thriller


The first book in the Stillhouse Lake mystery/thriller series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours 4 minutes
Narrator: Emily Sutton-Smith

Gina Royal was an ordinary housewife with a considerate, if cold, husband and two children. The day when a drunk driver hit their garage, changed everything. Melville Royal was a serial killer. He had tortured and murdered women in his garage. He had cut out their vocal cords, first, so Gina and the kids has no idea what he was doing. But the world at large doesn’t believe that. Gina was tried but acquitted. But many people still believe that she was Mel’s accomplish and they hound her and the kids.

To protect them, and herself, Gina has changed her name and moved many times during the four years after Mel was put to prison.

Now, she’s Gwen Proctor who will do anything to protect her kids. She’s learned how to shoot and has just passed her test for carrying a concealed weapon. She’s always on her guard, ready to leave at a moment’s notice. She also stays on top of what the lunatics are saying about her in the internet. The stalkers and trolls are still looking for her and want to kill both her and her kids. She has one ally, a mysterious man called Absalom who arranges for their new identities and helps them stay one step ahead of the men looking for revenge any way possible.

But Gwen’s children, who are this time called Atlanta and Connor, are tiered of moving around and living with restrictions. Atlanta is 14 and a rebellious goth girl, always getting in trouble in school. Connor has become closed off, introverted. Gwen has severely restricted their internet access which also makes them different from other kids.

They’ve stayed in the house on the shores of Stillhouse Lake long enough that they’ve finally getting comfortable. But then a body of a mutilated young woman is found in the lake. The MO is similar to what Mel did and Gwen is horrified. She tries to run but someone has told the authorities her real identity and suddenly she’s again a suspect. Even the few people she has started to trust view her now with suspicion.

I enjoyed this book a lot. Gwen is paranoid and always expecting trouble. She also has a lot of guilt because while she was innocent she also also so naive that she didn’t realize what Mel was up to right under her nose. She’s had to live with fear for four years and it has taken its toll: at first, even mistakes drive her into a defensive mode. But of course this is a thriller, so her precautions turn out to be more than necessary. Gwen and her kids felt like normal people who had been thrown into a terrible situation and are now trying to cope as best they can.

The first chapter is in third person but the rest of the book is in first person, which was an interesting choice and reflected on how much Gwen/Gina has changed. It’s written in present tense which heightens the tension.

However, Gwen’s internal monologue can feel repetitive. Sometimes I also wondered why USA doesn’t have a protection service for the families of a killer, because they can be victims, too. While the internet trolls’ writings are horrible, especially when they photo shop Gwen’s kids’ heads to pictures of murdered kids, I’m pretty sure few would actually do anything in real life. Of course, all it take is one deranged person to kill them all. Also, I sometimes wondered why nobody recognized Gwen. The kids had been growing up and their looks change, so I could buy that nobody recognized them but Gwen is an adult and she doesn’t think about disguising herself. I found the description of the murder victims gruesome. Luckily, in an audio book they went past quickly. Also, while the ending is mostly satisfying, there’s a twist which leads to a second book.

The story starts a bit slow, with Gwen and her kids doing everyday stuff. But there an ominous mood and tension which just builds and builds.

The reader was very good and I think she suited the book very well.

The first book in the Alex Cross thriller/mystery series.

Publication year: 1995
Format: Print
Page count: 355
Finnish publisher: WSOY
Finnish translator: Jorma-Veikko Sappinen

This story starts with the villain who is fixated on the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s infant son in 1932. He wants to be as famous as the man who did that, Bruno Hauptmann. We find out a lot about the villain during the story.

But the main character is a homicide detective Alex Cross from New York. He’s a psychologist and currently works for the NYPD. He and his partner Sampson are investigating a series of vicious murders of a prostitute, her teenaged daughter, and her infant son. But because the victims are poor and black, those cases aren’t news. He and Sampson are pulled off the case and pressured to investigate the kidnappings of two children of famous white people. Michael Goldberg’s dad is a minister and Maggie Rose Dunne’s mother is a famous actress. They go to the same school for the children of the wealthy and famous. They were kidnapped the from school and the investigation quickly points to their math teacher who has disappeared. Alex and Sampson are disgusted because they were feel that nobody cares about the killer who is murdering black people. However, Alex quickly develops a bond with Maggie and her mother, because of his own children.

The kidnapper sedates the kids (who are just nine) and buries them. One of the FBI agents gets too much air time, taking the media’s attention away from the kidnapper, so he kills the agent. Then he demands ten million dollars in ransom.

Alex is a widow with two young children. He lives in a bad neighborhood with his grandmother and the two kids. Her wife was shot and the killer was never found. He and his partner also help at the local soup kitchen. He’s a likable character who is constantly in trouble with his superiors who want to do things differently because of political reasons.

The story features a lot of rivalry between different police agencies. Right from the start, Alex and Sampson don’t trust the FBI and they’re right. The Secret Service is also involved because they were supposed to be watching the kids. The head of SS’s child detail is Jezzie Flanagan. She’s worked hard to get to her position and is determined to get the kidnapper. She’s very beautiful with troubled past.

This is a fast-paced story with many POV characters, a couple of whom are seen only once. Alex’s POV is in first person and the others are in third person. The plot has a lot of twists and even a courtship romance. However, I guessed the twist with the love interest. I didn’t like it and was hoping I’d be wrong. But this being the first book in the series, only three things could have happened to her. That’s why I don’t really like reading romantic subplots; they feel pointless.

It did have couple of surprises. I was surprised that the whole book wasn’t about getting the kidnapper. Most of the last half of the book is a courtroom drama and about the whole media circus around Maggie and the kidnapper. The time skips also surprised me.

This was a quick, mostly satisfying read although it left a few things open at the end.

The second book in the SF series Lock in. This one centers on an imaginary sport. It can be read as a stand-alone but I recommend reading the first book, Lock In, first.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 7 hours 36 minutes
Narrator: Wil Wheaton

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, Lock In. It introduced us to a world where a significant minority of people suffers from Haden’s Syndrome where the affected are fully conscious but can’t move or respond to any stimulus. So, they’ve been fitted with neural implants and they operate robot bodies called threeps. They can also interact with each other in a virtual world.

Chris Shane in an FBI agent and a Haden. They (we never learn their biological sex) are also the daughter of a huge NBA star and his very business smart wife. When a sport star, who is a Haden, dies during a very high-profile game, Chris is just the right person to investigate.

The sports in question is hilketa where all the players use the robot bodies. They attack each other with swords and hammers and the aim is to rip off the head of one of the opposing players, called a goat, and take it to the goal posts. The robot bodies also means that the operators can be male or female in the same game. Hilketa is hugely popular not just in the States but all over the world.

Chris and their sarcastic partner Leslie Vann are plunged into the world of professional sports, trying to find out if the death of Duane Chapman is an accident or murder. And if it is murder who did it and why.

I really enjoyed this one, too. It’s got witty dialogue with Leslie chewing out pretty much everyone, and lots of humor. I sort of think that we all need a Leslie in our lives, to remind us that we don’t need to take crap from anyone.
I also enjoyed Chris’ roommates some of whom are hilketa fans and also fellow Haden sufferers. It also comments on disability and gender, although not as much as the first book.

It’s a fast-paced book with lot of twists which make it hard to put down (or in my case, stop listening). I also like Wheaton’s narrator style a lot.

A collection of six Modesty Blaise short stories.

Publication year: 1972
Format: Print
Page count: 214
Publisher: Souvenir Press

I thoroughly enjoyed these short stories; O’Donnell is in excellent form here. If you’ve read any previous Modesty books or comics, you pretty much know what to expect. Like almost all of the MB stories, they’re stand-alone and don’t require any previous knowledge about the characters. The stories are set in 1960s. Both Modesty and Willie are very competent fighters with various weapons and in hand-to-hand combat. They’re best friends for life and can always depend on each other. But they’re not lovers; in fact they often have other lovers.

In “A Better Day to Die”, Modesty and Willie are going to see a dying man who used to be part of Modesty’s criminal organization. However, their car breaks down. Willie stays in a small village to repair it together with the local men, but Modesty chooses to ride in an old bus. The bus is full of young women whom a priest it taking to city to work there. But the priest, Jimson, has heard of Modesty and her skills in violence. Jimson is a fervent believer in pacifism to the point that he think it’s better to die than to defend oneself. He lectures Modesty about the evils of every kind of violence. When a group of guerrillas stop the bus and take the passengers, Modesty is practically unarmed and must adapt to the situation.

“The Giggle-Wrecker” is set mostly in East Germany during the Cold War. Tarrant asks Modesty and Willie to smuggle out a defector – who is Japanese and therefore very easy to spot. The duo must think their way very carefully. Also, they get to do some of my favorite stuff: disguises.

“I Had a Date with Lady Janet” is remarkable because it’s the only MB story told in first person, Willie’s. He’s on a date with his sometime girlfriend Lady Janet when a killer tries to kidnap him. Willie manages to turn the tables and finds out that an old enemy has returned. He already has Modesty but wants Willie, so that he can see her die brutally. This time it’s up to Willie to save her.

“A Perfect Night to Break Your Neck” features two recurring characters from the book “I, Lucifer”: Steven Collier who is a paranormal investigator and his wife Dinah. Dinah is blind but she’s loyal, tough, and has even has a supernatural power or two. Modesty, Willie, Steven, and Dinah are vacationing when they hear about a series of robberies. During a party, they’re also robbed.

In “Salamander Four”, Modesty’s long time millionaire boyfriend John Dall wants a wooden statue of Modesty. To do that, he hires an eccentric Hungarian artist who is living in Northern Finland. When Modesty is modeling for the artist, Alex, a wounded and half-frozen man staggers in. Modesty helps him but Alex, who has suffered in war, doesn’t want to get involved. However, the wounded man turns out to be an industrial spy who has info with him. A very dangerous organization called the Salamander Four are after him. Modesty decides to help him over the border to Russia.

The final story, “The Soo Girl Charity”, is the shortest. It begins very lightheartedly but turns out to be the most disturbing of them. Modesty has been coerced into selling flags for a charity. One man turns out to be too grabby and he seems to be a really nasty man in other ways, so Willie and Modesty decide to break into his house and steal some money to give to the charity. They find out a lot more than they expected.

While these all feel pretty straightforward adventure stories, they all have some sort of twist. They were written in the 1960s, so they show the attitudes of that time, casual racism and sexism. O’Donnell tries to do better but his attitudes are dated. For example, in the first story several men rape a teenaged, sheltered girl who seems to get over it quickly. Of course, she’s a side character and this is an action story, but the attitude is still too casual. Of course, neither Modesty nor O’Donnell condone it.

Two of the stories have disabled female characters who are shown in very positive light. Both are very good in their own jobs, bright, loyal, and have partners who clearly appreciate them. Dinah was born blind and Janet lost one of her legs in a car accident. Both are recurring characters in the comics.

Overall, I really enjoyed these despite the attitudes of the times. I love Modesty and Willie and their adventure and their great camaraderie. They have good villains and a great cast of supporting characters. I was thrilled to see one of the stories set in my native Finland, although we didn’t get to see Finnish people much. I also enjoyed the humor in the stories.

A stand-alone thriller with science fiction elements.

Publication year: 2014
Format: ebook
Page count in GoodReads: 472

Jennifer Adams a research assistant to Doctor Elias Storm at the Massachusette’s Maritime Academy. She’s separated from her husband Mark who is a computer expert. They have a twelve-year-old son Reese. When Jen’s leaving from her work, Mark calls him to tell that their son has disappeared but when she’s answering her cell she find her boss murdered, in her own car.

When the police leave, Mark reveals that the kidnappers have left a note: they have four days to find Dr. Storm’s answer. Jen is desperate to get her son back but she doesn’t know what the kidnappers mean. So, she drags Mark back to the academy to search Storm’s office. But while there, a group of British soldiers threaten them. Quickly, the solders tell that they know a lot about the kidnapping and that Jen and Mark should go with them. A little reluctant, Jen agrees. The soldiers take the couple to a submarine and head over to a underwater research station. It’s at the bottom of the sea, five miles down, and has been abandoned for thirty years.

Meanwhile, in Washington detective Craig Larson and his partner Dawson are asked to look into the kidnapping and research the mysterious eco-terrorist group which could be behind it.

I wanted to like this book more than I did. It has an interesting premise but I didn’t really care about any of the characters and some of the plot twists didn’t really work for me. For example, I find it really hard to believe that Jen and Mark would trust the British soldiers and just go on a submarine to adventure to the unknown, when their son has been kidnapped and they have a pretty tight deadline. After the end reveals, I don’t even understand why the villains wasted time kidnapping Reese at all. The underwater base was mostly great and I liked the characters exploring it, but what they found there just didn’t add up. Also, I found it very unlikely that an achievement like the underwater station was just abandoned without a pressing reason. Also, the book has lots of spelling errors.

I mostly enjoyed reading it but when I think about it, the plot just falls apart.

Roderick Thorp: Nothing lasts forever
Later published as Die Hard. A stand-alone action/adventure book.

Publication year: 1979
Format: Print
Page count: 191
Finnish publisher: Viihdeviikarit
Finnish translator: Pasi Junila

This was surprisingly similar to the movie which was based on the book. The basic premise is the same: a man alone in a huge building against a group of terrorists who have hostages, including the man’s family. And it’s Christmas.

The main character of the book is Joseph, Joe, Leland, a former police officer and currently a high paid security consultant. He already knows the leader of the attackers, Little-Tony Gruber, who is a notoriously ruthless terrorist. He’s come to LA for Christmas to see his daughter Steffie and her two children. Joe thinks about his marriage which ended in a divorce years ago and his ex-wife has died some years ago. He’s alone and barefoot when the terrorists attack and realizes that he must find out how many terrorists there are and to take them out one by one.

While Joe skulks around the building, he thinks about his life and especially his failures. He also knows how people get so desperate that they have nothing to loose and muses on that. The action is somewhat slowed by his thoughts but they also make Joe far more human and McClaine in the movie. Joe’s afraid and tired.

A couple of scenes are almost straight out of the book, but most have been changed or adapted. The attackers have different motives and the ending is quite different.

Still, this was quite an enjoyable read once I got to used to the way that Joe’s musings slowed the book down. This is a second book in the Leland series. I haven’t read the first one and based on reviews it seems to have quite a different tone.

A stand-alone trilogy of science fiction novellas: Collision, Impact, and Maelstrom. With dinosaurs!

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 7 hours 36 minute
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller, Andrew Eiden, Amy Landon

These three novellas were a fun ride! Each has a different point-of-view character and a different narrator. All of them are in first person and present tense.

Doctor Elizabeth Callie works in a rural Chinese hospital. When a man fights with the security guards in the hospital, Elizabeth calms him down and does what she can for someone she thinks is the man’s father. The locals claim that the man and his father are tribesmen from nearby desert. But in the X-rays she finds something remarkable: the men have deformities which mean they aren’t modern humans. They are, in fact, neanderthals. Elizabeth thinks that she’s found a neanderthal tribe which has survived to modern day. She takes the man and one collage, Chen, and they head to the desert. But the place is heavily guarded by Chinese military and Elizabeth finds out more than she bargained for: the tribe if from another Earth. Also, there are portals between different Earths in different dimensions and the Earths are heading for collision which will destroy them.

In “Impact”, NYC mounted police Mark finds himself in an alternate world when our Earth collides with another. He teams up with a paramedic Vicki and together they try to survive, help other people, and even find a way back home. They fight saber tooth cats as well as some dinosaurs

The third book has another point-of-view character and most of the characters from the previous novellas meet. It’s good conclusion to the story.

These are fun and fast-paced SF thrillers. The main characters were mostly distinct from each other: Mark tried to be the stoic police officer while he has to make some very difficult choices, Elizabeth is a scientist and a doctor, excited by a potential new discovery. I also really enjoyed the portrayal of the neanderthals. They’re different from humans but clever in their own way. I also enjoyed the scenes where Elizabeth (and later another character) was communicating with the neanderthal man.

I also enjoyed the ending but I think some readers might be disappointed with it. There’s some romance but it doesn’t take over.

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