The campaign to free the handsome and misunderstood Dennis from a US prison has become Samantha’s life crusade and there seems to be no one discouraging her. The brakes of good sense are simply never applied and before she can blink, Samantha is married to a convicted felon, having convinced herself that she is the only one able to make such a troubled and beautiful soul truly happy.
THE INNOCENT WIFE plays out largely as a detached relation of one woman’s desperate need to belong and be part of something larger. It is possible to read the entirety of this book and not find a single character that you care enough about to wish a happy outcome. That’s quite a feat. Perhaps this lack of soft focus was intentional, to create a work where the reader is driven forward for reasons other than a sustained emotional investment.
Depicting without apology the train wreck that our modern culture has become, THE INNOCENT WIFE is an uneasy read of shame and loneliness. Killers are feted as visionaries, the public is relentlessly hungry for salacious content, and our constant connectivity has resulted in the plague that is social media. We are ourselves to blame for what we have become. For what we accept as normal.
The pacing of this interesting thriller prepares us for the inevitable, which is a collision somewhere soon around the corner. That feeling of voyeurism pervades throughout as Samantha attempts to validate herself with her connection to Dennis, who is both entirely and not at all what he seems. THE INNOCENT WIFE is a conceivable nightmare with nothing to cushion the inevitable fall. If you’re in the mood for some harsh lighting in your crime reading, THE INNOCENT WIFE will deliver.
THE LAST MRS PARRISH, LIV CONSTANTINE
Amber’s new mission will involve some very daring and complex moves. It will take all of her acting and planning skills to insinuate herself into the exciting life of dynamic millionaire Jackson Parrish. Jackson is a delicious prize worth having. No less than achieving the end goal of becoming the next Mrs Parrish will do for the envious Amber. The fact that there is a current Mrs Parrish is just one obstacle to be overcome. The skeletons rattling in Amber’s closet will need to be quietened but there is no need to be concerned. Amber has it all under control.
Make no mistake, this novel is all about what the two women have in common, rather than what sets them apart. Having a man of course in the middle of the conflict is of course not that surprising, and nor is the fact that whilst the two women are in two very different situations, they both intend to succeed with their plans by whatever means are necessary. Its difficult to wag the finger at the bad guy here in a review without giving away major plot spoilers but you will figure that out fairly early in.
THE LAST MRS PARRISH has the reader hold in a suspenseful breath for an impressive length of time, then changes tack so that we then can then be horribly concerned about the person(s) at the receiving end of Amber’s schemes. The two women are completely believable and whilst this book is about as far from depicting a supportive sisterhood as a story could, it will shine a light on the lengths at which a person may need to go to in order to escape a life they don’t want. Envy and violence are at the heart of THE LAST MRS PARRISH so if you’re a bit squeamish with the details of abuse, you may find yourself somewhat triggered during the read of this book.
THE LAST MRS PARRISH would make a terrific revenge film with its glamorous landscape of the rich and privileged and the determined sociopath that is the reinvented Amber. Cross her to your peril. Bunker down and barrack for your favourite – who that is in the novel might surprise you.
WATCH ME, JODY GEHRMAN
Kate Youngblood is both a college lecturer and a writer of fiction. Both career paths are currently giving the thirty something professor enormous trouble. Having written a successful crime novel as her debut piece, it was a high platform from which to dive when Kate’s second novel is nowhere near as well-received as its stellar predecessor. Will there be a third book, or is it best for Kate to park her writing ambitions for now?
WATCH ME is essentially a two-player piece which adds to the intensity of the interactions between the stalker and the stalked. The inclusion of all the required elements – the isolation, coercion, relentless observation, break-ins, electronic pursuits – can be a little tick in the box in this novel but they all do add to the increasing concern we have for Kate’s welfare. Kate is a little slow on the uptake to react and protect herself, so this can be a little frustrating to read of, though of course there can be no crime to read of without there being a targeted victim.
The passages devoted to stalker Sam are addressed to the (at first, oblivious) Kate so we are privy here to all aspects of Sam’s self-serving toxic masculinity. Sam truly believes he has the right to do all of what he is doing, and the wishes and fears of the object of his affection are of little concern to him, just long as his desired results are achieved.
Was expecting this work to go a little more into collegial issues of teacher/student relations but this is not the focus of WATCH ME. Not sure or not if it is depressing or helpful that the motions of this stalker (and those of real life and other fictional stalkers) all seem to follow the same predictable formula but as a tool to making the reader more aware, WATCH ME may be helpful. Two thirds of this novel power along to back Kate into a corner but WATCH ME does lose some puff in the home stretch. The definite strength of this novel are the insights we receive into Sam’s delusions of self-grandeur. Perhaps there can be no stalker without that narcissistic sense of self importance that eventually derails when the rest of the world calls it what it is – madness.
LET ME LIE, CLARE MACKINTOSH
Anna is well immersed in her exhausting first few months of being a new mother.
The take home. Clare Mackintosh has created a terrific character here in retired Detective Murray who takes on Anna’s ‘case’ of looking into the death of her mother. Really hoping the author will give her creation another outing as Murray was fabulous to meet and is someone that deserves his own mystery series for sure. The side storyline of his sacrifice in looking after his mentally ill wife is gorgeous and the absolute highlight of the novel. It’s a little unexpected treasure to find in a modern domestic mystery novel.
Now onto the rest. LET ME LIE does have a lot of “filler” that does little to advance the storyline and the book struggles to maintain the needed tension during these times. What LET ME LIE does offer is the terrific central premise of ‘was it murder, was it suicide’, which is doubly weighty to consider with there being two suspicious deaths, not one. The alternate narrator does add a satisfying dollop of creep factor as Anna’s life at home is being secretly observed and the reader will feel sympathy when her concerns are not taken seriously. It is good to see the protagonist is a new mother, as in that Anna is multi- tasking murder inquiries whilst dealing with a new baby, a new relationship, money concerns and a pesky neighbour. All of the things.
LET ME LIE is a well-constructed crime and mystery read that lags a little too much to be truly suspenseful though compensates with the deep diving into such family dynamics of alcoholism and mental illness. That ending though – eek! What does it mean? A sequel? We got it all wrong? Read LET ME LIE to find out!
ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL, SARAH VAUGHAN
Rich, gorgeous, popular and charismatic would describe the James we meet in the heady years of his enviably sparkling youth. It is easy for James’ friends and family to see where such was a charmed young man will end up. Some people were always meant for the heights.
ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL is a read that is straddling two worlds. It does come across as somewhat like the experience of reading a BBCTV telemovie script, though the book lacks the heavier drama punch that could easily have been included. Kudos to the author for not going down this path of easy entertainment. This lack of visceral description and emotional drama actually serves the read quite well, but you need to be prepared to settle in for the long haul of tackling yet another novel that spends half of its time immured in the ghosts of a collegial past – here, being those of the accused and his wife who met during their university years. This childhood/young adult focus seems to be a bit of thing in domestic thriller novels that have flooded the crime fiction market in the last couple of years.
ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL takes its reader to a certain point of questioning all of the character’s motives, though also at the same time wondering why they are all a bit vague as to what it is that they want. It is far easier in this novel to get a grasp on the perpetrator rather than understand what it is that bolsters up the survivor.
The journalistic background of author Sarah Vaughan is evident in the writing. It is an economical style used here, with multi-faceted viewpoints included that all shade the same incident and varied personal encounters in different hues. The greatest strength of ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL is that it instantly seems quite familiar; we feel we have read of the events detailed in the book somewhere in real life, in the recent past. All the major characters are successful people, living and working in the rarefied atmosphere of the British upper class and its political system. Precious opportunities are squandered, and the privilege of serving your country is taken as a right by its entitled male politicians.
Courtroom dramas are always a treat when done well and those in ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL are the culmination of our reader expectations - eagerly anticipated and not disappointed. Timely and carefully presented, the events in ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL have a greater impact for not being lavishly over dramatized and will continue to spark weighty conversations amongst its readers for some time.
Bring Me Back, B.A. Paris
Ten years on from the disappearance of his young girlfriend Layla, Finn has well and truly taken charge of his own destiny. Engaged to be married to a wonderful woman, Finn has worked hard and built up enough cash reserves to be able to work from home, support his dog and live the quiet life in an English village. Life for Finn is extremely good. How quickly things can change.
As we’ve discovered with the two previous monster hits from this author (BEHIND CLOSED DOORS and THE BREAKDOWN ), Paris knows how to keep us in the seat and our eyes glued to the page. BRING ME BACK sets its own pace of creeping suspicion, denial, a good re-think, then circling back to rampant suspicion. Having a less than snowy white protagonist is all to the good and it works here that Finn is more everyday narky than a noble wounded survivor of tragedy. There’s more invested in BRING ME BACK than just the possibility of happy ever after for Finn. He has to work to get to that point, unravel and then re-form.
You may however be thinking as you read this book that “whoa, this man is extraordinarily dumb” and it is this colossal realization that takes away from what is otherwise a very readable work of crime fiction. It is so mind bogglingly obvious what is going on, so early on, that you start to question the sanity of the protagonist. Given, our Finn comes across as a bit vain and self-absorbed, but seriously. This is one person not coming across as that bright for someone who is supposed to be a gun financial analyst. His friends aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed either. A small cast, a small setting, few choices in suspects as to the who and why narrows your focus and this will rachet up the tension for the reader who will pile it onto every character encountered.
BRING ME BACK is a fast and enjoyable beach read that will carry you through to a change of shift with the lifeguards. Definitely a one trick pony though. Once that pony ponied up, that was all you could see and the rest of the book was reading on in hope that your insight to the obvious was not all there was going to be.
Bring on B.A. Paris, book number four!
The Woman in the Window, A.J. Finn
Dr Anna Fox is a doctor currently without a practice but there are always people, others like herself, whom she can still help even whilst confined to her New York home. Without her much loved husband and daughter, there are too many hours in the day that Anna finds she needs to fill with small human interactions, elsewise the pills and wine will step up and do that for her. There is the gorgeous downstairs lodger, the online forums where she counsels other agoraphobics, her physiotherapist, her ex business partner, the myriad of delivery people who bring her food and other supplies. It
Reserve yourself a little time and settle in as this engaging novel will be a one or two sitting read. Anna, despite all she has experienced, is immensely relatable and a warm narrator to listen to. There is no shame, there is only the present and the need for Anna to get herself through one day and then through the next. It is very easy to see only a few pages in why THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW was a monster hit straight out of the gates. Immersive, introspective and warm, this read totally wraps you up in the four walls of Anna’s townhouse as her growing concerns about the neighbours become yours.
Brace yourself for the huge jump scare at chapter’s end in the final quarter of the novel - I promise you will be leaping out of your seat! (Tip: Do not read this book on public transport).
Author A.J. Finn (was quite surprised to find this was a male author) does an excellent job in building up both tension and our worries for Anna’s welfare, an obviously intelligent character who is coping the best way she can with loss and mental illness.
Review - Dead Lemons, Finn Bell
Leaping with confidence straight out of the gates, DEAD LEMONS has a cracking opening chapter that will stay with you for quite some time. You just can’t go past a man hanging over a cliff, hanging upside down in his wheelchair, thinking such dire and witty thoughts.
Finn Bell presents as a surprisingly pragmatic creature for all the challenges he is required to face in his every day existence. Laconically hilarious plus unnervingly calm in a tight spot, is our Finn. This is the strength of DEAD LEMONS, as the humour is presented shockingly side by side with all the heartbreaking details of the town’s murders. The dark is balanced with the redemptive light that emanates from Finn finding his way back to what it is that makes the world turn – the complexities of human relationships.
DEAD LEMONS is an absorbing and disturbing window into a part of the world that time seems to have left well behind. Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t look, don’t dwell. Injecting a character like Finn into such an eerie and remote location is reading gold as there is a push/pull with his modern awareness and the slow pace practiced by its residents. There is so much in Finn’s character to like, admire and barrack for. Hoping very much to see this character again. The pace does slacken off during the middle of the novel a little as so much is discovered in such a short space of time right at the start. Kudos to the author for not dwelling on any physical limitations of Finn as he crawls and throws himself around where necessary. A very polished debut novel that any crime fiction enthusiast will enjoy.
Review - The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye, David Lagercrantz
In prison because of her actions taken to rescue a young and troubled child (detailed in the prior novel of the series), Lizbeth Salander is stoically serving her time. As with life outside, the prison environment operates with a delicate balance of power that can tip either way on any given day. These are all niceties that Salander prefers to ignore - unless it serves her own purposes to enter into the messy fray that is prison politics. The killer Benito rules the prison with an iron fist and her latest joy is to torture a young Arab inmate who does not have the defences and skills tha
Happily, we encounter here more of the same winning ingredients once again in THE GIRL WHO TAKES AN EYE FOR AN EYE. There is the resourceful and charming journalist Blomkvist, the enigmatic and bitingly intelligent hacker Lisbeth Salander, and another action based plot populated with frightening villains. The relationship between the two mains is again reading gold (though we see less of it in this outing) and the dynamic between the two remains the strongest aspect of this now legacy series.
Author David Lagercrantz confidently continues his commissioned task of continuing the Millennium series, two novels in after the death of fellow Swedish author Stieg Larsson. We were all relieved when the previous novel, Lagercrantz’s first Millennium outing, was such a cracker of a read. Larsson’s spectacularly successful trilogy covered a lot of ground and firmly established Salander as an iconic figure of Scandinavian fiction. It was no small feat to produce a book which seamlessly carries on the story of Salander and Blomkvist in such a convincing fashion.
THE GIRL WHO TAKES AN EYE FOR AN EYE is constructed on a smaller scale. The global concerns of the stock market are mentioned again, but not pursued as a major plot driver. Blomkvist is leading more of a regular life after all his hair raising previous escapades, and there is lot less of Millennium the magazine featured in this outing. It gets a bit wearying to seeing Salander put on her superhuman cape to solve the world’s problems once again and the novel is not as complex as what we are used to seeing in this series. The book struggles to keep momentum and is a mish mash of ideas that never quite gel to form a cohesive plot. The first half of the novel meanders about and Salander’s motivations never ring true as she concerns herself with the problems of others instead of focusing on what’s necessary.
This entry in the series is more of a catch up with what everyone is up to and there is another death of a regular to make sure that Salander considers to suffer, regardless of any improved circumstances. Not the strongest book but not a terrible one either; read this book for series continuity but the story will not glue you to the pages this time.
Review - A Dark So Deadly, Stuart MacBride
Welcome to the Misfit Mob…
It's where Police Scotland dumps the officers it can't get rid of, but wants to: the outcasts, the troublemakers, the compromised. Officers like DC Callum MacGregor, lumbered with all the boring go-nowhere cases. So when an ancient mummy turns up at the Oldcastle tip, it's his job to find out which museum it's been stolen from.
If the universe wants to be particularly nice to us, it will make sure that A DARK SO DEADLY is the start of a new series from Stuart MacBride. There are echoes here of his long running Logan McRae series, but it's delivered with a slightly straighter bat (you'd have to be dead set in front to pick it though), and lots and lots of potential for places for the Misfit Mob to go and crims for them to annoy.
A haphazard grouping of cops who have been in trouble in the force, one who is most definitely not going gently into any sort of night - good or otherwise, and a female boss who is slightly erratic but nowhere near as in your face as DI Steel from the McRae series and there's so much potential here it's hard to know where to start. There's heaps of gallows humour that had this reader somewhere between smirking and laughing loudly at points, and then there's some beautifully dodgy villains, some over the top scenarios (mummified bodies for goodness sake) and that uncomfortable awareness that a scenario quite this horrible really shouldn't be making the reader laugh this much. But then readers, like the cops they are reading about, have to get through the worst of the worst, and MacBride is a genius at making it all feel like the world's gotten seriously it's weird and sick but it's going to be okay.
The Misfit Mob might even work out a way to be okay. You'd have to hope so as there will be some serious sulking in these parts if the universe screws this up on us, and this isn't the start of a new series.