Paula Hawkins – Into the Water

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Paula Hawkins – Into the Water

Welcher böse Fluch lastet auf dem Fluss nahe Beckford, der bereits mehrere Frauenleben zu verantworten hat? Erst im Frühling fand die erst 15-jährige Katie dort den Tod, nun auch Nel, die Mutter von Katies bester Freundin Lena. Nel war besessen von dem sogenannten „Drowning Pool“, der immer wieder Frauen angezogen hat. Allerdings ist dieses Mal die Lage etwas anders, Nel hat mehrfach vor ihrem Tod versucht ihre Schwester Jules zu erreichen, die beiden hatten seit Jahren keinen Kontakt mehr. Jules hat die Anrufe registriert, aber nie entgegengenommen. Sie ist sich allerdings sicher, dass Nel niemals Selbstmord begangen hätte. Vieles passt in dem Ort nicht zusammen und je tiefer Jules und die beiden Polizisten Sean Townsend und Erin Morgan nachforschen, desto mehr Verbrechen kommen sie auf die Spur.

Dieses Buch ist in der Hörversion eine echte Herausforderung. Gelungen sind die unterschiedlichen Sprecher, die den einzelnen Charakteren, die jeweils abwechseln aus ihrer Sicht die Geschehnisse erzählen, ihre Stimme verleihen und so ein wenig helfen, den Überblick zu behalten. Insgesamt erschienen es mir aber viel zu viele Figuren, die gerade zu Beginn nicht einfach zu unterschieden waren und deren Verhältnis zueinander ebenfalls nicht immer ganz klar war. Leider leiden sie fast aller unter Charakterzügen, die sie nicht gerade besonders liebenswert machen, was ich ebenfalls nicht einfach finde, man möchte ja doch so etwas wie Empathie gegenüber den Figuren empfinden.

Die Geschichte an sich ist komplex und immer mehr Nebenstränge entwickeln sich, die jedoch nicht alle besonders glaubwürdig sind und für mich zum Teil sehr konstruiert wirken. Insbesondere Jules Verhalten erscheint mir absurd, steht aber vielen anderen diesbezüglich in nichts nach. So richtige Spannung kam leider nie auf, dafür war die Erzählung oftmals zu sprunghaft und konfus und kaum auf das Wesentliche fokussiert. Auch wenn am Ende alle Zusammenhänge aufgeklärt und der Fall quasi gelöst ist, stellt sich kein befriedigendes Gefühl bei der Story ein.

„The Girl on The Train“ konnte mich insgesamt überzeugen, Paula Hawkins aktueller Roman jedoch ist mir zu schwach, um mit dem Vorgänger mithalten zu können.

Karen McManus – One Of Us Is Lying

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Karen McManus – One Of Us Is Lying

Five students of Bayview High School have to go to detention for having a cell phone with them. They all swear that the mobiles do not belong to them and that they don’t have the least idea how they ended up in their backpacks. Bronwyn, the perfect student with a flawless record and surely a place at one of the Ivy League colleges; Nate, the constant loser who is currently on probation for drug dealing; Cooper, a promising baseball player; Addy, the girlfriend of one Bayview High’s most wanted boys; and Simon, on the one hand an outsider, on the other the creator and head behind the school’s gossip app who seems to know all the secrets of his class mates. Just a couple of minutes later, Simon is dead and the four remaining students are the prime suspects. Actually, all of them have something to hide as the police soon finds out and their secrets might have lead each single student to murder. They all plead innocent, but apparently one of them must be lying.

I really enjoyed this combination of young adult with crime novel. Karen McManus’ four protagonists are interestingly drawn, very singular characters which – of course – show some stereotypical features but which I think is normal for their age where you try to play some role and fit in. The author plays with the reader in bit by bit revealing more about the teenagers and their individual flaws and weaknesses. I did not really expect all of them having these secrets which, in fact, are everything but harmless and could really destroy their lives – well, that’s what happens when they are a finally revealed.

I liked the arc of suspense a lot. First of all, there has been a murder quite at the beginning of the story and of course you want to know who committed the crime. But then, all protagonists one after the other tell you that they have something to hide without immediately illuminating you. So apart from the search for the murderer, there is much more you want to find out and which makes you keep on reading.

For me, “One of US is Lying” can easily equal novels such as Jay Ashers “Thirteen Reasons Why”, Celeste Ng’s “Everything I Never Told You” or E. Lockhart’s “We Were Liars”.

Megan Miranda – The Perfect Stranger

megan-miranda-the-perfect-stranger
Megan Miranda – The Perfect Stranger

Leah Stevens has to leave Boston and wants to start a new life as a teacher somewhere in Pennsylvania. Together with Emmy Grey, who already had been her roommate after college, the two women move to the small town which makes an idyllic impression. Yet, this idyll does not last long, soon after their arrival a girl is assaulted and Leah finds herself in the middle of the investigation around one of her colleagues. When Emmy does not show up for several days, she is just a bit concerned, but when the police find out that there is no person of the name Emmy Grey and when Leah realises that her friend did not leave any trace, she gets more and more scared.

I was really looking forward to reading this novel, but actually I am a bit disappointed. First of all, I could never really bond with the protagonist. Neither did I find Leah especially sympathetic nor did her behaviour make any sense to me. Had we known more about her, this might have been different, but equipping her with y mysterious past, too, did not really help to like her, because as a reader you always suspect her of false play and not of being the pitiable victim. For me, it was hard to believe that a clever investigative journalist can turn into a shallow, trustful teacher who only believes in the best of people. Moving in with somebody without knowing anything about that person is rather unlikely with such a past.

The plot itself had some suspense to offer, there were also some unexpected twists and turns, but here too, a lot was just too flat and unimaginative to convince me. The affair between Leah and Kyle, for example, who did not see it coming? Police rummaging the house just after a mysterious box with relevant information has been found hidden in the basement and secured from their eyes. These are mere props you can find in any second rate mystery novel.

All in all, it was ok, the knots were undone in the end.

 

Laurent Binet – The 7th Function of Language

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Laurent Binet – The 7th Function of Language

February 1980, after lunch with François Mitterrand, promising politician of the socialists and candidate for the 1981 presidential election, the literary theorist Roland Barthes is run over by a lorry and later dies in hospital. What first looks like an ordinary car accident, turns out to be malicious murder. But who would want to murder Barthes? Superintendent Jacques Bayard has to investigate and soon understands that he does not understand anything at all of what all these intellectuals talk about. He needs help and contacts Simon Herzog, a young lecturer on linguistics who not only has to translate the theoretical paraphernalia but also helps him to unravel the mystery of the 7th function of language.

Forming an opinion on Laurent Binet’s novel is not easy. Well, actually, I really enjoyed it, but I can easily understand people who just hate it and find it boring. So, what does it need for a reader to indulge in it?

  1. If you are a linguist – jackpot. The novel is full of linguistic theory. Having at least a slight notion of what structuralism, deconstruction, semiotics and of course the communicative functions of language are, helps a lot to enjoy the novel since you do not have to pay too much attention to the theoretical passages (which will certainly help if you do not know anything about it).
  2. An interest in French intellectuals, or intellectuals gathering in Paris at the end of the 1970s/beginning of the 1980s. We meet Julia Kristeva, Philippe Sollers, BHL, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Eco, Foucault – also PPDA plays a minor role – and also Derrida and Searle pop up. Seeing them interact is just hilarious. At least as long as you find them interesting.
  3. French politics: Giscard d’Estaing vs. Mitterrand. Two of the greatest politicians of the second half of the 20th century which could hardly differ more than they did.
  4. Secret Societies of scholars – Freemasons, Illuminati, Rosicrucians, whatever.

Yes, it is a kind of crime novel centred around intellectuals. The crime aspect is not that relevant, there is some kind of suspense – you do want to know what is behind all this – but much more it is a brilliant way of integrating philosophy, linguistics, literary studies etc. into a fictional plot. Binet is a mastermind when it comes to presenting the theory and directly using it within the story, he plays with it and with the reader and if you are ready to play the game, you can have real fun. Apart from this, I really enjoyed his style of writing, it is full of irony, playfulness and spirit:

“25 February 1980 has not yet told us everything. That’s the virtue of a novel: it’s never too late.” (pos. 2236)

or

“We have no way of knowing what Simon dreams about because we are not inside his head, are we?” (pos. 3450)

And the most amusing comment from poor Simon Herzog is:

“I think I’m trapped in a fucking novel.” (pos. 3899)

For me, just the perfect combination of entertainment (the characters are masterly drawn) and intellectually challenging.

 

Peter Heller – Celine

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Peter Heller – Celine

Celine is a very peculiar woman. Her personal history made her become a private eye specialised in reuniting families. She has been tracking down people whom even the FBI could not locate. When Gabriela, a woman with an interesting family history, asks for her help to find her father, Celine does not immediately think of what this case might demand of her. Gabriela’s father disappeared many years ago when he, a professional photographer, was in a national park. The police suppose he was attacked by a bear, but they could never find the body. Celine and her husband agree to start the search anew. But soon they have to acknowledge that there are mighty enemies who will do everything to hinder them from discovering something.

Admittedly, I found the parts of Gabriela’s life as a girl, the strange family situation after her mother died in the ocean and her father married again, the most fascinating in the novel. They way her father’s new wife treats her, how they manage to hide from the outside world what is going wrong inside was most compelling and repellent at the same time. Yet, the search for her presumably dead father also had some interesting aspects, especially when they were looking more closely at the scene of crime and the traces.

Concerning the characters, the protagonist has some noteworthy spots, she is not the mediocre standard investigator whose private life is a mess and who is addicted to alcohol or drugs. Her family life before coming to the States and the things she hides from her own son make her outstanding in the ocean of crime novels. Peter Heller clearly has created a unique character here, but quite often she seemed a bit too peculiar to me to be authentic. In this regard I preferred her husband who is much more down to earth. Nevertheless, this is for me the strongest aspect of the novel: the characters are complex, shaped by their experiences and sensitive to others.

All in all, even though there is some kind of mystery about Gabriela’s father’s disappearance and also some suspense and even a kind of showdown, it is not this aspect that made the novel noteworthy, but Heller’s passion for detail in creating his characters.

Leif G.W. Persson – The Sword of Justice

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Leif G.W. Persson – The Sword of Justice

Thomas Eriksson, Stockholm lawyer for all sorts of gangsters, is found dead in his private house. The list of suspects is quite long, considering his usual business partners. Evert Bäckström, Detective Superintendent with the Stockholm police, is in charge of the investigation. Avid avoider of work, his sets up his team to investigate the case which turns out to be more complicated with every piece they add to the picture. Bäckström himself investigates the case from his own point of view and with his own means, not all of them legal. Thus, he finally gets the culprits brought to him and can even make some money with the case.

Scandinavian crime novels have been quite popular for some time, mainly because the investigators are unique characters who have something to offer besides a good case. Persson’s protagonist Bäckström definitely is one of them. It makes so much fun reading his thoughts, mainly about his colleague where he has a collection of very remarkable characters. Additionally, the image of Bäckström and the reality could not differ more: a capable investigator, highly successful in the public opinion, a lazy betrayer and fraudster on the dark side. This makes him outstanding and – albeit all the despicable traits of character – a kind of lovable or at least enjoyable character.

The case itself is quite complicated, In the course of the action, more and more complicating factors are added and you really have to pay attention not to mix up anything. Nevertheless, it is solved convincingly and no questions remain unanswered. All in all, quite some joy to read.

Johan Theorin – The Darkest Room

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Johan Theorin – The Darkest Room

Winter on Oland, the Swedish island the Westins have just moved to. Joakim is on his way home when a tragic message reaches him: his daughter has died in an accident. However, when he arrives home, it is not his daughter but his wife Katrine who drowned in the cold sea. How could this happen? Why was she at the shore at all? Joakim struggles with the new situation when their home seems to start speaking to them. It is his daughter who seems to be especially responsive. She can talk to her dead mother and thus an old tradition of Eel Point is kept alive: every Christmas, the dead return to tell their story.

“The darkest Room” is the second of Johan Theorin’s Quartet set on the second largest island of Sweden. This time he combines a crime story with spooky elements to which the weather conditions fit perfectly: a winter storm is coming and people retreat to their homes. We have the ideal setting for a classic ghost story: a haunted house, a mother killed and her murder still unsolved, a child responsive to the dead, a protagonist who does not really believe in old stories but has to surrender to what is happening. Apart from this, Theorin has a second plot which we follow together with the police: a series of robberies on the island disturbs the quiet life of the islanders.

The novel is a wonderful read for winter evenings, particularly because of Theorin’s capacities of creating an intensive atmosphere which drags you into the story.

Ian Fleming – From Russia with Love

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Ian Fleming – From Russia with Love

The Russian agency SMERSH plans to assassinate the British super agent James Bond since he helped to eliminate Le Chiffre and because they need a spectacular demonstration of force now. Colonel Rosa Klebb selects beautiful Tatiana Romanova as a bait knowing that Bond easily falls for pretty women. In Istanbul, Tatiana contacts the British intelligence agencies under the pretence of having fallen in love with Bond and wanting to collaborate with them. She also offers the decoding machine Spektor in which the English are highly interested. Since the Russian refuses to board a plane to London, they take the Orient Express on their way back – accompanied by a number of spies.

Actually, Ian Fleming does not offer too much plot in his fifth novel about the British MI6 agent. The main story takes place on the train where Bond, Romanova and Bond’s Turkish partner Kerim are repeatedly attacked and Bond manages to escape due to Q’s spectacular inventions. Since the publication took place during the times of the Cold War when the Soviets were the first and most important enemy of the Western world, thus we have a classic plot of that time here – albeit Fleming actually did not use this as often as one might suspect. All in all, I like those old classic spy novels, just like the ones of John Le Carré, but admittedly, Ian Fleming is best in film.

Val McDermid – Out of Bounds

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Val McDermid – Out of Bounds

Karen Pirie, Detective Inspector with the historic case unit of Scotland‘s police, reopens a cold case when an accident with several teenagers shows DNA links to a 20-year-old unsolved murder. A male relative of the young driver, now in coma, can be connected with Tina McDonald’s case. Yet, things are not as easy as it seems first: the driver was adopted and getting access to the files will require a lot of persuading. At the same time a supposed suicide attracts Karen’s attention. What makes her doubt this explanation is the fact that the victim’s mother was killed in a never fully explained plane crash. IRA terrorists were suspected at the time, but nobody has ever been convicted and murder normally does not run in families. Even though it is not her case, she starts digging not knowing what she is going to unearth…

“Out of bounds” is a novel in the series of the Cold Case Squad of Fife centred around Detective Inspector Karen Pirie. Even though, I did not know one of the preceding novels – “A Distant Echo” (2003), “A Darker Domain” (2008), “The Skeleton Road” (2014) – I did not have any major problems getting into the story. There are some hints to Karen’s private life in the past, she seems to have lost her partner not too long ago, but this is not crucial for the plot or to understand the character’s action.

The two cases that the protagonist works on are both attractive crime scenarios: one solved by a DNA match which does not turn out to be as simple to solve as expected and going into details of biology and genetic engineering as well as legal questions about which information connected with adoptions should be provided to whom. This is found most interesting for the case since it forces you to make up your mind about such a situation and how you would opt. The second case is not too far thematically from this one since here also questions of parenthood and DNA proof pop up. Nevertheless, this is much more complicated than the first.

All in all, the story moves at a high pace, shifting from one case to the other, providing a bit of information here and then going on somewhere else – this seems quite authentic in police work, since there is always some waiting time when you have to look at something different. As presumed, Val McDermid manages to solve both cases without leaving and questions unanswered. As always with her, we do have another crime novel full of suspense which does not need any blood or excess of violence to get keep your attention.

James Patterson – The Witnesses

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James Patterson – The Witnesses

The Sanderson family have to hide. Lance and Susan were working in Tunisia when they were suddenly attacked. Now, they are back in the States and together with their two kids and Jason, their bodyguard, live in a small house in the suburbs. Yet, their enemies are on their way and their new neighbour is also suspicious and thinks there is some wrongdoing in their house which he puts under his surveillance. The rules are strict: nobody leaves the house, no cell phone and no Internet connection. When one of the kids gets bored, the family is in real danger.

This is already the fourth bookshot by James Patterson, this time without any link to one of his many crime series. As in the other short crime novels of this series before, I really liked the format. Less than 150 pages make it a really quick read but at the same time it does not lack any suspense or logic. We have story which is narrated with a clear focus on just the one plot, not side plots divert from it. In this case here, I found the idea of a family locked away for their own protection quite interesting. How they slowly struggle more and more with the situation and how they, at one point, cannot stand it anymore. I didn’t count on any real big surprises, but I was wrong, there are twists and turns which give the story another perspective. All in all, I enjoy this type of crime novel and James Patterson obviously also has a knack for the quick stories.