Category Archives: Historical (90s)

Review: Reprieve by James Han Mattson

Title: Reprieve by James Han Mattson
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Historical (90s), Horror
Length: 412 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


A chilling and blisteringly relevant literary novel of social horror centered around a brutal killing that takes place in a full-contact haunted escape room—a provocative exploration of capitalism, hate politics, racial fetishism, and our obsession with fear as entertainment. 

On April 27, 1997, four contestants make it to the final cell of the Quigley House, a full-contact haunted escape room in Lincoln, Nebraska, made famous for its monstrosities, booby-traps, and ghoulishly costumed actors. If the group can endure these horrors without shouting the safe word, “reprieve,” they’ll win a substantial cash prize—a startling feat accomplished only by one other group in the house’s long history. But before they can complete the challenge, a man breaks into the cell and kills one of the contestants.

Those who were present on that fateful night lend their points of view: Kendra Brown, a teenager who’s been uprooted from her childhood home after the sudden loss of her father; Leonard Grandton, a desperate and impressionable hotel manager caught in a series of toxic entanglements; and Jaidee Charoensuk, a gay international student who came to the United States in a besotted search for his former English teacher. As each character’s journey unfurls and overlaps, deceit and misunderstandings fueled by obsession and prejudice are revealed, forcing all to reckon with the ways in which their beliefs and actions contributed to a horrifying catastrophe.

An astonishingly soulful exploration of complicity and masquerade, Reprieve combines the psychological tension of classic horror with searing social criticism to present an unsettling portrait of this tangled American life.


Reprieve by James Han Mattson is an intriguing novel with an interesting storyline.

In 1997, John Forrester is the eccentric owner of a full contact house of horrors called Quigley House.  The big draw to Quigley is the competition to win $60,000. Four contestants work together to advance through the various cells by collecting envelopes within the allotted time frame without yelling the safe word.

Following the death of her father, Kendra Brown moves with her mother to Nebraska. As one of the few Black students at her school, she feels out of place and unable to break into the cliques that have already formed. She secretly takes a job at Quigley House and forms an unexpected friendship with John and her co-workers. Kendra is pivotal in bringing in one of the contestants in the final, ill-fated competition.

Jaidee Charoensuk is a Korean student at the local university and he is struggling to fit in. He is a bit older but having learned about the United States through movies and tv shows, he has many misconceptions about relationships. Jaidee works hard to make good grades but he is not really in the US for an education. He is instead searching for the tutor he developed a crush on when he was a teenager. Through a strange series of events, Jaidee has connections to two of the other people on his team at Quigley House.

Reprieve features a thought-provoking yet convoluted plot. Through various points of view and court documents, a murder during one of the competitions unfolds in horrific detail. The characters are well-drawn but not all of them are likable. The pacing is somewhat slow until the four contestants begin working their way through the cells. Their battles through the cells is quite detailed but these scenes tend to drag somewhat. With stunning revelations, James Han Mattson brings the novel to a tragically sad conclusion.

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Filed under Historical (90s), Horror, James Han Mattson, Reprieve, Review, William Morrow

Review: The Comfort of Monsters by Willa C. Richards

Title: The Comfort of Monsters by Willa C. Richards
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Historical ’90s
Length: 400 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


Set in Milwaukee during the “Dahmer summer” of 1991, A remarkable debut novel for fans of Mary Gaitskill and Gillian Flynn about two sisters—one who disappears, and one who is left to pick up the pieces in the aftermath.

In the summer of 1991, a teenage girl named Dee McBride vanished in the city of Milwaukee. Nearly thirty years later, her sister, Peg, is still haunted by her sister’s disappearance. Their mother, on her deathbed, is desperate to find out what happened to Dee so the  family hires a psychic to help find Dee’s body and bring them some semblance of peace.

The appearance of the psychic plunges Peg back to the past, to those final carefree months when she last saw Dee—the summer the Journal Sentinel called “the deadliest . . . in the history of Milwaukee.” Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s heinous crimes dominated the headlines and overwhelmed local law enforcement. The disappearance of one girl was easily overlooked.

Peg’s hazy recollections are far from easy for her to interpret, assess, or even keep clear in her mind. And now digging deep into her memory raises doubts and difficult—even terrifying—questions. Was there anything Peg could have done to prevent Dee’s disappearance? Who was really to blame for the family’s loss? How often are our memories altered by the very act of voicing them? And what does it mean to bear witness in a world where even our own stories are inherently suspect?

A heartbreaking page-turner, Willa C. Richards’ debut novel is the story of a broken family looking for answers in the face of the unknown, and asks us to reconsider the power and truth of memory.


The Comfort of Monsters by Willa C. Richards is a grim mystery which weaves back and forth in time.

In 1991, Margaret “Peg” McBride is completely enthralled with her boyfriend, Leif Gunnarson. They live together in a hovel and spend a lot of their time drinking and partying. Peg is also trying to convince Leif to do better by his younger brother Erik. Erik is gay and the majority of his family turned their back on him so he is completely on his own in a time when gay men keep going missing.

Peg’s younger sister Candace aka Dee is attending college and she is involved with Frank, who is in his mid-thirties. The sisters’ relationship is fraught but they are quick to forgive when things go wrong between them.  After a blurry July fourth together, Dee leaves Peg’s apartment and seemingly vanishes into thin air. Unfortunately, her disappearance occurs just as the Milwaukee police arrest Jeffrey Dahmer so a missing young woman is extremely low on their radar.

Fast forward to 2019 and Peg’s mother is close to dying and her only wish to find Dee’s body. Peg does not agree with her mother’s method of trying to locate her sister but her brother Pete convinces her to go along with the plan. Peg has never gotten over her guilt about Dee’s disappearance and she has now has a string of lost jobs and broken relationships behind her. She drinks too much and she remains convinced that Frank is responsible for Dee’s disappearance. The family has kept in contact with the detective assigned to Dee’s case and Peg veers between anger and shame as they work together to find Dee.

The Comfort of Monsters is a dark mystery with a unique storyline. Despite being the story’s narrator, Peg is a difficult character to get to know. There is little context for why she chooses the wrong men or deliberately sabotages decent relationships. She is teeming with guilt and drinks too much as she obsessively tries to solve Dee’s disappearance. Willa C. Richards provides a bleak portrait of a family who remains defined by Dee’s inexplicable disappearance. This intriguing mystery comes to a realistic, yet unsatisfying, conclusion.

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Filed under Contemporary, Harper, Historical, Historical (90s), Mystery, Rated B, Review, The Comfort of Monsters, Willa C Richards

Review: When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain

Title: When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Historical (’90s), Mystery, Suspense
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


From the New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Wife comes an atmospheric novel of intertwined destinies and heart-wrenching suspense: A detective hiding away from the world. A series of disappearances that reach into her past. Can solving them help her heal?

Anna Hart is a seasoned missing persons detective in San Francisco with far too much knowledge of the darkest side of human nature. When tragedy strikes her personal life, Anna, desperate and numb, flees to the Northern California village of Mendocino to grieve. She lived there as a child with her beloved foster parents, and now she believes it might be the only place left for her. Yet the day she arrives, she learns that a local teenage girl has gone missing.

The crime feels frighteningly reminiscent of the most crucial time in Anna’s childhood, when the unsolved murder of a young girl touched Mendocino and changed the community forever. As past and present collide, Anna realizes that she has been led to this moment. The most difficult lessons of her life have given her insight into how victims come into contact with violent predators. As Anna becomes obsessed with saving the missing girl, she must accept that true courage means getting out of her own way and learning to let others in.

Weaving together actual cases of missing persons, trauma theory, and a hint of the metaphysical, this propulsive and deeply affecting novel tells a story of fate, necessary redemption, and what it takes, when the worst happens, to reclaim our lives—and our faith in one another.


Set in 1993, When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain is a mesmerizing mystery.

When her marriage hits an extremely rough patch, San Francisco Detective Anna Hart returns to Mendocino to try to comes to terms with a heartrending loss. Having learned from her beloved foster dad that nature can help heal, she rents an isolated cabin and hikes familiar paths. Anna also convinces her childhood friend and current sheriff Will Flood to allow her to assist on a missing persons case. Fifteen-year-old Cameron Curtis has vanished without a trace or an explanation and Anna knows she can help locate her. In the course of the investigation, the police are alerted to another teenage girl who is also missing. Will Anna’s expertise in working cases involving missing teens lead them to the person responsible for the possible kidnappings?

Anna spent most of her childhood in foster care and she finally lucked out when she is placed with forest ranger Hap and his wife Eden.  Although very guarded at first, she finally realizes they genuinely care about her.  Despite this stable period in her life, Anna still never quite comes to terms with what happened just before entering foster care. As an adult, she is very dedicated to her job but her devotion to her career becomes point of contention between her and her husband. After tragedy strikes, Anna uses her job to keep her mind off her agonizing loss. But with her marriage in serious trouble, she hopes returning to Mendocino will help her put things into perspective and help her come to terms with recent events.

The investigation into Cameron’s disappearance is hindered by her actress mother’s desire for privacy. She does not want any type of publicity so Will and Anna must tread lightly when questioning people close to Cameron. The teenager’s best friend Gray Benson is extremely helpful but the search for the missing teen does not turn up anything new. Will and Anna are extremely frustrated by their lack of progress and Anna knows that time is running out if they hope to find Cameron alive. Anna unexpectedly stumbles across new information that breaks the case wide open. But will they find Cameron before it is too late?

When the Stars Go Dark is an atmospheric mystery with a multi-layered plot. At this point in her life, Anna is deeply troubled but cannot resist working on Cameron’s case. Will has his own troubles and he is a little out of his depth as he tries to find Cameron. Mendocino and the surrounding wilderness spring vibrantly to life and are very easy to visualize. This fictional missing person’s case incorporates real life events that occurred during 1993. With a shocking plot twist, Paula McLain brings this incredible mystery to an adrenaline laced conclusion. Greatly enjoyed and highly recommend.

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Filed under Ballantine Books, Historical, Historical (90s), Mystery, Paula McLain, Rated B+, Review, When the Stars Go Dark

Review: Snake Island by Ben Hobson

Title: Snake Island by Ben Hobson
Publisher: Arcade Crimewise
Genre: Historical (’90s), Mystery, Suspense
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


For fans of Cormac McCarthy, Phillip Meyer, Fargo, and Justified, a gritty rural noir thriller about family, drugs, and the legacy of violence.

In an isolated town on the coast of southern Australia, Vernon Moore and his wife, Penelope, live in retirement, haunted by an unspeakable act of violence that sent their son, Caleb, to serve time in prison and has driven the couple apart. Ashamed, they refuse to talk about him or visit, but when a close friend warns Vernon that Caleb has been savagely beaten, he has no choice but to act to protect their only child.

The perpetrator of the beating is a local thug from a crime family whose patriarch holds sway over the town, with the police in his pay. Everyone knows they trade in drugs. When Vernon maneuvers to negotiate a deal with the father, he makes a critical error. His mistake unleashes a cycle of violence that escalates to engulf the whole town, taking lives with it, revealing what has been hiding in plain sight in this picturesque rural community and threatening to overtake his son.

Told from shifting perspectives at a sprint, in language that sometimes approaches the simple profundity of parable, this gritty debut was hailed on its Australian publication as “a darkly illuminating thriller that soars across genre constraints . . . [and] engages with pressing contemporary issues while exploring timeless questions. Hobson writes as if his life depends on it” (The Australian).


Snake Island by Ben Hobson is a dark and gritty mystery set in rural Australia.

Vernon and Penelope Moore have not seen their son, Caleb, since he went to prison two years ago. They are deeply ashamed of him and they feel like their absence is teaching him a lesson. But when Vernon’s friend William Kelly cryptically tells him he should visit Caleb, Vernon unexpectedly takes his advice. When he discovers Caleb is getting beaten by someone in their local community, Vernon’s actions lead to a cascade of violence he could not have foreseen.

Ernie Cahill and his sons, Sidney and Brendan, are a crime family who have the money to pay people to look the other way. They have ties with some very ruthless criminals in Melbourne and Ernie knows better than to cross them. When Vernon decides (rather naively) to ask him to stop his son from  hurting Caleb, he unwittingly puts  his family and others in danger.  What follows is a shocking array of  poor decisions, brutal attacks and, quite possibly, redemption for some of those involved in the violence that follows.

Sharon Wornkin is a local cop whose dysfunctional past plays a part in her decisions in the present. She is somewhat detached from both her husband and son.  Sharon also plays a pivotal role in the criminal activity taking place in the local community. With her own life on the line, Sharon is faced with a moral decision that could save someone else.

Snake Island is a riveting mystery that is stark yet quite atmospheric. The characters are deeply flawed  yet some of them are surprisingly appealing. The setting springs vibrantly to life and provides the perfect backdrop for the shocking events Vernon inadvertently sets in motion.  Ben Hobson brings this incredibly fascinating novel to an edge of the seat, suspenseful conclusion.

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Filed under Arcade Crimewise, Ben Hobson, Contemporary, Historical, Historical (90s), Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Snake Island, Suspense

Review: The Heatwave by Kate Riordan

Title: The Heatwave by Kate Riordan
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Historical ’90s, 70s, 80s Mystery, Suspense
Length: 330 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


Under the scorching French sun, a tense homecoming unearths a long-buried family secret in this deliciously propulsive beach read of a mother’s greatest fear brought to life.

Elodie was beautiful. Elodie was smart. Elodie was manipulative. Elodie is dead.

When Sylvie Durand receives a letter calling her back to her crumbling family home in the South of France, she knows she has to go. In the middle of a sweltering 1990’s summer marked by unusual fires across the countryside, she returns to La Reverie with her youngest daughter Emma in tow, ignoring the deep sense of dread she feels for this place she’s long tried to forget.

As memories of the events that shattered their family a decade earlier threaten to come to the surface, Sylvie struggles to shield Emma from the truth of what really happened all those years ago. In every corner of the house, Sylvie can’t escape the specter of Elodie, her first child. Elodie, born amid the ’68 Paris riots with one blue eye and one brown, and mysteriously dead by fourteen. Elodie, who reminded the small village of one those Manson girls. Elodie who knew exactly how to get what she wanted. As the fires creep towards the villa, it’s clear to Sylvie that something isn’t quite right at La Reverie . . . And there is a much greater threat closer to home.

Rich in unforgettable characters, The Heatwave alternates between the past and present, grappling with what it means to love and fear a child in equal measure. With the lush landscape and nostalgia of a heady vacation read, Kate Riordan has woven a gripping page-turner with gorgeous prose that turns the idea of a summer novel on its head.


The Heatwave by Kate Riordan is an atmospheric domestic mystery set in the French countryside.

In 1993, Sylvie Durand and her thirteen year old daughter Emma return to the family estate in France. Sylvie has not been back since fleeing from the home ten years earlier.  She and her now ex-husband Greg were at one time blissfully happy but their marriage eroded due their oldest daughter Elodie’s disturbing behavior.  Emma has no memories of the older sister she idolizes and Sylvie fears her youngest daughter’s forgotten few  years in France will rise to the surface.  What is Sylvie keeping from Emma?

Chapters flashback to various times spanning from the late sixties to the early eighties.  After their marriage, Sylvie and Greg are excited about the impending birth of their first child. But over the years, Sylvie becomes more and more troubled by Elodie’s actions but Greg does believe there is anything to worry about. But Greg is gone more often than he is home and Sylvie is exhausted by Elodie’s exploits. And she is very careful to keep a close eye on Emma.

Narrated by Sylvie, The Heatwave is a slow burning (in more ways than one) mystery. Sylvie’s account of their years in France are harrowing and a heavy pall hangs over her return with Emma. With unexpected plot twists and plenty of tension,  Kate Riordan brings this mystery to an intriguing conclusion. I enjoyed and recommend this suspenseful mystery to readers of genre.

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Filed under Grand Central Publishing, Historical, Historical (60s), Historical (70s), Historical (80s), Historical (90s), Kate Riordan, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Suspense, The Heatwave

Review: Cry Baby by Mark Billingham

Title: Cry Baby by Mark Billingham
Tom Thorne Series Book 17
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
Genre: Historical (90s), Mystery, Suspense
Length: 432 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


Two boys run into the woods—but only one returns—in this new mystery from the award-winning “first-rate British crime writer” (The Washington Post).

In the summer of 1996, two boys run from a playground into the adjoining woods, but only one comes out. DS Tom Thorne takes on the case—which quickly spirals out of control when two people connected to the missing boy are murdered.

As London prepares to host the European Soccer Championships, Thorne fights to keep on top of a baffling investigation while also dealing with the ugly fallout of his broken marriage . . .

A prequel to Mark Billingham’s acclaimed debut Sleepyhead―which the Sunday Times voted one of the 100 books that shaped the decade―this chilling, compelling novel is the latest in “a series to savor” (Booklist).


A prequel to the first novel in the Tom Thorne series, Cry Baby by Mark Billingham is a suspense-laden mystery about a missing seven year old boy.

Catrin “Cat” Coyne and Maria Ashton are with their sons at a playground when, during a moment of distraction, Cat’s son Kieron goes missing.  He and Maria’s son Josh are playing hide and seek in the wood when Josh realizes something has happened to his friend.

Detective Sergeant Tom Thorne and his boss Detective Inspector Gordon Boyle are part of the team assigned to investigate Kieron’s disappearance. After a fruitless search,  everyone fears the worst. But when eyewitness Felix Barratt provides important information, Thorne and the rest of the team now believe the young boy was abducted. But without any new leads, will they find Kieron before it is too late?

In 1996, Thorne is on his way to a divorce but he does not feel any urgency to start proceedings or put the house on the market.  Kieron’s case provide a true but handy excuse as his soon to be ex-wife Jan and her new boyfriend pressure him to follow through with his promises. Thorne instead works long hours trying to find any evidence that will assist in the search for Kieron.

After a chat with Cat, Tom crosses paths with her neighbor Grantleigh Figgis.  With their discussion about his whereabouts the morning Kieron complete, Thorne cannot shake off the feeling Figgis needs a closer look.  DI Boyle is quickly convinced Grantleigh is a viable suspect and the situation quickly escalates out of Tom’s control.  Will evidence prove DI Boyle’s certainty that Figgis is their man?

Meanwhile Cat has information that she initially held back from the police.  Despite Thorne’s assertion what she tells him will remain confidential, everyone, including her partner Billy who is in prison, knows exactly what Cat divulged. Luckily, Billy’s sister Angela is there to support her while the search for Kieron continues.

Maria still feels guilty about taking her eye off the boys that fateful day in the park. But she is soon distracted by Josh’s increasingly troubling behavior both at home and school.  Maria puts it down to her recent divorce and Kieron’s disappearance.  Will her ex-husband Ashton agree to get counseling for their son?

Cry Baby is a tension-filled mystery that is fast-paced and engaging.  The plot is refreshingly unique since the story takes place in the summer of 1996. Due to the lack of modern day technology, Thorne and the rest of the investigators rely on old fashioned detective work as they search for Kieron.  With a shocking plot twist, Mark Billingham brings this riveting mystery to an edge of the seat, dramatic conclusion. Old and new fans are sure to love this outstanding prequel (and seventeenth installment) to the Tom Thorne series.


Filed under Atlantic Monthly Press, Cry Baby, Historical, Historical (90s), Mark Billingham, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Suspense, Today We Go Home, Tom Thorne Series