The Trap by Melanie Raabe

imageI know who killed my sister.

I wrote this novel for him.

Twelve years ago, Linda’s sister Anna was murdered. Her killer was never caught, but Linda saw him. Now, all these years on, she’s just seen him again. On TV.

He has since become a well-known reporter, and Linda – a famous novelist and infamous recluse – knows no one will believe her if she accuses him, so she does the only thing she can think of: she writes a thriller about a woman who is murdered, her killer never caught. When the book is published, she agrees to give just one media interview. At home. To the one person who knows more about the case than she does.

He knows what happened that night and she wrote a book about it but, when the doorbell rings, neither of them can be sure how the story will end.

After her sister Anna is brutally murdered and the police are unable to find her killer, Linda retreats from life. Twelve years later, she is as famous for being a recluse as she is for being an author. She hasn’t left the house in all this time. And she hasn’t stopped being haunted by her sisters death and the face of the killer she saw fleeing the scene. Then, one day, there he is staring at her from a TV screen.

Determined he is not going to get away this time, she does what she does best – writes a novel to lure him out.  This is a great idea for a novel, though picking up the book I did worry it was one I might have seen before in Renee Knight’s Disclaimer. Thankfully beyond the basic idea of a crime being exposed in a work of fiction, the stories are very different and The Trap a very good book and an excellent debut.

Linda’s reclusiveness gives the story a real claustrophobic feel. Setting the majority of the book in one house could have made it boring or repetitive. Instead, Raabe makes you wonder whether Linda is right, whether she has finally seen the killer after all these years, or whether she is mentally ill and completely detached from reality. It feels like you are watching a woman completely lose the plot…or are you?  To add to the questions, interspersed throughout, are chapters from the book Linda is writing which add to and contradict the story she is telling in real time.

As a character Linda is interesting if not necessarily that likeable. I struggled at times with her being an intelligent woman with the resources to help herself but who didn’t. Then again, it also made it easier for me to wonder if she maybe was the guilty party, not the mystery man on the television. And I did wonder that a lot. Her complexity was probably a good thing too because for the most part she was the only character in the book, and the only one whose viewpoint you saw. It’s hard to do this and keep a reader interested I think.

My do I, don’t I like Linda feelings didn’t stop me liking the book. The fact that it was well written, a clever idea, and had a good pace made up for it. My feelings probably did stop me loving it though as did a few times when I thought the translation (the book was originally published in German) let it down; sentences felt jarring and didn’t flow with the rest of the book.  Still, these were few and far between and meant I still liked this book a lot…an impressive debut and a recommended read.

Emma

note: I received this book from mumsnet in return for a fair and honest review. All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.

A26 by Pascal Garnier

imageThe future is on its way to Picardy with the construction of a huge motorway. But nearby is a house where nothing has changed since 1945.

Traumatised by events in 1945, Yolande hasn’t left her home since.

And life has not been kinder to Bernard, her brother, who is now in the final months of a terminal illness.

Realizing that he has so little time left, Bernard’s gloom suddenly lifts. With no longer anything to lose, he becomes reckless – and murderous …

I had not heard of Pascal Garnier until I came across a review of A26 on Cleopatra Loves Books. It was a while ago now but I immediately went and got myself a copy; unfortunately it has been sat on my kindle ever since as other books overtook it. I think I kept putting it off because I knew it was a dark story and I thought I needed to be in the mood. As my Tuesday Intro shows, that mood is definitely upon me now.

It isn’t just that the A26 is about murder, I read plenty of those, but it is oppressive. Bernard and Yolande’s house (though it’s more Yolande’s as she never leaves it) is stuck in the past and is full of memories. It is – quite literally – drowning in them because Yolande is a hoarder. She is also stuck in the past, reading the same magazines from before the war again and again so she can return to a time when she was happier, before she was assaulted or attacked in some way which is never made completely clear.

Bernard, because of his love of his sister spends his life in limbo. He is her lifeline, going out to work and buying food before returning home to Yolande’s strange moods and rituals. The many things he wanted for himself, including love, have passed him by. And now he has found out he is terminally ill. Life is unfair. It doesn’t seem right that his is being taken away when it has amounted to so little and others should live. Which is why he decides to kill the young girl he picks up hitch hiking. She is only the first.

The lack of emotion he shows when killing, and in the rest of his life, is chilling. Pascal Garnier’s style (and the translation of it) perfectly reflects this. It is cold itself, sparse, with not a word spared. His portrayals of Yolande and Bernard are unforgiving, though it seems there may have once been much to forgive for Yolande, as they are laid bare with all their negative characteristics and behaviours. There is nothing to love in them. Yet they are compelling, a portrait of mental illness and despair. Like I said, very dark.

For all that, it is also a readable book. I found the pages turning quickly and myself completely absorbed. I liked it a lot and would definitely recommend it.

Emma

Note: I received a copy of this book from net galley in return for a fair and honest review. All thought, feelings and opinions are my own.

Cinderella Girl by Carin Gerhardsen

21899209When three year old Hanna wakes up, she is alone in a locked apartment. The following morning detective Petra Westman from the Hammarby police department finds a badly injured infant and a dead woman in a park. Oddly – no one seems to be missing them. Before the police investigation barely has time to begin, yet another dead body is found. This time it is a teenage girl, murdered on a cruise. The investigation team moves from one dead body to another, attempting to find a common thread and stop the brutal violence.

I love crime novels set in Sweden, don’t ask me why and so I had to pick up Cinderella Girl when I saw it at the library, even though I hadn’t heard of Carin Gerhardsen before.  I am glad I did because it’s a recommended read.

The story opens with a young mother, home alone, with a crying baby – a baby that thanks to a throat infection hasn’t slept for days.  She is exhausted herself and just needs him to sleep.  In desperation she decides – despite it being the middle of the night – that a walk in his pram might do it.  And so she heads out.  Across town, two sisters aged 14 and 16 are also heading out, escaping their drunken mom and her drunken friends and looking for something to occupy them.  You just know it isn’t going to end well.   And for most of them it doesn’t.

One of the things I liked about this book was how the story was told – in days, with you finding out what each person (including the detectives) are doing at a particular time.  It means that you get a great insight into each character and also see how each strand of the story – which you know have to be related but you aren’t sure how – are coming together.  With each interaction everything starts to fall into place – for you as the reader and for the police.  When I finally got to the end, I felt really satisfied with how things had worked out, although for little Hanna life would never be the same again and I can see years of therapy in her future!

It was a clever and different way to tell a tale and kept my interest throughout.  The characters were well developed, though there were perhaps a few too many police officers to keep track of on the periphery.  However, there is a sub-plot involving Petra that I want to know more about.  To do that, I’ll have to go back to book one as that’s where “it”, whatever “it” is, all started – and I will (I already have the book on hold at the library) because this was a really good read.  Liked it a lot.

Emma

 

 

 

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

imageBefore the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.

It’s rare nowadays I finish a book in a day, never mind a single sitting, but that’s what happened to me this time last week after picking up The Vegetarian by Han Kang. Despite the good reviews I’d read, it wasn’t a book I’d expected to love as much as I did.  I couldn’t put it down and I couldn’t stopped turning pages.

One night Yeong-hye has a dream. In it there is blood, lots of blood. She wakes up full of dread and decides she must give up meat in order to get rid of the lump she now feels in her chest, becoming the vegetarian of the title. It might not be the most conventional way to make such a decision but here, in the UK, deciding to become a vegetarian wouldn’t be much of a big deal, regardless of why you made the choice. This is South Korea though (and the book a translation) and Yeong-hye’s decision is greeted with surprise by her husband. Still, he thinks, it won’t last.  It is just one her quirks.

But it does last – a week, a month – and her husband goes from surprised to angry, involving his wife’s family who are just as bemused and annoyed as he is. They can’t understand Yeong-hye’s behaviour but are all agreed it isn’t right and it’s an embarrassment. What will people think? No one stops to ask Yeong-hye what she thinks or why she is doing it. No one seems to wonder what is behind her decision or feel anything but annoyance at how she is wasting away. It is all quite sad and I felt for Yeong-hye as she was attacked by her family. It was a fascinating glimpse into the social mores of South Korea, the strict rules and the role of women.

All are so constraining. No deviation is allowed, even in the artistic. This can been seen in the second of the three parts that’s make up The Vegetarian, all of which involve Yeong-hye, when her brother-in-law develops an obsession with his sister-in-law that can only end in disaster and in the third, when Yeong-hye has been abandoned by all but her sister for not doing what she is told. Through it all, it is apparent how little control over her life Yeong-hye has other than the food she puts in her mouth.

This isn’t an easy story to read. It deals with difficult issues and does so head on. Yet, despite all this it isn’t a depressing book, though I would describe it as harsh and hard hitting. And powerful. There is a sadness there too and I found I cared a lot for Yeong-hye from the first few pages on, coming to feel the same about her sister by the end. A week on, I am still thinking about the book, which was beautifully translated, a real compliment to the author and the story. Loved it and can’t recommend it enough.

Emma

Note: I received this book in return for a fair and honest review from blogging for books. All thoughts and feelings are my own.

Buy now: Amazon UK / Amazon US

Fair Play by Tove Jansson

902743Jonna and Mari are artists. They live together, sort of, and have for twenty or thirty years.  I say sort of because their apartments are at opposite ends of the top floor of an old building, connected by an empty attic space.  When they are working, they stay in their own homes.  When they aren’t working, they spend their time in Jonna’s apartment watching American movies (Fair Play is set in Finland) and avoiding the world or in a small cabin owned by Mari on a small island with no other inhabitants, still avoiding the world.  Sometimes, they travel, taking long trips to other countries.

Occasionally, they have visitors or meet new people who they seem to attach themselves to rather than become friends with.  Whilst excited by the new additions, each time it seems to upset the balance of their lives, the routine of their non-routine world.  There is Mari’s old boyfriend for example, who says he’s going to come camping on the island then doesn’t show up, and the young artist Jonna befriends and feeds food normally set aside for Mari until one day she doesn’t turn up anymore and Mari, who had felt like she no longer belonged, is welcome into the flat again.

Told in short chapters that are linear timewise but do not necessarily follow each other immediately, Fair Play gives snapshots into lives less ordinary than mine.  As an outsider, getting a glimpse of this world, I struggled to understand it and get a real sense of time and place.  The seeming lack of direction, the misunderstandings that were never discussed – I wondered whether I was missing something and kept going back on myself.  Then I read that Fair Play was based on Tove Jansson’s own long-term relationship and, knowing this, I started to feel like I was getting not so much a work of fiction but a glimpse of her real life and started enjoying it more as a result (though not sure why, perhaps I was no longer looking for a big idea?).

With this in mind, I found it interesting though not compelling and I did like the style of writing.  It was sparse and simple and seemed (at least to my untrained eye) well translated.  I think the problem was I wanted more, I’m just not sure more of what.  More of a story maybe and definitely more pages – this was billed as a novel but was only 84 pages long.  When it ended I felt disappointed and slightly cheated.  Which is a shame because I don’t think this was a bad book and I think other people would really like it.  It just wasn’t for me.

Emma

Still Waters by Viveca Sten

imageWhen the body of Krister Berggren washes up on the beach on the island of Sandhamn, the obvious choice to send to investigate is Inspector Thomas Andreasson, who spent his childhood summers there.

At first, Thomas thinks Krister’s death is an accident, maybe a suicide, rather than murder.  But something doesn’t feel quite right and he digs a little deeper.  Then, Krister’s cousin – Kicki – turns up dead too (also on Sandhamn) and Thomas digs deeper still, uncovering more secrets than maybe even he intended.

Despite being a popular place with tourists, Sandhamn is also the home to residents who guard their way of life carefully and live by a set of rules outsiders can find hard to understand.  Even those who have visited the island all their lives, like Thomas, don’t know quite how far some will go to protect their way of life and their secrets, of which there are many.

The same can be said of his childhood friend, Nora, who is holidaying there with her family. She too spent her summers on Sandhamn. Her family own a house there and she thinks she knows the island well.  It’s this belief that puts her in danger as she finds herself helping Thomas without even being asked, putting her legal skills and financial knowledge (she works in a bank) to good use in trying to find an answer for the murders.

I really liked Nora and Thomas and they made a good team.  Both were well-rounded and Viveca Sten has created a world around them of family and friends that make them feel solid, people I want to care about and who I believed in.  This was important as this book wasn’t one where there was a murder on every page to distract you from plot development.  It was, instead, a book that set the scene and then took you through the process of figuring out just who was responsible and why.  I really liked the style and it reminded me a little of Louise Penny in that the characters were normal people and the police officers weren’t completely dysfunctional and had home lives (imagine!).

The setting played it’s part too.  The closed quality of the community whose way of life was being affected by the influx of tourists and people wanting to own second homes instead of live on the island.  The shock it feels when the murders happen because, well, those things don’t on Sandhamn.

On her website, Viveca Sten says she, like Thomas and Nora, spent her summers there and her descriptions suggest she not only knows the place well but has a real affection for it.  There are photos on her website of Sandhamn and I can see why, it’s beautiful.  Too beautiful for there to be murderers living amongst its residents but the perfect setting for the story and those to follow – this is the first in a series of books staring Thomas and Nora, ones I will definitely be reading.  Loved it!

Emma

Tuesday Intro: 8th September, 2015

once again this week I’m linking up with Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea who hosts a post every Tuesday for people to share the first chapter / paragraph of the book they are reading, or thinking of reading soon. I really enjoy these tasters when I read them on other blogs so wanted to join in.

So after buying a batch of books that weren’t my normal reads thinking I would shake up my reading a bit, I’ve ended up picking up another crime novel. I just couldn’t help myself- it was 99p on Amazon and sounded great.

image

On a hot July morning on Sweden’s idyllic vacation island of Sandhamn, a man takes his dog for a walk and makes a gruesome discovery: a body, tangled in fishing net, has washed ashore.

Police detective Thomas Andreasson is the first to arrive on the scene. Before long, he has identified the deceased as Krister Berggren, a bachelor from the mainland who has been missing for months. All signs point to an accident—until another brutalized corpse is found at the local bed-and-breakfast. But this time it is Berggren’s cousin, whom Thomas interviewed in Stockholm just days before.

As the island’s residents reel from the news, Thomas turns to his childhood friend, local lawyer Nora Linde. Together, they attempt to unravel the riddles left behind by these two mysterious outsiders—while trying to make sense of the difficult twists their own lives have taken since the shared summer days of their youth.

Here’s how it starts…

Everything was completely still and peaceful as only winter can be, when the archipelago belongs to those who live there, and the raucous summer visitors have not yet taken over the islands.

The water was dark and shining, the cold of winter lying heavily on the surface. Odd patches of snow rested on the rocks. A few mergansers stood out like dots against the sky, and the sun was low on the horizon.

“Help me,” he yelled. “Help me, for God’s sake!”

What do you think, would you keep reading?

Emma