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2020 New Releases
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The latest in William Cook's increasingly addictive Driftwood Mysteries series is a major thrill ride. I stayed up after midnight because I just had to finish it - and I'm usually asleep by 10 p.m. His cop protagonists are real people with real families, and Chiara is delightful. The pace is electric and the plot, while initially mysterious, is more suspense thriller than mystery. Not that I minded. This book, like the others, has character and depth to go with the evil plots of the bad guys, and I strongly recommend it for readers of thrillers, literary suspense, crime fiction and murder mysteries. But if you've not read the others, do start from the beginning; while each book can be read as a stand-alone, the series develops from one book to the next.
As the delightful pun in the title suggests, bad things are about to happen to a group of Catholic nuns. The Sisters of the Abbey of the Sacred Heart have been granted the gift of a two-hundred-acre estate in the wilderness of Eastern Oregon if they can fulfill one condition--they must live in the lodge for two weeks without leaving. They quickly discover that the only way out is death, as they get picked off one by one in ways that would do Agatha Christie proud.
Huff has created a fast-paced page-turner to keep us warm in the winter doldrums. He treats the good sisters kindly--no caricatures of the ruler-wielding, hand-slapping, black-caped crusaders here. These are real women with convictions and dreams, problems and aspirations. The first stirrings of human love in Sister LaNora since her adolescence are described with respect and compassion, not ridiculed. The rivalries and competitions are the stuff of real relationships.
I found it difficult to stop reading once I had begun. In fact, I think I read the novel in two sittings. My thanks to Mr. Huff for providing welcome respite from another rainy evening!
Alyse is an “immersion artist,” her body fitted with computerized implants that can guide and heal her. “Mo” is like an internal Google on steroids, enabling her to communicate with anyone on the planet via a holographic avatar. “Margie” is an internal medic, able to send nanobots throughout her system to heal her wounds. Alyse’s job is to provide the sensory input recordings for the newest movies—movies which allow an audience to literally feel what they see on the screen.
But all is not well in this high-tech future. DNA splicing has accidentally rendered some people “carriers” of Sleeper Syndrome, a disease which attacks children by putting them into a coma for the rest of their lives. The carriers have been banished to the ruined city of Venice to protect the worlds’ children.
Alyse’s assignment is to go to Venice with her team to film a documentary there. In a single night, the trip turns into Alyse’s worst nightmare.
With Faces in the Water: The Shades of Venice: Episode One, Macalino has created a chilling dystopia. Much like her immersion artist protagonist, the reader is pummeled by the sounds and scents, tastes and textures of the decaying city. From the sludge that clogs the canals, to the crumbling rock of the historic buildings, to the ferocious desire of the explicitly sexual scenes, we are immersed in the story. The result is a breathlessly paced thrill ride for which “page-turner” is an understatement.
But be aware—such immersion comes at a cost, at least for an old guy like me. There are no explanations for any of this. We are thrust headlong into the narrative, so I spent much of the early chapters trying to understand exactly what was happening. That said, the effort was worth it. Faces in the Water packs a gut-punch. Kudos to the author and her twisted imagination!
Sage Blackthorn has a problem—actually, a lot of problems. The body of her brother, Ross, has been found in the Columbia River. Since the authorities claim he died of a heroin overdose, not drowning, Sage wonders how her already dead brother could have wound up in the river.
She travels from her job and apartment in New York City to Stevenson, Washington, in order to settle Ross’s affairs, but must now contend with the grandmother Ross had been caring for, a woman suffering from severe dementia. The old family homestead, the Blackthorn Resort, has fallen into disrepair, and Sage will have to sell it before it collapses into bankruptcy.
And then, in the middle of the night, she is awakened by the sound of a powerboat idling at the dock. From the corner of her window, she witnesses a group of men unloading mysterious packages into the resort’s boathouse. Had her brother been involved in drug-trafficking? Worse, was his death really accidental, or was it murder?
Author Judy Nedry has crafted an engaging, character-driven thriller. Our attention is riveted from the opening chapter, which tells the heartbreaking story of the tragedy which wounds sister and brother as children and sets the stage for their adult struggles with alcoholism and all its untoward sequelae. The writing is smooth and well-edited, and captures the flavor of the Pacific Northwest.
I have only two very minor quibbles. I wish the Kindle version had a table of contents to enable easier navigation through the book. The other trivial matter is geographical. Sage crosses the Columbia on the Bridge of the Gods and then drives into Portland on “Interstate-5” instead of I-84. Of course, none of this detracts from the story.
"Blackthorn: a gothic thriller" is a terrific, entertaining read, and I highly recommend it.
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