Back in 2013, I read Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl with low expectations. This book is popular, I thought like a literary snob, so it can't possibly be goBack in 2013, I read Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl with low expectations. This book is popular, I thought like a literary snob, so it can't possibly be good. (Given that 80% of my reading material is crime thrillers and Stephen King, I don't know why I persist in thinking like this, but STILL). Gone Girl totally defied my expectations and turned out to be a heck of a page turner. So after seeing the movie adaptation last week, I decided I was in the mood for more of the same, and Dark Places did a pretty good job of satisfying that craving.
Libby Day was seven when her mother and sisters were slaughtered in a Satanic ritual by her brother Ben. Now thirty-one, Libby encounters a group of fangirls convinced of Ben's innocence, and begins to delve into her past, as her beliefs about what happened that night are tested.
Above all else, this book definitely kept me turning pages. Every few chapters I had a new theory about what had really gone down in their farmhouse, and by the end none of them proved right. As thrillers go, Dark Places is tightly paced, with just the right amounts of information doled out at the right time to keep things speeding along. One fairly major sticking point is that none of the characters are very likeable. Libby is a stunted and bitter kleptomaniac who can barely function on a day to day basis, and even as we begin to suspect Ben may not be as guilty as believed, different unsavoury traits are revealed that make it hard to root for his release.
The book jumps between past and present from chapter to chapter, and is mostly told through the eyes of Libby, Ben and their mother Patty. A lot of chapters end on cliffhangers, which I found a little off putting. I'd feel like I was just getting into one character's story, when the book would cut away to a different place and time, and these jarring jumps would usually be the points at which I'd set the book down for a while. Don't get me wrong, I still only took two days reading it, but it did fail the do-I-pick-up-my-phone-and-play-Candy-Crush-for-a-while test multiple times, which is a bit of a failing in a thriller.
I personally found the ending less than satisfactory, with too much of an element of coincidence to really pop. Nevertheless, it was a mostly gripping and fast paced read, and I'm sure I'll pick up Flynn's Sharp Objects at some point in the future....more
Die Again is a pretty solid installment in Tess Gerritsen's 'Rizzoli and Isles' series, albeit one with a few issues. Gerritsen is one of those authorDie Again is a pretty solid installment in Tess Gerritsen's 'Rizzoli and Isles' series, albeit one with a few issues. Gerritsen is one of those authors whose new books I'll buy without question, to the extent that I started this one without even reading the blurb. We're thrown straight into a safari in Botswana, where English tourist Millie is growing apart from her boyfriend, and developing a crush on their enigmatic tour guide Johnny. It was only after the first chapter that I read the cover summary, and learned that all of Millie's companions would disappear never to be seen again, leaving her to stumble out of the bush weeks later on the point of death. Awesome, I thought, here we go. And the Botswana chapters really were exciting, as one by one her fellow travellers were picked off by an unseen killer. The problem is, I think I enjoyed these early chapters more than the ones set in Boston, following our protagonists, Detective Jane Rizzoli and forensic pathologist Maura Isles.
After five seasons of the Rizzoli and Isles TV series, it's becoming increasingly jarring to return to the books and remember that on paper, the friendship between these women is not that strong. We learn early on that they've barely even seen each other since their last case, and to me that's just a bit sad. As the book goes on, the recurring plots (Maura wondering whether she should leave Boston, Jane's mother's romantic struggles) get little more than a few pages of coverage, and by the end everything is still very much up in the air, albeit with a possible angle on the next book in the form of Maura's serial killer mother.
My biggest problem with Die Again is that I think most readers will guess the twist in the tale long before Jane does, which means there's a good fifty pages or so in there where she's treading water when she should be surging ahead. The realisation did make for a great aha moment, but leaving the detectives miles behind has the unfortunate effect of making them seem slow off the mark, which isn't ideal in the heroes we should be rooting for. In it's favour, I did appreciate that the crime in this novel was essentially ordinary - Gerritsen sometimes peppers her plots with secret cults and elements of the supernatural, which can spoil a book for me, so I was glad that for the most part here things stayed within the realm of the normal. All in all it was't my favourite in the series, but I enjoyed reading it, I know I'll be back for the twelfth installment, and I'm very excited to see Gerritsen speak on her upcoming UK book tour....more
Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch books are sometimes a bit hit-and-miss for me (unlike the Mickey Hallers, which always bring the A-game). I still buy eMichael Connelly's Harry Bosch books are sometimes a bit hit-and-miss for me (unlike the Mickey Hallers, which always bring the A-game). I still buy every single one regardless, so I was really pleased to enjoy The Burning Room as much as I did. This was one of those books so tightly plotted that every single sentence I smugly highlighted - believing I'd caught a vital piece of information - turned out to be inconsequential. I love that feeling of having no idea where a plot's going, but needing to get there as quickly as possible.
Something that sometimes puts me off the Bosch series is the number of partners Harry's worked through over the years. Sure there are the memorable standouts - Kiz Rider, Jerry Edgar - but remembering anything about the others, even recent ones, is a bit beyond me. Luckly, his new partner in this book, rookie Lucy Soto, proved interesting and endearing, with a solid backstory that dovetailed with the book's sub-plot.
We didn't hear a great deal from Harry's teenage daughter Maddie in this book. I know there's been a lot of talk about her possibly picking up the mantle when Harry finally retires, and that day must be coming soon - possibly all too soon based on the open-ended climax of The Burning Room. I was hoping for another Haller book next, but after the momentum built up here and how much I enjoyed it, I'd be happy with another installment of Harry....more
I've been a big fan of Val McDermid for over a decade now, but her standalone novels have always been a bit hit or miss for me. I think the only one II've been a big fan of Val McDermid for over a decade now, but her standalone novels have always been a bit hit or miss for me. I think the only one I've truly loved was 1999's A Place of Execution. That's not to say that the others aren't generally all very respectable crime thrillers - I certainly pre-order them months in advance without fail, and don't expect to ever stop reading them. I just don't go in expecting to be bowled over, and The Skeleton Road was no exception to that pattern.
At its heart it has all the makings of a good murder mystery. A skeleton is discovered on a roof in Edinburgh with a gunshot wound to the skull. Someone has been systematically killing figures from the Balkan Wars who escaped official punishment, and General Dimitar Petrovic has been missing from Oxford for eight years. These plot stands weave together into an intriguing thriller that just fell short of really working for me.
The novel has multiple POV characters who each advance the plot in fragments - the problem being, especially towards the end, the reader is often ahead of the lead characters - which is a frustrating hold-up in what should be a rush to the finish. I ultimately found the solution a bit of a let-down, having guessed around the right ballpark five or six chapters in, but with an additional infodump of explanation that couldn't reasonably have been seen coming. The novel attempts to deal with a brutal period of Balkan history but only ever skims the surface, showing events through the eyes of an Oxford post-grad who observes but is never truly threatened by the conflict.
All in all, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend The Skeleton Road to established fans of McDermid's work, but for the uninitiated there are much more satisfying thrillers out there.
[Disclaimer: I received a review copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]...more
[Disclaimer: I received a review copy via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.]
Cross and Burn is the eighth installment in Val McDermid's Tony[Disclaimer: I received a review copy via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.]
Cross and Burn is the eighth installment in Val McDermid's Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series, which follows a criminal psychologist, a police detective, and the crimes they solve. Except, because of the extreme events of the previous book, The Retribution, Tony and Carol become side-players here, while supporting character Paula McIntyre takes the lead. It's an interesting departure from the established format, and I really enjoyed the results.
In The Retribution, Tony and Carol's relationship and, in effect, lives were thrown into complete disarray by the actions of a serial killer. It was dark and it was painful and at the time I remember feeling that the stakes were ultimately too high, to the point that it was hard to see a road back for either of them. Cross and Burn deals with the aftermath of those events, and by minimising their roles, allows for breathing room and time for the healing process to begin. It's cathatic, realistic, and ultimately re-instilled hope for both their futures.
The case at the centre of the book is an interesting one (and unsurprisingly graphic) - a killer is bumping off blondes who look like Carol, leaving Paula to deal with the aftermath both on a personal and professional level. She's always been one of, or even the most promising supporting character, and easily shoulders the additional weight she's granted in this book. Given her recent promotion to a new firm, the characters from the MIT that have formed the focal point of many investigations from previous novels are either absent entirely, or reduced to a few walk-on scenes. I actually had no problem with this, given that I'd personally found the cast a little over-full in the past few books anyway.
Where things do get a bit weird is with Paula's new boss, DI Alex Fielding. Viewers of the Wire in the Blood TV series will know her as Simone Lahbib's character - Carol's replacement post-Hermione Norris's departure - secondary star of the show for three series. This is the first time she's popped up in a McDermid novel, and the result was puzzling. McDermid presents Fielding as the novel's secondary antagonist, second to only the bloke brutally murdering blondes in his garage. She's petty, officious, short-sighted and self-serving. Everyone who comes into contact with her actively dislikes her, and I don't understand the motivation in presenting her this way. I even went back and re-watched her first WitB episode to see if she started out that way and subsequent character growth had caused me to forget, but... not really. There are shades of her novel characterisation there - initially abrasive, by-the-book and resistant to Tony's skills - but within literal seconds of meeting him, she's also smiling at his foibles, divulging details of the case and letting him listen in on an interview. And by the end, she seeks out and is grateful for his help. I don't know if this is the start of a longer arc for her in the books, but I was a bit bewildered by her depiction.
On the whole, I found a lot of things to enjoy here. The writing was sharp as ever - in less skilled hands, Tony's pining and Carol's residual anger might have veered into melodrama, but most assuredly didn't. I enjoyed the interactions between Paula and Tony, even (maybe especially) the painful moment he accidentally called her Carol. I loved the humour that still lurked beneath the surface despite the circumstances ('He grabbed one of the sturdy reusable carrier bags that Carol - ouch, no, let her go, you can't get sentimental over a bloody carrier bag'). I particularly think keeping Carol and Tony apart for three quarters of the novel was a positive move, building towards their eventual meeting and allowing their interactions to be less raw and fraught than where The Retribution left them. Ultimately, book seven left me worried about where this series was going. Book eight has me pleasantly hopeful for the next installment.
(If there is one truly horrifying event in this novel, it's Carol leaving behind her beloved cat Nelson and getting a dog. Far more dreadful than all the murders combined, clearly.)...more
As far as I'm concerned, Jeffery Deaver is the master of plot twists. His short story collections Twisted and More Twisted are packed with brilliantlyAs far as I'm concerned, Jeffery Deaver is the master of plot twists. His short story collections Twisted and More Twisted are packed with brilliantly crafted gems, and his on-going Lincoln Rhyme series has more stings in the tale than a rattlesnake. So I was excited to see what he'd do with The October List, a thriller told quite literally backwards. We open on chapter 36, with a frantic mother awaiting news of her kidnapped daughter. The door opens, revealing not her rescuers but the kidnapper himself, wielding a gun and a deranged grin. How did it come to this? We're about to find out, in reverse.
Although it takes a long time for the full picture to become clear (the game changes constantly, and the kaleidoscope doesn't come to rest as a fully-formed image until you've read all the way through to chapter one), the pace is never anything less than frenetic. I finished the book in around a day, and kept reading for several hours after I really should have been sleeping (when you physically can't hold the book open in bed, it's probably time to call it a night.)
Does the gimmick produce satisfying results? Yes and... hmm. The format does lend itself to some difficulties. You know the piece of proofreading advice, that if you read a document backwards you're more likely to catch mistakes? While there aren't mistakes here as such (ultimately, everything ties together beautifully), I think the problem with starting from a place of complete bewilderment is that I never really fully trusted anyone, nor took any information at face value. When the revelations come, they're more of the 'ah, that makes sense of that!' variety than the sudden sharp shock of being completely surprised.
When working with a regular chronology, Deaver is fully adept at misdirection and sleight of hand, techniques that I think this format fundamentally makes more difficult. I'm definitely not saying I guessed the resolution in advance, but I also wouldn't say I was miles from the ballpark. There are times Deaver's caught me from another continent entirely, so this wasn't necessarily in the same league.
That said, I think this will definitely bear a repeat reading, perhaps in reverse this time, to really catch all the subtle clues laid throughout. It's probably only a shade over half the length of most of his other books, so it wouldn't surprise me if this was the intention. I've quickly re-read the first (last?) chapter, and the additional depth and nuance once you know what's really going on is brilliant. As is the contents list at the back - I actually laughed out loud at how clever he'd been in places with the chapter illustrations.
Overall, while I wasn't completely blown away by The October List, I do think Deaver's writing here is very, very clever, and I'm looking forward to going through it again when it's not quite so fresh. For readers unfamiliar with JD, it does take a while to get in to - it was probably sixty pages or so before I stopped being completely bewildered, and maybe as much as another hundred before I was really rolling along - because of course, telling a story backwards does run the risk of making it choppy, disjointed and frustrating. My advice would be just to trust that he knows full-well what he's doing and that it will all pay off eventually. And enjoy!...more
I read this for my book group, and found it a fairly enjoyable - if not especially well crafted - read. Despite having been into crime fiction for eonI read this for my book group, and found it a fairly enjoyable - if not especially well crafted - read. Despite having been into crime fiction for eons, I'd never read a PD James before. She's always come well recommended (and is apparently a delight to talk to!) but for some reason her books have never appealed enough to coax me to pick one up. On the whole, Death Comes to Pemberley hasn't made me want to rush out and read more of hers, but I probably wouldn't judge her straight crime fiction on the basis of it either.
This was definitely a cosy enough read, and the scene setting was spot-on - atmospheric and very evocative of the Pemberley estate. The core plot had a decent enough hook: Six years after the wedding of Darcy and Elizabeth, Pemberley is preparing for the annual ball, when Lydia Wickham appears unexpectedly out of the dark, stormy night, screaming that her husband has been murdered. Drama!
It's been a couple of years since I read Pride and Prejudice so I can't speak for how well she captured the characters - but on the whole, it did rather feel as though they could have been anyone, with the names Darcy and Elizabeth slotted in. The only character that really, truly, rang 100% faithful to Austen was the odious Mr. Collins ("He began by stating that he could find no words to express his shock and abhorrence, and then proceeded to find a great number, few of them appropriate and none of them helpful. ...He went on to prophecy a catalogue of disasters for the afflicted family ranging from the worst - Lady Catherine's displeasure and their permanent banishment from Rosings - descending to public ignominy, bankruptcy and death.") Ha. Wonderful.
My main issue with the book is that the weight of it felt off. We go from the discovery of a body, to an arrest, inquest and trial - and when the thing feels all but over, there comes another sixty pages of info-dumped exposition explaining everyone's actions and motives in great detail, delivered essentially in a series of incredibly long monologues. There is enough in the way of clues early on that readers can probably have a good guess at how the thing really went down, but this great wave of revelation felt excessive and, honestly, a bit fatiguing to wade through. It took me rather by surprise, as I'd have assumed that as a crime fiction legend, James would have her plotting down pat.
On the whole though, it proved pleasant enough (although there are some dreadfully on the nose passages! "If this were fiction, could even the most brilliant novelist contrive to make credible so short a period in which pride had been subdued and prejudice overcome?" Goodness me.) If you like both P&P and crime fiction, by all means give it a go - just don't expect to be overwhelmed by the plot....more