A well-told mystery that involves Midwesterners forced to grapple with their town’s past.


From the Ray Elkins Thrillers series , Vol. 10

This 10th installment of a series focuses on a sheriff with a new case rooted deep in a Michigan county’s history.

When the remote farmhouse that once belonged to his dead predecessor, Orville Hentzler, goes up in flames—its basement stockpile of guns and ammunition providing an explosive finale—Cedar County Sheriff Ray Elkins is tasked with discovering why. He knows that it’s arson, probably just some bored teenagers or a closet pyromaniac. Then Hentzler’s grave is vandalized. “When he was alive, people either loved him or they hated him,” remembers the cemetery’s groundskeeper. “He and his boys, you know, his deputies, they liked to crack heads....But he’s been gone awhile.” Could these incidents have anything to do with a hippie commune that Hentzler ran out of town back in the 1960s, the buildings of which were also subsequently and mysteriously burned down? Two duck hunters later report a cackling gunman shooting at their decoys with an automatic weapon. Soon after, a toddler is discovered abandoned in a snowy ditch, and the child’s mother is found dead, lying in her own house. These incidents—their variety and strangeness—demand some creative investigation from Ray and his partner, DS Sue Lawrence. All clues seem to suggest that these crimes are connected to the events of 40 years ago, but most of the people involved are long gone. What happens if a killer comes to town hoping to target Hentzler only to learn that he’s dead? Who will the killer go after then? Stander’s (Gales of November, 2016, etc.) prose is controlled and sparse, evoking both Ray’s deliberative personality and the midwinter Michigan landscape: “He lifted his head and watched as the truck quickly disappeared into the swirling snow. Then he looked around. The mangled remains of a snowmobile were mired in mud just below him in the ditch.” While certain aspects of the plot are a tad predictable, others are wonderfully unexpected, and the author’s practiced pacing should keep readers engaged throughout. Fans of the series should be pleased with this engrossing episode.

A well-told mystery that involves Midwesterners forced to grapple with their town’s past.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9975701-3-7

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Writers & Editors, LLC

Review Posted Online: Feb. 11, 2019

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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