Rabih Alameddine – The Wrong End of the Telescope

Rabih Alameddine – The Wrong End of the Telescope

When her friend calls her, Mina Simpson comes to Lesbos to help. The doctor can assist the refugees who land on the island not only physically but, since she is of Lebanese descent, she also speaks the language of the Syrians who risk their life to flee the war raging in their home country. For Mina, the Greek island is the closest she has been to her family for decades, as a trans woman, she never found her place there, only when she came to the USA could she live freely. With the first boat she sees lands the family of Sumaiya who first refuses to be examined by the doctor. But somehow, there is a spark of understanding between the two and Mina quickly understands why the other woman refuses any treatment: she knows already that she is terminally ill and the only thing she wanted to make sure was to bring her family to a save place.

“The Wrong End of the Telescope” is the third book I read of the author and again, he did not disappoint my high expectations even though it took me some time to figure out who the narrator is talking to. Just like in “An Unnecessary Woman”, we find a strong heroine who follows her ideas and yet is not totally stubborn and ignorant but sensitive to what her actions do to others. The plot centres around the refugee crisis which has been the top news for some years now and cleverly mixes fact and fiction by also integrating actual incidents.

Mina comes to the island with a clear aim: she wants to help. She is trained and thus qualified to do the work. Apart from her, there are many young people who have been attracted by the news, their situation is a bit different. Most of them arrived well-meaning, yet, taking photos of themselves helping and documenting the disastrous situation in the refugee camps seems to be their top priority, actually helping only comes second. Most of them seem to be unaware of their inadequate behaviour; the sensation seeking journalists, on the contrary, know exactly why they are there and that they prof from other people’s sufferance.

The protagonist differs strongly here, well, she differs from most people and her personal story is also not without traumatic experiences having grown up in the wrong body in a country where such a concept simply does not exist. She, like the refugees, knows what it means to lose home, to lose the people you love and to start anew in a different country, a different culture not knowing what the future might bring. She is well respected and her knowledge of both cultures allows her to critically comment on the flaws that both exhibit. As an outsider here and there, she is like an unrelated observer who thus can also highlight common traits members might not see.

Depending on the side of the telescope you use, you can get a closer or a more distant view of what you are looking at. Alameddine does both in his novel, on the one hand, he closely portrays the fate of one family, one mother, on the other hand, he also widens the frame of the refugee crisis. In addressing Mina’s narration to an unnamed and disillusioned writer, we also get both perspectives: looking at the world’s state on a wide you, you can simply despair, on the other hand, on a more personal level, there is still hope and so much good the single person can do.

Without a doubt, Rabih Alameddine is a wonderful narrator with a genius for integrating food for thought into brilliant narration.

Sarah Goodwin – Stranded

Sarah Goodwin – Stranded

Maddie wants to flee from the ghosts that haunt her life after her parents‘ death. Together with seven others, she takes part in a TV experiment in which they have to stay isolated from the world on an island off the Scottish coast for a year. Equipped with cameras and just the most necessary items, the group has to survive in the unfriendly environment. It does not take too long for them until the first conflicts arise. Who does not contribute enough to the community, who is working harder, how can daytime be used in the most useful way? The issues for quarrelling are manifold and Maddie soon finds herself the main target of the male participants. She has always been an outsider, is she just unable of integrating into or group? She tries hard but with lowering food supplies, tension grows and annoyance ultimately turns into blind rage which sets free basic instincts of survival.

Even though Sarah Goodwin’s thriller “Stranded” follows quite a classic scheme, I was totally gripped by the story and hardly could put down the book. The reader follows the first person narrator Maddie thus sharing not only her insecurities and thoughts but also wondering if you can trust her assessment of the situation and feeling hesitant about the other characters’ behaviour and actions behind Maddie’s back. You know from the prologue that things will turn out nasty and that not everybody will survive, thus tension is set high from the start and does not lower at any point keeping you spellbound.

Even though I personally would never take part in such a challenge, I found the setting enthralling. It is well documented what atrocious surroundings in which a bunch of people are threatened by starvation and lose hope of rescue can make of human beings. They turn into animals, it is just a question of when and degree of how horrible the situation becomes. The author does not wait too long for the first small escalations; the characters are well chosen to quickly provide enough room for conflict.

Despite her isolated and overprotective upbringing, Maddie is fairly well equipped for survival. This she needs to be as all kinds of aggressions are addressed to her by her fellows. Her survival instinct kicks in and she is willing to fight back – not matter what it takes. Yet, the other characters are not drawn one-dimensionally either, especially Zoe shows that at times, you are in conflicting situations where you are forced to take sides even though you do not want to and you have to choose maybe the wrong one just because it is the one with the upper hand.

There is no human abyss left out and thus, you only wait for the next escalation level until you reach the ultimate one. Full of suspense, a thriller which definitely deserves this label.

Tammy Cohen – The Wedding Party

Tammy Cohen – The Wedding Party

All her life Lucy has dreamt of the perfect wedding. It took her 18 months to plan everything to detail so that her nuptials to Jason would be the most spectacular moment. The wedding party arrives on the beautiful Greek island of Kefalonia already a couple of days prior to enjoy themselves and to prepare for the big day. Yet, from the start, things do not run as smoothly as expected. Lucy’s sister Jess appears with a stranger in tow, her parents behave strangely and her wedding planner Nina is asking repeatedly for the pay of the last bill which Lucy simply couldn’t settle as she has been overspending and is totally broke. It is only her best friend Shelly who supports her unconditionally. But this is only the beginning, with the strange woman Vivian, a doomy omen seems to have arrived at their luxurious hotel threatening not only to destroy the best day of her life but her whole family.

I have been a huge fan of Tammy Cohen for years and thus was looking forward to reading her latest novel. Again, she did not disappoint me but created a gripping plot which had me struggle to put the book down once I had started. Brilliantly crafted, suspense is high from the beginning as you know that something absolutely terrible is going to happen, yet, the big question is: what?

Lucy just wants her wedding to be perfect, not necessarily for herself, but much more for her Instagram followers and colleagues. She seems to be doing everything right except for spending money she does not have and not telling her husband-to-be about it. Her sister, on the contrary, is more on the rebel side of life not caring too much about outer appearances and following her own ideals. That she might spoil her sister’s wedding by bringing a total stranger does not really occur to her, it is just her way of having a bit of fun. Their parents, too, seem to have fallen apart, even though the girls do not have a clue why this might be. Just for the sake of the wedding, they all try at least to play their assigned role for a couple of days longer.

Even though it could be a carefree week under the sun, smaller and bigger secrets surface one after the other leading to an increasingly dense atmosphere among the party and opening up all doors for speculation about what might happen. From the police interviews interjected, you can only guess so much, but this is this theorising that makes reading the novel great fun.

Wonderfully depicted characters who all have their flaws and shortcomings mixed with a lot of drama and suspense – a perfect summer read.

Nick Spalding – You Again?

Nick Spalding – You Again?

It was an offer they could not let go by: one week on the Maldives for an unbeatable price, the perfect island for a couple. Joel has been there before, for the honeymoon with his ex-wife Amy, but now he is with Cara and wants to relive the happy time on the sandy beach. Yet, when they arrive at the airport, he spots Amy with her new boyfriend Ray. This can only be a coincidence. But it isn’t. Amy, too, has seen the offer and wanted to go there again. Thus, the two of them find each other on the same plane heading to the same destination after two years of hateful ignorance. Trapped on a small island, they cannot get out of each other’s way and therefore, quite some complicated days lie ahead of the former couple.

Nick Spalding’s novel fulfilled all my expectations of a hilariously funny summer read: a great surrounding with beautiful nature, characters who easy fall prey to their own shortcomings and over and over again find themselves victim of their own doings – but in a comical and not too hurtful way.

Even though it is clear from the start what is going to happen, I enjoyed following the alternating accounts of Joel and Amy offering their respective views which are filled with unattended to emotions. Underneath the hatred, you sense that there is still something that binds them and that makes them matter to each other. If it wasn’t, they could easily ignore the ex-partner. Both of them are totally predictable and too much caught in their maelstrom of negative emotions to stand above what happened in the past. Yet, just the fact that they know each other so well allows them to play really foul tricks.

It is totally hilarious to see how they get worked up in trying to outplay each other. A light and entertaining read, perfect for the summer holiday on the beach.

Yukito Ayatsuji – The Decagon House Murders

Yukito Ayatsuji – The Decagon House Murders

Murder and mystery are what they are all interested in as the members of the so called Mystery Club of their university. They like to delve in the classic stories and to solve the puzzles of crimes. They have even given themselves nick names after the great classic writers of crime novels:  Ellery, Carr, Leroux, Poe, Van, Agatha and Orczy. When they are invited to the remote island of Tsunojima, they are thrilled. It has been the place of a quadruple murder the year before and thus promises an interesting week which they want to spend with writing and enjoying themselves. Yet, they did not count on somebody waiting there for them to settle an old bill which is to be paid with their lives. In the meantime, on the mainland, three people receive letters insinuating that something strange might be going on and that a presumably dead killer might still be around.

“Even if the world were viewed as a chessboard, and every person on it a chess piece, there would still be a limit as to how far future moves could be predicted. The most meticulous plan, plotted to the last detail, could still go wrong sometime, somewhere, somehow.”

Yukito Ayatsuji’s debut novel is clearly inspired by the novels of the Golden Age of crime using the classic setting. “The Decagon House Murders” was first published in Japan in 1987 but only now the English translation is available. The reader alternatingly follows the evens on the island, where one after the other student finds his/her death and on the mainland, where they do not know what exactly happens there but try to combine the murders of the year before with the current events and the mysterious letters they got. Even though both lines of enquiry provide numerous ideas of what could be happening, the reader remains in the dark until the very end, just to discover what can only be called the perfect murder.

The novel is a homage to the classic crime novels and mystery readers who have always enjoyed Agatha Christie and the like will be totally enthralled. The plot, first of all, lives on the atmosphere of the island which is not very welcoming and cut off from the outside thus strongly reminding of “And Then There Were None”. The fact that it was the scene of a dreadful murder only months before adds to the its mysterious vibes. The murders seem to be carefully planned, no repetition in how they students find death and therefore leaving you pondering about one person could manage all this without being detected.

A classic whodunnit I thoroughly enjoyed.

Carissa Ann Lynch – Whisper Island

Carissa Ann Lynch – Whisper Island

Riley, Sammy, Mia and Scarlett are art students at Monroe and working on projects together when one day, Sammy suggests a trip to Whisper Island, Alaska, where they could spend their holidays for free and profit from its remoteness and special surroundings for their artwork. Even though the others are not too keen on spending summer in the cold north, they agree and see it as an adventure. When they are on their way, Sammy announces that her brother Rob would join them, not just does she thus destroy the girls trip, but especially Mia is angry, her best friend should know that after their breakup, the wounds that Rob had caused never really healed. When they finally arrive, it is not just Rob but also his new girlfriend Opal awaiting them in a run-down house. But not only their lodging is a disappointment, also their boat to travel to the next town is out of order and then their whole trip turns into a nightmare when they realise that they are obviously not alone on the island since a murderer is on the loose killing one after the other.

Carissa Ann Lynch has chosen a classic locked-room setting which strongly reminded me of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None”. Even though the students are not total strangers, they evidently know much less from each other than they thought before their departure. The story is narrated alternatingly from the points of view of the characters thus providing insight in their hidden thoughts and offering the reader, on the hand, clues to what could be behind all this murdering but, on the other hand, also a lot of red herrings which keeps suspense high.

The present events on the island are surely the main focus of the plot, however, the girls’ past, the things they hide from the others – and astonishingly, each of them has quite a story to offer – are much more interesting to unravel. Sammy soon hints at the fact that she did not suggest the trip out of the blue but actually had a good reason to vanish from Memphis and so had her brother. Mia seems to have been in a scandal a couple of years ago which she hopes the others have never heard of but of which the anniversary is close and threatening to make the others a see side of her she prefers to keep hidden. Scarlett struggles with drug abuse and hopes to get sober in the weeks on the island. Riley is new to the group and she is also the one who is quite closed up not giving away too much form herself and her family, so, what does she have to hide?

I liked the atmosphere on the hardly welcoming island which immediately gives you the creeps and fits perfectly to the plot. Speculating about why the six might have been chosen as targets was great fun and finally was revealed and explained. An entertaining and fast-paced mystery following a classic structure.

Karen M. McManus – The Cousins

Karen M. McManus – The Cousins

Twenty-five years ago, their parents were disowned by their grandmother Mildred. The four Story children Adam, Allison, Archer and Anders only got a letter saying that they knew what they had done. Unfortunately, they didn’t and haven’t been in contact with their mother who still lives on the family estate Catmint House on Gull Cove Island off the coast of Massachusetts which has been turned into a successful vacation destination for the rich. Unexpectedly, Milly, Aubrey and Jonah, Mildred’s grandchildren who have not seen each other for years, are invited to spend the summer there and to get to know their granny. Has the old lady finally changed her mind? Not really, but this is only one of the many, well buried family secrets of the Storys.

I liked Karen McManus’ former young adult novels a lot since she knows how to create suspense without being actually violent and because her characters are often teenagers one can easily identify with since they show the same fears and insecurities every knows. “The Cousins” offers an interesting setting and much more twists and turns than expected and thus was an enjoyable read.

The story is told alternatingly from the three teenagers’ point of view thus giving insight not only in their thoughts but also in the secrets they hide from each other. It also adds to the fast pace and at times gives you an advance since you already know what’s coming when the characters in the novel are still in the dark.

There are also flashbacks in which we meet their parents when they were teenagers which is quite an interesting comparison and also provides the necessary background to understand the behaviour of the characters on the island.

Overall, I totally enjoyed the novel which had an unforeseeable ending and some fascinating characters.

Lilja Sigurðardóttir – Das Netz

Lilja Sigurðardóttir Das Netz
Lilja Sigurðardóttir – Das Netz

Ihre Liebe wird ihr zum Verhängnis. Als ihr Mann Adam sie mit Agla zusammen erwischt, ist es ganz aus zwischen ihm und Sonja. Die Ehe war da schon längst gescheitert, aber für ihren Sohn Tómas war sie geblieben. Ein neues Leben ohne ihren Mann und sein Einkommen aufzubauen, ist nicht einfach und bald schon gerät Sonja in arge Schwierigkeiten, aus denen ein Freund ihr anbietet zu helfen. Nur einen Botendienst soll sie erledigen, doch der hat es in sich. Sie soll Kokain nach Island schmuggeln. Unerwarteterweise ist Sonja gut darin, völlig unauffällig bewegt sie sich als Businessfrau auf den Flughäfen und akribisch bereitet sie den Transport vor. Doch genau das wird ihr zum Verhängnis: ihr attraktives unscheinbares Auftreten fällt Bragi Smith auf. Der Zollbeamte hat viele Jahre Erfahrung und erkennt die Schmuggler. Es ist nur eine Frage der Zeit, bis ihm Sonja ins Netz geht.

„Das Netz“ ist Band 1 der Reykjavík Noir Trilogie von Lilja Sigurðardóttir. Mit Sonja Gunnarsdóttir hat die isländische Autorin eine ungewöhnliche Protagonistin geschaffen. Eine Mutter, die nach der Trennung in eine schwierige Lage gerät, die von mächtigen Männern gnadenlos ausgenutzt wird, sich aber dann zunehmend ihrer Stärken bewusst wird und diese für sich einzusetzen weiß. Sie kennt ihre Gegner nicht wirklich, zu unbedarft ist sie noch, doch als sie erkennt, in welchem Netz sie gefangen ist, weckt dies ihre Kämpfernatur.

Die Spannung des Krimis wird gleich durch zwei parallel verlaufende Bedrohungen aufrechterhalten: zum einen ist Sonja den Drogenbossen wehrlos ausgeliefert; sie lebt zwar noch in der Illusion, sich irgendwann freikaufen zu können, dass dies aber eher einem Wunschdenken geschuldet ist, kann man sich als Leser ausrechnen. Auf der anderen Seite ist ihr der Zollbeamte Bragi auf die Spur gekommen, der sie gleichermaßen zu Fall bringen kann und die Aussicht, das Sorgerecht für ihren Sohn zu erhalten damit bedroht. Emotional sitzt sie ebenfalls zwischen den Stühlen. Der nicht enden wollende Kampf mit ihrem Ex-Mann ist genauso zermürbend wie die Beziehung zu Agla, die sich nicht wirklich zu der Beziehung mit einer Frau bekennen kann und will.

Bei all den Sorgen fehlt Sonja der Kopf, um die Ermittlungen, die gegen die Bankmitarbeiterin Agla eingeleitet wurden, ernsthaft zu verfolgen. Diese hat offenbar nicht unwesentlich daran Anteil, dass der kleine Inselstaat in eine finanzielle Katastrophe geraten ist, doch nun soll sie für ihre Spekulationen und Geldwäsche bezahlen.

Man muss den Krimi sicher als Teil einer Serie sehen, denn so ganz glücklich lässt er mich nicht zurück. Viele Fragen bleiben offen und der Cliffhanger zum Ende ist ohnehin etwas, das ich nicht wirklich schätze. Die kurzen Kapitel tragen zu dem schnellen Erzähltempo bei, im Laufe der Handlung nimmt diese auch deutlich an Spannung und Komplexität zu, bevor gleich mehrere Enthüllungen so manches in einem völlig anderen, aber nicht minder interessanten Licht erscheinen lassen. Die Autorin hat eine komplexe Geschichte erschaffen, die von der außergewöhnlichen Protagonistin lebt und mit einigen Überraschungen aufwartet.

Ragnar Jónasson – DUNKEL

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Ragnar Jónasson – DUNKEL

Sie hat nicht mehr lange bis zu ihrer Pensionierung, aber die letzten Monate wollte die Kommissarin Hulda Hermannsdóttir noch mit gewohntem Elan ihrer Arbeit nachgehen, doch dann eröffnet ihr Chef ihr, dass ein jüngerer Kollege sie schon in zwei Wochen ersetzten wird. Sie erbittet sich so lange noch einen Fall und greift zu einer scheinbar erledigten Sache, die ihr komisch vorkommt. Die russische Asylbewerberin Elena wurde tot am Strand aufgefunden, die Verletzungen waren nicht eindeutig einer Straftat zuzuordnen und so wurde der Fall als Suizid abgelegt. Doch weshalb sollte sich die junge Frau das Leben nehmen, gerade nachdem ihrem Asylantrag stattgegeben wurde? Hulda beginnt nachzuforschen und stößt schon bald auf weitere Details, offenbar wurde in dem Fall sehr schlampig ermittelt und ihre These von einem Mordfall nimmt immer konkretere Formen an. Je tiefer Hulda sich in die Sache vergräbt, desto weniger merkt sie jedoch, was um sie herum geschieht und dass sie selbst gerade ins Fadenkreuz gleich mehrere Menschen gerät.

„Dunkel“ ist der Auftakt zu einer offenbar eher düsteren Trilogie. Isländische Krimis leben häufig von einer melancholisch-dunklen Atmosphäre, die zu der monatelangen Dunkelheit im Land passt. Der Thriller überzeugt jedoch vor allem durch eine interessante Protagonistin, die einerseits als clevere Kommissarin punktet, jedoch auch eine zweite, verletzliche Seite hat, die bisweilen ihr Urteils- und Rechtsvermögen herausfordert. Nach und nach wird ihre Lebensgeschichte enthüllt, die wenig Erquickliches zu bieten hat und schließlich mit einem großen und vor allem unerwarteten Knall aufwartet.

Der Kriminalfall um die tote Elena bietet einige vielversprechende Spuren ohne zu schnell gelöst zu werden. Parallel erzählt werden die scheinbar letzten und verhängnisvollen Stunden der jungen Frau, so dass man sich der Auflösung von zwei Seiten annähert, bis man feststellt, dass man geschickt in die Falle gelenkt wurde und so manches scheinbar klare Faktum doch ganz anders zu deuten ist. Die größte Überraschung indes gelingt dem Autor mit dem Ende, von dem ich noch nicht weiß, wie ich es einordnen soll, unerwartet war es auf jeden Fall.

Ein gelungener Auftakt, der große Erwartungen an die Folgebände weckt. Passende Stimmung für eine außergewöhnliche Protagonistin.

Ein herzlicher Dank geht an das Bloggerportal für das Rezensionsexemplar. Mehr Informationen zu Autor, der Serie und dem Buch selbst finden sich auf der Seite der Verlagsgruppe Random House.

Arnaldur Indriðason – Verborgen im Gletscher

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Arnaldur Indriðason – Verborgen im Gletscher

Nicht nur Gletscher, sondern auch Menschen können Geheimnisse über sehr lange Zeit bewahren. Doch irgendwann kommt der Tag der Wahrheit. Als eine deutsche Touristengruppe einen Toten auf dem Langjökull-Gletscher findet, muss Kommissar Konráð aus dem Ruhestand zurückkehren, denn dieser Fall aus den 1980ern ist bis heute nicht gelöst. Nach so vielen Jahren scheint es keine Hoffnung auf neue Erkenntnisse zu geben, doch plötzlich sprechen die Menschen. Einige wollen sich kurz vor dem Tod das Herz erleichtern, andere denken es ist nun an der Zeit, ihr Wissen zu teilen und plötzlich erscheint der Fall in einem ganz anderen Licht.

Arnaldur Indriðason ist mir als erstes mit seinen Erlendur Romanen begegnet, die später um Bände mit dem jungen Ermittler ergänzt wurden. Auch seine Reihe um Flovent und Thorson, die während der Kriegszeit und Besatzung Islands spielen, konnten mich überzeugen. Nun also Konráð, der in „Verborgen im Gletscher“ sein Debut gibt. Ein ungewöhnlicher Charakter für einen Mordermittler, zum einen, da er schon längst im Ruhestand ist und daher kein offizielles Mandat hat, zum anderen weil er sich als Ein-Mann-Team ganz auf seine Menschenkenntnis verlassen muss, um seinen Fall zu lösen.

Leser, die an nervenzerreißenden Krimis mit grausamen Szenen Spaß haben, werden mit diesem Krimi vermutlich eher hadern. „Verborgen im Gletscher“ geht in eher gemäßigtem Tempo voran, was ganz hervorragend zum Protagonisten passt, der keinerlei Zeit- oder Öffentlichkeitsdruck unterliegt und daher auch nicht in Hektik und wilde Agitation verfällt. Die Weisheit des Alters hält ihn auch davon ab, gleich auf neue Ansätze zu springen. Die Figur trägt die Handlung ganz maßgeblich und ist damit auch der entscheidende Faktor in der Frage, ob man mit der Geschichte etwas anfangen kann. Mir persönlich hätte es bisweilen gerne etwas schneller gehen können, so mancher Dialog war absolut realistisch dargestellt, forderte dadurch aber auch die Geduld des Lesers heraus. Daneben muss Konráð auch mit seinen Dämonen, vorrangig seiner verstorbenen Frau, kämpfen, die ihn nicht loslässt und immer wieder das Denken bestimmt.

Der Kriminalfall selbst ist wieder einmal und erwartungsgemäß komplex und lange Zeit nicht durchschaubar. So unberechenbar die Menschen agieren, so unvorhersehbar entwickelt sich die Ermittlung, die jedoch zu einem sauberen und überzeugenden Ende gebracht wird.

Indriðason konnte schon immer mit starken Figuren punkten, sein aktueller Protagonist hat hier einiges zu bieten, was jedoch leider etwas zu Lasten der Spannung geht. Daher ein Krimi, der eher auf anderen Ebenen punkten kann.