My Haunted Library

All things spooky. Your source for paranormal and supernatural book and movie reviews, strangeography, Halloween crafts and a little cozy fall baking.


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Review: Murder in Thrall

Murder in Thrall – Anne Cleeland, 2013.  3/5

Brilliant Chief Inspector Lord Acton takes young newbie Detective Constable Kathleen Doyle under his wing to help solve a string of murders in this first of Cleeland’s New Scotland Yard Mysteries.

Cooly intelligent, handsome, unfailingly polite, educated, and disgustingly wealthy, Acton raises Doyle above the other lowly DCs—to their great envy and confusion—because he is aware of her special gift.

Doyle couldn’t be more different from Acton. She’s proudly Irish and Catholic, she’s not exactly swimming in cash, she’s a terrible driver, and her efforts to improve her vocabulary are sweetly pathetic. But—she can tell when people are lying and read the truth of their emotions. So far, his expertise and her intuition have solved several high profile-cases.

When a trainer at a local racetrack and the witness’s girlfriend, are killed point blank, and Kathleen’s own estranged father is murdered, Acton and Doyle must find the connection and stop the murderer.

The real story, however, is Acton and Doyle’s relationship. The title is perfectly indicative of the hold the main characters have on each other, and the motivation of the killer.

Acton is a Section Seven—a felony stalker— who’s had his eye on Kathleen for a while and it’s gone waaaay beyond the point of some binoculars and a few photos. He’s monitoring her computer. Buying her clothes. Planning their wedding.

And Doyle’s reaction is…positive. She’s flattered. Her Scooby Sense tells her that Acton genuinely loves her.

The killer keeps killing, and Acton predictably is overwhelmingly protective towards Doyle. He takes her off field work on the murder cases. And she knows that he knows something he’s not telling her. There is no shortage of suspects both internal and external, from Russian gun runners, to other DCs, to the lecherous head of Forensics. As the danger grows, Doyle ultimately must take care of herself.

Cleeland writes well. The dialogue is snappy, the pacing is great, and I very much enjoyed the police procedural aspects of this view into Scotland Yard. Likewise, supporting characters—especially Doyle’s supervisor Habib, and her nemesis the pretty, ambitious DC Munoz—add realism and depth to the story. The mystery itself does read a little thin, which I know because I pegged the killer early on. If I, truly among the most dupable of readers, can do that…well, it’s a little thin.

My big problem, however, is with Doyle and Acton’s relationship, which is just downright creepy and disturbing. He manipulates, directs, and basically takes over her life, and she’s happy to let him. When she’s frustrated at being put on desk work, or made to appear as if she’s in Acton’s bad graces, or has any qualms about the future, she just drinks the delicious latte he sends her and tells herself how stupid she is to be so sensitive.  After all, she knows he loves her, plus she’s having great sex. And she knows she’s good for him. She just needs to learn work with—or around—his possessiveness.

So, this is a tough one. I can’t relate well to Doyle quickly and contentedly abandoning her autonomy. I’m on the fence about reading the next book in the series. I probably will, just to see if Doyle and Acton’s relationship can evolve beyond obsession and self-subjugation.

rating system three crows


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Review: A Shattered Lens

A Shattered Lens – Layton Green, 2019.  4/5

There aren’t a lot of murders in small Creekville, North Carolina, so when star high-school football player and all-around good kid David Stratton is found shot to death in the woods, the case goes to Detective Joe “Preach” Everson.

We first met Preach in Written in Blood. Once a hometown boy, Preach spent years working homicides in Atlanta. Now he’s returned to Creekville, despite knowing intrinsically that you can’t go home again.

Life experiences have changed him: he’s not a complete outsider, but he’s no longer a local. His mindset sets him apart from the other small-town cops. An introspective, intelligent, sensitive badass, Preach is secure in his identity. At least, until this case. The murdered boy’s mother, Claire, is an old high-school flame, and she sparks a new desire. She’s beautiful, alluring, and a prime suspect. She also triggers an emotional rift between Preach and his county-prosecutor girlfriend, Ari.

As Preach digs into the case, interviewing David’s friends and family, memories from his youth threaten to overwhelm him. He, and others, question his objectivity. Complicating things further is a tenuous and connection between David’s murder and Ari’s case involving a ruthlessly brilliant drug lord.

But someone else was in those woods on the night of the murder: Blue, a teenager from the trailer park on the wrong side of town. With big dreams and a stolen camera, she was out filming her breakthrough opus. Now, Blue holds the key to the case, and the murderer knows it.

A Shattered Lens is a crackerjack mystery. We’ve got compelling suspects in Claire’s rich boyfriend, David’s disturbingly sensual teacher, and others. We’re successfully misdirected by some clever red herrings. Thanks to the narrative perspective switching between Preach and Ari and Blue, our tension levels stay pegged. Across the board, the characters come into their own more completely in this book. Even the bad guys have souls, winning a whisper of our empathy.

But A Shattered Lens succeeds as more than a tightly plotted detective novel. Woven beautifully and uncompromisingly into the mystery is a poignant reflection on the nature of relationships. The underlying message is bittersweet: embrace those relationships while you can. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. As Preach observes, only love combats the “transcendental sadness” that resides deep within us all.

A Shattered Lens is an absorbing read that will content your inner detective and leave your inner philosopher solemnly self-reflective. In a good way. I look forward to Preach’s next case.

Full disclosure, here: I received a publisher’s copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

rating system four crows


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Review: Closer than You Think

Closer than You Think: A Broken Minds Thriller—Lee Maguire, 2018. 3.5/5

In Maguire’s suspenseful thriller, a vindictive stalker isn’t just out to ruin Bryce Davison’s life: they’re out to end it.

Sensitive psychologist Dr. Bryce Davison is struggling to adjust to separation from his wife of fifteen years. Vicki has had enough of Davison’s recurrent depression and seems anxious to move on – without him. Feeling hopeless and adrift, Davison throws himself into his work as a consulting psychotherapist at a combined outpatient and residential treatment center for adolescent youth.

But when Davison scents a familiar perfume on his pillow and receives an ominous e-mail, “Closer than you think,” his staid life begins to spiral out of control.

Intrusive and violent incidents swiftly escalate, taking a toll on Davison physically and mentally. His anxiety increases. Coworkers seem to be treating him differently. Suspects abound, from Marge the receptionist to Dr. Jones the medical director; Wendy, the young therapist, Scooch the townhome maintenance man, even Vicki herself. Could she be gaslighting him? Or is it all in his mind?

A newly-admitted patient, 16-year old Maegan Mitchell, may have the key to everything—if she’s willing to undergo hypnosis to remember.

With Davison, Maguire has created a relatable, likeable protagonist. It is hard not to care about someone who takes custody-sharing of his beloved basset hound so seriously! Although the book launches into the stalking element almost before we feel like we know Davison well enough to empathize, Maguire remedies that quickly. Davison’s character is deepened through flashbacks to a traumatic childhood memory and memories of what he feels was a past professional failure. These events contribute to the story’s mounting suspense and to our understanding of Davison. Supporting characters don’t have Davison’s depth, but play their roles satisfactorily.

Closer than You Think shines brightest in scenes at the mental health facility and in Davison’s therapeutic interactions with his adolescent patients. Maguire’s knowledge of psychotherapy and mental health adds a unique and fascinating aspect to the novel. The dramatic ending sets us up nicely for a sequel. Closer than You Think is a solid read, and I look forward to seeing more of Dr. Davison.

Full disclosure: I received a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. The author’s and publisher’s media links are included below.

rating system three and a half crows

Closer than You Think / Lee Maguire’s Facebook / TCK Publishing / TCK Facebook


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Review: The Death of Mrs. Westaway

The Death of Mrs. Westaway—Ruth Ware, 2018. 4.5

Superstitions and secrets make for a tense read in this deeply satisfying mystery.

At just twenty-one, Hal is saddled with all the responsibilities—and fears—of adulthood. Working as a tarot reader after the death of her mother, Hal is drowning in bills, soon to be homeless, and threatened by an unsavory lender. She is desperate.

Then she receives a letter that could change her life, naming her as a beneficiary in her grandmother’s will: impossible, since her grandparents died a decade ago. With no other options, Hal decides to scam her way into some inheritance money. This sounds simple in the abstract, but when she is warmly accepted by the family members, Hal is torn. As Hal works herself deeper into an ethical dilemma, she uncovers a passel of ominous family secrets and puts herself in mortal danger.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway is a modern take on a classic country house mystery. A closed circle of suspects, an isolated location, an old mystery slowly exposed through tantalizing diary entries from the past, all combined with a scrappy heroine who has no one to trust (who no one should trust), are well calculated to make us mystery lovers shiver in delight.

Ware’s careful plotting and lightning pacing work to maximize suspense, making you perfectly o.k. with the fact that very little action takes place until a final, movie-worthy dramatic climax. Ware does a few—good!—things differently with The Death of Mrs. Westaway that make for a surprising and welcome contrast to the feel of her other books. Here, she adds a tantalizing touch of the almost-supernatural: enticing us with the exotically arcane details and symbolism of Hal’s tarot cards and adding a rich layer to the narrative.

There is also a pleasantly unexpected warmth to the characters of this tale. We like Hal, with her helpless façade hiding her inner strength. We root for her as she simultaneously struggles with her deception yet is at the mercy of other deceptions swirling around her.

While the mystery itself is not especially tangled, Ware’s humanizing use of deeper themes make us reflect on both the nature of family and the creation of identity, all the while we’re eagerly flying through the pages to discover who done it. And just what it was. The Death of Mrs. Westaway is my favorite of Ware’s works so far.

rating system four and a half crows


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Review: Daughters of the Lake

Daughters of the Lake—Wendy Webb, 2018. Rating: 3.5/5

When Kate’s father discovers the bodies of a perfectly preserved woman and infant washed up on the lakeshore, Kate is swept into a decades-old mystery in this is a gentle ghost story-cum-family saga.

Kate’s emotional response to the two bodies makes the police suspicious. She travels down the coast to stay with her cousin—partially to regroup from the discovery that her husband has been cheating on her—and handsome detective Nick Stone is called in to investigate her discreetly.

Staying in the old family mansion that’s been newly transformed into a gracious B&B, Kate is troubled by both dreams of the dead woman and a malevolent spirit on the third floor. She begins her own investigation into the woman’s identity and murder. A separate story line follows the life of the dead woman, Addie, from her mysterious fog-shrouded birth, to her marriage to her childhood sweetheart, to her unfortunate end. Her story and her connection to the Spirit of the Lake is inexorably tangled with Kate’s.

Daughters of the Lake is a light, comfortable mystery, almost falling in the cozy category. Characters in both storylines are warm and kind, there is plenty of good food and deep glasses of wine, a light romance, a picturesque locale. Throw in a little creepy atmosphere, a dash of madness, a grumpy spirit, and a dose of fate, and you have a recipe for enjoyable evening’s read. I also appreciate Webb’s sentimentally uplifting view of the afterlife, in which love continues forever after.

Unfortunately, it is this same near-coziness that is also a bit of a downside to Daughters of the Lake. For me, the story lacks a little supernatural edge. And while I’ve enjoyed all of Webb’s lake-inspired ghost stories, this one feels both milder than, and too similar to the others. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’ve read it before. It didn’t entirely have the depth of characters or great Gothic chills as Webb’s The Vanishing, or The End of Temperance Dare. That said, if you’re in the mood for a tale of family secrets with a light touch of spooky, this fits the bill quite satisfactorily.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: House of Bathory

House of Bathory – Linda Lafferty, 2013. Rating 4/5

In this intriguing historical mystery, an Aspen psychiatrist discovers that the brutal legacy of torture and death begun by the Blood Countess, Elizabeth Bathory, remains alive hundreds of years later.

Practicing Jungian psychiatrist Betsy Path is doing her best to keep her spirits up despite her father’s death, her mother’s distant disapproval, and her own divorce.

Betsy makes a strange connection with one of her patients, teen Goth girl Daisy, and suddenly too many occurrences of Jungian synchronicity––meaningful coincidences—start to ring her intuitive warning bells.

When Betsy’s mother disappears in Bratislava oddly close to Countess Bathory’s castle, and to where Betsy’s father died, and to where Goth girls are mysteriously going missing, Betsy and her ex-husband set out to find her.

In a separate but parallel storyline set four hundred years in the past, we follow the arrival of a handsome young horsemaster, Janos, to the tainted Cachtice Castle. He vows to end the Countess’ sick and deadly games with help of the pox-marked ladies’ maid, Zuzana.

There is a lot to unpack in this book. Dark history. Jungian theories. Dreams and coincidences. Magic and superstition. Madness and family legacies. Yet it all works.

The jumps between centuries are not jarring, because the same themes weave through both stories, converging in nail-biting endings. We are quickly caught up in Betsy’s search, but even more so with the macabre events in the Countess’s castle. Lafferty writes with rich—and at times graphic—historical detail, bringing daily life in 1610 vividly into our present.

House of Bathory is a darkly satisfying mystery with just enough supernatural suggestion to keep the pages flying.

rating system four crows


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Review: The Red Hill

The Red Hill – David Penny, 2014. Rating: 3.5/5

The favor of a sultan can be both a blessing and a curse, as English surgeon Thomas Berrington discovers when he’s tasked with finding a killer in this historical murder mystery.

Women of the harem, including one of the sultan’s favored wives, are being slaughtered by what appears to be a scimitar-wielding djinn. Despite his effort to maintain his independence and keep his own battle-haunted memories in the past, Thomas cannot refuse the sultan’s request. Together with the eunuch, Jorge, Thomas picks up where the previous investigation left off—with everyone associated basically missing or dead—and the two are soon plunged into palace intrigue and perilous political plots.

Penny does a neat job capturing the spirit of time and place of late 15th century al-Andalus. It is 1482, and the Muslim empire there is on the verge of crumbling to Spanish rule under Ferdinand and Isabella. This leaves the noble and wealthy jockeying for future positions and provides us with lots of suspects.

The Red Hill is an engaging mystery. Occasionally, the use of blatantly overlooked clues becomes a little frustrating, but the detailed setting and unusual storyline carry us over those slips. Characterization is solid. I did have disconnects a few times, when dialogue seemed at odds with the characters’ emotions, and I felt that explanations of their motivations were at times repetitive. That said, both Thomas and Jorge are unique and intriguing figures. Supporting roles such as Lubna, the sister to a treacherous concubine, and Yusuf, the Sultan’s young son also have great potential. I look forward to seeing the further development of all of Penny’s characters. The Red Hill is the first book in a series, and the second is already on my to-read list.

rating system three and a half crows