Alan Parks – February’s Son

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Alan Parks – February’s Son

It’s been three weeks since the events of that bloody January. Harry McCoy is about to return to work with the Glasgow police hoping for some more quiet times. But when Murray calls him in early, he knows that it must be serious: a young football stars has been found, not just killed but also mutilated. It is obvious quickly that his fame as sports stars wasn’t the reason for his killing, it is much more his engagement with the daughter one of Glasgow’s underworld bosses. And then it all gets very personal: Harry’s past is going to catch up with him and the eager policeman loses control.

I already really liked the first instalment of the Harry McCoy series, but the second was actually even better. This is especially due to the fact that the protagonist gets more contours, becomes more human and thus his character and decision making becomes understandable. The development and insight in this character was for me the strongest and most interesting in reading “February’s Son”.

Again the murder case is quite complex and all but foreseeable. Different cases are actually linked and it takes some time until you understand their connection and their particular relevance for McCoy. The whole series is set in 1973 which means there is a fairly different atmosphere in comparison to many novels set today. Glasgow is an all but friendly town constantly at war, the police’s job is to prevent the worst, not to take care of minor misdoings and therefore, they sometimes need to find less legal ways to keep the upper hand. The tone is harsh at times, certainly nothing for the highly sensitive. Fights are part of everyday life and a bleeding nose is nothing to worry too much about. Yet, this all fits perfectly and creates an authentic atmosphere of a time long gone. It will not be easy to outstrip this novel with a third.

Megan Collins – The Winter Sister

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Megan Collins – The Winter Sister

It’s been sixteen years since her sister Persephone was murdered. Sylvie has created herself a new life, far away from home, but now she has to return to her hometown and confront her seriously ill mother. It doesn’t take long until all that happened that winter night comes back to her, especially when she meets Ben, her sister’s boyfriend, her sister’s murderer. Yet, Ben insists in his innocence. But can she trust him? And what about her mother who always refused to tell the girls who their respective fathers are and who also refused to talk about that night. Is it time now to open Pandora’s box and let the truth out?

Megan Collins’ debut is at the first glance a typical murder case: an 18-year-old girl is strangled and the murderer has been running free for sixteen years. However, at the second glance, it is much more a story about family relationships, about secrets and about love and trust. The small family of three females lived on secrets and lies, had they ever been open and honest with each other, the death of one daughter could have been prevented. Yet, that’s how human beings are, sometimes they lack the necessary courage to do what is right and thus risk to lose all they love.

The novel is well-created, even though at a certain point it is quite obvious how all the dots are linked, I found it full of suspense. Telling the story through Sylvie’s eyes gives you a certain bias at the beginning, but the missing pieces and gaps add to the thrill and the big questions marks Sylvie herself feels can also be experienced by the reader. Collins’ biggest strength is certainly the creation of the characters who all act convincingly and appear quite authentic. I am looking forward to read more from the author.

Donna Leon – Unto Us a Son Is Given

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Donna Leon – Unto Us a Son Is Given

Guido Brunetti is surprised when is father-in-law Count Falier asks him to meet him privately. The Count’s best friend is going to make a big mistake and he hopes that Guido could do something about it: the Spaniard Gonzalo Rodriguez de Tejada wants to adopt a much younger man. Even though nobody really is upset about his openly shown homosexuality, this seems to go too far for the upper society and is considered something absolutely inappropriate. But apart from that, Gonzalo’s friends fear that the chosen man, Attilio Circetti, Marchese di Torrebardo, is more interested in Gonzalo’s wealth than in the old man. When Gonzalo suddenly dies, the case isn’t abandoned but turns out to be much more complicated than expected.

Donna Leon’s 28th case for Commissario Guido Brunetti starts in a quite unique way since this time, no murder has been committed and Brunetti is not running after some evil criminal. It is a very personal story that reveals a lot about Venice’s society, especially the rich and noble and their very special views on the world. The actual murder case only appears after about two thirds of the novel which surprisingly does not reduce any suspense in it.

As the other novels before, the Guido Brunetti series lives on the special atmosphere of the Italian water city. Again, we get a glance behind the doors of the nobilità and how they resolve their cases. Brunetti’s has to do a lot of actually illegal work this time which does not seem to bother anybody too much. On the other hand, this is a very emotional and human story, it is the characters’ weaknesses, their longing for finding love and being loved that drives the story. It is much less about solving a crime than about revealing human nature and the core things of life. For me, definitely so far the strongest of Donna Leon’s novels since it goes far beyond just solving a murder case.

You-Jeong Jeong – The Good Son

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You-Jeong Jeon – The Good Son

When Yu-jin wakes up, he needs some time to orient himself. But: where does all the blood come from? He is obviously not hurt, but what happened the evening before? When he explores the home, he finds his mother stabbed. Was there some burglary he cannot remember? Yet, there are no signs of any break-in. Did he himself do it? He is confused and not a single memory of the hours before he fell asleep will come back. The body has to disappear, otherwise he would obviously be the main suspect. Nevertheless, he tries to enquire the murder and therefore searches his mother’s room where he finds her diaries – notes that will reveal a lot to him about his family, his step-brother and first of all, about himself.

At the beginning of “The good son”, the reader is as confused as the protagonist. He seems to be quite likeable, therefore you first reject the idea of him being a murderer. However, your view of Yu-jin will change a lot, the more you learn about him the more you have to adapt your opinion – not only while reading more of his thoughts on that morning when he makes a body disappear and gets himself deeper and deeper in trouble, but first and foremost when reading the mother’s diaries. That’s when the novel turns into a highly psychological analysis of a young and promising man who doesn’t know himself as good as he thought he would.

The plot develops a fascinating cruelty which completely drags you along. The emotions you feel are highly contradictory, between pity and disgust, between the hope that he will get away with it and at the same time that the police come to arrest him. Even though his action is absolutely comprehensible and logical, you reject it, too. I really like those kinds of novels which keep you oscillating emotionally.

It is absolutely a crime noir and definitely quite “Asian” in a certain way. Not only the family structures and the pressure on the members differs at lot from our western view, but also the rules according to which people act are different and make the characters sometimes act in an unexpected way. Just as the characters are finely modelled, the plot can amaze a lot and thus offers a lot of unexpected surprises.

Lynn Brittney – Murder in Belgravia

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Lynn – Brittney – Murder in Belgravia

London, 1915. Lord Murcheson has been stabbed and murdered in his house, his wife Lady Harriet was found there wounded, too. She claims to have committed to crime with a pair of scissors, which is highly unlikely due to her severe injuries.  While Lady Harriet is fighting for her life at the hospital, Chief Inspector Peter Beech takes over the case. The city is at war and thus, men are scarce with the Metropolitan Police. Beech has quite an innovative idea which seems to be more than reasonable for the case at hand: he wants to employ women for the investigation. Thus, Victoria Ellingsham, trained in law, and medical doctor Caroline Allardyce join the small team of Beech, charming ex-boxer PC Billy Rigsby and former Special Branch Arthur Tollman. While London is under attack of the Germans, the unusual squat investigates the case, comes across masses of legal and illegal drugs, prostitutes and the abduction of a young girl who worked in the Murcheson household.

“Murder in Belgravia” follows the lines of classic murder cases in the style of Agatha Christie. The most striking about the novel is the atmosphere. Not only is the situation of World War I convincingly portrayed with the city under fire at night and the shortage of men for the police and other forces, but you also feel yourself transported back to the times when lords and ladies lived in a completely different world which only scarcely overlapped with average or lower class people.

The case itself has to be solved without any modern forensics or other sophisticated medical or technical means which I liked a lot. It is due to a quick-witted intellect and particularly the women’s sharp observation that they can assemble the necessary pieces of evidence to rumble the murderer.

Lynn Brittney’s book is a cosy crime novel that I really enjoyed to read. She has created awesome characters of whom I would like to read more.

Clarissa Goenawan – Rainbirds

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Clarissa Goenawan – Rainbirds

When the news of his beloved sister’s death reaches Ren, he hurries to the small town of Akakawa where she had been worked as a teacher for the last couple of years. The police do not have many cues about the young woman’s crucial death, she fell victim to a merciless murderer and was heavily mutilated. Ren starts to ask questions himself, first the landlord where his sister had stayed and with whom she seemed to have had quite a delicate agreement. But also at her work place, there are interesting people who might know more than they would admit at first. In his dreams, Ren is haunted by a young girl with pigtails who obviously wants to tell him something, but he needs time to understand the girl’s message.

Clarissa Goenawan’s novel is set in 1990s in rural Japan and thus the atmosphere is far from the Tokyo rush that you might have in mind when thinking about young people on the Asian island. The plot moves at a moderate pace; modern media simply does not exist so people need to talk to each other to get information or to – very conventionally – send letters. Even though the motive that drives the action is an unsolved murder case, the novel is far from being a real crime novel. It is much more about the brother’s loss, a rather dysfunctional family (or rather: families since none of the families presented can be considered functional in any way) and in a way also about love or different kinds of love. It is a quite melancholy book with some rather dark and even mystical aspects.

I felt sorry for the young protagonist most of the time. He is quite lonely and now with his beloved sister gone, he got nobody to rely on anymore. His childhood memories were quite depressing and it is a wonder that from what he and his sister experienced they didn’t develop any serious mental illness. There is something intriguing about the other characters, too, albeit I assume that this is also stemming from the fact that they are portrayed in a fairly typical Japanese way, eccentric to some extent, which is rather unknown or unusual for Europeans. What I found quite interesting is the fact that the writer herself isn’t Japanese, but for me, her novel is thoroughly Japanese concerning the atmosphere and the characters.

Joy Ellis – Beware the Past

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Joy Ellis – Beware the Past

It was his most important case, 25 years ago, and now it all seems to be coming back to him. Detective Matt Ballard was still young when a series of murders of three boys hit the remote area of Gibbet Fens. The killing suddenly stopped when their main suspects was killed in an accident, but nevertheless, doubts remained and now the killers seems to have resumed his series. The team is working around the clock and soon they have to realise that this is not just a normal murder case, it is a cat and mouse play with Matt Ballard at the centre. The killer wants his full attention and he want to hurt the detective – therefore everybody close to him is in the highest danger.

Joy Ellis’ thriller is just want I’d suspect from a crime novel: full of suspense, many clues and leads that only lead to dead-ends. Interesting characters with a past and buried secrets. A fast paced story with twists and turns and quite a surprising motive of the predator.

For me, the strongest aspect of the novel was actually the plot and the motivation of the killer. It is hard not to tell too much since it really comes as a surprise, but the way Joy Ellis drafted the novel, the killer’s procedure and the solution of the case was just brilliant. I was kept in the dark about who is behind it all for such a long time – ok, one might have guessed, but actually, the fact that I was totally taken by surprise makes it an outstanding thriller for me.

Anthony Horowitz – The Word is Murder

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Anthony Howoritz – The Word is Murder

Diana Cowper, an elegant elderly woman goes to an undertaker to sort out her funeral. This is not absolutely strange, but nevertheless rare. The same evening, she is murdered in her London house. Daniel Hawthorne, a former detective with the London Metropolitan police supports the investigation. He asks the writer Anthony Horowitz to accompany his inquiry and to write a book about it. This is how the famous writer gets to see a murder investigation from the inside. Yet, the case does not really seem to lead anywhere. Is it all just a coincidence and did Mrs Cowper fall prey to a burglar who also broke into other houses of the area? When her son Damian Cowper is found stabbed in his apartment, it is obvious that his mother’s death was no bad luck. All signs lead to a car accident 10 years before in which Mrs Cowper killed an 8-year-old boy. But somehow the pieces do not really fall into place. The peculiar team of the strange ex-detective and the author will have to investigate further – until they get in mortal danger themselves.

Even after having finished reading the novel and the acknowledgements, I am not sure if this is all based on a true story or if Anthony Horowitz is just a great inventor. However, it doesn’t really matter, what matters is first of all, did I enjoy reading the novel? Yes, absolutely, it is so much fun and I hardly could put it away. And second, how was the murder case? Cleverly constructed, surprising, simply fantastic. I could stop here since it is clear that “The Word is Murder” is a must read of 2017.

The novel starts a bit surprisingly. You get Mrs Cowper walking into the undertaker’s and so on. Then, quite abruptly, there is a break and the author is starting to talk to you and you learn that you just read a chapter of a book which is to be written. So, he takes you out of the novel you were just reading into another novel about the writing of that specific book about the woman you have just encountered. This is quite a unique start, but it fits in quite well and I like surprises like this.

As summarised before, the murder case has everything you could ask for: several suspects, all with dubious behaviours and clear motives. Quite outstanding characters which give you much to puzzle over. Nevertheless, it all fits together perfectly in the end and the here again, the motivation comes quite as a surprise but is absolutely reasonable and coherent with the whole plot.

Concerning the characters, I liked the author who is not the perfect detective who knows it all, who has doubts about what he is doing, sometimes a guilt conscience and a conversational tone which makes it easy to indulge in the story. Hawthorne on the other hand is only presented through the eyes of the narrator, thus never objectively presented and definitely a bit bizarre – but I liked him nevertheless.

All in all, a humorous crime novel which additionally benefits from Horowitz’s masterly writing skills.

Paula Cocozza – How To Be Human

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Paula Cocozza – How to be Human

 

Five months after Mark has left her, Mary still lives in a kind of bubble disconnected from the world around her. She goes to work and returns home, but somehow she is numb and dehumanized. When one evening a fox appears in her garden, she is mesmerized. The animal returns regularly and a bond between the two lonely beings slowly forms. The more Mary feels connected with the wild animal, the more hysterical her neighbours become. They want to kill the foxes, they feel threatened in their own homes and their nerves are on edge. When suddenly Mark shows up again to rescue Mary and to save their relationship, she has to make a decision.

„How to be human“ – it seems to be contradictory to use the contact with a wild animal to illustrate what represents a human being. However, in Mary’s case, the beast helps her to overcome her numbness, to rediscover feelings she once had and the innocence and unassuming attitude of the fox make her become a human again. She feels sympathy with the animal, especially when the whole world seems to be against it. Just like baby Flora she can approach the fox without hesitation and reservation.

The humans apart from Mary do not really make a good impression in the novel. Her neighbours Michelle and Eric are quite egoistic and only think about their habitat and needs. I am not sure if Michelle actually suffers from postpartum depression as mentioned in the novel, to me, she is rather a neurotic egoist. Eric in contrast, is weak, servant and obeys his wife without questioning her decisions. Mark does not play a major role, but the fact that after half a year he realises that life with his wife was better, does not really speak in his favour.

What I liked most were the fox’s thoughts. The author got in his mind convincingly and portrayed his simple and natural character quite well. Considering all the beings, he is the human one, unobtrusive, decent and not demanding anything. Thus, he can help the lonesome and forlorn protagonist to find herself and her strengths again.

 

Ruth Ware – The Lying Game

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Ruth Ware – The Lying Game

A short message Isa Wilde had hoped would never come. „I need you “, is all it says. The young mother knows exactly who sent it, even without giving a name. It comes from the past, from the time, 15 years ago, when she was at Salton House, a boarding house for girls. Isa, Kate, Thea and Fatima were best friends in their short time together and an incident has bond them for life. Even if they haven’t seen each other since then, they know they cannot escape it. Isa has to go back, she cannot tell her husband the truth, because this would mean risking their life. She only takes her six-months-old daughter Freya with her and heads to confront the past. When the now women are reunited, Kate tells the others what has happened: bones have been found and their well-kept secret is threatened to surface after all these years.

“The Lying Game” is a game the four girls played when they were at school. They had five rules which function as titles for the chapters:

1) Tell a lie;

2) Stick to your story;

3) Don’t get caught;

4) Never lie to each other;

5) Know when to stop.

So it is quite obvious that many lies have been told and that this is where the key to the story lies. The scenes of the past are only told from Isa’s memories, so the reader only gets fragments, the things she remembers at that moment, and she obviously cannot tell what she does not know, what she has buried deep in her brain and what she refuses to think of. Therefore, you as a reader can only speculate about what the girls have done. When it comes out, I was about disappointed at first because I ranked the deed as not that grave considering their age. Yet, since I was only halfway through the novel, I was sure that more would be coming and I was not disappointed. Until the end, new facts were added to the story and I had to readjust my idea of what had happened several times.

Just like Ruth Ware’s novel “The woman in cabin 10”, I enjoyed reading this one. It is not a suspenseful thriller form the start which gives you the creeps throughout the whole story. It is much more a cleverly built psychological novel which makes you think about what you would do in the characters’ place. You can definitely feel the stress that especially Isa is exposed to, torn between her life in the present and a guilt from the past. There are scary situations, but luckily they do not come from bloody murders described in detail. It is playing on your nerves, the fact of keeping you in the dark about many things clearly supports this.

All in all, I like this kind of thrillers and relished reading it.