Martin Edwards – Gallows Court

Martin Edwards – Gallows Court

Mehrere ungewöhnliche Todesfälle erschüttern das London des Jahres 1930. Ein Journalist wird angefahren und tödlich verletzt, ein angesehener Banker richtet sich selbst, nachdem sein Mord an einer jungen Frau scheinbar aufgedeckt wurde. Der aufstrebende Reporter Jacob Flint von „The Clarion“ ist nach anonymen Tipps wiederholt zur richtigen Zeit am richtigen Ort und kann darüber berichtet. Bald schon entdeckt er, dass diese und weitere mysteriöse Todesfälle mit der unnahbaren Miss Rachel Savernake zusammenzuhängen scheinen, jener Frau, die jüngst einen spektakulären Fall lösen konnte, an dem die Polizei sich die Zähne ausbiss. Flint ahnt nicht, dass er nur Mittel zum Zweck ist und ebenso schnell wieder geopfert werden soll, wie er die Chance zum großen Durchbruch bekommt. Denn die Fälle sind kein Zufall, sie haben eine Verbindung, die unter allen Umständen geheim bleiben soll, denn niemand darf wissen, was im Gallows Court vor sich geht.

Martin Edwards, seit 2015 Präsident des Detetction Club, jenes illustren Zirkels von Kriminalroman-Autoren des Golden Age of Crime Fiction, schreibt in guter Tradition seines Clubs. Teil 1 der Serie um Rachel Savernake ist eine komplizierte Geschichte um einen Geheimbund, die als unzählige lose Fäden beginnt und sich langsam zu einem Netz von Intrigen und allerlei Verbrechen zusammenwebt. Die Menge an Figuren auseinanderzuhalten und bei den mannigfaltigen Beziehungen nicht den Überblick zu verlieren, ist zugegebenermaßen nicht ganz einfach, aber es lohnt sich, denn am Ende liegt eine clever konstruierte Geschichte vor einem, deren Lösung herausfordert aber gleichermaßen unterhält.

Ganz in der Tradition von Autoren wie Agatha Christie oder Georges Simenon liegen auf dem Weg der Handlung zahlreiche Hinweise und Spuren, die man als Leser fleißig einsammelt und wie Puzzlestücke versucht zusammenzusetzen. Interessanterweise greifen jedoch naheliegende Annahmen – die Herren der besseren Gesellschaft sind böse, die Damen sind die bedauernswerten Opfer – schnell zu kurz und gerade der Kontrast von Gut und Böse wird immer wieder herausgefordert, denn so klar ist keineswegs, wer auf welcher Seite steht. Am Ende werden jedoch alle Unklarheiten restlos geklärt und der Fall sauber gelöst.

Ein traditioneller Krimi mit zahlreichen Toten jedoch ohne detaillierte Grausamkeiten, der vor allem mit der Figurenzeichnung punkten kann.

Rosie Price – What Red Was

Rosie Price – What Red Was

It is their first week at university when Max and Kate realise not only that they live on the same floor but that they are soul mates. They can hardly be separated anymore, they are friends, not lovers, but closer than you could ever be. They share the love for film and any secret. Even though their backgrounds couldn’t be more different, Kate from the countryside modestly raised by her mother whereas Max’ parents are successful and quite rich. Yet, one evening changes everything when Max’ cousin Lewis, who has eyed their friendship jealously for years, thinks he can take whatever he wants: Kate. The young woman falls into a deep hole. Afterwards, there is not much left of the creative and lively art student; suffering from a severe depression and increasingly self-harming herself, she does not find a way to confide in somebody. She has always been more insecure than others but now, she has lost her footing.

Rosie Price’s book starts out like a wonderful college novel. The immediate friendship between Kate and Max is mesmerising, it is really enchanting to see how two strangers can get along so well and form mutual trust without hesitation. But then the tide turns and so does the atmosphere. What I liked about it was the fact that the author does not use any direct brutal violence to describe what happens to Kate but focuses much more on the effect this traumatic experience has on her.

“And so instead she said nothing, hoping that if she chose not to voice whatever it was that lodged in her chest, somewhere between her lungs and her heart, it would diminish; that its toxicity might find its own means of excreting itself from her body”

The protagonist does not break down immediately, she keeps on going and to a certain extent is capable of deceiving the people around her and pretending everything is fine. I guess this is the trickiest part of such an experience that you cannot see what is going on inside somebody’s head and if you are not really closely observing, the actual emotional state might go unnoticed. A positive aspect, on the other hand, is that help comes from an unexpected person and that ultimately, Kate finds a way of opening up and talking to somebody about what is going on with her. In my opinion, the representation of Kate’s state of mind is quite accurate and also how she tries to hint at what happens but is not understood.

The story might trigger destructive memories in some readers, nevertheless I would definitely recommend reading the novel since it provides insight how a woman might become a victim in a supposedly safe environment and how these assaults might go unnoticed and the perpetrators get away with it.

JP Delaney – Playing Nice

jp delaney - playing nice
JP Delaney – Playing Nice

Theo’s birth is highly dramatic, much too early, the young boy has to be taken to intensive care while his mother Maddie is still weakened by the C-section. So, it’s Pete’s task to get familiar with all the machines and to take care of his little son. Despite the turbulent start, Theo develops much better than expected and Pete turns out to be the perfect father while Maddie struggles with her new role. Quite naturally, they decide to have Pete stay at home since his job is less well paid and he totally likes taking care of the boy. When one day Miles and his wife Lucy are in front of their door, they only have faint memories of the couple whose boy was born on the same day as Theo and who was also taken to an incubator. The reason for their visit will shake their lives: the boys were swapped and Theo actually is their biological son. What starts as a friendly encounter, since they all sit in the same boat, quickly turns into the most evil fight no parent would ever like to be in. And just like in war, Miles is willing to use any weapon available to get his boy.

A novel like a roller coaster ride, emotionally challenging and breath-taking, reading it caused me almost a night without sleep since I couldn’t put it away. It is a conflict which is unsolvable, yet, the way it all turns out is unbearable to read and makes you wonder the whole time: could this happen to me, too? What incriminating material would police find if they checked on my computer and mobile phone? And at the same time: this is so absolutely unfair, this cannot be true, but how often do you hear of those stories where institutions are simply wrong and easily fooled?

At the beginning, I was wondering if Maddie’s difficulties of bonding with her son would become the major focus of the novel, quite soon, this shifted when the core problem became known. You cannot say what to do in such a case and just like the protagonists, I would never have expected it all to turn out that way. It is sheer unbelievable how everything that happens is turned against Pete and Maddie, even the most harmless incidents become major reproaches and raise questions about their parenting. It isn’t illogical at all, that is the terrible realisation, from the characters’ point of view, they hardly have any other option than interpreting the signs in this way. It hurts reading it, it really hurts, first and foremost when you look at what the situation does to Pete and Maddie. I guess, at some point, I might have given up had I been in their shoes.

To call it a wonderful read would somehow be awkward, yet, it is a brilliantly crafted novel with a very interesting conflict and, above all, authentic and lively characters who could just be you or me. Even though it is fiction and as a thriller mainly aims at making you feel a cold shiver running down your spine, it is also a novel that makes you ponder a lot.

Heidi Perks – Three Perfect Liars

heidi perks three perfect liars
Heidi Perks – Three Perfect Liars

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.

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.

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.

Jackie Kabler – The Perfect Couple

jackie kabler the perfect couple
Jackie Kabler – The Perfect Couple

Life has been perfect for Gemma and her husband Danny. The successful journalist and IT specialist have decided to flee busy London and settle in Bristol in a nice home where the quality of living is higher. When Gemma returns one Friday evening only three weeks after their move, she expects Danny to be at home waiting for her with dinner. However, their house is deserted, no sign that her partner has been at home after work. First, she is only slightly concerned, working overtime is not unusual in his job, but not getting hold of him makes her wonder. After changing his job, he hasn’t gotten a new mobile phone and thus, they only communicate via e-mail which he doesn’t answer. Gemma bravely waits two days, becoming increasingly frightened before she contacts the police for filing a missing persons’ report. What she learns then is that two men looking like Danny’s twins have been murdered in the area and soon she finds herself prime suspect in a serial killer case as strangely, there is not the least sign in her home of Danny ever having lived there with her. What is she actually hiding?

Jackie Kabler’s mystery novel starts quite typical for a thriller, you are immediately thrown into the plot and discover the vanishing of her husband together with Gemma. Thus, you get her growing concern first hand and can easily follow her thoughts. When the police’s side of the story is told, the author switches the point of view and leaves you quite quickly in the positing where you wonder if either you were fooled by Gemma who seemingly has set up some very good murder plot or if the woman suffers from some kind of serious mental troubles and even only imagined to have a husband whom strangely hardly anybody seems to have known. On the other hand, there is some creepy feeling that Danny might have taken advantage of Gemma for some scheme of his own, they haven’t been married that long and he proposed only weeks after they had gotten to know each other.

I totally adored the constant insecurity about whom to trust and what to believe; the more you learn about the characters and the further the events develop, you have to adapt your opinion and change sides more than once. Some unexpected twists and turns keep you hooked to the novel and make it hard to put it down. “The Perfect Couple” is a psychological thriller with an interestingly drawn protagonist and a surprising storyline which make a thrilling and gripping read.

Jessie Burton – Die Geheimnisse meiner Mutter

jessie burton die geheimnisse meiner Mutter
Jessie Burton – Die Geheimnisse meiner Mutter

Rose ist ohne Mutter aufgewachsen, als Kind phantasierte sie sich alle möglichen Szenarien zusammen, wo die sein könnte und weshalb sie ihre Tochter einfach verlassen hat. Auch ihr Vater erzählt nicht über die Zeit Anfang der 80er Jahre, wie es dazu kam, dass die Dinge so gelaufen sind. 34 Jahre später jedoch gibt er Rose zwei Bücher von Constance Holden mit der Info, dass diese ihre Mutter gekannt hatte und die letzte war, die Elise gesehen hat, bevor sie verschwand. Rose merkt schnell, dass es nicht einfach ist an die Autorin heranzukommen, durch einen Trick schleicht sie sich als Assistentin in das Leben der älteren Dame, die nach drei Jahrzehnten zum ersten Mal wieder schreibt. Vielleicht findet sie in diesem neuen Roman Antworten auf die vielen Fragen, die sie sich ihr Leben lang schon gestellt hat.

Jessie Burtons Geschichte schildert nicht nur die Suche nach den unbekannten Wurzeln, sondern auch die Suche nach sich selbst und der Frage, wer man eigentlich ist. Rose ist ganz typisch für ihre Generation, die zwar erwachsen ist und einen Studienabschluss hat, aber auch jenseits der 30 noch suchend durch das eigene Leben irrt und nicht weiß, was sie eigentlich von diesem erwartet: eine Beziehung, ein Kind, berufliche Erfüllung? Alles befindet sich in einem fragilen Zustand, weshalb sie sich umso mehr an die Vergangenheit klammert und hofft, durch das Finden ihrer Mutter auch die Antworten zu bekommen, die sie selbst nicht zu geben vermag.

Auf zwei Zeitebenen erleben wir einerseits die Gegenwart Roses und ihre Annäherung an Constance. Je enger die Verbindung zu der Autorin wird, desto weiter entfernt sie sich jedoch auch von ihrem Freund. Was vorher feine Risse in der Beziehung waren, werden plötzlich unüberwindbare Gräben. Der neue Roman scheint biografische Elemente zu enthalten, doch so richtig bringt auch er Rose in ihrer Suche nicht weiter und offen kann sie Constance nicht mit ihren Anliegen konfrontieren, immerhin hat sie sich unter falscher Identität in ihr Haus eingeschlichen. Ebenso wie viele Jahre später ihre Tochter ist auch die junge Elise ist von der Schriftstellerin fasziniert und bereit, alles für diese aufzugeben. Doch das Ungleichgewicht in ihrer Beziehung wird in der Ferne nicht durch die neuen Erfahrungen kompensiert, sondern nur noch offenkundiger und führt unweigerlich in die Katastrophe.

Erzählerisch überzeugt Jessie Burton, beide Handlungsstränge sind sauber gearbeitet und können jeder für sich durchaus begeistern. Allerdings ist bei mir der Funken nicht ganz übergesprungen. Die Faszination, die Constance Holden auf die beiden Frauen ausübt, hat sich mir nicht im gleichen Maße offenbart. Ich fand sie als jüngere und noch mehr als ältere Frau kalt und abweisend, eigentlich kein Mensch, der andere für sich gewinnt, denn an Zuneigung bietet sie wenig und Interesse scheint sie nur für sich selbst zu haben. Elise verfällt ihr als unbedarftes Mädchen, Rose ist eigentlich schon viel weiter im Leben, macht aber eher den Eindruck einer vielleicht 20-Jährigen, die noch keine Vorstellung davon hat, wo ihre Reise hingehen soll. Zwar hat Rose für sich am Ende den Eindruck deutlich weitergekommen zu sein, ich empfinde sie jedoch ähnlich planlos wie zu Beginn und kann nicht wirklich eine Entwicklung erkennen. Für diese Rückkehr zum Ausgangspunkt waren leider ein paar Schleifen zu viel erforderlich, die Geschichte hätte stringenter erzählt werden dürfen.

Rosanna Amaka – The Book of Echoes

rosanna amaka the book of echos
Rosanna Amaka – The Book of Echoes

The new decade has just begun when life as he knows it ends for 16-year-old Michael Watson: his mother is murdered in their home and he and his little sisters find themselves alone in Brixton. The person who always told him that people of Jamaican descend have to work two times as hard as others and should keep their head down is gone and it does not take too long until his mother’s concerns are proven right. Thousands of kilometres south in a small Nigerian village, Ngozi has to say goodbye to her mother and younger sisters, she is sent to town to work as a maid and earn money for the family. Two kids who hardly have anything in common except for the very poor and hard start in life. Yet, they are born fighters and in them, they carry the echo of decades of people who had to face a similar situation and also fought for their future.

Rosanna Amaka tells the two very different stories alternatingly, you switch from Thatcher London to chaotic Nigeria and even though the surrounds could hardly differ more, there are some parallels between Michael and Ngozi. It is obvious that their lives have to collide at one point, yet, much less obvious to answer is the question if they will succeed and escape the poor life they are born in.

I totally adored the story around Ngozi even though there is not much to adore in her life. The hardship of her family who does not know how to make ends meet, a father who ignores his kids and later the families who employ and exploit her. Born and raised in Europe, one cannot really imagine the life of a girl of her background:

“’Ngozi, as a woman there are some things we have no choice in,’ she says and gets up from her chair. (…) She goes to sleep and to cry over the innocence her daughter will lose.”

Young girls are the most vulnerable and those who can just take advantage of it. Her employer, the employer’s wife, white men coming to Africa who believe to be superior and to have the right to treat people there like goods – it is not just what they have to endure but also how they seem to accept this as a fact of life, just as Ngozi’s mother put it.

For me, it took a bit too long to bring the two parts together, admittedly, the end was also a bit too foreseeable and sweet. Each on its own works perfectly well and could have done without the other actually. Nevertheless, the novel is beautifully written and I totally enjoyed reading it.

Pascal Mercier – Das Gewicht der Worte

Pascal Mercier – Das Gewicht der Worte

Und plötzlich ist nicht nur der Körper gelähmt, sondern auch die Stimme ist weg. Er kann die Worte nicht mehr sagen, die doch sein Leben bedeuten. Der Engländer Simon Leyland kommt in Triest in die Klinik, doch die Hoffnung, dass der Anfall nur eine Migraine accompagnée sei, wird durch den untrüglichen Blick des Arztes zunichtegemacht. Da ist etwas in seinem Kopf, dass da nicht hingehört und mehr als ein paar Monate werden dem Verleger und Übersetzer nicht mehr bleiben. Er erinnert sich zurück an die Zeit mit seiner Frau Livia, als sie mit den Kindern in London wohnten, dann nach dem Tod von Livias Vater und der Übernahme seines Verlages nach Triest kamen, einer seiner Sehnsuchtsstädte, denn als Junge schon stand Simon vor einer Karte und beschloss, alle Sprachen zu lernen, die rund um das Mittelmeer gesprochen werden und nun sollte er direkt an dieses ziehen. Mit der Diagnose jedoch geht das Leben, wie er es kannte zu Ende. Womöglich jedoch ist da aber noch ein Fünkchen Hoffnung darauf, dass er eine Chance auf ein zweites bekommt und jemand zu ihm sagt „Welcome home, Sir!“.

Pascal Mercier, schriftstellerisches Pseudonym des Schweizer Philosophen Peter Bieri, ist ein Virtuose im Umgang mit Worten. Sein aktueller Roman ist eine Hommage an alle Liebhaber der Literatur und Linguistik, denn im Zentrum der Gedanken seines Protagonisten stehen die Worte mit ihren Bedeutungen, Konnotationen und den Emotionen, die sie auslösen, sowie die Frage, ob man den Gedanken einer Sprache adäquat auch in einer anderen wiedergeben kann und wo sich letztlich die Grenze der Sprache befindet. Es ist eine Reise durch die Literatur und die Sprachen des Mittelmeerraums, die eingebunden ist in eine Handlung voller Schmerz, Trauer und Hoffnung gleichermaßen.

Man kann den Inhalt kaum angemessen zusammenfassen, einerseits ob der Fülle der Gedankengänge, die sich um die perfekte Übersetzung und den vollkommenen Ausdruck drehen, andererseits ohne einen wesentlichen Aspekt der Handlung vorwegzunehmen, der für Leyland essentiell werden wird. Es gibt ein Vorher, vor dem Anfall, als sein Leben geprägt ist durch Jagd nach Worten und von Begegnungen mit den unterschiedlichsten Menschen, denen allerlei fremde Worte eigen sind und die sie mit ihm teilen. Es gibt aber auch ein Danach, als plötzlich die Menschen viel mehr in seinen Blick geraten und aller Fatalität zum Trotz immer ein Neubeginn möglich scheint.

Den knapp 600 Seiten langen Roman liest Markus Hoffmann in über 22 Stunden mit einer leisen und prononcierten Stimme, die hervorragend als Erzählstimme von Simon Leyland gewählt ist. So gerne man ihm zuhört, liegen hier aber für mich auch die einzigen beiden Kritikpunkte: ich hätte mir gewünscht, dass seine fremdsprachigen Einwürfe ebenso flüssig klingen wie die deutsche Stimme, aber leider wirken sein Englisch wie auch sein Italienisch oder das portugiesische Vorwort sehr angestrengt und bemüht. So sehr mich der Roman begeisterte und ich den mäandernden Überlegungen Leylands folgte, so ist das Hörbuch doch etwas zu lange und irgendwann wünscht man sich doch ein etwas zielgerichteteres Erzählen ohne die zahlreichen Wiederholungen bereits geschilderter Episoden.