These are all the psycho killer books I read in the last four and a half months.

A Test of Wills by Charles Todd
Inspector Ian Rutledge has returned from the war (World War I, that is) with his body intact, but his mind not so much. For one thing, he has a ghost accompanying him everywhere he goes. It gets to a guy. He’s afraid he’s losing his touch as a detective. A beautiful woman’s fiancé has been murdered, possibly by her guardian, a decorated military officer and respected local gentleman-farmer. It’s a political nightmare, and Rutledge suspects he’s being set up to fail, which makes it all the more imperative that he solve the case. The mystery was pretty well plotted, if a bit complicated, but more importantly, I really enjoyed Rutledge as a character and wanted to read more about him—which is convenient, since Todd has written about 27 more books about him. (Okay, maybe not 27, but somewhere in the double digits—high teens, at least.) 4/5 stars

Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Kills by Dr. John H. Watson by Lyndsay Faye
Confession: I have not read any original Sherlock Holmes stories. I know, I’m a disgrace to mystery lovers everywhere, I’m not fit to wear the uniform, etc. I keep meaning to, but somehow I never do. I am a big fan of BBC’s Sherlock, if that counts for anything. (No, I realize it does not. In fact, it may even make it worse.) Perhaps I would have appreciated this book more if I’d had a strong background in Sherlock Holmes, but I couldn’t have appreciated it much more because I loved this book. I loved the interchanges between Holmes and Watson, and how the mystery gradually unfolded, and how Holmes was affected by his failure to catch the murderer. I quite enjoy these psycho killer books set in the times before modern forensic techniques. This is a particularly great read. 5/5 stars

The Dead Will Tell by Linda Castillo
This is a Kate Burkholder mystery. Kate Burkholder was born into the Amish community but left the fold as a young adult, became a police officer, and eventually returned to her hometown to serve as the chief of the (“English”) police. This gives her an “in” with the Amish because she understands their ways, but they don’t quite trust her. Plus, emotional baggage, blah blah. I read the first three books a few years ago, but didn’t keep up with the series until I found this book in my local digital library. It’s #6, and it stands on its own. It begins with an apparent suicide that is soon revealed to be a homicide. This incident is followed by another suspicious “suicide” that leads Kate to a 30-year-old unsolved crime involving the death of an Amish farmer and four of his children, plus the disappearance of his wife. It’s pretty good. Development of the relationship between Kate and her love interest, John Tomasetti, will probably not resonate with anyone who hasn’t read the previous books, but it probably won’t distract from the story either. (It just made me want to fill in the blanks, as you will see below.) 4/5 stars

Gone Missing by Linda Castillo
I had to go to the actual real-life library and borrow actual real-life books in order to find out what happened with Kate Burkholder and the Amish in books 4 and 5. This will give you some idea of my dedication to this series! Here Kate is trying to find an Amish teen who has gone missing during her Rumspringa, the time when young Amish are allowed to break the rules and experience the outside world before deciding whether or not they want to be baptized. Has the missing girl decided to leave the Amish life, or has a more sinister fate befallen her? During the course of the investigation, Kate discovers links to other missing-teens cold cases. There’s some pretty messed up stuff here—as there usually is, when the Amish are involved. (At least that’s how it is in psycho killer books.) And Kate has to deal with more baggage from her own dark past as an Amish teen; this subplot will probably not be appreciated if you have not read the previous books. It’s a pretty exciting read, though. 4/5 stars

Her Last Breath by Linda Castillo
Yes, this is Kate Burkholder #5, and I had mixed feelings about it. This story involves a friend from Kate’s past—her Amish past, that is. An Amish man and his three children are riding in their horse-and-carriage one night when they are hit by a speeding pickup truck; father and two children die on the scene, while one son survives (but only barely). The grieving wife and mother is Kate’s childhood friend. There is something super-weird about this case. This was no buggy accident! Someone wanted this family dead, but who? Kate thinks her friend knows more than she’s letting on, but what is she hiding, and why? There are a lot of flashbacks to Kate’s teen years and her (Amish-style) adventures with her friend. This added a layer of poignancy to the story. You can see the plot twists coming a mile away, but there is a lot of action. Maybe a little too much action, in the Jason-springing-up-out-of-the-lake sense. One does begin to wonder one Amish community could have so much dark side. But that’s the nature of the small-town-sheriff-psycho-killer genre. Willing suspension of disbelief and such. I seem to recall liking this book somewhat less than the others, but according to my Goodreads records, I still gave it 4 stars, so what do I know? 4/5 stars (possibly 3.5, but I’m not going to re-read the book to tell you for sure)

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd
I could not get my hands on Inspector Rutledge #2, so I settled for Todd’s Bess Crawford #1, which this is. The setting is England during World War I. Bess Crawford is a nurse aboard the Britannica when it is attacked and sunk by the enemy; she survives, but she has a broken arm and is sent home to convalesce. A dying patient has charged her with taking a cryptic message to his brother. She feels obligated to fulfill his request, so she does, but she can’t leave well enough alone because she can see there’s something fishy going on with this family. Something that involves…MURDER. The mystery is well-crafted, and Bess is a great character—smart and nosy, but not in an annoying way. (That is more difficult to pull off than it sounds.) She’s no Ian Rutledge—she doesn’t see ghosts, for one thing—but she’ll do. 4/5 stars

A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George
This is the first book of another series about English detectives solving murders, only this one is real vintage: it was written in the 1980s. Inspector Thomas Lynley isn’t your average police detective; in addition to being talented and incredibly handsome, he’s also an earl. A freaking earl! He doesn’t like to flaunt his aristocratic ties—he only wants to be treated the same as any other talented and handsome police detective—but Sergeant Barbara Havers doesn’t buy his modest act. She’s working class, with an entirely deserved reputation for being difficult. In fact, this is her last chance to make it as a detective because she’s blown all the other ones by being such a pill (even though she’s very smart). She suspects she’s only been paired with his lordship because she’s the only female in the squad unattractive enough for him not to sleep with. She does not think much of Inspector Lynley. Their case is pretty gruesome: a fat, simple country lass is found in a barn with an axe in her lap, sitting next to her dead dog and decapitated father. Circumstances clearly point to her as the murderer, but the forensic evidence doesn’t add up. Lynley and Havers learn to work together as they uncover the dark, seedy mysteries of country life. It was the ‘80s, kids, so the secrets are pretty messed up. The story is a tad…seamy, to tell you the truth, but I enjoyed the interplay between Lynley and Havers; each character is like an onion, or an ogre—they have layers! 4/5 stars

Die Again by Tess Gerritsen
This is #11 in the Rizzoli & Isles series. I read the first two or three R&I books several years ago. I liked them—good psycho killer stuff—but I didn’t feel compelled to read any more and only picked up this particular book because it was cheap on Kindle and I was loading up for my trip to Japan (specifically the plane ride). It opens with a deadly camping safari in Botswana, which never bodes well. I don’t usually like to read murder mysteries where the weapon is a large cat, but this one intrigued me. Most of the book takes place in Boston, six years later, where large cats do not usually go around being the inadvertent facilitators of homicide. Detective Jane Rizzoli is on the case with Dr. Maura Isles, M.E. I saw the twist coming, but I still liked the story. It put me in the mood to read more of the R&I back catalogue. These broads are hardcore! 3.5/5 stars

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin
Tessa Cartwright is the lone survivor of a serial killer who murdered several teenage girls about 20 years ago. The man arrested for the crime is (finally) about to be executed, but she has become convinced that he is innocent and the real killer is still out there. Don’t ask how she knows—just some freaky unexplained stuff that makes her think he might have been stalking her all these years. So she goes digging into her past, hoping to discover the truth. There are flashbacks to the period following the failed attempt on her life, her visits with the shrink and the rap sessions with her best friend, who was her rock until she betrayed her. What the heck happened there? And who is the real killer? It takes the whole book to find out—which I guess is how it should be. I will say this much: this book was a page-turner. However, I found the ending to be a bit of a mess. A whole lot of crazy revealed at the last minute. I didn’t quite buy it, so it was a bit disappointing. I’d give this author another shot, though. 3/5 stars

In the Woods by Tana French
I don’t remember how I heard about the Dublin Murder Squad series, but it took me forever to get to the top of the waiting list for this book, which is the first. Detective Rob Ryan has a dark secret from his past: when he was 12, he and his best friends disappeared one summer afternoon. A few days later he was found in the woods, considerably scuffed up and his shoes full of blood, but otherwise unharmed. His friends were never found. No one knows about his past except his parents and his best friend and partner, Cassie Maddox, but it comes back to haunt him when he and Maddox are assigned to a case involving a young girl who was murdered and left in the same woods where Ryan was found as a child. There’s no evidence that the two cases are connected, and yet the coincidences are too hard to ignore.

Based on the reviews I read, this is another one of those books you either hate or love, and whether or not you hate it has largely to do with your expectations regarding the two mysteries. I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, so I’ll just say this: the same thing that disappointed many readers also disappointed me, but it didn’t spoil the book for me. To me the book was as much about the characters as about the case(s)—perhaps more so—which is why I found it so compelling. It wasn’t just about solving a mystery, but about understanding the characters and their motivations. I saw the end coming, and it still broke my heart. And that’s how I got hooked. 5/5 stars

Payment in Blood by Elizabeth George
Inspector Lynley #2! Lynley and Havers are back, this time investigating the murder of a playwright on an isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands, where they have virtually no authority, but they’ve been assigned the case on the basis of Lynley’s aristocratic connections, since one of the suspects is another aristocrat. This is pretty un-comfy for Lynley, especially since the case also involves his dear friend Lady Helen, who has become romantically entangled with yet another suspect. Lynley is forced to confront his own prejudices; Havers is forced to work behind his back in order to discover the truth. It’s a page turner, and there are quite a few plot twists, but again it’s the characters that make it worthwhile. 4/5 stars

Well-Schooled in Murder by Elizabeth George
Inspector Lynley #3! Lynley and Havers investigate a murder at a boarding school at the request of an old school chum of Lynley’s, who is now a house master at aforementioned boarding school where murder took place. I should rewrite that sentence, but I won’t. You get the picture. There are bullies, there are plot twists, there are repressed homosexuals. It’s pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. 3.5/5 stars

The Likeness by Tana French
Dublin Murder Squad #2, this time narrated by Detective Cassie Maddox, shortly after the events of In the Woods. The cops find a body that looks exactly like Maddox—like, they could be twins. It’s super weird, and it affords an excellent opportunity for some super-weird detective work. Maddox’s old boss from her undercover days convinces her to go undercover posing as the murder victim to see if she can figure out who killed her, since they’re pretty sure it’s one of the friends she lives with. I know, it’s crazy. How would that even work? It’s too long of a story. Just trust me, it’s slightly less crazy than it sounds (but only slightly). Again, this is partly about solving a mystery and partly about exploring a character’s motivations and vulnerabilities. This one didn’t gut me like In the Woods did, but it still kept me intrigued through the end. 4.5/5 stars

Faithful Place by Tana French
Dublin Murder Squad #3, this time narrated by Frank Mackey, who is technically Dublin Undercover Squad, but we met him in the previous book (Cassie Maddox’s old boss, the manipulative bastard). Faithful Place is the name of the crummy Dublin neighborhood where Frank grew up; as a teenager, he planned to escape his dead-end world by eloping with his girlfriend Rosie to London, but on the night they were to leave together, Rosie never showed up. He spent the next 22 years believing she’d stood him up and gone to London on her own. For his part, he’s spent the last 22 years trying to forget Faithful Place and his crummy family, but one day Rosie’s suitcase is found in an abandoned house on Faithful Place, prompting a new investigation into her disappearance. Officially, Frank is not supposed to be working this case (too close, you know), but being Frank, he can’t help himself. Cans of worms are opened. Confronting the truth of his past sheds a light on his present that he’d rather not see. One of the things I appreciate about this series is how the characters will make morally questionable decisions and aren’t always likeable, but I understand and feel for them nonetheless. Another sad story, but like The Likeness, it ends on a slightly hopeful note. 5/5 stars

Broken Harbor by Tana French
Dublin Murder Squad #4. Yes, I did inhale this series. Once I started, I couldn’t stop! This book features Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, the a-hole murder detective from Faithful Place. Yeah, I didn’t mention him in my review, but he was there and now he’s here, investigating a huge multiple murder case. A man has been knifed to death; his two children were smothered in their sleep, and his wife is also an apparent victim of a knife-wielding maniac, only she’s managed to survive and is in intensive care. Kennedy is of the opinion that most murder victims are the architects of their own demise; dig under the surface and eventually you’ll find whatever shady business they were into that got them killed. He and his rookie partner think this will be another open-and-shut case—prolly drugs or something—but they can’t find a motive anywhere. Could these victims be completely innocent? Meanwhile, Kennedy is dealing with his mentally ill sister and the specter of a family tragedy in his past. The combined stress threatens to send him off the deep end. I found the resolution of the murder case a little far-fetched and therefore a little unsatisfying; however, the real story was Kennedy’s evolution from by-the-book cop to a more complicated, emotionally damaged and morally compromised human being. He sort of broke my heart. 4.5/5 stars

The Secret Place by Tana French
Don’t worry, #5 is the last one I’m going to review for now because I’m still on the waiting list for #6 (although I’m still thinking of buying it, even though it’s still full price, being relatively new—I’m cheap, but I feel guilty about it). Holly Mackey, Frank Mackey’s daughter (who was introduced as a 9-year-old in Faithful Place but is now a savvy 16-year-old) comes to the police with evidence that someone at her boarding school may know something about a murder that happened on their campus the previous year. The other DMS books are told from first person. This one alternates between third-person narration (told from the point of view of Holly and her friends) and first person narration by the detective Holly initially approaches (Stephen Moran, a relatively minor character who played a pivotal role in Faithful Place). I didn’t think this book was quite as successful as the other ones, as I didn’t feel quite as invested in the characters. I couldn’t quite relate to Holly and her friends enough to find their story compelling. I liked the detective characters, but there wasn’t as much character development there; it was more of a buddy/partner story. It was still absorbing, even if it was less emotionally satisfying. 4/5 stars

Body Double by Tess Gerritsen
Back to Rizzoli & Isles. This is #4, so ancient history. A woman is found murdered in Dr. Maura Isles’ driveway. Here’s the weird part: she looks just like Maura. No, Maura is not asked to go undercover as her doppleganger. It’s not that weird. Turns out, it’s her twin sister. Maura was adopted as an infant, so heretofore she’s been ignorant of her family of origin. Unfortunately, solving this case means learning some unpleasant facts about her genetic background and the human beings associated with it. What does it all mean? Well, that isn’t delved into too deeply. This story is more plot- than character-driven, but it’s a pretty good plot nonetheless, if you enjoy police procedurals. 3.5/5 stars

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
I’ve been on the waiting list for this sucker for ages, so maybe my expectations were too high, but I was a tad disappointed. The main character is a pathetic drunk who was dumped by her ex-husband for another woman (partly because she became a pathetic drunk); every day she rides on the train and passes by her old house. She avoids looking at it and instead focuses her attention on her ex-husband’s new neighbors, an attractive young couple she has decided to live vicariously through via her fantasies she concocts about them. One day the wife is reported missing; her husband is the chief suspect, but our pathetic drunk heroine is convinced he must be innocent. She knows that she was in the neighborhood the night the wife disappeared, but she doesn’t remember much of what happened. She is desperate to recover her memories and solve the mystery, but she’s such a pathetic drunk that she keeps screwing up and making the police think she’s a kook, and her ex and his new wife think she’s stalking them, and she’s just a mess. I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic. I felt sorry for our pathetic drunk heroine, but I also found the story a bit tedious. It started out page-turny, but by the time the mystery got around to being solved, I’d sort of lost patience with it. 3/5 stars

Still to come: Romances!

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