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June 23, 2012 / C.T. Henry


I really want to thank John Sheridan for keeping this blog going during my hiatus.  With the amount of reading and writing I had to do for my new job, I had no time to blog.  Now things are calmer, and I have more time to devote to my passions.

Since the start of 2012, I’ve only read six books.  Sad, isn’t it?  So here’s my Mid-Year Top 6 Mysteries & Thrillers that I’ve read so far:

6. The Poacher’s Son by Paul Doiron (Mike Bowditch series, Book 1)
Synopsis: Game warden Mike Bowditch returns home one evening to find an alarming voice from the past on his answering machine: his father, Jack, a hard-drinking womanizer who makes his living poaching illegal game. An even more frightening call comes the next morning from the police: They are searching for the man who killed a beloved local cop the night before—and his father is their prime suspect. Jack has escaped from police custody, and only Mike believes that his tormented father might not be guilty.

Now, alienated from the woman he loves, shunned by colleagues who have no sympathy for the suspected cop killer, Mike must come to terms with his haunted past. He knows firsthand Jack’s brutality, but is the man capable of murder? Desperate and alone, Mike strikes up an uneasy alliance with a retired warden pilot, and together the two men journey deep into the Maine wilderness in search of a runaway fugitive. There they meet a beautiful woman who claims to be Jack’s mistress but who seems to be guarding a more dangerous secret. The only way for Mike to save his father now is to find the real killer—which could mean putting everyone he loves in the line of fire.

Review: While the story of a young game warden isn’t anything new since C.J. Box popularized the idea with his superior Joe Pickett series, Doiron’s first novel has a compelling plot.  Essentially, it boils down to: Do you know your estranged father enough to know if he’s capable of murder?  Even though I loved the vivd descriptions of Maine’s woodlands and wildlife, ultimately I didn’t like Mike Bowditch as a protagonist.  It says something when your favorite characters are the supporting characters, particularly retired game warden Charley Stevens, who is infused with such life and verve.  I didn’t identify with Mike Bowditch, whose youthful thinking and rookie mistakes just came across as too naive.  Such a young character though gives Doiron plenty of time to write more books and watch Bowditch grow up.


5. Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson (2011)
Synopsis: Memories define us.
So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep?
Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love—all forgotten overnight. And the one person you trust may be telling you only half the story.
Welcome to Christine’s life.

Review: There was so much hype about this thriller that I couldn’t resist it.  Unfortunately, S.J. Watson’s first novel fell short of my expectations.  While many critics wrote that this was a “page-turner that you couldn’t put down,” I just wanted to finish to get it over with.  I found the main character, Christine, to be underdeveloped.  At first, I was sympathetic to her plight – a woman who can’t remember anything when she awakes – but when she begins to find out more about past, we quickly realize that she doesn’t deserve our compassion.  For a book to be critically-acclaimed, I also expected the writing to be unique, or at the very least, stylistically mature, and yet the writing was unremarkable and pedestrian.  The alarming twist at the end takes you by surprise, but overall, the book succeeds only as a gimmick.  Years from now, it won’t be one of those books that you’ll remember fondly.


4. A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny (Chief Inspector Gamache series, Book 2)
Synopsis: CC de Poitiers managed to alienate everyone in the hamlet of Three Pines, right up to the moment she died. When Chief Inspector Armand Gamache begins his investigation, it seems like an impossible murder: CC was electrocuted on a frozen lake, in front of the entire town, during the annual curling tournament. With compassion and courage, Gamache digs beneath the idyllic surface of village life to find long buried secrets, while his own enemies threaten to bring something even more chilling than the bitter winter winds to Three Pines.

Review: After finally jumping on the Louise Penny bandwagon (quite late actually), I couldn’t wait to dive into her second book in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series.  Her first book, Still Life, is a priceless gem, and one of the reasons it succeeds so brilliantly is because the victim is a truly endearing person.  With A Fatal Grace, Penny decides to make her victim the most pretentious and despicable person you will ever meet.  The rest is irresistible fun as the troupe of friends in Three Pines cope with the life and death of this detestable woman.

3. Fun & Games by Duane Swierczynski (Charlie Hardie series, Book 1)
Synopsis: Charlie Hardie, an ex-cop still reeling from the revenge killing of his former partner’s entire family, fears one thing above all else: that he’ll suffer the same fate. Languishing in self-imposed exile, Hardie has become a glorified house sitter. His latest gig comes replete with an illegally squatting B-movie actress who rants about hit men who specialize in making deaths look like accidents. Unfortunately, it’s the real deal. Hardie finds himself squared off against a small army of the most lethal men in the world: The Accident People.

It’s nothing personal-the girl just happens to be the next name on their list. For Hardie, though, it’s intensely personal. He’s not about to let more innocent people die. Not on his watch.

Review: I don’t know anyone who hasn’t loved Duane Swierczynski’s Fun & Games.  Just like The Blonde and Expiration Date, Swiercynski has written another top-notch, fun and exciting thriller.  Plus, he’s given us a new, exceedingly likable character in Charlie Hardie, who we get to read about in two subsequent books in the series.  (Most of Swiercynski’s other books are stand-alone thrillers.)  I hope tons of people flock to this book and make Swiercynski a best-selling author.  No one deserves it more.  If you like thrillers, don’t miss this one.

2. The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny (Chief Inspector Gamache series, Book 3)
Synopsis: Welcome to Three Pines, where the cruelest month is about to deliver on its threat. It’s spring in the tiny, forgotten village; buds are on the trees and the first flowers are struggling through the newly thawed earth.  But not everything is meant to return to life. . .

When some villagers decide to celebrate Easter with a séance at the Old Hadley House, they are hoping to rid the town of its evil—until one of their party dies of fright.  Was this a natural death, or was the victim somehow helped along? Brilliant, compassionate Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec is called to investigate, in a case that will force him to face his own ghosts as well as those of a seemingly idyllic town where relationships are far more dangerous than they seem.

Review: Wow! What an ending!  Although the book starts slowly, you have to trust that Louise Penny will deliver in the end.  In the first and second books just a few hints were dropped about Chief Inspector Armande Gamache’s past actions in the Arnot case, but Penny deals with it head-on in The Cruelest Month. In fact, the murder investigation is secondary to what is going on behind the scenes with the media’s attacks on Gamache’s family and his character.  In the end, all the pieces fit nicely together, and we finally realize what took place during the séance at the old Hadley House.

1. Hell & Gone by Duane Swierczynski (Charlie Hardie series, Book 2)
Synopsis: Left for dead after an epic shootout that blew the lid off a billion-dollar conspiracy, ex-cop Charlie Hardie quickly realizes that when you’re dealing with The Accident People, things can get worse. Drugged, bound and transported by strange operatives of unknown origin, Hardie awakens to find himself captive in a secret prison that houses the most dangerous criminals on earth. And then things get really bad. Because this isn’t just any prison. It’s a Kafkaesque nightmare that comes springloaded with a brutal catch-22: Hardie’s the warden. And any attempt to escape triggers a “death mechanism” that will kill everyone down here–including a group of innocent guards.

Faced with an unworkable paradox, and knowing that his wife and son could be next on the Accident People’s hit list, Hardie has only one choice: fight his way to the heart of this hell hole and make a deal with the Devil himself.

Review: Duane Swiercynski’s Charlie Hardie series just gets better with each book.  Hell & Gone was riveting from start to finish.  More enjoyable than the first book in the series, Duane Swiercynski surprisingly takes the story underground – to a prison for heroes. I don’t want to give too much away, but I love how Charlie develops in unexpected ways. To wait until April 2013 for the final book in the series, Point & Shoot, is just plain cruel and unusual punishment.


That’s it for now.

What are YOUR top three reads of the year so far?  Comment below and list your favorites.

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