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Warning: I spent an inordinate amount of time reading Anne Perry books in this sextile as well. But let’s get on with it, shall we?

Exhume by Danielle Girard
I think I got this book free from Kindle First, which is good because I didn’t end up finishing it. Ordinarily I don’t bother reviewing books I haven’t finished reading, but I just have to tell you about this one because, well, here’s my Goodreads review:

I had a hard time buying the premise of this book, which is that an overachieving third-year med student went on a date with an older man who then raped her, and so of course she somehow got roped into marrying him because I guess rapists are just that controlling; anyway, she’s in this abusive marriage for several years before she finally escapes, moves across the country to finish medical school and eventually becomes a coroner, all the while her ex (to whom she’s technically still married) is stalking her. Okay. I don’t think so, but okay, let’s say that happened. So as coroner, she’s called to a crime scene where she finds a corpse that looks just like her and blah blah reasons, it looks like her ex might be trying to send her a message or something (…with murder!) and she’s in danger. Fine. Meanwhile, in her home town, unbeknownst to her, old ladies start getting murdered for mysterious reasons.

There are a lot of characters in this book, and the story gets narrated from several points of view, including (eventually) the ex, who is apparently posing as an incarcerated convict so he can lure a prison-groupie type into doing criminal activity on his behalf. Or something. I don’t know, that part was a little confusing. Meanwhile again, the coroner-in-danger randomly meets up with a police officer she knows casually and they have an impromptu dinner date. The next thing she knows, said police officer is incriminated by some crime scene evidence and the *next* thing she knows, she wakes up one morning with him next to her in bed; they’ve both been drugged and he’s been stabbed in the chest. Because she’s a doctor, she manages to a) stop him from dying and b) draw blood from both of them to be tested before the paramedics arrive and she passes out again.

The NEXT thing she knows, she’s waking up in the hospital, realizing that she must be the primary suspect in this dude’s stabbing, and so she decides to leave town. Because despite the fact that the lead detective is her friend and willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, considering that she’s the coroner and obviously being stalked and crap, running away like she’s totally guilty is the only reasonable thing for her to do at this point. I have by no means given away the whole story. This is about half the story, and this is where I gave up because this woman is so stupid, I’d like to make up my own ending to the story where she ends up being killed. No stars/DNF

The Shifting Tide by Anne Perry
Monk #14. A shipping magnate hires Monk to investigate the theft of some ivory off his ship. This puts Monk undercover on the riverfront, not his usual haunts. Meanwhile, said shipping magnate has dropped off a very ill woman at Hester’s clinic. Why doesn’t the shipping magnate want to involve the River Police, and who is this woman? His secrets will lead to a crisis of epic proportions! (Just trust me on this.) It was interesting to see Monk in a new setting, where he’s a bit out of his depth. This book also introduces some new characters. 4/5 stars

Dark Assassin by Anne Perry
Monk #15. Monk’s first big case for the River Police is a double drowning that may have been an accident or a suicide or murder or all of the above. What he does know is that one of the drown-ees was convinced that her father, an apparent suicide, was murdered because of what he knew about the company that was making the new sewer system for the city. This is an opportunity for Perry to dazzle us with disgusting factoids about nineteenth century hygiene, but this felt to me like a River Police Re-mix of an earlier Monk book. Perhaps I’ve read too many because I can’t remember which one specifically. I found the ending unsatisfying, but the journey was not bad. 3/5 stars

The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly
This story opens with Karen and her 10-year-old daughter picking up Rex from a 10-year stint in prison for murder. And that’s where the fun begins. Actually, most of the story is told in flashback when Karen was a uni student hanging out with Rex and his flamboyant sister, Biba. Something really messed up happened, and Rex went to prison for it, but was Rex really guilty? If not, who was? What is the Deep, Dark Secret Karen is keeping from Rex and from her daughter? From everyone, actually? This book has a twist ending, and it’s been long enough that I can’t remember if I saw it coming or not. I mean, there were a couple of twists, actually, and I may have seen one of them coming, but I definitely did not see the other one coming, so despite the fact that no one in this book is particularly likeable—with the possible exception of Rex, who I at least felt sorry for—the story held my interest up until the end. Because I am a sucker for Deep, Dark Secrets, but you know my philosophy on Deep, Dark Secrets as literary devices: the longer you hold off revealing it, the Deeper and Darker it must be to avoid making your reader feel cheated. I did not feel cheated. 4/5 stars

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
I picked up this book because it was on a best-of/recommended YA novel list, and as many times as lists of this type have disappointed, you’d think I’d be warier. But this was truly an exceptional YA novel. The main character, Alex, is a murderer. (Not a spoiler.) She killed the guy who murdered her sister and got away with it. Similarly, Alex got away with his murder, but now Alex knows the violence she is capable of and that she can’t trust herself with other people, not even the ones who want to be her friends. Obviously, the subject matter isn’t for everyone’s taste, but I found this story fascinating, and much more morally complex than your average YA novel gets. It was also reasonably disturbing. Content warning: sexual assault, teen sexual activity, and moderately graphic violence. 4.5/5 stars

Playing for the Ashes by Elizabeth George
Lynley #7. Inspector Lynley and Sergeant Havers investigate the murder of a famous cricket player. Was it his ex-wife? His lover? The woman he lives with who’s old enough to be his mother but might actually also be his lover? It’s a very confusing situation. The book switches between the story of the cops’ investigation–which involves leaking information to the press in an effort to smoke out the killer–and a narrative written by the estranged daughter of one of the suspects, and her story gradually sheds light on the case. Includes an ending fraught with moral ambiguity! Content warning: Some fairly graphic sexual stuff, gross enough for me to remember, but isolated to one part of the book. 4/5 stars

Execution Dock by Anne Perry
Monk #16. Monk and the River Police catch the ringleader of a child prostitution/pornography ring and arrest him for the murder of a young boy. Oliver Rathbone’s father-in-law asks him to defend the accused at trial; he won’t say why, but Oliver feels obligated to trust him, for his (Oliver’s) wife’s sake. What happens thereafter is a freaking mess, which is about as much detail as I can give you without giving the whole plot away. Suffice it to say, Monk has to work overtime—with the help of Hester and his new Riverside homies—to make sure justice is done. Content warning: child sexual abuse, not graphic but nonetheless disturbing. 5/5 stars

Acceptable Loss by Anne Perry
Monk #17. This book builds on the events of Execution Dock. Another scumbag is murdered on the river; he turns out to have been involved with the same child pornography business, the head of which is still at large. Monk wants this business killed for good, but in order to kill the head of the snake, he must first find out who killed the scumbag and why. Another page-turning police procedural and courtroom drama involving blackmail and corruption and unfortunate relatives. Same CW as before. 5/5 stars

A Sunless Sea by Anne Perry
Monk #18. Opens with the discovery of a brutal murder. (Quelle surprise.) The victim is a poor woman with no apparent connections—except for the gentleman who visited her in her humble rooms once a month, and he committed suicide a month earlier. Suspicion rests on the man’s widow, who has no alibi, and Monk is forced to arrest her, though he believes her claims of innocence. So who killed and mutilated the poor dead woman, if not the jealous wife? This book focuses more on Rathbone than usual, but it’s pretty interesting, so I didn’t mind. Involves some plot threads from Acceptable Loss. 4/5 stars

Blind Justice by Anne Perry
Monk #19. Hester works to get a minster/con-man prosecuted for fraud. Oliver Rathbone, now a judge, presides over the case. The minister appears to be guilty and his case isn’t looking good, until the defense produces a witness who undermines the charge. But Rathbone has information no one else has, which puts him in a moral/ethical dilemma. There’s a gaping plot hole in this book that Perry never fills in. I think she became bored with the character of Margaret around book #16 and decided to turn her into a villain, but the transformation was never believable for me. The other villains in this story–the minister and his henchman–were enigmas. I kept hoping it would all make sense in the end, but…no. Rathbone’s struggles with right/wrong and law/justice, however, were very real and interesting. 3/5 stars

Blood on the Water by Anne Perry
Monk #20. Opens with a horrible explosion on a pleasure boat that kills almost 200 people. Monk begins the investigation, but in short order the government hands over the case to the Metropolitan Police, for reasons that make no sense to anyone. A man is arrested and sentenced to death, but then there are questions about his guilt. Monk is put back on the case, but by now it’s been several months and the trail is cold. This book had a slow beginning, and despite the scale of the tragedy that opens the story, I found it difficult to become invested in the outcome. Lots of government corruption and whatnot, but it all seemed a lot less consequential for the characters than usual. At least there was no Margaret in this one. 3/5 stars

Corridors of the Night by Anne Perry
Monk #21. Hester is working at a hospital where a talented doctor and his brilliant scientist brother are doing experimental treatments. Unfortunately, she learns that they are secretly imprisoning poor children so they can use their blood! (These are the days before blood transfusions were a thing, so this is quite extraordinary for several reasons.) The first half of this story is very exciting and involves Monk and some other regulars doing badass stuff. The second half is the trial, and it’s kind of annoying. Two quibbles: 1) At one point the defense attorney pushes Hester into admitting that something that actually happened didn’t happen; another witness had already testified to it, and moreover, we read it happening just a few pages ago. It made no difference to the outcome, but it also made no sense that she would say that. 2) An important character who appeared in Books #19 and #20 as Rufus Brancaster has another important role in this book, but for some reason Perry changes his name to Ardal Juster. (???) Not sure if Ardal is an improvement over Rufus or not, but that’s not the point. Obviously, Perry writes a lot of books and can be forgiven for forgetting a character’s name, but isn’t this what editors are for? And where the crap did “Ardal Justice” come from, anyway? That said, it’s still a good story. 4/5 stars

In the Presence of the Enemy by Elizabeth George
Lynley #8. Tabloid editor Dennis Luxford is being blackmailed by someone who has kidnapped his 10-year-old daughter and threatened to kill her if he doesn’t print the “true story” about his oldest child. Complicating matters is that Luxford is only the girl’s biological father; he’s never met the girl and hasn’t had any contact with the mother, now a high-profile junior minister in the government, in a decade. The mother thinks this is all an elaborate plot on Dennis’s part so he can print the sordid story of their long-ago affair. She forbids him to involve the police because that will mean revealing her secret, so Dennis asks forensic specialist Sebastian St. James (who in turn involves his wife, Deborah, and his assistant, Lady Helen) to figure out who the kidnapper is. Bad things ensue. This is an exciting story because the stakes are high—children in danger and whatnot—and there’s the continuing drama of Lynley’s benighted relationship with Lady Helen, plus some good stuff with Sergeant Havers. But the way the child characters were used seemed vaguely exploitive to me; they felt expendable, which isn’t how you want to see children in a murder/kidnapping situation. 3.5/5 stars

Romance

Not a lot of time for romance this sextile—too much William Monk! But here’s what I read.

Irresistible by Mary Balogh
This is Book #3 in the Four Horsemen trilogy. I liked it much better than Book #2, even if it wasn’t quite up to the level I’ve come to expect from Balogh. (These are earlier Balogh works that have recently been re-released.) Sophia Armitage is an old friend the Four Horsemen knew in their army days; she followed the drum with her husband, who has been dead a couple years now. Nathaniel Gascoigne is in London to find a husband for his niece and short-term love affair for himself. Sophie agrees to help him with both of these things, wink wink nudge nudge. But things always get complicated when friends start sleeping together, especially when one of the friends is being blackmailed and is afraid to tell anyone about it. There is a subplot involving the Fourth Horseman, Eden, and his lady love, the tension with whom has been building since at least Book #2. (I haven’t read Book #1.) Two quibbles: 1) I really thought Eden deserved his own book and 2) this book felt like it should have ended earlier than it did. (I suppose it went on so long in part to provide more time for the Eden subplot resolution, but…come on. Whose idea was it to have a Four Horsemen Trilogy, anyway? That doesn’t even make sense.) Content warning: friends have explicit benefits, wink wink nudge nudge. 3.5/5 stars

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
Another contemporary romance I talked myself into reading, but this time I had no regrets. Lucy and Joshua work at the same publishing company. Technically, they have the same job, as their company is the product of a recent merger and they are assistants to their respective co-equal bosses. (It’s hard to explain succinctly.) So there’s a deep rivalry going on here; also, they are complete opposites and just don’t get along. Actually, they hate each other. That’s what they say, anyway. And also what they act like. That’s what everyone thinks because a) they say it and b) they act like it. But you know where this is headed, right? Yes, they are secretly in love—so secretly that not even they know it yet. Elements of the plot are pure science fiction, but I found this book very smart and funny. I may be feeling overgenerous with the stars because when I read it, I was sick in bed and it was a great escape under those circumstances; plus, the heroine wasn’t neurotic, and in a contemporary romance, a non-neurotic heroine is always worth an extra star, IMO. Content warning: Some non-graphic sex. 4.5/5 stars

 

 

 

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