Review: The Ruin

While I find myself increasingly ambivalent about the suspense/thriller genre as a whole, I am finding an increased appreciation for the artfully constructed detective novel. Perhaps this is a nod to earlier years in which I pored over Nancy Drew and Mandie novels, hell-bent on solving the mysteries before they could; perhaps it’s merely a fascination with the minds of those far cleverer than I. At any rate, I don’t even need a rainy day any more to excuse curling up in a poorly-lit room with a dark mystery and my trusty tobacco pipe. (I kid, I kid.)

Dervla McTiernan’s newly-released (in the US) DI novel is an ideal blend of dark, twisty, and Irish — and what more can you ask for in a work of detective fiction?

The novel opens in the past: 1993, rural Ireland, a young Cormac Reilly dispatched on one of his first cases — what he believes to be a routine domestic disturbance call. When he arrives, he discovers a house in disrepair, two young children equally neglected, and a deceased woman, whom he finds to be the mother of the children (and deceased for hours). When Cormac also finds signs of abuse mingled in with the obvious markings of neglect, he gathers the children up and takes them to the nearest hospital. Later, the case is removed from his hands and he moves on with his career.

Twenty years later, in Galway, a young man commits suicide. When his sister returns from the (presumed) dead days later, Cormac Reilly is called to the case by his superiors: it would seem he made the acquaintance of the two some decades previously, on the night their mother died. . . .

As the past and present are immersed in a tangled dance of fates, Cormac enters a dangerous game with members of the force — some who can be trusted, and others, apparently, who cannot. As the mystery unravels, McTiernan hurtles readers toward a conclusion that is both unforeseeable and nail-bitingly suspenseful. I raced through this work in a couple of sittings and, truthfully, wouldn’t have put it down if it would’ve been considered socially acceptable to let my 1-year-old fend for himself for a day or two. Sink or swim, right? ūüėČ

The Good:¬†See above for sung praises. I was adequately pleased by character construction, plotting, and the not-so-meandering stories-within-the-story. McTiernan has kicked off what I anticipate will be a brilliant dark series, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the second book (rumor on the street has it coming out March 2019).

The Bad:¬†There are several timelines, stories, and characters — seemingly disjointed — being drawn together in¬†The Ruin. At times, the various side stories can be confusing, if not a bit distracting. For the most part, the conclusion of this work cleared up ambiguities and made the short-lived confusion worthwhile.

The Verdict: 4.5 stars. If you enjoy smart, carefully constructed detective fiction à la Tana French and Robert Galbraith, give The Ruin a closer look.

Review: Birds of Wonder

Last month, I won a ridiculous amount of giveaways — ten, I believe — on Instagram, BookRiot, and Goodreads. Sadly, I did not¬†win the lottery. Although, it could be argued that books > money . . . right?

Anyway, to the point: one such win was in a giveaway on author Cynthia Robinson’s IG page (@cynthiarobinson2605), in exchange for an honest review on Goodreads/IG/the blogosphere. I received the book from the publisher a mere three days later and got to reading immediately — it’s slated for release February 20.

Birds of Wonder¬†is Robinson’s debut full-length novel. At about 300-some pages, the work of fiction is what I’d consider average in length, but let me tell you — it is chock full of dark characters and twisty plot points. As with many thrillers/mysteries/crime novels of the day, the story is told from multiple perspectives. I enjoy this for a few reasons: it adds a layer of deception and intrigue, it lends credence to unreliable narrators, and it makes the chapters fly by that much more quickly. I’m a self-proclaimed oddball that has developed a weird obsession with breaking reading into chunks. Books with longer chapters sometimes make these chunk-goals hard to achieve what with my increasingly-adventurous baby demanding attention and whatnot, so the shorter, individual narratives featured in books like Birds of Wonder¬†somehow make the reading feel more manageable.

I digress. The novel is told from the perspective of six starkly different individuals: Beatrice, high school teacher and stiflingly ambitious and cheery widow; Jes, lead investigator on the case and daughter to aforementioned theater teacher; Liam, local vintner and child welfare lawyer; Edward, creep-of-all-creeps and obsessive artist; Conner, aspiring photographer and local student; and Waldo, known schizophrenic and laborer at Liam’s vineyard.

The six compelling narratives are strung together to cover the course of a few days, when a mutilated body is found on Liam’s property early Saturday morning. Unfortunately, the body belongs to Amber, one of Beatrice’s students and the star of her upcoming school theater production. Beatrice, busybody that she is, naturally spends the next couple of days in a state of anguish over the loss of her star, though whether her grief is more heavily concentrated on the tragic loss of a young life or the tragic loss of her leading actress is a bit fuzzy at times. Meanwhile, Jes scrambles to find the murderer before her misogynistic and repressive colleagues are able to, hell-bent on proving herself valuable despite her “drawback” of a college education. As the case winds to a close, everybody is in for a stunning revelation. EVERYBODY.

The Good: One of my favorite things about this novel is how marvelously crafted Beatrice’s character is. She. Drove. Me.¬†Bonkers.¬†And, if I’m being honest, all of the characters were very well-constructed; it’s just that Beatrice and Edward kind of hogged the limelight. Their beings were far more vivid than the others and I was in turns repulsed and transfixed by the two. I was also appreciative of the topics present in this mystery: sex trafficking, drug abuse, infidelity, loyalty, foster care, self-fulfilling prophesies . . . at times, it felt like there was too much¬†that Robinson was trying to cram into this book; but overall, the themes worked well together. Oh! And another thing — Robinson did a great job of characterizing the strained relationship between a mother and daughter who have a very one-sided acquaintance. Beatrice’s insufferable interjection of herself into Jes’ life was so very reminiscent of small-town family life. I shuddered for Jes on a number of occasions.

The Okay: In the beginning, some of the descriptions were laboriously repetitive in their allusion to plants and birds and so on. I found myself wishing a few things were cut so we could get past the flowery descriptions and into the meat of the story. In short, it got off to a bit of a slow start. Additionally, as mentioned previously, it sometimes felt like the author was trying to accomplish too much in the short span of 300 pages/two days.

The Bad: Waldo’s narrative was just hard to get my head around. Sometimes it was distracting. Maybe I am dense (very good possibility) but I usually had to read his section more than once and was left thinking, Wait — what?¬†I realize this is due largely to his unhinged nature; it just didn’t quite work for me. Fortunately, his narrative formed a very small part of the novel.

The Verdict: 3.5/5 stars. Read this one for the creep factor (here’s looking at you, Edward) and the family drama.

Review: The Good Girl

I’ve picked up an unusual amount of crime fiction, lately, and I keep finding myself surprised at this development. The latest selection in this parade of mystery novels: The Good Girl, debut novel from author Mary Kubica.

The Good Girl tells the story of Mia Dennett, the youngest daughter of the affluent Judge Dennett and his somewhat disconnected wife, Eve. After a reckless encounter with a stranger in a bar, Mia goes home with the mystery man — Colin Thatcher — in anticipation of a one-night stand after she is stood up by her less-than-stellar boyfriend. Mia soon realizes this encounter is more than chance, though, as the man makes it clear they won’t be engaging in any sort of . . . extracurricular . . . activities. She is hauled to a cabin in the remote woods of northern Minnesota where the two weather the swiftly dropping temperatures of fall while each wonders what will become of the situation and themselves.

Meanwhile, back home, Eve frantically pursues her daughter’s case as her husband and eldest daughter (Grace) remain infuriatingly skeptical and distant. Eve’s only solace is Gabe, the relatively nondescript detective who’s been assigned to the case. As weeks slide by and little new information comes to light, Eve’s desperation grows, as well as her discontent.

The novel, like maaaaaany other recently published crime fiction works, is arranged into short chapters told from the perspectives of a few major characters: Eve, Gabe, and Colin. Although the story is about Mia, the author makes a wise choice in revealing the actual timeline of events through the perspectives of everyone but Mia.

The Good: The novel is a quick, easy read. There aren’t a lot of complicated storylines to follow, or characters to track, and the story itself is interesting enough that the short chapters and building tension make the novel a page-turner.

The Bad: Initially, the story’s timeline is a bit muddy. Some chapters are written from before a specific date, while others come after that date; though easy to keep track of later in the story, this arrangement is a bit irksome at the start. I also found Kubica’s character development to be a bit lacking. Gabe felt like a halfway constructed character who was supposed to have had revisions made . . . only to be forgotten prior to publication. He often comes across as a power-hungry, insecure, dopey investigator, and that’s just unfortunate. Additionally, one particular relationship in this novel is rather contrived, and nobody likes those kinds of relationships. Right?

The Verdict: 2.5/5 stars. Somewhat predictable and somewhat underdeveloped, this novel left me with a pretty in-the-middle reaction: it’s good, but definitely not great. Certainly a viable “palate-cleanser” for those reading slumps and lazy weekends when you’re not in the mood to dive into something with layers and complexity.