Halloween in Elk Park. A member of the Elk Valley Historical Society wants genealogist Anna Denning to complete his painstaking research into the families of two other members. Before he can speak to Anna, however, he’s stabbed to death and propped against a bee hive with a pumpkin on his head.
Despite a gruesome introduction to the job at hand, Anna agrees to finish the dead history professor’s work. What she discovers is a mystery fashioned from lies, secret identities, hidden messages and the occult. As she digs into the past, Anna will also discover a link to a disturbing—and surprisingly bloody—present.
The Sacrifice is Karin Kaufman’s cozy mystery/Halloween card to the world; the third installment of the Anna Denning Mystery series. (Previous books include The Witch Tree and Sparrow House.) Much of the joy of cozy mysteries is derived from the personality of the heroine. Anna is plucky (not a favorite word, but so perfect for Anna), intelligent, and stubbornly optimistic. And this novel features a payoff for those who follow character development in a series—Anna has changes coming her way.
Like any fine novel, all of the elements of fiction receive ample attention from the author. The prose is straight-forward (a necessity for a genre that demands good, uninterrupted storytelling). And the setting, a small town in the Colorado mountains, is so vivid as to become a character on its own.
If you like smart, twisted plots and a genre that rewards a comfortable read late at night, late in the year, then you won’t do better than The Sacrifice. (Five stars out of five)
Lynette is on the run, wearing sunglasses and makeup to hide the bruises. She knows she’s just one step ahead of her pursuer, and the thought keeps her riding the raw edge of fear. Her husband is a cop, so calling on law enforcement for help is out of the question. But Lynette’s made a serious error. Her husband isn’t among those chasing her.
Her husband is already dead.
I won’t say more about the plot of Pat Stoltey’s Dead Wrong, because any summary would do damage to the clever, intricate series of turns that fuel this thriller. Rather than circumstantial or contrived, the misunderstandings that keep Lynette moving are character-driven, which makes the story both surprising and inevitable.
Stoltey juggles a number of characters, all of them memorable. (I will mention one. “Fat Ass” Sammy Glick is an astounding creation—foul and fascinating.) Stoltey handles a supporting cast as well as any writer I can think of.
And Lynette is a wonderful protagonist—sassy, hurt, frightened and courageous.
It’s not enough to say that Dead Wrong is a page-turner. This novel is stuck with me like a classic. Stoltey is a master of the genre, and she deserves a huge audience. Do yourself a huge favor—buy this book, a bottle of wine, and a pizza. Lock the door. Read. (Five stars out of five)
How Fragile the Soul is a zombie novella by the master of apocalyptic fiction, Eric S. Brown. The plot might seem familiar. An assortment of survivors battle the odds to find a safe place against the onslaught of undead. That is where the story’s familiarity ends. Each principle character leaves a sanctuary in search of a more permanent place to make a stand. The symbolic leap of faith is literal for Simon, a soldier hidden with his unit in a barn. Simon pitches himself from the loft, using his Lieutenant to cushion the landing blow. From that moment on, the reader’s sense of dread increases. There’s no room for faith or hope in a world of fragile souls.
Brown’s prose is straight-forward and story-driven. His characters don’t always behave logically, but he’s placed them in a world where logic disappeared, along with compassion and civility. Apocalyptic fiction serves a dual purpose, reminding us how fragile civilization is, while entertaining us with a story we can put down (it’s only fiction). And if we don’t look too closely, we won’t notice the conflict between those two purposes. (Five stars out of five.)