Mallory Lass reviews Killer Instinct by Barbara Winkes

Killer Instinct by Barbara Winkes cover

Content warning: violence against women, murder of women, homophobic father, abandoned by father, alcohol abuse

Unsolved serial murders committed by one, or maybe two people, will keep you guessing in this thriller that takes place in the dead of winter. Nothing like solving a murder over Christmas. It is low on holiday feels, and high on intrigue.

Joanna, an ex-cop who served time for killing a serial offender in cold blood, just can’t seem to let her old life go. Or maybe, her past has a way of catching up with her. Her life after prison is simple, if not boring. She works in a warehouse and spends time with her two straight female friends: a former fellow inmate, Kira, and the IAB cop that sent her to jail, Vanessa. Her and Vanessa spend most of their time together getting drunk, arguing, and picking up respective one-night stands. An attempted murder in her hometown, with a profile like one of her old cases, forces her to navigate her relationship with her former partner on the force, Theo.

I went through a Patricia Cornwell phase where I read about twenty Scarpetta novels in a year, and I’ve watched my fair share of crime shows, but crime thrillers are not my go to genre, and I haven’t read many lesbian ones. This was a good entrée into the genre.

Killer Instinct is an entertaining read. I didn’t personally like the snippets into other character points of view—it happens infrequently and with different characters points of view being told throughout the book that it seemed more distracting than beneficial. I would have preferred finding out plot points and relevant case information at the same time the protagonist Joanna does. But, as a reader, knowing outside information did increase the suspense factor. My other critique is that the supporting cast was not developed enough to be really invested in them. I wanted to know more about their back story and certainly more about Joanna and Venessa’s road to becoming friends.

Overall, there were enough twists and turns for me to consider this book a “page turner”, and at 165 pages it is definitely a quick read. This is a thriller, but there is also a romantic undercurrent, and despite Joanna’s penchant for one-night stands (the sex throughout is of the fade to black variety), she might have finally met a woman worth having a relationship with. Will her past will keep coming back to bite her, ruining her chances at a longer term relationship? Will she help her old partner solve the case and finally exercise her demons? You’ll have to read it for yourself to find out.

Danika reviews 1222 by Anne Holt

1222

When I first saw this book mentioned on Queer Books Please’s list Lesbians In Cold Places: A New Genre, I was already super enthusiastic about the list itself. I like seasonal reads (hence my October binge on horror), and combine that with lesbian main characters? Sold! Then I read the description of 1222 and found that it fulfills one of my favourite tropes: the Closed Circle. And it was compared to And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, which I read last month and enjoyed. So an And Then There Were None-esque story about people snowed into a creepy hotel, with a lesbian main character who is in a wheelchair? You could not have hooked me any more than you already have. And maybe that build-up was the problem, because I did not enjoy this one nearly as much as I was expecting.

For one thing, this is a mystery, but it is not similar to And Then There Were None. There are more than a hundred people in the hotel, and to avoid spoilers, let’s just say it’s not as if a large percentage of those people end up dead. Also, they are only stranded for a few days, so the stakes weren’t as high as I was expecting. And then there’s the main character, Hanne, who is utterly unlikeable. I enjoy flawed characters, so I don’t need main characters to be likeable in order to appreciate the read–I found the main character in the Red Tree delightfully causter–but Hanne is a complete misanthrope. She looks down on other people. The line that made me recoil is when she is describing her housekeeper: “But I’m not fond of Mary. She is simply there, like a human piece of furniture, and I have learned to live under the same roof as her. That’s enough for me: Nefis, Ida, and a tired, dried-up whore who cooks our meals.” Later she calls a little person a “dwarf” and continually describes him as looking absurd and clownish, even when she begins to like him. She calls all religion a “scourge”. And on a slightly different note, there is pitbull hate in this book, which I don’t appreciate. And, [spoilers, highlight to read] there are only three people of colour in this book, all minor characters, who all end up being revealed to be carrying concealed weapons. [end spoilers]

I also realized that this is actually book eight of the Hanne Wilhelmsen series, but 1222 did a good job of filling me in on the basics of her backstory so that I didn’t actually feel like I was missing anything. The action starts off strong: the book begins with the train Hanne is on crashing. Unfortunately, I did feel like the rest of the book was a little bit slow. I found the characters difficult to keep track of, because most of them I just didn’t care about. To be fair, I didn’t see the resolution of the mystery coming, and it did all make sense, but I wasn’t invested. (Also, the very end was… a little outdated now.) Overall, I can recognize the writing quality itself was good, but without being interested in the plot or the characters, I didn’t find it to be very compelling. I’ll admit that I haven’t read a ton of mysteries, so that may affect my outlook, and other book blogs seem to give 1222 a high rating. Maybe a mystery buff who likes anti-heroes would enjoy this one, but I would recommending passing on this Lesbians In Cold Places read.

Danika reviews Fresh Tracks by Georgia Beers

freshtracks

At the end of November, when I was planning the books I’d like to pick up in December, I took a look at my shelves to see if there were any holiday or wintery books I hadn’t read yet, and Fresh Tracks immediately jumped out at me, so I knew it was a must-read for the month. I’m glad that I took that look, because this was a great December read. It takes place just after Christmas and into the new year, so it’s… holiday-adjacent, without being a blatant Christmas book. Fresh Tracks is about seven lesbians who get together in a cabin in the woods for a vacation, and lesbian drama, of course, ensues.

I ended up liking this book a lot more than I was expecting. I thought it would be a quick, fluffy romance book, but I ended up really enjoying the characters. Even though there are seven main characters, they are distinct and easy to keep track of. There are Jo and Amy, the lesbian couple who have been married for fifteen years and are still adorably madly in love, who act almost in a nurturing, parental role over their friends; Molly and Kristin, who have also been together for a while, but their relationship is falling apart due to Molly’s passive-agressiveness and Kristin’s workaholic tendencies; Sophie, who is recovering from a devastating break-up; Laura, who realized she was gay after she married a man, then got together with a woman and left him, only to have the other woman leave her; and Darby, Jo and Amy’s smartass niece who is terrified of commitment but happy to seduce any woman standing next to her.

Phew! Just describing them makes it seem like there are a lot of characters, but they really are easy to keep track of, and even though the narrative rotates between them, I never got annoyed by that. I’m often losing track of names of characters, so that’s a pretty good sign. Plus, they are all different ages (Amy and Jo are the oldest, Darby is the youngest, and everyone else is somewhere in between) and have different personalities and voices (which should be a given, but sadly isn’t always). There even is, shocker, a lesbian of colour (Sophie). They also sort of end up in pairs or groups: Amy and Jo act as a unit, Molly and Kristin push and pull against each other, Sophie and Laura bicker (because Sophie sees Laura as a cheater, and Sophie’s ex-girlfriend left her for another woman), and Darby bounces between Molly and Jo in character interactions.

Understandably, with seven lesbians in one small space, there is lesbian drama, but the drama is entirely realistic, and entertaining. (Though I did think Sophie was a little over-the-top in her resentment of Laura, but that’s still believable.) I started narrating what was happening to my roommate: “Darby, what are you doing?” There is definitely enough tension to keep in interesting, but not enough to make it uncomfortable. And each character has their own arc in the story, perhaps excepting Jo and Amy, because their lives were pretty great when they started. The plot manages to balance all of those storylines really well, while playing characters off each other. I was really enjoying it, with my only real complaint being the “Your generation” comments that some of the characters made (“Your generation, with your cell phones, and your internet, and your lack of social skills”), with Darby kind of reinforcing those ideas…? And then there was one detail near the end that unfortunately really affected my enjoyment of the story as a whole. To express it in a non-spoiler way, there was an event that I don’t think was properly dealt with and addressed. Specifically: [spoilers, highlight to read] Molly makes out with Darby, and never tells Kristin, even though Molly and Kristin are back together at the end and working on their relationship. It’s not addressed at all that they kissed. [end spoilers] That felt like a really huge loose end, and I was surprised that it wasn’t dealt with at all. It made the ending not feel like a complete resolution, even though everything else was addressed. I still liked it a lot, but sadly that one detail makes it not feel like one I’ll want to re-read. It’s still one I would recommend, though, especially as a lesbian winter read. Also, there’s a lesbian Christmas tree. I enjoyed that.