The Mask by Taylor Stevens

The Mask by Taylor Stevens.   Crown Publishing 2015.

After a harrowing experience with Somali pirates in The Catch, Vanessa Michael Munroe is more than ready to join Miles Bradford in Osaka, Japan.  Bradford is contracted to a biotech company, looking for a thief. Cultural and linguistic barriers complicate the task. Munroe naturally assumes that will be working with him, but week after week passes without anything for her to do until Bradford is arrested for a murder of an employee on the company grounds.

With no other recourse, Munroe takes on the task of proving Bradford’s innocence. She starts following the faint trails of  information, taking  a detour to help a woman held as a sex slave, earning the enmity of the woman’s “master.” Then she finds out that Bradford has deliberately kept her in the dark.

This is no spoiler; the chapters leading up to Bradford’s arrest hint that Munroe should have seen there was something amiss. As she works meticulously at her task, she struggles with the stifling corporate culture of Japan and her language assimilation talent is stymied because she can’t read the written language. But Munroe being Munroe, she perseveres.

It was a unsettling to see Munroe as even a little domesticated and relaxed; she seemed like a different person. Still, the astute reader can sense the “real” Munroe rippling below the surface like the sleek muscles of a cat.

The pace is breathless, and it is hard to resist turning to the end to see how it turns out when the pieces of the complex puzzle come together. Even the chapters from the perspective of Sato, the lab tech who is stealing secrets in an ingenious way, do not slow down the narrative. Sato’s story adds a separate thread of agonizing suspense to the whole of the book.

As in the other titles, Munroe foils numerous attempts on her life. At the same time, she is not perfect. She makes mistakes, as do the people on whom she must depend; they don’t follow directions or else they don’t follow through. It is Munroe who must deal with the consequences which she does handily and efficiently, as only she can.

 

Book Review: With Malice by Eileen Cook

 

With Malice by Eileen Cook. Bonnier Publishing, June 2016

18-year-old Jill wakes up in a hospital with a badly broken leg and a huge gap in her memory. Her parents tell her that was in a car accident, and it happened on her much anticipated school sponsored trip to Italy. What they don’t tell her right away is that her best friend Simone died in the crash, and the Italian authorities believe that Jill planned to kill her friend.

Jill is devastated, and while she protests her innocence, she is tried in the court of public opinion and found guilty by most. Simone’s parents have turned against her, and everything she has ever done or said is dissected on social media. Many of her classmates and other students on the trip leap at the opportunity to be part of the drama, even to point of fudging the truth to sound more connected and important.

Not only is she trying to cope with all this, she also faces pressure from the hotshot lawyer her wealthy father hired to spin her image from potential murderer to potential victim. Jill is angry at this because it seems to presume her guilt, and truth should be enough–but is it? She struggles to regain her memory of the accident, but there is always the possibility that her brain may use suggestions to create false memories. Furthermore, the narrative is first person, underlining the potential unreliability of the narrator.

Cook not only gives the reader a detailed portrait of Jill but also presents a lot of information about Simone, who comes across as manipulative and sneaky. She lies glibly and often hides behind Jill, allowing her to take the blame. The revelations about Simone makes the girls’ relationship even more complex, and it is clear that they are in conflict on the trip. The plot is nail-bitingly suspenseful as the story cuts from Jill to associated police reports, e-mail messages, and social media posts, right up to the resolution. Readers who enjoy psychological suspense novels will want to add this to their to-read list.

[Received a copy of the title from Netgalley.com in return for a review.]