Review: Blood is Blood by Will Thomas (Barker and Llewelyn)

Format: Hardcover
Pub Date: November 2018
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Length: 308 pages
POV: 1st person, past
FTC: review copy courtesy of the publisher

I haven't read a lot of historical mysteries in 1st person, so this was a bit of a change for me. This book is also in the middle of a series, so I'm not sure I'd have had the same reading experience if I'd been following the series all along.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I really liked the overall mystery and the setting and characters. On the other, I felt like it was missing some emotional depth, which is likely because I'm a character-centric reader. I want their thoughts and feelings on the page, and the emotions in particular were largely absent here, which I found weird considering the emotional events that form the focus of the book.

I have never read Will Thomas, nor had I heard of this series before, but I love historical mysteries and decided to give it a chance. The book begins with a bit of the Monday blues and an absentminded groom-to-be not listening to his fiance, then promptly devolves into chaos as the office of Barker Private Inquiries is blown to smithereens.


Review: Fast Falls the Night by Julia Keller (a Bell Elkins novel)

Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: July 2018, copyright 2017
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Length: 286 pages
POV: 3rd alternating past
FTC: review copy courtesy of the publisher
CW: drug overdose

I read this months ago, and posted a brief mini review on Instagram here, but I felt like I hadn't really covered what I wanted to cover about this book. I read a lot, I mean A LOT, and I'm still thinking about this book six months later. Partly because my region just experienced a smaller version of what happens in the novel, and partly because it was such a unique and timely book which was sadly, inspired by a real 24 hour period of mass overdoses in West Virginia.

The novel takes place over the course of 24 hours, and while I was never a fan of the series, 24, I can see the appeal of using that time constraint to serve as a narrative structure. It works incredibly well here, as we watch events unfold through a variety of points of view: Bell Elkins, a prosecutor, the EMS and hospital staff, the families of those saved and those lost. Each chapter begins with a time, and as the novel progresses, the reader feels Bell's growing horror over the escalation of deaths as more and more overdoses happen on her turf.

Also mixed in is some back story about Bell's childhood, which (probably because I haven't read any other books in the series) feels a bit disconnected from the rest of the narrative. But the events of the past mix with the events of the present to add further stress to an already overwhelmed Bell.

This isn't a long book, but Keller manages to squeeze a lot of tension into it and a lot of nuance about life in poverty. I was very impressed by how even secondary characters are fleshed out and felt believable. Even if they didn't spend a lot of time on the page.

My only quibble, and this comes 100% from my personal preference, is that the ending is a bit of a cliffhanger. The primary mystery is solved, sort of, but the threads are left hanging in an obvious sequel baiting way that I found unsatisfying. 

I wish we saw more authors like Keller who avoid using cliches about the poor and really dig deep into what drives people to make the decisions they do. I was very impressed with the nimble way she switched from character to character while making the reader care about all of them. No shortcuts, no easy fall back onto tired stereotypes. It's not often that I read a mystery with written with such obvious care. For that, and for the timely topic, I recommend this book!

My Grade: A-

The Blurb:
Based on a real-life event, Pulitzer Prize-winner Julia Keller’s latest Bell Elkins novel Fast Falls the Night takes place in a single 24-hour period, unfurling against the backdrop of a shattering personal revelation that will change Bell’s life forever.
The first drug overdose comes just after midnight, when a young woman dies on the dirty floor of a gas station bathroom. To the people of the small town of Acker’s Gap, West Virginia, it is just another tragedy. It is sad—but these days, depressingly familiar.
But then there is another overdose. And another. And another.
Prosecutor Bell Elkins soon realizes that her Appalachian hometown is facing its starkest challenge yet: a day of constant heroin overdoses from a batch tainted with a lethal tranquilizer. While the clock ticks and the bodies fall, Bell and her colleagues desperately track the source of the deadly drug—and engage in fierce debates over the wisdom of expending precious resources to save the lives of self-destructive addicts.