When Dot dies from a stroke at the age of 70, she leaves her twins Jeanie and Julius behind. Even though both of them are well in their adulthood, they still behave like children and therefore are totally overstrained by finding their mother dead on the kitchen floor. The three of them have lead a decent life at the small cottage since their father and husband Frank was killed in an accident, they have never needed much and could rely on their garden and the small amount of money Julius could make in providing a helping hand with all sorts of craftsman jobs. Yet, Jeanie and Julius do not have much time to grieve before all sorts of people turn up from the village claiming money their mother allegedly had borrowed. They can hardly believe it; this does not fit to the image they had of Dot. But this is just the beginning, without the strong and determined woman in the house anymore, the twins become an easy prey and soon have to face an unexpected problem: they are being evicted from what has been their home for decades.
A couple of years ago, I already enjoyed Claire Fuller’s novel “Swimming Lessons” which presented complex characters and a challenging family structure. In “Unsettled Ground”, too, the reader is confronted with a couple of highly interesting characters and an all but usual family construct which slowly unfolds its real tragedy in the course of the novel. Neither Jeanie nor Julius or any other character is easy to sympathise with, the world they have created for themselves is undoubtedly quite unique and takes some time to understand.
The novel has been longlisted for the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction which is nevertheless easy to understand. It presents two characters at the critical point in their life when all they have known is threatened, when everything is about to fall apart and when all they have taken for granted and believed to be true has to be reassessed. Jeanie and Julius have a strong bond which nevertheless does not hinder them from coping with the threats they face totally differently. Ultimately, it is the struggle of survival in a hostile world, the attempt to build a life on the broken pieces of the truths they have held to be true but turned out to be all but that.
Admittedly, reading “Unsettled Ground” makes you feel depressed more than once, the story is hard to endure at times. Yet, this surely can be attributed to the author’s skill of transmitting atmosphere and mood in a brilliant way. It’s one of those novels one does not really want to dig deeper in while at the same time one can hardly put down once started.
When Laura returns to her job after six month of maternity leave, she expects Mia, who substituted her in this time, to be gone. Yet, the young woman is still there, at Laura’s desk and with Laura’s most valuable customer and: she got a permanent contract. Laura is furious and soon convinced that there is something wrong with that seemingly sympathetic colleague who makes friends with everybody easily. The more Laura digs into it, the more paranoid she gets, neglecting her husband and young son, her mind only circulating around how to dethrone the enemy. Mia actually has something to hide and yes, there was a reason why she rushed to this rural area and wanted explicitly to work in this company. Janie, Laura and Mia’s boss Harry’s wife, on the contrary, is a full time mom and at the moment totally frustrated. It is not just that she has given up a splendid career, something is nagging on her and slowly destroying her marriage. When one evening, the offices burn down, all three of them seem to have had good reasons to destroy the company. But, did they also count on killing somebody inside the building?
Heidi Perks’s mystery is a marvellous story which hooked me immediately and keep me reading on as soon as I had started. Three female protagonists are very different from each other and hard to see through at the beginning. But the more you see them interact with each other, the more suspicious you get and while I was reading, I was constantly shifting sympathies since every piece of information added to the picture and slightly changed it.
At first, I felt compassionate for Laura. Coming back after months at home now struggling with her new role as mother and having a career at the same time. Her husband’s constant criticism – even though completely justified – and having somebody younger and attractive stealing her post while her boss lacked supporting her: I could easily understand why she felt like losing all confidence in herself and increasingly getting obsessed with Mia. I didn’t really like the later at first, mainly due to the fact that she was presented through Laura’s point of view, she seemed like an intruder with evil intentions. Yet, there was also another side which she kept from the office and which told an entirely different story. I didn’t know what to do with Janie, was it just lamenting at a very high level? Having a wonderful family and lots of money, what did she have to complain about? It was herself who suggested giving up her career. She was certainly the character least tangible of the three and her motives of ending her marriage remained quite blurry until the end.
A brilliantly crafted plot with a very female and perfidious fight between the three. There was also something really tragic about the story when the motives were finally revealed which kept me pondering about the fact that how easily you put together an allegedly coherent picture of a person or a situation while you might be totally wrong.
It was meant to be a relaxed weekend and reunion of old friends, but then it turns into an absolute nightmare. It’s been 25 years that Ali and her husband Mike first met their friends Karen, Jodi, Bill and Callum at university, a reason to celebrate in their new home. Yet, after a lot of alcohol, a loud cry from Karen suddenly ends the joyful get together: Karen claims to have been assaulted by Mike, her bleeding and overall status seem confirm her accusation. After Mike’s arrest, Ali’s world slowly crumbles and falls, the more she learns about her husband, the more she has to ask herself if she really knew whom she has been married to for all those years. Not only did he have an affair all those years, but also are there money transfers to an unknown account and more pieces of information that are far beyond just being inconvenient: they are purely frightening. But this is just the beginning.
Claire McGowan’s thriller is absolutely breath taking. It is mainly narrated from Ali’s point of you and you constantly ask yourself: what would I do if I were in her shoes? Whom would I believe, my husband or my former best friend? Would I stick to my ideals or try to save the life I had worked for for years? How far would I be willing to go for the person I love? The story moves at a very high pace, just whenever you think the characters have found a way of coping with the catastrophe, the next follows immediately only to make the whole situation even worse. There is no moment to relax and sit down to think through the mess they are in, they are forced to react to ever more complications from one minute to the other.
The plot is very cleverly constructed, revealing its full potential only slowly. What makes it especially delicate is the fact that it plays on those core emotions in life: trust and believe in the people who are closest to you. It hurts a lot more to feel betrayed by the ones you love than coping with just with stressful situations. Additionally, I found it quite clever to put Ali in the position where she is presented as an advocate for women who have been assaulted and speak out against their perpetrators and then finding her in the position where she is inclined to take the other side and rather believe her husband than the woman – and friend! – who without any doubt is a victim.
I utterly rushed through the novel since I could hardly put it down. The short chapters even accelerated the plot and made you read on just one more chapter and another one and so on until the end. A brilliant story that I enjoyed throughout.
A fire somewhere in London attracts the people’s attention. Where is it exactly? What is burning? Is it dangerous? But Jack Bick has other problems. His alcohol consumption is totally out of control which highly impacts his job as a journalist at a lifestyle magazine. This has not gone unnoticed and his superiors virtually hold a pistol to his head: either he runs an interview with a real estate manager or he is out. Jack, instead, is highly fascinated by an author who hasn’t published anything for years. His sixth sense tells him that there is a story, but nobody wants to hear about it. Should he succumb or follow his instincts? Well, it’s not really a question for Bick and so a series of catastrophes starts-
I was totally hooked by the flap text which promised a novel about truth – personal truth, objective truth, journalistic truth and modern day London life. Well, yes, this is what it is about, but after a great start with the scene about the plume, the novel completely lost me. It had the impression that the plot did not advance but turn round itself all the time and the protagonist, whose addiction and sloppiness I highly detested, did not help either.
There were some great aspects, especially the question about creating reality and turning lies into facts. Also how real estate works in London and how ordinary tenants are treated just as objects you can make money with was certainly interesting. Yet, for me, the protagonist destroyed a lot and I had the impression that just as Jack Bick lost control of his life, the author also lost the red thread of the plot at times which made it hard to keep focused and go on reading for me.
One evening when Sophia is out with her colleagues, she gets a strange phone call from her mother who asks her to come back home. It is always the same and thus, she cuts her short and goes on amusing herself. The next morning, the bad conscience is nagging and she gets in the car to visit her parents. What she finds in their house is horrible: her mother hanging from a tree, her father badly injured. What happened? The police soon close the file, for them the case is clear: an extended suicide. But when Sophia find her mother’s diaries, she is convinced that her mother would never have attempted suicide. And what about the burglaries? Over months, her parents had been the victims of break-ins. The deeper Sophia digs in her mother Nina’s past, the more complex and strange things seem to be, but there are not many people who believe her.
Helen Callaghan caught me immediately. Even though the beginning leads into a completely different way, centring about Sophia’s work at an architectural agency, she soon accelerates and with the first part of Nina’s diary, I was completely absorbed by the novel.
The most striking part is definitely Nina’s past in the cult she joined as a student. It is a wonderful example of how easy it is to manipulate a young woman who lacks self-confidence and experience. Cleverly they approach her and they use the right amount of charm to trick her into their community. At the moment she arrives at their house, there is no way out anymore for her, she is already too deeply involved emotionally to think and act clearly.
The thriller is full of suspense, offering twists and turns at the perfect moment to keep the plot running on. The protagonist also seems to be quite authentic and you can easily sympathise with her.
I really enjoyed the novel, it is a most accomplished psychological thriller which leaves nothing to be desired.
Later, the incident would be called “Triple Ten” – on 10th October at 10 o’clock a Chicago office building is ripped apart by an explosion killing more than 500 people. Cecily becomes the picture of the tragedy because a photograph of her staring at the building in disbelieve was taken as the most striking image to visualize the people’s feeling. She lost her husband in the tragedy, and now she and her two kids are alone. But why was she there, at all, at her husband’s work place, at that time of the day? Another woman’s life is also altered by the event, but Kate has seen it as a chance – and seized it to escape her old life and to leave the country. Now, she is in Canada, observing from across the border what happens at her former home, the place where her husband and her children mourn her death. But a couple of months after the events, things take a different turn and this brings both of them back to the day of the tragedy – and back to the lies they told.
“The Good Liar” is a cleverly constructed mystery novel centred around three women. At the first glance, they seem to be the average wife with an ordinary life. But as soon as you get to look under the surface, you stare into an abyss of lies, of fraud and betrayal. None of them is the pitiable victim, they all contributed to their fate – but who of them is really evil and who just acted out of desperation?
The many twists and turns make you assess the situation anew over and over again. It takes some time to understand the links between the three and then you eagerly start to develop your theories about what had happened before. For some of the characters, this is a bit foreseeable, for others it isn’t and that’s what I liked best.
Catherine McKenzie is a brilliant writer who knows exactly how to pace her story which keeps you read on and on and on to find out what happened actually. And at the same time, you are always asking yourself: what would I have done in her place? A perfect psychological thriller which does not offer any easy black-and-white explanations but points out the different shades of grey.