Sunday, August 28, 2022

Review: Real Bad Things

Real Bad Things Real Bad Things by Kelly J. Ford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s a good rule of thumb that you shouldn’t talk to the cops if you’re suspected of a crime, and you really should NOT confess to murder if they haven’t found the body yet.

As a teenager Jane Mooney admitted to murdering her abusive step-father before the cops were even sure that he was dead, and she was released when no body turned up. Jane then fled the small Arkansas town of Maud Bottoms, and she left behind her angry mother, her brother, her best friend, and her girlfriend in doing so. Twenty-five years later, the stepfather’s body has finally been discovered, and Jane has returned home believing that she’ll most likely be arrested immediately. She finds that her mother is still angry, her brother and best friend seem to want nothing to do with her, and her old girlfriend, Georgia Lee, is now a married woman as well as on the town council. And for some reason, the cops don’t seem to be in any hurry to arrest her.

Kelly Ford makes their most of the setting which feels lived in and authentic. From the trailer parks to the backyard barbecue of the more well-to-do folks, this nails all the traits of small town life. Against this backdrop we learn what actually happened with Jane, Georgia Lee and the stepfather back then as well as see how those events shaped their lives in the aftermath. Jane left and lived in other places as an openly gay women but has had a shadow over her adult life. Georgia Lee stayed in place and threw herself so fully into the role of a wife, mother, and local politician that she’s never bothered to ask the question of who she really is and what would make her actually happy, and Jane’s return forces her to finally address all of this.

It’s an excellent character based crime story with solid twists and turns.

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Review: The Fixer

The Fixer The Fixer by Joseph Finder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don’t know how many times we gotta go over this, people. If you find a bag of money then you should just leave it there. If you take it, bad things will happen.

But since we are a race of slow learners I guess it doesn’t hurt to go over it again.

Rick Hoffman was once an investigative reporter with a promising career, but he left that behind to take a high profile job with a swanky magazine specializing in fluff pieces. Unfortunately, when the magazine downsizes Rick is left unemployed, in debt, and with zero career prospects. He’s so broke that he’s staying in his father’s house which has been falling apart after years of neglect since a stroke put his dad in a nursing home two decades ago.

When Rick discovers over $3 million in cash hidden in one of the walls, he can’t help but give into temptation. He stashes the cash and goes on an ill-advised spending spree at first, but then he’s suddenly kidnapped by some people who threaten him if doesn’t hand it over to them. Rick scrambles for answers by digging into his father’s past as a shady lawyer who acted as a bagman/fixer for a huge construction project just before the stroke left him completely unable to communicate. The more Rick digs, the more dark secrets come out, and the danger gets worse all the time.

I’m a sucker for both stories about finding illicit cash and sleazy fixers so this should have been right in my wheelhouse, but I ultimately found it disappointing. That’s mainly because I didn’t care for the main character at all.

Yeah, I know that this is supposed to be an arc of Rick starting out as kind of jerk who once had potential to be something better and discovering his better nature again. This kind of story demands that the lead character either be so flawed or desperate that they are the kind of person who would take money that will surely bring trouble.

Yet Rick was just too stupid for my taste. He starts off pretty well in his early moves of stashing the money, but when the danger starts he behaves like a moron. Sure, he does some moves like moving around to different hotels and renting different cars, but this is a guy who gets kidnapped and nearly murdered not once, but twice. But he never does anything like get a weapon, hire bodyguards, leave town, or any other thing that having $3 million in cash would allow you to do.

Instead he just bumbles along while surviving mainly by luck. I also didn’t much care for the way he investigates all this. He’s supposed to be a former hot shit reporter who knows how to dig up dirt, and there is some stuff about him pulling records and finding clues. Yet his interactions with the people he tries to question are these incredibly lame efforts of him trying to trick them into believing he’s working on other stories, and yet when his flimsy lies collapse he just starts demanding answers which they have no real reason to give and usually don’t.

Overall, it was OK as a crime story, but never came close to really getting me interested after the money was found.

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Sunday, August 14, 2022

Review: Things We Do in the Dark

Things We Do in the Dark Things We Do in the Dark by Jennifer Hillier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free advance copy from NetGalley for review.

A wealthy actor/comedian named Jimmy Peralta is found dead in his bathroom. His much younger wife, Paris, is found by police standing beside the bathtub, and she’s covered in blood with a straight razor in her hand.

You wouldn’t think it would take Sherlock Holmes to solve this one.

However, there’s a lot more to the story than it would seem at first glance, and Paris has more problems then just a murder charge to worry about. She’s a woman with secrets, and the publicity surrounding the celebrity death may expose them. Meanwhile, a true crime podcaster is digging into the story of a notorious murderer dubbed the Ice Queen who is about to be released from prison, and his investigation is very personal.

This is the third Jennifer Hillier novel I’ve read, and like her others, I enjoyed it quite a bit. She has a real knack for coming up with plots that seem like they could be Lifetime movies, but she’s got the ability to ground them with enough realism and emotion to keep them from seeming silly. Hillier also doesn’t shy away from including some genuinely nasty edges in the work, and that also gives her books more weight than a similar story might have in lesser hands. She’s also good at distracting a reader by dangling an obvious twist but then revealing it early while keeping the bigger surprises hidden for later.

It's another dark and tangled story from a woman who really knows how to write ‘em.

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