Review: Next Girl to Die is an Evocative, Engaging Debut

41oqgv4quzl._sx331_bo1204203200_In Dea Poirier’s exceptional debut, Next Girl to Die, Claire Calderwood is a detective in Detroit who is relieved to have miles and years between herself and her hometown of Vinalhaven, Maine. After the murder of her sister when she was a teenager, Claire has tried to hold her sister’s secrets while blaming herself for the unsolved homicide.

When another girls dies in a similar way, Sergeant Michaels begs Calderwood to return home for the first time in more than a decade. Her mother is controlling and manipulative and her father is detached, going through life as a shell, and Calderwood has conflicting feelings about seeing them again.

Calderwood isn’t happy to be back, and the only thing that might rival that unhappiness is journalist Noah Washington. Noah tries to question her about her sister on her first day on the job in Vinalhaven. There’s plenty of tension between them, and it only intensifies when he turns up at the next murder scene, snapping photos.

Next Girl to Die delivers on every level. Calderwood is fleshed out fully in a very believable manner. The manifestations of survivor’s guilt and sewn into the fabric of who she is and the choices she makes. Calderwood’s emotional journey informs her actions. And one of Poirier’s strengths is resisting the urge to tack on a trite or simplistic resolution to years of emotional issues stemming from one of the greatest losses a teen girl could suffer. This isn’t the Hollywood quick-fix to years of suffering and extreme emotional suffering; this is a very realistic character who starts out broken and remains broken. There are no quick fixes, which makes some of the moments with Calderwood raw and painful, but ever so believable. Even as Calderwood makes progress she understands her trauma forever altered her, and that isn’t something that can be simply undone.

The realities of a challenging investigation on an island, removed from easy access to investigative resources, adds to the tension and presents the reality of investigative limits for cops; evidence processing takes time, crime scene techs can’t just hop in a chopper and whisk over to the crime scene in a minute, and the elements can damage and destroy evidence. (As someone who spent three years living on a small island I’d say Poirier nailed these setting components and used them authentically to inform the investigation.)

Poirier’s atmospheric writing transports the reader to the coast. Her delicious prose conveys the bite of the ocean breeze, the smell of the salt air, and the tension between characters. This is an evocative debut with exquisite writing that indulges your senses and compels your investment in Calderwood’s emotional journey as she races against time to solve a case that has haunted her for more than a decade. Calderwood is a worthy addition to the genre. Her spirit, like Poirier’s voice, is tenacious and captivating, compelling the reader’s investment in her journey, and Calderwood is determined to hold her own against her male counterparts. She doesn’t take the easy path in her personal or professional lives, and the fact that her emotional issues haven’t been glossed over with glib resolutions gives her plenty of room for growth in sequels to come.

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Review: The Line by Martin Limon

Reviewed by Theodore Feit

51fa0lflpul-_sy346_** (T)he Sueño and Bascom investigations (are) set in South Vietnam after the armistice.  This, the 13th in the series, is the most dangerous one yet for the irreverent pair, taking them directly into conflict with the North Koreans at the DMZ.

They are tasked with going right up to the line dividing North and South because of the murder of a South Korean corporal assigned to U.S. troops. The body lies across the line and they drag it back to the south, nearly causing a new war on the peninsula.  An American private eventually is blamed, to assuage the North Koreans, but neither Bascom nor Sueño believes him guilty.  However, they are taken off the case (but that doeesn’tstop them from pursuing it).  Meanwhile, they have another case involving a bored wife of a Corps of Engineers Captain who goes missing.

The author, who served a decade in the Army in Korea, applies his intimate knowledge to the fullest extent with detailed knowledge not only of Army life,but the conditions of the South Korean population.  Written plainly with clever plotting, the story will keep the reader turning pages until he/she reaches the extremely unexpected conclusion.

Recommended.

 

** A correction to part of the original review was issued by the publisher. Under the circumstances, the options available involved correcting the error according to accepted standards (using ellipses to indicate extractions and using brackets to indicate insertions) or to remove the content. The amount of ellipses required were distracting. I have therefore removed part of the content and revised the initial sentence used here according to accepted standards. Toe Six Press does not rewrite material; other than minor typos any significant changes must follow acceptable presentation for extraction and insertion or be completed by the author.

Review: Creatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer

What if the scariest childhood stories you ever read were real? What if the horrors that haunted those pages stepped into your adult world and threatened to destroy your home and family – everything you’ve ever loved?

Would you have the courage to face your fears and find a way to conquer your fears and save the world?

51lydagc9rl-_sy346_I can imagine this being the driving concept behind Molly Tanzer’s Creatures of Want and Ruin. The story is told in three main parts; Susan’s, Ellie’s and Fin’s. While we start off with a snapshot of Susan discovering what’s happened to her friend, Ms. Depth, we’re soon brought into Ellie’s world. The enterprising bootlegger is independent, resourceful and soon forced to fight for her life when she tries to help a man who appears injured, who then tries to kill her.

Saying too much about the specifics of the women’s roles would risk spoilers. At it’s core this is a story about the high price of selling your soul to a demon, and the unintended horrors that ensue when people embrace evil. It isn’t just the horrific elements and supernatural aspects of the story that wreak havoc; embracing evil threatens families and relationships with tragedies that are all too real.

Creatures of Want and Ruin is a horror story about battling ancient evils. Tanzer takes her time to develop her characters and their dynamics as the plot unfolds, and the pace and intensity build to bring us to the climax. Tanzer blends the fantastical and horrific with the real world in a way that make you feel as though you could turn a corner and find one of those oily mushroomy things growing in the woods behind your home, threatening to erupt with demonic force or swallow you whole.

That alone is an accomplishment. Tanzer goes deeper, though. Like the strange growths networked beneath the earth on Long Island that she writes about, there are threads of other stories and themes that are also being told. Fin and Ellie are both strong women who must take heroic actions. I think one of the crucial things of note is that, although this story is set during Prohibition, it centers on strong women who are not inclined to run to a man to solve their problems for them. These women are learning to stand up for themselves and others and are not willing to be pushed around by the people who try to coddle or control them. They are characters that resonate in the wake of the #metoo movement.

There are other timely themes at work. Those who have embraced the demons are anti-immigrant and are responsible for assaulting anyone they don’t feel has an acceptable bloodline. Even those born in America are attacked if their parents are foreigners.

Fin’s husband and his entourage are also used to convey a message. They are the idle rich. Indulged. Unaware and unconcerned about anything other than their own entertainment.

There are a lot of important truths Tanzer’s story highlights. The real genius is that it never does this at the expense of the story. At no point did I ever feel like a character got on a soap box and preached to the reader (although there was a sermon, but it was part of the story). In fact, it was the forward thinking of these women that was a key part in addressing the threat the demons posed. Like all great stories, the core of the characters informed their choices, which had a direct bearing on the plot and its resolution.