The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup

My overall impression with this book can be summed up in this one word: WOW. I haven’t been this impressed with a book in a long time. That’s not to say I don’t like what I’ve been reading but this was just SO GOOD. I couldn’t put it down. I started it on a Saturday evening after finishing up a RomCom and I read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open, passed out, picked it up first thing in the morning and read for a few more hours until I finished.

The Chestnut Man is the story of a serial killer who leaves little chestnut men made of chestnuts and matchsticks at the crime scenes. On the case are Detective Thulin, who is on her last week in the Major Crime Division, and Detective Hess who has been transferred to Major Crimes due to behavior issues at Europol. The pair is put together to solve the case of a woman who was murdered. On the chestnut man they find at the scene is the finger print of a missing, presumed dead girl from almost exactly a year before. From there the book heats up as the detectives try to anticipate The Chestnut Man’s next move when he always seems to be one step ahead.

The links between the victims are very interesting on top of the fact that the crimes are linked back to missing girl case with the fingerprint on the chestnut man. The detectives have an good chemistry as well even though they are constantly butting heads. There is drama and bumps in the road every time Thulin and Hess make any sort of progress. The Chestnut Man was one of those stories where there are lots of surprises and twists and (at least for me) none of them were seen coming. I was so excited by how good it was and still am and I just can’t say enough good things about it. I also can’t say a lot of things in general without ruining it because it was such an intricate story with so much going on-which is frustrating because all I want to do is talk The Chestnut Man.

The following could be interpreted as a spoiler even though it’s just my recommendations, so be warned. This book reminded me of The Snowman by Jo Nesbo and The Summer Children by Dot Hutchison, both of which I would recommend as well. Full disclosure: I’m basing my recommendation of The Snowman on the movie version as I haven’t gotten to the book yet – but the book is always better so you can’t go wrong. Anyway, definitely read The Chestnut Man. It’s going to be a movie, I know it already.

The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup

The Vanishing Season by Dot Hutchison

The team is back in The Collector series by Dot Hutchison! This time Eliza Sterling takes the lead as both detective and story teller in Dot’s most recent case, The Vanishing Season. I am so excited because this is a series that has really stuck with me. Usually I find a series fizzles out after a few books but somehow Dot is doing what others can’t seem to do. I am again, truly, so impressed with her.

Brooklyn Mercer has disappeared. On her walk home from school, the same walk she takes every day, she vanishes without anyone seeing a thing. This throws Eliza and her team into action…a day late. The local authorities didn’t report Brooklyn as a missing child because they were sure they would find her that night. So, their case starts half way to the 48-hour mark, a critical timeframe for missing children.

This is an intense case on top of a currently stressed-to-the-max team as one of their own, Brandon Eddison, is struggling with the time of year: the anniversary of his own missing sister, Faith Eddison. Put all of this together, plus Brandon’s mentor and retired Detective Ian Matson showing up with new links, and suddenly the team has uncovered a chain of missing girls all over the United States. All look alike. All have been the same age. All have been taken during the same time of year, late October to early November, every other year. All have no evidence. It could be a coincidence. It could be a serial kidnapper.

One of the things I love about these books is that each one is told by a different person. Each book also introduces the next likely narrator. In the Butterfly Garden it’s Vic Hanoverian (and a tiny bit of Brandon Eddison) along with Maya telling the unthinkable story of The Gardener. In the next book Brandon takes the lead. It’s incredible how Ms. Hutchison can do this. She tells these amazing stories using all these different characters (from all different backgrounds no less) and yet she does it so seamlessly that I wonder what her real life looks like to do this so effortlessly. (Personally, I imagine she travels all over the world and interviews all kinds of people from different countries and backgrounds to use in her books.)

Another thing that draws me in with this series is that it’s not all serious or all funny or all one tone. Dot seems to really tell the story of a team. Everyone has different personalities, and all are better at something than the others, which contributes to the overall greatness of the team as a whole. Being able to do this makes it harder to stick her books in one genre as well. They are not just horror stories. They also have a true sense of humor as well as drama. They have a true crime sense, as these types of cases are definitely rare but also likely. I’m going to keep calling them thrillers because that’s their best fit but honestly these books would be enjoyable for everyone. Or, mostly everyone. They are “scary stories” after all.

I cannot wait for the fifth book, which there is currently no promise of, but I am placing my bet now: something with dead bodies narrated by the newest team member, Cass Kearney.

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

Hallie Rubenhold’s expertly written and filled-to-the-brim-with-(new) information The Five is a true masterpiece. Along the lines of The Trial of Lizzie Borden, The Five delves into the infamous, unsolved Jack the Ripper case using actual documents, news articles and police reports…but with a twist: a beautifully researched work based on the lives of the women claimed by Jack. 

Take a moment to answer this question: who was Jack the Ripper? At the core of the case is one thing everyone has always agreed on: the women were prostitutes, and, for some, that meant Jack was also cleaning the streets. The amazing thing is that this isn’t true at all. Only one woman was a known prostitute, and another was suspected of soliciting a handful of times out of desperation. Why am I telling you this? Because everyone I’ve talked to about the case has said the same thing, “they were prostitutes”, as if that makes their lives worth less. I want to share this book so that people can actually learn about a case that had so much going on yet remains an unsolved mystery to this day.

Hallie not only tells us what these women really had in common, but she starts completely at the beginning. Going as far back as each woman’s parents’ births of the women in some cases, Hallie describes the lives of Polly, Annie, Elisabeth, Kate and Mary Jane. She describes the circumstances each was born into. She brings to light the obstacles each faced from merely being born a woman instead of a man to homelessness to loss to alcoholism without treatment. 

I couldn’t put this down and any true crime and murder mystery fans out there are going to have a hard time doing so as well. I also talked about it non-stop the entire time I was reading it, so I need to world to read it and discuss with me because my co-workers and family have had the information drilled into them. In an interesting turn, this book barely mentions Jack the Ripper (as the focus is the women) and yet it is far more interesting than anything I have ever learned or heard about Jack the Ripper. 

Hallie Rubenhold (left) and the cover of The Five, photos courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publishing.