readers guessing at every turn. Fans of Michael Connelly and Thomas Perry won’t be able to put this down.

Review:

In At What Cost by James L’Etoile, Detective John Penley’s investigation of several gang members’ murders turns personal when he and his family are seemingly targeted by the killer.

Penley and his partner Detective Paula Newberry have not made much progress in their investigation of several recent murders of known gang members.  With each of the deceased belonging to different gangs, they cannot help but speculate that the deaths might be retaliation but this line of inquiry soon leads to a dead end.  A series of startling discoveries connected to the most recent murder leads Penley and Newberry to believe the killer is harvesting the victims’ organs.  Unfortunately, Penley has intimate knowledge of the donation process since his nine year old son Tommy is waiting for a kidney transplant.  Despite assurances there is no way anyone could be access the donor list, Penley and Newberry soon learn the killer is manipulating the donor list.  Will they capture the murderer before it is too late?

John Penley tries to keep his professional and personal lives separate, but maintaining his objectively on his current case is virtually impossible.  Using his insider’s knowledge of the donation process proves invaluable but there are limitations to what information can be obtained without jeopardizing patient confidentiality. Quickly realizing that Tommy might be at risk, John is faced with a moral dilemma that could help him flush out the killer but will doing so put his son in danger?

Newly transferred to homicide, Paula is not exactly welcomed by her co-workers due to her previous assignment.  She and John work well together but when their current case heats up, John’s trust in his partner is soon put to the test.  Despite John’s anger over a perceived betrayal, Paula is undeterred as she continues trying to track down a killer who always seems to be two steps ahead of them during their investigation.

At What Cost by James L’Etoile is a fast-paced police procedural with a refreshingly unique storyline.  There is plenty of suspense as Penley and Newberry try to make sense of the murders.  Once the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place, their investigation takes on new urgency once they realize John and his family are in danger.  With unexpected plot twists, a twisted motive for the murders and a seemingly demented killer, the novel races to a pulse-pounding conclusion.  An absolutely chilling first installment in the John Penley Mystery series that fans of the genre absolutely do not want to miss.

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Filed under At What Cost, Contemporary, Crooked Lane Books, James L'Etoile, Mystery, Rated B, Review

Review: Among the Dead by J.R. Backlund

Title: Among the Dead by J.R. Backlund
Rachel Carver Series Book One
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Ex-SBI agent Rachel Carver must hunt a group of killers on her own before time runs out in this gripping debut.

Former North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation agent Rachel Carver blames herself for the collateral death of an innocent woman in her last case. Unable to accept her superior’s attempts to cover up the incident, she turned in her badge. But when a former partner asks her to consult on a new murder case, she reluctantly agrees, traveling to a small, remote mountain community, where she’s tasked with leading a group of inexperienced detectives on a hunt for the killer. The trek has hardly begun when what seems to be the act of a loner proves to be much more as Rachel’s team comes under attack—and a detective is killed in the fallout.

Now that the stakes have risen, Rachel’s old employers at the SBI step in to take over the investigation. But Rachel, convinced they are on the wrong track, continues to work the case alone. And just as she delves into the town’s past, she discovers a secret history that connects the victims—one that makes her the target of a man who would kill to keep it a secret.

Perfect for fans of Tami Hoag and J. T. Ellison, J. R. Backlund’s gripping mystery debut Among the Dead is sure to be a knock-out.

Review:

Among the Dead is an intriguing first installment in J.R. Backlund’s new series starring ex-SBI agent Rachel Carver.

Rachel left the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation under a bit of a cloud when a case she was working on ended badly.  So when her former partner Danny Braddock, who is now the Chief Detective for the Sheriff’s department in small NC town, asks her to work as a consultant on a murder case, she reluctantly agrees to help with their investigation.  Rachel’s expertise is invaluable to the small department since they lack experience in murder investigations. There is little evidence to go on as they investigate Dean McGrath’s murder and after Andy Coughlan is murdered under the same circumstances, the biggest fear is a serial killer might be responsible. Rachel is certain there is a something in the victims’ pasts that lead to their deaths, but the SBI takes over the case in the aftermath of tragedy. However, Rachel is not convinced the SBI theory is correct but will she solve the cases before the killer strikes again?

Rachel is a flawed but immensely appealing protagonist. She can sometimes become a little overly involved and obsessed with cases and while this trait sometimes works against her, it does make her a an excellent investigator. With many years of experience under her belt, Rachel has plenty of tact and diplomacy and she does an excellent job guiding the inexperienced team during the investigation.  Rachel is very hard on herself and she tends to take on misplaced guilt when things veer off course.

While the killer’s identity is known right from the beginning of the novel, the motive for the murders remains shrouded in mystery. The murderer is extremely well versed in preventing transfer of evidence so the investigation is forensically challenged right from the start.  Rachel urges the team to focus their efforts on victimology in hopes they will uncover the link between the deceased and their killer but that connection is also somewhat elusive. A huge break seems to crack the case wide open but a shocking turn of events culminates in a devastating blow to the detectives.  Rachel is determined not let political maneuvering derail the investigation but will she uncover the truth before it is too late?

Among the Dead is a meticulously plotted mystery with a suspense-laden storyline and an outstanding cast of characters.  The novel is fast-paced with plenty of clever twists and turns. J.R. Backlund brings the story to brilliant conclusion that completely wraps up all of the  loose ends.  The Rachel Carver series is off to a strong beginning and it will be interesting to see what the intrepid sleuth will face in the next installment of the series.

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Filed under Among the Dead, Contemporary, Crooked Lane Books, JR Backlund, Mystery, Rachel Carver Series, Rated B+, Review

Review: Hunting Hour by Margaret Mizushima

Title: Hunting Hour by Margaret Mizushima
Timber Creek K-9 Mystery Series Book Three
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Deputy Mattie Cobb is in a dark place and has withdrawn from Cole Walker and his family to work on issues from her past. When she and her K-9 partner Robo get called to track a missing junior high student, they find the girl dead on Smoker’s Hill behind the high school, and Mattie must head to the Walker home to break the bad news. But that’s only the start of trouble in Timber Creek, because soon another girl goes missing—and this time it’s one of Cole’s daughters.

Knowing that each hour a child remains missing lessens the probability of finding her alive, Mattie and Robo lead the hunt while Cole and community volunteers join in to search everywhere. To no avail. It seems that someone has snatched all trace of the Walker girl from their midst, including her scent. Grasping at straws, Mattie and Robo follow a phoned-in tip into the dense forest, where they hope to find a trace of the girl’s scent and to rescue her alive. But when Robo does catch her scent, it leads them to information that challenges everything they thought they knew about the case.

Mattie and Robo must rush to hunt down the kidnapper before they’re too late in Hunting Hour, the third installment in critically acclaimed author Margaret Mizushima’s exhilarating mystery series.

Review:

In Hunting Hour, the discovery of a missing teen’s lifeless body has a rather profound effect on K-9 handler Deputy Mattie Cobb. Although this latest release is the third installment in Margaret Mizushima’s Timber Creek K-9 Mystery series, it can easily be read as a standalone (but I highly recommend the entire series).

Mattie is still trying to work through the deep-seated and extremely troubling issues from her highly dysfunctional and abusive childhood when her search for missing thirteen year old Candace Banks ends in tragedy. The subsequent investigation uncovers startling information that makes Mattie suspicious that the girl’s father, Burt, might have been molesting his daughter. Although there is no evidence to substantiate her theory, inconsistencies in his alibi definitely make him a person of interest in the case. The investigation into Candace’s death is barely underway when Mattie’s friend, local veterinarian Cole Walker’s youngest daughter is kidnapped.  Certain the two cases are linked, Mattie, Chief Deputy Ken Brody and Detective Stella LoSasso begin a frantic search to locate eight year old Sophie before it is too late.

In recent months, Mattie has distanced herself from Cole, his daughters and her co-workers as she undergoes therapy in an effort to come to terms with her traumatic past. With these terrible memories fresh in her mind, she is exhausted and emotionally battered as she and her canine partner Robo begin searching for Candace. After finding the young girl’s body, Mattie and the team soon discover somewhat unsavory and very unexpected information about the young teenager and Mattie’s childhood experiences lead her to a very troubling conclusion. Since Stella is the only person with any knowledge of the demons that are haunting Mattie, she gently, but diligently, cautions her to try not to let her past cloud her judgment and maintain her focus on the evidence they are uncovering.

Despite Mattie’s unsettling suspicions, there are other viable suspects who have valid reasons for harming Candace. Several members of the high school football team are brought in for questioning but is one of the young men Candace’s killer? After Sophie’s disappearance, suspicion then falls on Gus Tilley, one of Cole’s clients whose out of character behavior in recent days moves him to the top of the suspect list. Mattie and the rest of the Sheriff’s office are also frantically searching for a recently paroled pedophile who has been spotted in Timber Creek, but their efforts have thus far yielded few results.

With an engrossing storyline and an intriguing mystery to solve, Hunting Hour is a riveting police procedural that is incredibly suspenseful. Mattie is a deeply flawed yet immensely appealing protagonist who is gradually making progress with coming to terms with her past. Cole is a wonderful possible love interest but he is also carrying emotional baggage that leaves Mattie doubtful he is ready for a new relationship. The investigation into Candace’s death and Sophie’s disappearance is fast-paced and without a discernible motive for either crime, Mattie, Robo and the Sheriff’s department are faced with an almost daunting task as they ramp up their search for answers. Margaret Mizushima continues to keep the Timber Creek K-9 Mystery series fresh with the addition of new characters, evolving relationships between Mattie and her co-workers and perplexing mysteries. This newest addition to this phenomenal series is sure to be a hit with loyal followers and readers who are just now discovering this fantastic crime fighting duo.

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Filed under Contemporary, Crooked Lane Books, Margaret Mizushima, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Timber Creek K-9 Mystery Series

Review: Dead Man’s Bridge by Robert J. Mrazek

Title: Dead Man’s Bridge by Robert J. Mrazek
Jake Cantrell Mystery Series Book One
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

For fans of Linwood Barclay, this exhilarating series debut by award-winning author Robert Mrazek features former Army officer Jake Cantrell as he tries to solve a series of murders at a small college town in upstate New York.

Unfairly disgraced former army officer Jake Cantrell has only one friend left: Bug, a wolf-dog he saved while serving in Afghanistan. Together, they try to put his bitter past behind him and Jake settles for employment at the bottom rung of the campus security ladder of a small upstate New York college. But things only turn worse when the college’s richest and most powerful alumnus is found hanging from a campus footbridge on the eve of homecoming weekend.

Jake is convinced the man was murdered, but with no credibility to his name, no one agrees—at least not until a second body is found hanging from the same bridge. But as a vicious hurricane sweeps up the Eastern seaboard, the clock is ticking and it’s only a matter of time before the killer strikes again.

Trusting his instincts, Jake puts his own life in peril as he attempts to uncover the buried secrets at the heart of the murders in acclaimed author Robert J. Mrazek’s Dead Man’s Bridge, the first in a new heart-pounding mystery series sure to keep readers hooked until the very last page.

Review:

In Dead Man’s Bridge by Robert J. Mrazek, disgraced Army  veteran and St. Andrews College campus security officer Jake Cantrell is certain the hanging death of college alum Dennis Wheatley is murder but his boss Captain Janet Morgo declares it a suicide.

Jake left the Army under a cloud due a mission gone horribly wrong and he still shoulders a great deal of guilt for the loss of several men under his command. Virtually unemployable in the aftermath, his longtime friend and college president Jordan Langford secures a position for Cantrell as campus security officer. Captain Morgo might not have a choice in hiring Jake, but this does not mean she likes him nor does she trust his judgment. Jake immediately clashes with Morgo over their differing viewpoints on the death but when Dennis’s wife demands Cantrell be put in charge of the investigation, Janet has no choice but to acquiesce to the request. With another victim and a hurricane induced storm bearing down on the college, Jake is soon in a race against time to catch the killer before it is too late.

Despite his somewhat checkered past, Jake is  an immensely appealing protagonist who is incredibly compassionate and caring. His tenderness when caring for his ailing dog, Bug, shows the type of man he is as does his loyalty to his longtime friend Jordan.  Despite their somewhat complicated past, Jake does not hesitate to agree to look into a very delicate situation that jeopardizes Jordan’s career at the college.  In addition to looking into Jordan’s problem, Jake is also willing to risk both his job and his life in order to uncover the truth about Wheatley’s untimely death.

Robert J. Mrazek’s Jake Cantrell Mystery series is off to a very strong beginning with Dead Man’s Bridge. Jake is an intrepid sleuth who is willing to buck authority when necessary but it is his endearing loyalty that will win readers’ hearts. The mystery surrounding Dennis Wheatley’s death is quite intriguing as is the story arc dealing with Jordan’s embarrassing predicament. The novel comes to an action-paced and adrenaline laced conclusion that completely wraps up the various storylines. I absolutely loved and highly recommend this exciting first installment in what promises to be an outstanding mystery series.

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Filed under Contemporary, Crooked Lane Books, Dead Man's Bridge, Jake Cantrell Mystery Series, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Robert J Mrazek, Suspense