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February 20, 2024

3 Novels of Crime Fiction to Satisfy Your Inner Detective

by MK French

Do you love a mystery, a thriller or a suspense novel? Crime fiction has quite the draw to it as we seek justice for the characters as we play armchair detective.

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The Ghost Orchid by Jonathan Kellerman

book cover of thriller novel The Ghost Orchid by Jonathan Kellerman
February 2024; Ballantine Books; 978-0593497678
audio, ebook, print (304 pages); thriller

Two bodies are found floating in a Bel Air pool, belonging to Gio Aggiunta, the heir to an Italian shoe empire, and Meagin March, a married neighbor. Detective Milo Sturgis calls on his friend, the psychologist Alex Delaware, to join him in investigating the dead to find leads. Meagin's identity is an issue, as is Gio's family connection. But somehow, the dangers only mount as secrets are revealed.

This is in the Alex Delaware series, but as with any long-running series, you don't necessarily need to have read all of the prior ones. Alex got hurt at the end of the prior novel, which the opening chapter in this one addresses. The dynamic between him and Milo is slightly different now, with more care taken for Alex's physical health. The attention to detail regarding the case remains the same. The duo and Milo's team looks into both of these victims, hoping to find a motivation for murder and the actual murderer. It's always fascinating to get a look into the process, with punchy, short chapters as they follow every lead, no matter how flimsy. We learn more about each victim, and the vague absence of details regarding Meagan soon means they're looking more into her origin, which isn't what they originally thought it would be. 

The ghost orchid is a real plant, one found in Florida that has its roots in the air and draws nutrients from others. The plant is something of a parasite, though it doesn't kill the host. This plays into the theme of the case, and it's incredibly sad when we find out what happened to Meagin and the actual motivation for the murders. Alex got a few psychological evaluation requests, and the main one he received was a good counterpoint to the main investigation. Lives can go in wildly different directions, but sometimes the past still hangs heavily over people.

If you are new to the series, check out my reviews for City of the Dead and Unnatural History

Buy The Ghost Orchid at Amazon

The Tainted Cup by Robert Jackson Bennett

book cover of fantasy mystery
February 2024; Del Rey; 978-1984820709
audio, ebook, print (432 pages); mystery

An imperial officer in Daretana is killed when a tree erupts from his body. Beyond the Empire’s borders, illness, contagion, and the blood of the leviathans create impossible damage. Ana Dolabra is the brilliant but eccentric detective sent to investigate the death, and she has the magically altered Dinios Kol as her assistant. She's odd but effective, and he's often perplexed by her abilities. The two begin to close in on the murderer, uncovering a scheme that threatens the Empire. Din also wonders how long he’ll be able to keep his own secrets safe.

This is the first book of the Shadow of the Leviathan series. (If this is like his other works, it'll be a trilogy.) When we open with Din arriving at the scene of the death, Ana isn't even present. She prefers to draw conclusions while in her own home, far from the scene, and military officers are understandably surprised. In this opening we learn about the military ranks, the alterations that can be had through magic or money, and the way even in fantasy worlds, there's the desire to haze the new guy. Din's skill as an engraver is fascinating: the magical alteration gives him an eidetic memory, and he has trouble reading. He has his workarounds, and we have a very good picture of his life and the world he lives in within a short period of time. The little details that he sees are pulled together rapidly to paint a picture of how and who killed the officer, but that opens up more questions than answers.

This is a murder mystery set in a fantasy world where augmentations serve the greater Empire. The areas closest to the water are most at risk of leviathans breaching the walls and coming ashore, killing thousands due to their sheer size and the aberrations their blood will create. At the same time, the elite families and the military rub shoulders, jockeying for power and trying to get more prestige and money. Din is a stickler for rules, which at once hamstrings and saves him; we discover eventually why he has trouble reading, why certain tasks are easy for him to mimic, and why Ana selected him to be her assistant in her great work in the area.

This is such a fascinating and engrossing read; I devoured the novel quickly. I love the details in the world-building, how the minor details we think are just descriptions of the areas actually are important in Ana's case as she searches for the truth and justice. Sometimes justice can't be achieved, as the function of most offices is to maintain the Empire for the ordinary folk to continue living. At other times, justice comes after all.

Buy The Tainted Cup at Amazon

Necessary Deeds by Mark Wish

book cover of thriller novel Necessary Deeds by Mark Wish
February 2024; Regal House; 978-1646034062
audio, ebook, print (208 pages); thriller

Matt Connell is a former literary agent imprisoned for killing a man. He receives an early release from Sing Sing to join an FBI undercover investigation into one of his former clients. His role is jeopardized by thinking of continual worst case scenarios. Even worse, he falls in love with a suspect and discovers disturbing truths about his past and hers. What is the best path going forward?

The idea of a frustrated poet killing successful female authors is sending the FBI to use Matt in an entrapment scheme. Upon his release, he makes contact with the former client as well as other authors and potential victims, including the one he clicks with and is attracted to. Matt is pulled back into the world of publishing, with his former clients, his FBI liaison, and his new crush Em all possible suspects as the novel progresses. While he tries to protect Em in the investigation without compromising himself, his own emotions are suspect as well. He has his prison time and his temper, and others have their own secrets and motives. Further potential killers could be lingering in his agent inbox as well. He's continually fearing the worst, adding to his stress throughout the novel.

Living as an agent is no doubt stressful, given it's a profession that's run on commission in the very expensive New York City. Agents are as good as their sales records, and authors are only as good as their next novel. We see snippets of the work that he fields, and that there's a lot of posturing with people he knows in order to try getting good contracts. It's stressful, as is the pressure that the FBI puts on him. The tension mounts until the very end, when it all comes together and Matt is nearly a victim himself. I was pulled in and curious as to the identity of the Talent Killer, as well as what would happen to the characters. That kept me turning pages until the very end.

Buy Necessary Deeds at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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