Sunday, July 22, 2012

Lisa Jackson's "Afraid To Die"; A Review

I.  Murder Book Summary:


He stalks his women, and then assaults them with a stun gun, paralyzing them with volts of electricity.  Later, in his frigid, icy lair, hidden in the Bitterroot Mountains, he strips them naked and pours layer after layer of icy water over them.  They die from hypothermia.  As the water hardens and builds into sheets, he begins to carve ice sculptures out of his victims.  

Paying attention to the slightest detail as he carves, each sculpture must be precise and perfect; as his life must be precise and perfect.  Everything in his world must be exact in all respects.  After all, he considers himself a great artist, on the level with The Almighty Himself.

He deposits his "creations" in various locations around Grizzly Falls, Montana.  He does this so that the locals can gaze in wonder at his "art". 

It's not so much "wonder" as it is abject terror that the locals view this madman's "work".

It is with equal parts horror and frustration that Regan Pescoli, Detective of the Pinewood County Sheriff's Department and her partner, Selena Alvarez attempt to catch a crazed killer during the brutally cold Montana Christmas season.

For Selena, the normal frustration of hunting a crazy person is compounded by fear.  It seems that the killer is obsessed with her personally.  Her house has been broken into and personal items have been stolen.

Later, some of those items have been found on the body/statues of the victims.

Her life is further complicated when a former lover from her past and a child she gave up for adoption years ago both show up literally at her doorstep. 

Meanwhile, this killer leaves virtually no physical clues that might lead to his capture; except, of course the gruesome "statues" he poses around the small, tight-knit community. 

His victims are diverse:

  • Lara Sue Gilfry, missing for approximately 1 month.  A 28 year old transient, last seen at the Bed & Breakfast where she worked as a maid.  She was estranged from her family, and considered a loner.  She attended the same church as the 3rd victim, but was not a serious member.  There was a tiny drop of male blood left by her body/statue.
  • Lisa Parson, missing for more than a week.  A 26 year old receptionist.  No clothes missing from her closet, yet her car, computer, and cell phone are missing.  She belonged to the same church as the 3rd victim but stopped going about 18 months ago.  
  • Brenda Sutherland, divorced, mother of two teenaged sons.  A devoted churchgoer.  Kidnapped while driving home from church service.  She had serious problems with her ex-husband.  A single, short, male hair was found in her car.
  • Johnna Phillips, a young bank employee.  She was pregnant and recently separated from her boyfriend.  She was kidnapped while leaving an office Christmas party.


II.  My Judgment of This Murder Book

 This is the forth of a series of "To Die" books which centers around the exploits of Detective Regan Pescoli and her partner, Selena Alvarez.

As I've said in past reviews, I really don't care for a lot of personal drama in the murder books that I read.  I've found that they distract from the investigation and hunt for the killer.

But, in this case, Detective Alvarez's personal "involvements" do have serious bearings on the case.  This is particularly true with the introduction of her long-lost teenaged son.

So, for those who may share my feelings about personal stuff getting in the way of a good murder book (most of you won't, I'm sure), you can relax.  Lisa Jackson integrates all the personal drama of Alvarez's life into the hunt for this lunatic.  And it works!

What made this book suspenseful for me was Jackson's style of writing which can be described as descriptive.  Some authors are big on dialog.  That's fine; I love good dialog, especially if it's laced with humor.

Jackson has the ability to describe a setting and make the reader feel as if they are actually there.  There's an old motto that says "don't tell them, show them".

To that end, Jackson injects a strong sense of atmosphere into her writing.  You defiantly feel the icy chill of the stormy, Montana winter as the killer stalks his prey.

So, was this murder book worth the effort?  I'd say, yes.  In spite of all the romantic drama, the climax bought things to an exciting conclusion.

You'll never guess the killer's identity in a million years.  And you'll not believe this demented person's reasons for committing such brutal crimes.  All in all, it was well worth the wait.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Almost Done With...

Lisa Jackson's murder book, entitled "Afraid To Die."  I should have my review up and posted here by the weekend or early next week.  If you haven't read the book yet, a hint: 
  • Lot's of personal romance which I can take or leave
  • A truly insane murderer which makes me wonder where do these people come from
Anyway, stay tuned, and I'll tell you if it was worth the wait

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Jonathan Kellerman's "Victims"; A Reivew

I.  Murder Book Summay

This murder book starts out with the slaying of Vita Berlin, a 56 year old divorcee.  This was no ordinary killing, however.  The brutality that the killer inflicts on his victim is staggering

Th nature of the wounds, cross incisions below the navel, with the intestines scooped out and placed "below the woman's neckline", rattles the nerves of Detective Milo Sturgis and his consultant/friend, psychologist, Alex Delaware.

Why would anyone do this to another human being?  The killer leaves a the bottom of an empty, unused pizza box...a piece of plain white paper.  On it there is a computer printout of a question mark (?).

Immediately Milo and Alex begin digging into the background of the victim.  They discover that she was hardly the nicest person in California.  In fact, she was a mean-spirited bully.  She threatened everyone with lawsuits, including her landlord, and her ex-husband.

She antagonized everyone she came in contact with, including perfect strangers.  And, she seemed to enjoy doing it.

She successfully sued her employer after she accused co-workers of harassment.  However, during the course of the investigation, Milo and Alex determine that the unfortunate people who inhabit Vita's world have alibis.

The killer may have been seen, however.  Neighbors of Vita report seeing a man lurking around her building about a month before the murder.  This man is described as a large individual, wearing a bulky coat in warm weather.

Then there is a second murder.  Marlon Quigg, age 56, is a family man and successful businessperson.  While out dog-walking, Marlon's neck is broken, and there are cross shaped incisions below the naval.  His intestines have been scooped out and laid below his neckline.  There is a piece of paper found under the body, neatly folded.  Printed on the paper is a question mark (?).

Upon digging into his background, it is found that his life and personality were totally different from Vita's.  He was loved by his family and all who knew him.  He had an easy going personality (a real pushover), and no criminal record.

And, apparently Mr. Quigg had nothing to do with Vita Berlin or the company she worked for.  Bell Quigg, Marlon's grief-stricken widow also has never heard of Vita, or her company.  Nor has she any idea who might want to murder Marlon...("Marlon's the best.")

After Quigg's murder, a neighbor reports seeing a bulky looking male lurking in the area three nights before his death.  This man was wearing a knee-length coat in spite of the warm weather.

Then, as if things couldn't get any worse, there is a double-homicide.

Barron Parnell, a 36 year old financial planner is found lying in his backyard.  His wounds are totally different from Vita's and Marlon's.  He has been stabbed in the chest, and has his throat slashed.  There is no disembowelment and lots of blood.

He was probably killed trying to protect his wife, whose body is found inside the home.

Glenda Usfe-Parnell was a doctor who worked at the North Hollywood Day Hospital.  Her left hand is tied to the headborad of the bed.  Her neck is broken, and her abdomen is slashed open.  Her intestines are placed below the neckline.  Beneath her left foot there is a sheet of paper with a question mark (?) printed.

Glenda's personality was similar to Vita's.  She was a no-nonsense individual, known to be very outspoken and sometimes bad tempered.  Most importantly, she had an altercation with a patient prior to her murder.  This patient was a large male, wearing a heavy coat in the warm, Southern California weather.

Our killer is on a serious roll.  He strikes again.  Lemuel Eccles, a 67 year old homeless man was murdered in an alley.  Eccles was a paranoid schizophrenic, with a police record.  His offenses included shoplifting, drunk and disorderly, panhandling, and assaulting a tourist.  The killer employed the same methods that he used on the other victims.

What is the connection between these five victims who seem to have almost nothing in common?  I won't tell all, but I can say two things:

First:  Robin Castagna, Alex's long-time girlfriend plants suggestions that get Alex thinking in a whole new direction.  He even begins to re-visit his own distant past.

Second:  It seems that Marlon Quigg, the much-loved, easy going, nice guy had been keeping secrets from his wife and everyone who knew him.

II.  My Judgment Of This Murder Book 

 I felt this book was suspenseful almost from the beginning.  The fast pace of the book keeps you on your toes.  Jonathan Kellerman uses short chapters and crisp dialogue.  There was very little wasted conversation, or action that didn't tie directly to the investigation.  The killer struck four times before I got through half the book.

Was there anything about this book that bored me?  Well, running down leads that go nowhere can be boring and frustrating both to the reader and the characters.  But, of course that's what real investigators go through every day.  So, we readers can put up with a little of this in the fiction world.

One of my favorite non-cop characters was Gertrude Vanderveul, a psychologist, and early mentor of Alex.  Although the reader never gets to meet her (she's deceased), she definitely looked out for the young Alex and gave him sound advice and guidance.  Later, she told her family how proud she was of him and all his accomplishments.  Gertrude is also important because, as it turns out, she knew Marlon Quigg.

Another thing that caught my attention was that near the end of the case, a near-fatal incident would almost coast Milo his life.  At the end, I sensed a noticeable strain between him and Alex.

Since Milo was almost killed, it's only natural that he'd be stressed.  Was I just imagining conflict between the two old friends or could this carry over into the next book?  Could there be a change coming in their relationship?  I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

So, was this book worth it?  Absolutely!  In the last few books of this series,  I've been feeling that Jonathan Kellerman has lost a little "edge" with his creation.  I'm not blaming him.  It must be extremely difficult having to come up with original ideas for the same old characters, year after year.

But I feel that this murder book puts the Delaware/Sturgis collaboration back on track.