The opening chapters of this debut novel won Michéle Rowe the 2011 CWA (Crime Writers Association) Debut D...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
The opening chapters of this debut novel won Michéle Rowe the 2011 CWA (Crime Writers Association) Debut Dagger Award and I can see why. This is crime writing just the way I like it – smart, pacy and character-driven.
The cover for What Hidden Lies is very much in line with the current style in crime fiction – moody with large print that catches the eye. The image of a lone figure walking along a beach with dark clouds hovering above has been chosen to suit the story. It could represent either Persy or Marge in their journey to find a killer – both fiercely independent and isolated from those around them. The Penguin (South Africa) design team has done a great job with this cover.
What Hidden Lies is Michéle Rowe's debut novel, but it suffers from very few of the signs of an author trying to find her feet in a new book. Rowe's background is in scriptwriting and I think that this has given her a great advantage when diving into the field of novel writing. Rowe's writing style is assured and she makes great use of the peripheral characters and side-plots to add interest and depth to the central murder investigation. What Hidden Lies is well-paced and – like all good crime fiction – has the reader trying to solve the case right along with the characters. The Cape Town setting – mainly centred around Noordhoek, Fish Hoek and surrounding areas – is brought to life with vivid description and Rowe has populated her story with an eclectic cast of characters who bring energy to the scenes.
All of the characters in What Hidden Lies have interesting backstories that shape their view of the world and their decisions. The fact that this level of character development isn't limited to the central characters is something that I must applaud the author for. It takes a lot of work and it has paid off in making the interactions between the characters more engaging and it allows for Rowe to introduce some great red herrings into the plot to keep the reader engaged. The two central characters – Detective Persy Jones and Marge Labuschagne – act as interesting foils for each other. Both are fiercely independent and determined to be taken seriously in their lives, but both are also incredibly isolated and lonely. I think it's these similarities that cause the initial sparks to fly in their relationship, but they do ultimately find a grudging respect for each other which I will be interested to see develop in further books.
Michéle Rowe has produced a great debut novel with What Hidden Lies and I am looking forward to following her writing career as it develops. Things can only keep getting better and that makes this reader very happy. (less)
Lauren Beukes has long been on my list of local authors to read. But it took reading an interview with her...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
Lauren Beukes has long been on my list of local authors to read. But it took reading an interview with her about her new book, The Shining Girls, to make me realise that I couldn’t wait a moment longer to explore this imaginative writer’s work. I have four words for you that will no doubt spark a similar response: time travelling serial killer.
The cover for The Shining Girls is a collage of photographs that invokes a sense of mystery. The images conjure a feeling of the different time periods visited in the book. For me they also represent how seemingly disjointed moments can come together to form a coherent whole; as Kirby’s investigation into Harper’s crimes does.
Time travel is difficult to write. The different events and locations scattered across various years can get confusing and authors often make mistakes with their continuity. I must tip my hat to Lauren Beukes – she has handled the time travel aspect of her story masterfully. The changes in setting and time flowed as a natural part of the story. Each setting has its own unique feel that allows the reader to instinctively know where in the timeline they find themselves. From the gritty feel of ‘20s and ‘30s Chicago to the more familiar ‘90s – each location springs to vivid life in the pages of The Shining Girls.
Kirby is an interesting heroine. Her world is falling apart around her and she doesn’t know what to do about it. The only anchor she has is her determination to find the man who nearly killed her. I really liked that Kirby isn’t your typical ‘damsel in distress’. Here is a smart girl whose already chaotic life (thanks to her free-spirited and sometimes absent mother) has been torn apart. But she is determined to do something about it. One could argue that Kirby’s obsession with the man who attacked her is at least partly to blame for her situation and I appreciate that Beukes allows the reader to entertain this idea. She has created a complex and driven heroine to drive her story forward and it works. The reader may be wary of Kirby’s motivations, but you want to know where her path will lead.
Harper, the villain of the piece, is a particularly nasty character. Upon discovering the house which allows him to move through time he sets out to find and kill his ‘shining girls’, women who have a particular strength of spirit about them. He never gives a reason for his crimes or tries to explain them away and this, as far as I’m concerned, makes him a truly interesting villain. Harper is just bad. Beukes makes no excuses for it. It makes him unpredictable and adds to the feeling of menace he evokes. I especially liked the detail of Harper leaving items from different times at the scenes of his crimes. It serves as a link between the women across the years.
The Shining Girls is a well written and entertaining thriller with a skilfully handled time travel element adding to the mystery. Recommended reading.