Black Hornet by James Sallis

14436814A sniper appears in 1960s New Orleans, a sun-baked city of Black Panthers and other separatists. Five people have been fatally shot. When the sixth victim is killed, Lew Griffin is standing beside her. He’s black and she’s white, and though they are virtual strangers, it is left to Griffin to avenge her death, or at least to try and make some sense of it. His unlikely allies include a crusading black journalist, a longtime supplier of mercenary arms and troops, and bail bondsman Frankie DeNoux.

In the Black Hornet, I met Lew Griffin again, a man who the word complex doesn’t go far enough to describe.  In his life, he has been many things – soldier, private investigator, criminal, author – and trouble always seems to come knocking.

The Black Hornet can be read as a standalone, and if you do, you will know non of these things about Griffin because this book takes us back to the beginning, before he was anything but a former soldier trying to make a life in a city that doesn’t seem to care much about any of his residents.

New Orleans in the sixties sounds dirty, and hard, and not a place I would want to be but it suits Griffin and the people he meets perfectly, and it serves as a perfect backdrop for the civil rights movement that is brewing and the way life for black men is changing, but maybe not quick enough.

The setting, and the story, suit the way James Sallis writes to a tee.  He doesn’t waste words, with short sentences, short chapters and short books (this one runs at 150 pages), yet I never feel like I am missing out on anything.  Plot lines move along quickly, we me rushing to keep up and characters appear fully formed and expecting you to know who they are and what they are about.

It took me a while the first book round to get into the style but now I have to say I look forward to it.  I know what I’ll get and I like it.  It reminds me of the way people like Humphrey Bogart talked back in the day and of gumshoe novels.  Simple is the wrong word to describe it, it’s not, but it feels like that on the surface, whilst under it a lot is said and you have plenty to chew on and think about, long after the last page.

Saying all that, I know this book won’t be for everyone.  Most characters don’t have much in the way of descriptions for example, you have to piece people together with the bits you know, which are given sparingly (so LaVerne, Griffins girlfriend starts to form when I find out about her red dress, which he finds hanging up in another mans flat).

Then there’s the fact that the main story isn’t always the main story (to not sound cryptic) because it’s really about the characters and what drives them – usually it’s sadness but with a fair bit of hope thrown in.  When I got to the end here, the who the sniper was part, I was slightly disappointed because it meant the book was over and I didn’t want it to be.  I wanted to stay in New Orleans, seedy as it was, drinking bourbon and shooting the breeze with unsavoury characters.

For me, though, this is another winner from Sallis, who is one of my favourite authors.  This was a great addition to a series with a character I find compelling and with a story I couldn’t put down.  I loved it!

Enjoy!

Emma x

loved-it

 

Source: Purchased
Publisher: No Exit
Publication Date: 11th May, 2012
Format: ebook
Pages: 150
Genre: mystery / crime
Find on: Amazon UK / Amazon US / Goodreads

Other books in the series:

The Long Legged Fly (book 1)

Moth (book 2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land

25365530‘NEW N A M E .
NEW F A M I L Y.
S H I N Y.
NEW.
ME . ‘

Annie’s mother is a serial killer.

The only way she can make it stop is to hand her in to the police.

But out of sight is not out of mind.

As her mother’s trial looms, the secrets of her past won’t let Annie sleep, even with a new foster family and name – Milly.

A fresh start. Now, surely, she can be whoever she wants to be.

But Milly’s mother is a serial killer. And blood is thicker than water.

Good me, bad me.

She is, after all, her mother’s daughter…

Good Me, Bad Me is one of those books that seems to have gotten a lot of hype.  They’re the type of books I normally stay away from – at least when they are first released, frightened I’ll be disappointed.  In this case, though, I couldn’t resist.  The description sounded right up my street and also a little different from my usual reads.  I have to say I’m glad I took the plunge because it was different and just what I needed after a string of not so hot books.

It starts with Milly (or Annie as she was) turning her mother into the police for child abuse and murder.  It’s a shocking opening and grabs you immediately, presenting you with an image that isn’t graphic in any way but still stays with you throughout the book.  You are left in no doubt Milly’s mom is guilty and a monster, someone who should go to prison for a very long time.

What you aren’t so sure about is Milly, who is the only voice you hear in the book, as she tries to settle with her new foster family and prepare for the court case where she will be the “star” witness.  Starting a new life isn’t easy and her foster sister, Phoebe, isn’t happy to have her around, especially as Milly takes up too much of her parents’ time.  Phoebe goes out of her way to make life difficult for Milly, who only seems to want to be friends – well, just make friends in general, she is a lonely girl.

Or at least that’s what it seems like at first because there is a darker side to Milly and, after being drawn in by her story and feeling a lot of sympathy for her, I started to feel unsure.  Slowly, secrets from her past are revealed and she does things that maybe aren’t as nice as she would want you to believe. I couldn’t tell if I was being played, if Milly was maybe a chip of the old block, or if her behaviour was a result of her wanting to fit in and be loved.

It made for a compelling read and I found Milly a compelling character, one I wanted to understand but was also maybe a little afraid of, very much like the people around her.  They wanted to be sympathetic, wanted to believe she was an innocent victim, but wondered – was she really?  Or at least I think that’s what they thought because the only voice you hear is Milly’s so you only get her take on what is said and done.  It’s her version – and the question is whether it’s the true one.

I thought Ali Land did a really good job with Milly, of creating someone you didn’t know if you liked but felt you should give a chance to because of what had happened to her.  By making her 15, going on 16, it did feel like there was a grey area there – that nagging question of why Milly maybe hadn’t done something sooner to speak out.  Some of these things are answered in the book but I won’t say because of spoilers but there are a few times when I had “lightbulb” moments, where Milly would reveal something or do something that completely changed my opinion of her.

Of course, because this is Milly’s story, you don’t get to know the other characters that well and the foster family are somewhat two dimensional as a result.  Then again, as Milly’s character starts to emerge, maybe this was on purpose, because in a way they weren’t necessarily real to her but people to be manipulated to reach an end.  Her mother was much more real, or at least a very real monster.

Seen through the eyes of Milly you see confusion, this is a woman who she loved but also hated.  You never meet her or hear from her directly but she dominates a lot of the pages.  And you see through Milly’s memories and nightmares of her just what type of woman her daughter might become.  I liked this about the book, that I kept second guessing myself about Milly.

In fact, there wasn’t much I didn’t like if I’m honest, other than maybe the final twist.  I am not sure I needed that.  I felt I had a good ending, a slightly ambiguous one that seemed to go with the Milly I knew.  So, although I was proved right in the final chapter, I would have liked to have been left with a bit of a question mark.  It’s a small thing and didn’t stop me liking the book though, which I did – a lot (if you can like a book about a child murderer, which I guess is another post entirely!).

Enjoy!

Emma

liked-it-a-lot

Source: Net Galley
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: 12th January, 2017
Pages: 400
Format: eBook (Kindle)

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

Two Days Gone by Randall Silvis

30014133Thomas Huston, a beloved professor and bestselling author, is something of a local hero in the small Pennsylvania college town where he lives and teaches. So when Huston’s wife and children are found brutally murdered in their home, the community reacts with shock and anger. Huston has also mysteriously disappeared, and suddenly, the town celebrity is suspect number one.

Sergeant Ryan DeMarco has secrets of his own, but he can’t believe that a man he admired, a man he had considered a friend, could be capable of such a crime. Hoping to glean clues about Huston’s mind-set, DeMarco delves into the professor’s notes on his novel-in-progress. Soon, DeMarco doesn’t know who to trust—and the more he uncovers about Huston’s secret life, the more treacherous his search becomes.

Two Days Gone is one of those books that looks like it would be perfect for me on paper.  It starts with a brutal murder – always a good sign – and then goes straight onto the manhunt for the supposed perpetrator, the husband and father of the murder victims.  I say supposed because it isn’t clear he (Thomas Huston) is the killer and those who know him well say it isn’t in his character to have behaved in such a way.

Tracking him down is a detective that both knows and admires him, considers him as close to a friend as he has.  And that is saying something because DeMarco doesn’t have any friends, or family for that matter.  He is a man who lives alone and works alone and seems to do everything in his power to make people dislike him.  In Thomas though he had seen a kindred spirit, someone who maybe wasn’t as happy on the outside as he appeared.

This feeling seems to make it easy for DeMarco to decide Huston has killed his family, at least until the evidence stops adding up and he starts finding people lying to him everywhere he turns.  Determined to find the truth, he digs deeper into Huston’s life than he might otherwise, discovering secrets about his friend and author and also truths about himself.  It isn’t always pretty and I found both DeMarco and Huston hard to like as a result.

This dislike meant that I couldn’t root for either of them.  I do struggle when I can’t connect to characters and this was definitely the case here.  Their fates, which as a reader I should have been invested in, didn’t really mean much to me and,  as a result, I found I didn’t much care for the outcome of the story.  This is a shame and it wasn’t the case all the way through.  Initially, I was drawn in.  Both men have tragedy in their pasts and this made them vulnerable, characters I should feel for.

However, as the book went on I became frustrated with their behaviour.  I understood Thomas’ confusion at the beginning but not his actions at the end.  Silvas does his best to explain it but for me it didn’t fit with the picture of Thomas he had drawn.  I also didn’t understand DeMarco.  I got why he was angry, why he was a loner, but I didn’t understand why he didn’t act at certain points in the investigation, other than to keep the plot moving forward.

For me, it was the final third that left me disengaged.  Up until then, the story had alternated between DeMarco and Huston, with chapters focusing on Huston’s state of mind as he tried to make sense of what had happened.  It meant the plot slowly unfolded and there were twists and turns to keep me interested and turning pages.  Then Huston disappeared apart from as part of DeMarco’s story and the detective’s story was the only one I was reading.

I kept expecting to hear from Huston again and when I didn’t I felt disappointed.  The same was true of the ending which, for me, didn’t ring true.  Like I said earlier, this was a shame but for me this was a book that started well, showed promise but didn’t deliver.  I liked it but only a little – sorry!

Emma

liked-it-a-little

Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication Date: 10th January, 2017
Pages: 400
Genre: Mystery, Crime
Format: eBook (Kindle)

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

 

Witness by Caroline Mitchell

30637470To Rebecca it was a brave decision that led to her freedom from domestic abuse. To Solomon it was the ultimate betrayal.

It’s been ten years since Rebecca’s testimony saw Solomon locked away. Enough time for the nightmares to recede, the nerves to relax; enough time to rebuild her life and put the past behind her.

Then one day a phone rings in her bedroom—but it’s not her phone. Solomon has been in her home, and has a very simple message for her: for each of the ten years he has spent in jail, Rebecca must witness a crime. And, to make matters worse, she has to choose the victims.

Fail to respond and you get hurt. Talk to police and you die. Ready to play? You have sixty seconds to decide…

As the crimes grow more severe, the victims closer to home, Rebecca is forced to confront a past she had hoped was gone forever.

After reading some really good reviews for Caroline Mitchell’s last book I couldn’t resit picking up a review copy of her latest novel, due to be released next week.

Witness starts with a bang – a dark room, a terrified woman, and a dead man lying on the floor – and it doesn’t really stop until the final pages, where Solomon (who has just spent ten years in prison for murdering said man) tries to exact his final revenge on Rebecca (his one time fiancé and one time terrified woman).

It’s a clever story, a twist on the domestic thriller, with Solomon determined to make Rebecca (or Becky as she is now known) pay for putting him in prison.  His approach is ingenious.  She will be a witness again, but this time, a silent one to increasingly violent crimes inflicted on people she knows and cares about.  Determined to keep her family safe, and unware of her past, Becky goes along with his demands, convinced she can find a way out.

However, as the crimes continue and escalate that way out seems harder to find and Becky, who is still fragile despite the new life she has built for herself, gets drawn in and becomes increasingly erratic in her behaviour.  As she does, Solomon, who seems omnipotent and always one step ahead, becomes more vindictive.  Page by page the tension increased to the inevitable confrontation.

I found myself turning the pages at a pace, needing to know what happened next.  I also wanted to know how Becky would find a way out and just how far she would go.  Which is where I have to say I had a slight problem with the book.  I know Becky wanted to save her family but as the crimes become more vicious I also wanted her be a human being and maybe do more to save the victims.  It meant that I wasn’t sure I liked her…and I wasn’t sure at times if maybe she and Solomon didn’t deserve each other.

What saved her in my eyes was her diary entries, which gave an insight into her life with Solomon and the abuse she suffered and which interspersed chapters told by Rebecca (in the fist person) and describing Solomon’s actions (in the third person).  It made her future actions make sense.  It also made me really dislike Solomon.  It was a good way to tell their story then and now and develop them as characters.  A couple of secrets revealed during the diary were really good ones and I didn’t see them coming.

Unfortunately, I did guess the ending – the final twist in the tale – though not till the last third.  I always hate it when that happens as I feel I am reading just to prove myself right. However, here it meant my opinion on the characters changed again and left me feeling a little more ambiguous about both Becky and Solomon as a result.

It also changed my opinion of the book.  Till then, I’d probably say I liked it.  It was well written and, like I said, a clever idea in a genre I read a lot (and can be hard to be original in I think).  Because of the way I felt at the end, however, I’m ending by saying I liked it a lot – a recommended read.

Enjoy!

Emma

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

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

imageA brutal triple murder in a remote Scottish farming community in 1869 leads to the arrest of seventeen-year-old Roderick Macrae. There is no question that Macrae committed this terrible act. What would lead such a shy and intelligent boy down this bloody path? Will he hang for his crime?

After reading some great things about His Bloody Project I couldn’t resist picking it up when I saw it at the library.  Then I started reading it and wondered if I had made a mistake.  I struggled with the first thirty or so pages and was close to deciding it wasn’t the book for me.  Thankfully, something clicked before I gave up because this is a really good book and I really enjoyed it.

It starts with the author saying that this is the story of a relative of his, a young man convicted of murder named Roderick Macrae. Discovered in an archive and long forgotten, the author has found a handwritten record of the events leading up to the murder and the murder itself.  It is written by Roderick himself and, for a young crofter with limited education, shows an articulate and intelligent young man very aware of what has happened.

For me, as a reader, it also showed a young man pushed to the limits by bullying neighbours and the strict social structures in which he was living.  Roderick is also a boy who is suffering grief from the loss of his mother, regularly beaten by his god-fearing father, and trying to figure out how to become a man, including falling in love.  I felt very sympathetic to him and his situation and Burnet does a wonderful and realistic job painting this picture through Roderick’s words.

Then things start to change.  Following Roderick’s written statement there are autopsy reports, which paint a grisly picture; a paper and evidence from an expert who specialises in the criminally insane and isn’t convinced Roderick is telling the truth about his motives; and then a description of the trial itself, with neighbours giving testimony of a young man who was never “quite right” but who seemed completely calm and in control on the day of the murders.  All start to present a different version of events than those told by Roderick.

And as a reader, I then started to wonder.  Was he the victim he had led me to believe – in which case he was much smarter than his neighbours or the experts believe – or was he mentally ill with no real control over his actions?  It’s a difficult question to answer and I’m not sure I know how I feel now the book is finished.

I do know that I am really impressed with the book, after my initial reservations, how it presented the story, how it gave an insight into how mental illness was perceived and dealt with at the time, and how it developed the characters.  Burnet is a really good writer who completely drew me in.     As a result, I have to say I loved this book and would very much recommend it.

Enjoy!

Emma

Find Her by Lisa Gardner

25644437Seven years ago, carefree college student Flora was kidnapped while on spring break. For 472 days, Flora learned just how much one person can endure.

Flora Dane is a survivor.

Miraculously alive after her ordeal, Flora has spent the past five years reacquainting herself with the rhythms of normal life, working with her FBI victim advocate, Samuel Keynes. She has a mother who’s never stopped loving her, a brother who is scared of the person she’s become, and a bedroom wall covered with photos of other girls who’ve never made it home.

Flora Dane is reckless.

. . . or is she? When Boston detective D. D. Warren is called to the scene of a crime—a dead man and the bound, naked woman who killed him—she learns that Flora has tangled with three other suspects since her return to society. Is Flora a victim or a vigilante? And with her firsthand knowledge of criminal behavior, could she hold the key to rescuing a missing college student whose abduction has rocked Boston? When Flora herself disappears, D.D. realizes a far more sinister predator is out there. One who’s determined that this time, Flora Dane will never escape. And now it is all up to D. D. Warren to find her.

Every time I read a book by Lisa Gardner I wonder how it is I haven’t read more because I enjoy every one – a lot!  This is no exception, gripping me from the first page…

These are the things I didn’t know:

When you first wake up in a dark wooden box, you’ll tell yourself this isn’t happening. You’ll push against the lid, of course. No surprise there. You’ll beat at the sides with your fists, pummel your heels against the bottom. You’ll bang your head, again and again, even though it hurts. And you’ll scream. You’ll scream and scream and scream. Snot will run from your nose. Tears will stream from your eyes. Until your screams grow rough, hiccuppy. Then you’ll hear sounds that are strange and sad and pathetic, and you’ll understand the box, truly get, hey, I’m trapped in a dark wooden box, when you realize those sounds come from you.

The girl waking up in the box is Flora, who tells the story of her 472 days in captivity in flashbacks as the book progresses, slowly revealing a brutal tale and one that has left her traumatized.  It has also left her a survivor, a young woman determined to not be a victim…but also one who feels she needs to make amends for the things she did to stay alive.  Because of all of this, she is complicated and complex and whilst I can’t say I initially liked her, I did feel for her and understood where she was coming from.

I say initially because, as the book progresses, and we get to hear Flora’s voice in the present, I did start to like her.  Deep down, despite the scars that protect her heart, and the harsh persona she puts out to the world, she is a good person – one who wants to do right.  One who finds she has to do right when she is once again held captive and this time it isn’t just her own life she has to protect.

Also trying to understand Flora is D. D., currently on desk duty and chomping at the bit to return to the field.  She doesn’t initially like Flora either, doesn’t trust her, even thinks of arresting her.  Slowly though, as she gets to hear Flora’s story, she starts to understand too and is willing – as a result – to put her own life on the line to save this very damaged girl.

Billed as a D. D. Warren story, this strong female character is very much front and centre in this novel.  She is smart, resourceful and human and I liked her.  Flora holds equal billing though, not always the case with the “victim” in this type of book.  It was good to hear her voice just as strongly and a great way to keep the story moving forward and was a pretty intense pace

I thought this was a really well plotted novel, with twists, turns and tension that made it a real page-turner.  The characters were all well written, not just Flora and D. D., helping bring the story to life.  I honestly can’t find anything negative to say about it.  I loved every page of this book and couldn’t recommend it more for those who like crime fiction.

Enjoy!

Emma

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for a fair and honest review.  All thoughts and feelings and opinions are my own.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

30426898Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

One of the things I love about Jodi Picoult is that she doesn’t shy away from potentially controversial or difficult subjects and Small Great Things is no exception, looking at race – and race relations – in modern day America.  Not only is it potentially controversial but, with what has happened recently with the rise of populism and anti-immigrant stances in America and Europe and movements like black lives matter, it seems very timely.

It is a book I was looking forward to reading and expected to be challenging, which it was, holding up a mirror that it wasn’t always comfortable to look in.  To do this, tough, I did feel that Picoult moved away slightly from one of the other reasons I enjoy reading her books, her lack of judgement of her characters.  Here, I felt they were definitely being judged.  I think I would have preferred it if I was left to make some of the leaps in thinking myself; instead I did feel a little beaten over the head with them.  I didn’t feel this straight away but, as the book went on, I felt that I was being led down on particular path.

The story that led me there, though, was a good one and kept me reading (especially because I am always fascinated by US court room drama).  It is told in three parts and by three people, all of whom see things very differently almost right till the end.  First, there is the time just after the birth of the little boy when Ruth is told she cannot care for him because she is African American through to and immediately after his death.  Then the time leading up to the trial, with Ruth in shock over what is happening and her life quickly falls apart.  Then there is the trial itself, where secrets are revealed and things are turned on their heads.

The storytellers are Ruth, Turk (the father) and Kennedy (the lawyer).  Both Turk and Kennedy are white, though they have very different views on race – or do they?  Picoult attempts to show that everyone is biased through the relationship with Kennedy and Ruth, it just isn’t always so obvious.  There is a point in the book Picoult makes about equality and equity and how the latter is just as, if not more, important and she does a good job of showing this in the burgeoning relationship, which is a minefield of misunderstandings that are sometimes painful to read.

I did feel for all the characters as they wrestled with their thoughts and feelings, even Turk, who is not as straightforward as he first appeared.  They were detailed and complex and willing to change, no matter how hard that was.  It is the characters that saved this book for me and stopped me feeling too lectured at.  That said, I am not sure how you approach this subject without some  level of lecturing in order to get the message across and in less skilled hands than Picoult I think it would have been even harder still.  I just think for me, it meant the difference between loving the book and liking it a lot.

Enjoy!

Emma

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

The Doll's House by M. J. Arlidge

511es3plnwl-_sy346_

A young woman wakes up in a cold, dark cellar, with no idea how she got there or who her kidnapper is. So begins her terrible nightmare.

Nearby, the body of another young woman is discovered buried on a remote beach. But the dead girl was never reported missing – her estranged family having received regular texts from her over the years. Someone has been keeping her alive from beyond the grave.

For Detective Inspector Helen Grace it’s chilling evidence that she’s searching for a monster who is not just twisted but also clever and resourceful – a predator who’s killed before.

And as Helen struggles to understand the killer’s motivation, she begins to realize that she’s in a desperate race against time . . .

So after waiting a year between reading M. J. Arlidge’s first two books featuring DI Helen Grace I decided I didn’t want to go that long again, picking up The Doll’s House from the library almost as soon as I’d started Pop Goes the Weasel.

Once again, this a cracking read, and each book seems to go from strength to strength – developing Helen as a character that you don’t necessarily understand but you feel a huge amount of sympathy for.  This time round, she seems even more human and a little bit more humble as well, realising that she needs people and not everyone is out to get her.

I say not everyone but there is one person – maybe two by way of a bit of workplace pressure – which adds a nice sub-plot to what is a possibly more simple story than the last two books.  It adds to an already tense narrative and helps quickly bring other, newer characters, into the picture (Helen lost members of her team at the end of the last book). Adding newer characters also helps keep the books fresh.

For the story, when I say simple, I don’t mean it’s not good.  It is.  Helen is once again confronted by a serial killer, one who takes young women and locks them away in a “doll house” where he tries to re-create a perfect relationship with another, long dead, woman.  It’s clever and creepy.  The killer just doesn’t have the complexity – for me – of the previous two books.

His motives were clear but – again, for me – less forgivable (bearing in mind that in the last two books I had sympathy for the killer as well as the victims, strange as that might sound).  I think I maybe wanted a bit of a final twist, that explained him more, and I didn’t get it.

Still, I found myself turning pages at a rate of knots.  M. J. Arlidge is a great writer, whose style I like.  It is clean and punchy with short chapters that make you think you can (have to) read one more before bed or heading off to work.  He has a way of bringing his story to life, and his characters, which I really like and means I also liked this book – a lot – and would recommend it to anyone who likes a good piece of crime writing.

Enjoy!

Emma

p.s. if you want to know more about his first two books check out my reviews here of:

Eeny Meeny

Pop Goes The Weasel

 

 

Call for the Dead by John le Carré

25345317George Smiley had liked Samuel Fennan, and now Fennan was dead from an apparent suicide. But why?

Fennan, a Foreign Office man, had been under investigation for alleged Communist Party activities, but Smiley had made it clear that the investigation — little more than a routine security check — was over and that the file on Fennan could be closed.

The very next day, Fennan was found dead with a note by his body saying his career was finished and he couldn’t go on. Smiley was puzzled…

This is the first John le Carré novel I have read, inspired by seeing his name seemingly everywhere I looked in early September thanks to the publication of his memoirs.  He isn’t an author I had given much thought to before then, though his name recognition is huge and I know I have seen more than one film and TV show based on his books.  Spies, though, don’t normally do it for me reading wise so there was always limited appeal.  Still, I was intrigued and the library had a copy of Call for the Dead, the first book featuring possibly his most famous character George Smiley…I decided to give it a go.

Now that I’m done, I can’t say I am any more enamoured of the spy novel but I did enjoy the book and wouldn’t shy away from reading more Le Carré in the future.  Despite being published into 1961 it didn’t feel dated.  Le Carré has a pretty clean, simple, writing style (though I understand it gets more wordy as his books go on) and there were references to modern life which could just have easily been made nowadays…

“The Weybridge road was packed with traffic as usual.  Mendal hated motorists. Give a man a car of his own and he leaves humanity and common sense behind him in the garage. He didn’t care who it was – he’d seen bishops in purple doing seventy in a built-up area, frightening pedestrians out of their wits”

George Smiley also wasn’t what I expected (though I did struggle to not picture him as Alec Guinness).  He was more flawed and much less suave than a spy should be.  His flaws were work related – he doesn’t always get it right – and personal – he has no friends and his wife has left him by the end of the first page of the book.  That, though, makes him more real.  And it makes the life of a spy seem much less glamorous.

The story itself seemed simple enough on the surface – Smiley hadn’t caught a spy and his bosses wanted to know why – but it’s gets pretty complicated pretty quickly.  There are twists and turns, bluffs and double-bluffs all the way through, meaning I was wrong-footed a few times before I finally figured out just what was going on.  Other than Smiley most characters aren’t too well developed and did feel a little stereotypical – there to move the plot along – though detective Mendal is pretty solid; he’s also a decent man, which I liked.

This didn’t bother me too much though as I thought it was a clever plot that kept me turning pages.  As I said, not my normal reading material, but still I liked this one and would recommend it to others.

Emma

 

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