The Last Mrs. Parrish – Liv Constantine

Amber Patterson has decided she’s going to move up in the world. She’s tired of being a nobody and tired of struggling. Gorgeous Daphne Parrish has everything Amber wants: an uber wealthy husband and a beautiful seaside home in an exclusive Connecticut neighborhood. Amber uses an event from the past to insinuate herself into Daphne’s life and the two are soon best friends as Amber plots to steal Daphne’s handsome husband and become the new Mrs. Parrish. When I started the book, I found it a bit ho-hum although well written. It seemed like a typical psychological thriller, maybe even a little sub par given the heroine is old-fashioned and oblivious to Amber’s machinations. But when the narrator switches from Amber to Daphne, the reader learns all is not what it seems on more than one level and the book is instantly lifted to a higher plane. I would have liked for certain revelations to come sooner, but that would have spoiled the fun and ruined several plot points I didn’t see coming. Toward the end, I couldn’t put the book down. 

L.A. Confidential – James Ellroy

LAconfidentialcvrThis book contains a series of events so intricately crafted, finely tuned and well meshed that the author gets the prize for best plotted mystery of all time.  Varying threads come together beautifully in this story about police corruption and Hollywood sleaze in the 1950s.  Three LAPD officers become embroiled in a case involving sex, double-dealing and murder following a shoot out at an all night coffee shop.  Edmund Exley is a straight arrow who informs on fellow officers to get ahead.  Wendell “Bud” White is an enforcer who hates men that abuse women.  Jack Vincennes is more celebrity than cop as technical advisor on a television show called Badge of Honor, and provides tips to a scandal magazine.  The three must set aside their differences to unravel a conspiracy that involves organized crime, corruption, heroin trafficking, pornography, prostitution, racism and old Hollywood.  A tour de force in imagination and creativity.

Defending Jacob – William Landay

defending-jacob-book-coverI enjoyed this character-driven mystery by a talented writer with a compelling voice who is also a lawyer.  Andy Barber is an assistant district attorney in suburban Massachusetts living the good life.  He is well-respected, and happily married to wife, Laurie.  They have a son, Jacob.  Andy is completely blindsided when his 14-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.  Jacob insists he’s innocent.  Andy believes him, yet damning facts and shocking revelations surface before and during the trial, forcing him to realize how little he knows his child.  They are an embattled family in crisis as they face the trauma of the trial and it’s aftermath.  A shocking twist proves the perfect conclusion to this well-crafted courtroom drama.   

The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

DaVinciCodeSymbologist Robert Langdon investigates a murder in Paris. Near the body is a riddle leading to clues hidden in works by Leonardo da Vinci.  He joins forces with Cryptologist Sophie Neveu.  They learn the victim was a member of the Priory of Sion, a secret society which included da Vinci.  The victim sacrificed himself to protect the location of the Holy Grail, hidden for centuries.  Langdon and Neveu match wits with an operative of Opus Dei — a Vatican-sanctioned Catholic sect plotting to seize the Grail.  But what if the Grail wasn’t a thing but a person?  Mary Magdalene, married to Jesus.  What if the Merovingian Kings of France are of their bloodline, with descendants of Jesus alive today?  I’m no fan of books where characters run about frantically, but this one is well written, a good read and the clues clever.  It’s been denounced as an attack on the Catholic Church and criticized for historical and scientific errors, but it does prove Mary Magdalene was never a whore.  Ever.  Beware religious revisionism!

 

Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil – John Berendt

Midnight-in-the-Garden-of-Good-and-EvilThe description of place and sublime characters in this murder mystery are so rich and inventive one would think the book a novel when in fact it is a work of non-fiction.  In 1981, a person is killed in a mansion in Savannah, Georgia.  Is it murder or self-defense?  In the author’s skillful hands, the city of Savannah – a remnant of the Old South with it’s Spanish moss and shaded squares – becomes a character in and of itself.  We are introduced to the likes of an arrogant antiques dealer, a voodoo priestess who plies her trade in graveyards at midnight, a redneck gigolo and a profane black drag queen, just to name a few of the interesting characters populating Savannah’s streets.  It’s in this milieu, that Berendt reveals the details of the case in a town where everyone knows everyone else.

Mystic River – Dennis Lehane

Mystic RiverI loved this mystery about boyhood friends Jimmy, Sean and Dave who must face the demons of the past when Jimmy’s daughter is murdered.  The boys are friends until something terrible happens to one of them, a travesty that ends their friendship and changes them forever. Years later, Sean is a homicide detective, Jimmy an ex-con store owner and Dave trying to keep his marriage together as he fights the urge to do terrible things.  Sean is assigned the case which brings him into conflict with Jimmy who wants to revert to his criminal past and dish out justice – vigilante style.  Where does Dave fit into the mix – Dave who came home the night Jimmy’s daughter was killed covered in blood. Rich narrative.  I understand and agree with the “show don’t tell” writing philosophy, but sometimes a little tell ain’t necessarily bad.  Lehane’s Shutter Island is a great book as well.

The Alienist – Caleb Carr

alienistRichly written, this is a detailed historical work of fiction about a psychologist (alienist), a reporter and a secretary at the turn of the 20th century trying to put together a psychological profile of a serial killer.  The methodology, amassing a profile based on the details of a person’s crimes, was regarded as highly suspect at the time — revolutionary in the field of criminology. The story begins when a young male prostitute, from one of Manhattan’s infamous brothels, is discovered dead and mutilated. Investigators soon realize they are dealing with a person who has killed before, and will kill again, unless they can get into his mind and stop him.  The clues lead readers from tenements in deplorable condition to opulent mansions, from corrupt cops to gangsters, from opera houses to gin mills.  An in-depth look at New York City during the time period referred to as the Gilded Age, as well as a peek at the birth of criminal profiling.