Starts with a Kiss by Russ Hall

I just took a trip to my favorite little R&R spot on the Texas coast and decided to take this scandalous read along with me. There aren’t any magical crime-solving cats or amateur sleuths caught in love triangles, so this isn’t really the kind of book I’d choose for myself. But sometimes it’s good to try something new and different.

The word “different” is a good description for this book since the storyline is a departure from the standard beach-read thriller.  It’s really more of a character sketch of a very complicated young guy (unfortunately named Dudie) who’s navigating apartment life with a sociopathic, nymphomaniac roommate named Barrett,  and a slew of horny housewives.

As traveling salesmen, they spend their weekdays lounging around the apartment complex pool, where all the desperate housewives in string bikinis flirt shamelessly with Barrett. Of course, the husbands aren’t too jazzed about all this and, well you can imagine how it all comes to a head.

The story is a little odd, but I couldn’t stop reading due to the “Why” factor. I just kept asking, “Why tiptoe around a small apartment full of naked people when you can just move? Why hole yourself up in a pup-tent to drown out the boom-boom noises?” I cringe just thinking about the germs alone. Yeesh.

Either way, Dudie’s sticking it out at the cesspool of adultry because he’s oddly devoted to his frienemy roommate. But mostly he’s got this weird voyeuristic habit of watching the scandalous events unfold.  Poor Dudie doesn’t have much of a personal life, which we get to learn more about in bits and pieces throughout the book. I found him to be extremely frustrating, a little creepy, and oddly endearing. Despite my misgivings about this young, tragic character, his observations about human nature were spot on.

“…When I started my career in sales, I wasn’t a good listener. None of us are. We like ourselves too much. The big leap is forcing yourself to close the mouth, stare back at the other person and embrace the spirit of the other person talking–that is, get what the person is about; the words behind the words. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Then why do so many people fail?”

Despite my love/hate relationship with Dudie, I had to keep watching the train wreck unfold—and boy does it ever go up in flames! I’ll stop right here before I give it all away, but I will say that the last chapter left me with more questions than answers, which makes me wonder if there’ll be a sequel.

The Crypt Thief: A Hugo Marston Novel by Mark Pryor

9781616147853I knew I had to read this book when Scott Montgomery, the resident mystery maven at BookPeople, mentioned that it has the one of the creepiest opening chapters he’s ever read. This guy is a voracious reader of mysteries and horror, so that’s a pretty impressive feat for Mark Pryor.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a hard-boiled, tough-guy mystery, so I decided to give this Hugo Marston series a test drive. Considering the author is an assistant DA, I was expecting it to read like a procedural. No offense to Patricia Cornwell fans, but I’d rather watch a Perry Mason marathon than read a procedural.

But Scott Montgomery never steers me wrong, and I’m so glad I gave this book a try! Some authors are just born to write – and Mark Pryor is one of them. He knows how to rope his readers in with loveable, complex characters, and he has mastered the art crafting page-turning suspense.  But what I love most is the setting. I’ve never been to The City of LIght, but I could travel there vicariously through his atmospheric descriptions of street-side cafes, rolling green pastures and creepy cemeteries.  Here’s a fun little spine-tingling teaser:

As the last traces of orange tinged the skyline, the shadows cast by the crypts around them grew. The Patches of gray that in early evening had circled the monuments like little skirts now spread like spilled blood, staining the grass and the stone walkways, tinting the newest of the marble monuments in a slow, inexorable creep of darkness that silenced all sound, except for the occasional hoot of an owl, and the noises of discomfort that they made themselves as they waited for a man with a gun. A man with a gun, and they suspected, a bag in which to carry away the bones of someone long since dead.

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It all begins in a Parisian cemetery, where a giggling young couple inadvertently bump into a grave-digging fiend named The Scarab.  Annoyed by the interruption, he shoots them in cold blood and peels off a little prize from the girl’s back. You see, he’s rather fond of tattoos…and skeletons…and Moulin Rouge dancers.

Enter Hugo Marston, the tall, handsome chief of security for the U.S. embassy. I have to confess, I have a bit of a crush on this guy. He’s ballsy, smart and fiercely devoted to his friends, especially his self-destructing alcoholic partner. I’m a tad jealous of his “friends with benefits” crime reporter sidekick, Claudia. They are so perfect for each other, but complicated circumstances keep them apart. I’m really excited to delve into the next Hugo Marston mystery to see how their relationship develops.

But I digress. Let’s get back to the mystery, shall we? It turns out that one of the victims is the son of a U.S. senator who’s hell-bent on blaming it all on a suspected terrorist. When Hugo looks into the case, he finds that all of the evidence points to a serial killer with a penchant for human bones. Hugo’s investigation gets derailed as the senator insists on going public with the terrorist manhunt, thus giving The Scarab more freedom to continue his macabre cemetery excursions.  Why is he collecting old bones from dead can-can dancers? How does he pop in and out of cemeteries unseen? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

A word to the wise, don’t read this book alone at night. I made the grave mistake of reading it while my husband was out of town and had to call him in the middle of the night so he could talk me off the ledge. Parts of this book really gave me the heebie jeebies – especially the cemetery shootout scene. Come to think of it, this book is a good cautionary tale for staying away from cemeteries after sundown – and to sign up for a self-defense class. It’s a scary world, and I shudder at the thought of real-life Scarabs roaming the city streets. 

Overall, this book is one heck of a thrill ride that is sure to impress fans of fast-paced mysteries by the likes of Jeff Abbott, Harlan Coben and John Sandford. Hugo Marston is my kind of hero, one who’s willing to rush into a burning building to take down the bad guy – and risk everything to save his friends.  This author has the rare ability to make sitting on my cushy couch feel like a heart-pumping chase through creepy Parisian graveyards.