Tonight You’re Dead by Viveca Sten

tonight you're deadTonight You’re Dead is the fourth in the Sandhamn series of books – a place I love the sound of (multiple murders aside).  It sounds beautiful, set of the coast of Sweden and home to a mix of fascinating character – not least of which (and central to all the books) is Nora, a single mom to two boys and best friend of Thomas, a local detective (and another central character in the book).

The last three books have been set on the island itself.  This one isn’t.  It is set on the mainland and, also unlike other books, has a lot less interaction between Nora and Thomas.  Previously, they have spoken and met often and Nora has been involved in all Thomas’ investigations.  Here, they have little interaction and Thomas works closely instead with another detective, Margit. 

The Dinosaur Feather by Sissel-Jo Gazan

10240235How could one man inspire such hatred?

Professor Lars Helland is found at his desk with his tongue lying in his lap. A violent fit has caused him to bite through it in his death throes. A sad but simple end. Until the autopsy results come through.

The true cause of his death – the slow, systematic and terrible destruction of a man – leaves the police at a loss. And when a second member of Helland’s department disappears, their attention turns to a postgraduate student named Anna. She’s a single mother, angry with the world, desperate to finish her degree. Would she really jeopardise everything by killing her supervisor?

As the police investigate the most brutal and calculated case they’ve ever known, Anna must fight her own demons, prove her innocence and avoid becoming the killer’s next victim.

So The Dinosaur Feather is the oldest book I own and haven’t read.  I bought it in October 2012 and it has languished on my Kindle ever since. Inspired by reading the book that was previously the oldest unread book I owned (The Dead Room by Chris Mooney) and how I wish I hadn’t waited as long, I set myself a personal challenge this year of reading the books at the bottom of the reading pile.  This one was next on my list and, unfortunately, the results weren’t as good as I might have hoped.

The Dinosaur Feather sounds like it should be right up my street but I just couldn’t get into it.  There is a slow start, where Anna (the main character) is caught up in a dream before it moves onto pages and pages of explanation of who she is and why she was having the dream – she is due to finish her doctorate on whether birds are descendent from dinosaurs.   The pace never picks up.  I didn’t check the page count but it has to be 100 or so pages before we get to the murder Anna has to solve to prove her innocence.

Which brings me to my next problem with the book – the blurb saying Anna must “prove her innocence and avoid becoming the killer’s next victim”.  Neither of these things are true, unless I missed a bit of the book (it’s possible it was on a page I skimmed in order to keep going).  The detective (Soren) in charge of the investigation doesn’t think she did it and Anna’s life is never under threat.  I felt slightly cheated as a result, and even less inclined to try to like the book.

The third thing that caused me issues was Anna herself…she is really unlikeable, even her friends as good as say it.  It’s passed off as a fiery personality but it wasn’t.  She was selfish to the core, leaving her daughter at the drop of a hat and treating her friends and family like they were there to serve.  I have to say I kind of hoped she was guilty so they would arrest her – serving her right for being a pain.

Add to this a series of sub-plots around Anna’s childhood and Soren’s past and it was all very confusing and very long.  The book is over 500 pages and I felt every one.  I hate being scathing about books because I know the authors have put a lot of work into them, but here I am really struggling to find something positive to say.

The writing was o.k., though it was too wordy for me (I don’t know how much of that was down to the translation?), and I think in there was a good story if the “extras” could have been cut out – the sub-plots but also the pages and pages of the science behind bird feathers.  It didn’t add to the book and it made me want to skip ahead, never a good sign.

So, all in all, I am sorry to say, this wasn’t a book for me and not one I can recommend.

Sorry!

Emma x

not-for-me

Source: Purchased
Publisher: Quercus Books
Publication Date: 2008
Format: ebook
Pages: 536
Genre: mystery / crime
Find on: Amazon UK / Amazon US / Goodreads

Dead Calm by Inge Löhnig

51NLOhDy8bLWhen the body of a retired paediatrician is discovered in his weekend house on Lake Starnberg, it seems clear that his death was the result of a robbery gone wrong. But as Inspector Konstantin Dühnfort starts to investigate and details of how the man met his death are revealed, an altogether murkier series of events begins to emerge – one of torture, betrayal and cruelty, of complex sibling relationships and toxic parental ambition. With a family ripping at the seams, will Dühnfort be able to uncover what really happened?

I was excited to read Dead Calm not just because it sounded right up my street but because it would be my first crime novel set in Germany.  I am a big fan or Nordic Noir and crime fiction so wondered how this would compare.  In a nutshell – really well.

In many ways, it’s similar – it’s dark and gritty – though I have to say German life doesn’t seem quite as structured or controlled.  There is much more eating, drinking and seeming to enjoy life here.  Not too much though because there is murder afoot and a murderer to be found.

In this case the victim is a respected and semi-retired paediatrician Dr. Heckeroth, who is found rather gruesomely in his lakeside cabin by his son, Albert. Albert was the apple of his eye and chosen child – with the other two (Caroline and Berstram) being ignored for the most part.  It’s an interesting and potentially explosive family dynamic which plays out as the investigation progresses and which I think Lohing uses to good effect to bring the story and the characters to life.

They also do a brilliant job with the detective’s, led by Dühnfort and supported by Gina and Alois.  Dühnfort and Gina especially are really well drawn, with enough of their personal life to make me like and care for them.  Much like my Monday read (Mercy Killing) this was very much a team effort.  Dühnfort relies on his instinct a lot but doesn’t go off on his own, working with others to get results.  I like this and it is a good change for me and my recent reads where detectives tend to go off on their own.

The story itself is full of twists and turns and I wasn’t sure till close to the end who did it (I was right – yay!). It isn’t the fastest of paced books though.  Instead, I would say it was steady.  I never lost interest and I never got bored but I didn’t feel the overwhelming urge I have with other books to stay up late or keep turning pages.  This might not be a surprise as it runs to nearly 450 pages.

I thought it was well written and well translated.  I liked getting to know each character, none of which I didn’t like to a degree (even the bad apples had redeeming features), and learning a little more about life in Munich, which sounds lovely despite the subject matter.  I am not sure if this is part of a series or the first in one, but I’ll definitely be looking out for more.  Liked it a lot!

Enjoy!

Emma x

liked-it-a-lot

Source: Netgalley
Publisher: Manilla Publishing
Publication Date: 18th May, 2017
Format: ebook
Pages: 448
Genre: crime, mystery
Find on: Amazon UK / Amazon US / Goodreads

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

Human Acts by Han Kang

30091914In the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, a young boy named Dong-ho is shockingly killed.

The story of this tragic episode unfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre. From Dong-ho’s best friend who meets his own fateful end; to an editor struggling against censorship; to a prisoner and a factory worker, each suffering from traumatic memories; and to Dong-ho’s own grief-stricken mother; and through their collective heartbreak and acts of hope is the tale of a brutalized people in search of a voice.

Human Acts starts with the story of one boy, of what happened to him over a few short days in May 1980. It starts with him looking amongst the dead for his best friend, who he had seen shot in the street by soldiers. It ends with him dead, gun in hand, as he tries to make a stand.  There are lots of dead in Human Acts, and lots of friends and family looking amongst them for their loved ones. Loved ones who had taken to the streets just like the boy and his friend had, protesting against military rule in South Korea.

The boy is Dung-ho. He is fifteen. And this is the Gwangju uprising, where – depending on reports – hundreds of people were killed over a period of nine days and others as the result of torture and retribution for having stood up to a brutal regime. Brutal is the only word I can think of to describe what I read. Han Kang pulls no punches in her description of what happened to those that died and those that survived. 

What happened to some of the survivors is told through long chapters that are more like short stories. Each survivor is visited at a different times in their lives and at different times in South Korea’s history and each is connected to the first chapter and Dung-ho. None have ever fully recovered from what happened to them as a result of their involvement in the uprising. Most of them were young. There were students, factory workers, parents. One was the author herself, who was a child at the time. None were ever the same as a result of what they went through.

It wasn’t a pleasant or easy read at times and I struggled in places to not skim through graphic details. I felt I needed to read every line though because this isn’t just about what happened nearly 40 years ago, this is still happening – if not in South Korea then in other parts of the world. People are still being tortured and abused and it does make you wonder just what we are as humans if we keep doing this to each other. Han Kang says “the question which remains to us is this: what is humanity? What do we have to do to keep humanity as one thing and not another?”.

I don’t know the answer and wish I did. As strange as it may sound, I feel grateful to Han Kang for asking and opening my eyes in such an eloquent way. Because, after finishing this over two weeks ago, it’s still a question that is rattling round my brain and I don’t feel it is going to go away. I am also grateful to have been given the opportunity to read this book. It is beautifully written, despite the subject matter, and translated. The characters are so real, I felt completely connected to them and their fate. For as dark and as hard to read as it was, I loved this book and can’t recommend it enough.

Emma x

loved-it

Source: Blogging for Books
Publisher: Hogarth
Publication Date: 17th January, 2017
Pages: 218
Format: ebook
Genre: literary fiction
Buy now: Amazon UK / Amazon US

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

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The Legacy by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

The murder was meant as a punishment – but what sin could justify the method?

The only person who might have answers is the victim’s seven-year-old daughter, found hiding in the room where her mother died. And she’s not talking.

Newly promoted, out of his depth, detective Huldar turns to Freyja and the Children’s House for their expertise with traumatised young people. Freyja, who distrusts the police in general and Huldar in particular, isn’t best pleased. But she’s determined to keep little Margret safe.

It may prove tricky. The killer is leaving them strange clues: warnings in text messages, sums scribbled on bits of paper, numbers broadcast on the radio. He’s telling a dark and secret story – but how can they crack the code? And if they do, will they be next?

The Legacy is the third book I’ve read now by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, the author whose name I will never be able to pronounce, and one I was eagerly looking forward to reading given how much I have enjoyed the other two.  I have to say I wasn’t disappointed in what I got for my money (well, not really my money as this was a review copy but you know what I mean – hopefully), though it probably wasn’t the favourite of the books I’ve read.

Why not? Because it didn’t have the spooky element the other two books had and which I thought set them apart from others in the genre.  I thought it would with the prologue – three children sat on a bench, not moving whilst a group of adults talk about the horrible things that have happened to them and how it is best they are given new lives and know nothing of their past.  This is the extent of it though and, with the story proper, it moves into a more traditional police procedural / piece of crime fiction.

That said, this doesn’t make it a bad book, not by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, once I got over my slight disappointment at the lack of spookiness, I became completely absorbed in the story.  It has everything I like in my Nordic noir; it is dark and gritty, the world is cold (there is always snow) and the people slightly dour and depressed (sorry but it’s true – though it doesn’t put me off reading).  Plus there is the structure and social mores in which they live and work, so different to ours and so fascinating.  I can never resist.

As for the book itself, it is well written and well translated and nice and complicated, though it didn’t feel like it would be at first.  With each murder and each twist in the tale I found myself more confused as to what was going on and who the killer was (I didn’t get this one until it was revealed – a good thing for the author in the keep ’em guessing stakes but bad for my ego as I really like to be the one who figures things out before the police).

The silver lining to that is that the police were just as confused as me, no closer to figuring out the truth than I was as they scrambled to find clues and connections between the victims.  I should have had more of a clue given I knew more than them.  Not only was I privy to the children in the prologue, I was only following Karl, a CB radio enthusiast who is picking up broadcasts that seem to be targeted directly at him (and pointing him towards the victims).  Knowing they were all connected didn’t help me though,  I just couldn’t put it together no matter how hard I tried.

Maybe I would have tried harder if I hadn’t been distracted by what I hoped was a burgeoning relationship between the lead detective (Huldar) and Frejya who works for the children’s service and is trying to keep the first victim’s daughter (and only witness to her murder) safe.  Huldar and Frejya have history, meaning she isn’t his biggest fan, but I couldn’t help hoping they would figure it out because, despite Huldar’s social ineptitude, I really liked him and Frejya.  I thought they were complicated but well rounded characters and, as this is the first in the series, I really hope to get to know them better.

Maybe I’ll be lucky in the next one and get a bit of the spooky back but, even if not, I’ll keep reading because I liked this one a lot and would definitely recommend it.

Enjoy!

Emma x

liked-it-a-lot

Source: Net Galley
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication Date: 23rd March, 2017
Pages: 464
Format: ebook
Genre: crime fiction
Buy now: Amazon UK / Amazon US

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

 

 

Tuesday Intro: The Legacy by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

Once again I’m linking up again 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. In really enjoy these tasters when I read them on other blogs so wanted to join in.

This week, I’m reading The Legacy  by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, an Icelandic author I discovered last year and am slowly reading my way through. The Legacy is her latest offering. Here’s what it’s about…

The murder was meant as a punishment – but what sin could justify the method?

The only person who might have answers is the victim’s seven-year-old daughter, found hiding in the room where her mother died. And she’s not talking.

Newly promoted, out of his depth, detective Huldar turns to Freyja and the Children’s House for their expertise with traumatised young people. Freyja, who distrusts the police in general and Huldar in particular, isn’t best pleased. But she’s determined to keep little Margret safe.

It may prove tricky. The killer is leaving them strange clues: warnings in text messages, sums scribbled on bits of paper, numbers broadcast on the radio. He’s telling a dark and secret story – but how can they crack the code? And if they do, will they be next?

And here’s how it starts…

1987

Prologue

They sat on the bench as if arranged in order of size; the girl, who was the youngest, at one end, her two brothers next to her. One, three and four years old. Their thin legs dangled from the hard seat, but unlike normal children they didn’t swing them or wriggle about, and their new shoes hung motionless over the shiny linoleum. There was no curiosity, boredom or impatience in their faces. All three stared at the blank white wall in front of them as if watching a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Viewed through the glass, the scene resembled a photograph –a study of three children on a bench.

What do you think. Would you keep reading?

Emma

Why Did You Lie? by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

imageA journalist on the track of an old case attempts suicide. An ordinary couple return from a house swap in the states to find their home in disarray and their guests seemingly missing. Four strangers struggle to find shelter on a windswept spike of rock in the middle of a raging sea. They have one thing in common: they all lied. And someone is determined to punish them…

So I think I have found one of my favourite books of the year.  A complete surprise, as it’s not an author I’ve read before and I didn’t know what to expect, but I think it’s fair to say I have been completely blown away.

It starts with the characters, all of whom are so well drawn I felt I knew them by the end of the book.  Each of them felt different and real.  They had complex personalities, habits and quirks (good and bad), something I think it’s hard to do when there are multiple narrations going on at the same time.  And each was dealing with curveballs unexpectedly thrown at them by life (or nature in the case of those trapped on the spike of rock), making their stories interesting outside of the murder plot.

Then there is the setting – I am not sure I’ve read a book set in Iceland before – but the cold, the snow, the sea, all made it feel claustrophobic and not somewhere I would want to be trying to escape a killer.  It felt dark and oppressive, especially when you add in the police’s attitude – it can only be described as misogynistic, meaning women weren’t being listened to and assumptions to behaviours were being made.

And finally there was the way the story was told.  Each chapter laid out a different part of each characters story but they were all taking place within a few days of each other, which threw me off at first until I realised what was happening; more importantly it means it’s hard for the reader to put the pieces together.  You have to ask yourself what has happened, what is to come.  I did finally figure it out (a game I always play with this type of book) but it wasn’t far from the end and it felt like a lightbulb going of.

O.k. so that maybe wasn’t so finally as I need to add that Why Did You Lie? is well written, very well translated, and has a great pace.  I could not put it down and – almost a week later – am still thinking about it.  I’ll be looking for more books by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, even if I may never be able to pronounce her name.  Loved this book – highly recommended.

Emma

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

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