Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees

Summary: The story is set partly in Lud-in-the-Mist, the capital city of the country of Dorimare and a port at the confluence of two rivers, the Dapple and the Dawl. The Dapple has its origin in Fairyland, which lies out of sight from Dorimare, across the Debatable Hills. In the olden days, when Dorimare was filled with noblemen and ruled by Duke Aubrey, fairies were revered, and fairy fruit was enjoyed by the people of Dorimare. 
But then the rift between the dukes and the poor began to close, there arose a middle class, who rebelled and expelled Duke Aubrey from Dorimare and the noblemen were no longer the authority. The chaotic beauty of all that was Fairy was driven out and the Law was created, eating fairy fruit became a crime and anything related to Fairyland was unspeakable. So much, in fact, that the worst thing you could call someone was “Son of a Fairy!”

But there are rumours, of fiddlers and tricksters wooing young women, of the dead crossing over to the other side and of Duke Aubrey being alive even centuries later in Fairyland. Our story starts when Nathaniel Chanticleer, the mayor of Lud-in-the-Mist, finds out that his son Ranulph may have eaten fairy fruit. Enraged that the nasty fruit was smuggled into Dorimare, worried about his son, and secretly fearing his own doubts about the realness of reality, Master Nathaniel finds himself entangled in old horrific mysteries.

My thoughts: This is my fifth read for Once Upon a Time VIIILud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees is not so much a fantasy, as it is an exploration of slippery truths and the jagged borders of reality, of death, music, and psychedelic dreamery; all packaged as an intriguing murder mystery. Doesn’t that sound amazing? Believe me, it is. I highly recommend this book; so does Neil Gaiman, whose recommendations have always been entirely worth my time – as this will be worth yours. Read it!
The setting of Lud-in-the-Mist reminded me alternately of Stardust by Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. But it isn’t entirely like either of the books. For one, the story is a lot more engaging than the two, it is much faster paced than the former and much shorter than the latter – one thing they share is the very gaslamp-fantasy-like Englishness. 
The descritpions are vivid, mesmerizing and the frequent pearly drops of wisdom come as a pleasant surprise. This is what I’m talking about:
Reason is only a drug, and as such, its effects are never permanent. But, like the juice of the poppy, it often gives a temporary relief. 
We have the misfortune of living in a country that marches with the unknown; and that is apt to make the fancy sick. Though we laugh at old songs and old yarns, nevertheless, they are the yarn with which we weave our picture of the world.
But, for once, let us look things straight in the face, and call them by their proper names. Fairyland, for instance… no one has been there within the memory of man. For generations it has been a forbidden land. In consequence, curiosity, ignorance, and unbridled fancy have put their heads together and concocted a country of golden trees hanging with pearls and rubies, the inhabitants of which are immortal and terrible through unearthly gifts – and so on. But – and in this I am in no way subscribing to a certain antiquary of ill odour – there is not a single homely thing that, looked at from a certain angle, does not become fairy. Think of the Dapple, or the Dawl, when they roll the sunset towards the east. Think of an autumn wood, or a hawthorn in May. A hawthorn in May – there’s a miracle for you! Who would ever have dreamed that that gnarled stumpy old tree had the power to do that? Well, all these things are familiar sights, but what should we think if never having seen them we read a description of them, or saw them for the first time? A golden river! Flaming trees! Trees that suddenly break into flower! For all we know, it may be Dorimare that is Fairyland to the people across the Debatable Hills.
The character names are a nightmare, though. While I suppose all fantasy has its cute and quirky nomenclature, especially these small country stories, the likes of Nathaniel Chanticleer, Endymion Leer, Moonlove Honeysuckle, Primrose Crabapple and Polydore Vigil send my head spinning. But if you think about it, it’s not the worst ‘bad’ a book can have, is it? Like I said, read the book. 

The Code of the Hills: An Ozarks Mystery by Nancy Allen

Because of unexpected distractions, and despite the more-than-usual posts I wrote last month, I have a few reviews pending. This is one of those; I couldn’t really write a review without properly mulling over the book, because The Code of the Hills by Nancy Allen is a layered book.

Summary: (from Goodreads) In the Missouri Ozarks, some things aren’t talked about… even abuse. But prosecutor Elsie Arnold is determined to change that.
When she is assigned to prosecute a high-profile incest case
in which a father is accused of abusing his three young daughters, Elsie is
ready to become the Ozarks’ avenging angel.
But as Elsie sinks her teeth into the case, everything
begins to turn sour. The star witness goes missing; the girls refuse to talk
about their father, who terrorizes the courtroom from the moment he enters; and
Elsie begins to suspect that their tough-as-nails mother has ulterior motives.
To make matters worse, Elsie receives gruesome threats from local extremists,
warning her to mind her own business.
While Elsie swears not to let a sex offender walk, she
realizes the odds – and maybe the town – are against her, and her life begins to
crumble. But amidst all of the conflict, the safety of three young girls hangs
in the balance…
My thoughts: I suppose I should stop saying I don’t like mysteries, because Witness Impulse just keeps on bringing us some truly amazing ones. That being said, The Code of the Hills, as you can guess from the summary, isn’t your usual fast paced thrilling murder mystery. It’s a very procedure-focused book, the bad guy is already in jail, is being tried for abusing his daughters. And Elsie, a lawyer, is digging into the family history, trying to piece together a case against the man. 
But things are never as black and white as you’d like them to be. And Nancy Allen tells the story with uncompromising honesty. As Elsie uncovers the secrets of the Taney family, she begins to see a pattern of abuse and lies. Donita Taney, the girls’ mother is disturbingly conniving, and though she’s been a victim of abuse all her life, you find yourself hating her (and then chiding yourself for that.) From the girls, brazen fifteen year old Charlene stands out, reminiscent of Krystal Weedon. So does the littlest of the girls, whom you see internalizing her fears, too young to place the blame on anyone. 
And then you have Elsie Arnolds, the woman who decided to be a lawyer because of a traumatic experience of an old acquaintance. Elsie’s perspective guides you through the story, but she’s not the most reliable of narrators. She finds faults in everyone she meets, she makes excuses for herself that she wouldn’t for anyone else (say, her boss, for instance), she has low self esteem which peeks through most in her conversations with her mother, she lets her boyfriend treat her like crap, only to turn around and be completely disgusted by what the Taney women get themselves into. It’s quite irking, how little empathy Elsie has for the victims, how she wants to play Prospero and fix them, when she can’t even sort herself out. Often it seems like the victims are not as important to her as proving herself right. She’s hard to like, a gray protagonist, but she means well. And in the end, she redeems herself most convincingly.
The book is thoroughly engaging and has a lot to teach. The difficult topic is carefully dealt with. You wouldn’t suspect the ending, because it’s not about finding one solution, but putting it all together. The book is well written. But it’s not easy to digest. The Code of the Hills by Nancy Allen is no breeze to read. If the summary interests you, if you can deal with bitter truths and don’t mind an emotional roller-coaster ride, read this book. 

Scared to Live by Stephen Booth

Scared to Live is the seventh book in the Ben Cooper and Diane Fry series by English crime writer Stephen Booth. Scared to Live is a memorable book and for the first time in a long time, I find I’m totally obsessed with a series.

Rose had always known she’d be killed. Well, it felt like always. She could barely remember a time before she’d known. She expected to meet her death because of the way she’d led her life. It was a question of when it would happen, and how. All she could hope for was that it would be sudden, and painless. (…) In some ways, knowing her fate only made things worse. It meant that she lived every day in fear. (…) For a long time now, she’d considered it more difficult to live than to die.

SummaryHow do you investigate the murder of a woman without a life?

That’s the challenge facing Detective Constable Ben Cooper and Detective Sergeant Diane Fry when a reclusive agoraphobic is found shot to death in her home. For a woman with no friends, no family, and virtually no contact with the world, someone took an exceptional amount of care executing her murder. At nearly the same moment, a raging house fire claims the life of a young mother and two of her children. But troubling questions remain in the ashes. Among them, how did the fire start and where was the husband at two A.M.?

As the two cases begin to converge, a horrific possibility takes shape. A killer is stalking the Peak District whose motives are a mystery and whose methods are unpredictable. And his next victims could be the only two cops who can stop him.

My thoughts: I’ll begin with all the things I’ve said before. You can start reading the series with this book, but I really think you should first get to know the characters through the first book, Black Dog. Scared to Live is not really fast paced, but it is definitely thrilling. There are twists and turns and unexpected outcomes, but they are not all there is. The book is set in the fictional Peak District town of Edendale and are filled with picturesque descriptions of the countryside. It revolves around the lives of two Derbyshire detectives, Ben Cooper and Diane Fry. The reason I say lives is that the book does not feature a single investigation. There are multiple cases, multiple solutions and long glimpses into their personal lives, interactions and opinions. That is not to say that the author doesn’t manage to neatly tie it all up together at the end. For me, Scared to Live and the other books in the series are almost genre-defying and rarely as riddled with stereotypes as most small town crime fiction (the “cozies” as they’re called.) They feel complete.

In Scared to Live, Cooper takes on the carefully executed murder of a mysterious woman, Rose Shepherd, who seems to have no life or connection with the rest of the world, while Diane Fry struggles with the investigation of the fire, convinced that the husband started the house fire that killed his wife and daughters. However, neither case leads anywhere, until they find the thing that connects the two. The missing child of the victims of the house fire is discovered to be adopted and the family is supposed to have met the other victim, the loner, Rose Shepherd.

Ben Cooper is an altogether likable character. He is the one everyone’s fond of, the son of a policeman, grown up on a farm and is pretty much the go-to guy when it comes to local information. He has ‘instincts’, few qualms about breaking rules when following his intuition, he empathizes with the victims and gets attached too easily. But for all his outgoing, warm helpfulness, he is kind of naive, which of course only makes him cuter. Diane Fry is the exact opposite. At first glance, I suppose she’d be an intimidating, stern person you’d hesitate to go up to. She is a city-girl stuck in the countryside, desperate to get out and reluctant to form any bonds. And she has a past that brought her to Edendale from Birmingham. Unlike Cooper, Diane has no family to speak of, having been in foster care, no friends and a very go-by-the-book attitude. You don’t find her expressing any feelings other than a sort of derisive sarcasm, and you find it very difficult to sympathize with her. She also shares a history with Cooper that you’d want to read Black Dog to know.

It’s the complex tension between Cooper and Fry that makes these novels as engaging as they are. They often misunderstand, disagree with and infuriate each other. And no, they don’t end up together (haven’t yet, anyway) nor do you want them to – most people end up hating Fry, although I kind of like her for being the gritty outsider that she is, not all characters can be perfect saints. In Scared to Live, though, we get to see a more human side of Fry, she has an almost crush, though not quite. She begins to care about the surviving daughter of the victims of the suspicious house fire, the girl who turns out to have a similar past as Fry herself. Ben Cooper’s personal life features less in this book, we know he’s dating scene-of-crime-officer Liz Petty. Although, I was considerably haunted by his brother Matt’s worry that his daughter might have a genetic inclination to schizophrenia because of their mother.

The best thing about Scared to Live is the international turn it takes. Saying any more, in my opinion, would ruin the book for you. The story is intense and heart wrenching, the themes are intriguing and the ending is epic. Like every book I’ve read in this series, the final showdown left me chuckling with satisfaction. Read it.

I got this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

What about your favourites – any mystery series you’d recommend?

The Dead Place by Stephen Booth

The Dead Place is the sixth book in the Ben Cooper and Diane Fry mystery series by Stephen Booth (after One Last Breath and followed by Scared to Live.) That being said, having done it, I’d say it’s okay to read some of the books out of order as standalones; provided you read the first book Black Dog, which is fabulous, by the way. I can’t recommend this series enough.

Summary: “This killing will be a model of perfection. An
accomplishment to be proud of. And it could be tonight or maybe next week. But
it will be soon. I promise.”

The anonymous phone calls indicate a disturbed mind with an
unnatural passion for death. Cooper and Fry are hoping against hope that the
caller is just a harmless crank having some sick fun. But the clues woven
through his disturbing messages point to the possibility of an all-too-real
crime… especially when a woman vanishes from an office parking garage.
But it’s the mystery surrounding an unidentified female
corpse left exposed in the woods for over a year that really has the detectives
worried. Whoever she might have been, the dead woman is linked to the mystery
caller, whose description of his twisted death rituals matches the bizarre
manner in which the body was found. And the mystery only deepens when Cooper
obtains a positive I.D. and learns that the dead woman was never reported
missing and that she definitely wasn’t murdered. As the killer draws them
closer into his confidence, Ben and Diane learn everything about his deadly
obsessions except what matters most: his identity and the identity of his next
My thoughts: The last time I was this addicted to a book series was Harry Potter, and considering the Potter-fanatic that I am, that’s saying something. The thing I love the most about these Cooper and Fry books, which may be classified as police procedural, is that they are all about the characters. Like Stephen King, Booth manages to dive right into people’s minds and build true to life characters. You don’t always like them nor agree with them, especially not Diane Fry, but that’s what makes them click. Ben Cooper is, of course, easy to be fond of, it’s great to be inside his mind, read his thoughts and his instincts and how he feels for the victims. But even with Fry, he makes a good partnership (okay, it’s not good, more like challenging), and together they’re unlike your usual awkward-tension-turns-to-love pairs.

The Dead Place, not surprisingly, is about death. It’s about the morbid fascination that so many people seem to have with dying, the book is also about the history of death or death in history, sarcophagi and cremation and all that. The Dead Place, on a more positive note, is about dealing with loss and facing death on a personal and professional front. It takes you to grieving families in various stages of shock and denial, and at the same time, gives you a glimpse into the coolly detached workings of a funeral home. Death is a part of life and in The Dead Place, Booth gives it an emotional depth rarely achieved in murder mysteries.

The thing that makes The Dead Place work, above all, is the atmosphere. The picturesque imagery of the northern English countryside is rich with detail. You just know he knows what he’s writing about, and you find yourself right there inside the books. It’s the unique combination of a swift plot with brooding, often meandering writing, quite unlike the usual action packed thrillers out there, that makes The Dead Place so special.

I would recommend this book to anyone who (as the dedication of the book goes) has ever had to deal with death.

Blood On The Tongue by Stephen Booth

After I read and reviewed Black Dog, the first in the Ben Cooper & Diane Fry crime series, I just couldn’t resist buying Dancing with the Virgins, the sequel. Then, I found two more at the library (and not caring much for reading in order, I read them.) Blood on the Tongue by Stephen Booth is the third book. Now, having already read two books out of order, I can say with certainty that the books provide enough background information to work as standalones. Then again, I can’t think of a reason for not wanting to read the whole series! 

Summary: The weather is cold and the clues no warmer as Peak District
detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry tackle a medley of mysteries – each one
knottier than the last – in English author Stephen Booth’s haunting third novel,
Blood on the Tongue. The unidentified body of a dead man has turned up on a
frosty roadside. An abused woman is found curled in the snow on nearby
Irontongue Hill, an apparent suicide. And there’s the lingering puzzle of a
Royal Air Force bomber that crashed into Irontongue back in 1945, killing
everyone on board except for the pilot, who reportedly walked away from the
wreckage… and was never heard from again. With leave and sickness decimating
the ranks of the Edendale police force, all hands are needed to solve the
modern deaths. But constable Cooper finds himself distracted by the World War
II tragedy, in large part because of a beguiling young Canadian, the
granddaughter of that missing pilot, who’s come to Edendale determined to clear
her ancestor’s name.

My thoughts: The characters, the wonderfully fleshed out characters, were the highlights of the book for me. I could once again instantly picture the nice, perceptive (albeit slightly awkward and generally confused, around Diane Fry, anyway) Cooper and the (still) sort of cold outsider Fry. But they are the main characters of the book, you’d expect them to stand out. But – I loved the many officers in the police department, the Polish community of Edendale, the survivors of the war and the avid collectors of war memorabilia and those others who found their way into the story and got stuck there without ever meaning to nor really deserving to; every single character felt so real and alive. The intermingling lives made all the concepts of flat characters and round characters and foils just vanish right out of my head – they were real people for the time it took me to finish the book and then some. Cooper is the kind of guy anyone would like and Fry the kind of woman you’re bound not to, but together they just make the perfect, if a little odd, team. Diane was a little less annoying in this book than usual, or maybe I am just warming up to her. Either way, I particularly liked the typical Cooper and Fry moments in Blood On The Tongue. A lot depends on protagonists in any book, and this series revolves around the perfect pair!

Another specialty of this book was all the work that went into creating the right atmosphere. For every scene. What I loved was it was not just about detailed descriptions: the ice and the chill were amazingly described. But then there was that part about Cooper’s squelching wet shoe that brought the feeling to life. The setting is obviously partly fictional and partly real and to someone who has never been there (to the real places) the attraction was that it was hard to figure out just what was made up. And it was all so vivid that I actually wished it weren’t not-real!  Then there were those little well placed snippets of insight (which I just had to highlight – so by the end there were yellow boxes glaring at me from every three pages).

It was one of the worst sounds you could ever hear – the ticking of a clock in an empty house after its owner had died. It was a reminder that the world would carry on just the same after you had gone, that the second hand wouldn’t even hesitate in its movement as you passed from living to dying. Tick, you were there. Tick, you were gone. As if you had never mattered. It was a sound that struck straight to some primal fear in the guts – the knowledge that time was steadily counting you down to your own death.

If I had to point out a problem I had with the book, and I don’t want to, it could be that the book was a little slow, a little confusing at the beginning, and it took me a little while to get completely drawn in. But once I was engrossed, making time to read it had priority over all my daily plans. Fact is, this is definitely one of those reads that I’d recommend to anyone who’d care to listen, and that means, you should read it too. Get it right here!

Innocent Blood by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell

Innocent Blood by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell has to be the most engrossing, thrilling, fast paced book I have read this year. It is action packed and so, so interesting. The book is the second part in a series titled The Order of the Sanguines, but offers enough background info, detailing on the events of Book #1 (The Blood Gospel), to work as a standalone. It is like a paranormal version of a Dan Brown novel, with vampires, angels and prophecies. 

Summary: A modern scientist, a highly secret eternal spiritual order, and a terrifying power must join forces to bring down a ruthless and cunning enemy and prevent the Apocalypse. 

While exploring a tomb hidden for centuries in the depths of Masada, Israel, brilliant archaeologist Erin Granger began an incredible journey to recover a miraculous ancient artifact tied to Christ himself. The quest introduced her to a diabolical enemy determined to discover the book and use its powers for his own dark ends. It also led her to an ancient and highly secret Vatican order-known simply as the Saguines. Though she survived, the danger has only just begun…

An attack outside Stanford University thrusts Erin back into the fold of the Sanguines. As the threat of Armageddon looms, she must unite with an ancient evil to halt the plans of a man determined to see the world end, a man known only as Iscariot.

My thoughts: People judge vampire fiction far too quickly these days. This book is neither young adult, nor paranormal romance nor anything that would make you roll your eyes and go all skeptic. In a word, Innocent Blood by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell is awesome, so don’t dismiss it as just-another-vampire-related-book.
What I liked: The standouts were: the uniquely sinister take on vampires; the characters picked out of history and mythology, I specially liked the Blood Countess, Elizabeth Bathory; the character development despite the swift pace; the adventure spanning over the world and the ages; the attention to detail. The story was horrific, thrilling, tragic and (here’s a rarity in this genre) quite insightful. And the touch of science fiction, with those ingenious mechanical insects capable of fatally poisoning vampires: wow. The book has left me in complete awe. That it is part of a series and there’s more to come is the icing on the cake.
What I didn’t like: Nothing. The book was as close to perfect as can be! I give it a four star rating, because, not having read the first book, it took me a while to get into context. Some terms were unfamiliar; like the strigoi – the vampires, the Sanguines – the reformed (sort of) vampires priests or the blasphemare – these animals turned into nightmarishly strong monsters after being infected by the blood of the strigoi. I also had to read up on a lot of the Christian elements and the Biblical references, though they were pretty basic and the extra reading was just for me. I don’t know if the themes could be construed as offensive by religious readers, but they were very intriguing and as far as I’m concerned, amazingly unique…  What I’m trying to say is, READ IT.

Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer (Nightmares, #1) by Demelza Carlton

This review is a part of a reviews only book tour hosted by Irresistible Reads Book Tours. Visit the Tour Page for more reviews!

This is not my usual kind of read: but it was a good getaway from the routine. Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer is an odd story, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s very unique. I would probably have liked it a lot more at thirteen, but I’m glad I read the book anyway.

About the book:  There are real monsters out there. The worst part is that
they’re human.
“Nathan Miller.”
“What happened?
“I was shot.”
“Her name?”
“Caitlin Lockyer.”
“What happened to her?”
“Looks like someone tried to kill her.”
Nathan found a girl lying on a beach covered in blood.
Saving her life was just the start. Now he’s the prime suspect and he has to
find out who’s really responsible. Both of their lives depend on it.
Who hurt her?
Why was he shot?
 What did he promise?
Why doesn’t his story add up?
 Who was the dead man
on the beach?
What will she remember when she wakes up?

My thoughts: The first page throws you right into the very middle of the action. A man wakes up in a hospital asking after a girl, Caitlin. The story unravels slowly and you learn in the first fifth of the book that Nathan Miller has rescued the girl, after she had been repeatedly raped and dumped on a beach, where he happened to be. Even as you discover this, you know there are things Nathan isn’t telling. There are references to conversations about protecting Caitlin and finding the bad guys. For the longest while, it is difficult to judge Nathan, to guess if he actually is a good guy. Meanwhile, Caitlin Lockyer has been through too much, has dropped into unconsciousness and is riddled by vivid nightmares; which we get glimpses of in alternating chapters.

I don’t want to say how the story progresses after Caitlin wakes, far be it from me to spoil the book for you. But there’s one thing that I really love: the story keeps you guessing and it turns out that your guesses are invariably wrong. It’s intriguing and the suspense keeps you on the edge of your seat. The characters are fully fleshed out, hardly black and white; though the dialogue sometimes lacks ease. One thing which wholly lacks credibility is the slack hospital they’re in, but you just have to go with it. While not the perfect book, it is a lovely, emotional, even romantic break from reality. It certainly makes you appreciate your reality a lot more than you usually tend to. Mostly, Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer deals with a not-so-delicate, kind-of-disturbing topic with surprising subtlety.

The book does leave you with questions, which I have to admit is an annoying tactic to get people to read the sequel: The Necessary Evil of Nathan Miller. However, in spite of myself, I do want to read it! I am very curious to know the story from Caitlin’s point of view and I have a feeling I will enjoy it. Why don’t you to see for yourself? You can buy Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer by Demelza Carlon here on Amazon.

Rating: 3/5

About the author: Demelza Carlton has always loved the ocean, but on her first
snorkelling trip she found she was afraid of fish.

She has since swum with sea lions, sharks and sea cucumbers
and stood on spray drenched cliffs over a seething sea as a seven-metre
cyclonic swell surged in, shattering a shipwreck below.
Sensationalist spin? Hardly. She takes a camera with her to
photograph such things to share later. She asserts that sharks are camera shy.
Demelza now lives in Perth, Western Australia, the shark
attack capital of the world.
The Ocean’s Gift series was her first foray into fiction,
followed by her Nightmares trilogy.

Black Dog by Stephen Booth

The book opens with a note telling us what ‘black dog’, aside from the obvious, means: melancholy, depression of spirits; ill humour. In some country places, if a child is sulking, it is said ‘the black dog is on his back.’
Summary: As helicopters search Northern England’s Peak District for
fifteen year-old Laura Vernon, Detective Constable Ben Cooper quietly dreads
the worst. When her body is found in the woods, Cooper’s investigation
begins with a short list of very uncooperative suspects: retired miner
Harry Dickinson, whose black Labrador discovered Laura’s body, and Laura’s
wealthy parents. Uneasily teamed with ambitious newcomer Detective Constable
Diane Fry, Cooper tests a town’s family ties, friendships, and loyalties – and
finds that in order to understand the present, they must unearth the past.
My thoughts: Wow. This is a fantastic read. Not only am I going to wholeheartedly recommend Black Dog to everyone, I’m going to go ahead and read the rest of the Ben Cooper & Diane Fry series; if the twelve books that follow are anything like this one, I know I’ll love them. It is a unique story, with all the pieces of the intricately crafted puzzle falling smoothly in place at the end.
You know, in most popular mysteries (the few that I have read, anyway) the whole plot has an increasing frenzy and is the build up to a fabulous, thrilling ending. If that is the kind of conclusion you like to your reads, this might seem disappointing, a let down. Because the ending is too simple. It is so simple, that it would sound far fetched to people who are used to that grand climax. It reminded me of Stephen King’s Under the Dome, for no reason other than how it made me feel; surprised and convinced, not to mention, wholly awed. It was impossible for me to have guessed it, but I know the answer had been right there all along, staring me in the face. The only disappointment I felt was for not having thought of it! 
But even if not the ending, there is so much to appreciate and be impressed by in this book. While still being a swift mystery, Black Dog is like a laid back character sketch of all sorts of people in your usual small town. I loved the quirky ones, of course, like Harry Dickinson. And I also liked Gwen, his wife, about whom Cooper was so right – some people just get miserably tangled in messes they don’t deserve to be in. Most of all, I liked Diane Fry; because she was so realistic. I liked how, as an outsider, she provided a neatly contrasting perspective on the rest of the team; one which I couldn’t easily dismiss as she was also one of the good guys. The drama in Cooper’s life was overwhelming and effectively justified the few character flaws in my mind (which made him much better than a conventional Lee Child-ish detective!) The book is wonderfully written, with hilarious comments at the most unexpected times and apt vivid descriptions that bring the setting to life. Mostly, I found Black Dog by Stephen Booth to be a perfect start to a series; which is something I hardly ever get to say. And Diane Fry and Ben Cooper do seem to make, possibly in spite of themselves, a pretty good team.
This Witness Impulse book counts as another R.I.P. Challenge read.

Darkness First by James Hayman

Darkness First by James Hayman is an entertaining read. The plot picks up right from the prologue and hurls you straight into a gruesome mystery involving a bunch of gory murders and drug thefts committed by an intelligent, merciless villain. 
Summary: The book opens with an elaborate drug theft, by a man who calls himself Conor Riordan. He is the man who never was. No one knows who he really is and he doesn’t hesitate to tie up loose ends, killing off anyone who could reveal his identity. Detective Maggie Savage of Portland PD gives her father, Sheriff John Savage a visit, when the mutilated body of Tina Stoddard is found in her hometown and her best friend is severely injured in the same attack. Back home, as the case progresses, Maggie learns that her wayward ex-Army younger brother, being the victim’s boyfriend, is one of the prime suspects. As her colleagues seemingly fight over who gets to bag the case, Maggie seeks help from her partner in Portland, Detective Michael McCabe. Together they try to save the one person who has seen the killer: eleven year old Tabitha Stoddard.
My thoughts: The book has everything it needs to be a popular whodunit: a badass heroine with a unique name, a mostly attractive cast (one of them looks like McNulty, except with blue eyes), partners with that sexual tension and a swift pace. I like how the book develops quickly, but there aren’t too many action scenes and entirely unexpected plot turns. It makes a rare combination of fast and realistic. The story is pretty much straightforward but there is never a dull moment, either. Unfortunately, that means the red herrings are easy to spot and the climax isn’t quite as climactic as one would hope. And I suppose the book could have done without the crimes from the killer’s point of view: they are far too sadistic for my taste and don’t really tell anything that we don’t find out from the crime scene descriptions. 
Can there be well written stereotypes? Because that is what these characters are. Their lives, though predictable, are very engaging, I have to admit. I liked Maggie Savage. McCabe, who apparently has a series in his name, didn’t make much of an impression on me. He is clearly an all-round good guy, but I can make out little about him from this book. It is only when it comes to the rapport between Maggie and McCabe that I realize I’m missing something: the book doesn’t work as a standalone if you focus on these two. The rest of the series might tell me more about them. I like Harlan Savage too, and I am curious about his character in the rest of the Maggie Savage-series. My favourite, most wonderfully portrayed character from Darkness First is Tabitha, the determined little girl who is so much more innocent than she lets on. 
I appreciate that the book doesn’t end abruptly, right after the mystery is solved. The clarifications and follow-ups in the final chapter, which you’d call the denouement if you were pretentious and boring, work well. They certainly give you more to think about than the rest of the book. But the fact is, there is no real message to the book, nothing seems to have left a lasting impression on me. It’s great, not amazing. It is an engrossing read, but I am not going to rush off to buy more. Read this if you love mysteries unconditionally!
Another R.I.P. Challenge read (another mystery; I haven’t read enough horror this year!)

I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the publisher. Impulse is an exciting new imprint from William
Morrow/HarperCollins publishing suspense and thriller digital originals. Get your hands on all Witness Impulse books here!

Joyland by Stephen King

Summary: Saying Joyland by Stephen King is a mix of a horror story and a crime novel wouldn’t be quite right: it’s the kind of book that you couldn’t squeeze into one genre. It is about twenty-one year old, mopey, just-broken-up-with-his-first-love Devin Jones who does a summer job at an amusement park, Joyland (where they sell fun.) On his first day, two mysterious things happen. One: Madame Fortuna, the resident fortune teller and an apparent psychic, predicts that Devin would meet two important children during his work at Joyland, one of them with the Sight. Two: Devin hears of the ghost that haunts the park’s only dark ride, Horror House. A little sleuthing leads him to the tragic murder of Linda Gray, by a man who slit her throat and dumped her in the darkest part of the amusement ride; the murderer was never caught. Intrigued by the stories, slightly suicidal after his break-up, Devin finds himself turning his summer stint at Joyland into a full time job. And that is when he meets Annie Ross and her ten-year-old, Mike, who knows he is going to die, just the way he somehow knows so many other things.
My thoughts: This book was so sweet. It reminded me of how 11.22.63 made me feel at the end and if you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean. It was deeply moving. Joyland was another one of those reads that show that Stephen King writes more than ‘scary stories’. This was not another book of gory monsters written for those with the emotional range of a teaspoon (know who said that? give yourself a pat on the back!) Nor just another whodunit where the story ends fair and happy when the smart detective figures out who the killer is.

The book was written in a nostalgic tone, as Devin, now old described the most memorable times of his youth. It was almost ruefully funny at times and sad and scary, at others. I adored Mike, the little crippled boy so full of hope. In a way, he might have reminded me of Danny Torrance (so many other Goodreads reviewers say the same thing) for his ability, but somehow he left a much greater impression on me. I liked the people of Joyland, all strange, hilarious and thoroughly lovable; from Fortuna to the owner, the cute old man Bradley Easterbrook. Not to mention, Tom Kennedy and Erin Cook; the young promises and friendships were wonderfully dealt with. Throughout, I could visualize Joyland and its carny lingo, its employees taking turns at ‘wearing the fur’ and being Happy Howie, the German shepherd mascot, the spooky lore and the large Ferris wheel, Carolina Spin, which made you feel like you were flying. The mystery itself was noirish and played out roughly: the ‘answer’ which ought to satisfy you, just left me drained.

Mostly, Joyland by Stephen King was a gritty, brutally honest coming-of-age novel. Read it as a book about growing up and tackling life as it comes, and you might love it.

I read this because I finally found it, yay. But also maybe for the R.I.P. Challenge. I’m just biding time now till my copy of Dr. Sleep arrives.