The Night Shift #alexfinlay @MinotarBooks@JanBelisle @absltmom #dorieschultz

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

Jan’s review

Two crimes, fifteen years apart. 

NYE, 1999, with fears of Y2K looming, there’s a gruesome murder of  4 teenage employees  at a Blockbuster Video store, along with the manager. There is one lone survivor. A suspect is identified, but he is released and never seen again.

15 years later, another mass killing, this time at an ice cream parlor. Four teens are dead, and once again there is a lone survivor.

In both murders, the killer whispers: “Goodnight, pretty girl.” Hardly a coincidence. 

The story is told from 3 POV: Public defender Chris, the brother of the original suspect, Ella, the survivor of the Blockbuster tragedy who is now a therapist, and Sarah Keller, the FBI agent who is investigating the cases.

How these characters intersect with one another makes for a fast-paced story, one where the pages practically turned themselves. The short chapters helped build momentum and the story line hooked me immediately.  The murders happen off the page, so sensitive readers need not worry.

Be aware this is one where it’s best  to not question things too deeply and just go along for the wild ride. I got a little lost a few times, but the author expertly wove the different threads together in a compelling way. Even if you guess the culprit, as my reading buddy Marialyce did, there are still surprises in store. There were coincidences to accept, a few threads left unanswered and the ending was OTT. Yet, we both thoroughly enjoyed it!

I’m not sure why the author chose to make agent Keller 8 ½ months pregnant – with twins. Nurse Jan turned a skeptical eye, not buying it. While it’s possible to carry twins to 40 weeks, it’s rare, and the mother-to-be can barely walk across the room, let alone perform the badass feats Sarah Keller did.  But she’s such a likable character, along with her Husband of the Year, Bob, that I overlooked it

Anyone who follows my reviews knows I have a low tolerance for implausibility, so the fact that I enjoyed this one is a compliment to the author.  It was a fun ride and I was entertained from the first page to the last.  I had both the e-book and the audio, and ended up preferring the audio. The narration was perfect and I raced through it in 24 hrs. I can’t wait to see what this author does next.

Marialyce’s review

Totally worth the read!

“All these years, he was a monster in plain sight”

This was at totally enjoyable thriller and one that had me turning the pages quickly seeing if I could figure out who was the killer. It was propulsive and the short chapters made it more so.

A terrible occurrence in Linden New Jersey, in 1999, begins our story and the author takes us into the killings of young girls working in a Blockbuster store. There was one survivor and with the suspect on the run, we have no conclusion to this heinous killing of three young girls.

We jump to the present, fifteen years from the original killings. This time the murders take place in an ice cream store, with once again a lone survivor. The parallels are undeniable and the non-apprehended suspect of the first murders is once again a suspect as a repeat killer.

The author introduces the characters of the past as well as the intermingling of the characters of an FBI agent, the brother of the suspect, and the girl who survived the current murders. This was a very clever technique of joining the old with the new and created a wonderful game of clue that kept on changing the players.

There is a lot going on as the reader’s eyes are focused on one person after another. Along with that, there is the meetings of the families, the people who lost children, the father of the suspect, and the lives that were tragically upended because of the craze of the killer.

I enjoyed this story read with my friend, Jan. We were looking for a well-done thriller and in this story our hopes were recognized. Definitely one I recommend and am glad Alex Finlay has written another book that maintained my interest from start to finish.

Thank you to Alex Findlay, Minotaur Books and NetGalley for this riveting story, published on March 1, 2022

And as a guest reviewer, here is Dorie’s review:

Dorie’s review

I think I feel a bit differently about this book than some other reviews that I’ve read. For me I felt as though the first half of the book was much more slowly paced than his last novel. In Every Last Fear, the beginning started with a bang and just kept building. For me, this one was a bit of a slower start.

Mr. Finlay’s strengths are many; I love the time and place where this novel was set. The beginning brings a sense of deja vu for anyone old enough to remember the fear of Y2K and how the world was going to literally shut down, computers wouldn’t know how to update, etc etc. It really was quite a fierce buildup TO AN ABSOLUTELY NON-EVENT!!!!

The author is very clever at bringing in twists at a consistent pace while saving the most surprises for later in the book. His writing is excellent and there was no problem with the two timelines, I thought they were clearly defined and easy to separate.

I loved that he chose some really intelligent, hard working and industrious women to advance the plot and be involved in the investigation. HIS CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT IS VERY GOOD!!

BRIEF HIGHLIGHT OF THE PLOT: In 1999, New Year’s Eve, there is a murder in Linden, New Jersey, a town not used to a lot of violence. Four teenagers were brutally attacked at the local Blockbuster Video, only one survived.

Now about 15 years later, there is another tragic murder. Same town, this time at the Dairy Creamery. Teenagers are brutally murdered with again a lone survivor. This one also took place during THE NIGHT SHIFT!!

Because the crimes are very similar, both involved teenagers in the same town, there seems there must be a connection right? Why this town? Why always teenagers? Why now, 15 years later??

The novel is told from two perspectives. FBI agent Keller and public defender Chris. They will investigate the possible connection and of course, try to find out WHO THE KILLER, OR KILLERS ARE!!!!!!

Vince Whittaker was arrested for the Blockbuster murder but set free on bail, never to be seen again!!

In the present Jesse Duvall is the survivor of the ice cream parlor massacre. She won’t talk to the police. She requests someone that has gone through a similar experience. She wants to speak to Ella, a therapist now, who was the survivor of the Blockbuster attack.

The second half of the book was more enjoyable and exciting for me. I felt that the pace picked up, I got to know the characters better and things started to come together.

In this novel there are some unanswered questions and coincidences that were a little hard to believe. I also had a hard time picturing Agent Keller, 8 ½ months pregnant with twins doing some of the things that she did!!

All in all this was a great thriller, well written that I can definitely recommend and I look forward to Mr. Finlay’s next novel!!

I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher through Edelweiss. It was a pleasure to read and review this title.

Mala’s Cat: A Memoir of Survival in World War II #malakacenberg @pegasusbooks @absltmom

My review

Mala Szorer had a wonderful family whom she loved and cherished. However, the dark clouds of war were coming to Tarnogrod, a small village in Poland. Mala and her family were Jewish and as the Nazis began to infiltrate the area, her town was turned into a ghetto. Brave Mala would slip out of the ghetto to find food for the people, removing her yellow star, knowing full well what this meant should she be questioned. One day while outside the ghetto, she sees the Nazi rounding up the ghetto, and also receives a letter from her sister warning her not to return to the village. As poor Mala witnesses this horrific event, this longs to be with her beloved family, but holds back. Is it possible that Elohim had other divine plans for her?

Mala escapes to the forest where she hides and is accompanied by a stray cat, named Malah, who stays with Mala on her perilous journey through the Nazis and townspeople who were also against the Jews. Malah becomes a wonderful companion to Mala and provides moments of solace when she most needs it. Many times, it seems like Malah would appear when danger was near almost as if she was a talisman for Mala. Knowing her family had all been exterminated, Mala goes forward aided by an amazing amount of courage, much intelligence and sense, and the ability to pass as a Christian. She was constantly on the run, constantly on guard to what she said, who she might befriend her, and the daily dangers of finding food and places where she might attain a night’s rest.

For six years, Mala kept on against all the evil and adversity one could possibly think. This is a true memoir that reflects what a spirit and a true belief in the almighty makes one capable of survival of a hellish nature. It’s amazing that this young girl only about thirteen when this started managed to be alive. Mala learned to rely on herself and of course the instinctual Malah. She is an example to all that although times may be horrendous, the human spirit is strong and life can and does go on.

At the end of these travails, Mala does connect with some relatives, but of course they never made up for the loss of her parents and siblings. Mala eventually winds up in London and does meets a young man who she eventually marries. She and her husband had five children. Strangely, at the time of her marriage, Malah mysteriously disappears and Mala would never see her again. Malah was indeed a guardian angel who was her guide and her divine shield.

O Lord, God, Master of the Universe, Thou by whose will and intelligence this universe was created, heed Thou my earnest prayer. It seemed that the Lord God did indeed hear Mala’s prayer.

My first audiobook was a winner. It was narrated by Kristin Atherton who did a wonderful job.

The War That Saved My Life @kimbbbradley #dialpress @absltmom

“It had been awful, but I hadn’t quit. I had persisted. In battle I had won.”

My review

This was a lovely story that is perfect for those in middle school as they can learn about parental abuse and the notion that being handicapped made one the product of the devil. When one wonders how a war could save lives in the case of Ava, a handicapped young girl and her brother Jamie, meeting their caregiver and recognizing the good of an adult is the telling concept.

“And even if it felt like Mam hated me, she had to love me, didn’t she? She had to love me, because she was my mam, and Susan was just somebody who got stuck taking care of Jamie and me because of the war.”

Poor Ava, mistreated horribly by her mother because of a club foot and because her mother was a horrible person, steals away with her brother, Jamie when he is called upon to leave London as the war had started and children were leaving for the countryside where it was believed they would be safe. They come in contact with a woman name Susan and through her Ava learns of the goodness of people and how it feels to be loved and cared for. Susan on her part didn’t at first care for the fact these two urchins wound up in her care, but care she did and eventually she, too, realizes what her life has been missing, the love of another.

“I don’t want to just survive”

It’s a wonderful story appropriate for children who are at the middle school level and a fine way to learn of an actual event that occurred during the onset of World War 2. Love does not need to be parental in order for it to be love. It can come from unexpected sources especially for children who never knew the warmth of that emotion.

“One step, I thought. One step at a time.”

The author, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The Deepest of Secrets (Rockton#7) @KelleyArmstrong @MinotaurBooks @absltmom

“That’s the true reveal in Rockton. Not discovering someone lied about their background or committed a crime in their past. It’s finding out they aren’t the person you thought they were, their underlying character hidden behind a false front.”

My review

I have always been a fan of the series that takes place in the imaginary town of Rockton. It’s been a fascinating story of a place set up to safely secure people of somewhat nefarious backgrounds. Detective Casey Duncan and her boyfriend, Sheriff Eric Dalton, have had their hands full with the people who populate the town as well as the committee that sends these people to the town.

This time out, the town finds themselves under a bit of a siege since a secret has come out about one of their population. It threatens to destroy both Casey, Eric and the town they have worked so hard to defend and keep together. Because of this secret, people are turning on one another and so afraid they will be the next target of the person who has revealed the original secret. Everyone in this enclave has secrets, devastating ones, that not only could wreck themselves but also destroy the town.

To add to all of this, some townsfolk decide not to follow one of the cardinal rules of the town. That is to never go into the forest alone. Of course, rules are meant to be broken, and when some people do just that the devastation to them is catastrophic. The committee raises its untrustworthy head and makes a decision that devastates Casey and Eric. It becomes crystal clear the the revealer of secrets is the one who has murder on their mind.

I enjoyed the story once again, but felt it was overly long and drawn out. It just didn’t match the suspense of the previous editions. I am hoping Kelley Armstrong continues to take us on the adventure she started when we first traveled to that far away Yukon location.

Thank you to Kelley Armstrong, Minotaur Books, and NetGalley for a copy of this continuing story which published on February 15, 2022.

Kelley Armstrong

The Overnight Guest @hgundenkauf #parkrow @absltmom

“His shadow crawled across the wall. He was getting closer. “Come on,” he called out. “Did you really think I would let you leave? You know better than that. You belong to me.”

My review

I love stories that have a background of a snowstorm howling in the wind, so when this book started with a little girl being found on the doorstep of a true crime writer, it had all the makings of a story I would love. Wylie Lark is stunned to find her solitude interrupted by the appearance of this child who wouldn’t speak, but needed to be inside because of the bitter cold.

As if this was not offsetting enough, the house that Wylie was in had been the scene of a grisly murder of two adults and a missing child. Originally suspicion fell onto the son of the murdered couple, but later that evidence whittled away.

The three story lines in the book, initially threw me off, but as the author, Heather Gundenkauf, wove the pieces together, she created a well-done thriller with just the right amount of secrets, lies, and atmosphere.

We learn of a horrific killing, of a daughter escaping and a friend who was staying overnight missing, all of which happened in the past. The daughter Josie, was left alive but was able to flee with the murderer is hot pursuit.

The years go by and still no person has been brought to trial. Years later, we are introduced to Wylie, a true crime writer, who has rented the very same place where the murders had occurred. It’s a stormy night filled with ice and snow and in this isolated place Wylie finds a child, silent and fearful, who Wylie tries to help. There had been an accident so Wylie ventured out to find if anyone was hurt and finds who she assumes is the child’s mother badly hurt. She helps her as best she can, and decides to go back to the house to try and get help. When Wylie returns, the woman is gone and the story veers to the dangerous world that Wylie finds herself entrenched in.

I enjoyed this story and was particularly moved by the haunting atmosphere the author created. While one might have guessed some concepts, many were shed by revelations that indeed created the twists and turns of the tale.

Thank you to Heather Gundenkaug, Park Row, and NetGalley for a copy of this thriller which has already published on January 25, 2022

I Must Betray You @RutaSeptyes @penguinrandom @JanBelisle @absltmom

“An old woman is fast asleep when she hears a knock at the door.
Who is it? she whispers, terrified.
It is death, the voice answers.
Oh, good. I thought it might be
the Securitate.

Jan’s review

To quote the author:

“ …when adversity is drawn out of the shadows and recognized, we endure that human beings living under oppression – past and present – know they are not forgotten. Together we can shine a light in dark corners of the past. Together, we can give history a voice.”

The author hopes through the reading of her book, readers will be inspired to research the fall of communism in Europe and the incredible fortitude and bravery of the Romanian people. This fictional story is based on a time in our recent past when the people of Romania lived under the brutal Ceausescu regime.  The author paints a vivid picture of what life was like, and although the people endured much deprivation, the worst was the atmosphere of fear and suspicion thrust upon them when the regime forced citizens to become informers. No one was above suspicion, not even family and close friends. 

In this fictional story, seventeen-year-old Cristian is forced to become an informer when he is found with an illegal American dollar bill. We see Cristian’s mental anguish as he navigates this new secret life, and the effect on his relationships and sense of self. The choice before him:  betray everyone he knows or do what he can to undermine the regime. His first-person narrative is interspersed with reports on him from the Securitate, the secret police of Romania.  

Despite the regime’s efforts, contraband made its way into Romania in the form of magazines, books, and movies, which exposed the young people to a world beyond their borders and gave them a hint of what it was like to be free. Cristian was also exposed to the ways of the West through his mother’s work cleaning for an American diplomat. In 1989, when they heard the news that communist countries around them had fallen, it was a spark of hope, and the beginnings of what would be a bloody revolution. History tells us that the regime fell, but the price was high. The epilogue takes place 20 years later, when Cristian is able to access the historical archives and discovers some shocking truths. It was a tense and sobering end to the book.

This is teen historical fiction, but I very much enjoyed it, despite it not being my preferred genre. This was an exception. The chapters are short, and the plot fast-moving, especially in the last half. I enjoyed hearing the story from the perspective of a teenager on the cusp of adulthood. His relationships with his family, especially his much beloved grandfather, were endearing. He has the typical teenage concerns overshadowed by this brutal life. This would be an excellent book in a school curriculum or for parents to read and discuss along with their teen, as a starting point to learn more.

I applaud the author shedding a light on this dark time in history. In the author notes, she highlights the amount of research she did to ensure her story was historically accurate. I’m old enough to remember the fall of the Berlin Wall and Communism and recall the Romanian uprising in the news. In 2019, my husband and I also had the opportunity to visit a Communist museum in a former Eastern Bloc nation, a memorial in the actual building where atrocities took place. Included were video recordings of those imprisoned, interrogated, or tortured. It was a devastating experience, but one we were glad to experience. History that is forgotten is doomed to be repeated. 

The deep desire to be a free people is built into the human spirit. In 1989 the Romanian citizens rose up against a totalitarian government. Although the circumstances aren’t the same, we are currently watching the events play out on our TV screens as average Ukrainian citizens rise up against the Soviet invaders, using all means at their disposal to defend their right to be free. 

*This was a buddy read with my friend Marialyce, be sure to read her review to see what she thought!

While his people starved and froze, this is where he and his family lived
indoor pool
Gold bathroom

Marialyce’s Review

Looking back on history is as the author says a way to both remember and learn, to try and stop atrocities, to be aware that things can happen under the cloak of suspicion, fear, and the manipulations of the press, the new sources, and the population. Romanians living in the country while it was still under Communist rule, know exactly what a terror filled life produces.

If communism is Paradise, why do we need barriers, walls, and laws to keep people from escaping?

Ruta Sepetys takes us there in the year 1989, and introduces us to a young man, Cristian Florescu. Only seventeen, he and his family have lived under the terrible dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu, a ruthless man who has dominated his nation through force, fear, starvation, and deprivation. He has closed off the country and turned the secret police into weapons, threatening the populace, inducing people through fear to spy on one another. Neighbor turns on neighbor, children against family, and even husband against wife. Cristian has a dream but he realizes that Romania is a dreamless country, but his beloved grandfather inspires him. But the police engineer a way to drawn Cristian into the maw and by blackmailing him, Christian becomes what he hates. The stakes are high and Cristian finds himself caught in a web of who do you trust?

He wants to be free; others want to be free and as news trickles around Europe about other Communist satellites breaking free, he has hope. As revolution approaches, Cristian wants to save those around him especially a girl he has fallen in love with. However, revelations are about to come as he and thousands of other rises up against the totalitarians they have been ruled by. It’s a bloody battle, many in fact, but freedom is within their grasp.

“The State controls the amount of food we eat, our electricity, our transportation, the information we receive.”

This is a YA book that packs a punch. Ruta Sepetys creates an atmosphere of fear, suspicion, want, and loss. She vividly portrays what it was like living under a despot and the Communist way of life. She effectively points out how the elites lived magnificent lives while the commoners suffered and struggled. It is a story our young people should acquaint themselves with, especially those who think communism is the way to govern.

Jan and I were quite moved by this story, and enjoyed our few hours spent reading it. It’s short but definitely manages to make one aware that what was in the past can happen again if we are not vigilant citizens.

Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena, were convicted of genocide as it was believed that 60,000 people met their deaths under his vile rule. He and his wife were executed and were put to death by a firing squad in 1989.

Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu
Christmas Day Revolution
One of their homes

When a Killer Calls: A Haunting Story of Murder, Criminal Profiling, and Justice in a Small Town #johnedouglas #markolshaker @JanBelisle @absltmom

Jan’s review

In 1985, 17-year-old  Shari Smith was abducted in broad daylight at the end of her driveway while picking up the mail. The abductor made repeated taunting phone calls to the family, and a day later they received a haunting letter in the mail that contained Shari’s “last will and testament”. Knowing she was going to be murdered, she affirmed her love for them and appealed to her family to bravely carry on. Her body was found a few days later.

A short time later, nine-year-old Debra Helmick was abducted and killed. The killer called the Smiths and told them where to find her body. That’s when authorities knew both of these deaths were at the hands of a serial murderer. The author, John Douglas, an FBI agent in the Behavioral Science Unit who pioneered criminal profiling techniques, and is most well-known to us as the author behind the book and TV show, Mindhunter, was called in to assist with the investigation.  

My heart went out to the Smith family, who, after a devastating loss, showed incredible courage and bravery. They endured the taunting cruel phone calls, going above and beyond to assist the investigators, in an attempt to bait the killer into unwittingly revealing himself.

The first half of the book deals with the investigation and arrest of the perpetrator, and the second half detailed the trials for both his victims. His behavior in the courtroom was bizarre and he often blurted out inappropriate statements, refusing to answer questions, or offering rambling non-answers. His testimony lasted six hours due to his courtroom theatrics. Was he criminally insane or was this an attempt to be declared incompetent, thereby avoiding a sentence of death?  

I’m purposefully being vague, as this case was unfamiliar to me and I appreciated seeing the case play out as I read.  I recommend this to anyone who is interested in true crime and investigative work. This was a buddy read with Marialyce, one that left us both slightly disappointed. My interest lies mostly with the psychology behind criminals/murderers. I want to know the WHY.  I do wish we had been given more information about the perpetrator and why he was the way he was, and a bit less mundane details about the author himself. 

Marialyce’s review

Sadly, the book When A Killer Calls, was not as good as I was hoping. Certainly, the case when FBI profilers were a fledgling operation was interesting as well as the case the author is called upon to render expertise, but it did seem to go a bit flat.

Certainly, the man in question, Larry Gene Bell, was a devious and a hell sent individual. Accused of killing and murdering two young girls, he was cocky, sure of himself, and for all intents, (those of his own), he tried to paint himself as a mentally ill psychopath having among other things two personalities. Bell also phoned on numerous occasions the home of the older sister of the girl he kidnapped. Shari Smith, was a beautiful high school senior who was abducted while she collected the mail, from her home where she lived with her parents, a sister, and a brother.

Along with the calls which were planned from various telephone locations, the family received letters. It was Bell taunting them, but when they received one that was marked, Last Will and Testament, the family knew that their beloved daughter and sister was dead. The police coupled with other law enforcement agencies were on the case and John Douglas and his team provided a profile of the killer which helped the police finally find him.

In the meantime, a nine-year-old child playing in her yard with her siblings was abducted assuring law enforcement that Shari’s kidnapping was not the sole one. As the profile came into play, it became very apparent that the killer fit the descriptions that John Douglas and his team put together.

The case was harrowing as never before did the police come upon an unsub who was so calculating, devious, and criminal. Finally, in an effort to draw this maniac out, it was decided to use Shari’s sister as bait as his modus operendi was blonde blue eyes girls to which Dawn fit the requirements. She bravely put herself forward and tackled the phone calls that came into the home. Bell was convinced he was destined to marry Dawn. The whole Smith family showed absolute courage and strength relying in large part on their strong faith in the determination to see the killer brought to justice.

The Helmick family, parents and siblings of Debra, the young nine-year-old also sought the killer’s capture and day in court.

After capture, Bell displayed bizarre behaviors but eventually it was decided this was a manipulative front to escape punishment. The first trial concluded, the one for Shari and was a disgusting spectacle as Bell made plays for Dawn and the pity of the jurors. He was deranged but knew the difference between right and wrong. His narcissistic personality gave him the grand illusion that he was smarter than everyone else. A second trial for Karen was held in another venue and the jury returned the same verdict guilty with a death sentence conferred. After many appeals and years spent in prison, Bell was executed. He chose the electric chair as his fate, one that was justly deserved.

My issue with the book was that I thought the author inserted himself into everything, adding details such as how he dressed, what he ate, and so on, all of which weighed down the telling and created repetition and a tad phase of boredom on what should have been a riveting read.

Jan and I have been into the true crime stories lately and were disappointed, when holding this one up to the likes of some others, it fell short. It was a five star topic with a three star style of writing.

The bottom line however, is there are definitely some very sick people roaming about, and sometimes they seem to be the most harmless types of individual.

Larry Gene Bell
Dawn Smith
Debra Helmich and Shari Smith

Bone Deep: Untangling the Betsy Faria MurderCase #charlesbosworthjr #joeljschwartz @janberlisle @absltmom

Book Cover

Jan’s review

Imagine arriving home after a night out with friends to find your wife dead, stabbed 55 times, with a knife sticking out of her neck?  Imagine the police so convinced you are guilty of murder they ignore evidence that doesn’t fit their narrative, and you are charged.  Imagine going to trial with an inexperienced prosecutor and judge who prevents the jury from hearing key evidence. Imagine a prosecutor guilty of misconduct in the courtroom, yet allowed by the judge. Imagine a case based only on conjecture, without a shred of evidence against you, but plenty of evidence that it would have been virtually impossible for you to have murdered your wife. Imagine, despite all of this, being convicted and sent to prison.

Sounds like an implausible premise for a fictional novel, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it happened to Russ Faria when his wife Betsy was murdered in December of 2011. The case has been in the news for years, was featured on Dateline six times, a podcast aired in 2019, and a limited series based on the case airs in March of 2022.

Judge Chris Kunza Mennemeyer

 With so much already out there about this case, do we really need a book about it? Yes, we do. One of the author’s is Joel Schwartz, Russ’s defense lawyer. It’s an insider’s look into this unbelievable case from start to finish with new revelations and previously undisclosed evidence.  It details what can happen when those who are sworn to defend the rights of victims and the innocent fail to do their duty.  It gives us the details of a person so evil and diabolical, someone who lies and changes their story multiple times, yet not one second was spent by investigators making sure her story checked out. 

It demonstrates what happens when a defense attorney and reporter is dogged in their determination to make sure that justice prevails. It demonstrates  the power of national media attention. But it also highlights the terror of what might happen to the wrongly convicted if they have no one on their side.  Despite a judge and prosecutor who were seemingly determined to make sure Russ did not get a fair trial, the defense team and reporters made sure that after this sham of a trial, justice would be served. The conviction was overturned and a new trial was scheduled. But this time key evidence was disclosed. It was gratifying to read the evidence properly disclosed and the rule of law followed in court. Fortunately for Russ, he was found not guilty. Unfortunately for Russ, he spent three long years in prison for a crime he did not, and could not, have committed. 

Leah Askey prosecuting attorney

Marialyce and I found this a riveting story from beginning to end, rivaling many crime fiction books. At times, I could hardly believe what I was reading.  The sheer incompetence and hubris of the judge and prosecutor was mind-boggling and if I were to read this in a fiction book, I would call it silly and implausible. Scooby-Doo would have done a better job.  

This is gripping and a must read for fans of true crime and courtroom dramas. The story is told based on transcripts and audio/video recordings, with every word based on truth, not memory.

Having served on a jury for a few times, I often say that if I ever had to go before a jury I want them all to undergo an IQ test to make sure they are indeed a jury of my peers. But how do you protect yourself against an incompetent prosecutor and judge?  It’s a frightening scenario that makes one wonder how many innocent people are imprisoned with no recourse open to them to prove their innocence. 

Russ now spends time giving back and paying forward by working on behalf of the wrongly imprisoned via the Innocence Project:

Betsy and Russ Faria
How the awful murder of Betsy Faria inspired a true crime phenomenon – Film  Daily
Pam Huff

Marialyce’s review

Would you kill for $150,000? Could you stab your victim over fifty-five times in what seems like a fit of rage! Could a husband, a friend, or anyone do such a thing? The case of Russ Faria is one that will go down in the annals of criminal injustice. Russ was accused of brutally killing his wife, Betsy, a woman who was just diagnosed with stage four cancer. However, Russ had an ironclad reason he could not have done such a thing. Yet, the police team in Troy, Missouri, along with the prosecutor, Leah Askey (Cheney), were certain they had their man. They didn’t and fiasco of a trial ensued led by an incompetent judge. Russ was defended by Joel Schwartz, who firmly believed Russ was innocent and is one on the coauthors of this book, the other being, Charles Bosworth Jr. These two assembled a book that will make you question how this defendant couldn’t have received a fair trial.

Then there is Betsy’s best (or so she claimed) friend, Pam Huff, who seemed to possess a shield that deflected any eyes turning in her direction. She was the master deflector, claiming a plethora of injuries and an even bigger story changer that was summarily ignored by the prosecution and police.

Why was this sham and what followed allowed to happen? How could the prosecutor, the judge, and even the jury been so wrong?

This book is a true crime story and one that made me wonder, is this fiction? The utter incompetence, the disregarding of facts, the sheer hypocrisy of this trial left me breathless. Then I found myself asking why? Why would they fixate on Russ? Why would they not cast a questioning eye at Pam Huff? Why would they possibly seem to frame Russ for a crime he obviously didn’t commit?

Jan and I were beyond appalled that our criminal system could produce a prosecuting attorney and judge such as the ones assigned Russ’s trial. We were in awe of the sheer railroading of Russ and the total lack of fairness.

It was beyond frustrating as we could feel Joel Schwartz realizing that not only his hands, but also his feet were tied. He believed in Russ and fought valiantly for him. However, they had gotten their ”man” and were not going to change a thing, facts be dammed, and truths be buried.

I could say more about how this effected me and brought out so many strong emotions. There is so much to this tale, that one needs to be encouraged to read. They say truth is sometimes stranger than fiction and, in this case, truth takes a seat far back in this courtroom. You are going to ask yourself, how could this have happened and yet it did!

Bottom line is truth is stranger than fiction!

This story is soon to be a series on NBC staring Rene Zwellinger as Pam Huff.
Thank you to Charles Henry Bosworth, and Joel Schwartz, Citadel Press, and NetGalley for a copy of this tale due out February 22, 2022.

the authors

The Whistler #2

The Judge’s List @JohnGrisham @doubledaybooks @JanBelisle @absltmom

Book Cover

Jan’s review

I had forgotten how much I enjoy a straight up legal thriller/investigation  with a linear timeline, only a few characters to keep straight, and no crazy twists. I flew through this book in 24 hours without a single eye roll or picking up my phone out of boredom.

Lacy, an investigator with the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct investigates complaints of judicial corruption. Murder has never been one of the complaints, until now. She has a clandestine meeting with Jeri, a woman who is so frightened she uses multiple aliases to avoid detection. Twenty years ago, her father was killed and the case went cold. For twenty years she has conducted her own investigation and discovered a string of murders all using the same method. The commonality among the victims? Judge Ross Bannick. She knows the motives and she knows the method. But the judge is highly intelligent, patient, knows the law, and knows how to avoid detection. He is the pillar of the community, both personally and professionally.

Lacy is skeptical and initially refuses the case on the ground that her department does not investigate murder. Eventually she relents and with her most trusted investigators, the cat and mouse games begin. We know from the start who the murderer is, so the thrill is not who, but how. I also loved the information about serial murderers and the dark web sprinkled throughout.

I loved both of these women, especially Jeri, and I hope one day she gets her own book. The woman has skills!  This is the second book in a series, with The Whistler being the first, (a book I forgot I read and from my GR rating, not one I enjoyed) but I’m glad I gave this one a chance. No need to read book #1 first, as this one works perfectly as a standalone. After a string of disappointments and dnf’s my reading buddy Marialyce and I found this one a joy from start to finish.  Grisham is at his best, with excellent writing and characterizations, and I can’t wait to read his next one. 

Marialyce’s review

The John Grisham I love is back with a thriller that certainly got my attention. I so enjoyed how a true storyteller can weave a tale without the benefit of “tons” of characters, eye rolling circumstances, and things that have you shaking your head with their absurdities.

In this tale, we met two strong women, Lacy Stoltz, a lawyer who investigates “dirty” lawyers on the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct,  and Jeri Crosby, who has a plethora of many In this tale, we met two strong women, Lacy Stoltz, a lawyer who investigates “dirty” lawyers on the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct,  and Jeri Crosby, who has a plethora of many pseudo names. Jeri comes to Lacey after exhausting all other avenues in a search for the killer of her beloved father. She has been on the trial of the killer for twenty years and over that time has discovered many “interesting” things about a particular judge, Judge Ross Bannick. Lacy initially is reluctant to take on what seems to be a murder investigation, she insists it’s really a police matter, but Jeri is persistent and wears her down.

What these ladies find with the help of some others make up the story that is filled with all the things we who have read Grisham love, a tight story, a page turning thriller, and a desire to see justice prevail. Jan and I so enjoyed our foray into this Florida Pan Handle environment and were very so pleased with seeing once again Grisham at his best.

Of course, there’s a lot more to the story, but revealing more just might spoil the path this one takes. Interestingly, my eldest daughter is an attorney, who does this job on a federal level so she, of course, put this book at the top of her reading list. 

Overall, a very strong recommendation for this story comes from this reader. It has all the elements that make a thriller exciting, motivating, and so believable and a wonderful story to read with my reading companion, Jan. We deserved a five star read and got it with this story.

The Christie Affair @ninadegramont @stmartinspress @absltmom

Book Cover

My review

Agatha Christie was a well known author writing sixty-six novels as well as fourteen short stories. Her name was known far and wide so when quite mysteriously Agatha went missing for eleven days, everyone was in an uproar. Certainly this disappearance was the stuff of Mrs Christie’s novels. One thousand policemen joined in the search as well as civilians and the famous Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy L. Sayers.

The newspapers had a field day wondering what happened and of course adding some spectacular items to the disappearance. Her car was found near a pond called The Silent Spring so this place definitely of intense interest. Scouring the lake, Agatha was not found. Her husband, Archie, was also a suspect as he was a philanderer and had a mistress. However, Agatha with all the people looking remained wherever she was until she was found at a hotel named Harrorgate supposedly not remembering a thing. She had changed her name assuming that of her husband’s mistress. She seemed to be enjoying life and had met a number of upper class people who frequented that hotel.

In this book, Nina de Gramont visualizes for the reader what might have transpired. Of course, one must acknowledge that all of this is conjecture, but I found it to be clever conjecture indeed. This is a strange tale and of course over the years many have guessed as to the cause. However, Agatha went to her grave without letting anyone know what had really happened over the eleven days.

I enjoyed the story and the guessing game the author led us through. Although somewhat long, it was an entertaining story that kept me busy during a long car ride home.

Thank you to Nina de Gramont, St Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for a copy of this story that will publish on February 1, 2022
and that cover is gorgeous!

English crime writer Agatha Christie and her daughter, Rosalind, are featured in a newspaper article reporting the mysterious disappearance of the novelist, 1926. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The Hydro in Harrogate, Yorkshire, later to become the Old Swan Hotel, pictured c1890. It was here that British crime novelist Agatha Christie was found following her 11-day disappearance in 1926. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)