Elizabeth Haynes: Behind Closed Doors Sunday, Apr 5 2015 

Behind Closed Doors

Auntie M cannot deny she is a huge Elizabeth Haynes fan. From her first stand-alones (Into the Darkest Corner, Dark Tide, Human Remains), Haynes has taken the crime thriller and stood it on its ear with her original and creative storytelling combined with empathy for the human condition. Last year’s Under a Silent Moon continued these hallmarks while adding a strong female protagonist to a new series.

Now Haynes brings back a second installment featuring DCI Lou Smith in Behind Closed Doors, set forty miles outside London in fictional Briarstone. Auntie M is pleased report it’s every bit as well written and compelling as Haynes’ other novels, led by a character who is a fully-formed woman with relationships and devotion to her job that often conflict.

Haynes draws on her background as a former police intelligence analyst to create the device that sets this procedural series apart. She notes in interviews that she’s fascinated by the documentary evidence that accumulates during an investigation, like a jigsaw puzzle to which pieces are added daily. She uses primary policing source materials reproduced for the reader, such as police reports, interviews, analyst research, even phone messages, which add a depth and texture to the books that allow the reader to become completely immersed in Sam’s investigation when a young woman missing for a decade suddenly reappears.

Scarlett Rainsford was a fifteen-year-old enjoying her first taste of love during a family holiday in Greece, until her abduction became Lou Smith’s biggest professional regret when the case went cold without Scarlett being found. Ten years later a raid on a brothel turns up Scarlett, alive and well, and Sam needs to find out where the young woman was for all of those years, and more importantly, how and why she reappeared in England without contacting her family.

Assisting Sam is her sergeant, Sam Hollands, and the rest of her team, and as with all detective teams, this is not the only case on their plates. Activity between rival gangs have led to a murder and a violent assault, yet no one is talking, making their investigation that much harder.

Here is Haynes in her own words, describing what prompted this intriguing novel where the past is revealed in stages in contrast to Sam’s current investigation, adding yet another layer to this absorbing and original story:

“The starting point for Scarlett’s story is inspired in part by the shocking number of people who go missing every year, many thousands, and by the number that are never heard of again. In Scarlett’s case, I wanted to tell the store of her ‘missing’ years, but in doing so to examine how she might handle the truth–what she might want to reveal, and what she holds back, and why. As well as researching the law enforcement research around trafficking, I read several first-person accounts of trafficked women and I found it terrifying to think of all the women effectively forced into slavery, with very little hope of escape. Trafficking in Europe is something that is under-reported and woefully misunderstood. People think of prostitutes as working in their profession by choice, but the majority is forced into it, and living a precarious, dangerous existence with no real way of getting out.”

Find out how Scarlett does manage to get out, and yet why she hasn’t let anyone know she’s made it back to England. One of the strengths of this story is Haynes’ ability to make her story revolve as much around Lou and her investigation as it does around a victim who is not a dead body but a living woman with a horrific past. Highly recommended.


Laura Lippman: And When She Was Good Sunday, Oct 21 2012 

In an author’s note, Laura Lippman explains the genesis of the protagonist of And When She Was Good, Heloise Lewis, a character she first created in 2001 and wrote about years later in two short stories.

Now Lippman has taken the time to explore Heloise and her beginnings and her today, alternating her back story for a good part of the novel, so readers can understand this woman who is meticulously organized, financially comfortable, and oh, yes, a prostitute who runs an exclusive agency.

But Heloise so much more: she’s a successful businesswoman who protects her workers; she’s a self-educated reader with a fondness for history; and she’s fiercely protective of her son, Scott, whose biological father languishes in prison and is unaware of his child.

Despite her insistence on strict compartmentalization in her life between work and home, which has left her without close friends, Heloise finds the lines starting to blur. Her vice squad protector and friend is retiring and will no longer have her back. Then an employee or two break her firm rules. When the wisp of possibility that her son’s father may be released from prison, the carefully wrought life she has constructed is in danger. Heloise is not a perfect person, but she is one with an intelligent, thinking mind and a finely-honed instinct for survival.

Val Deluca has only one way to deal with people who have lied or become a threat to him: he has them killed. And it’s  only a matter of time before the former pimp and casual murderer discovers he is in prison in the first place because Heloise betrayed him.

It is to Lippman’s credit that she is not only able to satisfactorily explain how Helen Lewis became Heloise Lewis, in a direct and unflinching way, but she manages to create a tough and resilient character you will find yourself rooting for as the pages turn.

The New York Times has compared Lippman to England’s Ruth Rendell: “Ms. Lippman writes like a warmer-blooded American Ruth Rendell, keenly observant and giving a faintly spooky charge to every stray detail.”



Katia Lief: Vanishing Girls Sunday, Jul 15 2012 

Lief’s previous two suspense novels featuring former detective Karin Schaeffer are filled with malice and the kinds of twists and turns that kept readers turning pages as they became emotionally involved with her protagonist.

In Vanishing Girls, a serial killer who has remained on the streets of New York murdering prostitutes for two years appears to strike again.

Now married to her former partner, Mac, and with a young son, Ben, Karin is still learning to cope with loss when she becomes involved unofficially in the cases of two women found one Sunday night on a Brooklyn street.

With Mac ill with s serious case of the flu, Karin responds to a friend’s call and arrives on the crime scene. One victim is an eleven-year old girl, the apparent victim of a hit-and-run, who remains uncommunicative throughout the early part of the investigation. The second body mirrors the work of the serial killer on the loose.

Complicating matters is the post-traumatic syndrome that Karin and Mac’s good friend, homicide detective Billy Staples, is suffering from, a year and a half after loosing an eye and almost his life in a shootout with the woman he loved. His dazed appearance at the crime scene confuses Karin, and at the same time, convinces her Billy needs professional help.

“There was something to see hiding in the shadows” Karin thinks, as the plot turns and escalates.

As she gets involved deeper into the cases, a strange link occurs that will change everything, and terror will strike close to home, changing Karin’s family in unexpected and profound ways.

Lief paints a realistic picture of Karin’s distraught feeling that she attracts darkness to her life and the fears for her family that this brings. She’s also produced a suspense-packed novel that will have you looking for the next Karin Schaeffer installment.