I can't begin to tell you how much I hate star ratings. They don't really reflect a) how much I enjoy/can't stand a book, and b) they're rather subjec...moreI can't begin to tell you how much I hate star ratings. They don't really reflect a) how much I enjoy/can't stand a book, and b) they're rather subjective at best. But I'll go with a 3.75 here.
The blurb for this novel by Times UK reads "an absorbing psychological thriller," and I'd go along with the "absorbing" part of that statement. Thriller, no. So if that's what you're expecting, forget it. However, getting back to absorbing, that's precisely what it is -- with some very twisty bits along the way. I've done a longer review with a highlightable spoiler section (since I give an opinion on what would have been a better ending) at the crime page of my online reading journal; if you go there, be sure you've read the book before you start highlighting.
here's the gist:
A woman in her 70s returns to her family home after being away for some time in a convalescent hospital. Her physician son, Martin, comes every so often to see her to make sure she's okay; otherwise her only company is her housekeeper, and Elsa Préau has a lot of time on her hands. One Sunday afternoon, she is awakened from her nap by the sound of a swing squeaking and the sounds of children at play. Watching out her window, she notices a little girl and two boys outside playing in their back yard. Watching the Desmoulins children becomes a pastime for Elsa, and she notices the same thing every week: the little girl playing with her younger brother, while the older boy sits still and quietly, "constructing totems with bundled twigs and flat stones" under a weeping birch tree. The more she watches, the more she notices that the older boy has very little interaction with the rest of the family. She also never sees him with the other children when they're out walking with their father. She starts keeping a record of what she sees, along with other observations, in a small moleskin notebook, writing about the dirty condition of the older boy's clothing, his grayish skin, that he only went outside on Sundays, and that he never played with the other two. She's drawn to him not only out of curiosity, but because he has an incredible resemblance to her grandson. In her notebook, she begins to refer to him as "the stone boy." Determined to get to the bottom of things, she starts asking around, only to find out that according to the local school, the social welfare office, and the little girl herself (who has started taking piano lessons from Elsa), that there are only two children living in the house behind Elsa's wall -- that the "stone boy" does not exist. Elsa decides it's time to take matters into her own hands.
I am of two minds about this book. First, I thought it was very well written, especially because the author has constructed a story that plays quite nicely on reader expectations and then proceeds to turn them all on their respective heads. Ms. Loubière also weaves some powerful contemporary issues into the story through Elsa's letters to the mayor and other officials as well as in her notebooks and in the last few pages where all is revealed. I have to admit to being so wrapped up in this story that everything else just sort of fell by the wayside and I accomplished absolutely nothing at all during my day while reading it. But after finishing it, I realized that this book could have had a much better ending that unfortunately I can't reveal without giving away the show (hence the above-mentioned highlightable spoiler section at the reading journal blog).
A book that had me as wrapped up in it as this one did can't help but be good, and I'd definitely recommend it. This is not going to be one of those novels that goes down in the annals of great literature, but it's a great way to while away the hours on a rainy day. It's also an amazing character study much more so than it is a thriller, and the way the writer plays with our heads is simply topnotch, ultimately delivering a one-two punch that will hit you in the gut.
The main focus of this novel is a manuscript entitled The Accident, which if published threatens to take down the...morehardcover from the publisher, thanks!
The main focus of this novel is a manuscript entitled The Accident, which if published threatens to take down the wide-ranging, worldwide empire of media mogul Charlie Wolfe. The anonymous author has written a tell-all book that exposes a lot of egregious secrets about the rich and powerful, and the manuscript also churns up an incident in Wolfe's past that the author now decides to reveal. Isabel Reed, who receives the manuscript with only an e-mail address as a contact, has to make a pretty hefty decision herself: should she make sure that this book gets published? Should she pretend that she'd never read it or even received it? Or should she go the authorities, the news media itself, or even call the White House? Figuring that she can't be killed "in front of the whole world," if she goes public, she decides to hand the book off to an acquiring editor she knows would be the right person to see it through. Unknown to Isabel, along with Wolfe, there's a CIA agent in Copenhagen who also doesn't want the book to be published; in fact, he doesn't want the manuscript to exist at all. But as it turns out, the manuscript is already making its way into hands other than those belonging to Isabel and her editor friend, as others see it as a perfect medium for saving or making their careers.
At the heart of this novel it's all about betrayal, and trust me, there is a lot of duplicity and double-dealing going on all through this book. Well beyond the anonymous author's exposé of Wolfe, there are people who see the manuscript as a way to elevate or launch their respective careers, there is one who sees its potential as not only a blockbuster but also a way to save a failing business, and there are other, more personal types of betrayals going on among some of the characters as well. This theme was well expressed, and the look behind the scenes at the publishing industry is quite interesting, especially the fact that it sometimes takes only a look at the first page to decide whether a book is worthy of continuing on to the second or not. The author's bio page at his website reveals that he knows what he's talking about, since he spent nearly two decades working at a number of different publishing houses. And I do have to say that I particularly enjoyed the piece-by-piece unraveling of one particular secret that isn't made known until the very end. But let's face it: the trope of the anonymous manuscript that if made known will cause empires to crumble and secrets of the rich and powerful to be released is just not that original any more. Not only that, but the big secret that the anonymous author refers to in the title of his manuscript would be along the same lines as if someone had revealed that Steve Jobs had done something heinous in his college years -- yeah, it's shocking, but that act alone wouldn't have brought down either Apple or Jobs, especially nowadays. In my head, I'm thinking that all of the other stuff that Wolfe was up to would have been far worse and better to focus on as the meat of the anonymous manuscript. Bottom line here: while there is some suspense that kept me reading this novel, I've read better.
I'm looking at reader criticism on another screen right now, and most people are saying that The Accident is not nearly as good as Pavone's The Expats, so I'll probably try to rotate that one into my reading schedule to see what I may have missed. All in all, this one was just okay. (less)
I have a lengthy review on the crime page of my reading journal, so if you want the longie, click here. Otherwise, read on.
As Sorrow Bound opens, DS Aector McAvoy in Hull, East Yorkshire, is called to a horrific murder scene which might be gang related - McAvoy's boss tells him that the murdered woman had recently spoken out publicly against street dealers wrecking the neighborhood. When another woman is murdered, the police make a discovery that throws the gang-related theory right out the window. However, while Aector is busy with the police-mandated shrink, moving his family into a new home and trying to function in this investigation with very little sleep, a drug runner makes a serious error that will bring a cocky, self-styled "prince of the city" drug dealer with a lot of serious, well-placed protection behind him crashing into the life of one of McAvoy's colleagues and into the lives of McAvoy's family.
David Mark's third entry in this series featuring DS Aector McAvoy is the best he's written and also the darkest of all three books. For some people the dark tone of the novel may be a drawback, but for me, it's a definite plus. He ratchets up both the tension and the darkness, and there's nothing at all formulaic to complain about in this series of police procedurals. Once I picked it up, I didn't want to stop reading it.
So here's the big niggle (which is really hard to scoot around since I don't really want to give anything away): one of the main recurring characters does something that is so totally out of character and so completely unexpected that it absolutely threw me into "WTF?" mode. Then not long afterward, the same person, who you'd think would be so frightened as to listen to advice at this point, does something so foolishly stupid as to be just plain dumb, also very much out of character. I suspect that the repercussions that may follow for the last scene in this novel will lead to a major game changer for what's next in the series, and to an even bigger angst-fest than I've seen in any of the McAvoy novels so far. And since I'm a big fan of both McAvoy and of David Mark, I will be waiting right here to see it all unfold.
While you most certainly can read this book as a standalone, I'm a true series purist so my advice is to start with The Dark Winter and continue with Original Skin before reading Sorrow Bound. I found that by now I have a better feel for the very angst-laden DS McAvoy and what drives him. Just a heads up: this is no cutesy little cozy.
My thanks again to Blue Rider Press for the lovely copy they sent me to read. (less)
I've read a lot of books by Mary Roberts Rinehart, and sadly, The After House just isn't all that good. A word of warning at the outset: this book was...moreI've read a lot of books by Mary Roberts Rinehart, and sadly, The After House just isn't all that good. A word of warning at the outset: this book was published in 1914 and there are a few racial/religious epithets in the story that most people wouldn't use today, so please keep in mind that their usage reflects their common acceptance of the time.
Ralph Leslie has simultaneously just finished medical school and developed a case of typhoid that lands him in the hospital. He's broke and a friend of his feels sorry for him, wangling him a space aboard the Ella, a luxury yacht that is about to set sail on a cruise. Still weak from his illness, he comes on as an "extra man," working with the crew, and in case the butler becomes ill (since he's a 'poor sailor,') Ralph is told that he should be ready to take his place. On sailing day, nineteen people leave port. By the time they return, four of the nineteen are dead at the hands of a murderer with a penchant for axe wielding, a suspect is being held on board, and everyone is frightened out of their wits. Ralph decides to do a little sleuthing when he's not helping to sail the ship back to port, but more than a few people are hiding things that make his job a little difficult. His biggest job, however, is trying to prevent anyone else from being killed.
Once you get past the initial (and somewhat tedious) introduction of the players on the Ella, as well as the ongoing romance element (ick), there's a decent mystery here, although personally when I got to the solution, I had to cry foul. Although the author peppered her book with lots of little details and clues for the reader to sock away until guessing time comes, she didn't give the right clues to allow for any armchair detective to even come close to her solution. Unfair!
However, this book has an interesting history behind it. It was Mary Roberts Rinehart's own take on a similar, true murder case where a man had been found guilty and had been protesting his innocence for seventeen years; The After House was her version of the case where she offered a plausible, alternative suspect in an effort to get the case reopened.
I won't be adding The After House to my list of favorites written by Rinehart, but two of her novels, The Album and The Man in Lower Ten, are very much worth trying out if you're a vintage crime reader. (less)
I haven't started this yet (this fall, maybe), but somehow I ended up with two copies. If anyone in the US wants this one (it's from the UK), you can...moreI haven't started this yet (this fall, maybe), but somehow I ended up with two copies. If anyone in the US wants this one (it's from the UK), you can have my extra copy for free. I'll pay postage! No sense in me having two copies -- so please give one a home!(less)
This one's a 4.5, and I do have to say that while I was reading it, nature provided the perfect backdrop -- hard rain, thunder, and lightning so brigh...moreThis one's a 4.5, and I do have to say that while I was reading it, nature provided the perfect backdrop -- hard rain, thunder, and lightning so bright it flashed through the closed blinds. I would also like to say that Valancourt Books has done readers a huge favor with this reissued classic -- they have made it widely available at a very good price -- have you seen the cost of a used crappy mass market paperback of this book?
absolutely no spoilers ahead:
The Elementals focuses on two Alabama families, the Savages and the McCrays. They're linked together through marriage and the fact that both families have for years spent their summers at Beldame, "a long spit of land, no more than fifty yards wide," where there are three tall gray Victorian homes, "large, eccentric old houses such as appeared in coffee table books on outré American architecture." Back now at Beldame after the strange funeral of Marian Savage is her son Dauphin, who is married to Leigh McCray and has inherited the family fortune; Leigh's brother Luker and his too-wise-for-her-years thirteen-year-old daughter India McCray from New York City; Big Barbara McCray, Leigh and Luker's mother, married to Lawton McCray, a candidate for US congressional representative, and the faithful Odessa, who's worked with the Savages for as long as anyone can remember.
One one side of this narrow piece of land is St. Elmo's Lagoon; on the other is the Gulf of Mexico. At high tide, Beldame is cut off, becoming a virtual island when the Gulf flows into the lagoon. The McCrays have a house on the gulf side; just opposite their house on the lagoon side is the house belonging to the Savages. The third house nobody lives in. No one can: the sand dune at the end of the spit has been encroaching on that house so much so that, as India notices on first seeing it, it "did not merely encroach upon the house, it had actually begin to swallow it." The third house holds its secrets, as do the McCrays and the Savages regarding their own childhood experiences with the third house. All anyone will tell India is that she should stay away from it, but India has a mind of her own, and off she goes exploring. And then ..., well, to say more would be to wreck the experience for someone else.
There are so many excellent things about The Elementals -- the characters, the slowly-paced beginning moving slowly toward an ever-growing anticipation of dread and then headlong into the horrors -- but one of the best features of this novel is the author's ability to capture and evoke the sense of place in his writing. There are various schools of thought either yea or nay on place as a character in a novel, but here that's just how it is. The isolation of Beldame, the third house with the sand covering it both inside and out, the beautiful waters of the Gulf, St. Elmo's Lagoon, the channel, the sand, and above all, the paralyzing heat and humidity of a southern summer that sucks the energy right out of a person -- the way he brings all of this place to life allows it to act not only on the characters directly, but also on the reader. He's captured the Southern summer heat with its god-awful humidity so perfectly that I could totally feel it while reading about it. Even better, by the last sections of the book, McDowell has perfectly combined those rising temperatures with the increasingly-growing horror, producing a kind of claustrophobic atmosphere that remains with the reader nearly up until the last moment of the story.
I loved this novel. If you're considering reading it, do not look at any reviews where they give away the whole shebang -- if I had known what was going to happen I wouldn't have enjoyed this book nearly as much. And speaking of that, read this book very carefully if you are at all interested in trying to figure out the main mystery surrounding Beldame and the third house -- it's never overtly stated (which I thought was a good thing), but I think you'll find that there are answers there to dig out. The one thing I didn't like about this book was that the pacing seemed kind of off at the very end -- much more rushed than I think it should have been given the tone of the rest of the novel. But what the heck. It's one of the best supernatural horror stories I've read in a very long time. Maybe modern readers of hack/slash gorefests will find it somewhat tame, but I certainly didn't. (less)
like a 3.25 - it's a good book, leaning more toward the thriller side than the books I normally read. I've written more at my online reading journal,...morelike a 3.25 - it's a good book, leaning more toward the thriller side than the books I normally read. I've written more at my online reading journal, so if you want the long version, you can click here.
In Australia, PI Cliff Hardy, whose work has slowed down a bit, is hired by the owner of a speakers' agency to make sure nothing happens to his client Rory O'Hara, a whistle blower whose work has left him with a lot of enemies. O'Hara is going on a speaking tour, ready to spill even more. It sounds like an easy job, but things start to go wrong almost right away when a woman on the tour is found dead, putting Cliff out of a job. But wait. Her brother offers him a lot of money to find out who killed her and why. Starting with the group of people on the tour, Cliff soon begins to discover that there's much more here than meets the eye - ultimately putting himself and a woman he's fallen for into a great deal of danger. As he moves across the country, he also realizes that someone is pulling a lot of strings -- but exactly who and why is what he has to find out.
Even though the plot is a bit twisty, Silent Kill is not a difficult book to read due to the author's very simple writing style. The story takes a convoluted path but is easy to follow, plausible, and it becomes a hybrid mystery/thriller that kept me turning pages. Although the murderer is identified before the end of part one, and that piece of the mystery is over, there's still Hardy's "simple problem" to solve: who was so worried about what O'Hara might do with his recent information that they set a killer in his midst? Here things sort of move into thriller zone, not my usual fare, but for those who enjoy them, there's plenty of high-powered action, conspiracies to sink your teeth into, and a solution that resonates with the times. All you have to do is pick up a newspaper to confirm what I'm saying.
Overall, it's always fun discovering a "new" author -- although Corris has been around a long time, he's a new blip on my international crime author radar that needs tracking. I think I'd recommend Silent Kill to people who are intrigued with thrillers that lean toward the action-packed, political side - not my usual forte but I did enjoy the way the author writes and above all, I enjoyed meeting Cliff Hardy. (less)