Review: The Sleeping Beauty Killer (By Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke)

Source: Goodreads

Length: 302 pages

My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Casey Carter was on the verge of her happily-ever-after when she got engaged to Hunter Raleigh III, a renowned businessman, beloved philanthropist, and potential political candidate whose family was nothing less than political royalty. But then Hunter was found murdered, two gunshots ending his life, and Casey left with blood and gunpowder residue on her hands. In spite of her claims that she’d been drugged and unconscious during the murder, Casey is convicted for manslaughter.

Fifteen years later, Casey returns to society, but feels like a pariah. Although everywhere she goes, people look at her like she’s guilty, she is determined to prove that she hadn’t murdered the man she loved. She approaches Laurie Moran, host of Under Suspicion, a show that opens cold cases, in the hope that Laurie could help her tell her side of the story, and find Hunter’s real killer. As Laurie and her team begin investigating the events that took place on the night of the murder and the people who had made up Casey’s past, Laurie finds herself close to believing that Casey is truly innocent. In her search for the truth, Laurie finds herself facing a new, egotistical co-host, a skeptical boss, protective family members, and a host of questions whose answers are not even remotely as simple as they should be. But the largest question that continues to plague her at every step is whether Casey is really innocent or did the woman that society named The Sleeping Beauty Killer actually murder Hunter?

The Bottom Line:

An extremely basic mystery that does not do justice to its apparent genre of thriller or suspense.

My take:

Let Me Call You Sweetheart was the first Mary Higgins Clark book I’d read, and I’d absolutely fallen in love with the author. I read most of her books over the years. While not all of them have been great, I think it’s safe to say that The Sleeping Beauty Killer was downright disappointing.

Essentially, the book is a simple mystery. The version I read had a quote on the cover from the Guardian saying, “Scared the hell out of me.” The claim is consistent with the reaction that people have when reading Clark’s work; her books are eerie, suspenseful, and unpredictable. So I obviously went in expecting that. But there was absolutely nothing of that sort in the book.

It’s got an interesting enough story with the kind of characters you’d expect from Clark. There are some twists and turns that, although not unpredictable, are interesting enough to keep you turning the pages. That is actually the only reason the book is good enough for a 1.5-star rating. Other than a mildly interesting presentation of a mildly interesting story, the book doesn’t have much to offer, especially for fans of Clark’s older works.

A few things that were really disappointing was the absolute lack of a thrill factor. I don’t need people jumping out from dark corners at me, but I do expect some element of thrill or even suspense, which I didn’t see in The Sleeping Beauty Killer. What was even worse was that the book was so unbelievably predictable – I’m not talking about the who, but also the why and how. There’s little point in reading a book when you already know the end (that too so early on in the book), other than to just find out if you were right.

My biggest problem with the book, though, was the characterization. This is the first book I’ve read in the Under Suspicion series, but the first few pages are enough to get the idea that Laurie Moran is an accomplished woman who’s seen hard times and come through them gracefully. Which is why I couldn’t understand why she chose to randomly titter like a sixteen-year-old. I’m not saying older women are expected to be serious or boring all the time, but there were these parts that were downright cringy, mainly because they seemed so out of character for the personality that Laurie is shown to be. The times where she was a normal adult but still having fun didn’t come across like that, which is what made the contradiction even worse.

And that inconsistency was in almost every character. Even Casey herself. It almost seemed like the author(s) couldn’t determine whether to make Casey strong, weak, mean, kind, gentle, or harsh; so instead of including a little bit of all these traits in a symbiotic manner, they just gave her random extremes of them whenever they pleased.

All in all, the book seemed very… amateur (the bookish dialog didn’t help). There is no dearth of crime fiction and crime thriller in the world today. Jeffery Deaver, David Baldacci, Simon Beckett, Tim Weaver, and Mark Edwards are just some of the names that come to mind when I think of detailed, layered, thrilling, suspenseful, and eerie reads in the genre (check out the reviews to some of their books I’ve absolutely loved, linked to their names above). Authors, seasoned and new, are getting better with each book that they pen. But with each book, Mary Higgins Clark seems to be continuing her descend from the pedestal on which her work had, justifiably, placed her. I still remember books like On The Street Where You Live (which I’d found brilliant) and A Cry In The Night (check out the review for that one here) which was quite good. Then, more recently, I read As Time Goes By, and that was a good book but was still incredibly predictable and just not as enjoyable as her previous works (more detailed review available here). But I have to admit that The Sleeping Beauty Killer finds a place at the bottom in my pile of Clark’s books. I’m definitely not reading more of the Under Suspicion series unless I decide to just read something light, fast, and not overly complicated.

So, should you read The Sleeping Beauty Killer? Yes, if:

  • you’ve read the Laurie Moran Under Suspicion books before and enjoy the character and series
  • you enjoy Clark’s more recent works
  • you enjoy uncomplicated, linear mysteries

But definitely not, if:

  • you want mystery that comes with thrill and suspense
  • you love unpredictability
  • you loved Clark’s older works (that makes this book disappointing on numerous levels)

Don’t go yet! Share your thoughts on how Clark’s work has progressed over the years according to you, drop a recommendation, or simply say Hi! in the comment section below!

Thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

Review: Whispers of the Dead (By Simon Beckett)

Source: Goodreads

Length: 319 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Forensic anthropologist, David Hunter, goes to Tennessee in the hope of reprieve from memories that plague his every waking and sleeping minute. People may find the body farm creepy and haunting, but it’s familiar territory for David. Coming back to his old university, its facilities and its people, especially old friends, eases some of his anxiety.

Until he tags along on the insistence of an old friend. And is sucked into a nightmare that should have been someone else’s.

The body that had decomposed beyond recognition and reason was only the first one. It was also the first clue in a twisted game of cat and mouse. Except, the mice had no idea that the game was even on.

But David Hunter catches on quickly. As do the friends he’s working with and the people who consider him the outsider on their case. As the toll rises, personal differences take a back seat. Because they don’t matter to the killer, they don’t stop him.

As David and everyone else on the case soon learns, only the kill matters.

Now David must embrace the nightmare, make it his if he has to catch a killer. Except, this isn’t like anything he’s encountered before. And David Hunter may finally be forced to accept that this might just be a web so complex, that even he can’t find a way out.

My take:

In one statement, classic Simon Beckett.

If you’re read his work, you know to expect twists, turns, personal battles, unyielding circumstances, and a killer unimaginably perverted. And Whispers of the Dead gives you exactly that. You open a sequel or another book in a series with many expectations and hopes, and Whispers of the Dead does not disappoint.

The story flows pretty flawlessly and on more than a few occasions, you find yourself thinking, “I didn’t expect that.” Sure, there are also times you feel like you’d seen it coming – that’s the result of reading numerous books from one author, you know when to expect the unexpected.

And yet, even with the expectations, the book manages to surprise.

It also comes with its share of gruesome details that really get to you, mainly because you can picture all of it so easily. So don’t attempt to read this over dinner, it definitely won’t sit well.

Those of you who have been following the series will be reintroduced to a lot of characters that you love, and fear. And as you near the end of the book, you’ll be left waiting to start on the next one.

For those of you who haven’t read any of Beckett’s work before, Whispers of the Dead is a good place to begin. But if you can get your hands on it, then I recommend starting with the first book of the series. There is an underlying overlap and continuation that affects the characters’ behavior and actions.

At the same time, Whispers of the Dead is quite satisfactory as an individual read in itself and one that explains the overlap in as much detail as possible. I’d recommend every fan of the crime thriller genre to go ahead and give Whispers of the Dead a shot, whether you’ve been following the series or not. Beckett is one of the best crime thriller authors out there today, and you definitely can’t miss his work – he might just make it to the top ten on your favorite author list.

– Rishika



Review: Written in bone (By Simon Beckett)

Written in bone Source: Goodreads
Written in bone
    Source: Goodreads

Length: 346 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Back in the word of forensic anthropology, Dr. David Hunter is on his way home to the woman he loves after another assignment. But instead of finding himself on the flight to London, he finds himself crossing an angry sea to the isolated island of Runa – a favor granted to a troubled police officer he’s never met. His discovery of a body completely incinerated save for the feet and one hand that remain absolutely untouched shocks even the experienced anthropologist. Local police insist on the verdict of accidental death, but Hunter feels otherwise. And before he can ask the mainland for help in apprehending a killer that he believes is on the island, an Atlantic storm leaves Runa without power or communication. As the storm rages on, Hunter discovers that, in reality, the peaceful seeming island is far from its image, and that the burned body was only the first of the many works of a very real killer.

My take:

Another great read from Simon Beckett, Written in Bone has all the elements of a good mystery/thriller. Although it leans more towards the mystery than the thriller end of things, it has its spooky moments that give the entire story a nice, rounded off feel.

If you’ve read Beckett’s work before, you’ll know just what to expect style-wise and definitely not be disappointed. The book moves along at a great pace and there is always something happening, ensuring that there isn’t a single dull moment. All the characters hold their own, regardless of how minor or major a role they’re playing, and you really get a feel for the place and the mindset of the community that can exist on a remote island. The tension is kept high and the twists may catch you unaware at many points. Given that you develop a kinship with the characters, their turmoils, brought on by these twists, manage to hit home.

On the other hand, if you’ve read enough mysteries, you may find things a bit predictable. Yet, even with its predictability, the story manages to shock and surprise – especially at the end; that isn’t something you’ll really see coming. The story was interesting, much as you’d expect from Beckett, and covers a whole lot of angles that come together quite neatly.

A fast paced, easy read that makes you want to keep turning the pages, Written in Bone is a must read for all fans of Beckett and even for fans of mysteries and thrillers. Although it is the second book in the David Hunter series, it can be read as a stand alone, albeit with a few spoilers for The Chemistry of Death. My suggestion is that you get your hands on the first book in the series and then make your way to Written in Bone, because the series is a great one for lovers of thrillers.

– Rishika

Review: The Chemistry of Death (By Simon Beckett)

The Chemistry of Death Source: Goodreads
The Chemistry of Death
Source: Goodreads

Length: 419 pages

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

David Hunter left the busy city life behind him when he moved to the small Norfolk village of Manham. With the city life, he also left behind the life he led as a forensic anthropologist, a life that was scarred with memories of a horrific tragedy. For three years, he lives a peaceful life, trying to out those memories behind him. And then everything changes.

Sally Palmer’s body is discovered, mutilated beyond recognition. And David’s experience is necessary. When a second woman disappears, David knows that he has no choice. He cannot pretend to be just a village doctor anymore. His expertise could help catch a killer. But even David could not have imagined the consequences of the events that were unfolding in front of him. The small village is gripped with terror and suspicion, a village that lived like a family now resorting to doubt each other. With every passing day, the abducted woman’s chances of being found alive, reduce. And David is pulled more and more into a nightmare that is no longer part of memory, but that is all too real.

My take:

The Chemistry of Death is the first of the David Hunter series. I’d waited a long time to get this book and I can confidently say that the wait was well worth it. The most recent thriller that I had read and loved was Tim Weaver’s The Dead Tracks. And while the two books are very different in style and tone, they’re both equally good.

The story line of The Chemistry of Death is not one that you haven’t heard of before. It’s a thriller with the focus on a serial killer. But it still manages to be a refreshing read that you can’t really put down. If you’ve read enough books in this genre, you may begin this one thinking that it will be quite predictable. To some extent, it may even be predictable. But Beckett presents even the predictable in an unpredictable manner. It doesn’t matter if you think you know something or not – it will still unfold in a way you’d least expect. And that keeps the pages turning really fast.

The Chemistry of Death has a creepy element that, put bluntly, creeps up on you. You don’t really expect the jumpiness that finds its way into your heart; but you definitely feel it if, like me, you stay up late into the night reading. Beckett keeps the suspense going without a break, introducing new twists and turns at every point. But what is most amazing is his understanding of human nature, both good and bad, and its extent. If you look beyond the words, you see an innate understanding of how people are and how they can be. You see how people react to situations in a way that is depictive of emotions and feelings that they themselves may be ignoring intentionally or of which they may simply be ignorant. And that gives a touch to the story that really pulls you in and stays with you long after you’re done.

As far as writing style goes, Beckett is quirky. His style is slightly reminiscent of James Patterson’s in the older Alex Cross novels. Yet, it has its own individuality – Beckett’s voice that comes across loud and clear. For some, as was in my case, it may be a little odd a style in the beginning. But a couple of pages in and the oddity is long gone and the story has got its grip on you. You simply keep reading without even realizing that you’ve read as much as you have. And before you know it, you’re flipping pages, eager to know what happens next. I’m definitely going to continue following the David Hunter series. 

The Chemistry of Death was, in my opinion, a really good read.  It may not be the best book to pick up if you’re swamped with work because it is difficult to put aside. But if you’ve got a day off or a night without concern of when to get to bed, this book would be ideal. It is a great read that you will love if you’re a fan of thrillers, suspense, murder mysteries, and serial killer stories. And Simon Beckett has found a place on my list of amazing authors!

– Rishika