Posted in All Book Reviews, Crime fiction, Thrillers

Book Review: A Minute to Midnight (By David Baldacci)

I’d read the first book of the Atlee Pine series, Long Road to Mercy, a while ago. It was good, but not great, and set the stage for Baldacci’s (sort-of) first female lead protagonist. The characterization of Atlee Pine was the best part of the book, which made me want to read more about her. And so, I picked up the second book in the series – A Minute to Midnight. Read on to know more about how and why this was so much better than its prequel, and where its shortcomings were.

Genre: 

Mystery, Thriller

Length: 

434 pages

Blurb:

Atlee Pine’s past is catching up. When she was six years old, someone snuck into her bedroom, kidnapped her twin sister, and left her for dead. Their parents were passed out downstairs after a night of partying. Pine suspects Daniel James Tor, a serial killer who fits the bill and is now locked away in a maximum security prison in Colorado. Now an FBI agent, Pine has put a lot of bad people away. But when an incident at work makes her realize that she’s letting her demons take control, she does the only thing she can to set things right – returns to the town where she lost her sister with the goal of finding answers. But when a body turns up indicating a ritualistic killing, Pine is pulled into the investigation. Working on both cases, she soon begins to realize that nothing is as she believes – not the present… and definitely not the past.

Overall Rating:

10 out of 10

Plot:

9 out of 10

Characterization:

10 out of 10

Primary Element:

10 out of 10 for its mystery

Writing Style:

10 out of 10

Part of a Series: 

Yes, this is Book No. 2 in the Atlee Pine series. You could read it as a standalone, but you would definitely miss out on some background and context.

Highlighted Takeaway:

A super-smooth read, A Minute to Midnight has everything you’d want in a page-turner – mystery, action, and well fleshed out characterization.

What I Liked:

Atlee Pine makes for an interesting character – easy to associate with, impressive, emotional, and intrinsically genuine. The story has really good suspense, leaving you guessing until the end. Even where things seem predictable, there are aspects that retain their mystery until the very end. And, as always with Baldacci’s work, there are numerous story arcs unfolding at the same time and they do come together well.

What I Didn’t Like:

There was nothing that I specifically disliked – the book reads really well through and through.

Who Should Read It:

Anyone who enjoys murder mysteries, crime thrillers, and crime fiction. A Minute to Midnight is, for the most part, about the murders, with a smaller chunk dedicated to Pine’s past.

Who Should Avoid:

Anyone who doesn’t like multi-layered stories (there is a lot going on in the book) and crime fiction.

Read It For:

The evolution of Pine’s character – she is much easier to associate with in the second book of the series and you will find yourself rooting for her.

I’ve always enjoyed Baldacci’s work, and am now planning to finish reading the remaining books in the series of Atlee Pine, Will Robie, and John Puller, before returning to my favorite Baldacci character – Amos Decker. That seems like a lot of books, but the best part of them is that each character works in very different settings, and Baldacci definitely uses slightly different styles for each. Which makes it that much easier, and that much more fun!

Coming up next, a review of The Hit, the second book in Baldacci’s Will Robie series. If you’d like to share your thoughts on David Baldacci or any of his books and characters (or any books in general), drop us a line in the comments below. And as always, thanks for making a stop at The Book Review Station!

– Rishika

Posted in All Book Reviews, Crime fiction

(Quick) Book Review: Win (By Harlan Coben)

Before jumping right into this review, I have to highlight three things:

  1. I have not read any of the Harlan Coben Myron Bolitar series, so Windsor Horne Lockwood III is a brand new character for me.
  2. I have always found Harlan Coben’s work good, but not great, so I pick up his books solely on the intrigue in the blurb. Win has a lot of intrigue in the blurb.
  3. This review is going to be different than the usual way my reviews unfold.

On to the review!

I tried hard to like this book – I really, really did. I absolutely hate giving up on books, persevering in the hope that they will improve at some point. But at 60 pages in and struggling to read more than one chapter at a time, I read a few (rare) negative reviews that said that the mystery isn’t so mysterious, and the titular character doesn’t get any better. I was still holding on and was determined to continue reading the next day. But when the time came, I just couldn’t pick it up.

And so, I finally marked it as DNF and moved on. Below are a few reasons I couldn’t get on board with this book or its titular character. You can check out the blurb for Win here.

  1. Win goes on and on and on and on and on and on some more about himself all the time – about how good he is at mixed martial arts, at kicking people’s asses, at sex, and at everything else. He’s a self proclaimed vigilante who enjoys violence. While the vigilante part was what made the blurb interesting, Win ends up coming across as a sociopath who cares about vigilante justice not because he should help others, but because he can. He does not actually care about the people he’s defending or avenging nor about the consequences of his actions on those very people, as long as the perpetrator got a good beating at his hand. Which made me feel like it was more about his ego than his apparent unique brand of justice.
  2. Other characters are interesting but seem to be part of the story more for Win to come across as socially woke and aware rather than anything other reason, inadvertently (and ironically) becoming plot points in the process.
  3. He literally has to “attempt to seem emotional”. It’s really tough to associate with a character who feels nothing except for arrogance and pride about himself.
  4. The book seems to go nowhere – 60 pages in and all I’d read was how awesome Win thought he was and how he thought he was Batman (his comparison, not mine). While the basic mystery was introduced at some point, it did little to generate curiosity because of it being shared through Win’s egotistical outlook. Consequently, for a book that’s meant to have a mystery and some suspense at its core, it took a really, really long time to get going.
  5. And by the time it did get going, I cared about Win so little that I didn’t care at all about what happened to him or his family. Which is why I ended up giving up. And that is the basic problem with Harlan Coben’s Win – the main character is so unlikeable that you simply don’t care about what happens to him. So why would you read any more?

I know I’m in the minority with my thoughts on this book. But the lack of interest I had in Win by this point and the reviews that said that the mystery wasn’t Coben’s best made the decision for me.

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 stars (I genuinely did not find anything redeeming, but I didn’t finish the book either, so I can’t give it a 0)

All in all, Win by Harlan Coben was a big no-no for me. And it will be a while before I go back to Coben’s books.

If you’re a big fan of Harlan Coben, you may enjoy Win. But if you’re on the fence about his books (or generally dislike characters who come across as gigantic as**s while trying to be ‘super-cool’ or anti-heroes), I’d recommend passing on this one.

Got some thoughts on Win (the character or the book)? Drop a comment below to share it with us. As always, thank you for stopping by and reading my reviews! Coming up next – a review of The Whisper Man by Alex North.

– Rishika

Posted in All Book Reviews, Crime fiction, Thrillers

Book Review: Broken Heart (By Tim Weaver)

Continuing with the David Raker series by Tim Weaver, we’re talking about Broken Heart this time. Read on to know if this book fails in comparison to its prequels or if Tim Weaver can keep the momentum going.

Genre: 

Mystery, Thriller

Length: 

451 pages

Blurb:

Security footage from one of the headlands overlooking the Devon coast shows a woman enter in the morning. Her car is found in the parking lot days later. The woman is not seen or recorded leaving from the only entrance and feasible path in and out of the area, and yet she’s never found again. Months later, David Raker is hired by her sister, who lives halfway across the world, to find out what happened to her, if she’s even alive, and where she may be. What led the woman, widowed from a reclusive film director, to disappear… and how exactly did she disappear? An already complicated case gets even more so as Raker digs deeper and decades-old secrets begin to emerge. Someone has kept these secrets hidden until now and, as David starts to discover, no cost seems too high to keep them buried. Raker finds himself caught in an intrinsic and dangerous web. And yet, that may not be the cause of Raker’s destruction. Because the demons and memories of his past are slowly catching up.

Overall Rating:

8 out of 10

Plot:

8 out of 10

Characterization:

10 out of 10

Primary Element:

7 out of 10 for its mystery, 9 out of 10 for its thrill

Writing Style:

9 out of 10

Part of a Series: 

Yes. This is Book #7 in the David Raker series. It can, to some extent, be read as a standalone. But the development of David’s character is best read in order, starting at at least Book #4 – Never Coming Back.

Highlighted Takeaway:

Tim Weaver is the master of ‘skeletons in the closet’ tales – and his talent in bringing these to life is undeniably evident in Broken Heart.

What I Liked:

The creepy factor – the narrative in many parts of Broken Heart leaves you feeling unsettled, and with the feeling that someone is around you but just out of sight, providing the perfect ‘thrill’. Another aspect that’s really enjoyable is the depth of information (narrated entertainingly) about the movie industry and its evolution (from technical and cultural aspects). Both these elements manage to pull you in and keep you turning the pages.

What I Didn’t Like:

I did feel like the book could have been a few pages shorter, that some chapters were lengthened without cause. But it didn’t really take too much away from the momentum of the story.

Who Should Read It:

Anyone who loves thrillers and mysteries will enjoy Broken Heart, and the entire David Raker series.

Who Should Avoid:

There are a few graphic parts that do make your stomach turn. So if you’re easily put off by violence, I’d recommend avoiding this one.

Read It For:

Unsurprisingly, David Raker. Without giving too much away, I will say that his character development is becoming interesting and even unexpected. But it leaves you wanting to know that much more about what happens next!

Love the David Raker series? Or have recommendations for similar works? Drop a comment below. And as always, thanks for stopping by and reading my book review!

– Rishika

Posted in All Book Reviews, Crime fiction, Mystery, Thrillers

Book Review: Every Last Fear (By Alex Finlay)

Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay sounded like the perfect book that brought together mystery, thriller, and true-crime documentaries (especially around wrongful convictions). It took me around four days to read the book – which is quite long at 368 pages – because it definitely manages to hold the reader’s interest (and I had a long weekend!). So what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s unputdownable about it? Read on to know.

Genre: 

Mystery, Thriller

Length: 

368 pages

Blurb:

Seven years ago, Matt Pine’s elder brother, Danny, had been convicted of the murder of his teenaged girlfriend. Danny swore innocence. His parents and younger sister stood by him and so did the rest of the country as they followed the case – portrayed as one of wrongful conviction – in a viral true-crime documentary. Matt didn’t know what to believe because he saw something the night that made him suspect his brother’s guilt. Now a student at NYU, Matt is trying to pick up the pieces of the life left in the aftermath of the documentary that villainized the town, forced his family out of the city, and drove a wedge between him and his father who had centered his life around proving Danny’s innocence. Until he wakes up after a night of partying to learn that most of his family – his parents, younger sister, and kid brother – were dead, killed in an accidental gas leak when taking a rare holiday in Mexico. Numb and shocked, Matt is forced to face the past as he attempts to bring his family’s bodies back home and give them a proper funeral. But as suspicions surrounding his family’s death arise, the past and present crash… and Matt is left fighting for his own life and facing hidden fears. When the truth behind his family’s deaths, his brother’s conviction, and behind what he saw that night finally surfaces, will Matt, Danny, and the Pine family receive their redemption… or will it destroy them and their memories forever?

Overall Rating:

7 out of 10

Plot:

8 out of 10

Characterization:

8 out of 10

Primary Element:

9 out of 10 for its mystery, 6 out of 10 for its thrill

Writing Style:

8 out of 10

Part of a Series: 

No. (Could be in the future given that one of the main characters has a lot of potential to become a leading protagonist in their own series.)

Highlighted Takeaway:

Emotional, Insightful, and a Page-turner Every Last Fear successfully maintains the mystery and keeps the reader guessing.

What I Liked:

If you’ve read enough mysteries and thrillers, you learn to pick up on the subtle clues. But Every Last Fear doesn’t let that happen. It takes a while before you figure out the primary mystery, and the many other smaller ones unfolding alongside. The main characters really shine in all their glory and all their darkness – their flawed but hopeful outlook making them seem very human and very relatable. There also exists an idealistic outlook – the author normalizes choices, expression, and actions that are otherwise only part of ongoing social issue debates. Seeing these matters as a ‘given’ was just… really nice!

What I Didn’t Like:

The story is told from the point of view of multiple characters and over past and present periods, which takes some getting used to. There are also quite a few references to Linkin Park and other pop culture, which was good, but at times came across as a little forced. These issues are easy enough to get over though, and a few chapters in, you can get easily find yourself engrossed.

Who Should Read It:

Anyone who likes mysteries and thrillers will enjoy Every Last Fear. You’ll also really enjoy it if you like true-crime shows, especially The Staircase or The Innocent Man.

Who Should Avoid:

If you don’t like violence at all, I would recommend avoiding this one. It’s not got a lot of it, but the amount it has is hard-hitting.

Read It For:

A fast-paced, well-layered mystery that definitely manages to surprise.

One of the things that Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay touches upon is the effect of a true-crime documentary on the persons that the documentary covers. The documentaries that are famous on Netflix and other platforms don’t always show the after-effects of their airing on the people concerned, and this take on the matter, although fictional, was definitely interesting. I found the highlighted issues about the justice system easy to believe and accept as fact because of the many true-crime documentaries that have brought to light similar matters. These are problems that need to change, and it’s interesting to see more work – fictional and non-fictional – being dedicated to their awareness.

Love true-crime documentaries or thrillers? Share your thoughts on your favorites in the comments below. And as always, thanks for stopping by and reading my review. Coming up next… a review of either The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman or Broken Heart by Tim Weaver.

– Rishika

Posted in All Book Reviews, Crime fiction, Mystery

Book Review: Salvation of a Saint (By Keigo Higashino)

The first book of Keigo Higashino that I ever read was The Devotion of Suspect X (the English translation). And I have recommended it to everyone since (review here). So when I picked up Salvation of a Saint (I just couldn’t resist picking this over the other options), I had a lot of expectations. Read on to know how it (finally) went!

Genre:

Mystery

Length:

330 pages 

Blurb:

Yoshitaka Mashida is on the verge of divorcing his wife. But before he can do so, he dies of being posioned by arsenic-laced coffee. His wife, Ayane Mashiba, becomes the prime suspect. Except for one problem – she was hundreds of miles away the day that Yoshitaka was murdered. When Detective Kusanagi begins his investigation, he faces an unexpected challenge – he is smitten with the prime suspect and believes her to be innocent. But Junior Detective Kaoru Utsumi holds onto her belief that Ayane is guilty. Their difference of opinion, however, turns out to be the smallest of their problems in a case that becomes increasingly unsolvable as it unfolds. And so, Utsumi does what her boss has always done in such tough situations – she turns to Kusanagi’s brilliant friend, Professor Manabu Yukawa, known by the Tokyo Police as Detective Galileo. Will Yukawa be able to help Utsumi and his friend solve another seemingly unsolvable case? Or has he finally met his match in Yoshitaka Mashiba’s killer?

Overall Rating:

9 out of 10

Plot:

10 out of 10

Characterization:

10 out of 10

Primary Element:

10 out of 10 for its mystery

Writing Style:

10 out of 10

Part of a Series:

Yes. Salvation of a Saint is the second English-translated book in the Detective Galileo books, although it stands at #5 in the original (Japanese) series. It can easily, however, be read as a standalone or even as a starting point of the series.

Highlighted Takeaway:

Salvation of a Saint is unputdownable with twists that keep you guessing and questioning your earlier guesses, before coming to a brilliant and satisfying end – simple, but deadly!

What I Liked:

The cultural aspects were really beautiful. They give you so much insight into a completely different culture than what you may be used to if you usually read crime thrillers and mysteries from North America or the U.K.

The writing style is beautifully simple, and equally impactful. I just could not keep this one down and took every opportunity I got to read a few pages.

The representation of gender equality (in, I am given to assume, a male-dominated culture) while still being able to showcase (and celebrating) the strengths of each gender.

Lastly – the story. Keigo Higashino continuously manages to create complex stories that are simply presented. In fact, in both of his books that I’ve read, I’ve always started with wondering how he can stretch out and add mystery to something that seems obvious. And yet, he repeatedly does just that, leaving you with a sense of deep satisfaction when the mystery is finally solved.

What I Didn’t Like:

There was nothing that I really disliked about Salvation of a Saint, but I did feel like it fell just under The Devotion of Suspect X in my list of preferences. It was great but not as phenomenal as the latter.

Who Should Read It:

Anyone who loves a good mystery. You should especially give Keigo Higashino’s books a shot if you like/liked Agatha Christie novels and other whodunits.

Who Should Avoid:

Anyone who doesn’t enjoy a good whodunit-style mystery.

Read It For:

A writing style that manages to highlight some of the most terrible aspects of people and humanity with simplicity that seems to be right at odds with the heinousness, and that yet manages to perfectly encapsulate it.

Share your thoughts on Keigo Higashino, Salvation of a Saint, or any of his other works in the comments below. Recommendations for similar books are very welcome! Coming up next… either a review of Tim Weaver’s Broken Heart or Nir Eyal’s Hooked.

As always, thanks for stopping by and reading my review!

– Rishika

Posted in All Book Reviews, Crime fiction, Thrillers

Book Review: 72 Hours (By William Casey Morton)

72 HoursPhoto credit: Goodreads
72 Hours
Photo credit: Goodreads

Length: 299 pages

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Thirty seconds on national television – that’s all it took for one insane man to get each and every one of the entire city’s criminal population to chase one woman. Lindsay Hammond had no idea how it happened or why. One minute, everything was normal – a regular day moving along at its regular pace. But the next minute, she and her kids are running for their lives. With no one to trust and nowhere to run to, Lindsay comes close to running out of options to keep her family and herself alive. Until Ryan Archer, ex FBI, ex Army officer and the only man who can take Lindsay and her kids as far as they need to be. It’s a mission that will last for 72 hours and one that will change the lives of everyone involved.

But what is it that the psychopath who sets the course of action truly wants? And why is Lindsay Hammond running for her life? These are the questions that William Casey Morton answers in his thriller, 72 Hours.

My Take:

72 Hours was an extremely fast paced, quick page turning read. I enjoyed the book and always tried to find time to keep returning to it. Although there were some drawbacks to the book, it made a very nice read with the good definitely overshadowing the bad. The good points include an interesting concept, gripping storytelling, action packed sequences and not too many dull moments. My favorite part was the beginning which was unpredictable and instantly gripping. I also loved the action sequences which were many and not far in between. The details were described exceptionally well, giving you a feel of being right there, watching it all unfold from a front row seat.
The bad points, though not too many, do require a brief mention. The first, mildly bothering drawback, was the typos. There were errors that, for some people, may hinder the flow. And given how quick the story moves, that can be a turn off. The second, and more glaring drawback, is the occasional lack of detailed character development. The protagonist seems altogether too ‘normal’. The blurb gives the impression of an experienced, never going wrong kind of protagonist who, in comparison, comes off as a little more normal than expected. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Heroes do not necessarily have to be impossible to fool, cheat or temporarily overcome. That would be unbelievable and maybe even boring because of the lack of conflict. But the knight in shining armor of 72 Hours, in my opinion, seemed too ‘normal’ for someone who comes from his background. Not that that makes him less likeable.
Maybe the small character faults are more glaring because of how well the other characters are developed, especially the antagonist, who really makes readers loathe him.
The end is a little rushed and I, personally, would have liked some more details.
But I can walk away from this book saying that it didn’t leave me with a feeling of hanging in the middle. The loose ends are all neatly tied up, even though it may be more hurried than some would like. Definitely a book that I would recommend for all action, thriller and crime readers.

– Rishika