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Mini Reviews – Must-Read February Releases: The Thriller Edition

 

It’s time for a new batch of mini reviews and this time it’s February ARCs, specifically three amazing thrillers that need to go on your must read list.  I don’t want to say much about these since with thrillers, it’s usually best to go in knowing as little as possible, but I do want to share a few highlights of what I loved about each book.

 

Mini Reviews – Must-Read February Releases: The Thriller EditionA Good Girl's Guide to Murder Goodreads

Author: Holly Jackson

Publication Date: February 4, 2020

Publisher:  Delacorte Press

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

Holly Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is a YA murder mystery that follows Pip, who has been thinking about a local murder investigation from a few years earlier, the outcome of which has never set well with her.  The case in question involved local high school students, Andie Bell and Sal Singh.  Andie went missing and Sal, who was her boyfriend at the time, immediately becomes the prime suspect in her disappearance.  When Sal takes his own life, everyone assumes that he killed Andie and committed suicide and thus the case was closed. Pip doesn’t buy it. Sal was one of the sweetest people she has ever known and she refuses to believe for one second that he hurt Andie.  Pip therefore decides to use her senior project as an opportunity to re-examine the case and find the real killer and she enlists Sal’s younger brother, Ravi, to help her.

This was such a fun read for me. I loved watching Pip in action.  She’s a very sharp young lady and has a real knack for being able to sift through clues and put together the pieces of a five year old murder mystery.  There were plenty of twists and turns to keep me guessing as Pip followed the evidence and recorded her findings in her project journal. I also really loved that we were given the excerpts from Pip’s journal so that we could get inside of her head and follow her thought patterns as she sifted through what she found.  In addition to the thrill of feeling like I was right there with Pip as she investigated, there was also growing tension and suspense as Pip starts receiving anonymous threats warning her to back off or else.

While the case itself and Pip’s journey toward the truth is riveting, I also really enjoyed A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder because of the growing friendship between Pip and Ravi.  Ravi of course never believed his brother was capable of murder and has always wanted the opportunity to prove Sal’s innocence.  Instead of having that chance, however, Ravi, as the brother of an accused murderer, has pretty much been ostracized by the community. I loved that Pip reached out to him and gave him the opportunity to help clear his brother and get closure, and I especially loved that a true friendship between Pip and Ravi grew from them working on this project together.  I’m also excited that this book is the first in a series so I’m hoping we’ll get more of both Pip and Ravi in the next installment.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is one heck of a wild ride and I highly recommend it to fans of YA thrillers.   4.5 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews – Must-Read February Releases: The Thriller EditionThe Sun Down Motel Goodreads

Author: Simone St. James

Publication Date: February 18, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

I’m going to predict right now that Simone St. James’ latest novel The Sun Down Motel lands on my Best of 2020 list.  This book, hands down, blew me away, and there’s no way I’m going to be able to write anything here that will do it justice.  I devoured the book in less than 24 hours and it had me so hooked that I simply refused to put it down and do anything else until I knew how it ended.

The story follows two young women, Viv and Carly, 35 years apart, who both become entangled in the secrets that haunt an old run-down, roadside motel called the Sun Down Motel, located in the tiny town of Fell, New York.  In 1982, Viv Delaney was working as a night clerk at the motel when she unexpectedly went missing and was never heard from again.  In 2017, we meet Carly, who is actually Viv’s niece and who has left college and come to Fell, NY, trying to find the truth about what happened to her aunt. When Carly visits the Sun Down, while trying to retrace her aunt’s footsteps, she sees they are looking for a new night shift clerk, her aunt’s old shift. Carly can’t explain why but she feels compelled to take the job while she’s in town looking for leads on Viv.  And that’s when strange things start happening at the Sun Down Motel, like something out of The Twilight Zone.  The strange happenings at the Sun Down, as well as the mystery and secrets that surrounded them, absolutely enthralled me, as did the use of the dual timeline to show Viv investigating them in 1982 and then Carly experiencing and investigating the same things 35 years later in 2017. Would Carly find out what happened to Viv all those years ago…or would Carly disappear as well?

I don’t want to say anything else because both Carly and Viv’s journeys are best experienced with as few spoilers as possible going in. I will say though that this is absolutely one of the most suspenseful, atmospheric, mysterious, and haunting books I’ve read in a long time.  5 STARS

 

Mini Reviews – Must-Read February Releases: The Thriller EditionThe Dark Corners of the Night (UNSUB, #3) Goodreads

Author: Meg Gardiner

Publication Date: February 18, 2020

Publisher:  Blackstone Publishing

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

Anyone who follows my blog knows that I’m a huge fan of the UNSUB series and that The Dark Corners of the Night is one of my most anticipated reads of 2020. I’m happy to report that my love for the series has only grown with this third book because author Meg Gardiner really knocked it out of the park.  While the cover of the book is super creepy, let me just say that the story itself is even creepier. My skin crawled as I read about the horrific adventures of the killer who has been dubbed “The Midnight Man.”

The Midnight Man sneaks into family homes in the Los Angeles, CA area under the cover of darkness.  He deliberately chooses families, and he murders the parents but leaves the children alive as witnesses to his unspeakable acts.  As the body count quickly starts to rise and local law enforcement officers realize they are dealing with a serial killer, they call in the FBI, which is where the protagonist of the UNSUB series, FBI behavioral analyst, Caitlyn Hendrix, enters the picture.

As with the first two novels in the series, it is absolutely riveting watching Caitlyn and her team carefully piece together a behavioral profile for this UNSUB and gradually work their way toward a list of possible suspects.  I love the sense of trust and camraderie that has developed between the members of the FBI team in these first three books, but I also liked the bit of tension that I saw here between the local law enforcement.  It was an uneasy alliance between the two groups even though they were both there trying to achieve the same goal: to catch a killer.

Caitlyn is always a big draw for me when I start a new UNSUB book, but she really drew me in even more than usual in this one, for a couple of reasons.  First, as she’s learning more and more about the profile of the Midnight Man, she starts to see something of herself in him. He reminds her of her past and it disturbs her so much that she has to fight to keep it from impacting her work.  Second, The Dark Corners of the Night also signals that we are finally starting to circle back around to an unresolved case that was left hanging at the end of the first book.  My one disappointment with the second book was that it wasn’t really touched on, so I was thrilled to see it revisited here with some teasers to advance the plot.

I think the books work fine as standalones but are absolutely outstanding as a series read in order, especially when it comes to watching for developments with that unsolved case that keeps dogging Caitlyn.  If you’re into thrillers and especially into shows like Criminal Minds that delve into the FBI world of analyzing criminal behavior, I highly recommend the UNSUB series.  5 STARS

Book Review: Into the Black Nowhere, An UNSUB Novel

Book Review: Into the Black Nowhere, An UNSUB NovelInto the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner
Also by this author: UNSUB
four-half-stars
Series: UNSUB #2
Published by Dutton on January 30th 2018
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 384
Also in this series: UNSUB
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

MY REVIEW:

I read the first book in Meg Gardiner’s UNSUB series earlier this month and absolutely devoured it. It was a 5-star read for me that was filled with suspense, memorable characters (including a badass heroine), a disturbing yet riveting storyline, great action scenes, and just an overall fascinating look at the psychology of a serial killer.  Because I enjoyed UNSUB so much, I began reading its follow-up Into the Black Nowhere with very high expectations.  And thankfully, I wasn’t at all disappointed.  Just like its predecessor, Into the Black Nowhere hooked me from the first page and didn’t let me go until I reached the nail biting conclusion.  I think I’ve found myself a new favorite series!

As in UNSUB, Into the Black Nowhere follows Caitlyn Hendrix, only now, instead of working as a police detective in California, she has taken a job as a rookie FBI agent in the Behavioral Analysis Unit in Quantico, Virginia.  Caitlyn is still adjusting to her new job and life in Virginia, as well as trying to make a long distance relationship work with Sean, whom we met in UNSUB, but ultimately she is dedicated to her career and ready to catch a predator.

Caitlyn’s team is called to a town in Southern Texas where blonde women have been disappearing – one from a movie theater, one from a car that was stopped at a traffic light, and one from her own home.  Local law enforcement suspects they have a predator on their hands and so Caitlyn’s team is called in to help build a psychological profile of the UNSUB so that a suspect can hopefully be identified before any other women go missing.  When the bodies of two of the women are found in the woods, dressed in white nighties with heavily made up faces and slashed wrists, it becomes clear that they are looking for a serial killer, one that was likely inspired by Ted Bundy.  What’s even more disturbing is that not only has the UNSUB posed the bodies of these victims, but he has also surrounded them with Polaroid photos of other blonde women, potential victims that law enforcement hasn’t identified yet.  It becomes a race against the clock for Caitlyn and her team to catch this UNSUB before he hurts anyone else.

They are quickly able to get inside of their killer’s head and build a profile of the suspect, and with the help of a phone tip, they actually think they’ve found their guy.  This guy is a piece of work too. He’s arrogant, cunning, and manipulative, but is also charming enough to get almost anyone around him to let their guard down so it makes sense how he’s so easily able to accumulate so many victims.  Even though Caitlyn and her team are sure they have the right guy, the problem is that all they have on him so far is a lot of circumstantial evidence and so he keeps eluding them.

It seems like it’s almost a game to him, like he thrives on this game of cat and mouse, trying to stay one step ahead of law enforcement, but then he even manages to get inside of Caitlyn’s head. He finds and exploits her weaknesses, bringing things from her past up that she had hoped would remain buried and leaving her feeling vulnerable and exposed.  This of course makes her all the more determined to bring him down.

Can Caitlyn keep the UNSUB out of her head so that she can effectively do her job?  And can she and her team find the evidence they need in order to stop this monster once and for all?

 

I’m still loving Caitlyn Hendrix in this second book.  She’s just as fierce and focused on tracking down killers as she was in UNSUB, but still has that slightly vulnerable side as the killer manages to get inside of her head and make her face some demons from her past.  I like for the characters I’m reading about to have those layers of complexity so they don’t just come across as cardboard cutouts, which can often happen in thrillers because the characters take a backseat to the case at hand.  Not Caitlyn, she is fully-fleshed out and shows a lot of growth from the first book to the second, and even within the second.

In addition to adoring Caitlyn, I also thought her partner, Rainey, was amazing.  Rainey is the other female agent on her team, and Rainey is even more of a badass than Caitlyn.  Together the two of them make a formidable team and so I loved every scene that paired them together.  I hope to see them work together a lot more in future books in the series.

Gardiner not only writes fantastic characters, she is also a master at writing suspense.  I love following along with Caitlyn and the other agents as they uncover detail after detail about the killer and get ever closer to nailing him.  I was literally on the edge of my seat watching them frantically search for any clues that could help them take him down.  The added detail that he only takes his victims on Saturday added an extra layer of suspense and tension because the agents know they’re on a race against the clock and know exactly what their deadline is before another woman goes missing. The tension and sense of unease is so real in this book that I found myself looking over my own shoulder while reading.  It was just that creepy.

With all of that tension and suspense building up, I guess it goes without saying that this is a fast-paced book.  I read it from cover to cover in two days and found myself irritated every time I had to put the book down because I was so invested in the story.

 

My only real issue with Into the Black Nowhere was that rather than address the cliffhanger that we were left with at the end of UNSUB, Caitlyn and her team instead move on to a new case, and it’s one that doesn’t appear to be at all related to the case from the first book.  In my mind, it does makes sense not to immediately revisit that case. Based on the way the first book ended and how soon the second book seems to follow the first, it’s probably too soon, but I’m just impatient and really want to know how that cliffhanger is going to play out!

I also would have liked a little more interaction between Caitlyn and her boyfriend, Sean.  They worked the first case together and I loved their chemistry together, both personally and professionally, so I missed that this time around since their relationship was relegated to the occasional phone call.  There were some hints along the way in this book, however, that lead me to believe they may end up working together on a future case, so I definitely look forward to that possibility.

 

Considering that I’m already anxiously awaiting the third book in this series, it’s safe to conclude that I recommend Into the Black Nowhere just as highly as I recommended UNSUB earlier this month.  Meg Gardiner has blown me away with the first two installments of this series and is now on my list of auto-buy authors.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Inspired by real-life serial killer Ted Bundy, an exhilarating thriller in which FBI profiler Caitlin Hendrix faces off against a charming, merciless serial killer.

In southern Texas, on Saturday nights, women are disappearing. One vanishes from a movie theater. Another is ripped from her car at a stoplight. Another vanishes from her home while checking on her baby. Rookie FBI agent Caitlin Hendrix, newly assigned to the FBI’s elite Behavioral Analysis Unit, fears that a serial killer is roaming the dark roads outside Austin.

Caitlin and the FBI’s serial crime unit discover the first victim’s body in the woods. She’s laid out in a bloodstained, white baby-doll nightgown. A second victim in a white nightie lies deeper in the forest’s darkness. Both bodies are surrounded by Polaroid photos, stuck in the earth like headstones. Each photo pictures a woman in a white negligee, wrists slashed, suicide-style–posed like Snow White awaiting her prince’s kiss.

To track the UNSUB, Caitlin must get inside his mind. How is he selecting these women? Working with a legendary FBI profiler, Caitlin searches for a homology–that elusive point where character and action come together. She profiles a confident, meticulous killer who convinces his victims to lower their guard until he can overpower and take them in plain sight. He then reduces them to objects in a twisted fantasy–dolls for him to possess, control, and ultimately destroy. Caitlin’s profile leads the FBI to focus on one man: a charismatic, successful professional who easily gains people’s trust. But with only circumstantial evidence linking him to the murders, the police allow him to escape. As Saturday night approaches, Caitlin and the FBI enter a desperate game of cat and mouse, racing to capture the cunning predator before he claims more victims.

four-half-stars

About Meg Gardiner

Meg Gardiner is a bestselling, Edgar Award winning author. A former lawyer and lecturer at the University of California, she’s also a three-time Jeopardy! champion. Born in Oklahoma, she grew up in Santa Barbara, California, and lives in Austin.

China Lake won the 2009 Edgar award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Paperback Original. The Nightmare Thief won the 2012 Audie Award for Thriller/Suspense audiobook of the year. Phantom Instinct was named an O, the Oprah magazine, “Best Books of Summer.”

Meg’s latest novel, UNSUB, has been bought for development as a major television series by CBS.

Find Meg on Facebook: Facebook.com/MegGardinerBooks Twitter: @MegGardiner1 and Instagram: @Meggardiner1.