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The Madwoman Upstairs - Catherine Lowell

Samantha Whipple, recently enrolled at Oxford University finds herself surrounded and followed by her past. Still struggling to overcome the death of her father she is also on the hunt for her inheritance, hinted at by her eccentric father. It would appear to be connected to her ancestors, as so much of her life is. It just so happens that those ancestors are the Brontës…

 

Being a huge fan of Jane Eyre, and having just visited the Bronte parsonage I thought it was high time I read this book.

 

This is a fun take on the Brontës, using them as a narrative device to propel the mystery of Samantha Whipple’s inheritance and her hunt for it. Samantha has travelled over from the United States to study at Oxford and finds herself shut away in a tower room with no windows and an austere portrait looking over her. To top it off, her room is a stop on the tourist trail. Then there is her tutor, James Orville III. He’s taciturn, provocative and Samantha finds herself begin to become attracted to him.

 

The mystery of the missing inheritance is less about finding an item and more about Samantha finding herself and learning more about her father. She finds her attitudes towards Charlotte, Anne and Emily Brontë changing as Orville challenges her entrenched views on the sisters.

 

At times the novel feels like a dissertation, with it’s definite views on various works of literature peppering the narration. However I liked the literary discussions and thought the setting of Oxford worked well. I was a little disappointed with how Samantha reacted to her visit to the parsonage in Haworth, though this may be because I had just visited and had the complete opposite reaction.

 

This is more a story that examines literature and it’s subjective nature, rather than a love story or a mystery. It made me want to read more of the Bronte s works which can only be a good thing.

 

Whilst the slightly ambiguous ending left me a little flat, this novel was an enjoyable read and a pleasant way to spend a few hours.

Heartbreak Hotel - Jonathan Kellerman

Alex Delaware’s usual patients are children. So it is purely down to curiosity that he goes to visit Thalia Mars, who at 99 is considerably older than his usual consults. Thalia asks about criminal behaviour. His interest peaked, Alex agrees to visit Thalia the next day. When he arrives he finds she has been killed. But who would murder Thalia and why? Alex and his friend Lieutenant Milo Sturgis are soon embroiled in a mystery that spans back to the golden age of gangsters and organised crime.

The story itself is well paced and interesting. Harking back to the days of gangsters and organised crime the reader finds out the clues as Alex and Milo do so can sit back and watch the story unfold. There are no chase scenes or dangerous situations, this is more of a gentle paced whodunit, though that’s not to say its boring. I was soon caught up in the story, revisiting old friends, and enjoyed reading this very much.

There were moments when references went over my head, a lot of them obvious to US culture but not enough to loose the thread of the story for those of us not familiar with them. There are quite a few side characters in the book, sometimes it was hard to place them in the narrative and I did find myself at one point flicking back to see where the name had been mentioned before.

This is book 32 in the Alex Delaware series. You don’t have to read the series in order as all of them can be read as a standalone, but regular readers come to know the recurring characters.

I had noticed in recent novels that Robin, Alex’s girlfriend, and Milo, his detective best friend, had seemed to take something of a side role. This was still the case to some extent in Heartbreak Hotel. Thankfully though both began to have more involvement as the story developed. Whilst these are the Alex Delaware mysteries I always feel that the stories benefit from more of a rounded cast and Milo and Robin add more interest to the books.

The staccato narrative is still present. Some sentences are two words. Jonathan Kellerman has developed a style of removing unnecessary verbs and adjectives but you soon become used to the clipped writing style.

This is an enjoyable crime caper with two well established and likeable returning characters. I look forward to reading more novels featuring Alex Delaware in the future.

Six Stories - Matt Wesolowski

I initially heard the author read the opening to his novel at a book event and was immediately drawn to the story. When I started to read the tale for myself I was soon drawn into a narrative that promised to reveal a dark and compelling tale.

 

The chilling aspect of this novel was added to by the fact that it was reminiscent of my childhood. Not the murder aspect obviously, but I did attend a residential in a similar setting, that had it’s own tales of hauntings by Peg Leg and the Blue Nun rather than Nanna Wrack. Rather than wandering the abandoned mines we visited Mam Tor. I live close to moors and peaks and could easily imagine the scenery of the novel. And those fond, though very vague and aged memories and familiar images juxtaposed the tale that was unfolding in Six Stories, and made it all the more atmospheric and effective for it.

 

It has a closed room feel, despite the fact that most of the story revolves around the open fells of the Northumberland countryside, aided by the small cast of characters and the personal way the story presented itself, the reminiscent narrative of the now grown teenagers blurring the lines between fact and imagined memories. The setting itself is a character, demanding attention. The landscape is portrayed as both beautiful and bleak, welcoming and dangerous. It is seen by the teenagers as a chance to escape yet they can never truly be free of the Fell, or of the issues that surround them.

 

Matt Wesolowski’s narrative is a fresh yet highly effective take on first person characterisation. The use of having chapters as podcasts bring the story bang up to date, tapping into the appeal of Serial and other such series. Each character was unique and well drawn. You could imagine the voices as they narrated. Their story, told through one of the podcasts, gradually layered the narrative, rounding out the events that led to the death of Tom Jeffries. What is interesting is that there are descriptions of the characters as teenagers but little of them as adults. This makes them perpetually young, together with the fact that even in the present day, they are only ever really talking about events from twenty years earlier. There is of course the suspicion that one of them is not telling the truth, all the more convincing in that each one has a slightly different take on what happened. The inevitable differences that come from seeing and experiencing a situation from a different perspective means that the story develops both in a linear and a more rounded way, but is never quite filled out. The reader sees more of the picture than the characters, for we see all sides, yet there are still gaps to be filled, contradictions to be dissected and conclusions to be drawn.

 

The story tackles a number of different themes. There is the usual difficulties of being a teenager, adapting to new boundaries, peer pressure and just working out how you fit into life. The novel also deals with bullying in its various guises, how people seek out the perceived weaknesses in others and exploit it for their own gain or entertainment. And how those actions can have a lasting impact on the lives of both the bullied and bully.

I had worked out what had happened before the reveal but Matt Wesolowski draws the strands of the story together so well I was just happy to follow the story to it’s conclusion.

 

Atmospheric, chilling and compellingly written I thoroughly enjoyed reading this debut novel. I look forward to reading more from Matt Wesolowski soon.

Quieter Than Killing - Sarah Hilary

A series of random assaults have been taking place across London. The only thing the victims have in common – they all have criminal records. When assault turns to murder, Marnie and her team have to race to find the culprit before more victims appear. Marnie also has to contend with a burglary at her parents home. And then a child disappears. Soon it seems all three events are linked and Marnie has to unravel the past to find out what is happening in the present.

 

When I pick up a Sarah Hilary novel I know I’m going to be in for a treat. Quieter Than Killing is no different. I was soon drawn into this story and try as I might to make it last, I found myself racing through the end all too soon.

 

This is a more personal case for Marnie. Her family home has been ransacked, her tenants attacked. And personal items, lost since her parents murder, make their way back to her. She must face Stephen and the reasons why her foster brother killed her parents. It’s also much more personal for Noah Jake. The detective finds his brother Sol has gone missing, apparently escaping the gang he is caught up in. We see Noah torn between his career, his lover and his family.

 

The other storyline is as I have come to expect from Sarah Hilary, one that is often missing from crime fiction. Sarah Hilary has the knack for choosing unique crimes and plot devices to create a gripping and thought provoking novel. Quieter Than Killing is no different. Using the idea of vigilante justice with a twist this is fantastic thriller that will have you gripped until the very end.

 

I’ve said this before in a review for a previous Sarah Hilary novel but I’ll say it again. In Someone Else’s Skin Sarah Hilary set herself out as one to watch. She is now an author that is firmly on the crime writing scene, and a standout author at that. It’s often said that genre novels, in particular crime novels, aren’t as ‘worthy’ as literary fiction, not a notion I’d endorse. I’d suggest that whoever says this hasn’t read a novel such as one by Sarah Hilary. She’s author that can be relied upon to create compelling, moving novels, tackling little mentioned crimes, shied away from or unknown in the wider world but which lend themselves to moving, thought-provoking stories.

 

Quieter Than Killing is book four in the Marnie Rome series but it can be read as a standalone. I would though urge you to read them in order if you haven’t read any before. You’ll be in for a treat if you do.

 

Sarah Hilary is one of the few writers whose books I will always read, and whose books are always eagerly awaited. She could put her name to the Yellow Pages and I’d speed read my way through it. I can only wait impatiently for book five.

 

Taut writing, fantastic characters, a gripping storyline and the bittersweet regret of reaching the end. What more could you want from a book?

See What I Have Done - Sarah Schmidt

‘Lizzie Borden took an axe,

And gave her mother forty whacks.

When she saw what she had done,

She gave her father forty-one.’

 

Or did she? On 4 August 1892 in Falls River, Massachusetts, Andrew Borden and his wife Abby are found murdered in their home, savagely attacked with an axe. But what led to the shocking killings. Lizzie, the youngest child of Andrew was tried and acquitted of the crimes. In See What I Have Done Sarah Schmidt reimagines the days leading up to the scandal that shook the United States.

 

Most people will have heard of Lizzie Borden, a woman tried and acquitted of the vicious murders of her father and stepmother. No one else was ever convicted of the crime and the true version of events remains a mystery to this day. In See What I Have Done Sarah Schmidt reimagines the inhabitants of 92 Second Street and what could have caused the violent deaths. The story flitters between characters to just before the murders to the time both immediately after and some time in the future.

 

The language used is pared down, often sparse, more often poetic. It is visceral and creates a dissonance, as if there is a way of speaking only understood by the Bordens and their inner circle. It weaves a spell over the reader, almost like a toxic lullaby. The world revolving around the Borden family and those in close proximity to them appears tainted, like the mutton broth and rancid pears that the household feast on. On the surface everything appears perfection. A well to do family, the two grown daughters still at home, unusual for the time, which perhaps hints at trouble under the surface.

 

The writing is taut, evocative and mesmerising in places. There were times when I thought I wasn’t enjoying the novel, but it lured me back, compelled to read until the end. The threat of violence, of wrongness, is perpetually threatening to boil to the surface. The fate of Mr and Mrs Borden is known from the outset. It is what leads to the violent deaths that pulls the story along. The smells and sights of the house were vivid. The stench of rotting mutton broth virtually wafted from the pages. One could imagine that the book felt almost tacky to the touch, soaked through with juice from the pears so beloved by Lizzie. The stench of the inhabitants, the sticky feeling of the wallpaper wiped with fingers littered with cake crumbs, the metallic scent of spilled blood, the sound of an axe dropping were all conjured for the reader.

 

None of the characters are particularly likeable. Each have their own peculiarities, their own character quirks, that seem benign but develop into something far more malignant. It’s hard to trust anyone, for all have their own opinions on the murdered couple, and those left behind. Emma is almost brow-beaten, used to being the least favoured, most relied upon. She is there to temper her sister’s whims, to act as a buffer between the tempers of Lizzie and her father. She has had to grow up disguising the dismay at receiving a new mother when she had not been allowed to grieve for the one she had lost. There is a bittersweet slant to the relationship between herself and Lizzie. She both coddles her and pushes her away. She loves her sister but is also disgusted at her actions on occasion. She has glimpsed at what Lizzie is capable of and perhaps fears her slightly as a result. There is a longing to Emma’s character to be free from her family, to escape the confines of the house and she is tarred by the lost chances to do so.

 

Andrew Borden is portrayed as taciturn, sometimes hard, controlling and set in his ways. He both spoils his younger daughter and rails at her wilfulness. Abby Borden is also given two sides. She appears to have been keen to show love to her two young step daughters. It would appear that it was taken advantage of by one, and rejected by the other so that by the time of her death Abby appears to be a contradiction of herself. She is kind to her maid, Bridget, but then turns on a knife edge to be controlling and almost manic in her attempts to keep Bridget in the household. Bridget saw the Borden house as her chance to make something of herself, to free her family back home in Ireland of one more mouth to feed. The years at the Bordens has worn away at Bridget, the taut relationships between the family marring the house, bringing its weight down to bear upon Bridget. She longs to run away but all she sees are blocked pathways. The girls Uncle Jonathan has his own role to play, invading the house to ensure the memory of his long dead sister does not fade, but with motivation other than his nieces welfare fuelling the visits. He brings with him an unknown quantity in Benjamin, a boy on the cusp of being a man and with his own baggage driving his actions and propelling him to visit Falls River with Jonathan.

 

And then there is Lizzie. She is petulant and charming, forthright and secretive, spoiled, conniving and narcissistic. Whenever she appears on the page, or is described by others there is a contradiction in her demeanour and manner that leaves the reader unsure as to her true nature.

 

I had some minor issues with the story, though not enough to deter me from reading until the end. The language takes some getting used to and there is a lot of wanting to climb into people to see what they are really feeling. But these are minor issues that didn’t detract from the novel.

 

This is an all encompassing novel, one that wraps itself around the reader. Not always an easy read, it is a study of family, of the toxicity that can arise from passed slights. Of how a woman was still subject to the whims of a man, be it a husband or a father. And of how some may go to any lengths to free themselves of the ties that bind.

Killer Look - Linda Fairstein

Still recovering from her kidnapping Alex Cooper is struggling to retain control of her life. Fearful at every turn, on leave from the job she loves and using alcohol as a crutch. When an old school friend insists that the apparent suicide of her fashion designer father was murder, Alex is drawn into a high stakes murder investigation.

Alex Cooper can often be an acerbic character, often kind. In this novel she seemed almost unnecessarily vulnerable. I say this in that she has often time come into contact with danger in many of her escapades with Chapman and Wallace and has never before been as affected. It seemed a little strange at times that the kidnapping could have affected her so much, and so seemed a little out of character. There seemed to be too much mention of all the alcohol Alex was drinking, as if to convince the reader that she had a reliance on drink, rather than an actual problem. The arguments between Alex and Mike seemed contrived too, less concern than anger on his part and she more accepting than her usual character would belie. Also there seemed to be an issue with her helping on this case, and not just because she was on leave. It was implied that because she wasn’t a police officer she shouldn’t be investigating but that didn’t ring true as it hadn’t stopped her in the previous seventeen novels.

This may sound like I didn’t enjoy the novel but I did. I was soon caught up in the book and found myself flying through the pages. The storyline involving the murder was entertaining. Celebrated designer Wolf Savage is found dead in his hotel suite. It soon becomes clear that his apparent suicide was in fact murder and the reader gets caught up with Alex’s investigation.

It was great to be reunited with Alex, Mike and Mercer, to be swept into their manic New York life. There is a level of enjoyment found in books that form a series, that lend themselves to a comfort read. This is such a read and I’m looking forward to more from this series in the future. It’s an entertaining book, one that you can just sit back and enjoy for a few hours. And sometimes that’s what you need in a book.

The River at Night - Erica Ferencik

Win Allen is still recovering from the breakdown of her marriage and the death of her brother. The one highlight in her year is her annual holiday with her girlfriends. She longs for a week away on a beach, somewhere to forget her worries for a while. However, Pia, her adventurous friend, has other ideas. They are to go white water rafting in the wilds of Maine. Five days off the grid. Just Win, Pia, Rachel and Sandra and their guide. And no phones, no people and no sign of help if things go wrong…

 

This is a story where you start out knowing that something is going to go drastically wrong. I found myself willing Win to listen to her head, to the niggling voice telling her not to go, to follow her instincts. There is a thread of anxiety woven through this story, tugging constantly at the subconscious. The reader is on edge, waiting for disaster to strike, wondering what is round the next bend in the tumultuous river.

 

Much like the white waters, this books pulls you along at a frenetic pace, dragging you deeper into the story until you are completely submerged. As Win and her friends raced through the forest for survival I raced through their story. Though the opening of the story starts out slowly I was soon caught up the tale of survivial, willing the characters along, and I raced through the latter pages of the novel, the writing grabbing you and not letting go until the end.

 

The characters are all well drawn, flawed in their own ways and each possessing their own skills and strengths. Win is finding encroaching middle age hard. Her life is not at the stage she had envisaged when she was younger. Her marriage is in tatters, her beloved brother dead and she is stuck in a job she loathes. She has abandoned her true passion, art, and is conscious that her body doesn’t compare favourably, in her eyes, with the more athletic and lean Pia. Sandra is at a crossroads in her life, and hopes to use the trip to make decisions that could affect her and her children for ever. Rachel is still coming to terms with her sobriety and Pia is seeking adventure from her routine life, adventure that leads her to book white water rafting, to go bungee jumping and to prepare her body for any eventuality. As the story progresses each of the women change as the nightmare trip throws challenges at them. Win is faced with her weaknesses and challenges them head on. The others each find out aspects of themselves that were previously hidden, some welcome discoveries, others not so much.

 

This is not just a tale of survival. It is a tale of pushing yourself to do things you could never image achieving, of forgiving yourself and others of past wrongs and of reaching the stage in life when you can accept yourself for who you are, issues, flaws and strengths galore.

 

A well written, fast paced and thrilling read. I look forward to reading more from Erica Ferencik in the future.

Simply beautiful

Lost for Words - Stephanie Butland

Loveday Cardew has worked at the Lost for Words bookshop in the heart of York since she was 15. Here she has redefined herself, escaping her past, closing herself off and letting only a select few in. But soon her world is turned upside down when she meets the owner of a lost book. Then mysterious deliveries are left at the shop, deliveries that bring back unwelcome memories. Soon Loveday has to chose whether to face her past and let the present in.

 

Oh how I adored this book. I loved everything about it. The only thing wrong with it was that I could have read another 100 pages. There is a wonderful atmosphere created in this novel. It is a book you can sink into and be swallowed up by. Once I picked it up I didn’t want to leave the environs of Lost for Words and it’s quirky staff.

 

All the characters are wonderfully portrayed. Loveday is a complex character. A product of her family circumstances she is spiky, closed off, often unintentionally humorous and loved by the people she is closest to. Archie, the owner of Lost for Words, and the saviour of Loveday, is a fantastic character. He has a chequered past, with stories of being a spy, of monkey games in Borneo and claims of friendships with the rich and famous. To me he appeared as an over the top version of Simon Callow’s Matthew from Four Weddings and a Funeral. He is warm, witty and utterly fabulous. The other characters that surround Loveday are few but all perfectly placed in the story. Nathan, the person who unwittingly challenges Loveday to reassess her life. Rob, who challenges in a different way, the antitheses perhaps of Nathan.

 

The bookshop and it’s location are also worthy characters in themselves. I could imagine myself wandering the shelves in Lost for Words, coming across a hidden gem. I love York and Whitby and could easily imagine Loveday cycling on her way to work or walking up the steps to the Abbey in Whitby. It made me want to visit both places again, to wander the cobbled streets of the walled city and to eat fish and chips under the shadow of the Abbey.

 

This is a novel that is an ode to the written word, to the beauty of poetry and the solace that books can provide. But it is not just a celebration of books. It is a novel about how our history shapes us, but doesn’t have to define us. It is a novel about love, in its many guises, of friendship and of how we can always re-write our own story. Simply beautiful.

The Roanoke Girls: A Novel - Amy Engel

Eleven years ago Lane Roanoke ran away from her grandparents house in Osage Flats and vowed never to return. But then her cousin Allegra goes missing and she is drawn back to the house she spent a long hot summer in. What has happened to Allegra? And why do all of the Roanoke girls either run away or die?

 

A few people who saw me reading this book commented on the beautiful cover. In this case this book is the embodiment of the adage ‘Don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ for it’s beautiful frontage conceals a dark tale.

 

I had been warned before I read this book that it would be traumatic and disturbing. Being the person I am I therefore started to guess at what the story could be about. I had therefore already drawn my own conclusions before I started to read. Once I did pick the book up my thoughts were confirmed. It was at this point I put the book down for a while. Not because I found the story too traumatic. Mainly it was because I was a little disappointed that I had been proved right, contrary person that I am. I think I was hoping for something to surprise me, to shock me and because I had anticipated it, the shocking reveal fell flat. (Now this storyline is revealed early in the book for it makes up most of the narrative. I’m not going to spoil it for you and reveal it here, there are no doubt other reviews that will tell all if you want to find out before reading.) So I let the book sit for a while, read another book but then decided to pick this one up again. And I’m glad I did.

 

None of the characters are particularly likeable, with perhaps the exception of Cooper and Tommy. All have their own secrets to keep, things in their history that have shaped them today. Lane is the outcome of her upbringing, raised by a mother who showed no love, looking after herself from the age of 16, all the distrust and betrayal shaping her into a woman who is outwardly tough, but still lost on the inside. Cooper, subject to his own traumatic childhood, has emerged a more resilient man, determined to not become his father, something that drives him every day. The other characters are all well drawn, and I wouldn’t want to spoil it by describing them here for you. They all have secrets that have shaped their lives, which have impacted on others and which have far reaching ramifications for themselves and others.

 

The town of Osage Flats and the house of Roanoke are also characters, the small town almost aiding in the disappearance of Allegra and the other Roanoke Girls, allowing the secrets to be kept, to not be questioned. The weather is oppressively hot, stifling the will of the residents. The saying goes that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. Perhaps it should be amended to include the Roanokes too.

 

It has been said that this book is a marmite book – you’ll either love it or hate it. I like to be different and whilst I didn’t love the book, I didn’t hate it either. It’s hard to say that you can ‘enjoy’ a book with this subject but in the sense that it was an entertaining, readable book, I did enjoy it. I enjoyed reading about the present day Lane, and seeing how her relationship with Cooper, the boy she left behind, developed. The storyline of what happened to Allegra is almost a side story, something to tie up the story of 16 year old Lane and the Lane who returns to Roanoke 11 years later.

 

It is a story about the secrets we keep and the secrets we share, of how selfish acts can destroy but also how they can save, of the toxicity that love can bring but also of the freedom it can also deliver.

Purged (Matt Hunter) - Peter Laws

Professor Matt Hunter long ago lost his faith and gave up his role as minister. Now commissioned to write a book debunking faith he also assists the police with religiously motivated crimes. Matt travels to the village of Hobbes Hill with his family, perturbed by the flurry of crosses that fill the buildings. He also comes face to face with his past when the pastor of the local church turns out to be a former theological college student. The beautiful setting seems to be hiding some darker deeds as local women go missing. Matt is soon drawn into the case, hunting a killer determined to send those worthy to heaven.

This is the debut novel by Peter Laws, himself a minister, and is a cracking start to a new crime series.

 

The book focuses on the fervent and the lapsed, the role that belief or lack of can have on a person. During the course of the investigation Matt is forced to look further into his own loss of faith and how that may have affected his life and the lives of his family.

I had guessed the killer’s identity before the reveal but this did not detract from my enjoyment. I was completely wrapped up in the story until the very end. Peter Laws has a compelling writing style, mixing the comedic with the macabre and the more I read, the more I grew attached to the characters and the story.

 

Matt Hunter is a great character, funny, acerbic and devoted to his family. He is settled into his role as professor and is enjoys working with the police, investigating religiously motivated crimes. He has a tragic past, one that led him away from his calling as a minister, and the loss of faith resulting from that. During the novel, Matt is forced to face these issues, whilst trying to find a very real and dangerous killer. His wife, Wren is also a good character, perfectly balancing Matt and I look forward to reading more about Matt’s police colleagues in further novels.

 

Don’t let the religious theme put you off. I’m not remotely religious but I found this book to be a fascinating and gripping novel with a personable and unique protagonist.

 

A welcome new addition to the crime writing scene, peppered with humour but also thought provoking, dark and traumatic. A compelling, absorbing read and I for one can’t wait for the next book in the series.

Echoes in Death - J.D. Robb

Eve Dallas and her husband Roarke are returning from an evening out when a woman falls in front of them. Naked, bloodied and battered, Daphne Strazza has suffered a terrible ordeal, one which has left her husband dead. Her attack fits in with a series of other, similar, brutal assaults. Now Eve and her team must find the culprit before he strikes again.

 

J.D. Robb also known as Nora Roberts, has an impressive turnout of books, having written over 200 romance novels and this, Echoes in Death, is the 44th Eve Dallas novel.

For fans of the series this will be a welcome return to Dallas, Roarke, Peabody and co. To those new to the books, they are crime novels that are set in New York, some 50 or so years in the future. This setting, the fact that it is the future, gives a unique slant to the books. Things are the same but different, with references to droids, off planet holiday destinations, holograms and hover boards. But greed, and lust and jealousy and rage are still the same, and murder goes on as normal.

 

The dialogue sometimes seems to hit a flat note, there is something frenetic about it that it almost appears that the author was in a rush to type it. Because the novels are set in the future the slang and some terms used are a little different and so I sometime found myself translating what was said, figuring out what was meant.

 

This book is the 44th in the Eve Dallas series. I haven’t read all of these and I did find myself at a disadvantage when references to other characters and past stories was mentioned, especially as these weren’t given any further background information, it is assumed that the reader will have read the others in the series.

 

The crimes involve a fair bit of violence which may sound obvious but is quite overt in this instance and sometimes unrelentingly so, but it is part of the storyline so doesn’t verge into gratuitous territory.

 

But despite these quibbles I did enjoy the book. Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb is a best selling author for a reason, she can write entertaining novels, books that people can find a bit of escapism in. The story is fast paced and drags the reader along, ensuring they are caught up in the action. I had figured out the culprit before the reveal, but part of the fun was seeing how Eve brought him down.

 

An entertaining instalment in the Eve Dallas series.

Rupture (Dark Iceland) - Ragnar Jónasson

Siglufjörður is closed off due to a virulent virus. Ari Thór, to pass the time, agrees to look into a mysterious death from half a century ago. In the uninhabited fjord of Hedinsfjörður a woman had died of accidental causes. There were supposed to be only 4 people and a baby living there at the time, but a photo emerges showing a fifth person. Ari Thór begins to investigate, aided by Ísrún, a news reporter in Reykjavik, who becomes wrapped up in a death and a child’s disappearance.

 

Whilst this book is part of a series it can be read as a standalone novel, as can any of the series. Indeed, the English Language versions are published out of sequential order.

The storyline lent an almost nostalgic bent to the story, given part of it was set in the distant past, with all but one of those affected long dead. Knowing the outcome for the woman who died makes it all the more tragic, as does the case of the suspicious death in the capital, and the circumstances that surround it.

 

One thing that stands out in the Dark Iceland series is that Iceland itself is a major character in the book. The sites, the geography, the weather, all effect the story, all bring another layer to the tale. Iceland is a beautiful country, with it’s own unique atmosphere and vibe and this comes across in the novels. The mountains that surround the town, together this time with the virus, make its inhabitants seemingly cut off from the rest of the world. The sense of isolation is added to by the fact that so few characters appear in the story, only a handful complete the tale, making the town seem almost deserted.

 

As with the rest of the books in the series it is easy to fly through Rupture. Short paragraphs lend themselves to the obvious ‘just one more chapter’ promise to oneself and often end on a cliff-hanger that obviously means another must be read.

 

The characterisation is solid. There were times when I didn’t particularly like Ari Thór, his grumpiness sometime verging on unnecessary rudeness and Ísrún could often be found to verge on this herself. Kirsten, Ari Thór’s on/off girlfriend appears briefly in this novel and whilst she had annoyed me in past outings, she was more agreeable in Rupture.

This outing is slightly different in that a major part of it focusses on the incidents and investigations Ísrún carries out in Reykjavik, who is looking into a suspicious death and the kidnap of a boy that has shocked the country, all the while, battling her own health and personal issues. The storyline is solid and engaging and given there are three threads, not complicated or easy to loose track off.

 

Ragnar Jónasson’s literary past includes translating Agatha Christie into Icelandic. That influence shows in that he has created strong characters, with their own idiosyncrasies and foibles, possessing of course a keen eye for detection and giving all of his novels the closed room feel of a classic crime novel.

 

A sign of a great translation is the fact that the reader forgets they are reading a translated work. That is the case with Rupture. Quentin Bates has done a fantastic job of allowing English language readers the chance to experience this book. Whilst I obviously don’t know the original Icelandic version, it feels as if Quentin Bates has been true to the original and retained the voice of Ragnar Jónasson.

 

Another great installment in the Dark Iceland series. I’m looking forward to reading the rest.

By Its Cover - Donna Leon

Commissario Guido Brunetti is called to a library in Venice. Someone has been stealing valuable books. Even worse, pages have been taken from others, leaving the remaining tomes worthless. Brunetti believes that something other than petty theft and vandalism is involved. His investigation takes him into Venice high society and leads him to a former priest who frequents the library. When he is murdered the investigation takes a deeper turn.

 

I’m a long time Donna Leon fan. Reading her latest book is like going home. I wallow in the comfort of being surrounded by familiar characters, watching them develop over the years. In fact her books for me are as much about these characters as they are about the crime being investigated.

 

As always Venice is itself an integral character in the book. I could imagine myself wandering the Calles and canals of the ancient city. I am always easily transported by Donna Leon to this beautiful part of Italy and her love for the city shines through the book as it does in all the others in the series.

 

Also a word of advice. Don’t read this book if you are hungry. The description of the meals eaten  by the Brunetti clan are enough to make your mouth water.

 

The story itself was interesting. I had worked out what had happened and who was the culprit before the reveal but this did not spoil my enjoyment. There have been other readers who have commented on the abrupt ending. However I find that Donna Leon’s books rarely have that neat finish to them that most crime novels contain. This would normally irritate me as I prefer finality in a novel, or to know that the story is to continue. With Brunetti I know I should not expect such a tying up of loose ends. Indeed there have been stories in the past where Brunetti has been unable to do as he would like due to bureaucracy or other external forces and I suppose this is more true to life.

 

I am looking forward to reading the 24th book in the Brunetti series, Falling in Love, as soon as I get my hands on a copy.

The Book of Mirrors - Eugen Ovidiu Chirovici

A literary agent receives an intriguing manuscript. Drawn in by the covering letter sent by Richard Flynn, he starts to read the submission. Soon he is enthralled by the manuscript which describes how Richard Flynn came to know Joseph Weidner who was brutally murdered 25 years ago. When the manuscript abruptly ends the agent tries to track down the story. But what is the true story? How much do memories warp over time  and what really happened all those years ago?

 

I very much enjoyed this interesting crime novel.

 

The book’s theme is that memory can become warped or altered, either immediately after a traumatic event or over a period of time. This can be the brain’s natural way of dealing with trauma or through being manipulated. The question is how much can we trust our memories?

 

The book is divided into three parts, each with a different narrator. I thought this device worked extremely well. The first third deals with the manuscript and is almost a story within a story. The reader is lured in with Richard’s tale, reading the manuscript in time with the agent. The first impression we get of the characters is through Richard’s eyes. This effects how we view the characters as they appear during the remainder of the book. For things appear to not be as Richard remembered and the reader is challenged to decide who and what to believe. The voice of each narrator is slightly different as is their own take on the case. Some were involved in the case, others not, but the reader has to decide what to believe.

 

The story draws the reader in, the use of a story within a story is a great technique of adding a layer to the narrative. Conversely, the use of narrators who are not directly involved in the incident has the effect of separating the reader from the tale, a distance that could make the story too remote, without enough layers to make the reader care about the protagonists but luckily the author manages not to cross that line. There is the constant niggle that the main players in the murder story can’t be trusted. The reader is led to question who is telling the truth, or rather whose memory is the more accurate.

The Book of Mirrors is an engaging book. I found myself nearly a third of the way through the book after initially picking it up to see if I wanted to read it. It also makes you think about whether your first memories are actual memories or images created as a result of what we think happened. I will add though that the book seemed more about who could be trusted than whether the memories mentioned in the book were true or not, that’s to say more about the manipulation of truth and different view points tag memories of events.

 

This book nearly didn’t happen in that the author had nearly give up hope of being published. A kind, and very honest publisher who loved the book but knew he couldn’t honour the advances the book deserved advised EO Chirovici to try one more time. Luckily he did as his book was snapped up by a London agent and to date has sold in 30 territories.

 

An entertaining, clever story, told in an engaging manner that fit the story. I’ll be keen to read more work by EO Chirovici in the future.

The Constant Soldier - William   Ryan

Paul Brandt is returning to his home town, horribly injured whilst fighting the Allies on the front in the East. As he returns home, passing the SS Rest Hut he sees one of the women prisoners. Shocked he realises it is the woman he fell in love with, whilst part of a political resistance movement years earlier. Already haunted by his role in her arrest, and by the guilt of his actions whilst in combat, Paul vows to find a way to help the woman prisoner.

 

We read war novels with the benefit of hindsight. Although the horrors are known, and the outcome, it adds tension to the narrative, rather than detract from it. The reader knows how the war ends, they know of the atrocities inflicted and its this knowledge that makes the story all the more moving and impacting. I rarely read war novels yet I had heard numerous reviews declaring this book a wonderful read so I had to find out for myself.

 

It was fascinating to read a novel portraying the war from the German point of view. It is obvious when thought is given that not all of those fighting for Germany would have done so willingly, or would have agreed with the Nazi propaganda. There would have been civilians who were against the war, who were unaware for a long time of the atrocities that were occurring, and that who would have felt powerless to do anything once the extent of the terrible actions that Hitler was inflicting were revealed.  This novel delves into that, exploring the feelings and actions of those living in the shadows of the concentration camps, in a land that was annexed by Germany. William Ryan sensitively and beautifully portrays a country on the brink, coming to terms with the fact that everyone will be impacted by the punishment due to be inflicted by the Allies.

 

Paul Brandt is the constant soldier in many ways. His injuries are a constant reminder of his time served on the front. His memories constantly haunt him of those he killed whilst under orders. On his return home he finds that he is still fighting, though this time the enemy is different and his fight is a hidden one.

 

William Ryan has the magical ability to make the reader feel something close to sympathy for some of those characters who deserve none. Nuemann, haunted by his actions in the war, is one such character. His actions at the SS Hut are not enough to garner sympathy, but there is something that moves the reader to hear of his actions, and regrets. There are others whom the reader will feel deserve any punishment that should come their way, disconcertingly so as it is uncomfortable to realise you are wishing for violence to be meted out on someone, albeit a fictional character.

 

Characterisation is strong throughout this novel, from the Partisans who are fleeting, to Commandants of the SS. Paul himself is a complex character. Instinctively he is likeable, driven as he is by his need to atone. His guilt haunts him, yet it is the guilt of a man who was fighting a war he didn’t believe in. It is a guilt by association. It is also what drives him, gives him hope in someway. The rescue of the women prisoners is Paul’s way to seeking forgiveness, from them and from himself.

 

I rarely read war novels yet I had heard numerous reviews declaring this book a wonderful read so I had to find out for myself. All the plaudits are well deserved. If you miss out on reading this you’ll miss an absorbing, powerful, poetic and emotive novel.

Beautifully written, emotive and moving, this is a wonderfully told story of war, love and redemption.

 

I will be seeking out the other novels by William Ryan, and soon.

A Deadly Thaw: A Mystery (Inspector Francis Sadler) - Sarah Ward

2004 and Lena Fisher is convicted of killing her husband Andrew. 2016 and a body is found in an old morgue. The trouble is the body is Andrew Fisher. So who did Lena Fisher kill 12 years ago? Where has Andrew been for all those years – and why was he murdered now?

 

Having read and enjoyed In Bitter Chill, Sarah Ward’s debut novel, I was keen to read the latest book to feature detectives Sadler and Childs. The story opens with an intriguing premise, a man supposedly murdered twelve years ago, turns up dead in a mortuary. The story grabs from the outset and pulls the reader along with it until the very end.

 

Lena Fisher isn’t particularly likeable, and this is even after events surrounding the 2004 murder arise. But her actions become clearer and more understandable as the story progresses. There is a good balance between the police involvement and the involvement of Kat, Lena’s sister, who is also trying to untangle the mess her sister appears tied up in, whilst dealing with professional and personal issues of her own. We get to learn more about Sadler, Connie and Palmer, as well as other characters. This helps round out the story,  their characters and what drives them are just as essential to the storyline as the motive for the murders is. As we read more about the detectives, the more the reader, or this reader at any rate, becomes invested in the story, and in what will hopefully become a long running series. The setting too adds a layer to the story, there is the small town feel to Bampton, one which is used to keeping secrets, and not too keen on sharing them, which adds to the tension.

 

This novel feels much more assured than In Bitter Chill, and I mean no offence when I say that. There is a confidence to the writing, and the characters and location feel more established on this, their second outing. The topics covered in the novel are emotive and thought-provoking and dealt with a skilled and sensitive way. In my opinion A Deadly Thaw firmly establishes Sarah Ward on the crime writing scene.

 

A thoroughly enjoyable novel, I’m looking forward to the next Sadler and Childs novel.