Tag Archives: murder mystery

A Lovely Way to Burn – Louise Welsh

This is an interesting mix between a Plague story and a murder mystery.  Set in London, people are getting sick with what has been dubbed ‘The Sweats.’  People respond with a mix of paranoia and apathy.  You will always have the group that raids the grocery stores for food and water.  You will also have the group who stay at work believing the panic to be nothing more than a craze.  There is also the set that will camp out at the pub reveling in the fact that maybe the bar owner died but that just means you won’t have to pay your tab.  This all happens in ‘A Lovely Way to Burn’ but its a backdrop.  Stevie is young, beautiful, and works as a  Shopping Network Presenter.  She is the person who gets equally wildly excited about selling you Christmas Lights, a cookware set, or jewelry.  Her initial desire was to become a journalist but she fell into this job and got really comfortable.  When her handsome, materialistic, doctor boyfriend doesn’t return her phone calls she decides he’s moved on.  She works herself up to a tizzy, goes to pick up her stuff, and finds him dead in his bed.  At first she believes it was ‘The Sweats,’ everyone is getting it, but then his co-workers, and the family she never met, ask if it could be suicide.  She’d only been dating him for a few months so she doesn’t really know.  Then she finds he left her his computer with strict instructions it can only be given to one person, the only doctor he trusted.  With this new info his cause of death becomes questionable.

Amongst people dying of a genuine plague Stevie sets out on the mystery of what happened to her boyfriend.  Stevie is immune.  She got sick but is one of the few who got better.  What does she decide to do with her immunity?  Does she help people to find a cure?  Does she seek safety to ride this illness out? No.  Stevie takes foolish risks driving around London with no thought to finding food, shelter, or rationing gas.  This fairly shallow character decides amongst a dying city she is going to find out what happened to her boyfriend.  Is it because she loved him and is heartbroken?  Is it because she believes in what he was doing?  No.  Stevie knows very little about the man she was dating.  She knew he liked fancy restaurants, nice cars, and they had a good time together.  She didn’t know him well enough to care to meet his friends or find out much about what he did.  There is nothing necessarily wrong with this.  I don’t expect utter devotion to someone you’ve only been casually dating, but I also don’t comprehend risking your life, at the end of the world, to find out why they were killed when you just weren’t that invested.  Many characters ask her why she is bothering to find out what happened to him when the entire city is dying.   I wholeheartedly agree with them.

Stevie and the rest of the characters in the book are shallow and not particularly likable.  I had a hard time getting into the book.  Towards the end it got better.  That said, I could not figure out why we were wasting time on the mystery of Simon’s death when the plague has come to town.  I kept looking for what tied the story together.  It felt like the book couldn’t decide what it wanted to be.  It is part of a series, however, and I want to see where book two goes.  The mystery portion gets completed, so I believe book two must be about the devastation reaped by plague.  I haven’t decided if I will read book two, but I do think it must be better.  Stevie will have to figure out survival, and she isn’t nearly as shallow at the end of the book.  So, while not very prudent, she has a chance at developing into a character of substance.  Maybe that will be the moral of the series – even the most frivolous have a shot if life challenges them and they choose to rise to the occasion.


The Secret Place – Tana French


‘Faithful Place’ is my favorite Tana French book.  The dysfunctional family of Frank Mackey was hard for me to let go of when the book ended.  I think French shares my love for Frank  because with ‘The Secret Place’ he is now part of three Dublin Murder Squad books  He’s not the center of this book.  That honor goes to Detective Stephen Moran and Mackey’s daughter Holly.  Holly is now a teenager and a boarder at the prestigious school St. Kilda’s. Frank, being undercover and from a sketchy part of Dublin, surprisingly sent his daughter to boarding school.  It would be a surprise to anyone, but Ryan worked with  Frank on Mackey’s brothers murder.  Frank wouldn’t want his daughter taking on airs and becoming posh.  The Mackey he knew would have had his daughter in public school. When sixteen year old Holly Mackey walks into his office, however, with the picture of a dead boy and a clue to one of the Squads biggest murder cases he sees she has grown up.  He got the collar with the help of Frank and Holly’s witness testimony when she was only nine.  He had no business making the arrest at Faithful Place, but he did, and it both made and stunted his career.  He’s been stuck in Cold Cases.  Holly’s appearance, and trust in him, may give him his only opportunity onto the murder squad.

Moran talks his way into Antoinette Conway’s, the Detective Inspector for the Chris Harper murder, good graces.  She allows Moran to ride along to the school to prove his worth on a very temporary basis, specifically, only as long as he’s useful.  Conway is without a partner and no one on the squad wants to work with her.  She’s tough, prickly, and isn’t there to make friends.  Moran doesn’t care as long as he can get a shot at Murder.  As is French’s tendency, her characters are flawed, complex, and not wholly likable.  That said they are always interesting.  Moran and Conway find a rhythm.  Conway takes full advantage of Moran’s likability to weedle their way into the girls confidences.  They are in for a much longer day, and night, than either expected.

French explores the world of adolescent girls with this mystery.  She makes it clear that whether at boarding school or at the poorest public school in Dublin they are the same.  All the advantages the rich give their children don’t make them exempt from anger, lying, cheating, stealing, or the ability to murder.  This does not mean she presents them as trite, stupid, or predictable.  On the contrary; behind the primping, the make up, the magazine’s, texting, boys, and mindless slang they are astute and dangerous.  Somewhere at St. Kilda’s a murderer is hiding among several girls with countless secrets kept for thousands ‎ of reasons.  Hidden amongst them is the reason a teenage boy was killed.  French details the life of young women – the expectations set on them and the various reactions they have to those expectations.  Those reactions are virtuous as well as manipulative and cruel.  In the world French creates idealism and absolutes rule.  Adults are not to be trusted.  Moran and Conway have to gain access to what they hold right and close.  It’s not a small task.

I enjoyed ‘The Secret Place.’  The “OMG’s,” “like totally,” and”LOL’s” started to grate on my nerves but they were supposed to.  French captures the intelligence, the hope, the painful embarrassment, the idealism and ridiculousness of adolescence.  I liken the experience to one I had when I read “Cat’s Eye” by Margaret Atwood.  The experience was visceral and brought back memories I had buried of being a girl that age.   French throws out several twists and red herrings.  I didn’t see many of them coming.  Something unique to French, that you either like or hate, is she leaves loose ends purposely unresolved.  It drives me crazy but I like it.  It feels real.  I’m sure in real murder cases you don’t get all the answers even when you find the perpetrator.  ‘Faithful Place’ is still my favorite of hers, but this is good.  I encourage you to pick it up if you are a Tana French fan, if you like mysteries, Irish mysteries, or psychological thrillers.  Do not pick this up if you aren’t interested in the lives of young girls and/or don’t want to read a lot of teenage slang/vernacular.



Faithful Place: Dublin Murder Squad#3 – Tana French

Faithful Place (Dublin Murder Squad, #3)


I previously reviewed Tana French’s “The Likeness” , and enjoyed it,  but I developed a sick attachment for ‘Faithful Place.’  This is by far and away my favorite book of hers so far.  When I finished it I immediately downloaded ‘Into the Woods’ craving and needing more.  Each book in the Dublin Murder Squad series has an overlapping character in the books, but it is not necessary for them to be read in order.  I am grateful, because technically I started with two, went to three and am now reading the first.  I was concerned I missed a major plot point, but it appears I stumbled on a series where you can “choose your own adventure,” or more accurately, choose your own timeline.  ‘Faithful Place’ revolves around Frank Mackey and the gritty side of Dublin.  The book throws him back into a family dynamic he ran from years ago.  Frank is a grizzled undercover cop and handler.  He’s not the running type.

Frank Mackey is 41, divorced, with a nine-year old girl he has worked hard to be able to see on weekends.  His wife doesn’t hate him but decided she and her daughter would no longer come  in second to his job.  Frank , in an aside, states she finally wised up and divorced him in a sardonic acknowledgement of his mistakes.  Divorced by job, I wonder if that will one day become  a category on divorce paperwork.

His daughter knows her dad has an important job and accepts she can’t always count on him.  However,  when his sister calls him telling him he has to come home on his first hard won weekend, it is with regret and shame he returns an angry and disappointed Holly to her mother.  He hasn’t been home, Faithful Place, in years.   Jackie is the only sister he speaks to.  He refused to go until he heard that they found Rosie Daly’s suitcase.  Rosie Daly, his first love, who left him to pursue her dreams in England.  They were supposed to go together and get married, but instead of finding Rosie at their meeting place he  found a letter saying she was leaving without him. Now that her suitcase was found in a condemned house chimney he’s questioning if his history of events is accurate.  Everyone is jumping to conclusions.  Frank waits for confirmation, but Rosie was murdered.

Frank, who is very comfortable working in the grey, steps on the Murder Squads toes. He, himself, is technically a suspect, and despite the good faith it would earn him to play nice in the sandbox, he circumvents them and does his own investigation.  No one in Faithful Place will talk to the Murder Squad but they might talk to one of their prodigal sons returned home.   Frank’s department head tacitly allows him to go off book in the guise of vacation time and people on the inside agree to help him, much to the annoyance of the Murder Squads lead, Scorcher.  Bridges will be burned!

I love this book.  It’s an instant favorite.  If you like audible books, Tim Gerard Reynolds does a fabulous narration. He provided an Irish accent I could not have created in my head, and his character differentiation was superb.  His narration matches Tana French’s material  and enhanced the experience for me.  As a person who rereads books, I will always choose to listen to ‘Faithful Place.”  I was sad to learn he didn’t narrate ‘Into the Woods.”  ‘Faithful Place’ is a book I insist you pick up if you enjoy mysteries, cop drama, Ireland, and the seedy underbelly.  Yes, it really is that good.

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