LAWYERS, LIARS, OLD SECRETS AND VICTORIAN SÉANCES: NEW NOVELS By Robert Dugoni, Robert Gold, Charlie Donlea and Sarah Penner
Here are some good books to start your criminal April reading with!
Fans of legal thrillers will love Robert Dugoni’s latest novel Her Deadly Games, (Thomas & Mercer, 28 March 2023).
Keera Duggan was building a solid reputation as a Seattle prosecutor, until her romantic relationship with a senior colleague ended badly. For the competitive former chess prodigy, returning to her family’s failing criminal defense law firm to work for her alcoholic father is the best shot at redemption that she has. With the right moves, she hopes to restore the family’s reputation, her relationship with her father, and her career.
Her chance to play in the big leagues comes when she’s retained by Vince LaRussa, an investment adviser accused of murdering his wealthy wife. There’s little hard evidence against him, but his presence near the crime scene makes him a key suspect. The prosecutor is equally challenging: Miller Ambrose, Keera’s former lover, who is eager to destroy her in court on her first homicide defense. As Keera and her team follow the evidence, they uncover a complicated and deadly game that is more than Keera bargained for.
This is a first rate courtroom drama. The basic set-up is well constructed and the courtroom scenes bristle with tension and suspense. The familiar elements of biased judge, damaging evidence and overly ambitious prosecutor playing hard and fast with the rules are well handled, and Dugoni adds some interesting new elements involving a mysterious watcher who keeps sending the defence cryptic messages and an ongoing game of chess with an unknown opponent.
The characters are nuanced and interesting, and the story flows at a really good pace. I guessed the general outcome well in advance of the courtroom finale, Dugoni provides a big clue early on, but there are plenty of unexpected turns to keep it interesting, and the final pages surprised me. Moral legal dilemmas are lightly handled and the motif of the courtroom as a chess game is effective.
A very enjoyable legal thriller!
Her Deadly Game was released in Australia, the United Kingdom and America on 28 March 2023. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy of the book.
Charlie Donlea is one of those authors who seems to slip under the radar a bit. Which is unfortunate, as his books are always first rate, very enjoyable, and have good, interesting central characters. His latest, Those Empty Eyes (Kensington, 28 March 2023), is no different and easily maintains the high standards of its predecessors.
Those Empty Eyes opens ten years ago with the brutal murder of a family in Virginia. The only survivor is the teenage daughter of the family, who the police initially suspect as being the murderer. Alexandra Quinlan, nicknamed Empty Eyes by the media, is eventually able to prove her innocence, and even wins a highly publicised defamation lawsuit, but many still consider her a murderer.
Ten years later, Alex lives under a new name far away from the media spotlight. She has an interesting job as a legal investigator, and her latest case involves her in a complicated missing person case. Matthew Claymore is under suspicion in the disappearance of his girlfriend, a student journalist named Laura McAllister, and Alex is sure of his innocence. Laura was about to break a major story about rape and cover-ups on her college campus, but the police are happy to blame Matthew for her suspicious absence. As Alex investigates she discovers links back to the killing of her own family.
Those Empty Eyes is a tightly structured and very clever thriller that keeps you constantly surprised. Donlea does not waste words on flowery descriptions, but instead keeps the plot ticking over at a good pace, with plenty of surprising twists and unexpected changes of direction. The shifting point of view, and an intriguing sub-plot, keep the suspense at a good level, and the final outcome is tense and exciting, and full of surprises.
There is a nice contemporary feel to the novel, with references to the damage done by internet media and podcasts, and the thorny issue of consent and campus rape. Regular readers of Donlea, will also enjoy the references to past novels and the reappearance of a minor character from one of his earlier books.
In all, Those Empty Eyes is an entertaining crime novel that kept me happily engaged over a weekend. It may not be as good as my favourite Donlea novels, The Girl Who Was Taken and Don’t Believe It, but it is still a damn fine read that is streets ahead of most of the competition.
Those Empty Eyes will be released in the United States and on Kindle in Australia on 28 March 2023. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy of the book.
Here is a link to my review of Donlea’s Don’t Believe It and The Suicide House: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/charlie-donlea-dont-believe-it-2018-the-suicide-house-2020/
I was quite taken with Robert Gold’s Twelve Secrets from last year, which was his first solo novel after three co-authored titles with James Patterson.
Eleven Liars, (Sphere, 28 March 2023), is a follow-up to Twelve Secrets, and once more features crime journalist Ben Harper. This time Harper is on his way home when he sees flames in a local churchyard in the small near-London town of Haddley. The derelict community centre is on fire, and Harper quickly realises that someone is trapped inside. With Ben’s help the person escapes, only to flee the scene before they can be identified. Haddley is soon abuzz with rumours, which only intensify when a skeleton is found in the burnt-out foundations. When the surprising identity of the victim is revealed, Ben is confronted with a crime that is terrifyingly close to home. As he uncovers a web of deceit and destruction that goes back decades, Ben quickly learns that in this small town, everybody is guilty of something.
Like Twelve Secrets, Eleven Liars is a smoothly written and intricately plotted novel. Harper is an engaging central character and this time around more space is given to the troubled PC Dani Cash, who steals much of the story. There are the expected twists and turns and it is very easy to get caught up in Gold’s clever novel.
Those who enjoy tricky cold case mysteries will love Eleven Liars.
Eleven Liars is released in Australia and the United Kingdom on 30 March 2023. Thanks to the publisher and the Canberra Weekly for a copy of the book to review.
Finally, those after a light historical mystery, with a touch of the supernatural, will like Sarah Penner’s The London Séance Society, (HQ, 22 March 2023).
High society Victorian London was fascinated by the spiritual world, and by those who claimed the ability to speak to the dead. One of the most acclaimed spiritualists was Vaudeline D’Allaire, who was known for her talent in conjuring the spirits of murder victims in to order to identify their killers. When the head of the exclusive London Séance Society is murdered, Vaudeline and her understudy, Lenna Wickes, go to London to help solve the mystery. Lenna, however, has an ulterior motive for accompanying the clairvoyant as she wants to find out who killed her sister, Evie, who was also involved with the Society.
This is a richly described story full of mystery, historical background and a delicately written love story. Penner has done her research into the spiritual movement of the late 1800s and there is plenty of fascinating detail and a good sense of the period. The shifting view point between Lenna and Mr Morley from the London Séance Society is well done, and adds some good suspense. Lenna is a convincingly flawed character, quick to accuse and foolhardy at times, and the rest of the cast are also nicely fleshed out.
There is some good originality in parts of the plot and the supernatural elements are quite mild, and do not detract from the unfolding of the mystery.
An enjoyable Victorian romp for fans of historical mysteries.
The London Séance Society was released in Australia and the United Kingdom on 22 March 2023. Thanks to the publisher and the Canberra Weekly for a copy of the book to review.
Happy April reading!!!
You’ve tempted me again, Jeff . I’ve added the Gold and Donlea books to my list.
You shouldn’t be dispappointed!