Murder, sex and Barbie dolls

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

DEEP FREEZE. By John Sandford. Penguin Audio. Read by Eric Conger. 10 hours; 8 CDs. $40.

freezeIf you don’t think murder and assorted lesser crimes can be funny, you haven’t read any of John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers detective novels.

A detective with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Virgil gets sent into all manner of interesting backwoods and small-town locales to solve the crimes that might baffle the local cops. In the process, he encounters a lot of colorful characters. Sometimes he makes some of them angry. He doesn’t like to carry his gun, so angry people can be a problem.

This time out, Virgil is sent to Trippton, a small town along the Mississippi River where the body of the richest woman in town has been discovered frozen in a block of ice. Virgil’s been to Trippton before, when he busted the corrupt and homicidal local school board, most of whose members are still in prison.

Since Trippton is a small town, everybody already knows Virgil and has opinions about him. Sometimes that’s good; sometimes it’s not.

We know from the beginning who killed the woman. It happened right after the committee planning the 25th reunion for their class at the local high school met at her house. “Bug Boy,” who inherited the local pest-control business from his father and got the local Dunkin’ Donuts franchise in his divorce, has always had a secret passion for the woman, even though both of them had been married, for a while but not any longer, to other people. After their classmates leave the meeting, he, emboldened by her treating him more or less cordially, goes back into her house with a bottle of champagne and high hopes. When she slaps him and rakes his scalp with her fingernails, he instinctively moves to hit back, forgetting the heavy bottle of champagne in his hand. When he discovers that he killed her, he’s devastated, but he’s also determined to protect himself, since, he reasons, he didn’t mean to, so he’s not really guilty.

He leaves her on the living room floor, rearranging things a little in hopes that whoever finds her will think she fell down the stairs. Then he hurries off to establish his alibi by signing karaoke at a local bar.

When her body is found in the block of ice in a part of the river that’s thawed because of a sewage plant outflow, Bug Boy is as shocked as everybody else.

It takes Virgil a while to figure out that he’s looking for two people, the murderer and the person who dumped the woman, her purse and shoes into the river for whatever reason.

Meantime, his bosses pressure him into helping a private detective from California who has been sent to Trippton to stop a ring that’s got a hot business selling Barbie dolls that have been modified to be very vocally sexy. His efforts on that score raise a lot of ire because times are tough and a number of locals are making money off the Barbie-Os. When Virgil snoops around too much, he gets beaten up by a gang of irate women outside another local bar.

His investigations into both the murder, involving as it does a high school reunion, and the Barbie-O ring, lead him to discover a lot of the adultery and even B&D (bondage and discipline) that, along with ice fishing and snowmobiling, help the locals make it through the long, cold winters.

He also gathers more evidence that a lot of criminals are really pretty stupid, sometimes in an amusing sort of way.

This is a good crime novel well blended with a good satire on life in small-town Minnesota. Eric Conger, who has recorded a lot of Sandford’s books, does a great job of reading, appropriately deadpan.

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Awakening? Not so much

Bob Moyer loves to read, and his interests are wide and varied. He’s also discerning, and he doesn’t mind saying what he thinks – all of which makes him a good reviewer.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

MRS. FLETCHER. By Tom Perrotta. Scribner. 307 pages. $26.

Mrs.-Fletcher_Tom-Perrotta_coverIt’s about porn.

The dust jacket claims it’s about sexual awakening, but that’s not what the author inflicts upon Mrs. Fletcher. He immerses his middle-class, middle-age Caucasian, divorced empty-nester in the pornography genre known as MILF, which features good-looking mothers, specifically the genre of Lesbian MILF. This fascination leads her to a couple of inappropriate decisions with an employee under her supervision, and one of her son’s former high school classmates. It is true that increasing numbers of women admit to watching porn. Mrs. Fletcher’s voice and frequency of viewing, however, smack of the male-writer’s-voice-in-a-female-protagonist’s-mouth syndrome. It’s not that good a fit.

Make no mistake – the author is an astute observer of middle-class life and our unconscious fumbling through our days. Many of his descriptions will make the reader simultaneously smile and wince as we see ourselves. He also captures quite aptly the way mothers and teen-age sons don’t communicate.

But it’s about porn.

Even the most nuanced portrait in the book, that of the son, ultimately goes askew in the two most graphic sexual encounters in the book. At the peak point, he spews language that could have been direct quotes from one of his mother’s chosen videos, a jarring contrast to his well-developed, amenable character. By his behavior, he unconsciously complies with the paradigm of how pornography has pre-empted our discourse – at least the author would have us see it so. Unfortunately, the tenor of our times and the author’s tone render us unable to suspend our disbelief. The author also does himself and his narrative no favors when he taints the denouement with a final stroke of MILF. The book is not about Mrs. Fletcher.

It’s about porn.


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The mysteries of life, solved – or are they?

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

ORIGIN. By Dan Brown. Random House Audio. Read by Paul Michael. 18 hours; 15 CDs. $50.

originRobert Langdon, intrepid Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, is at it again, with all the expected mystery, codes, drama, action, danger, beautiful women, evil villains, cosmic ideas and earth-shattering revelations.

My audio version of “Origin” arrived just as I was about to embark on a solo road trip, and it well served the purpose of entertaining me as I drove. I must admit, though, that this latest Dan Brown adventure also annoyed me at times.

The premise is that Edmond Kirsch, a billionaire, futurist and tech wizard who was one of Langdon’s early students at Harvard, is about to announce a major discovery that he is sure will change science and the world forever. To that end, Kirsch has arranged a gathering of several hundred people, including Langdon, at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, for a presentation that also will be broadcast to millions of viewers around the world who are waiting with bated breath.

Kirsch, a well-known atheist, suggests to his good friend Langdon ahead of time that he’s found the answers to humankind’s most fundamental questions: where did we come from, and where are we going?

But before Kirsch can get to the heart of his dramatic presentation, the gathering is disrupted in an unthinkable way. When Langdon recovers from his shock, he realizes that Edmond’s revelations may be lost forever – unless he and Ambra Vidal, the beautiful director of the museum who had helped Edmond set up the event, take drastic measures. And Ambra Vidal just happens to be the future queen of Spain, engaged to the heir apparent, whose father, the king is near death.

The rest of the book takes place mostly over the course of one long night, as Langdon, still wearing the white tie and tails he’d donned for the gala presentation, and the future queen, in her dress and heels, dash around Spain in quest of Edmond’s secrets, pursued by people who are determined to stop them. Meanwhile, there’s the mystery of who stopped the presentation and why, and whether someone in the royal palace is involved. Oh, and Langdon and Ambra are guided by the most super of super computers, an A.I. assistant Kirsch created and set on a mission.

As you’d expect in a Dan Brown novel, “Origin” deals with some big questions, among them the conflict between science and religion. One of my frustrations is that, with a few notable exceptions, Brown depicts people as completely accepting either creationism or science, as believing that everything in the Bible must be taken literally or rejected outright. In reality, of course, many, many people already believe what “Origin” eventually suggests, that it’s possible to accept what science teaches us and also believe that a creator set a grand design into motion – and gave us the ability to understand the mysteries of science as well as the humanity to handle them wisely.

That serious oversimplification leads to perhaps my major frustration with the book: I found it hard to believe that Kirsch’s great “discovery” would have the profound effect the book suggests, or that people would go to extraordinary lengths to keep it quiet.

It’s also quite a stretch to believe the way Langdon and Ambra go tearing across Spain and into dangerous situations at many of the country’s most interesting tourist sites, barely hindered by their evening clothes, lack of sleep or various attacks and injuries – but all that comes with the territory in a Dan Brown tale.

Then there’s the clunky, cliché-filled and often overwritten narrative, sadly in need of an editor – but we don’t read Dan Brown books for the polished prose.

Despite the frustrations, I did keep listening and enjoyed the book on many levels. Brown takes us to some fascinating locations and incorporates intriguing history and cultural information. He incorporates a clever literary code – the password to Edmond’s revelation – that must be solved if Langdon and Ambra are to deliver Edmond’s discovery to the world.

And the mystery of who’s really the villain, and you’ve got a lively, entertaining story.

And in the end, there’s a cautionary tale worth pondering.

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The tough side of the Big Easy

devilsBob Moyer knows New Orleans, and he knows good police procedurals. He finds much to praise in this lively novel.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

THE DEVIL’S MUSE. By Bill Loehfelm. Farrar Straus Giroux. 258 pages. $26.

Mardi Gras.

Most people see a chance to party, beads flying through the air, beads on the ground, people shouting at masked people on floats, happy children on their fathers’ shoulders.

Others, like rookie New Orleans police officer Maureen “Mo” Coughlin and her colleagues, see nothing but potential disaster, bullets flying through the air, bodies on the ground, people shooting at masked people on floats, wounded children in their fathers’ arms.

Stationed along the St. Charles parade route of the Krewe of Muses, the police are the thin blue line against the chaos just waiting to break out, the crowd so dense, so packed together that Mo “… could feel the collected body heat.”

When gunshots ring out, she and her partners spring into action. So does Bill Loehfelm’s prose, as he embarks on more than 200 pages of real-time narration, taking the reader along for a roller-coaster ride where no one knows what’s coming in the next paragraph.

The author has created a real police procedural, as the cops race a “hundred yard dash” to keep things under control. Along the way, Loehfelm takes us deep into New Orleans life, sending Maureen down “…streets like a redheaded Alice lost in some bizarre broke-down, broke-ass working-class Wonderland,” past an old lady outside a bar selling Zapp potato chips and taking “…a long drag on a long cigarette,” and past the “…best-looking cops she had ever seen” —“tall, powerful, bright-eyed, black-haired [German] shepherds.”

The “race” comes to a halt after following Mo through “…overdoses, shootings, foot chases, fornicating couples, irate neighbors, citizen journalists, zombie stories and gangland parleys,” enough action for a month, let alone one shift. The pace leaves Mo and her buddies just a little breathless and longing for a drink — before they do it all again the next shift.

In this continuing series, Loehfelm once again proves he knows how to laisser le bon lecture roulez.

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Something’s rotten in Denmark…

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

THE SCARRED WOMAN. By Jussi Adler-Olsen. Penguin Audio. Read by Graeme Malcolm. 12 CDs; 14 ½ hours. $45.

scarredOnly recently have I become aware of some of the fine mystery/detective fiction coming out of Scandinavia. Bob Moyer introduced me to the fiction of Norway’s Jo Nesbo, and that rewarding experience encouraged me to try this latest novel by Denmark’s leading crime writer, Jussi Adler-Olsen. One of these days, I’ll have to read the novels of Sweden’s literary star, the late Stieg Larsson.

The Scarred Woman is the seventh in Adler-Olsen’s Department Q series, which are highly popular in Denmark as books and movies. Not having read any of the previous books did not prevent me from becoming thoroughly caught up in this one, but it did make me want to turn to the earlier ones to catch up on the history. The lead detective is Carl Morck, who because of some of that history has been more or less banished to the basement of Copenhagen’s police headquarters, where he and a few dedicated colleagues work to solve cold cases. When budget problems threaten the very existence of their department, Carl and company are determined to make themselves indispensable.

Noting strong similarities between the recent murder of a woman in a park with an unsolved case a decade earlier, they begin looking for possible connections. Meanwhile, they’ve been ordered to let the star of a TV true-crime documentary show follow them around, much to Carl’s displeasure.

While all this is going on, a serial killer seems to be targeting young women who dabble in prostitution and other unsavory behaviors while living on welfare. We know, but the police do not, that their executioner is Anne-Line Svendsen, their social worker. Having apparently survived a nearly fatal cancer, Anne-Line is determined to rid the world of what she views as worthless young women.

What Anne-Line doesn’t know is that some of these young women are as criminally inclined as she is. Before long, it’s becoming tough to tell who’s the hunter and who’s the hunted.

As if all this weren’t enough, Rose Knudsen, a beloved part of the Department Q team, seems to be headed for a complete mental and emotional breakdown that could lead to suicide. Frantically, the team tries to figure out what in Rose’s past is prompting her self-destructive behavior.

The reader (or listener, if you’re enjoying the fine audio version) begins to see how all these threads are linked well before the police do. That knowledge heightens the suspense and tension. Will Carl and crew figure things out before it’s too late?

Like other Scandinavian crime fiction, this book is often as dark and chilling as an arctic winter. The grim portrayal of so many unsavory women is as striking as it is unusual, and it’s all an interesting commentary on the pitfalls of Denmark’s social welfare state. But the sometimes-grim tale is leavened by a good dose of humanity and even some welcome humor.

Graeme Malcolm does a fine job of reading the audio version, and despite the number of characters and plots, the narrative is both easy to follow and intensely compelling.

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Remembrance of things better left forgotten

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

A LEGACY OF SPIES. By John le Carre. Read by Tom Hollander. Penguin Audio. 8 ½ hours; 7 CDs. $40.

legacyCould it be? With word that John le Carre had written another novel, and this one bringing back George Smiley after many years of absence, legions of fans hoped that the master spy writer, now 86, still has his magic touch.

The answer, of course, is yes. A Legacy of Spies is another masterful work of literature – his books are never “just” spy stories – from one of the most thoughtful and gifted writers of the last century and this one.

As the story begins, Peter Guillam, who worked closely for and with Smiley, receives an unwelcome letter from their longtime employer, the British Secret Service. Peter has been living quietly in retirement on his family’s farm in Brittany, trying not to think much about his career, but now he’s being ordered to come to London.

It seems that, much as Peter might like to leave the past behind, others have a different idea. He finds himself being interrogated about some of operations he was involved with years earlier, operations that are even more difficult to explain now that the Cold War is over. People who had no experience of the Cold War and its prevailing sense that sometimes, the ends did justify the means, are asking questions that Peter would rather not think about, much less answer.

Deftly, le Carre moves between the present and the past, so that we gradually learn more about both what happened years earlier and what transpires as Peter deals with this intrusion.

This book revisits events le Carre chronicled in two of his most popular books: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. It’s a testament to the nuances and depths of le Carre’s works that he can give us such intriguing new insight into what happened back then. It’s not necessary to have read those previous books to enjoy this new one, but for those who haven’t, it’s probably a good idea to read the earlier ones first. Reading this one will no doubt make you want to find those, and that way you’ll be able to appreciate them without already knowing what’s revealed in Legacy.

This relatively short book doesn’t have a great deal of physical action, but there’s all the suspense, mystery and intrigue of any good le Carre tale. Smiley doesn’t appear as much as we might perhaps hope, but he’s always there, fittingly, in the shadows.

Part of the genius of le Carre’s books has always been the tension between the morality and humanity of his characters and the jobs that they take on. How far are they willing to go, how far must they go to do what should be done? Is what they are trying to accomplish even the right thing? And what toll do their actions take on their souls? They know better than anyone that things are not always – even often – clear cut, black and white.

Now we see these complex characters in their later years, with more time to reflect and relive.

Tom Hollander reads the audio version with just the right note of restraint, thoughtfulness and occasional dry humor.

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Watch out for Miss (Deputy) Kopp

Bob Moyer takes a slight diversion into history and an entertaining novel based on the true story of a woman crime fighter.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

MISS KOPP’S MIDNIGHT CONFESSIONS. By Amy Stewart. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 384 pages. $26.

KoppDon’t judge this book by its cover. Although the titillating title suggests some salacious material inside, there is none, nor is there much crime involved. Instead, between the covers of this third book in the series is a carefully crafted historical novel, based on the true story of the Kopp sisters circa 1916.

Constance, the star of the series, was the first deputy sheriff in America. Newspapers and tabloids across America trumpeted her adventures at the time. Her sisters play supporting roles: Norma as the curmudgeonly caretaker of the household, Fleurette as the fledgling starlet flirting with a life behind the footlights.

Those are the archived bones of the Kopp sisters upon which author Amy Stewart hangs her fictional narrative. As matron of the Hackensack jail, Constance comes up daily against the male-dominated system, in the time before women even had the vote. Her daily struggles are an implicit part of the storyline here.

On a larger scale, the author uses the deputy’s occupation to highlight the plight of young women brought into the jail on charges of waywardness and moral depravity, charges that can be brought simply because a family reports that a girl under the age of 21 left home, or may be cohabiting, with no charges leveled against the man. Stewart imports two fact-based characters to carry this theme through the novel: Edna, the innocent 18-year-old who leaves home to take a job in a munitions factory, and Minnie, the not-so-innocent 16-year-old caught in a sham marriage. Constance struggles to save them from imprisonment until the age of 21, and from the label of moral depravity that a conviction would stick them with.

At the same time, Constance must struggle with the flight of Fleurette into a theatrical touring company. The same age as Edna and Millie, making the same claim on her freedom, Fleurette presents a dilemma for Constance — can she be as committed to her sister’s freedom and rights as she is to those of her charges?  Fleurette’s fancy of a life onstage, seen here in the harsh light of theatrical touring, provides Stewart even more opportunity to infuse historical detail, including lyrics of long-lost tunes from the times.

Indeed, the fictions foisted upon the facts here are themselves quite harmonious reading. The Kopp Sisters’ saga rests light on the page and the reader, speeding right along. Author Stewart does not let history weigh either her narrative or her reader down.



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Dinosaurs, gunslingers, Indians and more

This novel arrived right about the time my husband and I were moving from the farm where we’d lived for more than 40 years to a new home 300 miles to the east, in Currituck County, N.C. The book made the move, but ended up under the stack of other books waiting to be read. I wish I’d had my hands on it during the worst of the upheaval, because it’s a delightful diversion.

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

DRAGON TEETH. By Michael Crichton. Harper. 289 pages. $28.99.

DragonTeethMichael Crichton died in 2008, but this entertaining story is a new one. Depending on how you want to spin it, the manuscript was either serendipitously “discovered” in his files or dredged up from where it should have stayed – with the books that he didn’t have published.

Dedicated Crichton fans have already been debating the book’s merits and how it stacks up against such Crichton blockbusters as Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain.

As for me, a fan but not a fanatic, I’m glad this book made it into print. It was a lot of fun to read, and it included some fascinating history, especially about dinosaur discoveries as well as passionate disagreements over Darwin’s theory and the divisions between science and religion that it helped spur.

The time is 1876, and the primary setting is the still-wild American West – the Dakota, Montana and Wyoming territories. Custer has just had his bloody last stand, and the Sioux are still angrily dealing with white interlopers. But the lure of gold and other sources of fortune and adventure draws more and more people to this largely lawless region.

Enter William Johnson, a privileged son of a Philadelphia family who is an undergraduate at Yale. To win a bet against a fellow student, he signs up to go West with a group spending the summer helping Othniel Charles Marsh, a noted paleontologist.

This is the time not only of the Indian Wars, but also of the Bone Wars, a ruthless – sometimes reckless – competition to find the best fossils in the paleontological treasure chest that was the American West. Marsh is a real historical figure, as is Edward Drinker Cope, his bitter rival.

Marsh’s obsessions lead to suspicions and paranoia, and, convinced that Johnson is a spy for Cope, he abandons the inexperienced young man in Cheyenne. His summer and his honor at stake, Johnson joins Cope’s rival expedition.

What ensues is a grand adventure in which the spoiled young man learns a lot, nearly loses his life more than once and does a lot of growing up. Along the way, he runs into outlaws, miners, Indians, whores, shysters and many other characters, including the famous Wyatt Earp.

Will he survive, and will he keep his vow to protect the dinosaur bones that wind up in his care?

Crichton cautions not to read this book as history, and he includes notes as to who is real and what happened to those figures. His story does describe much what really happened that summer in both wars – Indians and bones. Then, naturally, he weaves a dramatic and fast-paced story around those facts.

What fun!

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A mad and maddening world

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

THE GOLDEN HOUSE. By Salman Rushdie. Read by Vikas Adam. Random House Audio. 14 ½ hours. 12 CDs. 45.

The-Golden-House-by-Salman-Rushdie-Book-Review-Buy-Online-1Salman Rushdie’s new novel captures this moment in time in America in a brilliant and disturbing way.

Yes, The Golden House is frenetic, hyperbolic, often over the top and sometimes confusing as to what is supposed to be truth and what is supposed to be fiction. But isn’t that the case in our society today?

And how else could it be, given that Rushdie has taken it upon himself to write about Donald Trump – and not just once, but a double dose?

First, we have the Golden family – strong patriarch in his 70s, three grown sons who are all flawed and still under his thumb, and, before long, a beautiful young Russian immigrant wife. The Goldens have left their unidentified homeland in mysterious circumstances, taking on new identities as they settle into a mansion in New York City. Father and sons have given themselves suitably pretentious names: The father, who, by the way, plays the violin, dubs himself Nero Golden. His Golden sons are Petronius, Lucius Apuleius and Dionysus.

Each of the sons is flawed and troubled in his own way, and behind the father’s great wealth are dark secrets. Part of the story is learning some of those secrets, and another part is seeing how they haunt the family.

The Goldens arrive as Barack Obama is taking office, and the story plays out against the backdrop of the Obama era, with the financial collapse that ushered it in and the deepening divisions among Americans, especially about race and gender identity.

The narrator is Rene, an intelligent, sensitive young man whose family owns a house on a garden that’s open only to those whose houses border it including, now, the mysterious Goldens. Aspiring to be a filmmaker, Rene becomes fascinated with this family and determined to uncover their secrets. Gradually, he becomes more involved with them than he ever intended.

No one could miss the allusions to the Trump family, but Rushdie also gives us a Trump figure. The book progresses to the 2016 election, in which a crass, woefully unqualified green-haired character who calls himself the Joker and does, indeed, resemble a comic-book villain, improbably surges to victory.

While much of the book is exaggerated and at times wryly funny, when Rushdie has his scary cartoon Joker utter words that were actually spoken by Trump, it’s not amusing at all. It’s frightening.

Ably read by Vikas Adam, the audio presentation of the book skillfully captures the mood and the times.

As the novel careens along and Rene is both learning more about the Goldens and working on his screenplay, it is sometimes difficult to sort out what’s actually supposed to be happening and what is made up. If that’s not a metaphor for our society, I don’t know what is.

It’s no accident that Rene is a filmmaker. The story unfolds cinematically, in scenes and bursts of action, and there is little deep character development. Rushdie set out not to write a great and timeless novel, but rather to hold up a mirror to this moment in America. What he shows us is not pretty.


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A wreck, a murder, a mystery

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

A STRANGER IN THE HOUSE. By Shari Lapena. Penguin Audio. Read by Tavia Gilbert. 9 hours; 7 CDs. $47.

strangerIf Shari Lapena’s first suspense novel, The Couple Next Door, was as good as most people seemed to think it was, then she’s suffering from sophomore slump with A Stranger in the House. I didn’t read the first one, so I can’t compare.

Lapena’s second suspense offering is a good example of an audio book that I listened to and enjoyed, but I probably would not have finished if I’d been reading the printed novel. The story was entertaining enough while I was driving and listening, but not sufficiently well written to make turning pages worth the effort.

One problem with A Stranger in the House is a characteristic that some readers don’t seem to mind. Although I like a well-told suspense story, the suspense itself is not enough to fully engage me. I want at least one character I like enough to care about. In this book, I don’t much like anybody.

As the story begins, Tom Krupp, a successful young professional in an upstate New York town, comes home to his nice house in the suburbs to discover that his wife, Karen, is gone. She left the house in such a hurry, apparently, that she didn’t even take her cell phone or her purse. None of this is like Karen, a usually careful person. While Tom is still phoning friends, trying to figure out where she’s gone and why, he gets word that she’s been hurt in a car accident in the bad part of town where she’d never go. By all accounts, she was driving erratically and much too fast before she crashed into a pole.

At the hospital, he learns that Karen has amnesia, apparently related to a concussion, and she has no idea why she left the house or what she was doing in that unsavory neighborhood

As things rapidly progress, it turns out a man also was shot to death in an abandoned restaurant in the same part of town, at about the time Karen was driving wildly. Police detectives, suspicious about the coincidence, begin delving into Karen’s mysterious past.

Meanwhile, Karen’s only friend, her neighbor Brigid, is extremely interested in all that’s happening.

None of these people are appealing or sympathetic. Karen and Tom both have their secrets. Rather than feeling sorry for Karen, the reader begins to mistrust her and see her as manipulative and sneaky. Tom has no backbone and seems mostly concerned about himself. Brigid, stuck in a dull marriage, is a caricature of the scheming woman as she knits by her window, watching her neighbors and lusting after Tom.

If the characters in a suspense novel aren’t appealing, then the suspense needs to be original, gripping and surprising. Unfortunately, A Stranger in the House is all too clichéd and predictable, starting with Karen’s convenient amnesia. Much of the plot is simply hard to believe, such as Tom having married Karen and been with her a couple of years without knowing anything about her background. Lapena offers what are supposed to be plot twists, but they are fairly easy to see coming.

As an audiobook, this one was entertaining enough to pass the time, even if I frequently wanted to shake – or worse – the main characters. But here’s hoping Lapena can give us a better plot and at least one likable character next time out.




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