Amy Engel – The Familiar Dark

amy engel the familiar dark
Amy Engel – The Familiar Dark

Two 12-year-old girls have been murdered, but except for their parents, nobody really seems to care about it. Maybe they had it coming, that’s how it is with girls their age, they should have paid more attention to whom they mingle with. Eve Taggert is not willing to simply accept that her daughter Junie has gone and nobody is hold responsible for the senseless death. What did she and her friend Izzy do in the park at that time and bad weather? She starts to ask questions even though her brother Cal, a policeman and close to the investigation, tries to keep her away and out of trouble which her private research soon causes. The more Eve learns, the closer she also gets to her own family and especially her mother with whom she had cut all contact before Junie was born because she never wanted to be like her. But in the course of the events, Eve must realise that she shares more traits with her mother than she ever expected.

Amy Engel’s mystery novel deals with the greatest horror that parents could ever go through: learning about the death of their beloved child and having the impression that nobody bothers to find the culprit and to bring him or her to justice. However, it is also about life in small and remote community where poverty and precarious standards of living are a daily occurrence. Growing up in trailer homes or small, run-down apartments where children only get a nook for themselves and see the adults drink alcohol or being addicted to drugs of all kinds – this is not the childhood one could ever wish for. Even if some want the best for their children, just like Eve, getting out of this isn’t as easy as it seems.

The story is narrated from Eve’s point of view which gives you a deep insight in the emotions she goes through. Not just losing her daughter and thus the sense of life, but she also falls back into old patterns she had given up and totally loses her footing. Even though she could not offer Junie much, she put an effort in her daughter’s education and she lead a decent life and loved her – more than she herself had experienced as a kid. To see such a woman being hit by fate is especially bitter.

Amy Engel does a great job in showing the development of Eve, going from being totally blinded by mourning and anger to gaining strength – even if she becomes a bit too reckless and headless at times – and in the end, fearlessly doing what she needs to do.

Notwithstanding that a lot is going wrong in the small town of Barren Springs, what I liked a lot is that the author did not paint the characters in black and white. The greatest villains do also show their positive and human sides – just as the “good” ones suddenly are capable of quite some crime.  Albeit a murder investigation is at the centre of the novel, for me it was much more a psychological study of small town life and people who struggle in life. It does not lack suspense though and several unexpected twists and turns keep you reading on.

Deepa Anappara – Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line

deepa anappara djinn patrol on the purple line
Deepa Anappara – Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line

When Bahadur, one of his classmates, goes missing, nine-year-old Jai is determined to solve this case. He has watched so many episodes of Police Patrol that he knows exactly how such a problem is to be treated. Together with his friends Pari and Faiz, he starts to investigate around Purple Line and Bhoot Bazaar. Yet, more and more children and teenagers disappear from their basti and quite obviously, the police are not willing to do anything about it. The parents get either more and more afraid of their children being the next or angry as they feel helpless and powerless.

Deepa Anappara’s novel is a brilliant mixture of an oftentimes very funny plot and an absolutely serious topic. Daily, children go missing on Delhi’s streets without anybody taking notice of it. The life of a child, especially if she or he belongs to a minority, is worth next to nothing, not even the effort to take a note on it. Diverse cultures and religious racism play an important role in this, too. Boys and girls are treated differently and offered different chances in life. Born into the wrong family, you can only count on superstition for a better life since the boundaries are clearly set.

At the beginning of the novel, I totally adored Jai and his friends. They are vividly and wonderfully portrayed. Determined to find out what happened to their friend and equipped with their knowledge from true crime TV series, they start their investigation ignoring all warnings against the dangers that lurk around the bazaar. They take their job very serious and at the same time, just as kids do, ignore the facts that they live in the same slum but come from very different backgrounds.

With the number of children who disappear rising, the novel becomes increasingly serious and loses the light-heartedness of the beginning. The way a slum works becomes gradually more visible and thus, the novel grants insight in a world which is totally unknown to me.

The whole novel is sparkling with life, the characters are quite unique and lovable and it is totally understandable why the novel has been nominated on the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020.

Sadie Jones – The Snakes

sadie Jones-the-snakes
Sadie Jones – The Snakes

Bea and Dan are frustrated with their London life and jobs and therefore decide to take a couple of months off. They start their tour across Europe in France where Bea’s brother Alex runs a hotel. Yet, when they arrive in the Burgundy village, it seems completely deserted. The hotel has never seen any guests and the house is completely run down. However, Alex is happy with the way things are. Bea is all but close to her family and when her parents announce to visit their children, she is all but amused. Dan cannot understand his wife’s hostility towards her parents, but there is a lot more that he doesn’t know and when they are hit by a major incident, he finally gets to know his real in-laws.

It’s the third novel by Sadie Jones that I have read and just like the other two before, again I really enjoyed her style of writing. The full extent of the story only slowly reveals and even though it is not a classic suspense novel, you know that there is a lot buried that will be uncovered sooner or later and you eagerly wait for it to show.

The strongest aspect were the complicated family ties. It is not clear at the beginning why Bea resents her parents so much, only when these two characters show up you start to understand her hatred and why she tried to cut all bonds. It is clearly a dysfunctional family in all respects: a strong and stubborn father who, self-centred as he is, just ignores the needs of the other family members and egoistically subordinates all to his wishes. The mother, however, is rather weak and clearly has a very unhealthy relationship with her children, even though they vary a lot. Alex and Bea seem to get along quite well even though there is a big gap in their age, yet, their different attitude towards the parents makes it impossible for them to really unite.

And the novel is about money. It is difficult to talk about it without revealing too much of the plot, thus, quite obviously, it doesn’t really help to make you happy. Even if you got masses of it. All in all, a very compelling read that I enjoyed a lot.

Lynn Brittney – Murder in Belgravia

lynn-brittney-mzurder-in-belgravia
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.

Lexie Elliott – The French Girl

lexie-elliott-the-french-girl
Lexie Elliott – The French Girl

It‘s been ten years since their legendary summer holidays in France. Now, the six friends reunite in London. They have all pursued their careers, found new partners and almost forgot what happened on their last day in France that summer. The French girl who spent a lot of time with them went missing, already back then a murder investigation was set up by the French authorities, yet, without success. But now, her body has been found, buried in a well on the premises and she obviously did not fall into it by accident. Kate does not have a clue what might have happened, she only remembers her quarrel with her then boyfriend Seb. But now things are different and soon, Kate finds herself prime suspect in a murder case.

Lexie Elliott tells the strange murder case only from one point of view, Kate’s, which adds a lot to the suspense of the novel. Kate is telling her story, we, as the reader, only know what she knows, we only get her thoughts and thus are limited in getting the whole picture. Additionally, during the course of the story, you start doubting your narrator – is Kate reliable or is she lying to us and leading us to false clues? I liked this play with uncertainty and the fact that only bits and pieces of the whole story are revealed.

The strongest aspect of the novel are the characters. First of all, Kate who is quite lively drawn, second and even more interesting is Caro whom you cannot trust which is obvious right from the start. But also the other characters are suspicious, Kate’s friend Lara and her affair with the French investigator or Tony who is making advances towards Kate. The story itself, however, does not advance at a high pace, at times you wait impatiently for something to happen. The fact of only giving one perspective, on the one hand, adds to the suspense, on the other, it temps to skip pages you to learn what actually happened because the information you get is quite limited. The end and the solution was not really convincing for me, for me, the motive was too weak to justify such an act.