The Doll Maker

A Byrne and Balzano Mystery

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Pub Date 28 Apr 2015 | Archive Date 28 May 2015


Detectives Byrne and Balzano return to the streets of Philadelphia to put an end to a macabre succession of murdered children.

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.
Detectives Byrne and Balzano return to the streets of Philadelphia to put an end to a macabre succession of murdered children.

A quiet Philadelphia suburb. A woman cycles past a train depot with her...

A Note From the Publisher

Book 8 in the internationally bestselling Byrne and Balzano series

Book 8 in the internationally bestselling Byrne and Balzano series

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ISBN 9780316244732
PRICE $26.00 (USD)

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Average rating from 40 members

Featured Reviews

An excellent police procedural thriller, the 8th in the series featuring Philadelphia Homicide Detectives Jessica Balzano and Kevin Byrne, is a winner! I've read a couple others in this series, and loved the author's writing style. After tearing through this one, I'm determined to go to the backlist to catch up on what other great stories I've missed. This was a very fast-paced read that kept me glued to the pages and had great characters. It never let up! Haunting and disturbing drama centering on a series of chilling murders where the victims appear eerily staged. With each successive death, Balzano and Byrne are stymied by what appears to be a tenuous connection to a death row inmate and cold case files of kidnapped or missing children. And what about the dolls? As the clues are pieced together, Balzano and Byrne race to find a very unusual type of killer before another victim can be invited to a sinister and deadly "tea dance". I'd recommend this to any fan who wants to read a complex suspense novel with multidimensional main characters and great "bad guys". I loved that there were no romantic overtones and that the relationship of the partners was based in mutual respect and deep friendship. I can't wait to read the next in this series!

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I need to confess I did something I hadn't done since way back when I first discovered the addictiveness of reading. I gorged on this book. Meaning that when I saw I had little time and no guarantee that I would have another reading break for an undetermined period and was unwilling to leave these characters and story to rest, at the 7% mark I started skimming over the book, reading bits and pieces of it until I got a partial picture and was somewhat appeased. Don't judge, I know I shouldn't have done it. I wasn't even going to start this book for few days because I needed a break from reading. But once I picked this up I couldn't put it down. Now that I have fully read this book, I feel free to say I loved it and I have a lot of things to say about it. Let’s see if I don’t mess up my original pre-review. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading this book. It was sweet, provocatively steamy, and absolutely swoony. It gave me some sad tears but mostly huge smiles. It was truly a celebration of the best emotions overcoming the sad, painful and ugly ones.

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The mystery of this intriguing book is the number of twists and turns the characters make from beginning to end. This book has everything from stolen children to deadly tea parties. The ending is so well written, I felt as if I was right there, watching the scene unfold. This is sure to be a best seller!

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Deliciously Horrifying! This is the 8th in a series featuring Detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano. Although it is the latest in the series, it does very well as stand-alone. Once again, Richard Montanari brings a deliciously horrifying look at serial killers. Children are coming up missing and then later dolls that look like the missing children are found around the bodies of children that have been murdered. There is a method to the madness and its up to Byrne and Balzano to find the missing pieces. I absolutely recommend this one (and the entire series) who like murder, mysteries and mayhem. A solid 5 stars. Thank you to Mulholland Publishers & NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review.

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Richard Montanari’s The Doll Maker is the eighth book in the Byrne and Balzano police detective series. I have not read any other books in the series, but I liked it so much that I am going to go back to the beginning and start now. The story starts out with a very creepy situation: “He knew the moment she walked in. It wasn’t the way she was dressed—he had been fooled by this more often than he had been right, and he had been right many times—it was, instead, the way her heels fell on the old hardwood floor, the weight of her stride, the way he knew she’d put a thousand sad stories to bed.” Upon reading this, I was hopeful that we were looking at a man seeing a woman with whom he might fall in love, wanting to heal her after all her sad stories. Unfortunately, I was wrong. The eerie book cover was the first clue to the oddness of something or someone in this novel. Around Philadelphia, children are being murdered and posed in specific situations. At each crime scene a porcelain doll is found, designed to look exactly like the victim of the previous murder. An invitation is also found, indicating the date of the next murder. It is up to long-time partners Jessica Byrne and Kevin Balzano to figure out what this killer is trying to tell the people of Philadelphia. Their investigation takes them all over the city, to specialty collectible shops, a hardware store, a long-abandoned home, and college campuses. In fact, the city of Philadelphia is almost a main character in itself. I have only visited the City of Brotherly love once, but felt I was there and could see the different neighborhoods as Byrne and Balzano hit the sidewalks to talk to neighbors and follow several red herrings. Again, I truly enjoyed this book, even staying up until 3:00 one night to try and finish. I was unsuccessful, but sat down with my coffee the next morning and didn’t stop reading until I was done. Many thanks to who gave me an advance electronic copy via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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The last novel I read by this author was his 2005 release, The Rosary Girls. Has it really been that long?! I guess that's because I'm a librarian and my reading list is ever-growing. I really must read the rest of Richard Montanari's because I really enjoyed The Doll Maker (and not just because I'm a doll collector myself). That part about some doll hobbyists being obsessed and peculiar? Spot on. I thought that the plot of the novel was unique. I liked the pacing of the novel, and each page I read just made me want to keep on reading. I found it hard to stop, and I enjoyed every little reveal, each detail and twist. The author really has a way with creating multi-faceted, dimensional, memorable characters. Jessica Balzano and Kevin Byrne have got to be one of my favorite cop duos of all time, while Anabelle and Mr Marseilles are intriguing as the most mysterious serial killers. I definitely wouldn't want to end up as the guest of honor at one of their dansants. This was such a fun and suspenseful read. Thank you so much for the opportunity!

Was this review helpful? Just finished reading The Doll Maker by Richard Montanari. This is a thoroughly good, creepy, serial killer story. The story gets off to a serious and fairly gruesome start in the opening scenes. There was a somewhat scary prologue – the relevance of which doesn’t become obvious until fairly well into the story, followed by the opening chapters which present an elaborately staged murder scene. The two detectives working on the scene are a very easy to read partnership involving Byrne and Balzano. Apparently this isn’t the first novel that they appear in although I wasn’t aware of that at the time and i would most definitely be interested in backtracking and reading some of their previous tales. That being said this is definitely a self contained novel and I didn’t feel any confusion at all picking it up in this way. The victim at the start of the story has been placed in a way that looks like a set for a play or some such. Seated on a painted bench at a station she at first appears simply to have nodded off while awaiting the next train. The truth is a bit more sinister and reveals an intricate web of murder and mayhem. At the stage of the first murder an invitation has been left giving the date of a mysterious ‘the danse’ – when the date on the invitation comes round of course another victim is found – this time not only with an invitation but also with a porcelain doll. And so a race against the clock begins. The police desperately seeking new clues before yet more victims adorn these macabre scenes. I don’t really want to go further into the plot because I think it would spoil the read. I will instead outline the things that I liked about this novel. It without doubt gripped me and kept me fully occupied trying to second guess what was coming next and I’m not too proud to admit that I didn’t manage to do so. It also seemed to be fairly realistic in terms of police procedure – although I’m certainly not an expert – I felt like rather than ignore procedure in order to gain more of a dramatic effect it stuck to reality. I liked this – sometimes things have to follow a certain route and a crime scene investigation is one of those things – and I didn’t feel that this sticking to reality adversely affected the story in any way – I preferred it having a real feel. I liked the two main characters and thought they were easy to read with a pretty convincing partnership and enough back story and personal history to keep them interesting without bogging the story down. I particularly liked Byrne although his choice of house buying is a bit dubious – and you’ll know what I mean if you read this book. There is plenty of tension involved with enough wtf moments to catch me unawares just as I seemed to be getting comfortable and the ending really takes it up a notch or two and the plot is very well conceived and cleverly structured. Basically put, this is a well written and absorbing chiller that kept me hooked from start to finish. I can’t deny that some of the opening scenes were a bit nasty – and believe me, I really struggled for the right word there because they’re not necessarily blood thirsty or gruesome – well, I suppose they are gruesome. I just wouldn’t want to put anybody off by saying this is overly violent or bloody because I don’t think it is. The first few chapters made me wonder how I’d get on with the rest of the story but I pretty soon became immersed. Its odd to say but the murders themselves are not overly elaborated upon and whilst, yes, they’re murders, they almost have an underplayed value to them – which sounds kind of odd but I can’t really describe it any differently. I suppose what I’m trying to get at is it’s more about the motive and seeking out the clues than anything else. I don’t read a lot of crime/chillers but I thought this was really good and I would certainly recommend it if you want something with a quick pace, a fair bit of tension and a murderous plot that will keep you hooked.

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Okay guys, this book is very cool. I can always tell when I’m reading a book by an experienced author as opposed to a debut, and Montanari is a classic example of why you don’t always have to read an author from the beginning to enjoy them. I LOVED this book, even though it’s #8 in the series – so don’t let that put you off! So what did I like about this novel? Why did I enjoy it so much? Let me just start by saying that it would take me an age to list everything I liked, so we’ll settle with just a few big things. What I Liked: 1. Byrne & Balzano Montanari’s detectives are stellar. Both are completely separate people with their own lives. They are completely real and completely 100% believable, to the point where I felt I knew their families like they were my friends’. Byrne is the more experienced detective of the two, but the pair have been working together so long that they are in sync and well-tuned to one another. Byrne’s relationship with Balzano was something I cherished while reading; knowing that they had each others’ backs made the novel’s foray into the creepy that much more enjoyable because I knew that they were looking out for each other and I, as the reader, could relax in the knowledge that if anybody was going to solve the crime, it was them. Byrne is warm-hearted and determined, and Balzano is shrewd and loving, all qualities I love in my detectives! 2. Bad guys I have a feeling (from snooping through other Amazon reviews) that Montanari has a certain skill for writing the baddies. And if that’s the case, then this novel is no exception. Our killers Mr Marseille and Annabelle are so damn creepy it’s unreal – something that few other crime authors have made me say. They live in another world, one of tea parties and etiquette, documented with the same care and attention with which they treat their victims. It probably helps that I’ve always been fascinated by doll collectors and old dolls, and I find them spooky at the best of times (I have ever since I was a kid), but saying that, I’ll give credit to Montanari for tapping into a common horror trope for his crime fiction. I mean, a lot of crime I read tends to fall kind of heavy-handed, with a gory crimey mess for the detectives to investigate. And that’s fine, that’s enjoyable, but there’s something about the creepy, haunting and the spooky that is even more enjoyable. Especially when our detectives are more than a bit creeped out themselves. Score! 3. Story/plot As I said above, I love dolls. That was what made me request this book in the first place. But scanning the summaries of Montanari’s other novels I can see that plot is something that this author does very well. Everything is planned and coordinated perfectly, all the pieces falling into place with expert ease. I would actually be intrigued to read Montanari’s first novel to see whether this is a skill that has grown over time, because boy am I impressed. If I could learn to plot 1/10th as well as this, I’d die a happy girl. Hats off to you, sir! 4. EVERYTHING Can you see? This book has me crazy! I’m not even kidding when I say I don’t think there was anything I didn’t like. This novel was spooky and plotted with master skill, with characters I loved and villains I loved to hate. Amazing. What I Disliked: Erm, nothing? Actually nothing. That’s insane. Mr Montanari, you have rendered me as close to speechless as I’ve ever been. Thank you! Please, please, go out and buy this book. Sure, read the others first if you must (I’m sure they’re just as good, and I’m going out to buy them now), but don’t put this one off. It’s amazing! Plus, right now on Amazon UK it’s part of the 3 books for £10 deal, so you really can’t go wrong.

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Even though I love crime investigation shows - my personal favourite being Criminal Minds(and I even recall a similar themed episode!) - for some reason I was never attracted to books of this genre. I guess I prefer more quick closure, I don't know. The fact is I felt that I needed to catch a breather from the genres I usually gravitate towards and, after reading Lynn's review of this book, and looking at that gorgeous cover (shallow, I know!!), I ended up requesting this from Netgalley. The reading experience was different, for sure. Even though it is the 8th in a series, it works just as well as a standalone. We get to know a bit of the two detectives and that was good enough for me. The author obviously performed a thorough investigation for the subjects addressed in the book - I particularly liked the bit about calligraphy. However, it also caused me to feel that the book dragged on in some parts, particularly the ones explaining police procedures and some scene descriptions; it struck me as info dumping, and I can see why other readers skimmed through large sections of the book. I just wanted it to move on to juicy parts, you know? Not necessarily action packed but just more exciting. There were a few things I tended to see repeated that, personally, I didn't enjoy much but didn't cause a dent in my enjoyment of the book, like the good question pat on the back from the different units agents involved in the investigation and certain expressions like not the least of them (...) or some variation. The story itself is quite eerie. To be frank, when I first read the prologue and the first two chapters I felt I was reading three different books - but then it all came together. In those first two, when murders are being committed, the imagery is vivid and gruesome. Then it tones out on the gore side for the rest of the book and focuses more on the psychological/psychopathic aspect. You see, the perps have a language and world concept of their own. They are so scary because they are able to hide in plain sight and even sound adorable and those are the worst type of criminals in my book - you would never say they are, well, evil. It was very interesting and engaging and creepy all at once. On the other hand, the detectives are real people with real and even ordinary issues and that allowed me to connect with them. And they actually follow procedures and they don't engage romantically! That was so refreshing and made everything more real. A couple of things I remember at the moment of not finding very believable or wanting better explained: (view spoiler) All in all, I had a very good time reading this. The last 25% or so was much faster paced and I was really engaged. The two main villains chilled my bones. I don't know who scared me the most - Mr Marseilles with his ruthlessness or Anabelle being so cut out from the real world and her past. I think one of the things that impressed me the most, besides their platonic love towards each other, was that they were so young. It put me off in the beginning, particularly because of the language they used, such controlled behaviour and sophistication of the crimes (I think part of me still wishes they had been older), but the fact is the story flowed well and I got plenty of closure in the end. I recommend The Doll Maker to all fans of crime novels and psychological thrillers. Please visit my blog for the full review with spoilers. Thank you.

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Here we meet the detective duo’s Byrne and Balzano again in this book. The previous books were chilling I thought, but this one, boy, oh boy. This one entered my dreams. You don't have to read the others in the series to appreciate this one, this can be read as a stand alone. We take a look at serial killers in this book, killers of children. But....when these children are found, so is a doll in the replica of them!!! oh boy was this so chilling, so chilling I am sure my blood was not just running cold but freezing. Although the ending could be predicted, I can't say it spoiled the excitement for me. Children + killers are a sore subject to read about and I wasn't sure if I could stomach it. I did though, its cleverly written, however, its so cleverly written that if you have a vivid imagination like see it all in technicolor!!! Super thriller My thanks go to Mulholland Books via Net Galley for my copy to read and review

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