Book review: THE MONOGRAM MURDERS by Sophie Hannah

Book review: THE MONOGRAM MURDERS by Sophie Hannah

I love reading a good mystery as much as I love writing them! Here’s what I read this week.

A new Hercule Poirot mystery

Mystery fans can’t get enough of Agatha Christie’s fussy Belgian detective (cue Sir Kenneth Branagh, please!) and THE MONOGRAM MURDERS shows why. The new Hercule Poirot books by Sophie Hannah are spot-on, capturing the style and personality of the original books right down to Poirot’s tendency to speak of himself in the third person, identify the most obscure clues and solve multi-villain crimes.

Three people are found dead in a swank London hotel. They have all been poisoned. Two women and a man are each found in their respective hotel room, prone body positioned toward the door, and a monogrammed cufflink in the mouth.

What do the initials PIJ stand for?

Poirot & Co

Edward Catchpool, a young Scotland Yard detective, is assigned to the case. Poirot, who is taking a sabbatical of sorts by staying in the same boarding house, accompanies Catchpool to the scene of the crime. Catchpool, who deals with an inner struggle regarding the bodies of the dead, becomes Poirot’s foil and sounding board. Poirot delights in the role of teacher, making many clever (and correct IMHO) observations about human nature as they investigate.

The crime traces back to an old scandal in little village. As in so many Poirot tales, the final denouement reveals complex connections. Red herrings are ultimately complicit in the crime. The ending was impossible to guess! Only Poirot or an encyclopedia would know the tiny details that lead to certain supporting conclusions.

You almost need to graph out all the twists and turns to make sure you didn’t miss anything.

Related post: Book review: THE SEPTEMBER SOCIETY by Charles Finch

Style & substance

I loved the way the novel set up the crime, with clues that appear impossible to reconcile. What happened to the room service food? How did the killer escape? Why was one victim’s room key hidden behind a loose tile? Why did the waiter lie? The crime is tantalizing and the pages flew by.

Yet after so much brilliance, the last quarter of the novel moves at a glacial pace, with chunky dialogue in which the crime is picked apart and Poirot explains far too many extraneous bits of investigative genius..

But if you love Agatha Christie, Poirot’s return is “can’t miss” reading. So far there are 5 Poirot mysteries by Sophie Hannah, all incredible brainteasers like THE MONOGRAM MURDERS.


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Book Review: SWEETLAND by Dareth Pray

Book Review: SWEETLAND by Dareth Pray

Debut thriller SWEETLAND takes off like a rocket and never loses speed. Author Dareth Pray is one to watch!

Erin Stark is a new kind of female thriller heroine, giving fictional male colleagues like James Reece (THE TERMINAL LIST) and Jack Reacher (BETTER OFF DEAD) a run for their money. Reminiscent of Lisbeth Salander in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, Erin has a cold-blooded capacity that makes her both uncommon and intriguing.

A jingoistic cult/militia group called Patriot Dawn kidnaps a busload of high school cheerleaders from a highway rest stop in Tennessee. Erin poses as a college student to be scooped up along with the cheerleaders. In the process, she saves a girl having an asthma attack. In short order we see that Erin has special skills as well as a cool head under pressure.

The group is taken to an abandoned US military base commandeered by Patriot Dawn. Fake marriages take place. Erin ends up with the group’s commanding officer, an ex-military officer who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The Ruby Ridge/Jonestown nature of the Patriot Dawn compound and the forceful leader’s rules and authority are chillingly well drawn.

SWEETLAND really turns on Erin’s inner voice as she endures the horrific ordeal yet presses her own agenda. With no choice but to submit, she subtly manipulates her new “husband” to gain his trust and reveal his plans. She creates imaginative codes to records her findings.

Erin’s backstory, including her skill with languages and the spy handler who introduced her to the world of espionage, is carefully threaded through the current timeline. We realize that there is little in her life apart from constant undercover work.

Meanwhile, back in Washington DC, a weak-willed US president and a general called out of retirement learn that Patriot Dawn is the tip of a very large iceberg that threatens to propel the US into civil war. How long before the government is forced to respond? What critical information can Erin collect—and how much can she endure—before war breaks out?

I have it on good authority that more Erin Stark books are in process. Highly recommended.

Click here to find SWEETLAND on Amazon

Book Review: THE GUILTY DIE TWICE by Don Hartshorn

Book Review: THE GUILTY DIE TWICE by Don Hartshorn

THE GUILTY DIE TWICE offers a memorable cast of characters, two pivotal crimes, lots of deliciously grubby political machinations, and both sides of the death penalty argument. The writing is both fluid and precise, without (thankfully) lots of legal jargon. The smooth pacing and flow make it exceptionally readable and hard to put down.

Travis Lynch is an attorney in Austin, Texas, who is barely able to make ends meet. His wife is pregnant, he works out of his living room, and he’s estranged from the rest of the Lynch family, scions of the Texas legal establishment. The reason for Travis’s difficult situation is tied to murderer Riley Sutton, whose execution takes place early in the proceedings.

Related: Book Review: THIEF OF SOULS by Brian Klingborg

Jake Lynch, Travis’s older brother, is the District Attorney (DA). Jake is a man on the rise. Powerful kingmakers are circling around. He’s the heir-apparent to the Lynch family’s legal legacy. Jake and Travis have not spoken in 10 years, when they prosecuted the Sutton case ten years ago as both friends and up-and-coming attorneys working in the DA’s office.

When a drug deal goes wrong, two high school boys are killed and another left paralyzed. A kingmaker’s son is one of the victims and the media is all over the story. Of course, no one wants the fact to come out that the victims were in a construction zone at 3:00 am to buy drugs.

Two arrests are made. The parents of the suspected shooter turn to Travis. He reluctantly takes the case, knowing he won’t be paid, but hoping to save the kid from a death sentence.

Meanwhile, Jake is pressured into charging the suspected shooter with a capital crime, triggering the death penalty. This pits Travis and Jake against each other in circumstances that hearken back to the Sutton case. Of course the backstory merges with the current timeline here and you finally find out what started the feud so long ago. What I liked so much is that neither brother is a white knight, but each is trying to follow their conscience in a very, very bad situation.

Related: Book Review: COMMAND AND CONTROL by David Bruns & J.R. Olson

Both stories wrap the reader in double suspense. What happened during the Sutton case to create this feud between the two brothers? What will happen to the current murder investigation given all the political strings being pulled? Can this family ever be mended?

It’s a legal thriller but even more, this is a story about a family pulled apart by competing moral values.

Highly recommended. Find THE GUILTY DIE TWICE on Amazon.

The author Don Hartshorn has an interesting website with short stories and writing tips. You can find it here:

THE GUILTY DIE TWICE was published by TCKPublishing, a small press with a unique tagline: “Wealth is in the mind, not the pocket.” How true! You can find TCK here:

Book Review: A NEAPOLITAN INTRIGUE by Kate McVaugh

Book Review: A NEAPOLITAN INTRIGUE by Kate McVaugh

Past and present collide in this clever thriller that moves between present-day Naples, Italy, and Berkeley, California in 1969. A NEAPOLITAN INTRIGUE deals with serious topics with a smooth prose and a dab of humor at the right moments. I read it in one day, and learned some history, too.


Letty White is a recently retired security consultant living in Naples. Her background includes stints as a linguist for the Central Intelligence Agency and Interpol. Just as she is wondering if la dolce vita in Naples is what she truly wants, local ex-Interpol friends who own a security company find a photo of Letty as a teenager in the pocket of a dead man.

In the photo, Letty and a girlfriend are with two National Guardsmen in a Jeep, souvenir of May 1969 when Berkeley was occupied by more than 2000 Army National Guard troops. The situation began when an impromptu People’s Park was created without authorization. Attempts to dismantle the park engulfed the area in large-scale protests. Law enforcement tried to quell the protests and fatal shootings occurred. Tensions skyrocketed and the National Guard was called out.

During the second half of May 1969, Berkeley was a city in turmoil, with nearly non-stop demonstrations. Protesters were teargassed, trapped and arrested. The local prison became notorious for abuse. Events culminated with a gigantic march, with many of those present carrying daisies and singing.

Letty was 16 years old at the time, on the fringes of the protest movement with her friends and attending a high school directly adjacent to the hot zone.

As present-day Letty attempts to find out the identity of the dead man in Naples, flashbacks to Berkeley offer clues. Both Naples and Berkeley are painted with compelling visual descriptions.


Letty is a real 3-D character, with dangerous curiosity. She takes thoughtless risks at first but grows more wary as things in Naples go awry. I loved the way that, fueled by gallons of espresso, she gets away from the bad guys, argues with the good guys, crashes a wedding and a bespoke tailor, spurns her Italian lover, and gets away from the bad guys yet again, until at the end, she turns the tables on everybody.

The book is a thriller but has elements of a light-hearted caper, too. It will keep you turning the pages! Find A NEAPOLITAN INTRIGUE on AMAZON

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Book Review: A PALE HORSE by Charles Todd

Book Review: A PALE HORSE by Charles Todd

I’ve been gobbling up the Inspector Ian Rutledge historical mystery series by Charles Todd and A PALE HORSE is a prime example of what makes this post-WWI series so irresistible. You get a travelogue of Great Britain, layers of plot complexity, and a flawed hero who lives on the edge of madness caused by bloody and senseless war.

It’s 1920 and Rutledge is an inspector with Scotland Yard with jurisdiction to investigate across Britain. His first case is an unidentified body wearing a theatrical cloak and a war-time gas mask, found in the ruins of an abbey in Yorkshire. Having spent 4 years as an officer in the trenches of France, Rutledge is somewhat of a ruin himself.

He hears the Scottish voice of his dead sergeant Hamish, a voice so real that he cannot turn around for fear of actually seeing the man. Hamish was executed by firing squad for refusing to lead his men in another suicidal charge through no-man’s land. As the officer in charge, it was up to Rutledge to deliver the final shot. Moments after doing so, a German mortar attack killed everyone in the trench except Rutledge who was shielded when Hamish’s dead body fell on him.

The mystery of the unidentified body in Yorkshire soon merges with that of a missing Berkshire scientist who lived in a small cluster of cottages built near the mysterious silhouette of a horse cut into a chalk hill by ancient people. As Rutledge probes the disappearance, each of the other residents of this strange little community reveal their secrets. Soon Rutledge isn’t just trying to identify the dead or find the missing but solve multiple murders.

I’m always fascinated by plot construction and the Rutledge books follow a 3-act template. Act 1 is all about setting the scene and the pace is measured. Things pick up in Act 2, but Rutledge frequently revisits locations or questions the same people again and again, uncommon technique for a mystery author. The pace is fastest in Act 3 as clues lead to a major climax.

Throughout it all, Rutledge and Hamish debate the cases and taunt each other. Thanks to some of the best writing out there, we see how Hamish is a product of Rutledge’s troubled conscience. Here’s an example from A PALE HORSE, as Rutledge contemplates a lost love:

She was another man’s wife, now. Not his, never his . . .

Hamish, at his shoulder, said only, “It was verra’ different with my Fiona. I should ha’ come home to her, and left you dead in France. Your Jean wouldna’ have missed you . . .”

The voice was sad, as if half convincing himself that this was true.

Together the two men, one of whom didn’t exist, went back to the flat.

Highly recommended. Find A PALE HORSE on AMAZON.

Book Review: Bone Canyon by Lee Goldberg

Book Review: Bone Canyon by Lee Goldberg

I love Goldberg’s Ian Ludlow series, starting with the ridiculously wonderful KILLER THRILLER, in which a nerdy writer repeatedly saves the world, but I was willing to go along for a more serious ride in BONE CANYON. A traditional police procedural, BONE CANYON delivers the same high speed action, unfussy writing style, and excellent plot development.

Related: Book Review: KIller Thriller

Eve Ronin is a detective for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, assigned to the Lost hills station near Calabasas, California. She used some inadvertent notoriety to climb the career ladder to her current assignment, a detail which has not endeared her to many colleagues. Meanwhile, her partner is counting down the days until he can retire and Eve is more or less estranged from her has-been showbiz parents.

Her life isn’t perfect, but Eve is making it work. She’s stubborn, athletic, committed to the job. I think she sounds a lot like Detective Emilia Cruz, albeit with a racing bicycle instead of a white Suburban.

The latest wildfires have cleared the hillsides, revealing the bones of a long-dead woman. Eve is able to make a positive identification and discovers that the dead woman was raped shortly before she disappeared.

Eve investigates the rape, assuming a connection to the woman’s death, when a second body is found. As the investigation continues, Eve’s chief suspect becomes another member of the Sheriff’s Department. With her notoriety now a liability, Eve faces danger herself.

Goldberg fans will love the reference to Hollywood and the Vine, the cheesy cop show Ian Ludlow ostensibly wrote. It’s a moment of fun that lightens a seriously good whodunit. All the threads wrap at the end, along with a teaser that primes us for the next Eve Ronin tale.

BONE CANYON is the second book in the Eve Ronin series, following LOST HILLS, but stands alone quite well.

Highly recommended.

Get it on Amazon


Book Review: BACK SIDE OF A BLUE MOON by Caleb Pirtle III

Book Review: BACK SIDE OF A BLUE MOON by Caleb Pirtle III

I’ve been roaming Amazon, looking for historical fiction set in the blue collar world of the 1920’s and 30’s and won the prize when I discovered BACK SIDE OF A BLUE MOON, the first book in Caleb Pirtle’s Boomtown Saga trilogy. Part Music Man, part Grapes of Wrath, beautiful, haunting prose paints a tale you can see as well as if it was on the big screen.

And what a story it is!

The Depression and drought have combined to kill Ashland, Texas. The town on the banks of the Sabine River in east Texas is worn out and no one is as worn out as Eudora Durant. Once the town beauty, she’s now married to an abusive husband and stuck on a farm that can no longer sustain them. Her neighbors are selling off and leaving, their lives destroyed.

One night Eudora’s husband goes too far and she defends herself with the shotgun. When he isn’t seen around for some time, the sheriff starts asking questions, as do the townspeople. Eudora claims he took off but suspicion grows.

Good riddance to bad rubbish, as the saying goes. But where is his body? Without it, the sheriff can’t arrest Eudora, no matter what the gossips say.

Meanwhile, Doc Bannister comes to town, one step ahead of the law. He’s Hugh Jackman in the Music Man but instead of promising a boy’s band complete with uniforms and instruments, he’s going to use a homemade “doodlebug” machine to find oil and make Ashland richer than King Midas.

Doc is one of the best-written characters I’ve come across in quite some time. In his white suit and straw hat, he’s a breath of fresh air blowing life back into Ashland. He’s a rogue, yet a hard worker. Slippery yet drawn to the concept of stability. He knows just how to convince and manipulate while appearing honest and sincere.

In short order, he convinces everyone to part with their last two nickels to invest in his oil syndicate. Doc starts drilling on Eudora’s land, claiming to “smell” the oil below the surface, as the sheriff prowls around.

The suspense is multi-faceted. Is Doc a con artist or does he really know what he’s doing? Did Eudora really kill her husband? Will she be charged? What is going to happen to everyone who invested?

Perfectly true to time and place, the book veers more toward literary fiction than traditional mystery but it was too good to keep to myself!

It’s only available in Kindle format on AMAZON.

Highly recommended.

Book Review: COMMAND AND CONTROL by David Bruns and J.R. Olson

Book Review: COMMAND AND CONTROL by David Bruns and J.R. Olson

I was already a fan of this author duo’s espionage thrillers but COMMAND and CONTROL by David Bruns and J.R. Olson ratchets up the intensity to truly epic levels.

Buckle up, because this a fast-paced thrill ride through an ocean churning with conflict, tech wizardry, and global politics.

A string of unexplained attacks on US military forces have one thing in common: the latest Russian weaponry. Soon US forces are spread thin, not only in response to multiple threats, but also because of the new president’s vow to oust the illegal Maduro regime in Venezuela. As conflicts rage across the globe, a terror attack decimates the US Navy’s top brass gathered for a conference at Annapolis.

Don Reilly is head of the CIA’s Emerging Threats Group (a fictional unit) with access to the highest level of US policymakers (and enjoys a very enviable and fictional lack of bureaucratic red tape LOL).

He’s desperately trying to connect dots around the globe. Why would the Russian president, a thinly disguised Putin, want to go to war now? Why has North Korean suddenly decided to jettison its nuclear program? How was the Venezuelan military, on the brink of starvation and out of hard currency, able to procure the latest in Russian military technology? Who was behind the Annapolis terror attack?

Things aren’t adding up. Yet the world is hurtling toward war.

Besides Don, the cast of characters ranges from a shadowy operative who is enabling the transfer of Russian weaponry to global hotspots, to the Russian president who believes one of his inner circle is betraying him, to the US Navy admiral who must make life and death decisions as he sails his fleet into harm’s way near the Bering Strait.

Scenes are fraught with tension, and almost all are either turning or decision points. This is a long book, but it is all muscle, no fat.

Like Tom Clancy’s THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, there is lots of military activity and technology here, but kudos to the authors for knowing that not every reader appreciates a data dump or pages of tech jargon. Instead, swift explanations enhance the action. Bruns and Olson bill themselves as the Two Navy Guys and their expertise shows. The scenes at sea are absolutely authentic.

The book puts you on the bridge of the aircraft carrier as radar tracks incoming danger. You are in the submarine as the Russian communications cable is hacked. You are in the helicopter as the missile zeroes in.

You are turning pages as fast as you can. Expect chills up your spine.

COMMAND AND CONTROL is the first book in a trilogy. The second, COUNTERSTRIKE is also available.

Highly recommended.

Get COMMAND AND CONTROL on Amazon here.

Book Review: SHARPE’S ASSASSIN by Bernard Cornwell

Book Review: SHARPE’S ASSASSIN by Bernard Cornwell

First off, let me confess that I’m such a fan of the Richard Sharpe historical thriller series that we own ALL of the Sharpe television episodes starring Sean Bean (on video) AND the Sharpe board game which is like Risk but cooler.

sharpe board game

So I was thrilled that Bernard Cornwell published SHARPE’S ASSASSIN in 2021, which puts a final coda on the amazing career of his fictional British soldier. The first book, SHARPE’S EAGLE, came out in 1981 and introduced Richard Sharpe, a rifleman in His Majesty’s Army during the Napoleonic Wars who is promoted into the officer ranks for gallantry in battle. 25 books later, Sharpe is fighting Napoleon’s last gasp with the same fantastic period details, historical lessons, and memorable characters that have entertained (and educated) millions.

In SHARPE’S ASSASSIN, Napoleon has been defeated at Waterloo, but the wily ex-Emperor remains at large. Remnants of the French army fight on against a coalition of British and Prussian forces. Now a lieutenant colonel, Sharpe’s battalion was mauled during the fighting at Waterloo. Indeed, the story begins as Sharpe and ever-faithful sergeant Patrick Harper are burying long-time friend Dan Hagman.

Summoned to the headquarters of the Duke of Wellington, Sharpe is given an unorthodox new assignment.

He must capture a citadel in a town that has yet to surrender, in order to rescue an important prisoner held by the French. It’s a fool’s errand but the prisoner has information about a cohort of fanatical Frenchmen called la Fraternité determined to carry out assassinations and restore Napoleon to power. Wellington himself is in the groups’ crosshairs.

As in every Sharpe book, the action is breathtaking with great imagery, perfect pacing, and a sense of big things at stake. Sharpe doesn’t come through these skirmishes unscathed; we can almost smell the blood and choke on the dust, feel our arm weighted by the heavy sword and shudder from the recoil of the rifle as the leather-wrapped ball sings through the air.

What I loved about SHARPE’S ASSASSIN is the way Sharpe’s entire career is referenced, as well as his uncertain birth, which allows us to relive his major exploits and the battles he so narrowly survived. This goes back to when he was flogged–before being promoted to an officer–and the way in which Sharpe gets his revenge is supremely delicious.

His romances are there, too. (Let’s face it, Sharpe was hardly celibate as he marched from Portugal to Belgium.)

But what makes this final Sharpe adventure so outstanding is that Sharpe has finally met his match in a French officer whose reputation for fearlessness and victory in battle matches his own. It was the perfect way for the series to come full circle, only deepening my belief that Bernard Cornwell has no equal as a storyteller.

Book Review: THIEF OF SOULS by Brian Klingborg

Book Review: THIEF OF SOULS by Brian Klingborg

THIEF OF SOULS by Brian Klingborg

I love a mystery with a unique plotline in which a crime or a twist (or both!) is only possible because of the setting. And I love an author who pulls me into that setting and makes me experience it in an almost tactile fashion. THIEF OF SOULS is Brian Klingborg’s first Inspector Lu Fei mystery and he does all that and more.

There aren’t many police procedurals set in China to begin with and Klingborg goes for the doubly unexpected by avoiding Beijing, the locale of Peter May’s China Thrillers (THE FIREMAKER, etc) and bringing us north to Raven Valley, a mostly rural township outside Harbin. Lu Fei is the deputy chief of the Public Security Bureau there, answering to an ambitious boss who knows the best way to get ahead is to avoid doing anything controversial. The place is dull, leaving the single Lu plenty of time to drink at the Red Lotus and moon over the comely proprietress Yanyan.

A young woman’s murder upends the cycle of boredom and drinking, especially when it is discovered that her vital organs have been removed and the body sewn up neatly. Both security and Communist Party officials from Beijing descend on Raven Valley and China’s complicated internal workings go on display for the uninitiated.

Lu is soon caught between his old boss in Harbin, who hates his guts, and the upwardly mobile Beijing officials who will take credit for his work if he solves the murder and stick a knife in his ribs if he doesn’t. Or just because he’s inconvenient.

The book really delivers a look inside a system where the political party dictates reality based on the various players’ struggle for power. Everyone else must comply, no matter how illogical. In this way, the book is similar to Martin Cruz Smith’s groundbreaking Arkady Renko series which showed the warped logic of the Soviet Communist Party in GORKY PARK, RED SQUARE, etc.

Even as the most convenient suspect is pressured to confess, Lu investigates the victim’s posh lifestyle in Harbin, which is a huge contrast to rural Raven Valley where her body was found. He eventually connects her to a senior Party official. But that’s hardly the end of the case.

The book is fantastically atmospheric, with a sprinkling of Chinese poetry, wise sayings, and Chinese language words which are always put in context. I read it in two days, thoroughly immersed in the story and characters. The ending felt a bit rushed, but maybe that was me reading it at warp speed.

Bottom line? I’m grabbing the second Inspector Lu Fei novel as soon as it comes out.

Get THIEF OF SOULS on Amazon

Book Review: KILLER THRILLER by Lee Goldberg

Book Review: KILLER THRILLER by Lee Goldberg


Action thriller writer Ian Ludlow is at it again in this zany unputdownable page-turner, the sequel to the equally wonderful TRUE FICTION. Like TRUE FICTION, KILLER THRILLER combines an over-the-top plot with author Goldberg’s own screenwriting chops.

As a result, the pace is brisk, the dialogue is clever, and the whole premise is refreshingly original and fun.

Ian Ludlow, a pudgy writer who lives in a bland apartment, is nothing like his main character, ultra cool action hero Clint Straker. Since saving the US from evildoers (in TRUE FICTION) Ian has gained a few pounds, written another best-selling Clint Straker thriller, and snagged a movie deal.

The movie Straker is being filmed in Hong Kong, and Ian is invited for a promotional jaunt. He arrives in Hong Kong with new assistant Margo French, his unlikely ally from TRUE FICTION. In short order, the movie script and Ian’s research for a forthcoming Straker book come to the attention of elements of China’s intelligence service.

These baddies are on the verge of completing an operation to take over the US by stealth. Ian’s notes eerily resemble the real-life operation. They assume he’s a CIA spy sent to thwart their operation.

Naturally, they have to get rid of him.

Add a ruthless assassin, a Wall Street Journal reporter whose identity is hacked by the Chinese, a Chinese starlet desperate to defect, and a whirlwind tour of Hong Kong, and Ian is once again riding a whirlwind and trying to figure out what Clint Straker would do.

Goldberg freely borrows from pop culture. There’s a little bit of Dr. Evil in our Chinese plotters. The president doesn’t mince words on Twitter. The star of Straker is a shortish action star named . . . wait for it . . . Damon Matthews.

Best of all, the action is punctuated by snippets of the screenplay for Straker which are so over-the-top that they deserve a place in the Pantheon of campy greatness. Not only do these excerpts provide some real laugh-out-loud moments, but they cleverly convey necessary technical details key to the plot.

Suspend disbelief, prepare to be entertained, and enjoy the crazy ride with Ian and Margo!

Highly recommended.


killer thriller,lee goldberg,book review

Book Review: HEAD WOUNDS by Dennis Palumbo

Book Review: HEAD WOUNDS by Dennis Palumbo

HEAD WOUNDS is the most recent entry in the action-filled Dr. Daniel Rinaldi thriller series by Dennis Palumbo. Dr. Rinaldi is a Pittsburgh-based psychologist and police consultant with a few rough edges and a remorseless, deranged enemy.

The combination is an absolute page-turner.

The premise

Dan Rinaldi lost his wife Barbara 12 years ago in an unsolved mugging gone bad. As he reads a recently obtained dossier on the crime, a bullet smashes his living room window.

Outside, a gun-toting neighbor is angry and drunk. When the police arrive, the wife admits to having told her husband in a fit of pique that she’s having an affair with Dan.

She’s found dead not long after.

Other seemingly random incidents touch Dan’s life. In a shocking twist, Barbara’s killer is responsible.

The villain

Brilliant but unstable, Sebastian Maddox was obsessed with Barbara in college. Just released from prison for an unrelated crime, he wants to punish Dan for “stealing” Barbara by torturing Dan’s nearest and dearest before finally killing Dan in Hannibal Lector-worthy fashion.

A terrifying villain with an easily understood motive who had more than a decade to grow progressively more delusional and macabre, Maddox taps into Dan’s phone, laptop, and car GPS. Remote access to Dan’s digital devices gives Maddox personal details about his victims, which he puts to cunning and horrific use.

The two men play a heart-pounding scavenger hunt across Pittsburgh. Maddox meters out clues as to who the next victim will be and Dan races against time to try and save them. Warned by Maddox that more innocents will die if the police are involved, Dan is aided only by a female FBI agent (and soon-to-be love interest) and a retired FBI profiler. On the run from Maddox’s surveillance and exhausted from the endless tension, the trio nonetheless manage to dig up pivotal background material on the killer.

The entire book is written from Dan’s point of view and we’re in this with him every step of the way. We like his grit and the fact that he’s not some academic lightweight you can knock over with a feather. A former boxer with a bad temper and mean right hook, Rinaldi is a true son of Pittsburgh. A medical professional but not too polished, not too far from his blue collar roots.

The style

The last half of the book is a speeding train. The non-stop pace, brash characters, and roller coaster events have a cinematic quality. I was reminded of the Lethal Weapon movies as well as Speed, The Silence of the Lambs and Harrison Ford’s The Fugitive.

It’s no surprise, then, to find out that author Dennis Palumbo is not only a practicing psychotherapist, but also a former screenwriter. His credits include the feature film My Favorite Year, which starred Peter O’Toole and has been one of my Top 10 favorite movies since forever.

The next Dr. Daniel Rinaldi book, PANIC ATTACK, is out next month.

Your heartrate will have slowed by then.

Highly recommended.

Find HEAD WOUNDS on Amazon.

Carmen Amato at Spring Hill

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