Monthly Archives

September 2019

Book Review: THE CHESTNUT MAN by Søren Sveistrup

The Chestnut Man is lurking

A year after her young daughter was abducted and murdered, Copenhagen’s Minister for Social Affairs Rosa Hartung returns to work. On the same day, a woman is found murdered and mutilated, with a nearby figurine of a man—made out of chestnuts.

Detective Naia Thulin catches the case and is partnered with Mark Hess, a detective recently suspended from Europol and sent back to Copenhagen for disciplinary reasons. Neither Thulin nor Hess is ecstatic about the work arrangement, but they must come together to chase a killer who makes it clear he has quickly escalating plans for multiple victims.

At each crime scene is a chestnut man, with a shocking link to an earlier case. How many women will die before Thulin and Hess stop the sinister figure, and what do the murders have to do with Minister Hartung?

Fans of the series The Killing should find The Chestnut Man up their alley since it’s written by Søren Sveistrup, creator of that international TV hit. The Chestnut Man has the same creepy, slow burn, and is headed by a dogged pair of detectives who don’t always agree but learn how to serve a common cause.

The torturous killings are not for the squeamish, almost every man besides Hess is a lecher who objectifies women and Hess’s logical ideas are frustratingly dismissed by colleagues, but Sveistrup offers commentary on adults who inadequately protect children and the lengths those children go to survive when the odds are overwhelmingly against them.

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


Book Review: THE WAREHOUSE by Rob Hart

After a few setbacks in his career, Paxton is feeling hopeful again, even though he’s among dozens of people being bused to a dusty town to apply for a job at Cloud, a giant retailer that has taken over much of the economy. If Paxton is hired, he won’t need to worry about housing or health care; the company provides on-site apartments and medical services.

Never mind that it doesn’t pay minimum wage or in cash and makes employees work seven days a week—Cloud takes care of everything!

Paxton’s main motivator, however, is a chance to meet Cloud’s CEO, Gibson Wells. The man is responsible for the failure of Paxton’s small business, and Pax looks forward to giving Wells a piece of his mind.

Paxton befriends Zinnia, another applicant, but she’s actually a corporate spy hired to gather information on Cloud’s infrastructure and investigate whether the company is as eco-conscious as it claims. Neither she nor Paxton intend to stay at Cloud very long, but with the 24/7 surveillance, it might be impossible for them to get away with anything—or get out alive.

Rob Hart’s The Warehouse may be labeled sci-fi but feels unnervingly plausible. The bleak world he paints is rooted in reality, in how the rich get more powerful while the poor are crippled, financially and physically.

Hart writes convincingly in three points of view: Paxton’s hopeful voice, Zinnia’s no-nonsense determination and Wells’s “I’m a good guy” explanations. The understated prose doesn’t scream that the world is in trouble. It simply creeps up and whispers that perhaps the future is already here.

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


Reading Roundup August 2019

From the end of July until last week, I was hosting various visiting family members and did things out of the ordinary, like seeing the Rolling Stones in concert and touring Hearst Castle and going to the beach and taking more than 11 steps a day.

All these activities meant I didn’t read as much but I did manage to finish 6 books in August. Here are my brief thoughts on each.


The Favorites

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

This story about a British family imprisoned in their own home—by strangers who showed up one day and stayed for years—is disturbing yet riveting. Some scenes filled me with dread, and I was never sure where the plot was headed. Both the hostage family and the interlopers exhibit cruelty and weakness and selfishness and kindness. The result is a thriller that plumbs the dark and fragile corners of the human psyche. (The cover has changed but I like this one better.)

Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham

I cannot figure out why the Australian Robotham isn’t a bigger name in the US. His books are compulsively readable, with vivid characters who leave indelible impressions. GG, BG is a standalone, about a psychologist who becomes guardian to a teen girl with a troubled past. They become involved in solving the murder of a local teenage ice-skating sensation, and along the way change each other’s lives.

The Rest

Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh

Cavanagh knows how to keep readers on the hook with his fast-paced thrillers, but this one, about a serial killer who manipulates his way onto juries of murder trials, was too farfetched for me.

Even if you can steal someone’s jury summons and know how to answer questions to make yourself the perfect jury candidate, how do you control which trial you’re assigned to? There are several going on at a courthouse on any given day, and you’re randomly assigned to a courtroom. The motive for the killings in Thirteen isn’t compelling enough, and the murderer takes the most (unnecessarily) complicated and roundabout way possible to punish his victims.

Clear My Name by Paula Daly

I wanted to like this better, since it’s about a female investigator working to free wrongfully convicted people. For the first half of the book I was rooting for her, but then a plot development has her acting in cowardly and unprofessional ways. The revelations at the end aren’t surprising, and by that time I was no longer invested in seeing how everything turned out.

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

This is a homage to Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, and is about a young English woman who becomes nanny to young children in a smarthouse controlled by technology. She can’t even close curtains or take a shower without using electronic controls. As expected, things go horribly wrong.

Ware kept me engaged but this isn’t nearly as spooky as James’s story, a major plot point had me thinking it likely couldn’t happen in the US without being illegal, and this thriller might have one twist too many.

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

I enjoyed Center’s How to Walk Away, and really wanted to like this tale of a female firefighter dealing with sexism at work while taking care of—and living with—her ailing, estranged mom.

Center’s prose goes down smoothly, but Tess, the firefighter, became exasperating after a while. Yes, she has to prove to her male colleagues she deserves to fight fires alongside them, but she’s constantly challenging them to pull-ups and basketball and an obstacle course when strength is only one aspect of being a good firefighter.

The point that she’s tough and doesn’t need anyone is hammered repeatedly, and I think an actually strong person knows when to ask for help. When she becomes attracted to a coworker, it seems forced—the person comes off more like a best pal than a lover.

Which were your favorite books last month? What are you reading now?