It’s almost Halloween, time to dust off the decorations, break open a bag of candy and curl up with a book that will send shivers up your spine. Normally for this momentous experience I pick something from the paranormals on the market but there haven’t been that many on the shelves lately and the few that are tend not to be to my taste.

So this year I thought I would go with monsters of a different kind – the human kind. These three mysteries aren’t gory or explicitly violent but they discuss the kind of crimes that capture headlines and make us question the humanity of those around us.

The Last Breath Kimberly Belle

Debut author Belle offers up a look at the savaged lives of the family of a murder victim.  It is late night in April of 1994. Ella Mae told her husband Ray that she will be leaving him earlier that evening. He has asked for one more night and as he cries himself to sleep she can’t help think that the sheets still smell of her lover Dean. Several hours later she is awakened by Ray when he hears a sound. He gets up to investigate and yet later she hears thuds on the stairs. She hides under the bed and when the intruder’s back is turned makes a break for the door. But she is too late for evasion. As she dies she looks deep into the killer’s eyes and realizes that for her, anytime would have been too late.

Fast forward to 2014 when Gia Andrews has come home from her humanitarian aid work overseas to take care of her father, convicted murderer Ray Andrews, who has been given permission to die at home.  Her sister and brother are refusing to come over having determined in their hearts long ago that their dad was guilty. Equally determined to change their minds Gia heads over to Roadkill, a local bar and grill where she and her sister plan to have a drink and talk. The conversation with her sister tanks but the evening has an upside. Gia is able to bond with the bars owner, the oh so sexy Jake.

Whip lashing between the two time frames the author gives us a look at the addictive love affair that Ella Mae has with her lover and the one that is budding between Gia and Jake. In between we see what it is like to live in a town where everyone knows your dad murdered your step-mom.  Belle offers a convincing argument that not knowing the truth can be the scariest thing of all.

Deceived Irene Hannon

Three years ago Kate Marshall lost her husband and their four-year-old son in a boating accident. Her road to recovery has been a long one and involved a move from New York to St. Louis but she feels she is finally on solid ground. All that changes when a young boy in a mall says “poppysicle”. That had been her son’s unique way of saying Popsicle. When she turns to look at the boy saying the word her heart stands still. He looks like her son! How is this possible?

Kate wrestles with the issue for several days but when she just can’t let it go she turns to private investigator Connor Sullivan. His firm has a good reputation. She is hoping he can prove the boy in the mall wasn’t her child and she can lay her demons to rest once more.  Digging into the case raises more questions than answers though and it is clear that what police once took to be a deadly accident just might be a cover up for something far more sinister.

This book is an interesting look at the monster next door trope. While it wasn’t a perfect read and the romance was a bit weak I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery and the look at how everyday people can find themselves caught in the most awful situations. A properly spooky read for the season.

Murder at the Brightwell Ashley Weaver

Amory Ames is surprised when her husband Milo joins her at the breakfast table. He had been in Monte Carlo or some other fabulous location getting his name in the paper and she had not expected him home. She is even more surprised that while she is calmly sparring with Milo over tea and toast she is informed of a visitor. It is Gil Trent, a man she had grown up with and to whom she was formerly engaged. Gil is looking to prove to his young sister that marrying a charming, globetrotting playboy does not make for a happy marriage. Who better to support his cause than the wealthy, beautiful Amory who has found her marriage to that sort of man more than a tad difficult and humiliating? Not sure that she will do much good –she knows just how strong a pull such a man has on a girl – Amory agrees to join Gil’s party at the Brightwell Hotel, a seaside resort catering to the wealthy and famous.

The holiday at the hotel does not go as planned. The young man courting Gil’s sister is murdered shortly into their stay and the guests find themselves under great strain as they are treated as suspects. Milo shows up unexpectedly, ratcheting up Amory’s stress level. Then Gil is arrested and Amory feels that for justice to be done she must solve the case herself.  Will she be able to clear his name? And what should she do about Milo who suddenly seems to want to rekindle the old spark?

I thoroughly enjoyed this glittering look at 1930s high society crime solving in the vein of the Nick and Nora Thin Man mysteries. Amory is a great character – kind, intelligent and loyal. Milo is a more confusing one since the book is told in first person from Amory’s point of view and we find ourselves both half in love with him and leery of just what he is up to. The mystery takes some good twists and turns and the love triangle also keeps us guessing till the very end. A nice way to wind up my holiday reading.

What are you planning to read to put you in the mood for Halloween?

Maggie