My Favorite Thriller This Year So Far! Plus, a Favorite Streaming Series and Podcast!

First, let me say I hope you’ve all weathered 2020 and that this year has been gentler and kinder, and you’ve found some kind of normal. It’s been rough, but we sure are resilient, aren’t we?

We survived the Holiday Farm Fire here in Oregon and luckily our house didn’t burn. But so many friends’ homes did not make it. It took a long time to find my footing and get back to doing some things like this blog.

I’ve been reading a lot, but it took this one thriller to snap me back into action and write a review. I have a few more notes on other reads, streaming series, and audiobooks to recommend after this review. In the meantime, grab this thriller. I’m calling it out as noir. It has all the characteristics, and I’m so lucky to have read an advanced reader copy. So here you go.

Early in a thriller, I can usually guess—or have a decent idea—of who the antagonist is.

With Hannah Mary McKinnon’s You Will Remember Me, it seemed easy, almost too easy. Why would an author make it obvious? What the heck was McKinnon doing?

I can’t answer that or even hint at it, but I can say this. When a story starts with a man on a Maryland beach with amnesia, then you find he’s living two lives, another in Maine, you hope it’s going to be a twisted, wicked ride. This was, indeed, that kind of ride.

In You Will Remember Me the secret lives of the characters get deeper and more complex as the story unfolds. McKinnon drips backstories into the novel thus building suspense and twisting the reader’s allegiances. The author handles multiple voices so well I had whiplash as to what was happening and who to trust. The novel could be categorized as noir because it’s suspenseful, dark, creepy, and surprising. And, oh, that ending! Lisa Unger called it “utterly diabolical.” I totally agree.

#YouWillRememberMe #NetGalley


MORE RECOMMENDATIONS

The following are in no particular order, but I’m sticking to noir or noir-ish recommendations with a few notes on each.

I belong to a “Hard-Boiled Book Club.” For those who don’t know what hard-boiled fiction is, here’s the Encyclopedia Brittanica’s definition:

Hard-boiled fiction–a tough, unsentimental style of American crime writing that brought a new tone of earthy realism or naturalism to the field of detective fiction. Hard-boiled fiction used graphic sex and violence, vivid but often sordid urban backgrounds, and fast-paced, slangy dialogue.


A CLASSIC HARD-BOILED

Everyone in the group plus my husband loved The Conjure-Man Dies by Rudolph Fisher. Classified as a Harlem Mystery, it was much more than that–humorous, insightful, with characters who were sharp and witty. He also wrote with his knowledge of medical science, giving us an accurate portrayal of Harlem in the 1930s. This was the first detective novel written by an African-American, a distinguished doctor, accomplished musician, and dramatist. Unfortunately, he died in 1934 at the age of 37. I can’t imagine what he could have written if he’d lived longer.


STREAMING

I highly recommend Perry Mason the not-so-new but brillian series on HBO. Why? Because so many didn’t get the point of this show–it’s a prequel to the original or in other words an origin story.

I think it’s a brilliant take on Perry Mason in 1932 Los Angeles. At first he’s a down-and-out PI, then he’s terrible as a lawyer. Nothing goes right.

I’d classify this series as neo-noir, as it’s gritty, atmospheric, and grim at times. Unlike the PM we see in the original, this PM is haunted by his wartime experiences in France, probably suffering with PTSD, and also from a broken marriage.

Matthew Rhys knocks it out of the park with his portrayal of the main character. It’s amazing that he’s Welsh and has such a thick accent, but captures an American character brilliantly. (Yes, I have a bit of a crush on him. So sue me.)

Even though this is an origin story, I think it stands on its own. PM is not a hero of the courtroom and the ending shows the reality of the times, but Mason does expose the truth of the crime. Give it a shot if you haven’t already. The brilliant cast and sets top this off as one of my favorite all-time series after The Americans and The Wire.

Perry Mason was executive produced by Susan Downey and Robert Downey, Jr. I am so thrilled Robert Downey, Jr. survived all his trials and has come to this successful point in his life.

For a fascinating look behind the scenes at the sets, GO HERE. The people who worked on this film makes the LA of the 30s come alive. History, culture, socio-economic turbulence are reflected in so much of the story telling.


PODCAST

This one I’d call a page-turner if there were pages. Maybe an episode turner? it was also a rabbit hole for me because after this podcast, I listened and watched everything I could about Hodel, his family, the Black Dahlia, and the Surrealist artists of the day.

My main fascination focused on how art, particularly the Surrealists, influenced the killing of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia. From everything i read and listened to, I think Hodel, a surgeon, wanted to outdo the other surrealists to prove himself the ultimate artist by creating a surrealist version of murder. Yes, the man was sick because he probably killed many other women, but in this killing, he replicated a famous Surrealist painting by Man Ray, a friend. He also embraced the Surrealists’ hedonistic lifestyle along with blatantly treating women as objects for whatever purpose they deemed necessary. Hodel’s son, a former LAPD homicide detective, believes his father was the killer.

Man Ray’s “Minotaure”

“This is dad’s surrealistic masterpiece,” he told Dr. Phil. “I talk about his scalpel being his paintbrush and her body was the canvas. It’s that twisted.” I think Hodel was a psychopathic narcissist who wanted to be a famous artist and was competitive to a degree that he found a way to outdo Man Ray. Women were just objects for their pleasure. I’d hold many of the members of LA law enforcement and the Hollywood establishment guilty too of his crimes as they continued to let Hodel off the hook because he provided secret abortions and gave out pharmaceuticals to people who ranked high in the LA establishment.

For more on the art aspect of the case, click on THIS LINK.


Thanks for stopping by!

Valerie J. Brooks

I’m the author of the psychological femme-noir thriller Revenge in 3 Parts the first in the Angeline Porter Trilogy. The second in the trilogy Tainted Times 2 will be available Sept. 1, 2020. I live in the McKenzie River Valley of Oregon with my husband Dan and our Havanese pooch Stevie Nicks.

CLICK HERE to sign up for my newsletter and keep up to date on my reviews, publications, and behind-the-scene stories of interest–like how I work with a cover artist, how I get my info about the FBI, what I’m going to do for the next novel, photos of my research, and some of my tricks and secrets for plotting twists and suspense. I’ll be launching a number of new projects soon that I’m sure you’ll want to know about.

Also, follow me on social media. I love my friends and fans!

FACEBOOK INSTAGRAM PINTEREST LINKEDIN GOBSMACKED WRITER

Is There Such a Thing as a Perfect Secret?

A Review of THE PERFECT SECRET by Steena Holmes by Valerie J. Brooks

Starla Bishop has trouble staying out of jail. Her poor mother tries to remind Starla of why she lands there every time. Somehow her habit of conning people overtakes her common sense.

But now she wants to turn her life around. She has a job, a real job. She’s met a man who is interested in her. She’s finally feeling valued. This time she has a real chance.

Or does she?

Stevie and I love a good thriller

Steena Holmes latest psychological suspense novel The Perfect Secret twists and turns, rises and drops like a roller coaster. I can’t give too much away as I don’t do spoilers, but you can count on being upset or frustrated when someone or something interrupts your reading time.

Before you dive back into the U.S. reopening and summer calling you to the great outdoors, give yourself a treat, cuddle up with your favorite blanket, settle in with your favorite snack, and read The Perfect Secret. But buckle up for a crazy ride. 

Does Starla really believe she’s met the man who proclaims he loves her and is her fairy god-father? Who in this story is really in love with whom? What is going on in that shed? Can you really trust a car salesman—or his ex-wife who is married to her research of plants and is Starla’s boss? Pay close attention readers. The game gets very complicated. What’s right under your nose or feet isn’t what you think it is.


Steena Holmes

With 2 million copies of her titles sold world wide, Steena Holmes was named in the Top 20 Women Authors to read in 2015 by Good Housekeeping. She continues to write books that deal with issues that touch parents heart, whether it is through her contemporary fiction or psychological suspense novels.

To find out more about her books and her love for traveling, you can visit her website at http://www.steenaholmes.com


Valerie J. Brooks

I’m the author of the psychological femme-noir thriller Revenge in 3 Parts the first in the Angeline Porter Trilogy. The second in the trilogy Tainted Times 2 will be available Sept. 1, 2020. I live in the McKenzie River Valley of Oregon with my husband Dan and our Havanese pooch Stevie Nicks.

CLICK HERE to sign up for my newsletter and keep up to date on my reviews, publications, and behind-the-scene stories of interest–like how I work with a cover artist, how I get my info about the FBI, what I’m going to do for the next novel, photos of my research, and some of my tricks and secrets for plotting twists and suspense. I’ll be launching a number of new projects soon that I’m sure you’ll want to know about.

Also, follow me on social media. I love my friends and fans!

FACEBOOK INSTAGRAM PINTEREST LINKEDIN GOBSMACKED WRITER

The Smartest Heroines In Thriller Fiction

For those with a taste for the twisted. Thank you, Ludwig. Fantastic list! Now I have a few more to add to the reading pile.

Ludwig's Thrillers

H
Hello, fellow bookworms! Today we’re not only exploring the best, most well-plotted psychological thrillers but also the badass female protagonists that have shown an incredibly high degree of intelligence in thriller fiction history, as well as some of their most unpredictable decisions that have allowed them to survive the most precarious situations and psychopathic perpetrators. If you’re curious to see who these clever heroines are, read on to find out…But just a little warning: disclosing the clever aspects of these characters means that there will be a few spoilers that I will be including in a “Spoiler Alert” paragraph, which you are welcome to skip if you spot a book that you’ve yet to read!

Gretchen, Gretchen by Shannon Kirk (2019)

The new tenants have a terrible secret. So do the landlord and his daughter…

In Gretchen, Lucy and her mother have been

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The Best Kindle Deals for Thrillers Under $1.99

For those looking for inexpensive reads, Ludwig put together a few ebook recommendations. Thank you, Ludwig!

Ludwig's Thrillers

I don’t know about you, but I’m always on the hunt for the best kindle deals on Amazon, so after a thorough research on all of the titles available, I managed to extract the ones that stand out the most, and that are getting the most glowing reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. So grab a snack, and let’s discuss cheap thriller book deals!

I. Disturbed by Jennifer Jaynes

First up, we have Disturbed by the talented Jennifer Jaynes. This book was first put on my radar through @thethrillerqueeen over at Instagram, so when I spotted it again among Amazon’s Thriller kindle deals, I knew I had to jump at the opportunity. But what most drew me to Disturbed is this terrifying premise…

On Halloween night five years ago, Chelsea Dutton’s college roommates were viciously stabbed to death, and Chelsea was critically injured. She was found hiding in her apartment’s…

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A Page Turner & a Gender Bender Partnership

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Let’s start with what I loved.

I will support almost any book—fiction or non—that shows the real face of child trafficking. In The Janes, Luna creates a story that kept me reading. I wanted to know how Alice Vega, a PI and bounty hunter, and Max Caplan, a former police officer, find the killers of two young women and save four others who have been abducted and used in a sex ring. The story about the trafficking kept me rooting for Vega and Cap to destroy these sexual predators.

Most fascinating to me is the role reversal Luna uses with her two main characters. 

Vega is so male-like, she not only carries a gun, but she also carries bolt cutters to mangle the perps. She has no problem with laying out guys much bigger than she is almost to the point of being a cliche action figure. Vega wants to save these girls and will do whatever it takes. She’s as hard-boiled as they come.

Cap, on the other hand, has a daughter at home whom he projects on the girls he’s trying to save. He’s so afraid for his daughter as a dad that he often loses his temper and ability to function rationally. He’s emotional and caring. Cap always lets Vega take the lead. He sees her idyllically, and it’s obvious he not only cares for her but has the hots for her too.

I liked their interaction most of all. Sometimes fraught, sometimes sweet and humorous, as long as you don’t have a problem as I did with Vega, you’ll love this novel.

Now to Vega. As much as I love a strong, capable woman who fights for justice, something about her is off. Readers are told she has intuition, which is shown a few times but only to move a plot point, such as finding something important behind a painting. But what’s missing here is a backstory about how this woman became so violent. Right now, she’s a little two dimensional. I care for when I walk in Cap’s shoes. I see how he sees her. But that’s not enough. 

Disclaimer: perhaps her backstory is told in the first Alice Vega novel Two Girls Down, which I have not read.

The story not only mixes sex trafficking with illegal immigration and a Mexican cartel, but it also takes on police corruption. I loved the depth of the situation, all the obstacles Vega and Cap have to overcome and even the unlawful actions they use to save these girls. As we know, the police are often blind to their own. Plus, they are understaffed. That’s why the San Diego Police Department hired Vega and Cap for this case.

The bottom line here—I like this partnership and how the plot goes forward. It’s tense and compelling (although over-written at times) and gives us a true sense of what happens to these young girls and how the abductors treat them as property. There is, of course, several twists I didn’t see coming, including the ending.

I hope I find out more about what made Vega the way she is. I might give the next Alice Vega novel five stars next time.

Thank you to @DoubledayBooks and Bookish First for an advance reader copy.

I KILLED ZOE SPANOS: Kit Frick’s Highly Anticipated Novel Is Set To Blow YA Mystery Readers’ Minds

YA books have become some of the best-written novels, bar none.
I want to include a few YA thrillers on my review blog and that means I will feature other reviewers who have my respect and do their homework. Oh, and know how to write! Ludwig’s reviews are some of the best. Besides, I like hanging with my fellow tea drinkers.

Ludwig's Thrillers

”But there are some secrets—my secrets—that Windermere will hold forever, trapped beneath the ash like spilled blood.”

This was acreatively-craftedmystery abouta girl who moves to the Hamptonsin order to start a nannying job, only to find out that the town is on edge overthe disappearance of another girl who looks exactly like her.

What’s going on?

Just the fact that the author had thought of sucha unique premiseis mind-blowing. And all throughout the book, you can sense author’s confidence as she lulls you into this world of lies and secrets, wheretwo girls’ lives become entangled in the most sinister way.

Something happened to Zoe Spanos when shewent missing on New Years Eve, and Anna – our main character – has to find out what happened. As the days pass by,she starts developing an obsession for a podcast dedicated to…

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The Rise and Rebellion of Women Noir Writers

“In noir, women’s place until fairly recently has been limited to two: muse, sexual object. The particular strength of the female noir vision isn’t a recognizable style but rather a defiantly female, indeed feminist, perspective.”—Joyce Carol Oates, introduction, Cutting Edge

Cutting Edge

Cutting Edge: New Stories of Mystery and Crime by Women Writers

Joyce Carol Oates, Editor  Akashic Books, Publisher

A review by Valerie J. Brooks, author of Revenge in 3 Parts

Women writers of crime, mystery, and noir have been kicking their male counterparts in the keister lately. Evidence of this is Akashic Books’ outstanding new anthology Cutting Edge. In the world of noir, Akashic wears the publishing crown of noir, from novels to over 100 noir anthologies set in cities around the world.

In this new anthology, authors Aimee Bender, Steph Cha, S.J. Rosen, Edwidge Danticat, and twelve others prove that women have the cutting edge over their male counterparts. Joyce Carol Oates who Akashic calls “a queen of the noir genre” puts her keen, dark eye to stories that skewer the gendered status quo of “femme-fatale.” No longer do women lure hapless men to their demise. Instead, these writers of femmes-noir, a subcategory of contemporary neo-noir, have a little fun at the expense of a crumbling patriarchal society.

The modern female noir and crime story covers a lot of ground. These stories with their strong sense of place and atmosphere kept me up late into the night and gave me thrills and chills.

Take for example my favorite story in the anthology, Aimee Bender’s “Firetown.” An erotic contemporary story is set in a Los Angles that is “crackling” after eleven months of wildfires. This story has the appeal of classic noir with its repartee and humor, its PI and beautiful client.

But the PI is female, owns an apricot-colored chair, and drinks whiskey, rocks, “to maintain image”; the beautiful client vapes and owns a cat; and other characters develop Etsy sites and drink pale ale. Never far away, however, are the fires, a physical and existential threat.

Another favorite is Bernice L. McFadden’s “OBF, Inc,” a terrifying contemporary tale set in office spaces that could be in any city. This is alternative current history where Black Lives Matter is a terrorist group and blacks are only allowed typewriters and analog phones. By the end of the story, you’ll learn what OBF stands for and why racism still burns hot in our current culture.

Whatever your taste in dark tales, you’ll find delicious ones in Cutting Edge. Steph Cha’s “Thief” is more crime than noir and Elizabeth McCracken’s “An Early Specimen” is more horror than crime. Justice, a favorite theme of mine, finds its way into Shelia Kohler’s “Miss Martin,” another story that raises the current curtain on dark days.

Round out this anthology with a Joyce Carol Oates story and Margaret Atwood poetry, and you have a gift to reread and read out loud. The cynical voices, themes, exemplary language, even the settings defy categories and would be comfortable in either literary or genre. To be scared, stimulated, transfixed, and entertained should be the motive of any writing. Cutting Edge is perfect reading for those with a taste for the nocturnal.

Authors included in the anthology:

Livia Llewellyn, S.J. Rozan, Lisa Lim, Lucy Taylor, Edwidge Danticat, Jennifer Morales, Elizabeth McCracken, Bernice L. McFadden, Aimee Bender, Steph Cha, S.A. Solomon, Cassandra Khaw, Valerie Martin, Sheila Kohler, Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates

#noirfiction #cuttingedge #psychological #suspense #thriller #books #gifts

6 Hidden Psychological Thriller Gems You Should Own

Ludwig's Thrillers

1. BEFORE SHE WAS FOUND by Heather Gudenkauf

I still believe that readers should be talking more about this book. I categorized this one as “one the most mindblowing, twistiest mysteries I’ve ever read” because I really was taken by a moment of vertigo the second I finished.

What happened that night when teenager Cora is discovered on the tracks of the abandoned train yard, bloody and clinging to life?

I had to read the entire final lines of the ending over and over again, then go back to re-read the prologue, completely struggling to wrap my head around what I’ve just read! Highly encouraging you to pick this one up, fellow readers!

2. KEEP THIS TO YOURSELF by Tom Ryan

It’s been a year since the Catalog Killer terrorized the sleepy seaside town of Camera Cove, killing four people before disappearing without a trace. 18-year-old Mac…

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Val’s Review of Attica Locke’s HEAVEN, MY HOME

I can’t let Ludwig have all the fun reviewing crime and thrillers. Here’s my review of a book I highly recommend.

Attica Locke creates stories rich in setting and character and entwined with history. (Bluebird, Bluebird) The plot of her latest, HEAVEN, MY HOME, is not only intense but complex and multilayered. Levi, the nine-year-old son of an Aryan Brotherhood leader, goes missing. Texas Ranger Darren Matthews is assigned to find him. As crime novels go, that would be ordinary, except Matthews is black and must follow the law even when faced with legal and moral issues. One of the settings he’s called to, Hopetown, was created after the civil war for freed slaves. Now white supremacists live there too, making a living off people who are nostalgic for anti-bellum Texas.

Matthews comes into the assignment with personal problems, including a mother who doesn’t have his best interests at heart, a vulnerable marriage, and a past investigation that haunts him. As a character, he’s so fully fleshed out that I feel as if I know him, making his story the kind I yearn for as a reader.

Heaven my home.jpg

I won’t go into any more plot details as other reviews have covered those. I do enjoy how Locke interweaves Texas history in the novel, plus pulls us into a world in 2016 that is more conflicted than it was a few decades ago. Like a Pandora’s Box of Bigots, the racists have become emboldened and don’t fear the law. Levi the nine-year-old is a bad actor, but questions arise for Matthews as well as the reader as Matthews must put aside his feelings and search for the boy. Should Levi be held to same standards as his racists’ relations? Is his hate conditioning or something more rooted in his genetic make-up?

Locke leans heavily on the idea of forgiveness. Should we always try to forgive, or are there times we cannot afford to forgive?

I’m always drawn to crime and thrillers that ask big, bold, and uneasy questions like these. Early in the novel, Matthews says:

“Maybe the rules had to be different. Maybe justice was no more a fixed concept than love was, and the poets and bluesmen knew the rules better than we did.”

Maybe so. Think about that for a minute before you dive into the novel because once you do, you’ll be too swept up in not only what happens, but what choices the characters must make. Walk in their boots. Experience a time of both past and present, times that make moral and legal choices so difficult.

THE BETTER LIAR: Tanen Jones Delves Into a Story About Sisterhood and Maternal Drive in Her Debut Thriller

I’ve added this one to my stack as I love sister stories. I’ll let you know what I think!

Ludwig's Thrillers


“If I tell you how it happened, maybe you’ll remember me as well.”

The Better Liar(January 2020) is a quick, clever, mind-bending thriller with a literary touch that explores a complex side of sisterhood, and the meticulously explained topic of maternal drive – how is “maternal instinct” cultivated? It was exhilarating learning about these elements as the Vreeland sisters – two complex, fully-rounded characters – narrate the story and take us to their awful, harrowing past.

This book is about a young woman who must reunite with her sister in order to claim their joint inheritance, only when she arrives at her apartment, she finds her sister…dead. The story starts off with this main perturbation, continues with slow-building suspense, which relies on providing the reader with intrigue and curiosity regarding two girls’ ridiculously insane plan, all the way to the cuckoo ending.


That’s where the…

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