Monthly Archives

March 2014

Book Review: THE DISAPPEARED by Kristina Ohlsson


This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission.

The opening of Kristina Ohlsson’s The Disappeared is one of the most disturbing in recent memory. An unnamed woman watches an old film clip of another woman being hacked to death. Is it fake, or a real snuff film?

The tension doesn’t let up as Stockholm police discover dismembered body parts, later identified as belonging to Rebecca Trolle, a literature student who went missing two years earlier. Inspector Alex Recht and his team, which includes analyst Fredrika Bergman, discover that at the time of Rebecca’s death, she was obsessed with the topic of her dissertation—a former beloved children’s book author who went to prison for murdering her ex-lover. Rebecca was convinced of the author’s innocence and may have stumbled upon information proving her theory.

While working the difficult case, the investigative team is also grappling with personal conflicts. Alex, still mourning his dead wife, finds himself attracted to Rebecca’s grieving mother. Fredrika, who has just given birth, suspects her partner Spencer, a literature professor, is hiding something when he suddenly takes paternity leave. She becomes more alarmed when his name surfaces in relation to Rebecca.

The Disappeared is the third novel in a series (following Unwanted and Silenced), and though some recurring characters’ backstories aren’t fully explained here, the protagonists are well defined and this enthralling case stands on its own. The complex plot keeps readers in the dark with a sense of dread, but the unsettling aspects are balanced by the investigators’ persistence in the face of depravity, their determination to not let humanity disappear.

Nerd verdict: Creepy, engrossing Swedish thriller

Amazon | IndieBound


Gillian (Anderson) Killin’ It

the fall gillian andersonI was idly surfing the Internet this past weekend when I stumbled upon an interview with Gillian Anderson promoting her new TV show, Crisis, that premiered on NBC on Sunday. Network programming hasn’t impressed me much these past few years, so Crisis sounded only mildly interesting, but what made me perk up was Anderson’s mention of The Fall, her hit TV show for the BBC that aired last year. I immediately sought out the first season (available on Netflix and Amazon), stayed up until 4:30 a.m. binge-watching, and screamed in frustration when the five-episode first season ended on a cliffhanger.

Anderson, long a favorite of mine, plays Stella Gibson, a London detective superintendent sent to Belfast (Happy St. Patrick’s Day!) to track down a serial killer. We know at the very beginning who the killer is—Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), a grief counselor with a wife and two young kids. The suspense comes in watching these two operate on parallel lines, she hunting the predator even has he preys on his female victims.

The show starts a bit slow but picks up fairly soon, with some unsettling scenes and surprising twists. Spector is not the smartest killer and makes several mistakes, so it’s frustrating when the people around him don’t pick up on the clues, allowing him to continue to get away with murder. Luckily Gibson is closing in by the end of the season, and Anderson promises a darker, more intense second season (which started filming last week and currently has no air date).

Some critics have compared Gibson to Prime Suspect‘s Jane Tennison and the comparison is apt—both women are formidable, smart, and very good detectives—but Gibson is much sexier. Nothing against Helen Mirren, who played Tennison, because we all know the actress is sexy as hell, but Tennison was lonely, consumed by her job, and almost asexual. Gibson is alluring and sexually frank, but this aspect of the character takes nothing away from her work. Her male colleagues lust after her and respect her at the same time.

Anderson knows the key to Stella’s strength and appeal is her stillness, direct gaze, and never having to raise her voice. There are scenes in which she cuts men down so calmly yet effectively with her words, you can almost hear the sound of the guys’, ah, cojones shrinking as they slink out of the room.

The show is also interesting as a showcase for Jamie Dornan. The actor’s name has been in a rash of media stories due to his upcoming turn as Christian Grey in the movie adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, but the only thing I knew about him was that he’s a former Calvin Klein model. Though his character is neither suave nor sexy here, Dornan does a credible job. He makes Paul Spector so detestable, I want Gibson to take him down in a hard and painful way. That sick bastard needs to pay. My wait for the second season already seems long and it’s been only one day since I saw the first-season finale.

Wanting another Anderson fix, I watched Crisis on Sunday. The premise has a group of kids on a field trip getting kidnapped, and one of them happens to be the son of the US president. Anderson plays Meg Fitch, a billionaire whose daughter is also among the hostages, and Fitch’s sister is FBI agent Susie Dunn (Rachael Taylor), assigned to the case. Dermot Mulroney plays a dad chaperoning the field trip who gets rounded up with the kids.

Most of the actors playing the kids are forgettable and give unconvincing line readings, Anderson is not in as many scenes as I’d like, and some plot points are illogical, but I’m intrigued enough to keep watching for now to see what the kidnappers’ end game is.

Nerd verdicts: Gripping Fall, lukewarm Crisis

Photo: Vivian Zink/NBC


Book Review: LOVE STORY, WITH MURDERS by Harry Bingham

This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission.

9780345533760Welsh Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths returns for her second outing in Harry Bingham’s Love Story, with Murders (after 2012’s Talking to the Dead). She finds a dismembered female leg in the freezer of an old woman who has recently passed away. Fi’s investigation reveals the old woman was cranky with her neighbors but not that cranky. Then other body parts start showing up all over town, not only those belonging to the original victim, who was apparently killed about seven years earlier, but also to a recently murdered man.

Because the body parts are so widely scattered around Cardiff, the detectives pin an entire phone book up on the board to represent the list of suspects. Fi gets to the bottom of things by going “off-piste”—following her own instincts more than protocol—but not before having her own chilling encounters with the killers.

Bingham combines sharp observations (a smile is described as “so thin it was probably manufactured in an Apple design lab”) with an expanding portrait of his unique heroine. The mystery of the body parts parallels Fiona’s own struggles with Cotard’s syndrome, a rare condition that makes the afflicted think they’re dead or unable to feel certain parts of their body. Fiona is attempting to put the victims’ bodies back together just as she tries to make herself feel whole. She has surprisingly poignant reactions to harrowing situations; if she fears dying then she must still be alive. She sometimes think she’s out of touch with her feelings, but Bingham is very much in control of his characters’ inner lives.

Nerd verdict: Dark but unusually poignant Love Story

Amazon | IndieBound


Nerdy Special List March 2014

Gah, the first week of March is gone already? This list is a bit late because I worked on the Oscars most of last week (see picture below) and needed to do some major catching up on other business this week. It’s also why I didn’t get a post-show fashion commentary up (thanks, Laura and Lauren, for asking about it!).

Without further ado, let’s get to this month’s recommendations.

From Jen’s Book Thoughts:

Roosevelt’s Beast by Louis Bayard (Henry Holt and Co., March 18, 2014)

9780805090703Roosevelt’s Beast is the newest adventure from Louis Bayard. Re-imagining the expedition that Theodore and Kermit Roosevelt took down the River of Doubt in South America, Bayard lets his splendid imagination and stunning mastery of language create a magical, horrifying, amazing fictional account of this world for his readers. The voices he supplies to Teddy and Kermit are at once entertainingly funny and complexly authentic.

Bayard takes the reality of the dangers that existed on the actual exploration and magnifies them with a kidnapping and a vicious beast to create suspense and excitement. Meanwhile, he explores the interactions between father and son, between explorer and native, between man and nature. This book is steeped in rich layers that demand multiple readings to fully grasp its complete essence, and I’m certain each subsequent reading will be as good or better than the one before.

Amazon | IndieBound

From Julie at Girls Just Reading:

The Accident by Chris Pavone (Crown, March 11)

9780385348454I haven’t yet read Pavone’s The Expats but after reading this one, that has moved way further up in my pile. The Accident takes place in a high-octane, 24-hour period, spanning from the US to Europe. Pavone leaves no string unattached and there are no plot devices. The mystery is a solid puzzle and keeps you guessing until the end, when the puzzle is put together for the full picture. It might leave you wondering how you didn’t see it coming. For thriller and espionage fans, this is not one to miss.

Amazon | IndieBound

Fallen Beauty by Erika Robuck (NAL Trade, March 4)

9780451418906Robuck is quickly becoming one of my go-to authors for historical fiction, specifically ones that fictionalize a literary icon. In Fallen Beauty, she takes on Edna St. Vincent Millay and her eccentricities.  We are also introduced to Laura Kelly, who is ostracized by her town for making a wrong choice. This novel is as much Laura’s story as it is Millay’s, and how Laura’s and Millay’s stories entwine is what makes both of them more relatable. Millay shows Laura how to break down walls, while Laura shows Millay that there are all kinds of connections in the world.

Amazon | IndieBound

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler (Thomas Dunne Books, March 11)

9781250039811In a modern day coming-of-age story, four friends who grew up in a tiny Wisconsin town find themselves inexplicably drawn back to their roots. A farmer, a musician, a broker, and a bull rider come together again in the town of Little Wing—for better or for worse. Shotgun Lovesongs is quiet and comforting, exploring the intricacies of life, love, and friendship as the men try to find their own place within their own reality. It’s the type of story that leaves one warm and fuzzy, nodding along with Butler’s brilliant prose. It’s as much a love letter to the Midwest as it is the story of true friendship, although it was clearly written before this Midwestern winter. (Read Rory’s full review here.)


From PCN:

Watching You by Michael Robotham (Mulholland Books, March 11)

9780316252003Robotham’s series featuring Joseph O’Loughlin, the psychologist with Parkinson’s, has always been solid, but Watching You may have pushed it to new heights. Someone is stalking the protagonist Marnie, whose journalist husband disappeared over a year ago and she’s being forced to do unmentionable things to pay off his debts.

People who cross her, however, have a penchant for turning up dead, while Marnie seems to have blackouts, for which she seeks out her neighbor, O’Loughlin, for help. Is Marnie a killer, is she being framed, or is there another explanation altogether? I guessed what the big revelation was, but it only made the story creepier. If you’ve never read Robotham, start now and you’ll probably want to look up his entire backlist, which Mulholland is conveniently rereleasing in the next two months.

Amazon | IndieBound

Any of these sound good to you? (See previous Nerdy Special Lists here.)

I’ll leave you with this pic, the only one I was allowed to take at the Dolby Theatre on Oscars day after wrapping up work. Happy weekend!

me at Oscars