Felicity McLean – The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone

felicity-mclean-the-van-apfel-girls-are-gone
Felicity McLean – The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone

It’s been twenty years that Tikka Molloy fled her Australian home. Now that her sister is seriously ill, she returns not only to her family but also to a secret that the girls have kept for two decades. They have always been friends with the three van Apfel girls who just lived across the street, Cordelia, Hannah and Ruth were their closest friends that they confided in. And so did the Molloy girls. This is why they shared their plan of running away. But something went totally wrong. Tikka’s older sister Lauren was to go with them, but somehow they miss each other at their agreed meeting point and a few days after they ran away, only 8-year-old Ruth turned up again. Dead. Returning home brings back all the memories of the weeks before the van Apfel girls’ disappearance.

Felicity McLean’s novel mixes different topics and genres. On the one hand, it is a coming-of-age novel, the girls all have to face the fact that adults can be evil and that sometimes are not to be trusted. On the other hand, it is also a mystery novel, you don’t know what really happened, if the girls might still be alive. And it is a study in how to live with the knowledge that behaving in a different way in a certain situation might have made a big difference.

As other reviewers have pointed out before, yes, while reading you have the impression of having read it before. There are certain parallels to other novels such as “The Suicide Sisters” and much of the plot has been treated in similar ways before. Yet, I liked to read it anyway especially because McLean manages to convincingly get the tone of eleven-year-old Tikka who is at times naive but always good-hearted and well-meaning. A perfect beach read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Sally Hepworth – The Mother-in-Law

sally-hepworth-the-mother-in-law
Sally Hepworth – The Mother-in-Law

When one evening a police car stops in front of their house, Lucy immediately has a bad feeling. Her mother-in-law Diana has been found dead and the police treats it as a homicide. But why? Could there have been foul play? Well, Diana wasn’t somebody you instantly loved when you got to know her, you maybe never loved her and she, on the other hand, didn’t hide her despise for anybody outside her closest family circle. Lucy remembers how she first met the old, wealthy woman, recalls scenes of her family life when, again and again, Diana gave her the impression of being the wrong wife for her beloved son. And now, the police investigate her death.

Sally Hepworth’s novel caught me straightaway. From the first page on, I was intrigued by the story and just wanted to find out how Lucy could have killed Diana. Well, of course, there was always the possibility that somebody else also disliked Diana that much – but it took quite some time until I gave up my first suspicions and then, admittedly, looked at the plot cluelessly: but who? They all hated her more or less, but rather more.

The story is told in flashbacks what makes the actual plot advance only slowly. Yet, this does not reduce suspense since the memories of Lucy and Diana alike definitely contribute to arouse suspicion. What I enjoyed most was how you directly think you know everything, have an idea of who is the good guy and who is the bad guy and how, slowly but steadily, your tower of belief crumbles and ultimately falls because the characters get more profile, other sides of their personality are shown and they become really authentic and plausible in the way they act and behave. At the same time, Sally Hepworth’s novel is often really funny and entertaining, I liked her kind of humour deeply.

The author was definitely great discovery for me and I am eager to read more from her.

Sarah Bailey – The Dark Lake

sarah-bailey-the-dark-lake
Sarah Bailey – The Dark Lake

The murder of a beloved teacher moves the whole city of Smithson in Australia. Rosalind Ryan is found dead in the waters of Sonny Lake after a stunning performance of her art class in their version of Romeo and Juliet. Gemma Woodstock and her partner Felix take over the investigation even though Gemma has known Rosalind for her whole life. But her superior doesn’t know that she not only knew the beautiful young woman, but that that there is much more that links the two. The investigation leads to nothing, nobody can provide any useful information, neither her family not her colleagues really seem to have a motive. Yet, somebody must have hated her so much that he killed her.

Sarah Bailey’s debut thriller “The Dark Lake” has an interesting setting. You hardly ever come across an Australian small town where everybody knows everybody and where all the characters have some kind of old common memories and histories. The most striking moment was for me, however, when everybody was complaining about the hot temperatures on Christmas – quite uncommon for most European or North-American novels. Well, things are different down-under, but the concept of a good thriller is the same, and “The Dark Lake” has much to offer in that respect.

The case is highly complicated and for a very long time I didn’t actually have the slightest clue of what was going on. The author has masterly crafted her plot and it takes some time until a lot of dub-plots suddenly make sense. The protagonist Gem is also quite interesting, she is not only the policewoman, but also a mother of a young boy and doubting her relationship with the kid’s father. An affair with her partner doesn’t make things easier – but that’s just how life is. She is somehow typically female, she follows her intuition and she has a different way of approaching suspects and of observing places. I really appreciated this different point of view in the investigation.

Even though much becomes clear when you come to the end of the novel, a downside was for me Gem’s private life in the present and the past. It was just a bit too much and slowed down the pace, even though it made perfectly sense for the story to tell it all.