Steve Cavanagh – TH1RT3EN

Steve-Cavanagh - Thirteen
Steve Cavanagh – Th1rt3en

It’s one of the biggest murder trials New York has seen for some time and all the country is waiting for actor Robert „Bobby“ Solomon to be convicted for the double murder of his girlfriend and her lover. Chances for Bobby are low, all the evidence is clearly against him: he was at the crime scene, blood all over, he left a finger print on a dollar note which was found on the victims, the murder weapon, a baseball bat, belongs to him and has his prints and blood of the victims all over. And he does not have an alibi for the time of the deed. Yet, there is another factor which will make sure that Bobby goes to jail: the murderer is on the jury. But, the killer didn’t anticipate Eddie Flynn, Bobby’s defence attorney, who looked his client in the eyes and saw that this man is innocent. So there must be someone else to blame. Let the game begin.

Steve Cavanagh’s legal crime novel has a rather slow start, but then it takes up pace and suddenly you can only wonder what unfolds in front of you. A brilliant puzzle and fight between two highly intelligent combatants who quickly combine facts and spectacularly try to outplay the enemy. “Th1rt3en” is the fourth novel of the Eddie Flynn series which can also be read without knowledge of the preceding books. For the third of the series, “The Liar”, Steve Cavanagh was awarded the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger in 2018.

The novel clearly lives on the fight between the killer and the lawyer. Both are highly interesting characters and certainly equal in many respects. On the one hand, Joshua Kane who seems to have perfected crime and taken killing to a higher level. It is brilliant how he proceeds and does not only care about the murder itself but also about what follows after. On the other hand, it seems as if nothing can stop Eddie Flynn, his sharp intellect guarantees clever tactical manoeuvres and seeing things that other might overlook.

It’s the classic fight of good versus evil integrated in a complex story. When the actual trial starts, the plot accelerates and suspense rises enormously. It is fascinating to follow the story line and see how all pieces finally fall into places. Even though there are some blunt and brutal murders, “TH1RT3EN” is a rather demanding and intellectual thriller that demands all your attention and concentration, something I highly appreciate.

Laura Lippman –Lady in the Lake

laura-lippman-the-lady-in-the-lake
Laura Lippman –Lady in the Lake

Just one evening with an old school friend and Maddie’s life is not what it was anymore. Her life with her husband Milton and their son Seth simply isn’t what she wants anymore and so she makes a courageous decision for the year 1966: she leaves. Now completely on her own, she wants to make real another dream: becoming a journalist and when she, by pure chance, comes across the body of a young girl and soon after again of a woman, she seizes the opportunity of her first contact with the press. It is especially the second case of the “Lady in the Lake” as she was named that turns in her mind. Nobody seems to be really care about who murdered Cleo Sherwood, just because Cleo was black. Maddie knows that there must be a story behind it and that this can be her chance to really become a reporter.

Laura Lippman’s novel is one of the most talked about books of 2019 and it only takes a couple of pages to understand why all this praise is more than justified. “Lady in the Lake” is the perfect combination of a crime novel and the story of a woman who follows her will and is brave enough to do this against all societal conventions. The setting is all but favourable for such an undertaking and Lippman’s lively portrait of Baltimore of the 1960s underlines with which severe consequences such an attitude came in these days.

The most outstanding aspect of the novel is surely the protagonist. Maddie Schwartz is the perfect Jewish housewife – until she isn’t anymore. She remembers the young woman she once was, surely a bit stubborn, but to put it positively: she knew what she wanted and she got it. So why should she be pleased with the second best life? She definitely is a bit naive, but her sympathetic authenticity is the key to the people and this makes her story convincing and plausible. Times were harsh, above all for black people and the novel gives a good impression of what this meant in everyday life. It is not an open accusation of segregation and the different kind of treatment of people of colour or even a political statement, but simply a fact and thus an integral part of what the characters experience.

I also liked the constant change of perspective and how Lippman integrated different points of view which also gives a good idea of someone like Maddie was perceived in her time. This also make the narrative lively and varied. I had some high expectations due to the masses of admiring reviews I had read, but nevertheless, the novel surpassed them easily.

Emma Rous – The Au Pair

emma-rpus-the-aupair
Emma Rous – The Au Pair

After her beloved father has died, Seraphine Mayes digs into her family’s history. When she finds a photograph of her mother, her older brother Edwin and one baby, she is astonished: it must have been taken on the day of her birth, but which one is the baby? Seraphine or her twin brother Danny? And why does the mother look so happy, only hours before she committed suicide? The photo must have been taken by the au pair who was then looking for Edwin, a certain Laura. When the young woman starts her search for the former babysitter, memories of rumours surrounding her family home Summerbourne also come back to her mind: why did everybody in the small village always say that twins do not survive in that house? When Seraphine tracks down Laura and tries to contact her, she inadvertently sets in motion a series of events.

Emma Rous’ mystery starts as a simply family story and then develops into a suspenseful crime novel. The story is told alternatingly between Seraphine’s search for Laura and the latter’s experiences as an au pair 25 years before. Two young women full of distress who cannot foresee what they run into. The plot is carefully crafted and to sort out the complex connections takes some time thanks to unexpected twists and turns.

“The Au Pair” clearly lives on the two protagonists. I liked both of them dearly, Seraphine’s stubbornness is quite convincing, she does not give up even when being threatened, actually this only spurs her curiosity and fervour to uncover the events surrounding her birth. On the other hand, Laura had to flee from her evil stepfather and tries to regain control over her life. Both women are created multifacetedly, especially their relationships are complicated which makes them authentic and believable. Apart from the characters, I especially liked the atmosphere of the novel and the spooky tales that circle around the two family homes which give you the impression of old gothic homes which have some secrets buried that are never meant to come to the light.

Claire Douglas – Then She Vanishes

claire-douglas-then-she-vanishes
Claire Douglas – Then She Vanishes

A double murder shakes the small seaside town of Tilby. Heather, a 32-year-old mother of a small boy has killed Clive Wilson, 58, and his mother Deirdre, 76, in the early hours before attempting suicide. But why did she do it? Did she even know them? Her mother is devastated and so is Heather’s childhood friend Jess, now a journalist with a newspaper in Bristol. For almost twenty years, they had not been in contact, but now she is reaching out to the family Jess once regarded as her own. How can one single family be stricken by fate that often? Heather’s father was killed in an accident when a gun was fired, her older sister Flora went missing at the age of sixteen, and now this. There’s something rotten, obviously, but can Jess figure it out?

Another page-turning mystery by Claire Douglas that hooked me immediately. I had high expectations that were totally fulfilled: many mysteries to solve, twists and turns, unexpected links and whole lot of characters that are not to be trusted. Just what you would expect from a great thriller.

What I liked most about the story were the secrets that everybody keeps, those small things that seem to be without any importance but suddenly become crucial but then it’s already too late to tell them. And then, people have to live with the knowledge that they are keeping some major facts that when being told could have saved somebody or prevented a lot of things. The plot is quite complex, at the beginning it all seems quite obvious, yet, the more it advances the more characters are added and the more multi-layered it becomes. Whenever you think you have seen through it all, your theory simply crumbles and falls – and this works out until the very last page.

Simply a great read that I could hardly put down.

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.

K.C. Maher – The Best of Crimes

kc-maher-the-best-of-crimes
K.C. Maher – The Best of Crimes

When Walter turns himself in to the police, nobody wants to hear about it. He has committed a crime that the small town ignores – but, it is a crime and he wants to be sentenced. How could it all come so far? How could he kidnap a child for three days? Flashback. Walter was a child prodigy and due to his maths skills already as a young man makes a career in the financing business. In Sterling he finds an older but loving wife and with their child Olivia their family is perfectly complete. In their community, they are a typical family, not like the one from across the street. The father has always been absent and so is the mother, leaving young Amanda alone. The two girls become close friends and Olivia’s family somehow adopts Amada. While the girls grow up, Sterling and Walter become more and more distant until they finally break apart – leaving Walter and the almost teenager Amanda in a very precarious situation.

When I read the first pages of the novel, I was like “Oh my god, not another Lolita story!”. I was afraid that the worst could happen, yet, the strange reaction of the inhabitants of the small town made me wonder: would they ever accept a man who seriously molested a child? I doubted this and luckily read on. What unfolded then was a wonderful story of love and affection of two persons being left and feeling alone and thus becoming a very unique couple.

Even though at the beginning, the relationship between Walter and Amanda is perfectly innocent, at a certain point there is a thin line which somehow is crossed. You feel uncomfortable about how close they are, and even though Walter tries to set up clear boundaries to prevent anything from happening, there is an underlying feeling of an edgy uneasiness. The author plays with a taboo without transgression, but it makes clear that when it comes to affection between an adult and a child, there is some grey area. On the one hand, Walter is the best that could ever happen to Amanda. There is no doubt about his positive influence on her education and personal development. On the other hand, he is much more than a father figure which clearly is a no go considering her age.

Interestingly, both mothers fail in their role as educator and carer, something which you rarely encounter. They do not mistreat their daughters but definitely neglect them. Thus, the novel has a lot to offer from a psychological point of view. Not only the parents’ roles, but also the fact that Walter as a child prodigy never really had a childhood or normal adolescence and now with Amanda somehow lives through a time that he missed out at that age.

A wonderfully written novel that certainly could surprise me several times and which offers much to ponder about.

Will Wiles – Plume

will-wiles-plume
Will Wiles – Plume

A fire somewhere in London attracts the people’s attention. Where is it exactly? What is burning? Is it dangerous? But Jack Bick has other problems. His alcohol consumption is totally out of control which highly impacts his job as a journalist at a lifestyle magazine. This has not gone unnoticed and his superiors virtually hold a pistol to his head: either he runs an interview with a real estate manager or he is out. Jack, instead, is highly fascinated by an author who hasn’t published anything for years. His sixth sense tells him that there is a story, but nobody wants to hear about it. Should he succumb or follow his instincts? Well, it’s not really a question for Bick and so a series of catastrophes starts-

I was totally hooked by the flap text which promised a novel about truth – personal truth, objective truth, journalistic truth and modern day London life. Well, yes, this is what it is about, but after a great start with the scene about the plume, the novel completely lost me. It had the impression that the plot did not advance but turn round itself all the time and the protagonist, whose addiction and sloppiness I highly detested, did not help either.

There were some great aspects, especially the question about creating reality and turning lies into facts. Also how real estate works in London and how ordinary tenants are treated just as objects you can make money with was certainly interesting. Yet, for me, the protagonist destroyed a lot and I had the impression that just as Jack Bick lost control of his life, the author also lost the red thread of the plot at times which made it hard to keep focused and go on reading for me.

Anthony Horowitz – The Sentence Is Death

anthony-horowitz-the-sentence-is-death
Anthony Horowitz – The Sentence Is Death

Why did he ever consent to write three books about Daniel Hawthorne? He can’t remember and now, there is another murder and he has to play the detective’s assistant and document to case to turn into a crime novel. Reluctantly, the narrator comes to the crime scene, but he is soon fascinated by the case. Richard Pryce, a well-known and respected lawyer, is found murdered in his house, killed by a bottle of 1982 Chateau Lafite worth thousands. On the wall, three greenish digits have been painted: 182. The number of suspects is remarkable, from the victim’s partner to his former clients – many might have wanted to see him dead. But who actually committed the crime?

After “The Word Is Murder”, this is the second instalment of this very unique crime series starring the author as narrator and the very peculiar former police detective Daniel Hawthorne who has his very own way of proceeding. Not to forget: again there are some very obvious hints to the number one crime writer Arthur Conan Doyle. It is not just Horowitz and Hawthorne as a comic version of Watson and Holmes, also the case bears close resemblance to some well-known cases of the private London detective.

The case was without any doubt cleverly constructed and is based on a very human vice. Signs everywhere lead to the murderer, yet, they have to be detected and read in the right way. The narrator is getting better in analysing crime scenes, yet this does not prevent him from coming to coherent, but unfortunately false conclusions. The character of Hawthorne has lost nothing of his peculiarity which made me enjoy reading about him and hating him at the same time. He strongly seems to be somewhere on the autism spectrum with his massive lack of social competence. Most of all, however, I really relished Horowitz’s humour which accounts for most of the fun of the read.

A wonderful series with certainly a highly unique style of narration.

William Shaw – Deadland

William-Shaw-deadland
William Shaw – Deadland

It’s just a simple thing, a petty crime, and they have done it before. But the two teenagers Tap and Sloth do not have the least idea what chain of events they trigger when robbing a bag from a random commuter. They find two mobiles in it, one a very expensive iPhone, the other an old-fashioned throw-away phone. Of course they cannot really sell the iPhone but maybe Tap’s mother’s ex Mickey can do that. The next day, Mickey is found brutally murdered.  But that is not the only case DS Alexandra Cupidi’s team has to deal with: in the local museum an arm has been found in a sculpture after visitors had increasingly complained about the smell. Whom does this arm belong to? And who would commit such a crime?

I have devoured William Shaw’s series on Breen and Tozer in the 1960s London and was waiting curiously for something new by the author. “Deadland”, actually the second instalment of this series, again is a murder investigation, but hardly comparable to the other series which quite logically comes with the setting in modern days Kent. Yet, as expected, there is a cleverly constructed plot which connects seemingly loose strands and keeps suspense high throughout the novel.

Apart from the murder investigation, which could hardly be surpassed, I most of all liked the characters in the novel. They are all quite unique and individual. First of all, Alex Cupidi who is a clever detective but also single mother to a rebellious teenage girl. I really appreciated how she copes with her daughter’s troubles and even though she doesn’t approve of all of her decisions, tries to keep connected to Zoe and show understanding. Also the two good-for-nothing boys turn out to be good kinds in their own ways and know good from bad.

Even though it is just a side-line in the plot, I found Constable Jill Ferriter’s struggles after having shared the bed with a colleague after too much drinking and regretting it later was quite interesting. She did something stupid she regretted afterwards, but there is no easy way out of the situation, first of all, she still has to work with that colleague and second, what would happen if she reported this assault? Not only since she is police and does not want to be a victim, but also because this could seriously undermine her position in a mostly male job.

All in all, a brilliant read that leaves nothing to wish for.

Peter Swanson – Before She Knew Him

peter-swanson-before-she-knew-him
Peter Swanson – Before She Knew Him

Hen and Lloyd have left busy Boston for a quieter place to live and where Hen can do her art work in a real artist’s workshop. Their neighbours Matthew and Mira seem to be nice, but the dinner Hen and Lloyd are invited to takes a strange turn when Hen during the tour of the house sees something she shouldn’t see. She does not want to believe her eyes, but it has been there and there is just one simple explanation to it: her neighbour Matthew is a killer. But who would believe her, the woman with a history of false accusations and a diagnose of bipolar disorder? Well, Matthew believes her and confirms her suspicion – sure that she cannot threaten him in her position…

Peter Swanson’s novel is a thrilling read that does not play to the normal rules of the genre. We quickly figure out that Matthew is a serial killer, since we get also his side of the story, it doesn’t take too long to sort this out. But then just a third of novel is over, so what is there more to come? A lot and very unexpected turns.

Even though the focus of the story is shifted again and again, each part of the novel has its own thrills. In the beginning, it is the fight between Matthew and Hen, who is stronger, who will win? This is the part I liked most since here the thrill is at its peak. This doesn’t mean that the rest is lacking suspense, it doesn’t at all. Swanson really could surprise me and I was wondering constantly if this could be true: people living with the knowledge of murders but keeping silent.

All in all, a psychological thriller full of suspense and surprising developments.