The Doll Maker

Title: The Doll Maker (Jessica Balzano & Kevin Byrne #8)

Author: Richard Montanari

Genres: Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Length: 496 pages

Source: Negalley

Format: Mobi

Rating: 4.25/5



Detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano investigate the murder of pre-teen Nicole, posed in a fresh painted bench. Soon, more children are found murdered and posed, along with mysterious looking dolls. As the investigation proceeds, the detectives find all sort of macabre clues and links to other cases left unsolved.


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:
I am not sure how viable it is to be able to pull up a 15 year old print from such a small object, particularly one who had to have been handled by several people since then (they were in foster care, after all).
I also wish I had known how Valerie and the kids got money in the first place – that lifestyle had to be expensive. I thought I read that Valerie’s aunt didn’t have much after her stardom came to an end and no jobs were mentioned that I can recall (I only remember groceries being explained).
I wish I had gotten to know a bit more about the development of Mr Marseille’s skills, like with car theft for instance. It is clear that he was the mastermind behind everything, after all, and I would have love to find out how he came to be who he was.
I still don’t get if Anabelle and Mr Marseilles really were brother and sister. We are told they are the same age and might look similar enough to be siblings, but don’t really look like twins.
And finally, I would like to know who were the other 8 victims, since the numbers on the victims’ scalps started at 9. Were they all children? If so, this twisted game started a while before…

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.

Disclaimer: I would like to thank the publisher and Netgalley for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Read from April 25 to 28, 2015
GR Review

6 thoughts on “The Doll Maker

  1. Nice review. Glad you enjoyed it – with your reservations of course. And, you raise some really good questions – to which I have no answers! I’m absolutely useless. I think I was so keen to know what was going on here that the finer detail just went over my head – I think reading out of your normal comfort zone tends to do that as well.


    Yeah,I have absolutely no idea about the shelf life of prints, Valerie’s aunt – I guess they could be living off royalties – but given they’re both criminals and got started at an early age I imagine they’ve been honing their skills perhaps?? I’m intrigued about the brother and sister aspect – I feel like I should go and have a skim over the last few chapters to see if they definitely were or not and also about the victims – they were responsible for killing the other children in Valerie’s care but I can’t remember how many there were when they started to live with her – I think Valerie was caught burying one and there was a map with another five? And then the guy from the prologue? Not sure how many that adds up to??? Oh, and are they including Valerie in their number because they felt responsible for her too? I really do need to go and take a look now – very curious.
    Lynn :D

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, the book stayed with me even after I started reading another one, so that has got to be a good sign!!

      If you do get to it, let me know what you find out about all that!


      I have to ask, do you think Byrne kept living in that house given that he totally trashed it and what he discovered about it (map, drawings, hidden rooms, etc)?

      And yeah the fact that Valerie went to jail all those years when she didn’t kill them was very sad, but I still don’t get how Byrne proved that it wasn’t her, therefore preventing her execution.

      Apparently they didn’t see it as killing, but as mending dolls. I think that could have been a lot more developed, especially having watched so many episodes of Criminal Minds, now that would have been brilliant.

      I remember Valerie saying goodbye to them and basically giving them instructions on how to live without her, right before she left and got busted trying to bury the kid. No idea how she knew she would be caught then precisely.

      The map was behind a stove. Mr Laundy (or something similar) was the clue. The guy from the prologue was their father (again, assuming they are brother and sister if not twins) and I have no idea how they found him or knew about him in the first place. Or how Mr Marseilles knew about his sister being left at the mall (there was a portion where he said his sister had no recollection of being left at the mall by their mother).

      Alas, too much unexplained. If not for that and for the details I found so excessive, it would have totally been a 5 star rating.

      About Valerie, they pretty much feel they owe her everything. She taught them the way of dolls, of mending them, and made them Sauterre. They put her in a situation where she would be caught. So yes, I guess even through their sick minds they found themselves responsable.

      I do believe that, twisted as they were, they could have been even more psychopathic. And I am not too sure I buy the whole platonic relationship thing – they were brother and sister and were together pretty much 24/7, who the heck can be that respectful about the other person that much?? It would drive anyone crazy. Psychotic or not, there’s no way anyone could stay that way towards each other but alas in makes good thriller ehhe. And yeah, I guess I am spoiled due to that awesome show :) It manages to give explanations which fully satisfy me in a ridiculous amount of time.

      Anyway… Sorry about the rambling!! Looking forward to see what you find :D



        Haha, no, I love the discussions on books after a read – it opens the mind up a bit more and makes you recall things. It was kind of sad about Valerie – to be accused like that and be innocent – and also for her to protect the two of them like that – she was just so obsessed with their perfection I suppose. They were her own living dolls?
        I would NEVER – EVER – move into a house like that in fact I didn’t understand Byrne’s inspiration at all because at first he clearly just intended it to be a home. I thought at first, when he bought it, he was going to rip it apart but that only came after he found the hidden passages/rooms.
        Okay, I’ve skimmed back – they were brother and sister. Byrne and Balzano went to interview the mother and at that point it came out she got arrested in a mall – at the time she only mentioned a little girl but then the police at the time said there was a boy and a girl who both got put into care.
        Now, about the numbers thing – we had 6 children (that were turned into dolls), the father figure from the prologue – just need to remember who the missing one is? Any clues??
        Lynn :D

        Liked by 1 person

      • I absolutely love discussing books while I am reading and afterwards!

        Ok I can tell this whole thing will be riddled with spoilers so everyone just assume that from now on xD Fresh comments for non spoilers instead of reply to this one, k? :D

        Yes, Valerie definitely went to jail because she wanted to protect them at all costs. And yep I got that you didn’t get the house thing cause I had read it in your review xD It was a weird choice for sure. Especially because he kept saying that he felt a kindred presence in that house… *shudder*

        I remember that interview well and I noticed that when Byrne or Balzano asked her if the boy was her son she did not really give a straight answer, she hesitated and then said something like ‘my little boy’, and from then on they kept discovering things where it wasn’t clear if they were brother and sister, like the pictures the psychologist showed him, it was said there were 2 of the 6 kids who could be brother and sister, and so I always wondered.
        With the woman’s obvious mental issues I wouldn’t be surprised if she stole the boy or something. Doesn’t make much sense given she got rid of the girl but who knows… Anyway, the fact is we are told they have the same father, so I suppose we can assume they are twins. Even though they look different and even have different eye colours. I can’t imagine a guy like that paying her two visits and impregnating her both times. It’s a wonder he left her alive in the first place, I think, considering what he did to other women like her.

        Hah, no idea who the missing one is… The only person I can remember dying is Valerie’s aunt but that was well before their time in the house. So no idea. But it did bother me that this wasn’t explored in the book or at the very least mentioned. The minute they had the three bodies of the children in the morgue and saw that Nicole had number 10, and the twins had 11 and 12 respectively cut into their scalps, SOMEONE, anyone, should have pointed out something like hey this is sequential, maybe this refers to the bodies? If so, where are the other 9? Which only got reinforced when they found the dad’s body and it had 9 stitched on his scalp. So yeah, I really don’t get why it wasn’t mentioned.


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