Closure–Is It a Realistic Goal?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote two web posts about a real-life murder that took place in Atlantic County, New Jersey, in 2012. Still unsolved. My summaries were based on a pages-long newspaper story by Rebecca Everett. Several of the people she interviewed said outright or implied that the mishandling of the investigation and prosecution kept the family from having closure.

“Closure” is something we hear a lot about after tragedies. But that seems a slippery concept to me. Is there such a thing, really? Or, after a violent episode are people haunted by some combination of guilt and wishful thinking that suggests they or Someone surely could have done Something? They don’t even have to say specifically what those Somethings were, though they may have specifics in mind. Do they tell themselves that they shouldn’t have let their teenager take the car on that rainy night? That they should have kept their child with a stuffy nose home from school that day? That they always knew there was something off about Uncle Max? And on and on.

Even in cases where a death isn’t unexpected, when it isn’t a sudden catastrophe, does this same second-guessing come into play? Do was ask ourselves, Why didn’t I insist she get her mammogram? Why didn’t I say I’d drive him to those AA meetings? Maybe I’m mixing up “closure” and “guilt” or “responsibility.” Or maybe they are somehow cousins.

You’d think the most unequivocal sort of closure would come in death penalty cases, in which victims’ family members are allowed to witness the execution of their loved one’s murderer. It turns out it doesn’t work that way. Not always.

Said the mother of a slain Houston police officer, “I wanted to be sure it was finished, and that’s why I went.” Possibly, this mother did achieve closure. “It was just too humane,” said the mother of a murdered daughter. No closure for her. (The first quote is from a 2017 New York Times story, the second from WebMD.) Perhaps the experience gives the viewer a feeling of retribution, but it doesn’t offer consolation. The loss is still real and present, the empty chair still there. Revenge seems to me a totally different animal than closure.

As a writer of crime fiction, I have to think about this, even in my stumbling way. Recently, I read a story about a private investigator whose client was murdered in a set-up the investigator himself engineered. Although I didn’t expect (or want) the fictional investigator to lapse into a full-blown depression, he doesn’t question his actions, take any responsibility for the death, demonstrate any regret. This struck me as unrealistic and unsatisfying. I guess you could say this particular character achieved closure with no trouble at all. He would have been a better person if he hadn’t.

Blue Book by Tom Harley Campbell

In the mid-sized, middle-America town of Dayton, Ohio, retired homicide detective John Burke isn’t wildly happy about the reduced pace of his life, but in this quick-moving new thriller by Tom Harley Campbell, unexpected trouble—and a fascinating mystery—are headed straight toward him. They arrive in the form of 18-year-old Alex Johnson, all the way from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Alex’s father was a Mississippi cop whose body was found in Dayton’s Mad River four years earlier. Not solving that case has haunted Burke ever since. Now Alex provides a tantalizing clue.

A news story starts another pot simmering. Al-Jazeera reports that Yasser Arafat died from polonium210 poisoning. Deeply interested in this development is Hattiesburg history professor Charles Robinson. He’s haunted by the mysterious 2004 death of his own father, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, which Charles believes was also a polonium poisoning. Charles’s father had a secret, post-World War II assignment in Dayton, called Project Blue Book (in real life), to investigate reports of UFOs (now called Unidentified Aerial Phenomena), and determine whether they threaten national security.

In the post-War era, while the older Robinson was sifting evidence, the Air Force, the military, and the Central Intelligence Agency conducted an unrelenting public information campaign to discredit UFO reports and depict the believers as tin-foil-hat-wearing kooks. (Last week, Enigma Labs released a mobile app in which users can report and record an unexplainable event as it happens, potentially turning random anecdotal information into data.)

Whether you believe UFOs exist or not, you will understand that, in dicey situations, it’s always the cover-up that presents the greatest difficulties. The more extreme the effort to hide something, the more important it’s likely to be. Project Blue Book’s work and conclusions have been secret for fifty years. As John Burke probes the death of these two fathers, the campaign to cover up Project Blue Book seems to threaten all of them.

John Burke is an exceedingly likeable character. He may be retired, but don’t sell him short. There’s a complex plot here, as befits a story with so many deep secrets, housed in an inaccessible area of Dayton’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Author Campbell effectively conveys the intimate feel of Dayton (population less than 140,000), a relatively small dog wagged by the big tail of the defense, aerospace, and aviation industries. A local police department can’t help but feel that a giant hovers over its shoulder. And that giant, Burke learns, isn’t always friendly.

There’s just enough science here to make the story interesting and give it plausibility, without weighing it down. Campbell does an especially good job interleaving actual events with his fictional tale. It’s a wild ride, and a fun one! You can order it here with my affiliate link.

Want more? The multi-episode docuseries, “UFOs: Investigating the Unknown” premieres on the National Geographic TV channel Feb. 13.

It’s News to Me by RG Belsky

The fifth entry in former New York City newsman RG Belsky’s Clare Carlson series includes all the features his fans have come to appreciate—an interesting plot, brisk pacing, and, best of all, the self-deprecating wit and chutzpah of Clare herself.

In this story, Clare’s Manhattan newsroom is abuzz about the murder of Riley Hunt, a beautiful blonde-haired, blue-eyed college co-ed with everything going for her. Just the kind of ratings-bait television news loves to exploit. Clare herself is fully aware of the other tragedies, the other deaths that get shunted to the background in favor of those of “blonde white single female” victims, but ratings are ratings.

Clare began as a newspaper journalist and was probably always a cynical observer of the rush and foibles of New York life. When her newspaper folded, she took a job as news director at a local television station, and she can’t get completely past thinking television news coverage is just a little beneath her. But, hey, a girl’s got to eat.

It all sort of perks along until the station owner throws a spanner in the works. He’s bumping Clare’s long-time boss upstairs to be a consultant, a make-work job if Clare ever heard of one, and hiring a new executive producer. The new gal is known for dramatically increasing station ratings, and she doesn’t care what tricks she has to use to do so. Naturally, Clare loathes her before they’ve even met. Susan makes it clear she’s in charge and won’t put up with Clare’s tendency to go off on her own and make decisions without the approval of Management.

Like Clare, you will be girding yourself for the inevitable confrontations between them. Yet, much as Susan blusters and threatens, she can’t quite rid herself of this annoying staffer, with her Pulitzer Prize and her record of breaking important stories.

The reportage of Riley Hunt’s death is expected to come to an end after a homeless veteran is arrested and charged with the crime. He has Riley’s cell phone, and her blood is on both it and him. We Belsky fans know this tidy conclusion won’t satisfy Clare. She continues to investigate, but the way things are going, she is certain to offend one or more powerful men.

Clare’s doggedness keeps reader interest alive, and a string of new revelations comes quickly. As much as they change the situation, what doesn’t change is Clare’s irreverent humor. She kept me chuckling with her spirited repartee. Belsky has quite deftly developed the voice of Clare, and she may seem like a few people you know—or want to know.

Despite Clare’s terrible track record with her personal relationships, her friend Janet keeps trying to fix her up, and her latest, a Princeton University Spanish professor, seems more than promising.

As a college journalism major myself, I have a soft spot for stories about newsrooms, intrepid reporters, and the tension between the fast pace of new events and the slow and painstaking work of investigation, not to mention the conundrums that face an increasingly embattled profession. I look forward to each new adventure of Clare and her team, and so will you. 

Order from Amazon here with my affiliate link.

Annals of New Jersey Crime, Part 2

Yesterday’s post described the murder of Atlantic County, N.J., man John Kingsbury and the flawed investigation into his death, in which martial arts gym owner Michael Castro was the chief suspect.

Castro’s Day—Make that Decade—in Court

On April 5, 2013, 15 months after John Kingsbury’s murder at his Atlantic County home, the county prosecutor authorized charges of murder and felony murder against Michael Castro. While Castro languished in jail for 15 months, his lawyer diligently picked apart the prosecution’s case. He made plenty of holes in it, and a judge dismissed the murder indictment in June 2014.

In January 2016, the investigators obtained a second murder indictment. By that time, new evidence suggested that two people connected to Castro’s martial arts gym might have committed the crime or participated in it, further muddying the waters. Castro wasn’t jailed this time, but required to wear an ankle monitor for the next 15 months.

A man known to both Castro and his friend Lauren Kohl (whose missing gun apparently was the murder weapon) was driving Kohl’s Jeep Wrangler back and forth near the Kingsbury home shortly before the murder occurred there, and his alibi for the actual presumed time of the murder didn’t hold up. Investigators waited another 19 months to confront him about these actions.

A teenager whom Reporter Rebecca Everett describes as “Castro’s martial arts protégé” matched a witness description of a person seen near the house. He had no alibi for the afternoon of the death. Again the investigators dawdled, and when they asked for the youth’s cellphone data two years later, the company no longer retained it. By May 2017, prosecutors believed they could not win the case against Michael Castro and dropped the charges.

Impact on Michael Castro

Years of uncertainty had taken a toll on Michael Castro. He’d filed a civil rights lawsuit in 2015, put on hold when the second indictment came down. After the dropped charges, his lawyer dug in, finding in his investigation of the investigation “a pattern of deliberate misconduct.”

Such suits rarely succeed, but in 2021, a U.S. District Judge decided the problems were big enough that a jury should decide. New shortcomings in the investigation emerged—failure to document meetings, text exchanges, and steps in the investigation, including interviews and the results of a photo lineup. Those flaws were on top of the mishandling of evidence, inadequate case preparation, and damaging delays.

In a rare outcome in such suits, Castro received a $5 million settlement.

And in the Court of Public Opinion

Castro made a 37-minute YouTube video posted August 2021. In it, he talks about his initial surprise at being considered a suspect, his arrest more than a year later, and his months in jail and with the monitor. He talks about his abusive mother, his absent stepfather, the ten different schools he attended, his military service and resultant PTSD, and his persistent financial problems. Twice accused of murder, yet never convicted, he can’t escape public suspicion.

Says the dead man’s son, Glenn, “The whole thing’s awful. And it’s gonna go on till the day I die. And in theory, it may go on till the day my children die.”

Did Michael Castro get away with murder, or is he another victim?

Parts 1 and 2 of this story are based primarily on reporting by Rebecca Everett for the Trenton, N.J., Times.

Annals of New Jersey Crime

The Trenton, N.J., Times, recently devoted several pages to a true-crime mystery from the Garden State. Reporter Rebecca Everett detailed the investigation and failed prosecutions of the murder of 77-year-old John Kingsbury. Kingsbury died on Super Bowl Sunday 2012 at his home in Mullica, a rural township in New Jersey’s Pinelands area. His son Glenn, who returned home and discovered the body, as well as first responders, thought a fall or stroke accounted for the blood on and around the elderly man’s head. None of them saw the bullet holes from a gun described as “small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.”

Glenn and his girlfriend, Karen Drew, cleaning up, found two spent .380 shell casings and called emergency services immediately. Too late. John died before reaching the hospital, and they had just cleaned up a murder scene. Now, eleven years later, no one has been convicted of John Kingsbury’s murder. Reporter Everett says the cold case is “filled with enough shocking twists, shadowy characters and law enforcement bungling to fill a ‘Knives Out’ sequel.”

Who are John and Glenn Kingsbury?

John Kingsbury was a retired RCA electronics specialist, a member of Mensa, and Korean War veteran who trained K-9s. In shaky health, he’d moved to New Jersey a few months before his death to live with his son. Glenn and Karen own lucrative cheerleading event companies Cheer Tech and Spirit Brands. When they return home after a typical event, they’re holding tens of thousands of dollars in cash. “Anyone who worked with them would know that,” Everett wrote, “Including Michael Castro.”

Robbery seemed the likely motive.

The Crime

John Kingsbury was at home alone when the killer or killers arrived at the family home. There was no weekend’s worth of event receipts, Karen Drew had already taken them to the bank.

Police found no indication of a break-in, and nothing appeared to be missing, but, unexpectedly, the video surveillance system had been disabled. Karen’s suspicion immediately fell on Castro, who she said had been pestering her that afternoon with cell phone calls about her and family members’ whereabouts. What’s more, Castro owed Glenn several thousand dollars, some of which he’d used to set up a mixed martial arts studio.

After the lead detective, Michael Mattioli, interviewed Castro four days after the killing, Castro immediately called a Camden County Sheriff’s Officer he knew, Lauren Kohl. It wasn’t until after she was contacted by Mattioli that Kohl reported two handguns missing from her home.

An Investigation Botched from the Start

The Atlantic County prosecutors worked on the case against Michael Castro for more than a year, in an investigation “torpedoed by errors and oversights,” Everett was told. Among them:

  • Investigators lost track of John’s cellphone, so it couldn’t be analyzed for years
  • They had a warrant to search Castro’s vehicle, but didn’t do it
  • They didn’t ask the medical examiner to estimate the time of the shooting
  • They didn’t collect surveillance footage from area stores that might have confirmed whether Castro (or other possible suspects) were in the area
  • They didn’t subpoena the cellphones of other possible suspects to confirm their locations
  • And, when it appeared one of Lauren Kohl’s missing handguns might be the murder weapon (and eventually was proved to be, on what basis is unclear, as the gun is apparently still missing), it was months before investigators actually followed up with her.

During this period, the prosecutor’s office had internal organizational problems, handing off the Kingsbury murder to three separate lead investigators in just over a year. Months passed between any investigatory actions they logged, with much not logged at all. The cellphone evidence fell apart. Stories changed. New suspects emerged, fogging the investigatory lenses.

Tomorrow: Michael Castro’s Day—Make that Decade—in Court

Thanks, Ellery Queen!

As always, the Jan-Feb issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine is packed with good reading. Here are some of the standout stories for me:

“The Killing of Henry Davenport” by John Shen Yen Nee and S.J. Rozan – Admittedly, this story, set in London in 1924, was bound to be a hit with me, as it involves both Sherlock Holmes and my favorite detective, Dee Goong An (hearkening back to a real-life personage from the Tang Dynasty). Holmes, Watson, Dee, and the narrator, Lao She (another real-life character), set out to solve an English murder in which a Chinese man stands accused. The story is a foretaste of a new project Rozan is working on that fans (me!) eagerly await.

“The Soiled Dove of Shallow Hollow” by Sean McCluskey – It’s always fun to see a nicely crafted story in the mag’s Department of First Stories. A hint of more good stuff to come. And I’m easily seduced by a con job where the question of who’s being conned is up for grabs. Nice!

“The Bowser Boys Are Back in Town” by Hal Charles – You can expect some humor in a story that begins, “Like a loud rooster, the bomb in Beverly Dezarn Memorial Park awoke the entire town of Woodhole . . .” The bad-luck Bowser duo is on what turns out to be an all-too-brief (for them) return home from jail, but it looks like they’re headed back to the slammer.

“Can the Cat Catch the Rat” by Steve Hockensmith – This is another in his entertaining series about Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer, tyro detectives in an Old West where the frequent shenanigans offers steady employment. The surprise in this episode is that Old Red has finally agreed to let Big Red teach him to read. However, identifying the counterfeit coins someone’s producing requires nothing more than a healthy set of teeth.

Read these and more good stories in EQMM. Subscribe here!

The Pain Tourist by Paul Cleave

What I like about the two Paul Cleave thrillers I’ve read is how he ties social behavior into the story of a crime and investigation. In his work, Internet frenzies make bad situations worse, leaving me thinking, “Oh, yeah. I can see that happening.”

In the first book of his I read, The Quiet People, a couple suspected of harming their child is besieged by angry would-be vigilantes camping out in front of their home. Suspicions inflamed by social media are enough to produce a crowd edging toward violence. The Pain Tourist touches on people’s fascination with true-crime stories and their willingness to believe they are competent and informed enough to become investigators themselves. You’ve seen this in action if you watched the discovery+ channel’s 2021 series Citizen P.I. In the official confusion and near-vacuum of information after the recent killings at the University of Idaho, the amateurs stepped in.

Amateurs have provided helpful information in a number of instances. They’re good at code-cracking, occasionally find missing persons, and willing to delve into cold cases. But more ambitious self-assigned tasks, such as identifying pedophiles and targeting presumed perpetrators can get dangerous for both the citizen and the accused, who may, in fact, be innocent. This is particularly so when accusers decide to take action.

Authorities worry they can jam up an investigation, overwhelming police with “tips” that need to be checked out (more than 6,000 in the Idaho case in the first three weeks after the crimes). In Cleave’s writing, these true crime devotees are pain tourists.

Taut. Twisty. Propulsive. You can trot out all the cliches regularly used to describe thriller fiction and use them with abandon for The Pain Tourist.

A home invasion leaves Frank and Avah Garrett dead. Nine years later, their 19-year-old son, James, remains in a coma with a bullet wound to the brain, and their 14-year-old daughter, Hazel, is trying to piece a life together. The three men seen running from the Garrett home have never been identified.

While Christchurch Detective Rebecca Kent investigates a serial murderer case, alternating chapters provide insight into what’s going on inside James’s head. A lot, and it’s fascinating. His mind is constructing an alternative reality – one in which his parents don’t die and he and Hazel carry on their lives as they would have been. Eight years and 10 months after the attack, in the now of the novel, James wakes up.

As he describes his memories during those years, Hazel and his doctor see correlations with real-life events. James calls what’s in his head Coma World. In Coma World, he had adventures that drew from the books Hazel read to him. The dates he believes certain events occurred match reality. Naturally, the police want to talk to him to find out whether this amazing memory contains clues from that fatal night. He agrees to try. It’s an intriguing possibility, with loads of implications.

Detective Inspector Rebecca Kent is assigned to James’s case, and because her old friend, retired Detective Inspector Theodore Tate, worked the original case, she gets in touch. He’s now working as a technical advisor for true crime television shows, and Cleave nicely portrays the rise in true crime ‘entertainments’, the dark side of the audience obsession and the shamelessness of the media.

Cleave has a special talent for misdirection, which you don’t fully appreciate until near the book’s end, when several investigations start to come together most satisfactorily. Kent and Tate share one serious concern, that the men who killed James’s parents will come back to finish the job.

Rebecca Kent and Theodore Tate are solidly written characters. Hazel and James’s relationship is especially close, a cup of kindness in a vat of cruelty. James and his prodigious abilities form a completely believable, highly sympathetic character. And, along the way, numerous minor characters are given enough detail for plausibility. Maybe the bad guys are a bit too irredeemable, though that merely raises the stakes. This is a fast-moving, engaging story that has something to say and is hard to put down.

Read more:
The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America’s Coldest Cases, by Deborah Halber – “Part whodunit, part sociological study . . . The result is eminently entertaining.”

The Lie Detector’s Big Lie

The fascinating American Experience documentary on the checkered history of the lie detector reveals that three separate men figure in the development of this flawed technology—ubiquitous in mid-century crime stories, television dramas, and still a staple of law enforcement and the intelligence community. Nevertheless, the physiological measures the polygraph records have not proved to demonstrate untruthfulness, the technology is easily defeated, it has failed in numerous significant cases, and it never met the objectivity test, either, as the behavior and skill of the examiner also influence the results.

Like so many disastrous inventions, the development of a machine that could tell truth from falsehood began with a laudable purpose. In the early 20th century, the brutal methods the police used to get information, known as the 3d degree, made a safe, “scientific,” and presumably objective way to obtain information seem like a good idea. Certain physiological measures (breathing and heart rate, blood pressure, etc.) had been put forward as markers of truth-telling, and medical student John Larson created a machine that would combine them. Each might be weak by itself, but together, they could create a powerful tool. Working for the Berkeley, California, Police Department, along with a high school student, Leonarde Keeler, Larson developed his prototype.

Larson’s first case revealed what would turn out to be his invention’s biggest flaw. Valuables were disappearing from a women’s dormitory on the Berkeley campus. Larson tested all of the residents, identified the culprit, and she left campus. Later she wrote Larson saying she was innocent, but had been abused as a child and feared his machine would betray her secret.

A second researcher, William Marston of American University, created a cruder machine, but convinced prosecutors to use it during a trial. Even today, some jurisdictions allow polygraph results to be used in the courtroom, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1998 conclusion that they are “little better than could be obtained by the toss of a coin.”

Interestingly, both Larson and Marston ended up in Hollywood, where motion picture moguls wanted to measure how their films affected audience emotions. Neither lasted there. Today, Marston is best remembered as the creator of the comic book character Wonder Woman, who readily solved her creator’s shortcomings with her golden Lasso of Truth.

Later, Larson’s former assistant, Keeler, promoted his own machine, which he called the polygraph. He touted its infallibility to banks and retail outlets, who grabbed the opportunity to screen their employees on a regular basis. Eventually, hundreds of thousands of American workers were subjected to polygraphs, until most private employer screening was outlawed. Screening of national security and public safety personnel continues in some jurisdictions. (Note that polygraph use, certainly on such a widespread basis, is an almost wholly American phenomenon.)

When Congressman Richard Nixon challenged Alger Hiss to take a lie detector test, it wasn’t because Nixon believed in the technology, it was because he knew the public did. Hiss’s refusal sealed his fate and helped launch an era of using the polygraph as a tool for intimidation. With this development, Larson believed his invention had become a “Frankenstein’s monster.” This scene from The Wire, perfectly demonstrates how the unquestioning faith in “lie detectors” can be a tool for manipulation.

The truth is that, even though the polygraph is next-to useless in detecting lies, people harbor secrets. And they fear the technology will reveal them.

Art by George Pérez

Winter Tales

Maybe you think the best books to read in January are set in the South Seas or maybe Australia where it’s high summer.

But if a book which a chilly setting or subject is more your cup of tea, here are a few good ones.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – I just got around to reading this last month and while it probably has lost a bit of its shock value in the sixty-plus years since it was published, it is still full of chills. A group of would-be paranormal investigators plans to spend a week at the notorious, isolated Hill House. It seems, at least to the psychologically vulnerable among them, that the house has other plans, . Most delightful is the lead investigator’s oblivious wife. The link is to the book. I did not see the TV series.

The Surfacing by Cormac James – In 1850, the ship Impetus sailed north of Greenland to rescue men lost while searching for the Northwest Passage. The dangers of the expedition are apparent to the Impetus’s second-in-command, yet the Captain is determined to push on. This literary fiction tale is an adventure story and one, in which every character is tested to the limit. If your personal heroes include Admiral Richard Byrd and Ernest Shackleton, you’ll love this! And you’ll need a sweater.

Five Decembers by James Kestrel – No surprise that a book with this title leads you into an epic snow-filled journey. This award-winner starts out pleasantly enough, in Hawai`i, but, alas it is 1941. The life of Honolulu police detective Joe McGrady is upended when a murder investigation takes him to Hong Kong right at the time Pearl Harbor is attacked. Captured by the Japanese, he must figure out how to survive in extraordinary circumstances. A 2022 best book of the year.

If you’re looking to warm yourself in front of the electronic fire with a good movie, you might like 2017’s Wind River. It tracks the investigation into the strange death of a young woman from Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation (Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes)—the same part of the country as the Longmire series, another favorite. DVD from Amazon.

Great Listens of 2022

earphones

The UK website CrimeFictionLover.com recently published my report of the five books I reviewed for them in 2022 that I liked best. The pool from which these excellent books were selected has some idiosyncracies. CFL covers new (more or less time-of-publication) crime fiction. A review of a book that’s a few months old is rarely accepted, which unfortunately is often when I get around to listening to the audio version. As a result, while I reviewed about 30 books for CFL in 2020, I read almost 80. I troll the list of award finalists for audio suggestions and find many good ones like:

Razorblade Tears: A Novelby SA Cosby – Not only an action-packed thriller full of story and steeped in compassion, but a remarkable narration by Adam Lazarre-White. Two men come to terms with their dead sons’ gay lives and with each other across America’s racial divide (nominated for multiple awards).

The Diamond Eye: A Novel by Kate Quinn – A fascinating WWII story, inspired by true events, of an unforgettable young woman: eagle-eyed Russian sniper, emissary of the Soviet government in its quest for US military support, and friend of Eleanor Roosevelt. Lots of interesting detail about how snipers work. Nicely narrated by Saskia Maarleveld.

Deer Season by Erin Flanagan – an intellectually disabled farmhand is suspected of a gruesome crime, and the couple who employs and looks out for him faces painful dilemmas (award nominee).

Trouble Is What I Do by Walter Mosley – Need I say more? Interesting people, good plot, fantastic narration by Dion Graham.

We Are All the Same in the Dark: A Novel by Julia Heaberlin – A cold case heats up in a small Texas town when an abandoned teenager is discovered. Lots of secrets. Lots of atmosphere. Solid female characters. I always enjoy Heaberlin. Multiple narrators, all good.

Black Hills by Nora Roberts – For me, the main character’s involvement with a large animal sanctuary was irresistible. Even if the romance was predictable, the big cats rarely were.

Joe Country by Mick Herron – The Slow Horses team is back in book 6, and in my opinion, Herron hasn’t put a foot wrong yet. Narrated by Gerard Doyle, a pleasure in itself.