Vendela Vida – We Run the Tides

Vendela Vida – We Run the Tides

It’s the middle of the 80s and San Francisco hasn’t turned into the tech/IT hotspot it is today. Teenager Eulabee grows up in a more well-off part close to the beach and attends an expensive all-girls school with her best friends Maria Fabiola. The girls are still somewhere between being kids and becoming visibly female and with this transformation also come the problems. Maria Fabiola is the first to attract attention from the opposite sex, but her radiant appearance also charms women which is why she gets away with almost everything. Eulabee is far from being that self-confident and therefore sticks to the truth what leads to her being excluded from the girl circles of her school. When Maria Fabiola vanishes, the whole community is alarmed, but Eulabee from the start does not believe in a kidnapping, she has known Maria Fabiola for too long and is well aware of her former friend’s greed for attention.

Vendela Vida still isn’t as renowned as her husband Dave Eggers even though she has published several books by now and has won the Kate Chopin Award. I found her last novel “The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty” quite exceptional in the choice of perspective and therefore was eager to read her latest novel “We Run the Tides”. This time, she goes back in time and has chosen teenage girls as protagonists. The story is told from Eulabee’s perspective and captures well the mixed emotions a girl goes through when becoming a woman. Also the ambiance of the 1980s is convincingly depicted.

The most central aspect of the novel is surely the friendship between Eulabee and Maria Fabiola and its shift when one of the girls develops a bit quicker than the other. Maria Fabiola is well aware of the effect she has on other people and uses this for her own advantage. Eulabee, in contrast, is still much more a girl, insecure in how to behave and what to do about the situation. She does not fight but accept what’s happening. Her first attempts of approaching boys seem to be successful but end up in total disappointment. She is a close observer and can well interpret the relationships she sees, between her parents, her mother and her sister and also the other girls and teachers at her school. Without any doubt she is a likeable character and treated highly unfairly. But that’s how kids behave at times.

I liked how the plot developed and how the vanishing of the girls turned out quite unexpectedly. Yet, I didn’t fully understand why the author has chosen to add another chapter set in the present. For me, the story was perfectly told at a certain point and admittedly, neither was I really interested in Eulabee’s later life nor in another encounter of the two women as grown-ups. Still, I do not really know what to make of Maria Fabiola when they meet for the first time decades later.

To sum up, wonderfully narrated, a great coming-of-age story with a strong protagonist.

Arno Strobel – Die App

Arno Strobel – Die App

Hendrik und Linda stehen nur wenige Tage vor der Hochzeit als die junge Frau spurlos verschwindet. Hendrik kehrt von einem nächtlichen Notfalleinsatz in der Klinik zurück und sieht sich mit einem leeren Haus konfrontiert. Kein Hinweis auf den Verbleib der zukünftigen Gattin. Die Polizei interessiert sich auch nur mäßig für den Fall, doch ein Aufruf bei Facebook bringt Erfolg: Linda ist nicht die einzige, die in Hamburg spurlos verschwunden ist, die mysteriösen Vermisstenfälle häufen sich und alles deutet darauf hin, dass die SmartHome Software Adam das verbindende Element der Fälle ist. Die App sichert nicht nur das Haus, sie scheint die Kontrolle übernommen bzw. jemandem genau zu dem verholfen zu haben, was mit ihr eigentlich verhindert werden sollte: Zugang zu den geschützten, privaten Räumen.

Nach den ersten 100 Seiten der Leseprobe war ich angefixt und wollte unbedingt wissen, wie der Fall gelöst wird. Leider konnte der überzeugende, starke Auftakt die Erwartungen nicht erfüllen. Bedauerlicherweise wandelt sich der Psychothriller von einem spannenden Wettstreit Mensch gegen Computer zu einer sehr ehrvorsehbaren und reichlich abstrusen Posse, die leider jeglicher Glaubwürdigkeit entbehrt.

Konnte ich über Kleinigkeiten zunächst noch geflissentlich hinwegsehen – Hendriks Vermisstenmeldung landet nicht bei der Polizei, sondern direkt bei den Hauptkommissaren des LKA – haben mich zahlreiche Plattitüden und Nachlässigkeiten zunehmend geärgert. Der Psychologin, die Hendrik hilft und den entscheidenden Verbindungsaspekt der Fälle erkannt hat, wird mit großem Erstaunen konstatiert, dass sie ja selbstständig denken kann; Hendrik stellt drei banale Fragen und man attestiert ihm das Potenzial zum LKA Kommissar; niemand wird stutzig, als der Kommissar die zwei aufbrausende und leichtsinnige Zivilisten zu seinen Verbündeten macht, um gemeinsam mit ihnen gegen das Böse zu kämpfen. Kleine Szenen nur, die jedoch einfach ärgerlich sind, weil sie mich als Leser nicht ernst nehmen, soll man wirklich einfach alles glauben und hinnehmen?

Die Themen SmartHome und Gefahren durch KI und deren Fernsteuerung durch böse Darknet Nutzer waren noch nicht groß genug für den Roman, es musste noch ein weiterer Reißer draufgesetzt werden, der für mich zu sehr bemüht war, um ernsthaft glaubwürdig die gesamte Handlung zu motivieren. Auch das Laien innerhalb weniger Tage gelingt, woran das LKA offenkundig über Monate scheiterte – das mag es mal geben, mich überzeugen jedoch mehr realistische Handlungen.

Fazit: leider am Ende große Enttäuschung. Der Roman hatte mehr versprochen, sich dann aber leider in typischen Krimi-Versatzstücke und konstruierter Logik verloren.

Wendy Clarke – The Bride

wendy clarke the bride
Wendy Clarke – The Bride

There nothing in Alice’s life that didn’t go completely wrong in the last couple of weeks: her employer laid her off, her father didn’t want to see her and now, her partner leaves her because he is having a baby with another woman. After days in bed, she gets a message from an old friend. Joanna. Her former best friend with whom she has lost contact, but now, Joanna wants to meet her to get to know the man she’s going to marry. Could there be a better excuse to leave everything behind at least for a couple of days? Obviously, Joanna must be quite successful living in one of the new posh apartment blocks which must be super expensive. However, when, Alice knocks on the door, there is just Mark, Joanna’s husband to be and he knows nothing of a visitor. Joanna is not there, also the next day, she doesn’t show up. Alice feels increasingly uncomfortable until Mark tells her that Joanna has been kidnapped and that he needs her help to get her back.

Told from Alice’s point of view, you go through a horrendous mass of emotions – emotions which could hardly be more contradictory. Wendy Clarke leads the reader through a tour de force of lies, secrets and very spooky and distressing moments that, at times, give you the creeps. Just like her protagonist, you do not know whom to believe or trust, the whole situation she is caught in feels like a big ghost train rushing towards a giant obstacle without preparing for the impact.

I totally adore plots which keep you alert throughout the whole narration. It is those seemingly insignificant side notes that reveal that there’s so much you do not know, that all characters have some blind spots you don’t see and that everything might be completely different from what you expect or believe. Even though I found Alice a bit too naïve and shallow, I liked to follow her.

The further the plot gets, the higher the pace and suspense, thus a true page-turner that entertained me well.

Jussi Adler-Olsen – Victim 2117

Jussi adler-olsen victim 2117
Jussi Adler-Olsen – Victim 2117

This could be his last chance for a break-through as a journalist. When Barcelona based Joan Aiguader decides to write about a victim, the 2117th refugees who dies on the dangerous way across the Mediterranean Sea, he cannot anticipate that his article will shake Department Q, Copenhagen’s cold case unit, or that he himself will soon fall in the hands of reckless terrorists. The poor woman who found death on Greek shores is well known to Assad, member of the famous and most successful unit within the Danish police. Lely Kababi once saved his life when his family had fled Iraq and now, so many years without the least information about her whereabouts, he sees her on a picture and next to her is his wife Marwa whom he has neither seen nor spoken for 16 years. Assad needs to get in touch, but he knows just from looking at the picture that this will not be easy since there is another person to be seen: his worst enemy who obviously is seeking revenge.

Jussi Adler-Olsen continues his Department Q series with a suspenseful and highly political instalment which combines current events with the story around the very special unit of the Danish law enforcement authorities. When I read the first novel, I immediately fell for the very peculiar characters Adler-Olsen created. They seemed to be quite a unique assortment of individuals who nevertheless managed to work well together and were highly successful due to their distinctive and diverse skills. All of them had a story which only slowly has been revealed throughout the different books, now it is time for Assad’s story, the most secretive of all.

I am not quite sure if I find Assad’s backstory totally convincing, but I grant it to literature to extent the borders of plausibility at times. Additionally, I am also not in the position to judge on what can happen in Middle East countries in times of war. Setting aside this aspect, I found the characters’ motivation very convincing – Assad’s as well as his opponent’s. I was quite happy to finally get an idea of his life before joining Department! Q which has always been quite blurry. And I totally adored how Adler-Olsen managed to combine this with current affairs that have been central to European politics for quite some time now. Especially the role of journalists – unfortunately only crucial at the very beginning – has been quite authentically portrayed.

The different points of view accelerate the action and lead to a high pace. It does not take long to be totally captured by the novel and again, the author has demonstrated that among the multitude of great Scandinavian crime writers, he surely is at the very top.

Pascal Engman – Feuerland

pascal engman feuerland
Pascal Engman – Feuerland

Nur noch die eine Entführung, dann wird Nicolas mit seiner Schwester endlich aus Stockholm verschwinden. Ivan ist ein zuverlässiger Partner, es kann nichts schiefgehen, denn wie beim letzten Mal ist alles minutiös geplant. Doch dann laufen die Dinge anders, denn die Legion, eine der berüchtigsten Banden Schwedens, hat einen Auftrag für Nicolas: er soll zehn Straßenkinder entführen. Nicolas hat nach seinen Jahren bei einer Eliteeinheit des Militärs kein Interesse an krummen Geschäften, die Entführungen sind so geplant, dass niemand zu Schaden kommt und die Lösegeldforderungen bleiben moderat. Kommissarin Vanessa Frank wartet derweil darauf endlich wieder in den Dienst zurückkehren zu dürfen, aber nur weil sie suspendiert ist, heißt das ja nicht, dass das Verbrechen pausiert und prompt gerät sie zwischen die Fronten.

Der schwedische Journalist Pascal Engman konnte mich im letzten Jahr mit seinem Debüt „Der Patriot“ bereits von seinem schriftstellerischen Können überzeugen, sein zweiter Thriller „Feuerland“ steht dem in nichts nach. Verschiedene Handlungsstränge werden geschickt miteinander verwoben, politisch brisante Themen dabei aufgegriffen und die Handlung von interessanten Figuren getragen. Tempo und Spannung sind hoch, so dass keine Wünsche offenbleiben.

Der Roman bietet viele beachtenswerte Einzelaspekte, die es verdient hätten, ausführlich besprochen zu werden, was aber den Rahmen einer Rezension bei weitem sprengen würde. Die politischen Themen – Korruption innerhalb der Ermittlungsbehörden, kaum einzudämmende Bandenkriminalität, europäischer Kolonialismus in Südamerika, globaler Organ- und Menschenhandel, geheime Interventionen von Spezialeinheiten, die nie an die Öffentlichkeit geraten – finden ihren Platz in der Handlung, ohne diese zu stark zu dominieren und mit ihrer Brisanz zu erdrücken. Engman gelingt es die dahinterliegenden Mechanismen aufzuzeigen und lädt so den Leser zum Nachdenken und Hinterfragen ein.

Im Vordergrund stehen sich zwei scheinbar gegensätzliche Protagonisten gegenüber, die jedoch beide nicht in das vorgezeichnete Schema passen wollen. Vanessa ist nicht die rechtschaffene Polizistin, die gesetzestreu agiert und Vorschriften befolgt. Nicolas ist ein Verbrecher mit Ehrenkodex und festen Regeln, die von einem erstaunlichen Humanismus geprägt sind. Beide werden sie herausgefordert und ihre Ansichten infrage gestellt.

Zwar war mir das Ende etwas zu dick aufgetragen, aber das tut dem Gesamteindruck keinen Abbruch. Von dem ungleichen Paar Vanessa und Nicolas würde ich gerne noch mehr lesen.

Lisa Stone – The Doctor

Lisa Stone – The Doctor

When Emily and Ben move to their new home, they find their neighbours a bit strange, but that’s just how it is at times. Even though Emily tries again and again to get in contact with Alisha, the woman refuses all kind of interaction. Only when one day, Emily accidentally stands in front of their house and hears cries for help, the neighbour thaws a bit. What she has to tell is awful: not only is she seriously ill, but the couple hides a disabled child in their home. Alisha is highly scared of her husband Dr Burman, an anaesthetist and control-freak who made her cut all bonds to her family and friends. The women work out how to trick him and for the next couple of weeks, they meet regularly in secret. But what Alisha always feared one day happens: her husband finds out about their meetings and swears that Emily will have to pay for intruding his house.

Lisa Stone’s thriller is an addictive and gripping story that captivates you at once and keeps you from putting the book down. The author reduced the characters to an absolute minimum, focussing on the two couples and their complex relationships. Especially the one between Mr and Mrs Burman is not only highly interesting, but – unfortunately – authentic and more than plausible. He is the prototype of an abusive husband who egoistically puts everybody and everything after his own will.

The plot is not very surprising, since you get all characters’ perspectives, you know what they are up to and what to await. Yet, this doesn’t reduce suspense even a bit, since the story is simply terrifying and fascinating in the most awful way. Mr Burman’s medical research in his shed directly comes from a science-fiction horror show, but, and that is the creepy part of it, what he is doing has been dreamt of by medical doctors and other researchers for centuries and now we seem to be in the possession of the knowledge and the means to make it reality.

I highly enjoyed reading this psychological thriller for its captivating and spine-tingling plot.

Chris Pavone – The Paris Diversion

Chris Pavone – The Paris Diversion

They have been living in Paris for some time now and it took Kate more than one year to finally accept that she would never be like all the other stay-at-home mothers who only cared for the children and spent their days chatting in cafés. So, she decided to return to her job. She is supposed not to ask too many questions, just to do what is necessary when she gets a new mission. Yet, that morning, things are somehow strange in the city, police is everywhere and there is a threat perceptible, but where does it come from? Another series of attacks on the French capital? Kate is good at her jobs and that’s the reason why she soon figures out that the whole scenario is aimed at somebody completely different and that this could also mean that her family and especially her husband is the primary target.

“The Paris Diversion” is the second instalment of the Kate Moore series and continues “The Expats”. It is not absolutely necessary to have read the first novel, yet, the stories are closely interwoven and directly linked. The story moves at a high pace, the whole plot takes place in only a couple of hours, it is only slowed down by Kate’s memories of her time in Luxembourg and a love story that took place some years before. The first of the two makes sense for readers who are not familiar with the first book of the series, the second, however, could easily have been dropped for my liking since it does not contribute anyhow to the actual plot.

It takes some time to see through the whole story. There are many things going on at the same time in different places and how they connect does only unfold slowly. It is cleverly orchestrated and finally, all pieces fall into place, yet, the whole set-up is not really authentic. It is quite an interesting scenario playing with all the fears of modern world: the quick changes at the stock markets, terrorist attacks on a Western metropolis, kidnapping of CEOs, secret services operating in foreign countries – you name it. Chris Pavone masterfully combined all those ingredients into one story, but, as one might assume, it was a bit too much. Nevertheless, I liked the novel due to the high pace and the fantastic protagonist: a strong woman who just does what has to be done while at the same time being completely down to earth and making wrong decisions in her private life.