Monday, January 25, 2016
A quiet Philadelphia suburb. A woman cycles past a train depot with her young daughter. There she finds a murdered girl posed on a newly painted bench. Beside her is a formal invitation to a tea dance in a week's time.
Seven days later, two more young victims are discovered in an abandoned house, posed on painted swings. At the scene is an identical invitation. This time, though, there is something extra waiting for Detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano: a delicate porcelain doll.
It's a message. And a threat. With the killers at large, Detectives Byrne and Balzano have just seven more days to find the link between the murders before another innocent child is snatched from the streets. -- Hachette Audio
I don't listen to many books, but when I do I usually decide on a mystery or thriller. For some reason, I just prefer this genre to others in the audio format. The latest audio book that I finished was THE DOLL MAKER by Richard Montanari. This is the eighth book in the Byrne and Balzano series, and for some reason, I wasn't familiar with this author or his books. I normally don't like starting part-way through a series, but I can definitely say that I am happy I did just that!
THE DOLL MAKER tells the story of a group of murders where the child victims are left in posed positions. Besides the unique staging of the crime, there is also formal invitations to tea left with the victims; and eventually, there is even a doll left there that looks like the victim of an earlier murder.
The culprit (or culprits) are almost toying with Detectives Byrne and Balzano with the clues they leave with the bodies, and the detectives feel a sense of urgency to find them before they kill another innocent child.
I left my description of the book especially vague because there really is a lot going on in this story and I didn't want to give too much away. I actually wasn't sure how much to tell or not tell! THE DOLL MAKER begins with a gruesome murder of a prostitute before jumping to a police procedural starring Detectives Byrne and Balzano. I admit I didn't think I was going to like this book after that first chapter. The opening scene was extremely graphic, and it didn't seem like my style of book. However after that first chapter, it didn't take long before I was hooked on both these characters and the mystery.
For much of the novel, THE DOLL MAKER kept me fully engrossed in the murder of these children. The events surrounding these murders kept getting creepier and creepier (albeit in a good way!), and I really wasn't sure what was going on. I appreciated that I discovered clues about the crimes along with the detectives; however, there were a few times when I got frustrated by the details of the story. That's not a knock on the author and the pacing of the story. Rather, I think it was that I was experiencing some of the same emotions and anxiety of the Byrne and Balzano!
One thing that I loved about this book was the setting. It takes place in Philadelphia, and the author did a wonderful job of bringing this city to life. In addition, I was extremely impressed with how he portrayed the Philly police department and the inner workings of its employees. His descriptions of the police force seemed to be authentic, and I enjoyed the interactions between its various members.
Despite the title of this book, something I found surprising about this thriller was how much of the story was spent on discussing a famous doll maker as well as the history of doll making. I definitely wasn't expecting the book to go there (even though the title was THE DOLL MAKER), and I can honestly say that I found these details really interesting.
I really enjoyed so many things about the mystery in this novel. It was gripping, suspenseful, disturbing, and more; and the culprits were definitely interesting individuals. I could go on and on about this, but suffice it to say that the story was well done. However what I enjoyed, maybe even more than the mystery, were the characters of Byrne and Balzano. I loved them! The were complex and very likable and the dynamics between the two were excellent. I also appreciated that there was enough included about their pasts and their personal lives to make them even more human.
The audio version of THE DOLL MAKER was read by Scott Brick, and I've heard wonderful things about him. I'm pretty sure I've never listened to a book read by him, and boy have I been missing out! He was absolutely fantastic. I think he's read most of the earlier Byrne and Balzano books (although not Book 7), and between Montanari's storytelling ability and Brick's narration, I definitely intend to go back and read/listen to more of this series!
Overall, THE DOLL MAKER was a pretty solid mystery/thriller. I enjoyed the characters quite a bit as well as the twists and turns. Highly recommended.
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this audio book.
Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.