The Innocent Man by John Grisham

John Grisham writes his first nonfiction novel. This is one of the best nonfiction stories I have read. This novel is also a legal thriller just like most of his books. I couldn’t wait for the story to unravel – I was completely blown away!

This story follows Ron Williamson, an upcoming and ambitious baseball player widely expected to make the big leagues. Ron’s hopes into the big leagues crashes upon sustaining an arm injury. Consequently, he is dropped by his team – the Yankees. Roy returns home to small town Ada, and while not having anything to occupy him he starts to live the wild life – chasing women, booze and staying out late. Slowly Roy starts exhibiting some form of mental instability and soon, he is diagnosed with some form of mental illness.

Fast forward – Roy Williamson turns into a local bum and when an eighteen year old girl is found murdered, Roy and his friend Fritz are questioned, and with no physical evidence linking them to the murder are charged and found guilty for the crime. Both men are sent to death row where they serve 11 years but later exonerated by DNA evidence and thereupon released.

Grisham writes in compelling detail about the entire legal process. He delves into the intricacies of our legal system in a very engaging style that fans of legal thrillers would find it hard to put the book down. This enthralling true story explores wrongful convictions, criminal injustice, and police incompetence as show cased in the Roy Williamson tragic story.

The Innocent Man is a deeply researched and well written book. This book is a scary reality of how easily and how frequently – in our society innocent people are convicted for crimes they did not commit.

Author – John Grisham
Genre – Nonfiction
Publication Date – 2012
Pages – 448

About The Author:

“Long before his name became synonymous with the modern legal thriller, he was working 60-70 hours a week at a small Southaven, Mississippi, law practice, squeezing in time before going to the office and during courtroom recesses to work on his hobby—writing his first novel…” ~ More

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Deceptions of the Heart

Author – Denise Moncrief
Publication Date – October 15, 2012
Number of Pages – 258 pages
Genre – Psychological Mystery
Geographical Setting – Virginia / California

What would you do if one morning you awoke in someone else’s body? Surviving as Jennifer Cristobal isn’t easy for Rhonda Prentiss. Three years ago, a sudden, fatal trauma stripped Rhonda of her middle-class, stay-at-home mom existence. A brand new shock prompts Rhonda’s essence to invade Jennifer’s soul, suppressing the other woman’s memories and replacing them with her own. When Jennifer’s heart transplant surgeon, Dr. Crane, can’t—or won’t—help her understand her unusual body-swapping dilemma, she turns to the only man she can trust. But can she fully trust Jennifer’s husband, Anson? Multiple threats from her past shake her fragile hold on mental stability. If one of her enemies succeeds, he will kill Rhonda’s soul… or Jennifer’s body… or both “. Blurb ~ Amazon.com

I received an electronic copy of this book during a recent free a give away on Amazon. So I took it with me on our family trip to the Wisconsin Dells over the weekend and just finished it last night. This book was so irresistible, I could not put it down. Written from the first person perspective, the crisis is introduced right from the first page. From then on, the reader is anxious to find out exactly how and why Jen woke up in a strange room and in a strange body.

My Take
The author skillfully paints a poignant picture of a protagonist who seems to be tortured by two different personalities while caught in between her past life (as Rhonda?) and her present life (as Jennifer?). The reader painstakingly journeys with Jen as she uncovers layers of disturbing events surrounding her life. Conflicts are introduced through the mind of the protagonist which she immediately responds to creating tension for the reader. And because Jen can be unpredictable sometimes, the reader is uncertain of her next move this tends to heighten suspense. Additionally, dialogues between characters help the story develop, letting the reader evaluate and make their own determinations about the various characters. I see Jen as a woman with fuzzy and muddled mind trying to figure out who she is and not knowing who to trust. I like that Anson’s character – on his introduction, may or may not be trusted. Other secondary characters also develop well over time. Without much memory of the past and with people around her acting hateful and suspicious, the reader is forced to share Jen’s anxiety about her safety. As tension mounts, sometimes one might expect Jen to take a particular action but instead she does the opposite thing keeping the reader anxious and nervous about the outcome.

I have to add, as the story unfolded I kept wondering who exactly she was – a frail, helpless Rhonda that needed saving or a conceited, calculating Jen who deserves no good. Admittedly, on a few occasions I got caught up in the confusion and had to go back to re read some sections. Honestly, this got me thinking soooo much!

I find the theme very fascinating and intriguing. It’s filled with lots of twists and turns. One of the tricky things about this book is, as the reader starts to feel as though they have a sense of a resolution, the author quickly throws in an unexpected dimension which keeps the reader guessing till the end – note that it’s a very short book just 258 pages!

This is indeed a quick and refreshing read. Such complexities and intrigues are uncommon in most Mystery books. I also like that it is a psychological novel with a lot of mind games leading to unraveling of the mystery (think a little bit of Gone Girl by Flynn). I’m surprised this book isn’t getting the popularity it deserves. I commend Monciref’s plotting skills in this novel. If you enjoy thriller and mystery, you would thoroughly love this book – I found this book gripping, utterly suspenseful, intriguing and exhilarating.

About the Author

Denise lives in Louisiana with one husband, two children, and one very chubby canine. Her family not only endures her writing moods, but also encourages her to indulge her passion. An accountant by day and a writer of romantic suspense by night, she leads a very busy and joyous life. She’s been writing off and on since she was seventeen, and with several stories already published, she has no desire to slow down. ~ Amazon.com

Author Interview withM. J. Kane
Link to recent Author Give-Awayblogspot.com

Death of a Nightingale

Author – Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis
Publication Date – November 5, 2013
Number of Pages – 368 pages
Genre – Mystery
Geographical Setting – Europe

Death of a Nightingale was one of many free pre publication books I received during the recent ALA conference here in Chicago.  It is a Nordic crime fiction from best-selling authors of The Boy in the Suitcase.  I had never heard about the authors so I was not sure what to expect but I went ahead and read it. I have to say, I loved it! If you are familiar with Scandinavian crime fiction novels, then you have a pretty good idea of the background of this novel.

This is another novel I’ve read recently that takes you back and forth in time. The plot runs across cities in Europe stretching from – 1934 Ukraine through present day Denmark. Death of a Nightingale features the Nina Borg series – a red cross nurse dedicated to the cause of immigrants and the poor who cannot afford official legal representations. Nina is at this time frantically protecting an immigrant single mother Natasha and her daughter Katerina even though the police is after Natasha who they suspect to have murdered her husband in the past and recently her Danish fiancé. At the same time, the reader also follows Natasha’s story as she desperately searches for her daughter who Natasha fears might be in enormous danger regardless that her daughter has been placed under police protective custody. It does not help that while Natasha is secretly and desperately looking to find and rescue her daughter, the police is chasing after her as a suspect in the murders. The authors – Kaaberbol and Frills masterfully constructed a heart pounding complex plot that leads the reader to anxiously flip the pages as they try to uncover the shocking mystery.

My Take –

Although this story starts out with a measured pace – which almost caused me to put it down, it picks up intensity as the reader gets to the middle and continues on a break neck speed with ending twists. Death of a Nightingale is a complicated story line where the discovery of two separate bodies has police detectives piecing pieces together and racing against time in other to find the killer. I find this an emotionally charged story which draws the reader in as they watch Natasha missing her daughter terribly is over come by this fear of some evil thing be falling her baby.

The authors did a great job of creating some confusion in the minds of the readers by weaving in the aspect of a rogue detective which plants doubts about who the real killer is. Thus, the reader grapples with some questions as they read along – Why is Natasha afraid to talk about her past life in Ukraine, could that have anything to do with the murders? Natasha might be psychologically unstable, but is she capable of inflicting such substantial wounds and killing both men? And why would she also want to harm her own daughter?

This book is loaded with revelations of heart breaking secrets and deceits as a roller coaster of sad and unfortunate events from the past are brought to light.

I classify Death of a Nightingale as a great book, not only because of the detailed writing, passionate and persuasive voice, but the background elements exhibiting such a strong sense of place. I was particularly fascinated by the insights of eastern European countries as they are vividly portrayed in the novel. The reader gets some perception of the history of these cities as well as some political and cultural differences that exist among them –  which I truly appreciate as one who has never traveled that far.  This novel fed my curiosity about other cultures, that while reading the book I engaged my map app on my iPad which allowed me to follow the story and maintain a real connection with the places and times.

I would recommend this for all crime fiction readers, however readers of Scandinavian crime fiction would especially be excited for this new addition. And – Watch out as this book gets published November 2013!!
(Now I want to read their first novel – The Boy in a Suitcase which has garnered a lot of buzz …)

About the authors –

Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis are the Danish duo behind the Nina Borg series. Friis is a journalist by training, while Kaaberbøl has been a professional writer since the age of 15, with more than 2 million books sold worldwide. Their first collaboration, The Boy in the Suitcase, was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller, and has been translated into 27 languages ~ Authors’ info from Amazon.com

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Missing by Karin Alvtegen
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The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen
Among The Missing by Morag Joss

He Won’t Need It Now

Author – James Hadley Chase
Genre – Thriller
Publication Date – 1939
Number of Pages – 176
Geographical Setting – United States

A quick job that should have taken Duffy a couple of minutes to complete and earn him $1,000.00 per photo – with a $500.00 retainer’s fee spins out of control.  Thus placing Duffy on a murder scene. Duffy is an out of job newspaper correspondent who is just trying to figure out what’s next.

Fast forward – Duffy finds himself involved in a complicated drug smuggling and under world activities.  He meets Annabel, daughter of a very rich and influential politician. She is young, attractive but hangs out with the wrong crowd and has no qualms about embarrassing her father.

Duffy’s long time friends are afraid for him and warn him he is heading in the wrong direction. Now, he has to make a decision between making a lot of quick cash or continuing on his current daily grind…

My Take

I loved the complex plot as well as the twists and turns. But I had issues with some of the plot thread which I found a little unrealistic and hardly believable – where the protagonist, a regular Joe with no previous criminal history finds himself on a murder scene  while doing a crappy job. He decides to get rid of the body and cover up the murder with no idea how the murder occurred or who may have been involved. Apart from scenes like that, I also found lot of spelling errors, which in this case can be totally blamed on the editor. However, the language is casual, with a lot of funny anectodes and slangs which I found really interesting.   If you don’t mind some   grammatical errors, and a couple implausible  incidents, then go check it out. Indeed, He Won’t Need It Now is a fast-moving and engaging thriller that has the reader turning the pages quickly to see what happens next.

Snippet  on author

His real name is René Lodge Brabazon Raymond  but wrote under a couple pseudonyms including James Hadley Chase. Born in London, grew up in Europe and never visited the United States before.  He was a very popular thriller writer in the ’30s-’50s.  He wrote mainly about theft, fraud, murder and gangster life.   His books gained a lot of attention word wide except in the United States.    The descriptions of his settings were mainly acquired through research, maps and a dictionary of American Slangs.  For one who never visited the United States, his  ability to craft these stories  with such detail is very commendable.

Nevertheless, it is said that the American audience never took to his books because his descriptions didn’t seem convincing enough. On top of that, the women audience were turned off because of the misogynistic portrayal of his female characters. Going from how successful his books were though, about 50 of his novels has been made into films. 

The Lovely Bones

Author- Alice Sebold
Title – The Lovely Bones
Genre – Fiction
Publication: September 30, 2009
Number of Pages: 368 pages

A # 1 bestseller – Recently turned into a movie-
Susie Salmon is  14 years old  when she is kidnapped, raped and murdered by a neighbor on her way back from school. Her soul is  trapped in “her heaven” a place between earth and heaven where she watches and narrates the subsequent police investigations on her death and  how her family and friends try to cope after her murder.  The entire neighborhood is shaken up by the murder of Susie Salmon. Her friends and teachers are shocked  even as they continue to look for her killer and try to make some sense out of the gruesome incident.

The concept of a dead girl watching from “heaven” intrigued me as well as many other readers. Even though the pacing is  measured, The Lovely Bones is so chilling and gripping that it’s so hard to put down.  With Susie narrating from the dead, the reader is easily drawn to her and able to empathize with her thoughts of ‘what might have been’. Especially about being robbed of the chance to experience teenage life –  her boy crush, her first kiss and other activities her peers are getting into. But sadly, Susie helplessly watches as her murderer moves about freely right in her  neighborhood with no qualms.

The author does a great job of examining the subject of life after death as she explores the question about what happens to the souls of the departed.  Are they truly watching the living? Could the dead possibly intervene in the lives of the living?  This book might provide some answers to readers curious about life beyond death while at the same time resonate with those who actually feel they might have had some real contact with dead. 

As a début novel which immediately became a number one best seller, I give Sebold credit for conceiving such a fascinating theme. However I noted a couple of inconsistencies and unrealistic scenes  especially towards the end of the novel  which made the wrap up a little awkward – You have to read this book to judge for yourself.  
 
The Lovely Bones strongly evokes a sense of sadness and loss.  It is a somber coming of age story that will appeal to teenagers and families  dealing with a loss. 

I found the movie a bit more cheery than the book – go check it out and share your thoughts…

Gone Girl

Author: Gillian Flynn
Title:
Gone Girl
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Publication:
June 5, 2012
Number of Pages: 432 pages
Geographical Setting:
North Carthage, Missouri

What drew me to this book? (1) It was on the bestseller’s list of 2012 and (2) It garnered lots of raving reviews. So I decided – why not…

At the initial glance, this book starts out like an open and shut case – but it’s not!

In a small town in North Carthage, Missouri, everyone is shocked when a beautiful woman Amy suddenly disappears on the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary to Nick Dunnes her husband. As investigations begin, all evidence seem to point to the husband as the probable killer. Friends and neighbors are torn – did Nick Dunnes really kill his wife? On learning that he has become a suspect, Nick starts his own investigations and along the way, he learns of shocking and terrible secretes about his wife. Puzzled and perplexed, he starts to question among other things – his wife’s real identity.

Intricately plotted, and written with alternating narrations of Nick and entries found in Amy’s diary, the reader is drawn into this complex psychological suspense with doubts of whose point of view to actually believe. On the surface, the story seems simple and straight forward until the reader gets to the middle of the novel where dark, twisted, and chilling discoveries begin to emerge.

Gone Girl is engrossing, fast paced, layered and thought-provoking. This is a brilliant crime novel that would appeal to anyone who love thrills, mysteries and surprises.

While I did enjoy reading this book, however I would not consider it one of the top thrillers ever written like some reviewers rated it. Any thoughts?

Poor Little Bitch Girl

Jackie Collins was able to gain some of her readers back with this “show stopper “ of a book – as they term it. Most of her readers compare it to her other titles – “Lucky” and “Chances”.

Personally, I do not feel Poor Little Bitch Girl is as racy and as steamy as her very first ones – “Hollywood Wives” (which got turned into a t.v. series) and “Hollywood Divorces”.

Poor Little Bitch Girl moves back and forth between L.A. and New York. Told from the points of view of three contemporary women in their twenties with occasional input from Collins’ old character – Bobby Santagelo. Collins uses the three female characters – Denver, Carolyn and Annabelle who were friends from high school to portray various female roles in a modern world.

As expected with Jackie Collins’ novels, this story deals with romance, sex, drugs amidst the razzle-dazzle of Hollywood life.

Fast paced, charming, sensational, intriguing, and suspenseful.

If you are familiar with Collins’ novels – Does this cut it for you?

More Info-

Author-Jackie Collins
Title – Poor Little Bitch Girl
Genre: Romance
Publication: 209
Number of Pages: 448
Geographical Setting: Hollywood, New York