Category Archives: St Martin’s Press

Review: The Trust by Ronald H. Balson

Title: The Trust by Ronald H. Balson
Liam and Catherine Series Book Four
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 367 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

The newest novel from Ronald H. Balson, the international bestselling author of Once We Were Brothers, finds private investigator Liam Taggart returning to his childhood home for an uncle’s funeral, only to discover his death might not have been natural.

When his uncle dies, Liam Taggart reluctantly returns to his childhood home in Northern Ireland for the funeral—a home he left years ago after a bitter confrontation with his family, never to look back. But when he arrives, Liam learns that not only was his uncle shot to death, but that he’d anticipated his own murder: In an astonishing last will and testament, Uncle Fergus has left his entire estate to a secret trust, directing that no distributions be made to any person until the killer is found. Did Fergus know, but refuse to name, his killer? Was this a crime of revenge, a vendetta leftover from Northern Ireland’s bloody sectarian war? After all, the Taggarts were deeply involved in the IRA. Or is it possible that the killer is a family member seeking Fergus’s estate? Otherwise, why postpone distributions to the heirs? Most menacingly, does the killer now have his sights on other family members?

As his investigation draws Liam farther and farther into the past he has abandoned, he realizes he is forced to reopen doors long ago shut and locked. Now, accepting the appointment as sole trustee of the Fergus Taggart Trust, Liam realizes he has stepped into the center of a firestorm.

Review:

As with previous novels written by Ronald H. Balson, his newest mystery, The Trust, is well-researched and historically accurate. Set in Ireland, the Taggart family and its history with the IRA are under the microscope after Liam’s estranged Uncle Fergus dies under mysterious circumstances.

Although Liam is conflicted about his cousin Janie’s request that he attend his uncle’s funeral, his wife Catherine easily him to make the trip.  He is stunned to discover that Fergus made him the executor of his estate which has been placed into a trust. Equally shocking are the terms of the will and Liam finds himself on the opposite side of his cousins Conor and Riley as they attempt to remove him as the trust administrator. In between the legal maneuvering, Liam teams up with the police inspector assigned to the case to try to solve his uncle’s murder.

Liam is quite upset that he never made the effort to mend the sixteen year rift with Fergus and he is utterly confused about his uncle’s conviction that he is the only person he can trust to carry out his wishes. The terms of the will are clear but unfortunately, everything about the last few months of his uncle’s life is rather murky. Liam quickly discovers Fergus was convinced someone was going to kill him, but he was deliberately vague about who the killer might be or why he might targeted.  Liam’s family is certain his murder is a vendetta from forty years earlier, but local police Inspector Farrell McLaughlin is equally convinced the killer is most likely related to Fergus.

The investigation is slow moving and Liam also must contend with inner family squabbles, overt threats and memories of his distant past. He vacillates back and forth between abdicating his responsibilities and returning home, but his remorse over his role in the longstanding estrangement is a powerful inducement to carry out Fergus’s last wishes. He is also a bit angst-ridden over Catherine and their baby’s safety but his wife is equally certain the threats she is receiving are nothing more than a bothersome nuisance. Even when the killer begins targeting other family members, Liam and the police are still unable to discern a motive for the murders and without a motive, it is even more difficult to narrow down the suspect list.

Rich with historical details, The Trust is an intriguing mystery that old and new fans of the Liam and Catherine series will enjoy.  Although the investigation into Fergus’s murder is interesting, readers might a little frustrated with the lack of progress and the narrow focus on a list of very obvious suspects while glaring inconsistencies with other characters are ignored. Catherine is a little blasé about her and their baby’s safety and Liam comes across as rather unfocused as he deals with the emotional aspects of his unexpected family reunion. Despite a few minor irritations with the mystery aspect of the storyline, Ronald H. Balson provides a fascinating look into Ireland’s deeply troubled past between Protestants  and Catholics that still reverberates amongst its citizens today.

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Filed under Contemporary, Liam and Catherine Series, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Ronald H Balson, St Martin's Press, Suspense, The Trust

Review: The Vengeance of Mothers by Jim Fergus

Title: The Vengeance of Mothers by Jim Fergus
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

The stunning sequel to the award-winning novel One Thousand White Women.

9 March 1876

My name is Meggie Kelly and I take up this pencil with my twin sister, Susie. We have nothing left, less than nothing. The village of our People has been destroyed, all our possessions burned, our friends butchered by the soldiers, our baby daughters gone, frozen to death on an ungodly trek across these rocky mountains. Empty of human feeling, half-dead ourselves, all that remains of us intact are hearts turned to stone. We curse the U.S. government, we curse the Army, we curse the savagery of mankind, white and Indian alike. We curse God in his heaven. Do not underestimate the power of a mother’s vengeance…

So begins the Journal of Margaret Kelly, a woman who participated in the U.S. government’s “Brides for Indians” program in 1873, a program whose conceit was that the way to peace between the United States and the Cheyenne Nation was for One Thousand White Woman to be given as brides in exchange for three hundred horses. These “brides” were mostly fallen women; women in prison, prostitutes, the occasional adventurer, or those incarcerated in asylums. No one expected this program to work. And the brides themselves thought of it simply as a chance at freedom. But many of them fell in love with their Cheyenne spouses and had children with them…and became Cheyenne themselves.

The Vengeance of Mothers explores what happens to the bonds between wives and husbands, children and mothers, when society sees them as “unspeakable.” What does it mean to be white, to be Cheyenne, and how far will these women go to avenge the ones they love? With vivid detail and keen emotional depth, Jim Fergus brings to light a time and place in American history and fills it with unforgettable characters who live and breathe with a passion we can relate to even today

Review:

In The Vengeance of Mothers, Jim Fergus whisks readers back to the 1870s when the US government was doing everything possible to eradicate the Native American people. Between the Black Hills gold rush, ranchers and white settlers, eliminating the People is a high priority as the Army viciously strikes their camps, the government reneges on deals made through peace treaties and Indian tribes are forced onto government reservations.  In an effort to assimilate Native Americans into the white way of life, a deal is struck with the Cheyenne Nation and white women, many of whom are from prisons and mental asylums, are sent to marry the braves. Although this newest release is a sequel which picks up One Thousand White Women (which I HIGHLY recommend) ends, it can be read as a standalone.

Written in diary format, the story alternates back and forth between the perspectives of original brides Margaret “Meggie” Kelly and her sister Susan “Susie” and newcomer Molly McGill. Meggie and Susie have survived the horrific massacre which left their husbands and many of their fellow brides dead. As they fled for safety, they suffered horrific personal losses and they have vowed to take revenge on the soldiers who are indiscriminately and viciously attacking the various tribes’ villages. Molly and her fellow brides’ train has been attacked by the Cheyenne but they decide they still want to follow through with the plan to marry into their tribe.  Still grieving from recent events, Meggie and Susie become the other women’s reluctant guides as they, along with the surviving Cheyenne warriors, set out to reunite with the rest of their tribe.

Despite a bit of a slow start, The Vengeance of Mothers is an engrossing peek into the hardships and life and death battles these women and the Native Americans endured as they government continued their efforts to wipe out the indigenous people. This historically accurate and impeccably researched novel has an incredibly realistic and compelling storyline that is heartrending. There is a bit of a mystical feel to the present day aspects of the plot and  Jim Fergus brings the story to an intriguing, but somewhat  ambiguous, conclusion. Both The Vengeance of Mothers and its predecessor, One Thousand White Women, are incredibly well-written novels that bring the appalling plight of the Native American tribes vividly to life.  I absolutely loved and highly recommend both of these incredible novels.

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Filed under Fiction, Historical, Jim Fergus, Rated B, Review, St Martin's Press, The Vengeance of Mothers

Review: The Other Girl by Erica Spindler

Title: The Other Girl by Erica Spindler
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 247 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Justice for Sara and The First Wife Erica Spindler comes The Other Girl, a chilling new thriller about a ritualistic murder of a college professor that sends a small town cop back into the trauma she thought she’d put behind her.

A horrific crime. One witness—a fifteen year old girl from the wrong side of the tracks, one known for lying and her own brushes with the law.
Is it any surprise no one believed her?

Officer Miranda Rader of the Harmony, Louisiana PD is known for her honesty, integrity, and steady hand in a crisis—but that wasn’t always so. Miranda comes from the town of Jasper, a place about the size of a good spit on a hot day, and her side of the tracks was the wrong one. She’s worked hard to earn the respect of her coworkers and the community.

When Miranda and her partner are called to investigate the murder of one of the town’s most beloved college professors, they’re unprepared for the brutality of the scene. This murder is unlike any they’ve ever investigated, and just when Miranda thinks she’s seen the worst of it, she finds a piece of evidence that chills her to the core: a faded newspaper clipping about that terrible night fifteen years ago. The night she’d buried, along with her past and the girl she’d been back then. Until now that grave had stayed sealed…except for those times, in the deepest part of the night, when the nightmares came: of a crime no one believed happened and the screams of the girl they believed didn’t exist.

Then another man turns up dead, this one a retired cop. Not just any cop—the one who took her statement that night. Two murders, two very different men, two killings that on the surface had nothing in common—except Miranda.

Review:

The Other Girl by Erica Spindler is a twist-filled police procedural set in a small southern town in Louisiana.

Detective Miranda Rader is a cop with a past that she refuses to let define her.  In the aftermath of a terrifying ordeal when she was a teenager, she completely turned her life around and she is now a well-respected police officer.  Called to the scene of the brutal and gruesome murder of Professor Richard Stark, who by all accounts is well-liked and popular, Miranda makes a discovery that brings the events of that long ago night to the forefront of her mind.  Immediately informing her boss, friend and mentor Police Chief Buddy Cadwell of her suspicions, she is dismayed by how easily he dismisses her concerns.  Will she have better luck convincing her partner Jake Billings that she is on the right track?

Miranda is an excellent detective but her objectivity during the investigation of Richard Stark’s murder is compromised right away. She becomes impulsive and makes some incredibly questionable decisions that not only jeopardize the case, but her career.  Chief Cadwell also harbors a few doubts about her but thankfully she can count on Jake to watch her back. Miranda cannot help but wonder if Cadwell is reluctant to pursue all avenues of inquiry due to the fact the victim’s father is very influential in their small town. However, she is convinced she is on the right track but will Miranda find anyone to corroborate her suspicions?

Weaving back in forth in time between what happened to Miranda in the past and Richard Stark’s murder in the present, The Other Girl is a compelling mystery.  Miranda is a complex character  who is sometimes her own worst enemy as she brashly refuses to allow Chief Cadwell deter her from attempting to prove her theory about Stark is correct. Although it is very easy to surmise who killed the Professor and why, the perpetrator’s actual identity is not readily apparent. Erica Spindler keeps readers off balance with diabolical plot twists and an action-packed, jaw-dropping conclusion. A clever police procedural that fans of the genre will definitely want to add to their to be read list.

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Filed under Contemporary, Erica Spindler, Mystery, Rated B, Review, St Martin's Press, Suspense, The Other Girl

Review: Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

Title: Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn’t add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister’s return might just be the beginning of the crime.

Review:

In Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker, fifteen year old Cass and seventeen year old Emma disappear from their dysfunctional home and three years later, only one of them returns. What happened that fateful night? Where have the Tanner sisters been for the past three years?  And perhaps, most importantly of all, where is Emma?

Upon her return, Cass is more than willing to talk to FBI forensic psychologist Dr. Abby Winter and Special Agent Leo Strauss but only if her mother Judy Martin is present. Her explanation of the circumstances surrounding their disappearance is enthralling but she cannot provide more than a vague description of where they were held. She is quite desperate for the FBI to begin searching for Emma but is there more to the story than Cass is revealing?

When the girls first went missing, Abby is the only person who recognized the truth about Judy Martin. After the original investigation stalled, Abby must undergo therapy to put the case into perspective but she never doubts she was on the right track. With Cass’s unexpected return she and Leo are quickly reassigned to the case. While Cass’s account of their disappearance and the years they were gone is quite detailed and much of her explanation rings true, Abby is not certain they are getting the whole truth. Abby’s personal history raises questions about her impartiality in the case but these experiences also make her more sensitive to the subtle nuances in Cass’s behavior and the dynamics of the various relationships in the Tanner/Martin household.

Cass’s first-person narration offers a chilling and heartrending peek into the extremely unhealthy and toxic environment with their manipulative and self-absorbed mother. Her parents’ divorce and the ensuing custody battle resulted in a horrific rift between Cass and Judy and led to a breakdown in her relationship with Emma.  Judy’s quick marriage to a divorced man with a teenage son whose troubling relationship with his new stepsisters also contributes to the increasingly tense atmosphere in the household.  Over the years, the various relationships continue to deteriorate to a shocking degree.

Emma in the Night is a slow burner of a story that alternates between Cass and Abby’s points of view. Wendy Walker’s portrayal of Judy’s narcissistic behavior is a realistic depiction of a rare psychiatric disorder that results in incredibly dysfunctional and psychologically abusive relationships.  The truth about what happened in the years leading up to Cass and Emma’s disappearance is extremely heartbreaking and given the circumstances, very easy to believe. With plenty of unexpected twists and turns, the novel wends its way to a fairly shocking yet completely satisfying conclusion.

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Filed under Contemporary, Emma in the Night, Mystery, Rated B, Review, St Martin's Press, Suspense, Wendy Walker

Review: Paradise Valley by C.J. Box

Title: Paradise Valley by C.J. Box
Highway Quartet Series Book Four
Cassie Dewell Series Book Three
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 350 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

She almost caught him once. Now, he’s back.

For three years, Investigator Cassie Dewell has been on a hunt for a serial killer known as the Lizard King whose hunting grounds are the highways and truck stops where runaways and prostitutes are most likely to vanish. Cassie almost caught him…once.

Working for the Bakken County, North Dakota sheriff’s department, Cassie has set what she believes is the perfect trap and she has lured him and his truck to a depot. But the plan goes horribly wrong, and the blame falls on Cassie. Disgraced, she loses her job and investigation into her role is put into motion.

At the same time, Kyle Westergaard, a troubled kid whom Cassie has taken under her wing, has disappeared after telling people that he’s going off on a long-planned adventure. Kyle’s grandmother begs Cassie to find him and, with nothing else to do, Cassie agrees—all the while hunting the truck driver.

Now Cassie is a lone wolf. And in the same way that two streams converge into a river, Kyle’s disappearance may have a more sinister meaning than anyone realizes. With no allies, no support, and only her own wits to rely on, Cassie must take down a killer who is as ruthless as he is cunning. But can she do it alone, without losing her own humanity or her own life?

Review:

In Paradise Valley, C.J. Box pits intrepid investigator Cassie Dewell against her longtime nemesis the Lizard King, a long haul truck driver and serial killer who has eluded capture for several years. This final installment of the Highway Quartet can be read as a standalone but I HIGHLY recommend the entire series.

Cassie’s patience has finally paid off and Ron Pergram aka the lizard King has finally taken the bait she has been dangling  for the past the several years.  With the trap set, Cassie, her boss Sheriff Jon Kirkbride and the rest of the Bakken County Sheriff’s department are poised to take Pergram into custody. However, the Lizard King cleverly turns the tables on them and in the process, kills and wounds several members of law enforcement. A month later, Cassie and Sheriff Kirkbride become political scapegoats for slimy and ambitious county attorney Avery Tibbs and Cassie resigns in order to protect Kirkbride’s career. She then turns her attention to finding two missing teenagers, Kyle Westergaard and Raheem Johnson, who vanished the same day her plan to capture Pergram went horribly awry. When she discovers local woman Amanda Lee Hackl also disappeared the same day as well, she is convinced her hunch that Ron is still alive is correct. Deeply worried that  Kyle, Raheem and Amanda might have somehow crossed paths with the psychopathic serial killer, Cassie begins investigating the suspicious disappearances.

Cassie is a topnotch investigator with highly honed instincts and she leaves no stone unturned as she begins trying to locate Kyle and Raheem. She immediately  stumbles onto a discovery that finds her traveling to the isolated small town of Ekalaka, MT.  From there, Cassie uncovers evidence that solidifies several of her theories and her dogged pursuit of Pergram leads her to a place that reminds her of a tragic loss and bring to mind numerous recollections of the lessons that her old mentor Cody Hoyt taught her.

Interspersed with  Cassie’s investigation are chapters about the Lizard King as he continues evading capture for his horrific crimes. He is still the same depraved and brutal man he has always been but he feels a surprising affinity for one of his victims. Pergram relies on cruel methods to keep his prey under his control but will he cover his tracks well enough to prevent Cassie from finding him?

Paradise Valley is an absolutely riveting mystery that is also quite suspenseful. Cassie is merciless in her attempts to find Kyle and Rasheem and she is definitely in her element as she wends her way across the vast and oftentimes desolate countryside while following every lead she unearths. Although somewhat bittersweet, Cody Hoyt’s presence is also keenly felt throughout Cassie’s hunt for the prolific serial killer that has eluded capture for so many years.  Longtime fans of the Highway Quartet will also be delighted to be reunited with colorful characters from some of the earlier novels in the series.  This newest release by C.J. Box is a marvelous conclusion to an engaging series that old and new fans are going to LOVE!

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Filed under Cassie Dewell Series, CJ Box, Contemporary, Highway Quartet Series, Mystery, Paradise Valley, Rated B+, Review, St Martin's Press, Suspense

Review: The Breakdown by B.A. Paris

Title: The Breakdown by B.A. Paris
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Named One of the Most Anticipated Thriller Novels Of 2017 by Bustle!

THE NEW CHILLING, PROPULSIVE AUDIOBOOK FROM THE AUTHOR OF THE INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES AND USA TODAY BESTSELLING BEHIND CLOSED DOORS.

If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?

Cass is having a hard time since the night she saw the car in the woods, on the winding rural road, in the middle of a downpour, with the woman sitting inside—the woman who was killed. She’s been trying to put the crime out of her mind; what could she have done, really? It’s a dangerous road to be on in the middle of a storm. Her husband would be furious if he knew she’d broken her promise not to take that shortcut home. And she probably would only have been hurt herself if she’d stopped.

But since then, she’s been forgetting every little thing: where she left the car, if she took her pills, the alarm code, why she ordered a pram when she doesn’t have a baby.

The only thing she can’t forget is that woman, the woman she might have saved, and the terrible nagging guilt.

Or the silent calls she’s receiving, or the feeling that someone’s watching her…

Review:

In B.A. Paris’ latest domestic mystery, The Breakdown, focuses on the effects that a chilling murder on a deserted country road has on the victim’s friend.

During a heavy rainstorm, thirty-four year old schoolteacher Cass Anderson notices a car sitting on a lay by and stops to see if the driver needs assistance. However, when it appears the woman is not in trouble, Cass’s concerns about her own personal safety outweigh her concern for the other driver and she leaves without approaching her. The next day, she is absolutely horrified to learn the woman was brutally murdered and after she discovers the victim is her new friend, Jane Walters, she becomes terrified the killer might know where to find her. Over the next couple of months, Cass is plagued by a series of eerie phone calls, the sense she is being watched and overwhelming guilt she could have prevented Jane’s death.  Growing increasingly concerned for her safety, Cass cannot convince her husband Matthew or her best friend Rachel Baretto to take her seriously due to her failing memory. Is someone watching Cass? Is she suffering from early onset dementia? And most importantly, who killed Jane and why?

Cass is an extremely frustrating and irritating lead character and since the novel is written from her perspective, readers have a front seat to her excessive guilt, fear and paranoia. Almost right from the beginning, she is guilt-ridden and convinced it is her fault Jane is dead. Then her irrational fears begin and the novel becomes incredibly repetitive and mired down by her self-doubts and a melodramatic plot. Savvy readers will clue in fairly early to the truth about what is happening to Cass and it is not too much of a leap to guess who is responsible for them. The why is a little more difficult to figure out and it is difficult to remain invested in learning the truth since much of the storyline becomes a
regurgitation of daily phone calls, Cass’s failing memory and her conviction that it is only a matter of time before she is savagely murdered by Jane’s killer.  This certainty that her life is in danger makes Cass’s decision to take a prescription for “stress” that essentially keeps her knocked out all day and night utterly ridiculous.

The Breakdown is an extremely slow-paced mystery that requires a fairly healthy suspension of disbelief by readers.  The novel is initially quite interesting but very quickly becomes tedious as it fails to make any progress whatsoever until the last fifty or so pages. Cass’s reactions are way over the top and she comes across as very weak and irrational. The title is quite clever as is the novel’s conclusion but overall, this latest release from B.A. Paris fails to live up to the hype.

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Filed under BA Paris, Contemporary, Mystery, Rated C, Review, St Martin's Press, Suspense, The Breakdown