Robert Harris – V2

After having been hit by a German V2 and her affair with a high rank staff member of the ministry almost exposed, Kay Caton-Walsh, officer in the WAAF, asks to be transferred to directly contribute to the fight against the new super weapon of the enemy. Her wish is granted and so she finds herself with dozen of women in Mechelen, Belgium, where they are trained to calculate the origin of the rockets. These are launched from the Netherlands under the surveillance of Dr Rudi Graf who once dreamt of sending rockets into space and was fascinated by his and his friend Wernher von Braun’s advances in science. But since the Nazis have taken over their skills and inventions, he not only feels increasingly uncomfortable but serious questions what he has done.

Altogether, the V2 killed more than 4,000 people, wounded more than 10,000 in London and Antwerp and destroyed thousands of houses in the British capital. Robert Harris has again chosen a historical topic for his novel which outlines the human character in a complicated world. One might expect the Second World War and the Nazi regime to become finally a bit boring, Harris, however, just as in other books before, turns it into a suspenseful story with interesting characters entangled in the contradictions of their time.

The author addresses several core questions while the novel is fast paced and gripping from the start. The German engineer who never intended his creations to be used to kill people but was fascinated by space travel and what by diligence and an inventive talent could be created. Seeing what has become of his dream, he has to make a lonely decision and to come to terms with his role in the war.

On the other hand, Kay is full of patriotism and ready to risk a lot to participate in the fight against the evil, terrorising missile.  Quite astonishingly, it is a group of women who do the complicated calculations when mathematics were considered the supreme discipline of men. Yet, their competences do not hinder their male colleague from looking down on them. She is also the one in contact with the local population who is torn between the fronts and after years of occupation not sure whom to trust anymore.

Even though the whole plot is centred around the missile, it is the human aspects which render it interesting and thought provoking. Just as in his other novels, a brilliant combination of fact and fiction which is a terrific read and informative, too.

Claire McGowan – The Push

Claire McGowan – The Push

What do good parents do before the baby arrives? They prepare. And what could be better than a prenatal baby group? This is how six very different couples meet. Monica and Ed are already a bit older, but obviously they have everything under control and quickly take over the lead. Kelly is by far the youngest, insecure while her boyfriend and the baby’s father, Ryan, is mainly absent. Anita and Jeremy cannot have a baby but have planned an adoption, whereas Hazel and Cathy opted for a donor. Aisha and Rahul keep mainly to themselves while Jax feels judged since she is more than ten years the senior of her partner Aaron. Nina is leading the group and preparing the future parents for the upcoming events. Yet, what they a not prepared for is a fatality at their baby welcoming barbecue.

I have been a huge fan of Claire McGowan’s novels for quite some time and also her latest mystery did not disappoint me. A very diverse set of characters who all have their secrets they try to hide from the others but who, ultimately, have to give up and face reality. Narrated alternatingly between the time of the prenatal course and the eventful barbecue, we get to know the characters at two different points of time which is especially interesting because so much happens in between and, as a reader, you have to put together the single bits and pieces. Plus, it takes some time just to figure out what exactly happened during the barbecue and who the victim actually is.

What I admired most was how the characters were created and how each becomes a lively and authentic individual. Even though the number is quite high, they all get some specific traits and secrets which make them not only interesting but add to the overall suspense. There is a murder case but much more interestingly is to figure out the characters‘ little white or big fat lies.

At the same time, the author shows all the fears and insecurities which come with becoming a parent for the first time. A constant feeling of not being good enough and not caring enough accompanies the future mothers. The group pressure in the supposedly help group also plays an important role, some just seem to always be at the head of the class while others always fail. Much more than supportive, the group becomes highly competitive.

I thoroughly enjoyed the read, a perfect page-turner for me which brilliantly combines suspense with sarcastic humour and also serious moments.

John le Carré – Federball

John le Carré – Federball

Viele Jahrzehnte hat Nat für seinen Dienst wertvolle Arbeit im Ausland geleistet, Quellen geführt und dazu beigetragen, dass die Lage zwischen Ost und West nicht eskaliert. Seine Frau Prue hat derweil in England die Stellung gehalten, die gemeinsame Tochter großgezogen und sich eine Karriere als Anwältin aufgebaut. Nach seiner Heimkehr ins Mutterland hat Nat auf einen renommierten Posten in der Russlandabteilung gesetzt, aber man schiebt ihn in die schon aufgegebene Unterabteilung „Oase“ ab, ein Euphemismus, der seinesgleichen sucht. Dort trifft er auf Florence, eine etwas spröde aber ausgesprochen begabte junge Agentin, die bald auch schon mit einer herausragenden Operation ankommt, die jedoch abgebügelt wird. So sehr ihn seine berufliche Situation anödet, so gut läuft es privat, in Ed hat er auch unerwartet einen ebenbürtigen Badmintongegner gefunden. Auch wenn der junge Mann bisweilen seltsame Züge aufweist, fühlt Nat sich doch auch geschmeichelt, ihm auf dem Court noch immer das Wasser reichen zu können. Der Gedanke, dass dies seine Sinne etwas trügen mag, kommt ihm derweil jedoch fatalerweise nicht.

John le Carré schreibt einmal mehr über das, was er am besten kann: Geheimagent, Doppelagenten, Quellen Anwerbung und Aufrechterhaltung, geheime Treffen mit anderen Diensten und dabei einmal mehr ein Protagonist, der zwar treu der Krone gegenüber ist, aber nicht unbedingt jede Vorschrift seines Dienstes billigt und befolgt. Der Roman ist von Beginn an als beichtender Rückblick konzipiert, so dass einem als Leser schnell klar ist, welche Figuren nicht so harmlos sind, wie sie zunächst erscheinen mögen, es bleibt jedoch die spannende Frage, was sie tun werden und vor allem wie sie die Welt der Agenten aufmischen.

Auch im inzwischen sehr fortgeschrittenen Alter hat le Carré kein bisschen nachgelassen und einen spannenden Spionageroman nach recht klassischen Muster, aber mit brandaktueller Thematik vorgelegt. Das globale Mächtegleichgewicht hat sich verschoben und sein Heimatland ist dank des Brexit in eine durchaus prekäre Sicherheitslage geraten. Der Austritt aus der Europäischen Union und damit verbunden die Abkehr von den kontinentalen Freunden stellt das Land vor die Aufgabe, neue Allianzen einzugehen bzw. alte festzuzurren. Unter einem Präsident Trumpf durch aus ein zweischneidiges Vorhaben, das nicht von allen mit Begeisterung aufgenommen wird, schon gar nicht von einem ehemaligen Agenten, der den Kalten Krieg erlebt hat und bekennender Europäer ist.

Vor diesem Hintergrund lässt er seinen alternden Agenten Nat eine neue Aufgabe übernehmen, deutlich unter dem Spektrum, das er bis dato auszufüllen hatte. Man kann ihm Befugnisse wegnehmen, aber sein Spürsinn ist gut wie eh und je und so kann er auch dank alter Kontakte die unglaublichen Pläne aufdecken, die ihm keine Alternative lassen, als selbst aktiv zu handeln und beherzt das zu tun, was für seine Heimat am besten ist.

Kein besonders charmantes Bild seiner Heimat und seines ehemaligen Arbeitgebers zeichnet le Carré, aber wieder einmal hat man keine Zweifel daran, dass all das, was er als Fiktion verpackt genauso auch morgen in den Zeitungen stehen könnte: korrupte Beamte, die zweifelhafte Allianzen eingehen und denen die eigenen Schäfchen näher sind als das Wohl des Landes. Vielleicht nicht ganz so stark wie seine Romane um George Smiley, aber dennoch restlos überzeugend.

Daniel Silva – Das Vermächtnis

Daniel Silva – Das Vermächtnis

Prinzessin Reema besucht die Schweizer Schule unter einer falschen Identität, nicht nur soll nicht bekannt werden, dass sie Tochter des Saudischen Thronfolgers Khalid ist, sie schwebt auch in Lebensgefahr. Doch aller Schutz reicht nicht aus, denn die Entführer haben Verbündete hinter den Mauern der Bildungsanstalt. Kronprinz Khalid ist verzweifelt, so sehr, dass er den besten Mann für den Job anheuert: Gabriel Allon, Chef des israelischen Geheimdienstes. Über die New Yorker Museumsmitarbeiterin Sarah, die ehemals für die CIA arbeitete und mehr als eine Mission mit Gabriel bewältigte, kann er den Kontakt herstellen. Eine erste Befreiungsaktion geht unsäglich schief, doch wenn es um Kinder geht, versteht der Chef-Spion keinen Spaß, zu sehr wundet ihn seine persönliche Erfahrung. Die Tatsache Väter zu sein verbindet die Männer, die eigentlich nie zusammentreffen dürften und das ist es auch, was Gabriel eine gefährliche Mission eingehen lässt.

„Das Vermächtnis“ ist bereits der 19. Band der Serie um den israelischen Agenten und inzwischen Chef des sogenannten Dienstes, Gabriel Allon. Auch wenn Daniel Silva immer wieder global politisch brisante Konstellationen aufgreift und diese geschickt in die Handlung einbindet, sind die Parallelen zur Realität dieses Mal besonders explosiv: nicht nur findet der Mord um den Journalisten Kashoggi Eingang, auch die Ähnlichkeiten zwischen dem fiktiven Thronfolger und Mohammed bin Salman sind kaum zu leugnen. Dass es aktuell gerade zu einer Annäherung zwischen Israel und dem saudischen Königreich kommt, wird die Geschichte schon fast rechts von der Realität überholt.

Der Autor liefert einmal mehr einen spannenden Thriller nach bekanntem Muster: in hohem Tempo jagt Allon von Land zu Land, bindet mal befreundete Geheimdienste ein, mal lässt er diese bewusst im Dunkeln über seine Vorhaben. Hinter ihm her zieht sich eine Spur der Verwüstung, so ganz lassen sich Kollateralschäden nicht vermeiden. Es gibt ein Wiedersehen mit zahlreichen Figuren früherer Bände der Reihe, was das Handeln der Figuren glaubwürdig motiviert und die Entführungsgeschichte überzeugend mit politischen Konflikten verbindet.

Kommen mir manchmal bei den doch eher action-reichen Storys die Figuren etwas zu kurz, ist Silva dieses Mal vor allem der Kronprinz als hitziger und impulsiver Jungspund, der durch die Erlebnisse reift, brillant gelungen. Hier würde man sich tatsächlich wünschen, dass die Wirklichkeit der Fiktion folgen möge.

Einmal mehr genau das Buch, das ich erwartet habe. Ein Autor, der sein Handwerk versteht, Fans der Serie einerseits mit exakt dem bedient, was sie schätzen und dennoch immer wieder eine neue spannende Geschichte liefert.

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.