Saratoga Payback by Stephen Dobyns

When I checked this out of the library, I thought there was something familiar about it. Turns out, I’ve read another of Dobyns’ books, called Saratoga Backtalk. Both are ‘Charlie Bradshaw’ mysteries, where we follow private investigator Charlie as he tries to solve crimes in the horse industry. I know that the horse connection had a lot to do with picking them both out, but in all honesty, while reading these novels, you don’t care much about the horses. The reader is too wrapped up in the suspense of the mystery!

In Saratoga Payback, Charlie is officially a retired PI (something tells me there is more to that story but it isn’t discussed in depth in this novel), yet he can’t help getting involved in the murder mystery that actually drops on his doorstep. Mickey Martin is found dead on Charlie’s sidewalk outside his home with his throat slashed and his tongue cut out. Charlie can’t quite figure out why, but he has a hunch that someone wanted Mickey to stop running his mouth, and wanted Charlie to know it too. So, trying his hardest to not meddle in police business, being that he no longer has his PI license and could go to jail for investigating, he takes on the “concerned citizen” role and tries to figure out why Mickey was brutally murdered.

It’s a quick paced novel, and very funny despite the scary situation, what with all the vicious slashing going on. As I was reading Payback, it made me recall why I liked Backtalk. Dobyns’ character driven plots make it easy to follow along but leave enough mystery to keep you turning the page. Charlie’s easy going personality and witty banter with his clients, friends, family, and informants make these novels an enjoyable read.

 

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“House of Echoes” by Brendan Duffy

I was pleasantly surprised as to how much I liked this book at the end, since I wasn’t very intrigued  at the beginning. The suspenseful thriller started slow, and though it left believable characters, I kept trying to guess when the action would happen, slightly bored and expecting your typical “boogeyman” story. I’m glad I hung in there until the end, however.

Duffy introduces the Tierney family- Ben, Caroline, and their sons Charlie and Robert (Bub for short). After some trying times while living in the city, fate appears to give them a chance to start over , reviving an old mansion in upstate New York into an inn. The couple try to adjust to life in a small village, and attempt to mingle with the locals to gain their support of the mansion renovation. Many are intrigued, but others seems distant, even hostile, in their welcome. Undaunted, the couple press on in their efforts, despite the creepy feeling emitted from the old mansion and surrounding forest. Their son Charlie, however, can’t seem to stay out of the forest, and starts playing a “game” with its unofficial occupant dubbed “the Watcher” until one night when the game goes to far.

While reading the first 250 pages of this book, I was really expecting the stereotypical  horror thriller-  after all, Duffy had plotted many of the elements. The remote village location, the creepy old house, the “thing” living in the forest nearby, the odd village behaviors… all elements carefully placed to keep you expecting a scare. But Duffy did well on the delivery of the scare, and that was the twist I didn’t see coming. By the 300 page mark, I was flipping through the pages, reading as fast as I could to see what happened next. It was so gripping, but paced out so that not everything was exposed until almost the very end of the book. And then, the very last chapter, Duffy changes the point of view to where you think he’s talking to the reader, and all I could do was shout in my head “Wait, what happened?!”. He’s good, ladies and gentlemen.

Since I don’t want to give anything away that I haven’t already, all I’m going to say is this: If you’re curious, pick up the book and get to reading.