Get ready for three new Lightning Reviews!
This time, we have two mystery/thrillers with vastly different grades. It’s mainly why I decided to group them together. Plus, a contemporary romance novella with unconventional occupations.
She Lies in Wait
author: Gytha Lodge
She Lies in Wait by Gytha Lodge is the first book in a new British procedural series, and I think it will be a great match for fans of Tana French.
In 1983, seven teenage friends go camping, and the youngest among them, Aurora Jackson, disappears in the middle of the night. At the time, Jonah Sheens is a young police officer. Jump forward thirty-five years, and Jonah is a Detective Chief Inspector when Aurora’s remains are finally found in the forest. Jonah and his team, including newbie Juliette Hanson, are responsible for the case. They quickly track down the six remaining friends believing one of them has to be involved, and it’s clear each among them is keeping secrets.
I found myself really engaged in this novel, and for a debut mystery I thought the pacing and plot execution was excellent. The mystery is revealed in snippets from Aurora’s perspective in 1983, and then from the investigation team’s point of view in the present day. Even though we’re being introduced to Jonah’s team for the first time, there isn’t a lot of info-dump, and the characters are revealed to us through showing and not telling.
Probably the only thing I questioned is who lets a group of 14, 15 and 16-year-olds go camping in the middle of the forest alone with zero supervision? I guess the eighties were a different time. And I do want to warn readers that there are violent scenes in this book, and that it does contain a graphic rape scene.
I really want the next book in this series, and I’m super bummed out that I probably have to wait a year or more for it.
author: Lorelei James
This is a contemporary romance novella between a glasses-wearing scientist hero and a heroine who co-founded a marijuana dispensary and grow house. The unconventional occupation of the heroine and the fact the hero wears glasses are the two main reasons why I picked this one up.
The romance is really cute, as the hero and heroine start out having a playfully antagonistic relationship at work. It’s really the novella format that sells everything short. I struggled with whether I found the romance and plot satisfactorily balanced with a believable resolution.
The novella packs in a lot of detail on how a dispensary is run, the science behind cultivating different strains, and the process of making things like oils, edibles, and the like. While these things are interesting and fascinating from a nerdy standpoint, it overwhelmed a lot of the story. The sheer amount of detail of this career niche also eclipsed the hero and heroine in a way that made it seem that marijuana was central to both of their characters.
Could this have been solved with more pages? Maybe. I don’t know. I know I wouldn’t want to read 200+ more pages of the intricacies of pot science, but it would have spread out those details a bit more in favor of addressing the romance on a deeper level. It was still a fun read with a fascinating couple, but superfluous details drowned out any emotional arcs.
The Witch Elm
author: Tana French
I’m a fan of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad books, so I was excited to see she was releasing a standalone mystery. To my disappointment, The Witch Elm has a great premise, but shaky execution.
The book opens with our narrator, Toby, going home after a night out with the lads. Toby is described as one of those guys who manages to navigate the stickiest of situations without suffering any consequences–case in point, he’s recently massively screwed up at work, and he’s probably going to walk away without so much as a reprimand. Toby goes back to his flat and wakes up from a half-drunk slumber to catch a burglary in progress. He tries to stop the intruders and suffers a terrible blow to the head in the process.
The next section of the book has Toby recovering from his traumatic brain injury while helping care for his uncle Hugo who is dying of cancer. Toby suffers from memory loss, among other things, as does Hugo, who has a brain tumor. During a family get-together, one of Toby’s nephews discovers a human skull under a witch elm in Hugo’s garden; a skull police link to a boy who went missing when he was in high school with Toby.
I love an unreliable narrator, and Toby is it. Either he, or Hugo, could reasonably have committed the murder and would be incapable of remembering it. Much of the book is Toby’s growing sense of unease as he struggles to recall his past.
The problem is, The Witch Elm takes forever to get going, and even then struggles to find it’s pace. We don’t get the skull-under-the-tree bit until almost a third of the way into the book. Much of the narrative is spent exploring Toby’s friends and family, and dissecting his past as a mediocre dude who succeeded in life due to his gender, economic status, and race. It feels like a book that isn’t quite sure what it wants to be. When I got to the end of the mystery, it wasn’t satisfying. I felt like clues to the resolution hadn’t really been seeded throughout the plot.
I loved the premise of The Witch Elm, but the slow pacing and the amount of time Toby spends navel gazing kept me from fully enjoying the mystery.
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