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#TuesdayBookBlog I’LL PRAY WHEN I’M DYING by Stephen J. Golds (@SteveGone58) The best fictional depiction of OCD I’ve ever read. Hard-hitting, tough, and non-PC. Fabulous #OCD #noir

Hi all:

I’ve caught up with an author many of you felt curious about when I first reviewed one of his novels.

I’ll Pray When I’m Dying by Stephen J. Golds

I’ll Pray When I’m Dying by Stephen J. Golds

DO ALL SONS BECOME THEIR FATHERS?

Ben Hughes is a corrupt Boston Vice Detective and bagman for the Southie Mob.
Already desperately struggling with obsessive compulsions and memories of a traumatic childhood, his world begins to fall apart at the seams, triggered by the photograph of a missing child in the newspaper and the anniversary of his father’s death twenty years earlier.

‘I’LL PRAY WHEN I’M DYING’ IS THE STORY OF A BAD MAN BECOMING WORSE…

https://www.amazon.com/Ill-Pray-When-Im-Dying-ebook/dp/B096KM1384/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ill-Pray-When-Im-Dying-ebook/dp/B096KM1384/

https://www.amazon.es/Ill-Pray-When-Im-Dying-ebook/dp/B096KM1384/

Author Stephen J. Golds

About the author:

Stephen J. Golds was born in London, U.K, but has lived in Japan for most of his adult life. He enjoys spending time with his daughters, reading books, traveling, boxing and listening to old Soul LPs. His novels are Say Goodbye When I’m Gone (Red Dog Press) Always the Dead (Close to the Bone) Poems for Ghosts in Empty Tenement Windows and the forthcoming collection Love Like Bleeding Out With an Empty Gun in Your Hand

https://www.amazon.com/Stephen-J-Golds/e/B08TX1Q8TM/

 My review:

I was offered an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

I read a review Always the Dead by Stephen J. Golds a few months ago (you can check my review here), loved it, and when I shared my review on my blog quite a few people were intrigued and interested. Unfortunately, there were problems with that particular edition of the book, and it was removed from sale, but that didn’t diminish my interest and enthusiasm. Quite the opposite. Evidently, when I was given the opportunity to review a new novel by the same author, I couldn’t resist. And let me tell you, wow!

 Many of my comments about the previous novel apply here as well. This novel is darker than noir, harder than hard-boiled, and the characters are true bad-asses, but they are far deeper and better drawn than most bad characters are in novels. I have said, more than once, that I don’t need the protagonist of the books I read to be good to feel engaged and to be able to root for them, and I have always had a bit of a soft spot for anti-heroes and unusual main characters. We might not like to be reminded that we all have a dark side, and that we can do bad things as well (sometimes with the best of intentions, sometimes not so much), but as long as the characters’ behaviour can be understood at a certain level, and we can follow their journey and understand their motivations, no matter how little I like what they do, I’m happy to read about them. In the author’s note, at the end of the book, he explains that he decided to write this book because bad characters are always the antagonists, and very often we never get to understand why they do what they do; they are simply there as a foil to test the hero, a difficulty to be overcome, and he felt they should be given a chance.

Although the main protagonist of the novel is Ben Hughes, a British man who emigrated to the US (Boston) with his mother when he was quite young, the book also tells the story of his father, William, who was in the Met police, in London, and who, like his son, had survived a war but had been badly affected by it. The action and the setting are split into two timelines, separated by twenty years, as the father’s story takes place in 1926 and the son’s in 1946, in the days coming up to the 20th anniversary of his father’s death. There are many similarities in the behaviour of the two characters (Ben is a detective working for the Boston Police Department, but he has other fairly illegal occupations, and, in fact, he uses his job as a cover for the least pleasant aspects of his personality), and violence, corruption, threats, blackmail… are ways of life for both. But while we get much more of an insight into Ben’s motivations and traumas (growing up with a father like his was incredibly tough, and we get a first-row seat into some of his experiences through his memories and flashbacks of his childhood abuse), we don’t get to know that much about William. We don’t know anything about his life before the war, although we learn about a French woman’s betrayal and about the way the war seems to have dehumanised him, as he perceives violence now as an expedient way to get whatever he wants (because at least he is using it now in his own benefit, rather than for free at the behest of others). His alcohol consumption doesn’t help matters either, and he is unrepentant.

His son, Ben, suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and, as a psychiatrist and a reader, I must say I have never come across such a vivid and accurate depiction of the condition. The author explains that he feels this illness is always trivialized in popular media, and many aspects of it are never mentioned or delved upon, and he is absolutely right. I am sure many of us can bring to mind characters in books and movies who are supposed to suffer from OCD, but in most cases, it is only anecdotal, a minor hindrance, not something central to the character’s life. Although the story is told in the third person, Golds immerses us into the minds of the protagonists (we also get the point of view of some minor characters at times, but these are brief scenes, not quite as powerful or in-depth, although I particularly enjoyed meeting again a character from the other novel), and, in the case of Ben, that makes for a very uncomfortable experience. Beyond his actions (that yes, are extreme and hard, to say the least), we are locked inside a mind that is forever trying to fight repetitive thoughts (of contamination, paranoid thoughts, suspicions, guilt…), compulsions, engaging in routines (counting, repeating a poem) to guard against evil and doom, trapped by magical thinking… It is not surprising that his mind unravels as more and more of the things and people who moored him into his precarious existence fail him, and he cannot retain any sense of balance or equilibrium.

The writing style, the repetitions, the interruptions, the combination of short, sharp, and quick sentences combined with beautifully observed (even when ugly) descriptions of people and places, recreate the workings of the main character’s mind and reminded me somewhat of stream of consciousness, a writing technique often used by modernist writers. Although there is plenty of action, a plot thick with events and characters (from the lowest of the low to the highest echelons of society), this is not an easy linear read. The story follows a chronological order, alternating the chapters set in the 1920s and the 1940s, but there are many intrusions and flashbacks that can be disorienting and make the readers empathise (if not sympathise, as that is more difficult) with Ben. He is not good, as I said, and nobody could easily condone his actions, but he is trying to hold on to his soul and wants to help a child to make amends, as he wishes someone would have helped him all those years back. Even though the psychological insight into the protagonist’s psyche is one of the strongest points of the novel, the author also captures beautifully the atmosphere of both periods, the interactions between the characters, the way the gangs and tribes communicate, and the struggle for power (both inside and outside the law). I recommend people thinking of reading it to check a sample of the book, but I strongly advise giving it a good chance and not reading only a few lines, as it wouldn’t give them a fair idea of what the experience is like.

Despite my recommendation, I had to share a few lines with you:

Here, Ben describes how he feels when he sees a picture of a missing boy:

Something like a bullet in the back. A blade across the throat. A headache like a hammer blow to his skull and the start of a fever boiling underneath his clothes.

Distorted images passing through his head like the headlights of a speeding hearse down a black street.

And here, one of Ben’s routines:

He counted his steps in groups of seven. He reached the bakery in four sets. Four was an unlucky number. He turned around and walked back seven spaces, turned and walked back. Cancelling out the bad. Creating order….. He counted the steps up to her door. Twelve. Went back over two steps to make it fourteen. Two sets of seven. Felt relief.

As I had warned in my previous review, this is a novel that would fit perfectly in the publishing world of the era the main action is set in (the late 1940s), but not so much now. I had warned about possible triggers there, and here we have them all as well: brutal violence, corruption, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault… and anybody who might feel offended or upset by any of these subjects or preferring to read a book that fits into current political correctness sensibilities should be advised to stay away. This is a hard book, not without its moments of humour (very, very dark), and it deals in serious subjects, which, unfortunately, no matter how much the language we use has changed, are still present and as disturbing and ugly as ever. If you dare dig deep into the mind of a bad man and are not worried about, perhaps, getting to understand him and feel sorry for him, go on and read. Luckily, I have another one of Golds’ books waiting for me.

Thanks to the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to stay safe, keep reading, have as much fun as you can, and keep smiling!

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreviews MARRED and CLEAVED. GRAFTON COUNTY SERIES by Sue Coletta (@SueColetta1) #RBRT Police procedural in a rural setting told from a writer’s perspective

Hi all:

Today I’m sharing two reviews. As you know I’m a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and I had read one of Sue Coletta’s book a few months ago, and when I saw a new book in her other series was due for launch and the author also offered the opportunity to catch up on the first novel of the series, I could not resist. So here I bring you both.

First, a bit about the author:

Author Sue Coletta
Author Sue Coletta

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is an award-winning, multi-published author in numerous anthologies and her forensics articles have appeared in InSinC Quarterly. In addition to her popular crime resource blog, Sue co-hosts the radio show “Partners In Crime” on Writestream Radio Network every third Tuesday of the month from 1 – 3 p.m. EDT/EST (see details at www.suecoletta.com). She’s also the communications manager for the Serial Killer Project and Forensic Science, and founder of #ACrimeChat on Twitter.

She runs a popular crime website and blog, where she shares crime tips, police jargon, the mind of serial killers, and anything and everything in between. If you search her achieves, you’ll find posts from guests that work in law enforcement, forensics, coroner, undercover operatives, firearm experts…crime, crime, and more crime.

For readers, she has the Crime Lover’s Lounge, where subscribers will be the first to know about free giveaways, contests, and have inside access to deleted scenes. As an added bonus, members get to play in the lounge. Your secret code will unlock the virtual door. Inside, like-minded folks discuss their favorite crime novels, solve mindbender and mystery puzzles, and/or relax and chat. Most importantly, everyone has a lot of fun.

Sue lives in northern New Hampshire with her husband, where her house is surrounded by wildlife…bear, moose, deer, even mountain lions have been spotted. Course, Sue would love to snuggle with them, but her husband frowns on the idea.

https://www.amazon.com/Sue-Coletta/e/B015OYK5HO/

And now, the books:

Marred by Sue Coletta
Marred by Sue Coletta

Marred by Sue Coletta

When a serial killer breaks into the home of bestselling author, Sage Quintano, she barely escapes with her life. Her husband, Niko, a homicide detective, insists they move to rural New Hampshire, where he accepts a position as Grafton County Sheriff. Sage buries secrets from that night—secrets she swears to take to her deathbed.

Three years of anguish and painful memories pass, and a grisly murder case lands on Niko’s desk. A strange caller begins tormenting Sage—she can’t outrun the past.

When Sage’s twin sister suddenly goes missing, Sage searches Niko’s case files and discovers similarities to the Boston killer. A sadistic psychopath is preying on innocent women, marring their bodies in unspeakable ways. And now, he has her sister.

Cryptic clues. Hidden messages. Is the killer hinting at his identity? Or is he trying to lure Sage into a deadly trap to end his reign of terror with a matching set of corpses?

Links:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Marred-Sue-Coletta-ebook/dp/B015OTRZXQ/

https://www.amazon.com/Marred-Sue-Coletta-ebook/dp/B015OTRZXQ/

My review:

I’m reviewing this book as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team and was provided with a copy of the book that I freely chose to review.

I read and reviewed Sue Coletta’s Wings of Mayhem, book one in The Mayhem Series (check the review here), and was impressed and intrigued. Now, on the occasion of the launch of the second book in the Grafton County Series, Cleaved (yes, I’m reading and reviewing that too, try and stop me!) I managed to catch up with the author’s first book in that series, that chronicles the lives of Sage and Niko Quintano, a couple who now live in Grafton County, New Hampshire, where they took refuge after something horrific happened to Sage. Niko is the new sheriff and Sage is a successful author of crime novels, although, unfortunately, she ends up playing the part of the victim in real life more than once.

Sage and Niko are trying to recover from their personal tragedy, as Sage lost a baby she was carrying when she was assaulted but they are both keeping things from each other, in an attempt at protecting the other. During the book, they’ll realise they are stronger together and the best way to beat evil is to be honest with each other and to share the truth, however hard it might be to hear.

The novel has strong elements of the police procedural genre. Niko is an accomplished detective, although sometimes hindered by his personal feelings and his inability to see and accept the unacceptable, and as there are not as many crime fighting means in a small town, he gets to share his expertise (his training one of the deputies gives the reader the perfect opportunity to eavesdrop and learn, although it might be a bit too much detail for those with no appetite for the grosser things in the art of detecting) on issues such as blood spatter and how to process a crime scene. Frankie, his fiery and fashion conscious deputy, is a fabulous character who takes no prisoners and tolerates no fools. Sadly, that means she has little opportunity for career advancement, as tact is not her strong suit, but through the novel, we get to understand her better, see her softer side, and she’s great at one-liners and gritty and witty repartees. Although Niko might complain about Frankie’s evident disdain for authority, he enjoys the banter and their relationship is one of the fun and lighter elements in the novel. The crimes are gruesome, bizarre and puzzling, as it appears the killer is trying to send a message but nobody knows what it is or who the intended recipient might be. There are red herrings and confusion, as it becomes clear that these crimes relate to what happened to Sage years back, in Boston, but we don’t know how or why. Lies and withholding of information don’t help and Sage does a fair deal of amateur investigating too.

Apart from the police procedural aspect, there are also other elements that give the novel a distinct flavour. The strong relationship between the couple and their shared (at least in part) trauma plays a big part in the action and also in the reactions and behaviours of the characters, that at times might stretch reader’s suspension of disbelief but would fit in with somebody trying to survive to a horrible ordeal. This is not the typical novel about the lone detective, who lives only for his work and solving cases but is totally unable to have a meaningful relationship. Thanks to Sage’s memories we share some of the couple’s high and low points. Pet names, real pets and home life (including thoughts about the laundry) ground the characters and their relationship making them more relatable and real, rather than just case-solving automatons. Sage’s otherworldly encounters (she consults a spiritual guide and has a very special experience during the investigation, but I won’t spoil the story) are also outside the norm for a book otherwise very realistic and detailed.

The story is told from the points of view of several characters. Sage’s point of view is narrated in the first person and that makes the reader identify with her more closely. She is also a writer through and through and observes everybody around her, everything that happens and analyses her own thoughts and feelings in detail. Niko and Frankie are also given a narrative, although theirs is in the third person but still manages to make us see their different perspectives, helps us understand their behaviours and thought processes, and provides more information the readers can try and use to put together the jigsaw puzzle.

The book has a great sense of rhythm, and alternates very tense and dark scenes with moments of light relief (Frankie and the other deputies are always at hand with some extemporaneous comment or mishap, Sage and Niko also have their humorous moments and the novel is tongue-in-cheek about possible comparisons, including comments about Castle) and is particularly effective at dropping the readers right into the action and making them share the experiences and emotions of the characters.  The ending manages to be satisfyingly upbeat while also introducing a final disquieting note.

A recommended reading for those who love detailed police procedural novels (and TV series like CSI, Criminal Minds and yes, Castle), with characters who carry a heavy baggage, in a backwoods/small-town setting and with less down-to-earth elements thrown in too. A strong stomach is a necessary requirement. I’d also recommend it to writers keen on the genre as there’s much to be learned from the author.

And:

Cleaved by Sue Coletta
Cleaved by Sue Coletta

Cleaved: Grafton County Series, book 2 by Sue Coletta

Author Sage Quintano writes about crime. Her husband Niko investigates it. Together they make an unstoppable team. But no one counted on a twisted serial killer, who stalks their sleepy community, uproots their happy home, and splits the threads that bonds their family unit.

Darkness swallows the Quintanos whole–ensnared by a ruthless killer out for blood. Why he focused on Sage remains a mystery, but he won’t stop till she dies like the others.

Women impaled by deer antlers, bodies encased in oil drums, nursery rhymes, and the Suicide King. What connects these cryptic clues? For Sage and Niko, the truth may be more terrifying than they ever imagined.

Early readers love CLEAVED…

“The title alone is the stuff of nightmares. Cleaved by Sue Coletta is the latest from the writing magic of this author.

Her characters, storyline, and imagination all meld into the perfect blend of suspense, tension, action, and emotion. Her prose sings more than tells the story. The words are crafted and woven into both subtle and shocking passages.

The intricacies of the plot will keep you guessing, and catching your breath, with each twist and turn. While the nature of the story contains some gruesome aspects, Coletta handles them with aplomb. She makes her point without gratuitous descriptions so common is less skillfully written thrillers.

This is an author rising to new levels in her craft. All of her books are good, this one is exceptional.
She takes you inside the mind of her main recurring character, Sage Quintano. You experience the story as she does. (Minor spoiler alert coming up.) As part of her research for the book, Coletta actually got inside an oil drum. I’ll leave it to your imagination why. But it should give you an indication of the commitment to excellence this author brings to her work.

Read this book. Read all this author’s work. You will not be disappointed. Terrified, scared, suffering elevated blood pressure, yes. Disappointed, no.” ~ posted on Goodreads

“The sequel to Marred, in which you’d think Sage and Niko have been through enough, but no, Sue Coletta pulls out all the stops to take you on an amazing roller coaster ride of a read. Prepare to be chuckling one minute, and then terrified the next. I dare you to read this book without becoming emotionally involved with the characters and their safety.

Perfectly paced, perfectly passionate, perfectly perplexing. If you buy one book today make it Cleaved!” ~ posted on Goodreads

“Follow Sage as she unravels this mystery from page one. You may not want to put it down. I sure never did, but seems I do most of my reading at work! I give this book 5 stars for sure! Sue Coletta has done it again. After Marred and Wings of Mayhem, I never thought it could get better, but she did it again.” posted on Goodreads

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Cleaved-Grafton-County-book-2-ebook/dp/B06XS3HTGS/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cleaved-Grafton-County-book-2-ebook/dp/B06XS3HTGS/

 

My review:

I’m writing this review as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team and I was provided with a copy of the book that I freely chose to review.

I have just finished reading Sue Coletta’s Marred and I wanted to see what happened next. Reading the two books back-to-back allowed me to think a bit more about the genre, the characters, and the style.

Here we have again the married couple of Niko Quintano, now sheriff in Alexandria, Grafton County, New Hampshire, and his wife, crime novelist Sage. They moved trying to leave behind a tragedy but it seems it followed them, and in Marred there was more heartache and family loses for the Quintanos. Now, the couple has a child, their two kids (their beloved dogs, Rugger and Colt, which I didn’t mention in my last review although they play an important role), and they are enjoying life. The book doesn’t allow us to relax though, quite the opposite, as it opens with a terrifying scene, narrated in the first person from Sage’s perspective. She is locked up somewhere, small, dark and cold, floating in water, and can’t recall how she got there. And we, the readers, share in her anguish and fear and are thrown in at the deep end from the beginning. The book then goes back and we get to know how Sage ended up there. Her plight is linked to a new bizarre wave of murders that befall the county but there are several interrelated plots and all of them touch the different characters personally. What should have been a happy time for Sage and Niko turns into another nightmare and nobody is safe.

The story is told from several of the characters’ points of view, as was the case with Marred. Sage, the writer, narrates her story in the first person and is good at observing events, but especially at talking about feelings and analysing the impact their horrific experiences might have on all of them (including her 13 months’ old baby son, Noah, and their two dogs). Her husband Niko and Frankie, the deputy sheriff with attitude, wit and a fashionable sense of dress, also have their own stories, but these are told in the third-person.

I talked about genre in the previous review but I have to come back to it. Whilst the book works as police-procedural, due to the details about murder scenes and also to the lectures on the subject (the deputies in training come handy as a justification and a stand-in for the readers, and this time even Frankie gets to explain some aspects of forensic science), there is a lot of content that relates to family relationships and also to the effects of crime and trauma on the survivors, that put me in mind of what these days is called domestic-noir (although in standard cases, the guilty party tends to be part of the family. Not so here…). Although this aspect is more evident in the fragments narrated by Sage, Frankie also gets confronted with her own relationship and how it can be a source of conflict with one’s profession and moral stance (she’s still one of my favourite characters but she behaves in a more reckless manner that I had ever imagined she would and shows less concern for the law than I expected), and Niko also struggles to try to maintain his professional demeanour when faced with attacks on his beloved family.

There are several story strands and a variety of crimes, and readers will be kept on their toes trying to decide how they related to each other (if they do), how many criminals there are and what their motives are. Although the sheriff notes the difficulties and the limitations of law enforcement in the area as it is not a high-crime place, I couldn’t help but think of series like Murder, She Wrote or Midsomer Murders where a seemingly sleepy town is attacked by an epidemic of crime, courtesy of it being the setting of a series. Also, like in most stories where both members of a couple investigate crimes (professionally or not), at some point, one or both of them end up becoming victims, and this has been Sage’s lot from the beginning, perhaps more so in this book, as she has even more to lose now. This novel might cross over several genres but it does live up to the expectations of the readers and it will keep them turning pages.

The characters keep stumbling on the same stone over and over. If in the previous book they got into serious trouble for not completely trusting each other and lying (with the best of intentions at heart), they still do it here (perhaps not to the same extent) and there is a price to be paid for it. I felt like I do sometimes when watching a horror movie when you see the characters keep getting themselves into trouble, and you want to shout at them: ‘Don’t do that! Don’t be stupid!’ but they don’t listen. The murders are as gruesome as in the previous book and varied; we get a better glimpse at Frankie’s life and some of her connections, but there is more of the personal point of view and dramatic side of the story, at least in my opinion. The book has humorous scenes and the witty dialogue that’s one of the author’s trademarks, but it is also scary and tense, and even more terrifying if you’re an author yourself. (Beware of book signings is all I’ll say.)

Once again, the ending is satisfying (as a psychiatrist I’ll keep my peace rather than discuss the details) but has a hook and leaves readers with an eerie feeling. I wasn’t sure I was totally clear in my mind as to how the different strands fitted in, especially with so many things being hidden and not fully knowing who knew what.  I wouldn’t have minded one of those scenes à la Poirot or Sherlock Holmes, where the detective gives an explanation and everything is tied up with a nice ribbon. Although, perhaps it just shows that the rhythm of the novel is quite fast and if you blink, you’ve missed it.

Another novel by Sue Coletta with an irresistible story that requires a strong stomach but will be of interest to readers who like to dig into the character’s psyche and are after more than just a well-plotted book. Oh, and readers must like dogs too. Especially scary for writers.

Thanks to Rosie for organising the group and for discovering the best books and writers, thanks to the author, and of course thanks to you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK! 

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