Simon Lelic – The House

simon-lelic-the-house.png
Simon Lelic – The House

Finding a house in London is more or less impossible; therefore, Sydney and Jack are happy when they finally get one. It is not what they have dreamt of, but, with the time, they became realistic about what is possible and accepted the offer. Soon after they move in, strange things start to happen and they become more and more alert: is the house haunted or is somebody playing tricks on them? Is it because they interfered with the neighbour? His daughter confided herself in Sydney and awoke bad memories in her: just like Betsi, Sydney was suffering under her father’s temper and violence throughout her childhood. Unable to find help, she ran away at the age of 14 and left her younger sister with the situation at home alone. A bad conscience makes Sydney support the young neighbour, but obviously, her father is going to stop this. Or is the threat coming from somewhere completely different? No matter what is behind, soon Sydney and Jack find themselves in danger and even start losing faith in each other.

Simon Lelic’s novel starts a bit as a surprise, it’s not the typical third person narrator we have, but a kind of diary entries or letters that the two protagonists write to each other. So we have Jack’s and Sydney’s perspective in alternation which makes it quite lively and authentic, especially since you get the impression of the highly stressful situation they are in and which has gone out of control. The way they write reflects their emotional state, it is repetitive, not well organised and thought through but rather like a stream of consciousness just coming out of their mouth.

The plot itself has many surprises to offer, at first you are with the protagonists, not knowing what is happening and always trying to make sense of what they write. Then, slowly, you realise that Sydney and Jack have hidden some useful and important information from you, too, and you start getting sceptical about actually trusting them. As the novel moves on, you have to adjust your idea of the characters and the action again and again which I liked a lot since you could never feel absolutely secure about it.

 

“The House” really deserves the label “thriller”. Quite often, you feel a cold shiver running down your spine when again something strange happens in the house. The characters’ actions are all credibly motivated and the plot itself is convincingly constructed. The strongest aspect for me was the psychological construction behind the story; knowing what Sydney went through, you can understand her reaction when she finds out about Betsi’s life at home. But also Sydney’s mother – even though she is a rather tragic figure – can be understood in her way of behaving. So, the novel is not just playing on your nerves with a thrilling plot, but also offer some insight in emotionally induced actions and decisions.

Zoe Beck – Die Lieferantin

zoe-beck-die-lieferantin.jpg
Zoe Beck – Die Lieferantin

Der Verlust ihres Bruders durch illegale Drogen bringt Ellie Johnson auf eine neue Geschäftsidee: sie wird ebenfalls ins Drogengeschäft einsteigen, aber mit sauberer Ware, die über eine App geordert und durch Drohnen ausgeliefert wird. Niemand soll sich mit den kriminellen Banden Londons mehr abgeben müssen, sondern ungefährlich seine Substanzen erwerben können. Gleichzeitig nutzt sie die Gewinne, um Drogenabhängigen kostenlose Hilfsangebote zu unterbreiten. Das Geschäft läuft gut, doch der Regierung sind Drogen und ihre Folgen ein Dorn im Auge und eine drastische Verschärfung der Gesetzeslage ist geplant. Auch den Unterweltbossen gefällt Ellies Geschäft nicht, stört es doch ihre eigenen massiv. Eine Verknüpfung unglücklicher Umstände lässt die angespannte Lage explodieren und auf Ellie wird ein Kopfgeld ausgesetzt.

Zoe Beck hat seit einigen Jahren einen festen Platz in der deutschen Krimilandschaft. „Die Lieferantin“ spielt einmal mehr in London und greift aktuelle politische Themen mit auf. Der Brexit hat das Land zum Zeitpunkt der Handlung bereits verändert, die wirtschaftlichen Spannungen wirken sich unmittelbar aus und nach der Zeit der Aufputschmittel, die den Menschen die Illusion grenzenloser Leistungsfähigkeit bescherte, ist nun das Verlangen nach Betäubungsmitteln, die einem die Flucht aus der Realität ermöglichen groß. Diesen Markt über neue Technologien zu bedienen und so auch neue Zielgruppen zu erschließen, passt ebenfalls.

Allerdings wird dieser überzeugende Handlungsrahmen für meinen Geschmack nicht ganz überzeugend mit Leben gefüllt. Die Figuren bleiben mir insgesamt zu blass und wenig überzeugend. Ellie ist recht eindimensional und nur bezogen auf ihr Geschäft skizziert, dass sie den Tod ihres Bruders nicht verkraftet hat oder andere Gefühlsregungen sind kaum zu erkennen. Auch Mo, ihre Programmiererin, wird nur schemenhaft umrissen, ihre Situation als dunkelhäutiges Adoptivkind, ihre gescheiterte Beziehung – die Figur tritt völlig hinter die rassistischen Übergriffe zurück und kann sich nie entfalten. Ein zweiter Erzählstrang um den Restaurantbesitzer Leigh, der unter Schutzgelderpressern leidet, wirkt insgesamt sehr konstruiert und wenig glaubwürdig. Ein braver Gastronom, der locker einen Erpresser ermordet und kaltblütig einbetoniert? Zu wenig glaubwürdig. Auch der Zufall, dass sich genau diejenigen Personen begegnen, die ins Fadenkreuz einer Verbrecherbande geraten, ist in einer Großstadt wie London nicht ganz plausibel.

Dass Zoe Beck überzeugend formuliert und man den Roman so gerne liest und es ihr durch kleine Cliffhanger am Ende der Kapitel immer wieder gelingt, auch die notwendige Spannung aufzubauen, lässt das Gesamtbild etwas positiver wirken. Inhaltlich jedoch war das für mich ihr bislang schwächster Roman.

Lauren Berry – Living the Dream

lauren-berry-living-the-dream.png
Lauren Berry – Living the Dream

Two young women in their twenties, two dreams. Emma dreams of working as a writer, she blogs about her life with quite a remarkable success, but actually she is stuck in an advertising company where she has to be creative in the dullest of imaginable ways. Her best friend Clementine Twist has just returned to London from a Year in New York where she attended Columbia film school to become a screenwriter. The feedback to her work is throughout positive, but back home she has to secure her living and moves back in with her parents and accepts a job as a receptionist of a club. Only their friend Yasmin seems to get it all right: she’s got a fancy job that she exerts successfully and the wedding with Mr Right is just around the corner. The more goes right with Yasmin the more seems to go wrong for Emma and Clementine. When does the adult life they always dreamt of finally start?

Lauren Berry really managed to catch the mood of women at the end of their twenties. Emma and Clementine are full of energy and passionate about what they love, but somehow life is in their way and they are stuck between mundane everyday-life problems. Reality and dreams seem to be many miles away from each other. Even though they are good at what they want to do, the chances just do not come to really show the world what they are capable of. The necessities of the world keep them from just indulging in their creativity, bills have to be paid, food has to be bought, so the need to earn some money is overwhelming and paralysing.

What I liked about the novel is the fact that even though the girls could easily give up and despair, they somehow stick to their dream and they have a certain sense of humour not to take themselves and their lives too seriously. Many scenes are quite funny – as long as you just read them and do not have to live them through. Even though it is at times quite close to being chick lit, the author can keep some seriousness in the story and the fact that her protagonists find themselves in the same situation as masses of young women who can surely identify with them, gives the novel an actual relevance.

Fiona Barton – The Child

fiona-barton-the-child.png
Fiona Barton – The Child

During construction works in London, a builder comes across the dead body of a baby. Angela and Nick hope that they will be finally relieved. For almost 40 years now, they have waited for a sign of their daughter Alice back then abducted from the maternity ward. The police investigate all options while journalist Kate Waters is looking for a story to get her career back on track. She quickly uncovers people who lived around the building site area decades before and who might have witnessed something; yet quickly she has to realize that there is much more behind the story than she initially thought. When another woman claims to baby to be hers, Kate and the police do not know whom to believe and that they are about to uncover much more than they suspected.

Fiona Barton tells her story from different perspectives: first of all, we have Kate the journalist who is looking for some kind of heart-breaking story to report and thus to escape being fired like many others from her team. We only get bits and bobs from her private life, a son who refuses to pursue his studies any further, but that’s it. Thus, this character is mainly illustrated through her actions as a journalist. I quite liked her, she not the hard-boiled reporter who doesn’t care about the people she writes about, but tries find a way between securing a good story and not exposing the people involved. On the other hand, we have Angela the mother who has been suffering for 40 years and who is not willing to give up hope to find her daughter. I am not sure if this character is really authentic, that a family and a marriage can survive such a stroke of fate is rather seldom. Emma, the last of the three protagonists remains incomprehensible for a long time and thus keeps suspense of the novel high. Much of what she says does not make sense and her role in the whole story is rather mysterious.

Even though the end is quite foreseeable, it liked the story. It is fast paced and the different perspectives keep you alert on who says what and who knows what. The mystery around the buried baby is solved convincingly even though I wonder of the subplot about the rapists was really required.  I wouldn’t necessarily call it a crime novel or even thriller. It is rather a psychological drama with a lot of suspense to me. And compared to Fiona Barton’s first novel “The Widow”, this is much stronger both in the plot and the characters’ design.

Francis Durbridge – Paul Temple and the Conrad Case

Paul-temple-and-the-conrad-case
Francis Durbridge – Paul Temple and the Conrad Case

Betty, Tochter des englischen Arztes Dr. Conrad verschwindet spurlos aus ihrem bayerischen Internat. Die örtliche Polizei kommt mit den Ermittlungen nicht weiter und bittet Scotland Yard und Paul Temple, sie zu unterstützen. Zunächst unwillig nimmt der Privatdetektiv mit seiner Frau Steve sich des Falls an. Im Zimmer des Mädchens entdecken sie ein seltsames Cocktailstäbchen, das ihnen noch häufiger begegnen wird. Die erste Spur führt zu dem Autor Elliot France, der häufiger Gast im Internat war und scheinbar Mädchen zu sich nach Hause einlud. Auch der englische Banker Denis Harper, mit dem Betty befreundet war, verhält sich eher verdächtig, ebenso wie das Personal einer Schneiderei, bei der Betty scheinbar einen Mantel in Auftrag gegeben hatte. Nachdem Betty plötzlich in London wieder auftaucht, scheint der Fall gelöst, doch ein Mord in Bayern und wiederholte Anschläge auf Paul und Steve lassen die beiden den Fall nicht beiseitelegen.

Das Hörspiel 1959 für die BBC als Serie produziert ist bereits der 19. Fall für das britische Ermittlerehepaar. Eigentlich ist Paul Temple Schriftsteller, der die Ermittlungen als Inspiration für seine Romane nutzen möchte, findet aber gefallen an der Detektivarbeit und kann etwas unkonventioneller als Scotland Yard arbeiten.

Der Fall Conrad ist bezogen auf Aufbau und Lösung ein typischer Paul Temple Fall, nur dieses Mal mit Ausflug nach Bayern und Österreich. Leider hatte man offenbar keine deutschen Sprecher, so dass alle Figuren lupenreines britisches Englisch sprechen, was ich etwas schade für die Atmosphäre fand. Der Fall selbst bietet einige unerwartete Wendungen, die jedoch für mich nicht ganz logisch in ihrer Auflösung erscheinen, was vor allem darauf zurückzuführen ist, dass Paul Temple auch Ermittlungen unternimmt, von denen man als Hörer nichts weiß und die nur gegen Ende etwas plötzlich berichtet werden. In der Reihe nicht unbedingt der spannendste Fall, aber durchaus unterhaltsam.

Barbara Vine – The Birthday Present

barbara-vine-the-birthday-present
Barbara Vine – The Birthday Present

Ivor Tesham ist 1990 ein aufstrebender Abgeordneter der Tories. Margaret Thatcher regiert das Land und dem attraktiven jungen Politiker steht eine glänzende Karriere bevor. Das einzige, was er nicht hat, ist die glückliche Familie. Dafür aber eine Affäre mit einer verheirateten Frau, die seine Leidenschaft für Rollenspiele beim Sex teilt. Zu ihrem Geburtstag will er ihr eine besondere Freude machen und eine Entführung inszenieren – doch dabei läuft etwas schief und Hebe sowie ein weiterer Mann sterben, ein dritter wird schwer verletzt. Ivor hat Angst um seine Karriere und meldet sich daher nicht bei der Polizei. Doch es gibt Menschen, die von der Affäre wissen und so macht sich der kaltblütige Politiker erpressbar.

Die Geschichte wird rückblickend aus Sicht von Ivors Schwager erzählt, weshalb Ivor seine Geschichte nicht selbst erzählen kann, bleibt zunächst unklar. Der Schwager ist ein braver Familienvater und spart nicht mit der Analyse der Diskrepanz zwischen Ivors tatsächlichem Verhalten und dem öffentlichen Bild des konservativen Politikers mit reiner Weste. Er ist immer wieder schockiert, wie abgebrüht Ivor Entscheidungen vor dem Hintergrund seiner Karriere trifft und dabei die Menschen völlig aus den Augen verliert.

Neben Ivor spielt Hebes Freundin Jane, die ihr regelmäßig Schützenhilfe beim Betrug leisten musste, eine wesentliche Rolle. Der Abstieg der jungen und intelligenten Frau ist grausam mit anzusehen. Einerseits versucht sie ihre Cleverness zu nutzen, dann scheitert sie wiederum an ihrer Menschenkenntnis und der Gutgläubigkeit, die bisweilen regelrecht naiv wirkt. Sie ist für mich – neben zahlreichen anderen – das Hauptopfer der Geschehnisse zu denen sie nichts beigetragen hat, die aber ihr Leben zerstörten.

Machtbesessenheit, Gier und Egoismus sind die Triebfedern des Romans, der gnadenlos mit seinen Figuren umgeht und sie für ihre Fehltritte zahlen lässt.

Francesca Segal – The Awkward Age

francesca-segal-the-awkward-age.png
Francesca Segal – The Awkward Age

Since her husband died of cancer five years ago, Julia has raised her daughter Gwen alone. Unexpectedly, she falls in love with James whom she teaches to play the piano. Quickly James moves in Julia’s and Gwen’s house and also brings his son Nathan. Gwen and Nathan, both teenagers, are not happy with the new situation. Gwen misses the time when her mother was only focussed on her, Nathan still struggles with his parents‘ divorce and his sister living abroad. The unexpected happens: Nathan and Gwen find out that the other isn’t as bad as they had thought and another unexpected love starts to blossom in the household. The parents are furious when they find out, but the situation gets even worse when 16-year-old Gwen realises that she is pregnant.

Francesca Segal really achieves to make the characters of her novel seem lively and authentic. This is for me the most striking aspect of “The Awkward Age”. Julia who cannot fully immerse in her new love, since she is still close to her deceased husband’s parents and does not want to hurt their feelings even though they encourage her new love. Her own feelings towards her daughter, being caught again and again between the girl and her new partner – one can sense how complicated her emotional life is in those crucial months that the novel covers. I also liked Gwen a lot even though to some extent she is a typical hormone-driven teenager who sometimes falls back into infantile and inadequate behaviour. The grand-parents also struggle with their love life. Even though they have been separated for many years, Iris suddenly feels something like jealousy when Philip falls in love with another woman. Love can be a highly complicated matter.

The most interesting were Julia and James when their kids were fighting. Even though as a couple they are meant to stand on the same side, they frequently find themselves taking their respective children’s defence and opposing each other. It is those complex emotional states that make the novel outstanding since Francesca Segal created conflicts which are absolutely credible and authentic and in which those predicaments can show themselves – quite a crucial test for a new love.

Even though the main conflict is centred around the teenagers, I would not call it young adult novel, the other generations are as present as the youngsters and they quite well portray that love can be complicated no matter how old you are.

Hanif Kureishi – The Nothing

hanif-kurseishi-the-nothing.png
Hanif Kureishi – The Nothing

Waldo, once a celebrated film maker is now not only old but also disabled and dependent on the people around him. Zenab, his wife can hardly stand his moody and hostile character. Where did the man go for whom she left her first husband? Eddie, also into the arts and always in Waldo’s shadow, comes to their London apartment more and more often until Waldo suspects him to have an affair with Zenab. Waldo starts to survey them secretly in order to confront them with the betrayal.

I really appreciate Hanif Kureishi’s novels and I have read several of them, some over and over again, but I am a bit at a loss with his latest novel. We have a very close observation of a man who is at the end of his life and slowly seems to lose contact with reality and gets increasing hostile. He is clever in manipulating the people around him, this makes him an outstanding character who is everything but lovable and yet interesting to observe in his action and his own void he has created. In contrast, he seems to be really in love with his wife and even though his body is decaying he still has bodily needs, expressed quite openly.

I was wondering what the novel was actually about, since I am used to Kureishi giving his readers food for thought. On the one hand, Waldo explains that being attractive, desirable and charismatic paired with good looks is all that matters. When your old and disabled, nobody cares for you, not matter how successful and influential you once might have been, people immediately forget about you when you do not fit in the picture anymore. This superficiality of our society and especially in the show business definitely is something that should be seen as highly critical. On the other hand, Waldo is face with his upcoming death. Several times he downright asks the other characters to kill him so that it is finally over. He learns the hard way that “growing old isn’t for pussies” (pos. 295) and can never make his peace with his life.

All in all, full of sarcasm and cynicism – but who can resent someone’s bad behaviour when his life is not perceived as worth living anymore and finally comes to an end?

Megan Hunter – The End We Start From

megan-hunter-the-end-we-start-from.png
Megan Hunter – The End We Start From

A young couple, the woman is pregnant, only a couple of weeks before the due day for her baby. London is threatened by a flood, people are being evacuated and the couple is affected by the environmental crisis, too. But then the relief, they can stay in their home. However, after the birth of Baby Z, they need to leave their home and move in with the husband’s parents. The crisis aggravates, first the grandmother, then the grandfather dies, they run out of food, then they have to leave and find shelter in a refugee camp. As they move from one place to the next, they are separated, not knowing if they will ever see each other again. Baby Z however, is discovering the world, making his first movements, first steps and saying his first words.

The novel is striking because of Megan Hunter’s rather plain style of writing. Short sentences coupled in short paragraphs. The characters do not have names, only the first letter of their Christian name is given. This equals the shortage by which they are increasingly affected and it intensifies the feeling of hardship and stress. You can feel the reduction to the very necessary in each sentence. The paratactic style keeps you informed, but you do not smoothly float through the novel. I have not often read novels in which the style equally thus perfectly the story. And Megan Hunter has a way of putting action into words which makes you stumble quite often, for instance: “The day they don’t come back from shopping is beautiful.” (Po. 88)  How can you ever reduce such a major event in a character’s life in such a sentence ending with an optimistic and promising adjective like “beautiful”?

The young mother is in the centre of the novel. First, we meet her with the well-known fears which all primipara share. But her fears are quickly overshadowed by the crisis which threatens their lives and the deaths of her parents-in-law. It is interesting to see how the style of writing expresses her emotions rather than functions as means for a description of how she perceives her situation.

The opposing developments of, on the one hand, the environmental crisis and on the other the development of Baby Z is masterly designed by the author. The antithesis in the title also picks up this idea. The life they lead before is gone. Your position in your job and in society, your role or roles in life – everything is submerged and questioned, now, all of the survivors have to start anew. The way the characters cope with the situation is also interestingly and convincingly depicted: some can manage, they are true survivors, other try to break out and run away from the situation.

All in all, a short novel which is striking due to the style it is written in.

 

F.G. Cottam – The Lazarus Prophecy

fg-cottam-the-lazarus-prophecy
F.G. Cottam – The Lazarus Prophecy

Three prostitutes have already been killed in London. Since the police do not publish anything about the serial killer, he chooses a much more popular victim: the actress Julie Longmuir. Women do not feel secure anymore and Jane Sullivan, head of the investigation, and her team are under pressure. The parallels with Jack the Ripper are stunning, but of course, the Ripper has been dead for decades. Has he? At the same time in the French Pyrenees region. A couple of old monks try to keep a secret and fulfil their sole task as a clandestine order, but there has been a major incident and now they have to face the consequences.

F.G. Cottam’s thriller combines a murder story with religious aspects and paranormal elements. What I found most interesting were actually the killer’s message at the crime scene, his knowledge – there is a clear reason why they named him “The Scholar” – about ancient languages and the holy books. The cross references and allusions of course are not very singular, but I like these kind of books and I appreciated that not all is based on this but that we also have other interesting aspects in the novel. The protagonist, Jane Sullivan, is an interesting character. She is not the super hero but struggles with the case, sometimes close to giving up, but then again following her intuition and striving to solve this case. She is open for the paranormal and goes a road not often travelled in police work.

Yet, this is also the point which left me not completely satisfied with the novel. I would have preferred a more down to earth solution for the case. In the novel’s development, it was all logic and stringent, but readers who are avid of mystical explanation will not really appreciate it.