The Ultimate Revenge Novel and A Madhouse Gothic Thriller!

Fall is a fabulous time to snuggle down with your favorite blanket, furry sidekick, and frothy beverage. I happen to like my red velvet chair, my Havanese pooch Stevie Nicks, and a mug of hot matcha. I’m close to finishing my third novel 1 LAST BETRAYAL in the Angeline Porter Trilogy. Authors juggle many hats. Mine include teacher (of noir writing and plot twist classes and workshops), promoter (social media, newsletters, emails, author events–finally!. and advertisements), writing activist (networking, active member of four writing organizations, taking desperate phone calls, consultations about writing issues), and writer (watching webinars to increase my writing knowledge, working with my writing group affectionately known as the LitChix, writing and rewriting my novels and articles).

Of course, my favorite hat is writer. That’s why I started this gig. I’m loving the next novel and am writing a few of the last chapters. How do I take a break? Watching movies and streaming series of psychological thrillers, suspense, and crime, with an occasional documentary.

The latest series I recommend are on Hulu:

“Only Murders in the Building” Comedy, Mystery

The British Series: “DCI Banks” Crime, Drama

The Australian Series: “City Homicide” Crime, Drama

The French/Swedish Series: “Midnight Sun” Thriller, Drama, Crime

I stay up about two hours after my husband goes to bed. When he goes to bed, he kisses me and says, “Enjoy your sex and death.”

I wonder sometimes if he ever worries when I pick up a knife or research poisons.

Oh, heck, it’s good to keep him on his toes.

Remember—Loving someone means never having to say, “Put down that meat cleaver.”

If you like dark humor, follow me on my FB author page. I often post dark humorous memes. For example, followers loved this one!


THE COLLECTIVE by Alison Gaylin

A Harrowing, Addictive, and Twisty Revenge Tale I Could Not Put Down

In Alison Gaylin’s thriller or what I call femme-noir, the author introduces us to Camille Gardner. Camille is still grieving the death of her fourteen-year-old daughter Emily who died five years before. The young man responsible for Emily’s death wins a humanitarian award, and at the ceremony, Camille loses it. She publicly accuses the Harris boy of Emily’s death. Camille is dragged out, and her breakdown makes the news and social media.

Enter—The Collective, a group on the dark web run by someone known only by her screen name .001. The Collective is known as Ağlayan Kaya, the weeping stone, and allows only women who have lost a loved one at the hands of another. Its mission is to exact justice on those rich enough or high enough in society to escape punishment. Camille is pulled into the group and to say anything more about the plot would spoil this harrowing, modern tale.

This is a revenge tale for the internet age. The Collective sets itself apart from other revenge tales because it starts with a sympathetic premise—justice—and follows a sympathetic main character. Wouldn’t we all like to see people who are guilty of crimes and who escaped their fate punished for their bad deeds, especially when it concerns the death of a child. Unfortunately, money can buy a lot of justice in our system, but revenge, or vigilante justice, can also be blind and, in this instance, dangerous.

Camille finds out just how dangerous. I could not stop reading as Camille discovers there is no pulling out or quitting the group. She also can trust no one. I could not put this book down. And to say the end was unpredictable or a surprise is an understatement. I actually gasped!

Besides a phenomenal, thought-provoking story, the writing is crisp, the concept stellar, the atmosphere spooky, and the characters fully fleshed out. I ached for Camille and understood her rage. I thought the ending was well earned and fell more into the noir category than thriller.

Thanks to #NetGalley, #AlisonGaylin, and #WilliamMorrow for this advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.  


NANNY NEEDED by Georgina Cross

Rebecca in an NYC Penthouse with Conditions

Twenty-six-year-old Sarah Larsen is in debt. She cared for her ill Aunt Clara, and now Sarah is hounded by bill collectors for all the medical and hospital costs. She feels guilty that Jonathan her partner helps her. They both work at the same restaurant, but what they make doesn’t touch the debt. Poor Sarah doesn’t know what to do until she finds a job posted in her building.

“Nanny needed. Discretion is of the utmost importance. Special conditions apply.”

How hard can a nanny job be? With a nanny job during the day and restaurant work at night, her financial woes could be over. All seems too good to be true when she answers the ad and is hired by the Bird family who live in a glamorous NYC penthouse. She immediately connects with Mrs. Bird. Even though the family seems eccentric, she’s happy, although Patty, the four-year-old she’ll soon be nanny for, is sick and Sarah spends most of her time with Mrs. Bird.

As the days go by and little Patty isn’t getting better, Sarah finds out that the former nannies left under mysterious circumstances. When she learns the Birds’ twenty-year, mind-blowing secret, she doesn’t go back out of fear. Unfortunately, she signed a contract, not only an NDA, but one that locks her into the job. She’s dragged back to the penthouse.

I won’t say more about the plot, only that it’s an over-the-top, melodramatic, Gothic page turner. Set aside any thoughts about believability because you have entered the Crazy Zone. The novel feels Gothic like reading Rebecca, the penthouse like a huge English estate. The twists and turns kept me on edge, and I kept wondering how this young woman was ever going to get out of this nightmare! I guessed one major twist near the end, but not the forehead-smacking ending.

Georgina Cross captures an almost timeless feel, and it felt great to let go, to let the crazy take over and not care if it made sense or was believable. It’s just fun sometimes to let go.

Thanks to #NetGalley #GeorginaCross and #Ballantine


I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Please “like” this post and follow my blog. I won’t swamp you. In the future, I will be adding unusual and what I consider interesting details to the review.

Have a lovely, light-filled holiday season!

 

Valerie J. Brooks

I’m the author of the psychological femmes noir thrillers Revenge in 3 Parts, the first in the Angeline Porter Trilogy, and Tainted Times 2 the second in the trilogy. 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!

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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

This Noir Will Haunt You.

Santa Fe Noir

The Sangre de Christo mountains loom blood red above the city.

La Llorona, the killing ghost of Hispanic legend, haunts the arroyos.

The “Land of Enchantment” becomes the “Land of Entrapment.”

Santa Fe Noir, edited by Ariel Gore, is perhaps one of my favorite noir collections from prolific Akashic Books. Noir is my favorite genre as it is honest in its depiction of the underrepresented and in telling stories that don’t glorify a culture of power. When I read noir, I expect a story of the underprivileged and displaced fighting against a power structure that’s impossible to conquer. As Ariel Gore says in her introduction, “Noir affirms our experience: Humans aren’t ethical. The good guys don’t win.”

The conquerors wrote the history of this area of New Mexico. Noir corrects those histories. Santa Fe might draw the mystics and new-age practitioners. It might scream health and vitality and beauty. But for those who have had their land, their culture, their very existence violently stolen from them, their stories are quite different. As Gore also states, “… noir speaks to the human consequences of external control and economic exploitation.” You find this is true in many of the classic noirs like the film Chinatown.

Here’s the other reason I love this anthology. In it, I found riveting voices, vivid descriptions of an unfamiliar dusty land, and characters who crept into my dreams.

In the first noir tale, “The Sandbox Story,” Candace Walsh captures the voice of a tough-talking therapist whose fixation on sex, the platypus, and a client lands her in trouble. Walsh vividly paints the conflicting elements of this Eldorado area. “Mountain ranges hug the town; some round like bellies and breasts, others crepuscular, jagged.” I held my breath, waiting for the story’s twist and the repercussions for this obsessed therapist. Both came with a bang.

Another favorite, Byron F. Aspaas’ “Táehii’ nii: Red Running into the Water” sucked me in with a lonely voice, a stranger with turquoise eyes, sex, murder, love, and anguish. It had it all. A native Dine’é man out of place in New York pines for love and his home on Pacheco Street. But his past there makes that a murderous impossibility.

In “The Night of the Flood,” author Ana June tells a tale of acid, lightning, fire, and rain. Katrina’s been at the blackjack table going on thirty-six hours. Her Aunt Mimi is dead and has left her something. She thinks she’ll be rich. She tells us about the summer she spent with her aunt at her “hippie, armpit-smelling house.” I knew then that this “inheritance” would not go well for her. What an understatement. While on an acid trip, she meets La Llorona, the legendary ghost who killed her children. As Katrina’s sister told her, “Don’t f_ _ _ with La Llorona, or she’ll f_ _ _ you right back.” Katrina should have listened. But then again, it was already too late.

One more favorite and this from Ariel Gore. Gore is one of my favorite writers. In “Nightshade,” Juliet, a murderer, is let out of prison to work on a farm. She falls for Molly who sells her prize tomatoes at the farmers market. Juliet speculates on prison life and the pagan women’s circle where she tried visualization. But her regard for all things “magic” is cynical. Her lust for Molly increases with Molly’s flirting. But Juliet begins to question why she, a murderer, is let out of prison on work detail at a farm when she never took part in the prison gardening program. By this time her tension matches mine.

I highly recommend this anthology. There’s a noir for every taste. Just don’t eat the tomatoes.

Thanks to Akashic Books for the advanced reader copy.


For those of you who love the behind-the-scene ways of the writer, check out my other blog GOBSMACKED WRITER. In the next week, I will be posting an inside look at how I choose and review books, where I start, what I look for, why I love it, and photos of my notes about the book along with marked-up pages. I also have other reviews on GOBSMACKED WRITER, some written before I started this blog.

Hope you join me! Val