Monday, February 4, 2013

Mystery Double Header

Both of the books featured today were recommended by loyal readers (see, I really do get through my queue... eventually).

by Belinda Bauer
5 stars - will read more of her books

Super creepy and extraordinarily well written.

Steven wants to make things right. Twelve years old, he lives with his little brother, mother, and grandmother in a household haunted by the trauma of the past. 

Steven's uncle was abducted and murdered as a child. Abducted by a serial killer of children who was eventually caught and put in prison. But the body of little Billy was never found and Steven is determined to find it. He feels that if he finds the body that his grandmother will finally have peace, that his mother will become kinder. And so every day, he goes out to the moors, shovel in hand to dig. Surely his uncle must be somewhere out there as several of the other boys killed were unearthed there.

Then Steven decides on a strategy to move things forward. He writes to Avery, the perpetrator in jail. A cryptic letter, one that will get past the prison guards, but convey his request; "where is Billy?"

Avery writes back and so it begins and all goes as well as it can until Avery discovers that his pen pal is a boy. A boy the very thought of whom rekindles Avery's desire to hunt and kill. 

I can reveal no more. The beauty of this book is in the writing. Ms. Bauer provides depth to her characters which is compelling. Even incidental characters have a history so that there is no moment in the book where an event transpires without cause, without reason. 

The subject is horrific, the characters tragic, and yet so human, so real, that one cannot help but be drawn into the drama as it unfolds, to feel sympathy, empathy, and repugnance as each twist in the plot is revealed.

Trace Evidence
by Elizabeth Becka
3 stars - very satisfying

This is a formulaic mystery, but don't let that put you off. Save it for an afternoon when you don't want to be challenged, but want to have some fun. 

The main character, Evelyn James, is a forensic trace evidence expert in Cleveland Ohio. Since the author is a forensic specialist working in Florida (formerly in Cleveland) one expects that much of the drama is based on actual experience.

There's a serial killer on the loose in Cleveland. One who delights in kidnapping young women, putting their legs in a bucket of cement, and throwing them off any convenient bridge. Oh nasty.

But Ms. Becka keeps the horror just far enough away to allow the reader to enjoy the mystery without getting too weirded out. 

When I characterize this as formulaic, I mean that the pacing and plot twists are, while not always totally predictable, certainly familiar in the way they are meted out. That's OK. It's still fun. And she does a great job of punching up the action towards the end of the book. Once things really get rolling, they roll out fast and furious. The last fifty pages or so will pull you along at a breakneck speed.

I'm not giving anything away to say that Evelyn comes out OK in the end. After all, this is the first in a series. But even knowing that, I was still very much caught up in how things would resolve themselves.

Not a lot of time is spent on character development (as contrasted to the previous book). Fine by me. The action is what this book is about and it delivers.


  1. Okay, you have me really itching to read Black Lands! Wow!

  2. I enjoy your reviews, and find I generally concur with your opinions on things I have read. These both sound good, and, yes, there is plenty good to say about formulaic mysteries, especially when the author keeps us from being weirded out. Weirdness kills plenty of books for me.