Newest review: The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish

By Ekta R. Garg

July 21, 2021

Genre: Thriller

Release date: July 20, 2021

Rated: Bordering on Bookmarking it! / 3.5 stars

A man becomes a person of interest when his friend goes missing. He tries to balance his secrets with his own suspicions of what happened but gets the sense that a bigger game is at play. Author Louise Candlish takes just a touch too long to ramp up the mystery but keeps it rolling once it gets moving in her latest book The Other Passenger.

Jamie Buckby has made an amazing discovery: he can take the ferry to work and bypass the complicated tube system that runs under London. At one time, taking the tube was just another part of his day as he traveled to his white-collar job in security. Then he had a panic attack during his commute one day, and everything changed.

Now Jamie works at a coffee shop in Central London, which is quite the distance from his posh house in the suburbs. Well, not exactly his house; the deed says his girlfriend, Clare, owns it. But he and Clare have been together for more than a decade in a committed relationship. It’s not “Clare’s house” or “the place he lives”; it’s home.

It’s also the object of envy of Kit and Melia Roper. Gorgeous twenty-something Melia gets hired at Clare’s real estate company and Kit works in insurance, a job he complains about all the time. Kit thinks he’s too vibrant and interesting for the insurance world. Still, it’s a paycheck, and no one can turn that down.

Kit and Jamie start commuting on the ferry together and over time they become friends, or so Jamie thinks. Kit tends to be moody. Sometimes he’s chatty, other times not. Jamie hasn’t quite got a bead on him yet, other than the fact that Kit fulfills the stereotype of millennials with his attitude that he shouldn’t have to work so hard for the good things in life.

Melia, on the other hand, is a refreshing change for Jamie. So refreshing, in fact, that when they have an affair, he doesn’t fight it. Yes, he has Clare and a nice home to live in, but the house doesn’t even belong to him and Clare is constantly nagging him to improve his career prospects. Melia just wants him, nothing more.

Then Kit goes missing. The police don’t have enough information to arrest Jamie or even to file a formal report yet. Yet they keep hinting that another passenger on the ferry saw something to put Jamie on their radar.

Clare doesn’t know about Jamie and Melia, of course, and Jamie would prefer to keep it that way. But the entire situation with Kit sounds fishy. Then his problems get much bigger than trying to hide his mistress from his long-time girlfriend.

Author Louise Candlish takes her time building the story, which might leave some readers a little antsy. With the entire book told in first person, readers will spend a lot of time inside Jamie’s head with his own opinions and observations. The point-of-view choice slows down the narrative, and it keeps readers at arm’s length for the first half.

Once Candlish reveals one major plot point, however, the rest start lining up like bowling pins. Candlish knocks them out at a steady, even pace, and readers will have a lot of fun watching Jamie try to squirm out of the mess he’s created. Even with some events out of his control, he’s definitely responsible for his own actions. How those actions connect to the larger story at hand comprises the second half of the book, and Candlish uses a practiced hand to strike when readers least expect.

Jamie’s mid-forty-something self rings true to readers who fall into that age range. It’s easy to sympathize with his desire for more while also his hesitation to work for it. The greatest irony comes in how often Jamie blames Kit for self-aggrandizement when he does exactly the same, only with a few more gray hairs.

Readers who don’t mind being a little patient for the main part of the story to start moving forward will enjoy this one. I recommend that The Other Passenger Borders on Bookmarking it!

Brand new review: Falling by T.J. Newman

By Ekta R. Garg

July 7, 2021

Genre: Thriller

Release date: July 6, 2021

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

When a pilot’s family is kidnapped, the kidnapper forces him to choose between the family or his passengers. As the pilot does his best to maneuver the situation, he’ll have to rely on a trio of flight attendants and the goodwill of law enforcement on the ground to keep everyone safe. Debut author T.J. Newman relies heavily on her personal experience as a flight attendant for her fantastic first novel Falling.

Bill Hoffman is a veteran of his airline. He was there in the early days when no one knew if the company would survive. Now, more than two decades later, he enjoys a fair amount of seniority…except when it comes to the boss. When Bill gets the call to fill in at the last minute for a flight from L.A. to New York, he doesn’t think twice about saying yes.

His wife, Carrie, isn’t thrilled. Bill promised to spend his days off with the family. His 10-year-old son, Scott, is playing in the Little League season opener. Between managing Scott’s baseball schedule and taking care of their surprise baby, Elise, Carrie’s hands are full. Although she’s grumbling when they say goodbye, Bill knows he’ll find a way to make it up to Carrie when he gets back.

Minutes after Bill leaves home, however, Carrie and the kids are taken hostage inside their own home. The hostage taker calls himself Sam and seems to know where Bill is headed. He waits until Bill is in the cockpit and pushing back from the gate to get in touch with his one demand. Bill will have to make a choice: his family or his passengers. If he doesn’t crash the plane into a location yet to be revealed, his family dies.

Bill’s mind begins to race. He’s bound and determined to land the plane safely, and he knows he can’t let anything happen to Carrie and the children. Despite Sam’s warning against it, at the first available opportunity Bill tells the head of his flight crew, Jo, about what’s going on.

He and Jo have flown together for almost their entire careers. They’re coworkers and friends, and he needs someone he can trust. Sam refuses to tell Bill where to crash the plane, but he does let Bill in on the fact that someone else on the flight is working with him. If the terrorist can have an accomplice, Bill can have one too.

As the flight travels the five hours between the two major cities, Bill, Jo, and a whole host of other people fight to keep everyone on the plane and the ground alive. Bill’s adrenaline is running at a permanent high, but he knows one thing for sure. No one is going to die on his watch today.

Author T.J. Newman worked for 10 years as a flight attendant and wrote Falling while she spent time in the air. Her experience shows in the lingo she uses that all real-life flight crews will surely recognize. Newman keeps a balance, though, between the authenticity of that language and making sure readers know what they’re talking about.

She also builds realistic characters. Bill’s fear and his helplessness ring true as does his resourcefulness. Like other people trained in high-risk jobs, Bill leans into his training to help him figure out the problem.

As the senior-most flight attendant, Jo is ready-made for these types of crises. Readers will hope for attendants like her on their future trips. Like Bill, she’s three-dimensional and relatable.

The made-for-the-movies climax and ending might seem a touch corny, but these types of stories almost require an ending where readers and/or viewers are cheering and teary-eyed by the end. Newman picks her terrorists’ cause with care, making it feel relevant to today’s world. She also doesn’t hesitate to give her terrorists some sympathetic qualities. What they did was wrong, as Carrie asserts at one point, but it’s easy to understand why they did it.

The book fits squarely within its genre and as a movie would be instantly rewatchable. Readers who enjoy a fun thriller with unexpected story twists will definitely enjoy this one. I recommend readers Bookmark Falling.

Newest review: A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams

By Ekta R. Garg

June 16, 2021

Genre: Psychological thriller

Release date: June 8, 2021

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

After her mother’s suicide, a young woman struggles to deal with what happened. When she discovers a secret her mother held, the woman gets tangled in an ongoing police investigation and must try to figure out what responsibility, if any, she has toward the situation. Author Jen Williams frightens readers in the best ways meant in the genre with her newest novel A Dark and Secret Place.

Heather Evans is fighting to accept her new reality. A reality where her mother has committed suicide in a gruesome way—by throwing herself off a cliff—and left few clues behind as to why she would do such a thing. Heather didn’t even have an inkling of any distress in her mother’s life, but, then again, she and her mother didn’t exactly speak that frequently.

In fact, after the sudden death of her father when she was 16, Heather and her mother seemed to fight about everything. When she couldn’t take it anymore, Heather left home. After that she and her mother, Colleen, only spoke on family occasions and the holidays during awkward, tense conversations that lasted mere minutes. Now there’s this, her mother’s death, with no explanation at all.

The situation becomes even harder to handle when Heather starts going through her mother’s personal items and discovers dozens of letters hidden away. The letters are from a prisoner serving a life sentence for multiple murders in a case that shocked everyone in England. The man, Michael Reave, has always claimed he was innocent, but the available evidence named him guilty. The media named him the Red Wolf.

Heather contacts the police about the letters, and DI Ben Parker has an unusual request for her. He wants Heather to come to the prison and talk to Michael about a new spate of murders that has begun. Someone is attacking young women again, copying the Red Wolf’s signature ritualistic killing style, and Parker believes Michael is connected to the killings even though he’s still in prison.

Despite her reluctance, Heather agrees. She wants to know why her mother was writing to Michael and why they shared this secret relationship no one else knew about. Although she was dismissed from her last job as a reporter, Heather’s instincts kick in as she tries to get Michael to share some scrap of information that will help the police catch the new killer.

Yet Heather can’t help feeling like the crimes of the Red Wolf as well as those of the copycat criminal are both connected directly to her somehow. She discovers more of Colleen’s secrets, making her question what she knew about her mother. In time Heather realizes she won’t get any peace until she helps solve the case.

Author Jen Williams takes full advantage of everything the psychological thriller genre has to offer, which will make readers squirm in discomfort and also keep flipping or swiping pages. Heather’s newfound melancholy at not knowing her mother like she thought she did is grounded and three-dimensional. Readers will identify with her grief and confusion as she tries to navigate both.

While some of the tropes of the genre might feel a little trite—the customary romantic entanglement; weird signs that show up meant only to scare Heather and not really offer clues to the larger mystery—Williams doesn’t lean too heavily on those things to drive her mystery forward. The book’s strength lies in the fact that the characters are fully developed, fully realized people. By mixing generational angst with modern-day trappings, Williams has found the perfect blend of the times to offer a compelling plot.

The climax feels just a touch rushed, but Williams offers a careful, thoughtful explanation for everything. Readers will have no trouble racing through the book, and its pall will linger afterward. I recommend readers Bookmark A Dark and Secret Place.