Martin Walker – The Shooting at Château Rock

Martin Walker – The Shooting at Château Rock

The death of an old sheep farmer does not seem too suspicious, he was suffering from heart problems and scheduled for getting a pacemaker. Yet, when his son and daughter find out that they have been disinherited and that their father had planned to move into a luxurious retirement home, this raises questions. Even more so when neither the insurance nor the notaire responsible for the contract can be gotten hold of. While Bruno Courrèges, Chief of Police of St. Denis, investigates, he also enjoys the Dordogne summer and especially the time with his friends, amongst them former musician Rod Macrae who lives in an old nearby castle and is waiting for his children to spend some time there. Bruno is fond of the two now grown-ups and quite surprised when gets to know Jamie’s girl-friend: Galina Stichkin, daughter of a superrich oligarch and close friend of the Russian president.

The 15th case for the amiable French policeman again offers the pleasant atmosphere of the southern French countryside with a lot of talk about the historical heritage of the region and even more about the local food and the best way to enjoy it. What starts with a suspicious case of foul play and thus seems to be quite in line with the former novels, quickly, however, turns into a highly political plot covering debatable recent affairs and bringing the big political picture to the small community. Therefore, “The Shooting at Château Rock” isn’t just a charming cosy crime novel but rather a complex political mystery.

There are several reasons why one can adore the Bruno, Chief of Police series. On the one hand, you will be never disappointed when you like to delve into the French cuisine and learn something new about the Dordogne regions rich nature and food. On the other hand, this is surely not the place for fast-paced action with a lot of shootings and deaths. The plots centre around the people and some very basic motives for their deeds – as expected, all to be uncovered by Bruno.

What I liked most this time was how Walker combined a petty crime – if one can call a cold-blooded murder a petty crime – with the global organised crime which operates in the financial sector just as in politics and is long beyond being controlled by official security agencies. He convincingly integrates real life events which shook the public and will ever remain notes in the history books of where mankind simply failed to protect civilians from underground forces with their very own agenda.

Another perfect read for some summer escape to the French countryside.

Marie Darrieussecq – Crossed Lines

Marie Darrieussecq – Crossed LInes

Being exhausted, Rose’s mother suggests a Mediterranean cruise for her daughter and the two kids Emma and Gabriel. One night, when she cannot sleep on board, she witnesses the rescue of refugees whose boat collapsed. Between fascination and horror due to the dead she also sees, she makes contact and even offers her son’s cell phone to one of them. Younès and the others disappear as quickly as they have been saved since nothing is meant to disturb the cruisers’ holidays. Back in Paris, Rose cannot forget about the encounter but it is only a couple of months later that she will hear from the young African again and this time, she is not stunned and frozen but eager to provide help herself.

Marie Darieussecq has chosen one of the big issues of European politics of the last five years for her novel. What she masterly contrasts is life and its chances of those who live in Europe and are well-off – which does not secure them from worries and problems – and those who risk everything, even their lives, for a better living or a dream. When these worlds collide, it is interesting to see how people react.

When we meet Rose, her career and family seem to totally wear her out. The cruise which was meant to provide her with some relaxation only offers new stressors and is far from helping her to come down a bit. Only after the family has moved to the countryside and her career has come to an unexpected standstill is she able to re-think the things in her life which really matter. This allows her to take action when Younès is in need.

The most evident contrast is shown between her kids and the refugees. Even though Emma and Gabriel are not nasty or detestable, they simply behave like ordinary kids, but they appear to be consume-oriented, materialistic and ungrateful for all that is given and offered to them. Bringing Younès into the family seems to fulfil a void that has been there hidden all the time.

A lot is not said in the novel, we do not learn much about Younès, yet, it is not a story about a poor refugee, he is actually a fighter who does not give up and follows his dream. Much more interestingly is what the encounter sets free in Rose and makes her reassess her life. An interesting read which offers a lot of food for thought.

Sarah Vaughan – Little Disasters

sarah vaughan little disasters
Sarah Vaughan – Little Disasters

Jess is the absolute role model of a mother, her friends have always admired her diligence and devotion to care for her two sons. When she unexpectedly gets pregnant with a third kid, her husband is over the moon but she does not really share his enthusiasm, she knows how demanding kids can be even for a home-stay-mom. When Betsey indeed turns out to be a rather challenging child, Jess loses her temper, the less she can control the girl, the easier she freaks out until she even gets close to wanting her dead. Her friends Liz, a paediatrist, senses that things do not go too well, but with her own kids and her job, she does not have the time to really take look into the situation. When one evening Jess turns up in the emergency room with Betsey showing obvious signs of neglect and being severely hurt, Liz is trapped between being a friend for Jess and informing the police. How well does she actually know what is going on at her friend’s home?

Sarah Vaughan masterly plays with truths, half-truths and all the things her characters consider truths. Told from different points of view, the reader over and over again gets caught in a trap by making sense of what you know and deciding on what and how the tragic incident happened. Forget it, you are completely wrong since – just as in real life – there is so much more.

Even though the main focus is on the one big question around Betsey’s injuries, the author addresses a lot of questions going far beyond the crime plot. The struggle of women who feel pressure to be the perfect wife, perfect mother, have a successful career and who easily prepare parties with exquisite food is palpable throughout the novel. The four women at the centre all struggle with complying with expectations and their very own goals and ideals. Showing weakness does not seem to be an option, just like asking for help and thus, precarious and even dangerous circumstances are silently endured. Additionally, the question of how far a friendship should or must go is tackled. Liz’ remorse is easy to understand and certainly nobody could ever wish to get into such a situation.

I totally adored the novel, after “Anatomy of a Scandal”, another thoroughly convincing plot with authentic characters and a lot of suspense.

Wendy Clarke – We Were Sisters

wendy-clarke-we-were-sisters
Wendy Clarke – We Were Sisters

Kelly’s childhood was all but easy. Her father was never at home and her mother didn’t care about her at all, her whole focus was on the foster children who came and went off again. When Kelly was eight, she was promised a sister, this time to stay with them forever. Freya, two years her senior, turned out to be a very headstrong and reckless girl who soon took over control and manipulated Kelly’s mum. This is why Kelly was not too sad when she did not return after a stay at a hospital. Yet, a couple of years later, Freya is back, but now, Kelly is older and not the weak girl who puts up with everything anymore. However, all these are stories of the past, by now, Kelly has a loving husband and three wonderful kids. But, when strange things start to happen, Kelly is unsure whether to blame the lack of sleep or if she is reading the signs correctly. Is Freya back? But she saw her die, this cannot be, can it?

Wendy Clarke’s thriller “We were sisters” keeps the reader a long time in the dark. The story is narrated at two periods of time, on the one hand, the adult Kelly who tries to cope with three children and the constant fear that something from the past might endanger her lucky little family; on the other hand, her memories of the past, the disturbed family she grew up in and the encounter with her foster sister Freya. Thus, it takes some time to sort out what happened and to form an idea of what the signs she sees might mean actually. The author, however, has to offer some twists and turns which come quite unexpectedly.

I adore those stories where there is a creepy feeling that there is a threat coming from somewhere without the characters knowing where to look for it. I was really surprised by the ending as it all turns out quite differently from what I had in mind – brilliantly done. Nevertheless, even though it all makes totally sense, I had the impression that it was a bit too much. Also Kelly’s relationship – or rather: non-relationship – with her parents seemed a bit exaggerated to me, just as her feeling of being threatened without a real reason before all the strange things started to happen. Yet, I enjoyed Wendy Clarke’s writing a lot, she certainly knows how to keep you hooked.

Emma Rous – The Au Pair

emma-rpus-the-aupair
Emma Rous – The Au Pair

After her beloved father has died, Seraphine Mayes digs into her family’s history. When she finds a photograph of her mother, her older brother Edwin and one baby, she is astonished: it must have been taken on the day of her birth, but which one is the baby? Seraphine or her twin brother Danny? And why does the mother look so happy, only hours before she committed suicide? The photo must have been taken by the au pair who was then looking for Edwin, a certain Laura. When the young woman starts her search for the former babysitter, memories of rumours surrounding her family home Summerbourne also come back to her mind: why did everybody in the small village always say that twins do not survive in that house? When Seraphine tracks down Laura and tries to contact her, she inadvertently sets in motion a series of events.

Emma Rous’ mystery starts as a simply family story and then develops into a suspenseful crime novel. The story is told alternatingly between Seraphine’s search for Laura and the latter’s experiences as an au pair 25 years before. Two young women full of distress who cannot foresee what they run into. The plot is carefully crafted and to sort out the complex connections takes some time thanks to unexpected twists and turns.

“The Au Pair” clearly lives on the two protagonists. I liked both of them dearly, Seraphine’s stubbornness is quite convincing, she does not give up even when being threatened, actually this only spurs her curiosity and fervour to uncover the events surrounding her birth. On the other hand, Laura had to flee from her evil stepfather and tries to regain control over her life. Both women are created multifacetedly, especially their relationships are complicated which makes them authentic and believable. Apart from the characters, I especially liked the atmosphere of the novel and the spooky tales that circle around the two family homes which give you the impression of old gothic homes which have some secrets buried that are never meant to come to the light.

Sally Hepworth – The Mother-in-Law

sally-hepworth-the-mother-in-law
Sally Hepworth – The Mother-in-Law

When one evening a police car stops in front of their house, Lucy immediately has a bad feeling. Her mother-in-law Diana has been found dead and the police treats it as a homicide. But why? Could there have been foul play? Well, Diana wasn’t somebody you instantly loved when you got to know her, you maybe never loved her and she, on the other hand, didn’t hide her despise for anybody outside her closest family circle. Lucy remembers how she first met the old, wealthy woman, recalls scenes of her family life when, again and again, Diana gave her the impression of being the wrong wife for her beloved son. And now, the police investigate her death.

Sally Hepworth’s novel caught me straightaway. From the first page on, I was intrigued by the story and just wanted to find out how Lucy could have killed Diana. Well, of course, there was always the possibility that somebody else also disliked Diana that much – but it took quite some time until I gave up my first suspicions and then, admittedly, looked at the plot cluelessly: but who? They all hated her more or less, but rather more.

The story is told in flashbacks what makes the actual plot advance only slowly. Yet, this does not reduce suspense since the memories of Lucy and Diana alike definitely contribute to arouse suspicion. What I enjoyed most was how you directly think you know everything, have an idea of who is the good guy and who is the bad guy and how, slowly but steadily, your tower of belief crumbles and ultimately falls because the characters get more profile, other sides of their personality are shown and they become really authentic and plausible in the way they act and behave. At the same time, Sally Hepworth’s novel is often really funny and entertaining, I liked her kind of humour deeply.

The author was definitely great discovery for me and I am eager to read more from her.