Book Review: Headless by Tristram Lowe

A sinister murder mystery that slowly reveals its paranormal secrets, set against the vivid backdrop of Japan.

3.5/5 stars

cover-headless-no-white synopsis-for-reviews-1

Being a photographer at a Tokyo newspaper is no walk in the park—unless you’re Akio Tsukino and only get assigned to shoot parades and park festivals.

All that changes when a serial killer starts chopping off heads in nearby Kofu. Akio maneuvers his way onto the assignment in order to prove himself and get closer to enigmatic staff writer Masami Sato. When the investigation takes a supernatural turn, the unlikely partners find themselves caught between solving the mystery and saving their own lives.

In this thrilling and imaginative debut by Tristram Lowe, getting the story may cost them their heads.

See it on Amazon (paperback or Kindle) or the author’s website

my thoughts for reviews 1

I was given a copy of Headless by the author in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinions.

Headless started out your standard murder mystery but ended a distinctly creepy paranormal story. Though I am usually not a fan of contemporary stories turning paranormal, there was good balance between the two elements throughout the novel that allowed me to enjoy it.

I loved the setting of Headless. Most of the books I read are set in the US or a fantasy world, so it was refreshing to read a book set 100% in Japan. I felt like I got a really good sense of not only the individual places the characters visited, but of the culture.

The story was told in third person, alternating between Akio’s and Masami’s POVs. Akio’s POV told the bulk of the story. Both characters had strong voices and interesting personalities that brought the story to life.

Akio‘s character was interesting for me. He was young and awkward, with a clear idea in his head of who he “should be” without any hope of becoming that ideal. He could be annoying at times, but I was willing to forgive him because I understood where his character was coming from. His voice was clear throughout the novel, reflecting the growth Akio experienced.

Masami was my favorite character. She was the take-no-shit reporter who has a lot of hidden talents and absolutely no patience for Akio’s idiocy. Though we got to see a lot of her development and personality from Akio’s perspective, I loved the chapters told from her POV, and wished there were more of them.

Akio was slightly obsessed with Masami (trying to find the ice queen’s “human” side), while Masami had zero patience for Akio. The chemistry between them never developed, but I actually loved that. They were thrown together by circumstances and developed a working relationship, but they were never going to become best friends.

The mystery unfolded nicely, starting off simple and gaining complexity as it sucked me in. From the first chapter, the reader (if not the characters) has a sense of who the killer is, but as the story progressed, I found myself surprised by the details that fleshed out that initial idea. By the end of the book, I was engrossed with the mystery, loving the combination of supernatural and historical details.

The only problem of the book is the pacing. In the part of the book where the characters are still looking for “real world” explanations, the pacing dragged a little. However, about halfway through it picked up, and by the end, I was completely engrossed in the story. The transition from a normal murder mystery to a paranormal thriller felt natural, and helped grab my attention.

I would recommend Headless to anyone looking for a murder mystery with a supernatural twist and a unique setting. Though the book had undeniably dark and creepy moments, the humor helped balance it out. Ultimately I will remember it for the fascinating mystery and historical angle, not just the number of people who got beheaded.

Book Review: Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

I held off from reading this book during the school year because I knew I would want to read it all in one sitting–and that’s exactly what happened when I picked it up this summer.

4/5 stars

cover dangerous girls 1

Amazon Description

It’s Spring Break of senior year. Anna, her boyfriend Tate, her best friend Elise, and a few other close friends are off to a debaucherous trip to Aruba that promises to be the time of their lives.

But when Elise is found brutally murdered, Anna finds herself trapped in a country not her own, fighting against vile and contemptuous accusations. As Anna sets out to find her friend’s killer, she discovers harsh revelations about her friendships, the slippery nature of truth, and the ache of young love.

Awaiting the judge’s decree, it becomes clear to Anna that everyone around her thinks she is not only guilty, but also dangerous. And when the whole story comes out, reality is more shocking than anyone could ever imagine…

My Review

Let’s start off with this: this book is crazy. It is crazy and it takes you hostage and it doesn’t let you go. I read this book in one sitting, only taking breaks for meals. I couldn’t put it down, because I had this ever-present and mounting sense of dread and I just had to get to the ending because I knew I wouldn’t know the truth until basically the last page. In that regard, this book was everything a thriller/mystery is supposed to be.

The book is a massive series of flashbacks and flash-forewards, telling the story of how Anna and Elise became friends all the way through their fateful vacation and up until the trial for Elise’s murder. Some of the scenes were long and clearly explained what was going on, others were shorter and more vague, while others were told in alternative formats, like interview transcripts. I was amazed at that fact that I never got lost; usually with books like this, you start to lose track of where you are and what has happened, but even though this book’s chronology had basically been put in a food processor, it was easy to follow as a reader. I loved how the scenes flowed together across the timeline and how throughout the book we just kept learning more about Anna’s life, even the parts we thought we understood from the beginning.

Character-wise, this book is a mixed bag. I had a strong sense of Anna as a protagonist and I felt like I understood the things inside of her that drove her to party as wildly as she did with Elise and the rest of them. Elise, likewise, was clearly portrayed in my mind–she was as alive and vibrant as any character I’ve read about. I can’t say that I really liked or trusted Elise, but I appreciated that I didn’t like her–it fit with the story’s mood. The same goes for the rest of Anna’s friends. They were simplistically characterized but they all added an important voice to the story, and under the stress of the murder case they showed that they were not flawless humans (really they were what you would expect from the spoiled kids of uber-rich parents). During the flashback scenes, I liked watching them party and grow close, but I didn’t want to be them, and throughout the story there was always the threat that one of them could be a killer and the rest of them we’re loyal enough to tell the truth.

The characters involved in the trial were more interesting for me. There are not words for the helpless anger and frustration I felt against the prosecuting police officer, Dekker. He was the ultimate evil figure in power, and I loved/hated the way he painted Anna’s life to make her look like a murderer. The judge was a tiny beam of hope throughout the book. I trusted that she would be fair, but I also knew that Dekker was doing his job so well that fair would probably still condemn Anna. The news media’s take on the case fit perfectly with what I would expect if this happened in real life, and it was another voice of distrust that I ended up hating for Anna’s sake. Anna’s lawyers were equally kind and despicable, and I liked that we got to see doubt about her innocence even from the people who were supposed to be fighting for her. It was little details like that that ensured that the book had a feeling of realism and that I kept believing that this book could actually happen in real life.

As a cautionary tale, this book works wonders. Wow, let’s just say: trust issues. With friends, with foreign law enforcement, with lawyers, with news media. I doubt I will ever spend spring break in Aruba–it would just be too weird after reading this book.

The ending was crazy. The ending was exactly what it had to be and exactly what I never saw coming. And that’s basically all I can say without spoiling it…

But I need to rant about the ending, so from this point on, THE REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. Do not read on if you haven’t read the book!

The ending really angered me. At first. The more I think about it, the more little pieces of the plot click into place and I see everything in a new light. But still, the ending was too sudden for me–it came out of the blue, and it had to do that, but at the same time, I wish I had had more of a sense of foreboding leading up to it.

I had spent the entire book, while everyone calls her a psychopath, countering it with the knowledge that I, as the reader, had the unique awareness that I was in her head. I had the truth, and she was feeling broken up and destroyed by the things happening to her, she was just the kind of person who could shut it down in the name of being “strong.” Having all of that turned on its head in the last five pages left me distinctly unsatisfied. As I’ve said, it was the only ending the book could have. Looking back on the story, Anna had to be the killer, or the entire plot would have been waste. None of that makes me less annoyed at the ending.

Half of me loves the ending. Finding out that you’ve been inside the head of a psychopath for the last 350+ pages is crazy and hair-raising in just the right ways. I want to reread the book and see if I pick up on clues, if I can tell that she is faking it.

But half of me wants more from the ending, so this book gets 4 stars instead of 5 stars. However, it still goes down as an incredibly impressive book, one that I will recommend to basically everyone.