The Girl Who Went Missing by Ace Varkey

Published: 23rd April 2015Goodreads badge
 Self Published
Pages: 245
Format: ebook
Genre: Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

When June Warner arrives in India to visit her sister Thalia, a trip to take her mind off her jilted engagement, she is greeted by the bright hot chaos of Mumbai but not her sister. She goes to the YMCA where Thalia is staying, only to find that she is not there.

Convinced that Thalia’s no-show is a sign that she is in danger, June begins a desperate search for her younger sister.

Police Commissioner Oscar D’Costa, scarred by the tragedies of his past, swears he will never again ignore his gut instinct when it comes to a missing girl. And with more and more dead foreign women being found in his precinct, he becomes convinced a conspiracy is at play.

Through the two worlds of American naiveté and Indian chaos, they must find the girl who went missing.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

From the opening pages Varkey pulls you into the story with intrigue and mystery with cryptic writing and an unknown figure. From a gripping start he takes you on a journey that demonstrates the love and devotion of a women looking for her missing sister, even when that leads her into the underbelly of Mumbai and into the world of trafficking and murder. The dark opening tone is not sustained however, which is great because the writing, while intriguing, would not be enjoyable to read for the entire story; switching points of view also lightens the tone and provides a fresher aspect which is a good balance.

The descriptions of India are vivid and detailed, capturing the gritty underworld, the busy and crowded city, as well as the isolated and remote areas. Most of the novel takes place in Mumbai, and Varkey explores the chaotic and different lives of those that live there. Using June as an outsider, the culture shock is evident and Varkey uses numerous characters and circumstances to explore the good and bad aspects of the culture.

The mystery of June’s missing sister is the majority of the novel, but it doesn’t drag. The evolving mystery means you are always guessing what will happen and whether Thalia is ok. The descriptions of police work and real time processes creates a sense of reality, and Varkey captures the believability with clues that go nowhere and leads that fizzle out; coupled with personal histories of characters spur on the search and with many side stories and connecting characters, the story is multi-focused and well rounded.

The narrative is fast paced but balanced, and there is an ideal amount of pressure across the entire story giving you the sense that anything could happen at any time. There are varying levels of suspense, and from the first pages to the last there is always something to surprise you. The twists often lead you away from what you expect to happen and keep you continually guessing. I loved that the story always kept you guessing, when you thought something would happen suddenly the story shifted, but it doesn’t shift too far from the initial point, it just tweaks your expectations.

A lot of the emotion and real intensity comes from the characters, both innocent and otherwise. June’s love and concern or her sister comes through the page, and the terrible actions of others and the warped rationalisations add another level. The dark and sinister characters were more disturbing because Varkey gets us inside their head, and the inclusion of events and circumstances so close to reality and close to possibility makes it even more unsettling. Characters like D’Costa offer a surprising perspective. His scepticism conflicting with his sense of duty show how personal histories affect every day actions, and through him an idea of everyday life in Mumbai is explored.

There are a lot of characters to focus on, but each plays a part and each one offers something different, whether to June’s search or to the understanding of the situation. June is a great character, she is slightly naive and lacks confidence but you see her grow through the novel, becomes bolder and more confident. Her uncertainty about being in a strange city and knowing no one is pushed aside by concern for her sister, and as she slowly starts to make ground and finds support you can see her strengthen.

There is a mixture of suspense, mystery, and gritty reality that sustains the intrigue and interest throughout. The characters are real and engaging, their own personal lives are explored that bring a depth and wholeness to the story rather well. The multiple perspectives help this and seeing each character’s involvement and thoughts are an added bonus. For a first novel, Varkey has excelled in creating a story that captures you from the start and takes you on a journey of mystery and uncertainty, never sure where it will end up until the final pages.

You can purchase The Girl Who Went Missing via the following


Amazon Aust

A Force of Nature by Dan McEwen

Published: 12th July 2015Goodreads badge
Pages: 196
Format: ebook
Genre: Paranormal/Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Do you believe in Fate? Would you recognize it if it was happening to you? Then you’ll want to meet Toronto PR guru Claire Chandler. She grew up convinced greatness awaited her. Why else had she survived a series of bizarre childhood tragedies? Yet she doesn’t see what’s coming when she journeys north on a long weekend in August to Bay Harbour, a post-card pretty tourist town on the edge of Canada’s popular Georgian Bay vacationlands. She thinks she’s there to reconnect with a former mentor. But Chandler’s chilling affinity for the “unnatural and unexplained”, a macabre “gift” that once made her a freak of nature to classmates, will make her a force of Nature. Shadowed by a ghostly white wolf and haunted by the victims of a long-dead killer, she’ll discover a startling new ending to a fifty year-old mystery. She’ll also discover romance with Tom Katz, an affable, treasure-hunting bush pilot with a reputation for living up to his name. They’re an unlikely pair and Chandler thinks it’s just a summer fling. Instead, a series of white-knuckle adventures will bring them to a time, a place and a choice that will forever link their lives. 

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

There are many things to enjoy about McEwen’s story. It is compelling without being over the top, it has mystery and romance, there are puzzles to solve and unexplained phenomenons, all blended into a relatively normal series of events and narrative.

The narrative is well written, there is a great tone and voice that really suits this type of story. The pacing is excellent, the gradual revealing of new information and clues you don’t know are clues are part of its charm and makes for an entertaining read.

From a seemingly normal enough beginning it soon delves into a story about a possible curse, a horrific past, life in a dying coastal town, and mysteries beyond total comprehension. The ‘ghost story’ element is balanced well with the real and McEwen combines the two naturally and in a wonderful mystical way that makes it border on the realm of possibility.

The characters are interesting and don’t take over control of the story with their own personal problems. They each share the space and manoeuvre around the greater narrative, not even always playing that great of a role, but existing around it. So often there are times in which the story could deviate but McEwen always keeps the main story on track, connecting everything to it rather than having side stories; a clever approach and one that works remarkably well.

For all the mystery and unexplained there is quite a strong believability about this. Relationships are real, connections feel genuine, even the strange occurrences have been explained and placed in such a way it is plausible within the realm of belief and who each character has been portrayed to be. Claire is the first mystery, surviving against the odds numerous times and having an unexplained gift. It is this gift that brings Claire to the coastal town, and during her stay it proves useful on more than one occasion.

The narrative follows Claire’s time in the town, staying with an old friend, but she is not the only perspective we see. With narration from numerous characters a wider picture is shown, opening up the mystery slightly and giving us a better sense of the people and the town.

One thing I did enjoy was how McEwen developed this story, gradually changing focus and making it appear to go in a few directions, telling everyone’s story while never truly straying. Claire’s terrible secret isn’t the main focus like you think, certain characters don’t take focus like you think they will; there are numerous moments that could have been a key factor but McEwen instead uses these as background to the main issue. In doing so this adds to the realism and believable nature, it is just life going on, albeit alongside a greater mystery and unnatural phenomenon.

A strength of this story is as it progresses you are able to see people grow up, you see them have realisations, make changes in their lives, and sort out who they are and what they want to do. This I think is why the ending is also as strong as it is, wrongs have been set right (as much as they can be in the real world), people have their own form of closure and comfort and it is hard to feel dissatisfied even with an ending like that where you wiah you could have just one more answer.

With a story that combines the paranormal and reality it can be hard to make it seem real, however I think McEwen has done a wonderful job in mixing the two. Taking the spiritual approach rather than straight supernatural was a clever idea and one that makes the events of the story much stronger and powerful.

You can purchase A Force of Nature via the following


The Conviction: Enacting Vigilante Justice by John Mathews

Published: 25th January 2015Goodreads badge
 Self Published
Pages: 72
Format: Ebook
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Two criminals are responsible for an innocent man getting sentenced to life for murder. An inept defense attorney and a crooked prosecutor are the other players in this case of egregious American corruption.

The four of them have been lured into a trap in an abandoned warehouse. Someone wants vengeance. This is a story of vigilante justice for the wrongfully convicted. Marked doors lead to four locked rooms, one where each of them will have to pay a price for what they have done. What will they be required to do in order to survive?

This riveting crime thriller puts the American justice system in public view and will keep you guessing until the very last scene. A dark masked figure watches…waits…and wants revenge.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

This short story is an interesting take on the idea of vigilante justice with entrapment, mind games, and threats all playing a part. There is drama and suspense and a multitude of questions about who is behind the elaborate set up. There is mystery and unanswered questions that are hidden from the reader as well as the characters, but small clues and snippets of information make an already mysterious situation complex and even more curious.

Narrative wise the story flowed quite well and Matthews tells the story with care, keeping it interesting and engaging, while also holding back when needed. The dialogue didn’t have much life, and the conversation between character seemed stiff, not really connecting with one another, and yet at times Matthews captures the panic and desperation they feel quite well as their situation looks dire and the begin to turn on one another.

The characters themselves are terrible people in all honesty, but that is why they have found themselves in their current predicament. I didn’t really engage with who they were aside from casting casual judgements on them based on what they did, but not caring about them didn’t really bother me as I was more focused on the developing mystery and game play element than realising how one dimensional they were.

Away from the characters, and to Matthews’ credit, the story itself was clever and it never goes where you expect. From early on it intrigued me and this was maintained as the story progressed with a lot packed into such a short story. There are surprises and revelations that change what you though would happen and what you thought had happened.

I liked the idea of the vigilante justice and the mystery figure orchestrating the entire thing was great and led to all manner of creative theories on who he possibly was. When the man behind the curtain is finally revealed it was certainly unexpected and I can imagine it would split readers to either liking it or disliking it. Personally I wasn’t a fan of how Matthews chose to end it, one because I thought it was going in a totally different direction, and two it immediately seemed unbelievable which flattened the anticipation that had been building from the start. Having said that it was different, and creative in its own way, and it was completely unexpected.

You can purchase The Conviction via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

McCall & Company: Workman’s Complication (#1) by Rich Leder

Published: 7th September 2014Goodreads badge
 Laugh Riot Press
Pages: 394
Format: Ebook
Genre: Mystery/Humour
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Off-off-off-off Broadway actress Kate McCall inherits her father’s New York private investigations business after he’s a whole lot of murdered in a life insurance company elevator.

A concrete-carrying, ballroom-dancing construction mule says he fell off the scaffolding, can never work—or dance—again, and sues the contractor for a whole lot of money.

Kate assembles the eccentric tenants of her brownstone and her histrionic acting troupe to help her crack the cases, and they stir up a whole lot of trouble.

But not as much as Kate, who sticks her nose in the middle of the multi-million-dollar life-insurance scam her father was investigating and gets a whole lot of arrested for murdering a medical examiner.

Will Kate bust the insurance scam, prove who really killed the examiner—and her father—and get out of jail in time to pull off the ballroom sting of the decade? She might, but it’s going to be a whole lot of hilarious.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the publisher for review.

Leder toes the line between absurd and realistic with this novel with wonderful balance, displaying the right set of circumstances and components that pull off the strange events in this story and make it work smoothly and effectively. The narrative is easy to read and the story is engaging and captivating, making it compelling to read and very hard to put down.

From early on the humour is evident but it never stands out awkwardly, nor does Leder try too hard. The combination of unique and eccentric characters and an intriguing storyline makes the story light while not taking away the serious elements of the story and it gives it a feeling of genuineness. Leder is skilled at saying a lot without saying much and he uses the narrative and dialogue remarkably well to provide information without breaking the flow of the story. The dialogue and character interactions are also excellent and they demonstrate character personalities and show relationships nicely.

Kate is a likeable narrator, she is witty and quick, but she is real and honest with herself which is admirable. Being a PI means Kate is a good surmise of people, she isn’t too judgemental, she is just very observant. I liked that Kate was older; it changes the feel of the story and allows for a different type of story with different people and different interactions.

What I also liked about Kate was that she is proud of herself, but this didn’t make her arrogant; she knows what she is capable of and when to ask for help, and isn’t afraid to push the boundaries. There is no doubt she is clever, resourceful, and brave, but she is also passionate and she knows what she wants from her life which may make her idealistic to some, but it makes her happy.

The residents at the Brownstone are a quirky and peculiar bunch that is worthy of Hey Arnold and their uniqueness and interactions with one another make you smile and provide immense joy as you read. Even in their limited roles Leder brings the characters to life offering up their whole personality and life on the page, aided by Kate’s explanations but also by their interactions with one another. Other characters are developed and enjoyable and through Kate’s assessments and Leder’s minimal expression, getting a sense of who each character is is easy.

There are a few crazy and adventurous moments that can seem a tad outlandish but these moments are not without consequence and Kate’s knowledge as a PI and skills as an actress come in handy though not always with favourable results. I loved that everything was not perfect and there are real mistakes and consequences, it allowed the story to have surprises, danger, and excitement all the while maintaining a realistic feel to the story.

There are multiple points of interest to retain your attention and with surprises big and small Leder keeps it fun while being mysterious and filling you with anticipation. The humour makes you smile while the mystery pulls you in and the realness keeps you reading to the last page. It is a wonderful and surprising read.

You can purchase Workman’s Complication via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust


Mad Dog Justice by Mark Rubinstein

Published: 1st September 2014
Goodreads badgePublisher: Thunder Lake Press
Pages: 328
Format: ebook
Genre: Thriller/Mystery
★   ★   ★  ★  – 4 Stars

Roddy Dolan, a surgeon, and Danny Burns, an accountant, are being hunted as prey. Someone is after them with lethal intentions but they don’t know who or why. Whoever it is, and for whatever reason, they and their families are in the crosshairs of killers. Everything they know is unravelling. They must hide, send their families away, abandon their homes, and leave their lives behind.

The second book in the Mad Dog series, Mad Dog Justice is a harrowing tale of friendship, morality, betrayal, and dire consequences.

Note: I was provided a copy of this book for review

This is the second book in the series but Rubinstein writes it in such a way that you don’t need to have read the first in order to understand what is happening or who these guys are. Through conversations, flashbacks, thoughts, and memories the events in the first book are explained fairly well so that nothing is left unanswered or confusing for the reader. If you haven’t read the first book (like I hadn’t), then a great air of mystery is present having not known the past and you seek to find out something that the main characters already know about, but this does not take anything away from the book it simply adds curiosity on our part and a desire to find out.

Roddy as a character is curious, he is rough around the edges at times, and comes off as a little bit needy. Whilst on the run he laments often about his wife, every woman he meets reminds him of her in some arbitrary way, and it gets a bit much at times. Donny, on the other hand, tries to suppress his moral dilemma and the fear of being hunted by persons unknown and prays a lot in order to justify to himself their past actions.

The way Rubinstein has constructed the narrative is clever and with realism. Hiding from questioning police, running away from friends and family, while also trying to track down potential killers is a lot harder that it seems, especially in the modern world and Rubinstein explores that.

For a surgeon and an accountant they are quite skilled at being on the run and in hiding. They may not be professionals but there is certainly some skill. Roddy tells us numerous times he has had ranger training so he understands how to hide and leave no trace. Roddy is the main narrator so we find out more about his past and youth than Donny’s. At times Roddy seemed a bit arrogant and a bit too proud of his youth and his reputation. It was easy to see past Roddy and present Roddy as different people, Mad Dog versus the skilled surgeon, but as the story progresses it is clear there is still part of Roddy who remains Mad Dog.

With Roddy and Donny unsure exactly why it is they are being targeted, it adds a great element to the story. As readers we do not know, and as characters they have theories but are not certain, leading to assumptions being made and stress and panic over past behaviour. Even when their theories are eventually revealed, there is still a great suspense just in the fact that they are uncertain and it shows that the explanation and the story itself may not be as simple as it first looked.

I enjoyed how Rubinstein chose to end this story, after the events in the book and the actions of Roddy and Donny it was unexpected but not displeasing and it suited the story wonderfully. The story is clever and real but is also filled with danger and mystique that makes real life a little bit more interesting and certainly not as simple as it appears.

You can purchase Mad Dog Justice via the following

Amazon (Paperback)

Amazon (Kindle)

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