Category Archives: Stevens, Chevy

Triple Play: Modern Thrillers

This is not a type of book that I read a lot of – I really only venture into the genre at Halloween Bingo time. There’s a reason for that, as you are about to find out.

I don’t really enjoy them all that much.

Dark RoadsDark Roads
by Chevy Stevens
Rating: ★★
Publication Date: August 3, 2021
Genre: fiction, mystery, suspense
Pages: 384
Project: halloween bingo

The Cold Creek Highway stretches close to five hundred miles through British Columbia’s rugged wilderness to the west coast. Isolated and vast, it has become a prime hunting ground for predators. For decades, young women traveling the road have gone missing. Motorists and hitchhikers, those passing through or living in one of the small towns scattered along the region, have fallen prey time and again. And no killer or abductor who has stalked the highway has ever been brought to justice.

Hailey McBride calls Cold Creek home. Her father taught her to respect nature, how to live and survive off the land, and to never travel the highway alone. Now he’s gone, leaving her a teenage orphan in the care of her aunt whose police officer husband uses his badge as a means to bully and control Hailey. Overwhelmed by grief and forbidden to work, socialize, or date, Hailey vanishes into the mountainous terrain, hoping everyone will believe she’s left town. Rumors spread that she was taken by the highway killer—who’s claimed another victim over the summer.

One year later, Beth Chevalier arrives in Cold Creek, where her sister Amber lived—and where she was murdered. Estranged from her parents and seeking closure, Beth takes a waitressing job at the local diner, just as Amber did, desperate to understand what happened to her and why. But Beth’s search for answers puts a target on her back—and threatens to reveal the truth behind Hailey’s disappearance…

I wanted to like this book. I loved the idea of the remote, mountain-town setting. I love a foggy, dark, gothic atmosphere, like that which was promised by the plot summary. As it turned out, though, this book was not for me. It had potential, but the characters acted like idiots and the twist was easy to spot. Also, there were some plot holes that I just couldn’t get over.

The most interesting part of the book for me was the authors note which explained the inspiration for the book – what is, in real life, called the Highway of Tears. According to Wikipedia:

The Highway of Tears is a 725-kilometre (450 mi) corridor of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada, which has been the location of many missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW) beginning in 1970. The phrase was coined during a vigil held in Terrace, British Columbia in 1998, by Florence Naziel, who was thinking of the victims’ families crying over their loved ones. There is a disproportionately high number of Indigenous women on the list of victims.

You can find out more about that here. Unfortunately, I think that the author did not do a great job of honoring her source material with this particular book.

The Family PlotThe Family Plot
by Megan Collins
Rating: ★★★
Publication Date: August 17, 2021
Genre: fiction, gothic, mystery, thriller
Pages: 320
Project: halloween bingo

When a family obsessed with true crime gathers to bury their patriarch, horrifying secrets are exposed upon the discovery of another body in his grave in this chilling novel from the author of Behind the Red Door and The Winter Sister .

At twenty-six, Dahlia Lighthouse has a lot to learn when it comes to the real world. Raised in a secluded island mansion deep in the woods and kept isolated by her true crime-obsessed parents, she has spent the last several years living on her own, but unable to move beyond her past—especially the disappearance of her twin brother Andy when they were sixteen.

With her father’s death, Dahlia returns to the house she has avoided for years. But as the rest of the Lighthouse family arrives for the memorial, a gruesome discovery is made: buried in the reserved plot is another body—Andy’s, his skull split open with an ax.

Each member of the family handles the revelation in unusual ways. Her brother Charlie pours his energy into creating a family memorial museum, highlighting their research into the lives of famous murder victims; her sister Tate forges ahead with her popular dioramas portraying crime scenes; and their mother affects a cheerfully domestic façade, becoming unrecognizable as the woman who performed murder reenactments for her children. As Dahlia grapples with her own grief and horror, she realizes that her eccentric family, and the mansion itself, may hold the answers to what happened to her twin.

This book fared a bit better than Dark Roads for me. However, the premise is over-the-top and unbelievable. It is so banana-pants that it felt almost like a parody, although one that was not even remotely funny. The characters are all bonkers, with bizarre and unrealistic quirks. None of them were “real” people to me, so I couldn’t make any connection to them. The dead sibling, Andy, felt the most potentially authentic, with his deep internal conflict rendered pretty well. The reveals and twists aren’t that surprising, given the book’s plot.

That sounds like I didn’t like it, though, and while it’s true that I didn’t fall in love with this book, it is entertaining and very easy to read. When I’m looking for a type of domestic thriller (something that admittedly doesn’t happen very often) I would potentially pick up something by Megan Collins again. At the end of the day, though, I am not the right audience for this book because I don’t really enjoy the whole “domestic-thriller-devastating-family-secrets-revealed” types of books. I ran out of steam on the genre a few years ago with the absolutely terrible The Girl Before.

Other readers will likely enjoy it more than I did. YMMV.

The Burning GirlsThe Burning Girls
by C.J. Tudor
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: February 9, 2021
Genre: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 333
Project: halloween bingo

Welcome to Chapel Croft. Five hundred years ago, eight protestant martyrs were burned at the stake here. Thirty years ago, two teenage girls disappeared without a trace. And two months ago, the vicar of the local parish killed himself.

Reverend Jack Brooks, a single parent with a fourteen-year-old daughter and a heavy conscience, arrives in the village hoping to make a fresh start and find some peace. Instead, Jack finds a town mired in secrecy and a strange welcome package: an old exorcism kit and a note quoting scripture. "But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed and hidden that will not be known."

The more Jack and her daughter Flo get acquainted with the town and its strange denizens, the deeper they are drawn into their rifts, mysteries, and suspicions. And when Flo is troubled by strange sightings in the old chapel, it becomes apparent that there are ghosts here that refuse to be laid to rest.

But uncovering the truth can be deadly in a village where everyone has something to protect, everyone has links with the village's bloody past, and no one trusts an outsider.

This was the entry in this genre that I liked the best.

The Burning Girls is my first C.J. Tudor, and I wasn’t quite sure what it was about when I checked it out of the library. I thought it might be sort of witchy but as it turns out, it’s really just a straight up mystery with an amateur sleuth. I enjoyed both Jack, the exiled Vicar (who is a woman, despite her name) and her daughter, Flo. Unlike the characters in The Family Plot, I found them complex, grounded and believable. The village of Chapel Croft is a place of darkness, and Tudors depiction of a young psychopath was chilling and convincing. I’d read more by Tudor for sure.