The Opportunist by Elyse Friedman

Originally published 2022

When Alana Shropshire’s seventy-six-year-old father, Ed, starts dating Kelly, his twenty-eight-year-old nurse, a flurry of messages arrive from Alana’s brothers, urging her to help “protect Dad” from the young interloper. Alana knows that what Teddy and Martin really want to protect is their father’s fortune, and she tells them she couldn’t care less about the May–December romance. Long estranged from her privileged family, Alana, a hardworking single mom, has more important things to worry about.

But when Ed and Kelly’s wedding is announced, Teddy and Martin kick into hyperdrive and persuade Alana to fly to their father’s West Coast island retreat to perform one simple task in their plan to make the gold digger go away. Kelly, however, proves a lot more wily than expected, and Alana becomes entangled in an increasingly dangerous scheme full of secrets and surprises. Just how far will her siblings go to retain control?

Smart, entertaining and brimming with shocking twists and turns, The Opportunist is both a thrill ride of a story and a razor-sharp view of who wields power in the world.

Hello reader! It’s been a while and I can’t promise I’m about to start blogging again with any regularity but with my university’s Spring Break week ahead, I might be able to get at least one or two posts out there before the work piles up again. Before I begin I should admit that I started this post a few days after my last one so it’s been a while since I finished reading this. As I’ve noted before, that’s far from my preferred way of doing these but I figured this was better than nothing, particularly as I have another busy few weeks ahead. With that short note out of the way, let’s get on with discussing The Opportunist

Alana has been estranged from her family for years so, when she starts getting panicked messages from her brothers that her wealthy father is engaged to his much younger nurse, she has little interest in helping to protect the family fortune. After getting frustrated with her dodging their emails, one of her brothers decides to visit her with a proposal: he wants Alana to make Kelly, their father’s fiancée, a sizeable financial offer to call off the marriage and leave town. The money used would be theirs but they would be able to deny involvement if things went badly, preserving their relationship and their source of income. For her trouble, Alana would receive a sizeable chunk of money that would enable her to provide for her daughter’s medical needs.

Upon arriving at the family’s island retreat, Alana gets to work but soon finds that her task will be harder than it might have initially seemed as Kelly is quite aware of what is going on. As frustrations mount with the brothers and the wedding nears, conversation turns to other ways to ensure that the marriage doesn’t take place. The question is whether the brothers can outmaneuver her before it is too late…

The Opportunist blends elements of family drama with the psychological crime story (the Highsmith comparison on the front is fitting). Structurally it can be classified as an inverted-style story, in that the reader learns who carries out any crimes almost immediately following their taking place. In some cases we are made aware of characters’ plans in advance of their attempts to carry them off, and this builds suspense and allows the author to play with the reader and have them question how the key conflicts here will play out and who will come out on top.

The battle of wits structure is a promising one, even if it threatens to render Alana a bystander early in the novel. Her estrangement from her family means that her investment in the outcome feels rather weak and left me a little concerned that she might observe the action more than she participated in it. Happily most of my concerns on that score were not borne out as she is significantly more active in the second half of the novel and her motivations become stronger, helping us understand her better and strengthening her stakes in the story’s outcome.

In spite of that character development, I was struck by the feeling that Alana was a surprisingly difficult character to root for, at least in that early part of the novel. For instance, we are aware that she has been consciously trying to make her way on her own without her rich father’s help, yet the cause of the disagreement only becomes clear towards the end of the novel. While some of her background, particularly her choice of work, helps soften her, she remains a tough and uncompromising individual, lacking the cast of friends and confidants who might have brought out some warmth. To give an example, Alana’s daughter is a truly important figure in her life yet she is kept distant and the reader never really gets to know her. We only see Alana’s love for her. Yet that is what is important to the character and ultimately, once we reach that end point and understand her background, it does make sense.

The pair of brothers were less interesting to me. It is quickly apparent that Alana had good reason to want to be rid of them and nothing that follows is likely to make you sympathize with them. Alana may have some common interests with them, but it is still clear that both brothers are pretty unpleasant characters and we are supposed to hope they will not find happy endings.

The father is a much more interesting study, in part because there is a striking contrast between the man we meet and Alana’s memories of him. We see that his health issues have weakened him and perhaps contributed to his reliance on his young nurse, and knowing how he is in the present may make us all the more curious about what precisely caused Alana to resent him so strongly.

Friedman does provide a really powerful explanation. Flashback sequences later in the novel do an excellent job of teasing out the nature of the conflict and also give us a much stronger understanding of who he was prior to those serious health issues. As the father comes more strongly into focus, so do the novel’s core themes. What we learn is not necessarily surprising as Friedman lays the groundwork for that, but we certainly understand the reasons Alana hates him and has kept her distance.

For those concerned that this might simply be a story about family secrets, rest assured that there are crimes and murder here although this is very much a crime, rather than a detection story. That is reinforced by the choice to show us a murder so we are quite aware of who committed it and how. It’s an interesting choice as it does undermine some of the mystery, though it does mean that we get to observe others’ reactions in the knowledge of what the truth is.

All of which brings me to the novel’s conclusion. As with some of the revelations along the way, when we get to the novel’s endgame, the revelations feel inevitable. I suspect that the writer intended to surprise but while I didn’t experience that, there is some satisfaction to that inevitability as it means that the themes feel complete and the totality of the picture comes clearly into view.

On the other hand, I look at aspects of the plot and I find myself questioning characters’ decisions. Forgive my vagueness here but it’s necessary to avoid directly spoiling the characters and the situations they put themselves in that I found incredible. There is one character in particular who undertakes some things that I found hard to reconcile with aspects of their background, though I do understand their motivation to do so. Honestly, I can’t decide how I feel about that.

Does it satisfy? Truthfully, I don’t know. One of the reasons I felt okay writing this post close to two months after finishing the book is that I am still trying to figure out if I liked that ending or not. While that may sound like a negative, I should stress though that I am still thinking about the book two months after finishing it which means that it made an impact. I appreciate and admire its boldness, even if I am uncertain if I liked it overall as a novel.

What I certainly can praise is its construction. One of the things that I find myself thinking about is how some seemingly small or irrelevant details actually hint at so much more. Some day I would like to reread this, knowing how it concludes, to truly take in and appreciate the craftsmanship and care in how this has been set up.

Interested in purchasing this book to read it yourself? As this book is a recent publication, there is a chance you may find it on the bookshelves at a bookstore. If not, you should be able to order a copy at your bookstore of choice with the ISBN 9780778386957.

Those based in the US who prefer to shop online can follow the link above to find a copy of the book at where your purchases can help support your local, independent bookstore. Full disclosure: this is an affiliate link – if you purchase a copy from them, I may receive a small commission.

The Fiancée by Kate White

Originally published in 2021

Summer’s looking forward to a break when she, her husband, Gabe, and Gabe’s nine-year-old son arrive at the annual family get-together at her in-laws’ sprawling Pennsylvania estate. On the agenda are leisurely gourmet meals, tennis matches, and plenty of relaxation by the pool.

But this year, Gabe’s brother Nick has invited his new flame, Hannah, whom Summer immediately recognizes from an acting gig they both did a few years before. Oddly, Hannah claims not to know her, putting Summer on high alert. Yet Hannah charms the other family members, and Nick soon announces they’re engaged.

Then the reunion is rocked by tragedy when a family member is found dead, supposedly from natural causes. A grieving Summer fears that the too-good-to-be-true Hannah is involved, though, and as she investigates just what Nick’s fiancée might have done to keep her perfect image intact, she fears that the first death might be only the beginning…

It is always interesting to see how a book is described by other writers. The US hardcover edition of The Fiancée has a quote on its front cover from Megan Miranda that makes me wonder if we read the same book. That description of the book as ‘tense, fast-paced… a captivating thriller’ doesn’t really describe the qualities of the book at all for me and places the emphasis on the least successful aspects of the novel rather than its strength – some pretty strong character work.

The novel is told from the perspective of Summer, an actress whose career has never quite managed to take off, mostly consisting of voiceover work and small theater parts. A few years before she married Gabe, a divorcee with a charming young son (incidentally the most likeable character in the book). She has been accepted into his large family and looks forward to the yearly trips to his parents’ palatial home and time bonding with her in-laws, their sons and their wives.

This year however Summer gets a bit of a surprise when she learns that the youngest, Nick, has brought his girlfriend with him. That’s partly because Nick’s relationships never seem to get serious enough to warrant family introductions but the bigger surprise comes when she realizes that she knows his new flame, another actress by the name of Hannah. When she tries to point out the connection however she is surprised when Hannah claims to have never met her in spite of Summer’s certainty that they worked together on an acting gig several years before.

When Nick and Hannah announce their engagement at dinner that first night, Summer is a little concerned as she is convinced that she is lying, though no one seems to take her suggestions seriously. When a family member suddenly dies in suspicious circumstances the following day, Summer begins to suspect that Hannah may have been involved and becomes determined to investigate to expose her and protect her family.

I flagged up at the start of this post that I think one of the strengths of this novel is its attention to character. Kate White creates a number of complex, nuanced characters to populate this book with the chief of these being its protagonist, Summer. She is not always a likeable figure, at times coming off as quite obsessive and I think readers would be justified in questioning the extent to which her suspicions about Hannah are rooted in professional and personal jealousies rather than any kind of evidence. Still, while I didn’t always care for Summer, I found her quite credible and appreciated some of the depth and ambiguity the author provides about her character.

Perhaps the most likeable part of Summer is the way she has embraced and cared for her young stepson who, it is clear, she is very fond of. The depiction of that stepparent, stepchild relationship as respectful and caring is handled very well and it helps balance out some of those moments where she seems to be obsessively pointing to Hannah, often ignoring the evidence she has collected.

I also really enjoyed discovering the complex and subtly different relationships members of the family had with one another. While Summer is fairly close to everyone in the family and feels welcomed and accepted, some of her sisters-in-law perceive and experience quite different relationships with other members of the family. Likewise, the brothers each seem to fall into slightly different roles, interacting with the others in slightly different ways. It all felt very credible and carefully thought out.

While I did not experience much tension in these early chapters – it feels like White leaves us a long time before we get a clear sense of a crime to be investigated – I found those relationships and character moments quite compelling. It certainly helped me feel invested in what was to come.

My issues with the book lie in the development of its mystery. While I enjoyed the careful build-up leading to the discovery of the body, I found the case a little bland and the process of detection lacked much interest for me. The focus, rather than gathering concrete pieces of evidence, is more on the complications caused by Summer being so quick to point to Hannah and the way others respond to those suggestions. I found this interesting on that character-level but those hoping for something clever or ingenious in terms of how the murder was worked may well find the book a little disappointing on that point.

Things do pick up quite a lot however in terms of the plotting when a second murder is discovered, giving us (and Summer) a little more to go on. This prompts some very solid, if simple, pieces of deduction as well as one of the book’s few grisly moments which is to be welcomed. Even then however the pace never feels all that brisk and there isn’t much sense of any personal threat here for Summer until right before the end of the novel.

The Verdict: The family drama interests more than its mystery or ‘thriller’ elements. Still, this is quite readable and I’ll happily return to Kate White again. If anyone has any suggestions, please feel free to share!

Interested in purchasing this book to read it yourself? Your local bookstore should be able to order a copy if they do not have it in stock. The ISBN number for the paperback is 9780062945419, the hardcover is 9780063092723.

Those based in the US who prefer to shop online can follow the links above to find a copy of the book at where your purchases can help support your local, independent bookstore. Full disclosure: this is an affiliate link – if you purchase a copy from them, I may receive a small commission.

The Reckoning by John Grisham

Originally published in 2018

Pete Banning was Clanton, Mississippi’s favorite son—a decorated World War II hero, the patriarch of a prominent family, a farmer, father, neighbor, and a faithful member of the Methodist church. Then one cool October morning he rose early, drove into town, and committed a shocking crime.  Pete’s only statement about it—to the sheriff, to his lawyers, to the judge, to the jury, and to his family—was: “I have nothing to say.” He was not afraid of death and was willing to take his motive to the grave.

In a major novel unlike anything he has written before, John Grisham takes us on an incredible journey, from the Jim Crow South to the jungles of the Philippines during World War II; from an insane asylum filled with secrets to the Clanton courtroom where Pete’s defense attorney tries desperately to save him. 

The Reckoning is far from my first encounter with the work of John Grisham though this is the first time I have written about one of his books for the blog. Like many, I first encountered his stories through the many film adaptations made in the late 90s and early 2000s and then went back to read the novels that inspired them. At his best Grisham is a highly engaging storyteller able to create tension and excitement in his stories about our legal processes and the search for justice.

Like much of Grisham’s output, The Reckoning follows a series of trials and legal processes connected with a crime: the murder of a pastor by a decorated war hero, Pete Banning. What is most notable about the murder however is that the killer initially admits his guilt but refuses to justify or explain his actions. While we will spend the novel following the legal processes connected with that murder and its aftermath, the mystery at the heart of his novel is what was the motive for the killing.

In other words, The Reckoning is an example of a mystery in the inverted style. We begin the novel witnessing the murder so we know who did it and the means used – what we are doing is searching for an explanation for its causes. I typically refer to stories in this style as justification narratives or whydunits. This is not always an easy type of story to do well but I think it pairs particularly well with legal thrillers because those stories tend to involve a lawyer looking for some good reason they can supply to try and prepare the best defense possible for their client. One example of that approach working well is Ferdinand von Schirach’s The Collini Case which was one of the first novels I reviewed on this blog.

Before I go much further though there is one way in which the book was a little atypical of Grisham’s usual style and that is it being a work of historical fiction. Grisham’s historical setting, rural Mississippi during the Jim Crow era, is convincing and important to the content of his story in several ways. For example, Pete Banning’s war service is very recent.

As you may expect, a novel set during this period and with those issues in the background can sometimes be quite uncomfortable to read. For instance the Banning family, we are told, treat their black workers better than almost anyone in Clanton yet there is an element of self-satisfaction in their thinking that is never directly explored. Grisham is far more effective when articulating how the legal system of that time was set up to protect the interests of wealthy, white landowners like Banning in ways it never would for the area’s black residents.

The scenario that Grisham creates for this novel is an intriguing one and I did appreciate that he does create and sustain some ambiguity in how we should think of Pete Banning. By not stating the reason for the murder until close to the end, all we have to go on is our perception of him as a man and his own sense of conviction that he has done the right thing both in committing his murder and then being prepared to be punished for his own actions.

Whether this is effective will depend on whether you consider Banning to be a sympathetic character or not. I think it is clear that Grisham considers him a hero, particularly from the book’s lengthy mid-section in which we follow his wartime exploits in far too much detail, but I personally struggled to warm to him or care what his reasoning was for the murder.

I was more sympathetic towards Pete’s two children and his sister who have to try to navigate the fallout from the murder. Both children begin the story at the start of their adult lives and so are stuck between their impulse to live their own lives and to return to Clanton in the hope they can do something to help their father. Given that they had no involvement in the situation themselves and everything they stand to lose, it is easier to invest in them and empathize with all they have lost.

Perhaps the character I sympathized most with however was a more minor one – Pete Banning’s attorney. He spends the entire novel being frustrated at every turn by his uncooperative client who blocks every avenue of defense open to him all while dodging paying his legal fees. Grisham does a good job of exploring the ways a client can frustrate their defender.

The other thing I found really interesting about the book was some of the historical background Grisham works into the first section. After reading more about Jimmy Thompson, a particularly colorful character, after encountering him briefly in the novel and I felt that the inclusion of some real historical figures helped bring the story to life all the more.

The mid-section of the novel covering Pete Banning’s war experiences is similarly well researched and features several real historical figures. His treatment of those is also very effective but here I felt Grisham gets lost in his enthusiasm for his historical research and loses track of the core of his story. Clearly the historical events Grisham covers were fascinating to him but given they are just providing background, I feel that far too much time is spent here, only slowing the story down.

Towards the end of the novel we do finally learn the reason for the murder. The circumstances described are interesting and expands on some of the themes Grisham had been exploring very well. Some important details are foreshadowed or clued pretty well which does make it feel pretty satisfying in how it ties some plot threads together, even if I don’t think it makes me feel quite the degree of sympathy for Banning that I think I was meant to.

While the book didn’t quite manage to prompt the emotional reaction I think the author intended, I think it has some interesting things to say about justice and also how unsatisfying that process can be. Even more powerful though is the book’s presentation of the period and place in which it is set. As much as I may grump about the book’s bloated midsection, the historical context of the story is important and Grisham does a really good job of exploring the ways that that the story’s setting affects how events unfold. It is that discussion that I think will stay with me longest when I think about this book.

The Verdict: Grisham is at his best with the sections of this novel focused on the legal processes surrounding the murder. I was less convinced by the book’s middle section which struck me as unnecessarily long and detailed, slowing down the story, but the ending was interesting enough to me to justify the journey.

Interested in purchasing this book to read it yourself? There is a pretty good chance you will be able to track down a copy of this book at your local bookstore or perhaps secondhand or thrift stores. If you need to special order a copy the ISBN for the US hardcover is 9780385544153, the US paperback is 978-1984819581 and the US mass market paperback is 978-0525620938.

Full disclosure: the links above are for, an online bookstore where your purchases help support your local, independent bookstores. These are affiliate links so if you do purchase a copy through them I may receive a small commission.

Bad Kids by Zijin Chen

Originally published in 2014 as 隐秘的角落
English translation first published in 2022
Yan Liang #2
Preceded by The Untouched Crime

One beautiful morning, Zhang Dongsheng pushes his wealthy in-laws off a remote mountain.

It’s the perfect crime. Or so he thinks.

For Zhang did not expect that teenager Chaoyang and his friends would catch him in the act. An opportunity for blackmail presents itself and the kids start down a dark path that will lead to the unravelling of all their lives.

Thirteen year old Zhu Chaoyang lives a pretty sad and isolated life. Though he is a brilliant student, always at the top of his class, he is bullied and put down by his wealthier classmates. His homelife is also difficult as his mother works a poorly paid job at a national park that leaves him alone for days at a time while his father, having abandoned them when he was two, devotes all his attention and money on his new wife and their young daughter.

He is surprised one day when he encounters a friend from his early childhood who has come in search of him. Ding Hao, who had abruptly disappeared from his life years earlier, turns up on his doorstep with a girl nicknamed Pupu in search of shelter after the pair stole money and fled from the abusive orphanage where they had been living. You might expect that their revelations that they both had parents who were murderers might be red flags for Chaoyang but instead he is just grateful to finally have friends.

After acquiring a beat-up old camera, Chaoyang and his new buddies decide to pay a visit to the national park where his mother works to take some photos and videos. While they are there they witness what seems to be an accident where an elderly couple sat on a wall tragically fell to their death. When they watch back the video of the incident however they are shocked to see them toppled over deliberately. While Chaoyang’s instincts are to turn the video over to the police, he realizes that to do so would result in his two friends being sent back to the orphanage. Instead the trio develops an alternative plan to blackmail the killer, hoping that they can use the payoff to secure their futures…

Bad Kids is the second of Zijin Chen’s Yan Liang novels featuring a retired policeman turned college professor to be translated into English. If, like me, you are not a fan of jumping into series in the middle however you can rest assured that doing so here will not disadvantage you as he has very little involvement for much of the story which mostly treats him as an observer, making this read like a standalone.

After a short but punchy opening in which we follow Zhang Dongshen as he carries out the crime Chaoyang and his friends will witness, brutally dispatching his wealthy in-laws in a staged accident, our focus shifts to follow Chaoyang and his new friends. While we will return to Dongshen and have occasional interludes with Yan Liang, our focus is really on these young characters and the decisions they make in response to this initial crime.

Chen structures their story as an evolving series of problems and opportunities, exploring the ripples caused by the children’s witnessing of that crime. The chapters in which the trio discuss their options and make their decisions feel convincing, particularly given what we learn of the two visitors’ backgrounds, and I think their discussions do a great job of illustrating each of those three characters, their personalities and instincts as well as the power dynamics between them. Those relationships change subtly over the course of the novel but these early chapters do a good job of establishing a baseline.

One of the other things that I think is particularly effective in those early chapters is the way Chen depicts the trio having to figure out how to practically achieve their goal. How, for instance, do you negotiate with someone who was prepared to kill their own in-laws? Here, once again, Chen’s writing feels really quite organic as they are forced to reconsider and rework parts of their plan as they get a better gauge of their target and what he is capable of.

That game of wits between the murderer and his young blackmailers is a large part of the book’s appeal and produces much of the novel’s tension. The decision to tell the book in the third person allows us little insights into Zhang Dongshen’s thoughts, letting us know some of his secret thoughts and plans. This not only provides us with additional insights into his character but it also reminds us that no matter what he is saying, he remains dangerous and has little intention of just giving in, building our anticipation as we wonder whether the trio will lose their control over him.

While Zhang Dongshen’s crime provides a starting point for the novel’s exploration of these characters and its discussion of desperation and criminality, before long Chen supplies us with further crimes to explore. Unlike the first murder, which happens so quickly with barely any description, the subsequent crimes feel more immediate and – frankly – cruel. There is one that more than earns the book its title and left me feeling really rather shaken. While the chapters related to that incident did not make for easy reading, I think the author does depict the situation quite realistically and I suspect that part of the reason it did upset me was because it feels quite credible.

This event, along with the others in the book, explores the children’s characters and personalities in interesting ways. We observe as the power dynamics within the trio shift and change, also seeing their priorities and concerns shift as well. As a character study I found it understated but very effective, though I quickly realized that I had abandoned hope of finding anyone I liked among the cast of characters. We may certainly empathize with the children’s situations but bad decision-making abounds.

Chen neatly structures his plot to have these situations snowball as pressures grow and situations become more complex. He juggles multiple plot strands with ease, tying them together very effectively as these problems seem to feed into each other, making the idea of a clean resolution seem quite unthinkable (and that sidesteps the question of whether we would really want such an ending).

As interesting as the plotting can be however, I should stress that for much of the book it is striking how poorly the various investigations are handled. In almost every case the most obvious suspect seems to evade suspicion, sometimes on the flimsiest of excuses. To give one example, there is a murder that characters assume that someone has a solid alibi for where there is one rather obvious way that they might be guilty. While the details of how that murder was managed are quite clever (and the reveal of that pays off all the expectation built in the preceding chapters very nicely), the police do not come out of this story looking particularly competent.

This brings us to the conclusion which does feel suitably dramatic, powerfully playing off the themes that had been carefully developed throughout the novel. There are some interesting and satisfying choices made in that conclusion which realize ideas and themes explored in the preceding chapters but perhaps the bravest choice is Chen’s decision to leave the resolution a little incomplete, leaving at least a few questions unanswered. It’s the sort of ending that could make for rich fodder for book club discussions.

Yet while Chen’s exploration of his themes and these characters can be quite compelling and complex, the crimes depicted here are seedy, realistic and relatively straightforward. This is, of course, understandable given the age and inexperience of the protagonists but I wished I would see a little more ingenuity and cunning from Zhang Dongshen, who had supposedly been something of a prodigy as a student, to really test them.

At its best Bad Kids is a fascinating read, particularly in its rich and multi-layered exploration of Zhu Chaoyang’s character and the way this experience changes him. The book occasionally made for uncomfortable reading and I could understand readers struggling with its cast of unlikeable characters, but I found the journey they take to be worthwhile and I would certainly be curious to go back and investigate the previous novel in this series, The Untouched Crime.

The Verdict: A dark read but a fascinating one. More powerful for its thoughtful character studies than for the crimes it depicts, I found this to be an interesting and sometimes uncomfortable read nonetheless.

Interested in purchasing this book to read it yourself? The English translation of this title was published earlier this year in the UK by Pushkin Press for their Vertigo imprint. The ISBN number for this title is 9781782277620. As availability in the United States seems to be limited, I had to order it online from a UK-based bookseller who ship internationally.

The Therapist by B. A. Paris

Originally published in 2021.

When Alice and Leo move into a newly renovated house in The Circle, a gated community of exclusive houses, it is everything they’ve dreamed of. But appearances can be deceptive…

As Alice is getting to know her neighbours, she discovers a devastating secret about her new home, and begins to feel a strong connection with Nina, the therapist who lived there before.

Alice becomes obsessed with trying to piece together what happened two years before. But no one wants to talk about it. Her neighbors are keeping secrets and things are not as perfect as they seem…

The Therapist is a domestic suspense novel set in a small, gated community in London. It is narrated by Alice who has just moved into one of the homes in the neighborhood with her boyfriend Leo. While she is excited at the prospect of spending more time with him in the future, she is feeling a little lonely as he spends much of the week away while she works from home. Going against Leo’s wishes, she arranges a party to get to know the neighbors but is shocked when an uninvited guest gives her information about their home that makes her realize that her new home is not all it appears to be, making her deeply uncomfortable.

At its core, The Therapist is a book about trust, reflected in multiple relationships to be found within the book. Some examples are the still-new relationship between Alice and Leo, between Alice and her neighbors and between an unnamed therapist and their clients – a relationship explored in short snippets spaced out throughout the novel. As Alice finds herself investigating the truth behind the stories she has heard we see those relationships tested as trust is built and destroyed.

Alice is an amiable but often frustrating protagonist. I empathized with her feelings of isolation and her desire to find friends in her new community but, at times, I found myself annoyed with the decisions she makes. Some of those decisions are consistent with her character’s backstory, though a choice Paris makes to provide the strongest motivation for Alice’s actions only towards the end of the book is not helpful in selling those choices. The result is that readers may spend much of the book wondering why she doesn’t simply leave when she has the chance and that they may be less sympathetic with her choice than they would be if they had all of that information.

Where I think the book achieves its greatest success is in depicting her state of mind as she grows to doubt the safety of her home and the intentions of those around her. I have previously shared on this blog how, years ago, after my home had been burglarized I struggled to feel comfortable in that space and so I could certainly relate to Alice’s growing sense of discomfort with her new home given what she learns and how sinister some of what seems to be happening in that space feels.

The other area in which I think Paris’ story works well is in depicting how the relationship between Alice and Leo changes in response to that information. Given how that relationship is still quite new at the start of the novel, I found the areas in which mistrust grows to be convincing and I think the author succeeds in making the deterioration in that relationship feel both compelling and realistic. I also appreciated the way Paris focuses our attention on a few elements of that relationship, building our anticipation of what we might learn and these generally pay off well, providing the reader with interesting new information that opens up new areas of investigation and conflict.

While I think the book is effective in exploring the sense of a present day threat, I found it less interesting and compelling when looking at the historical crime introduced early in the book. This is partly because I never really felt that I had a handle on the victim’s actual personality as so much of the discussion of them is affected by the way in which the other characters choose to present them as seemingly flawless, even in spite of other things we learn. The bigger challenge though for me was that few of the other residents within the community feel significant at all with those developed the most seeming the least likely to have committed that crime.

It struck me as I read that this is one of those premises that might actually be better suited to a more visual medium such as a television mini-series. Given additional time and the ability to provide additional space for the development of those secondary characters, I may have found those other possibilities more convincing, resulting in the search for motive and suspects becoming more entertaining.

The book is a little more effective in its presentation of The Circle as a physical, claustrophobic space with one particularly memorable moment coming where the protagonist reflects on how the houses all seem to look in on one another. Here again though I wondered if those ideas could have been taken further visually or if it could have been utilized more in Alice’s own investigation – looking out over the neighborhood to observe others. Instead the idea is introduced but dropped in favor of other, more immediate sources of threat and discomfort.

The other aspect of the book that sometimes frustrated was Alice’s manner of investigation which often feels quite careless and unstructured. That is appropriate given that she has no particular skills or experience in investigation yet it also means that progress is uneven as she upsets and sometimes threatens to alienate the other residents with her manner of questioning. It is this aspect of her character that frustrated me more than her own occasionally dubious decisions as there comes a point where you might wonder why anyone bothers talking to her at all, let alone revealing their secrets.

When the time comes to bring everything together, there is a sense of escalation with some more direct suspense elements introduced. The key reveal is handled quite well though readers may reflect on what happened and those approaching this as a detective story may find that they have additional, unanswered questions in light of some of the information learned. In the moment though it does feel both quite exciting and unsettling and it should satisfy those who are reading this primarily as a thriller.

Some other aspects of the resolution though fall a little flat and I struggled a little to believe that an idea hinted at in the final chapter could be credible given what had previously happened. The reflections on how life changes in The Circle following the events of the novel feel more convincing and provide a neat coda to all that had happened before.

The Verdict: This uneven domestic suspense story is at its most effective exploring how its protagonist begins to feel unsafe in their home but the investigation into a past crime can drag at points.

Interested in purchasing this book to read it yourself? This book is in print and your local bookseller should be able to order a copy for you. The ISBN for the US paperback edition, published by Griffin, is 9781250784056 (9781250274120 for the hardcover). The ISBN for the UK paperback edition, published by HarperCollins, is 9780008412043.

If you prefer to shop online however, you can find a copy of the Griffin paperback and hardcover at where your purchases can help support independent bookstores. Full disclosure: this is an affiliate link – if you purchase a copy from them, I may receive a small commission.

The Complete Adventures of Feluda 1 by Satyajit Ray, translated by Gopa Majumdar

Originally published in 2000
Collects stories published between 1965 and 1978
Followed by The Complete Adventures of Feluda 2

This omnibus edition features the ever-popular adventures of Satyajit Ray’s enduring creation, the professional sleuth Pradosh C. Mitter (Feluda). In his escapades, Feluda is accompanied by his cousin Topshe and the bumbling crime writer Lalmohan Ganguly (Jatayu). From Jaisalmer to Simla, from the Ellora Caves to Varanasi, the trio traverse fascinating locales to unravel one devious crime after another.

Several weeks ago I stumbled upon an article on CrimeReads written several years ago that discussed Satyajit Ray’s Feluda stories. These were short stories written for a young audience, though they also had appeal to adult readers, several of which were adapted for film. I was intrigued by what I read and came away from the piece keen to give the tales a try for myself.

Pradosh C. Mitter, known as Feluda, is a private investigator who raised himself on mystery novels and is keen to test his abilities. He is assisted by his teenaged cousin Topshe and in later stories gains an additional, more comedic sidekick in the form of the writer Lalmohan Ganguly who writes potboiler thrillers as Jatayu. The stories are not dissimilar to Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories which are referenced in the introductions to this collection with Feluda deducing details of people’s lives from details of their dress and general appearance as well as frequent action scenes.

Unlike Holmes however many of the stories feature puzzles that the reader can solve for themselves. While the stories were written for younger readers, some of these are quite cunningly worked and a few may well pose a challenge for any adults who try to tackle them. One of my favorites of the puzzle-driven stories is The Key which is also one of the shortest stories in the collection. That case sees Feluda trying to solve the meaning of a riddle that should enable him to open a lockbox. It’s simple but clever and, perhaps most importantly, it is perfectly paced for the length of the story.

Other tales are driven more by their adventure and suspense elements. For example two of the stories feature tigers on the loose and threats against our heroes made over the telephone are a recurring plot point in many of the earlier stories collected here. Ray writes these sequences well, conveying a sense of the action and building tension superbly. Many of the stories are quite cinematic in scope, no doubt explaining their success on film, though I am a little puzzled as to why Trouble in Gangtok (my favorite story in the collection) has not been adapted when it seems so ideal for film treatment.

This volume, the first of two published by Penguin, collects the stories in chronological order. It is a pretty hefty tome – 785 pages – which makes it a solid contender for the longest book I have reviewed on this blog to date. Happily the quality is pretty consistent throughout and while Lalmohan Ganguly is introduced later in the series, the stories with just Feluda and Topshe are every bit as entertaining as the later ones.

Were I looking for issues I might note that there are some recurring themes in the stories, reflecting that the author was trying to stay away from what he considered to be more adult themes. Art and jewel-based crimes feature heavily here and readers may want to plan to spread out their reading to allow the stories to have their maximum effect. In spite of those common elements though each story has its own elements of setting that help to define it and add some additional interest and appeal.

I had a thoroughly good time reading this and I already have my copy of the second volume so I will look forward to seeing how Ray continued to develop the character. Had these stories been available in translation when I was a preteen discovering Sherlock Holmes, I am sure I would have devoured these exciting, funny and mysterious stories.

The Verdict: I loved this collection of short stories which offer intriguing situations, exciting action and a memorable cast of heroes. While intended for younger readers, I appreciated the stories’ settings and found the puzzles much stronger than expected. The standard of the stories in this first volume is consistently high and, at nearly 800 pages, it offers tremendous value for money.

This first collected volume offers tremendous value and the standard of stories is consistently high.

click for Story-by-story reviews

I Was Jack Mortimer by Alexander Lernet-Holenia, translated by Ignay Avsey

Originally published in 1933 as Ich war Jack Mortimer
English translation first published in 2013

Tonight will be the longest, darkest night of Ferdinand Sponer’s life – the night when a passenger is shot to death in the back of his cab. But how is it that he neither heard nor saw the killer? Alone with a dreadful secret, Sponer courses through the backstreets of Vienna, playing out possible outcomes in his tortured mind. And as the fear and paranoia close in, he realises that there is only one thing for him to do…
Twice adapted for the silver screen, I Was Jack Mortimer is a sinister tale of stolen identity, seedy underworlds, and the demons inside our heads. Of the many different sides to a man. And of the almost impreceptible line – all too easily crossed – between good and evil, love and revenge, truth and madness.

Some of you may have noticed that my blogging has slowed down considerably over the past couple of months. It has been challenging to find time to read, let alone write about those books, so content has been a bit sporadic. I’d suggest that this is going to improve as I have amassed a bit of a backlog of books to write about except that the danger is that some of them were read long enough ago that their memory has started to fade. For that reason I’m starting out with the most recent read, though as you will see, it is really more thriller than mystery.

I Was Jack Mortimer was an Austrian thriller penned in the 1930s. It follows a cabby, Ferdinand Sponer, on a terrible evening. He is outside the train station when a man in a heavy overcoat steps into his cab, asking to be taken to the Hotel Bristol. Ferdinand starts driving and then realizes that their are two hotels by that name, turning back to speak to the passenger only to see that he is dead with bullet holes in his neck and chest.

While this could be a promising start to an impossible crime story (an idea hinted at in the blurb quoted above), the book develops quite differently. Lernet-Holenia operates with a relatively small cast of characters, at least in relation to the crime itself. There is little mystery to the relationships of those few suspects to the victim, meaning that there is little for the reader to deduce here. Similarly the mechanics of the crime prove quite straightforward. Our interest then is supposed to be in seeing if he can escape this pretty dire situation rather than working out the truth of what took place.

The problem with I Was Jack Mortimer as a thriller is that it is predicated on Ferdinand experiencing a moment of panic after discovering the body and making some pretty terrible initial decisions. Those decisions place him in a pretty impossible, if contrived, situation prompting further erratic choices, placing him in even greater peril. The results can be quite tense, particularly in the second half of the novel, but the reader will likely be shaking their head and may struggle to find much empathy for Ferdinand’s self-inflicted situation.

Poor decision making is not the only barrier I had to liking this novel’s protagonist. The book begins by showing us how he becomes interested in an aristocratic woman who had been one of his passengers, calling on her repeatedly and waiting outside her home. She understandably reacts uneasily to this attention which reads as stalkerly and obsessive rather than an act of romantic devotion.

Ferdinand is obviously meant to be a morally complex character. This stalking behavior could be read as an example of that, particularly as he has a long-term girlfriend he treats with little consideration throughout the book. Those who follow my blog regularly will know I have little difficulty with books that explore these sorts of darker, unpleasant characters.

What I find problematic here is the way that this obsession subplot is handled throughout the book as a whole. There are some developments late in the story that would seem to vindicate his ignoring her repeated requests to leave her alone and repeatedly pestering her. This is hardly unique to this book – plenty of other works from this period and later take similar or perhaps worse lines – but it isn’t comfortable reading, nor was it all that satisfying on a thematic level either.

While I am on the topic of elements that haven’t necessarily aged well, I should note that there are a pair of characters introduced midway through the book that strike some pretty stereotypical notes. These characters make sense in the context of the type of story being told here but it’s hardly subtle with the male feeling particularly lacking in depth.

All of which is a shame because in those moments where I Was Jack Mortimer works, it can be really quite compelling. The story ticks along at a splendid pace, the situation feeling increasingly wild as the book nears its conclusion. While some of those choices made by our protagonist may have been poor ones, the situation they create is compelling and it is hard to see just how things can be resolved.

What attracts me most to this book though was its sense of place and the tone it evokes so effortlessly. Lernet-Holenia doesn’t achieve this sense of place by description but rather by showing us how these characters live and interact with one another. This book gives us a glimpse of inter-war Vienna with all its social contrasts and the clash between modernity and tradition. There are the wonderfully observed social interactions between Ferdinand and the servants in the aristocrat’s household and hotel as well as the scenes in a gaudy bar where the drinks are dispensed by coin-operation. It was these details, as much as the plot, that I found to be most engaging as I read.

This is not enough of a reason for me to recommend the book to genre fans, particularly as I feel the ending plays a little anticlimactically. Still, for all the frustrations I felt with it at times, I didn’t want to put the thing down. It left me curious not only to try some of the author’s other works should any further genre-related works be published in translation but to also see how this was adapted for film (it was several times) as I could imagine it could be even more compelling on screen.

The Cage by Bonnie Kistler

Originally published in 2022

On a cold, misty Sunday night, two women are alone in the offices of fashion conglomerate Claudine de Martineau International. One is the company’s human resources director. Impeccably dressed and perfectly coiffed, she sits at her desk and stares somberly out the window. Down the hall, her colleague, one of the company’s lawyers, is buried under a pile of paperwork, frantically rushing to finish. 
Leaving at the same time, the two women, each preoccupied by her own thoughts, enter the elevator that will take them down from the 30th floor.
When they arrive at the lobby, one of the women is dead. Was it murder or suicide?

I have been eagerly awaiting the publication of The Cage since I first read the plot synopsis a few months ago. I was immediately grabbed by the boldness of its central idea – that two women enter an elevator and that when it completes its descent one of the two is dead. This is about as extreme a closed circle murder as I can think of and I was really curious to see where Kistler took the story from there.

Perhaps the first thing to note about the book is that while there are things to deduce (some of which are clued and foreshadowed very effectively), this book is first and foremost a legal thriller in the vein of Grisham’s The Firm or the TV series Damages. The book certainly concerns the investigation into that death in the elevator and the question of whether Lucy Barton-Jones committed suicide or Shay Lambert shot her but once we are past the opening chapters the story style transforms into something a little different.

Kistler divides the story into chapters narrated by Shay recounting her story and third person chapters written from the perspective of one of the senior executives at Claudine de Martineau International (CDMI). These figures soon become oppositional to one another, each presenting a different story about what happened that night. In theory this approach should present the reader with a binary choice between the two different stories and yet, while neither side tells the whole truth, the reader will likely quickly establish who the villain will be.

Rather than focus on the guessing game of who to believe, instead the reader is drawn into the game of seeing how each side will try to convince the police investigators of their case. It is here that I think the decision to provide us with a first person account for Shay really works as we share in her sense of disorientation as pieces of unhelpful information are presented to the police. It is less a matter of whether we think she is innocent as how she will be able to convince the investigators of her arguments.

The true focus of the book is not whether Shay is innocent but on the question of why the executives at CDMI would want her to be arrested for the murder. It’s an intriguing problem and I was very pleasantly surprised to find that Kistler clues the answer to this quite well, providing the reader with lots of small hints to piece together.

I found the first half of the book as we wrestle with that question to be really engaging. For instance I think Kistler uses flashback very effectively, dropping hints about an event in the past but making us wait to go back and show us what occurred. These small reveals are spaced out well with each chapter seeming to turn up some new idea or information that helps us better understand Shay and the situation she has found herself in.

The reader will have most of the answers to what happened by the midpoint of the novel at which point the thriller aspects of the story are amplified. In this latter half of the novel Shay finds herself in danger and has to use her brain and legal skills to work out what is going on and to turn the situation around. This material is also quite entertaining and engaging, especially as we near the end and some of the plot threads start to get wrapped up.

The acceleration of the storytelling though does coincide with a slight distancing between Shay and the reader. While we still observe her actions in these chapters, there is less dwelling on the reasons or meaning behind them. One consequence of this is that I became a little less emotionally involved with her fate in that second half of the story. Another is that I felt that the second half of the book lacked a central question that tied everything together and provide the same sort of focus as the police investigation had done in the first.

The other problem is that I felt the antagonist was not a particularly striking character. While they are clearly monstrous, the book never quite delves deeply enough into the question of how they justify their actions. Nor do they share many scenes with Shay, giving little opportunity for the sort of conflict that helps sharpen the presentation of their character. That seems a shame to me as I think a stronger antagonist could have provided some of the focus that I felt the plot needed towards the end.

The Verdict: This entertaining corporate legal thriller is good fun in the best traditions of early Grisham. Do not come to this expecting a mystery novel (particularly a locked room puzzle) and you won’t be disappointed.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Originally published in 2020

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed[…]

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

The Guest List takes place on a remote but picturesque island off the coast of Ireland. The site is the location of the high profile wedding of trendy digital magazine publisher Jules Keegan and reality TV star Will Slater. The picture perfect couple seem to have arranged the best of everything and have gathered with friends and family to share their special day together. As the wedding approaches and the partying begins, secrets are revealed and resentments grow within the group. When a storm briefly knocks out the power a murder takes place but who is the killer and, equally importantly, who is the victim?

Foley employs a complex structure that mixes chapters set in the run up to that moment told from the viewpoints of several members of the wedding party (the wedding planner, the bride, the plus one, the bridesmaid and the best man) with chapters set in the present told in the third person. While this makes for a rather disorientating start to the novel, the benefits of that structure soon become clear.

The first of these is that Foley grants the reader clues as to where the story might be headed. There are a number of moments where we are given a glimpse of some item or a reference to something that will happen. This encourages the reader to compare past and present, notice the differences and question how the situation may have changed so rapidly.

The main advantage of this choice though is that Foley is able to manufacture several big revelations in the space of a few chapters towards the end as everything is brought together. The narrators in those first-person chapters do not always share everything they know and in a few cases, they simply lack the knowledge to tell us everything at that point in the story. Several characters have been keeping their secrets for a while and only share them in reaction to external events.

Foley is also careful to be extremely sparing in the details she shows us of the murder. We are given enough to convey an impression of what is going on – the story, the blood and the chaotic search for some missing people – but those images lack context. The reader will have to wait until past and present collide to have a full understanding of what has happened. That relates not only to the identity of the murderer but also their victim.

It is very hard to pace a story so that such an important detail as the identity of the victim is withheld until the end. It is an approach that could easily read as gimmicky. Foley manages to craft a situation however where there are multiple credible suspects no matter the identity of the victim.

One other thing I want to praise with regards the structure is the choice to use multiple narrators. This not only works very well for exploring different functions of that job, it also allows Foley to suggest something to us that one of his other narrators may be unaware of. The narrators make for an interesting mix of types which I will come onto in a moment and also make this a story that feels particularly suited for the audiobook format (each narrator has their own reader).

The other thing I really like about the way that the multiple narrator thing is realized here is that each chapter heading not only reminds us who the narrator is and when it is taking place, it also spells out their role within the party. I loved this as an approach, particularly when dealing with those early chapters where we were getting to know everyone.

Turning to the thematic content of the book, I think Foley does a fine job of exploring the idea that ‘boys will be boys’ and some of the mindset of wealth and priviledge and culture often found in British public schools. These themes also can be seen reflected in the very different backgrounds and personalities of the various narrators. References to the like of Lord of the Flies are dropped in, providing a little context and encouraging comparison. It’s not a very pretty sight…

Foley paces the various revelations that are made exceptionally well, creating a sense of growing tension as we prepare for the storm to hit and those lights to go out. There is a sense in those middle chapters that there is always some new information being discovered and because of the use of those first person perspectives, we have a strong sense of how those revelations are affecting each member of the wedding party.

Individually those stories are very powerful and thematically I think they fit well alongside each other but the reader will have to accept a significant amount of coincidence in how this situation is set up. I think, reflecting on the individual characters, that their choices are all credible and I could understand, given their personalities, why they didn’t always talk to each other or ask challenging questions.

There is one character however who lies at the intersection of these story threads that I think becomes harder to understand as we learn more about what has happened. I felt that the explanation of their backstory is, in contrast to many of the other characters, very simplistic. I suspect that is a feature, rather than a fault, of the novel – that our focus is meant to be on the affected rather than the perpetrator. I would not argue with anyone who feels that this important character feels a little two dimensional.

The point at which the individual narratives catch up to the action in the present is really powerful and sets up a really gripping conclusion. It is not an ending that really surprised me – I think Foley sets her story threads up well enough that by the point you reach that conclusion it will feel like the only fitting resolution – but the execution is very good and I have to say there is an aspect of the resolution that I really enjoyed.

The Verdict: I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed The Guest List. It is a cleverly constructed thriller that executes its ideas and discusses its chosen themes well. For those who enjoy audio, I can strongly recommend the excellent audiobook.

The Case of the Caretaker’s Cat by Erle Stanley Gardner

Originally published in 1935
Perry Mason #7
Preceded by The Case of the Counterfeit Eye
Followed by The Case of the Sleepwalker’s Niece


In his will, Peter Laxter guaranteed his faithful caretaker a job and a place to live… for life. But Laxter’s grandson Sam says the deal doesn’t include the caretaker’s cat—and he wants the feline off the premises by hook, crook… or poison.

When Perry Mason takes the case, he quickly finds there’s much more at stake than an old man’s cat—a million dollars or more to be exact…

Last week I found myself picking up my first Perry Mason novel in quite some time. The break was unplanned and reflects more on my desire to discover new authors and characters but every now and again it’s nice to pick up a book and be sure you are going to have a great time with it.

The Case of the Caretaker’s Cat is fun from the very start. It opens with Perry agreeing to meet with an elderly man who has been sat waiting in his office on several occasions, insisting he needs to speak with Mason. He explains that his employer recently died and the terms of his will guaranteed the caretaker a job while he was able to work and a place to live once he retired. The employer’s grandson however has insisted that the provisions of the will did not extend to the caretaker’s cat and has vowed to kill it if he does not dispose of it.

Perry, sympathizing with the caretaker’s desire to be able to live with his feline companion, agrees to write a letter that he hopes will scare the grandson off. In it he brazenly suggests that any move against the cat would risk putting the man’s own inheritance in danger. He expects that to be an end to the matter and so he is surprised when the grandson and his lawyer turn up in his office in an argumentative mood. Before long Mason finds himself dug into his position and, ever keen to protect the interests of his client, he starts to dig into the circumstances of Peter Laxter’s death, soon turning up evidence of murder…

One of the most entertaining things about this book is the idea that a massive criminal case will emerge out of what is a pretty inconsequential dispute. While the nature of that dispute is, as is often the case with these stories, quirky and colorful, Gardner quickly and convincingly escalates that situation while never losing sight of the amusing idea that Perry has a cat for a client in this story.

This entry in the series also continues to explore the idea that Perry at this stage in his career is a scrapper by nature. When challenged as he is from an early point in this story, he chooses to act forcefully and often acts to provoke his opponents.

Perry could so easily be an obnoxious character. That confidence, so often manifesting itself in lengthy speeches to Della or Paul in which he talks passionately about what it means to be a lawyer, could read as smug and obnoxious were it not for the idea that he is championing the downtrodden and providing access to the protection offered by the law to all regardless of their wealth or station. That is shown here by his willingness to put himself to a great amount of inconvenience for what amounts to a $10 fee.

Gardner had packed his previous Mason novels with plenty of exciting and surprising developments but, compared to those, The Case of the Caretaker’s Cat seems all the more densely plotted. Each chapter seems to bring at least one new revelation or idea that changes your understanding of what has happened or what may happen in the future. Many of these are excellent and well-clued but there is a lot of detail about characters’ movements to absorb, some of which feels a little unnecessary.

Fortunately the concept of the crime is much more interesting and novel with the murderer employing a rather creative means to dispatch Peter Laxter. Readers should not expect Perry to deduce that method for himself – it is handed to him directly early in the book – but it is interesting to follow how he interprets and responds to that information. The alert reader may well detect other clues to what exactly is going on in interactions with those other suspects.

The issue is not the book’s ingenuity but rather that it can feel a little too clever and as if it is trying to do a little too much. Further murders follow but because they occur in such quick succession, not all of them left a big impact on me. In fact there was one point where I had to reread a section when I had forgotten that a character had died – it was not that the writing was unclear but simply that it was followed so quickly by another very dramatic moment.

Were this intended to be a fair play detection story, I might perhaps have felt frustrated by the complexity of the plotting. Read as a thriller however it makes for page-turning stuff. I loved the process of uncovering the truth behind the characters’ movements and the connections between the various elements of the plot. Yes, some parts of the plot are quite incredible but they are also highly entertaining.

The Case of the Caretaker’s Cat is unlikely to be in contention for Perry’s greatest case but it may be one of the most entertaining. From its rather amusing concept of Perry representing an animal client to some of the unexpected developments that complicate the case, the book is enormously entertaining and has some wonderfully colorful moments.

The Verdict: Is this Perry’s quirkiest client? It certainly seems that way to me. Boasting a strong case with a clever resolution, this was a real page turner.