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.
Book review - Best Day Ever, Kaira Rouda
Determined to make the day run to schedule, Paul sets off for the drive to his river home with Mia, his lovely young wife of ten years. Their kids are being taken care of by the dubious babysitter and this weekend will be all about the two of them. Paul has planned the next few days very very carefully. There are some work arounds that are necessary and Paul does get the feeling that Mia suspects something is up. But not to worry, the course of true love never does run smoothly. Paul is used to leading a complicated life and his increasing money troubles have brought him to this point.
BEST DAY EVER has a slow burn and is very much like a one room thriller, due to the small cast and its real-time play. We’re along for the ride with Paul, our urbane and narcissistic host, and included every step in the way in his Machiavellian plans to come out on top and be in complete control of his life and marriage. We’re not meant to like him, and of course we can’t admire him, but we can marvel at the inflated super ego that has resulted in his life unraveling at a greater speed now that he is finally spending some time alone with his witness, wife Mia.
Paul’s traits are horribly recognizable and therein lies the true horror; it is not inherent misogyny that drives Paul, it is more the extreme love he has for himself. Everyone has met one of these people, and Paul has taken it to an art form with quick thinking on his feet, lying on the spin of a dime and skillfully manipulating people and events to suit his own needs.
With domestic thrillers being so huge right now, many fiction writers have lifted the lid on the most dangerous experiences women can have; that being, those lived as a result of entering into relationships with controlling men. BEST DAY EVER is an excellent reminder that you don’t need to look too far from home to find real monsters. This novel doesn’t over dramatize and it doesn’t over explain, which makes BEST DAY EVER all the more chilling to read.
Book review - A Dark So Deadly, Stuart MacBride
Police Scotland has created a “dumping ground” for those officers who don’t quite fit; the ill, those who have faced disciplinary action, those who refuse to play by the rules. DC Callum McGregor is an expectant father with a girlfriend who desperately needs to keep her maternity benefits, so it is in covering for Elaine’s on-the-job mistake that Callum finds himself joining Mother’s team at Oldcastle. Mother takes care of her castaways but they don’t always get along - or with anyone else for that matter.
The beauty of a standalone is the tantalizing possibility of it being a series starter. A DARK SO DEADLY introduces an irresistible new cast of characters (that this reviewer absolutely wants to see again) with the ‘Misfit Mob’. This ragtag collection of police officers is pure reading gold and it is a testament to the authors skill that he is able to create (again) a fresh set of police officers who are all complex, rich with backstory, and let’s not forget, hilarious. You can’t help but feel for Callum who has the whole world either badgering him for something or actively dropping bombs on him from a great height.
This ridiculously enjoyable book hurls along at a great pace, throwing up new dodgy villains and antagonistic colleagues for Callum to deal with at every turn. MacBride injects a terrific amount of energy and fizzy enjoyment into his novels and A DARK SO DEADLY is no exception. It’s rare you find a crime novel that is truly horrifying, whilst making you laugh out loud during the reading. Another great book delivered from a modern crime master.
Book Review - Rather be the Devil, Ian Rankin
The death of Maria Turquand had all the ingredients that would have appealed to the salacious public forty years ago; a beautiful woman, gangsters, drugs and rock stars. Not everyone from those glory days has moved on from Edinburgh and it pleases retired detective John Rebus that this is a cold case with connections to the present. Old crimes can still wound. Secrets from the past can forever alter those that are forever tasked with keeping them hidden.
It's quite possible that there will be a few moments during the reading of this novel where you will want to punch the air in pride. Our man Rebus still has the sharpest wit around and eases his way around tricky situations with the practiced air of one who expects little of others but demands much of himself. The acceptance of DI Siobhan Clarke and DI Malcolm Fox that Rebus will always a part of their investigative lives is well and truly established in RATHER BE THE DEVIL; it is both sweet and savvy of them both. The Rebus novels remain fiendishly clever and there's that continuing comfort also in knowing that John Rebus will not twilight out fighting the good fight alone. Having the serving Scotland police force continue to accept the input of an ex detective like Rebus, who always unashamedly operated within his own unique moral code, is supremely satisfying to his long time fans.
RATHER BE THE DEVIL is not quite new light through old windows but by novel's end you are quite refreshed and confident that this series will continue to go from strength to strength, even with the changing of the guard. The world of Rebus is now very insular – need a cop, use Malcolm and Siobhan, need a criminal lord, there’s always big Ger Cafferty etc – but the novels continue to be loaded to the hilt with vicious crimes and complicated agendas. RATHER BE THE DEVIL is a tighter work than a few of its series predecessors in that the series strengths are being employed all at once to produce an absorbing crime novel that would hold its own to a new reader, plus reaffirm the devotion of an existing fan of author Ian Rankin.