Claire McGowan – What You Did

claire-mcgowan-what-you-did
Claire McGowan – What You Did

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.

S.J. Watson – Before I Go to Sleep [dt. Ich.Darf.Nicht.Schlafen]

SJ-watson-before-I-go-to-sleep
S.J. Watson – Before I Go to Sleep [dt. Ich.Darf.Nicht.Schlafen]

Als Christine morgens wach wird, kommt ihr das Schlafzimmer fremd vor, ebenso der Mann, mit dem sie offenkundig die Nacht verbracht hat. Scheinbar hatte sie am Abend zuvor ordentlich gefeiert, so dass sie keinerlei Erinnerung mehr hat. Im Badezimmer erschrickt sie: wer ist die Frau, die ihr aus dem Spiegel entgegenblickt? Sie ist mindestens zwanzig Jahre älter als sie selbst! Jeden Morgen wiederholt sich dasselbe Spiel: seit einem Autounfall leidet sie an Amnesie und kann sich an nichts mehr erinnern. Ihr Ehemann Ben hat das Haus sorgfältig präpariert, damit sie die wichtigsten Eckdaten schnell erkennt. Nachdem Ben zur Arbeit aufgebrochen ist, befindet sich Christine alleine in dem fremden Haus. Ein Telefonanruf verunsichert sie, ein Arzt will sich mit ihr treffen und weist auf ein Tagebuch hin, in dem sie seit Wochen Dinge notiert, die sie in minutiöser Arbeit rekonstruiert haben. Christine beginnt in ihrem eigenen Leben zu lesen und je weiter sie voranschreitet, desto seltsamer und beunruhigender werden die Erkenntnisse. Irgendwie wollen die Puzzlestücke nicht zusammenpassen und bald schon weiß sie nicht mehr, ob sie irgendwem überhaupt vertrauen kann.

S.J. Watsons Debutroman „Before I Go to Sleep“ war ein ungewöhnlicher Erfolg für ein Erstlingswerk, geschrieben hat es der Autor in seinen Pausen als Hörakustiker. Der Psychothriller wurde 2011/2012 mit zahlreichen Preisen ausgezeichnet und 2014 folgte die hochkarätig besetzte Verfilmung, die jedoch in keiner Weise an den Erfolg des Buches anknüpfen konnte.

Zu Beginn weist wenig daraufhin, dass es sich um einen Thriller handelt. Man bedauert Christine um ihre leidliche Situation und gemeinsam mit der Protagonistin versucht man Sinn in das Chaos, das sie umgibt, zu bringen. Es ist leicht, sich in sie hineinzuversetzen, da der Wissensstand zwischen ihr und dem Hörer/Leser identisch ist. Die Begegnung mit Dr. Nasch wirft weitaus mehr Fragen auf als sie beantwortet. Warum verheimlicht sie ihrem Mann die Treffen und was hat sie in den letzten Wochen bereits an Erinnerungen rekonstruieren können? Vor allem jedoch: weshalb hat sie als Notiz an sich selbst „Do not trust Ben“ in ihr Tagebuch geschrieben? Christines heimliches Treffen mit ihrer ehemaligen besten Freundin Claire befördert noch mehr Ungereimtheiten zu Tage und spätestens jetzt lässt sich der Psychothriller nicht mehr aufhalten und fährt sie ganzes Potenzial aus.

Die Handlung lebt von der Konstruktion rund um Christines Amnesie. Immer mehr Fakten trägt sie zusammen, die erst nach und nach einen Sinn ergeben und mit Zunahme des Wissens steigt jedoch nicht nur die Gewissheit über das eigene Leben, sondern vor allem die Angst vor der Gefahr, in der Christine schwebt, die immer deutlicher wird. Zielstrebig bewegt sich das Buch auf den dramatischen Höhepunkt zu, der dann auch die letzten Lücken schließt und so alle Fragen restlos beantwortet. Ein Psychothriller, der seinen Namen wirklich verdient hat und mich restlos begeistert – so sehr, dass das Finale mein Sportprogramm, bei dem ich das Hörbuch hörte, deutlich ausdehnte, um endlich zu erfahren, wie alles zusammenhängt.

Livia Franchini – Shelf Life

Livia-Franchini-Shelf-Life
Livia Franchini – Shelf Life

After ten years together, Ruth finds herself suddenly alone. Neil has left and all that her life consists of now is her work as a nurse in an old people’s home and shopping groceries at the small Tesco close to her flat. How did she get here? First, the escape of her ill-willed mother, then her friend Alanna whom she met in nursery school and with whom she still works together, the different patients and their respective needs, and Neil whom she despite all the time together seems to have hardly known.

Shelf Life – a. the period during which a good remains effective and free from deterioration. B. the period for which an idea or piece of information is considered an advantage over the competitor.

Still after having finished reading the novel, I wonder about the link between the title and the plot. Yes, the groceries Ruth buys somehow play a prominent role since they provide the titles for the different chapters. But beyond this? So what else could the title refer to? The time the main character is considered young – might be, but Ruth is beyond this discussion and her age is of no importance. Even as a young girl she wasn’t actually judged pretty or attractive. An innovative idea or piece of information is also something I didn’t find.

Thus, just as the titles leaves me a bit perplex, the whole story only slightly touched me. There is some red thread, basically between Alanna and Ruth, which is a bit strange since her relationship and breakup with Neil somehow nevertheless make up the centre of the plot around which everything revolves.

I liked Livia Fanchini’s style of writing and I am sure she can tell an interesting story, but somehow “Shelf Life” confused me much more than it made sense. Her characters are definitely interesting in their very peculiar manners, but somehow it all seemed not fully developed to me.

Max Manning – The Victim

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Max Manning – The Victim

When one evening Gem Golding stops at a drugstore to get some pain killers, a man approaches her and tries to hijack her car. He obviously has a knife, but she never wanted to become a victim. So she has to make a choice quickly: either give in, surrender to him and the situation or fight for her life. Depending on how she decides, her life will take different turns. Gem will either be the fighter or the victim.

Max Manning’s thriller is an interesting play with how the options presented to us and the decisions made have a huge impact on what follows. He continues the story by narrating the two outcomes in a paralleled line, showing the result of each of Gem’s choice and the consequences that necessarily come with it: the psychological effect the decision has on her but also on her husband Drew, her relationship with him, but also her career in PR which forces her to work late hours.

Both sides are convincing in their own way and both stories have their appeal. Yet, admittedly, I got frequently confused which annoyed me a lot. It took some time until I had figured out the concept but until that I was wondering if I could really have misunderstood so much. A different font or the like might have helped a lot. There were some interesting twists and turns, also the characters varied a lot depending on the story line which made it quite interesting and kept suspense high.

An utterly singular concept of dealing with a story, however, it did not fully work out for me which is a pity since I really appreciated the story itself and the writer’s style of writing.

Tammy Cohen – Stop At Nothing

tammy-cohen-stop-at-nothing
Tammy Cohen – Stop At Nothing

When the bell rings one evening, Tess does not know that this will change her life completely. Her 16-year-old daughter Emma was attacked on her way home from the bus stop, a man tried to abduct her but luckily, a woman came by and could save her. Tess is more than grateful for what Frances has done that night and so it is quite natural to let her into their life which has been a bit chaotic after Tess’ divorce. When Emma fails to identify the attacker with the police, Tess feels the need to do something and so does Frances who thinks she could recognize the man: James Laurence Stephens. Tess totally freaks out, such a man cannot be left running around freely and thus she starts to observe him, follow him online and gets totally worked up about him. Frances is always on her side, supporting her and Emma who does not cope too well with the situation. But then, Tess’ anger and spying fire back and now she is under threat – obviously by a man who is capable of more than just harassing girls.

Tammy Cohen’s psychological thriller got me hooked immediately. The author does not give you a chance to slowly get into the novel, she starts right in the middle of the police investigation and thus, does not leave you any time to get acquainted with the characters and situation – just like Tess was overwhelmed by the incident. Neither does suspense nor the pace slow down after this, the plot moves at a very high speed and this is how you just like Tess lose the focus and get lost in the events. Since I utterly adored the novel, I was curious to find out more about the writer and I was quite astonished that I have read and liked several of her novels published under the pseudonyms Tamar Cohen and Rachel Rhys. She surely is a gifted writer no matter what kind of genre she works on.

What I appreciated most apart from the suspense and high pace was Cohen’s protagonist Tess who is authentically depicted: a wife who has lost her husband as well as her career, who struggles with life and just wants to do the things right at a moment, when nothing seems to work out for her anymore. She is under a lot of pressure from all sides and this makes it easy for her to get immersed in this paranoia of following her daughter’s apparent attacker. From her limited point of view, it all makes totally sense. As a reader, you know that something is not quite right with her perspective, especially since there are parentheses coming obviously from some other character that are not easy to insert into the picture.

A brilliant and captivating read that I could hardly put down. Skilfully crafted with unexpected twists and turns and superbly playing on the psychological aspects of somebody being stressed out and thus prone to fall prey to evil and malevolent fellows.

Emma Rous – The Au Pair

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

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

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

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

Libby Page – Im Freibad

libby-page-im-freibad
Libby Page – Im Freibad

Irgendwie hatte sie sich das aufregende Leben in London anders vorgestellt als sie zum Studium in die Metropole kam. Nun arbeitet Kate als Journalistin beim Brixton Chronicle und schreibt über unbedeutende Nachbarschaftsthemen, bevor sie sich abends allein in ihrer Wohnung einschließt. Doch alles ändert sich mit einem Bericht über das örtliche Freibad, das Eigentumswohnungen weichen soll. Bei ihrer Recherche trifft sie auf die 86-jährige Rosemary, die zusammen mit ihren inzwischen verstorbenen Ehemann George ihr ganzes Leben im Freibad verbracht hat. Für Rosemary ist es nicht nur ein Ort zum Schwimmen, es ist ihr Leben und es bricht ihr das Herz, dass dies nun bald nicht mehr sein soll. Gemeinsam machen sich die beiden Frauen daran, den Kampf aufzunehmen und ahnen nicht, dass sie dabei nicht nur ein Freibad, sondern auch sich selbst retten wollen.

Libby Pages Debütroman ist die perfekte Sommerlektüre, nicht nur die Covergestaltung und der Titel, sondern die ganze Handlung, die sich erwartungsgemäß über weite Teile im Freibad abspielt, sind dafür prädestiniert. In lockerem Stil schafft die Autorin eine schnell vertraute Atmosphäre und fast ist es, als sei man selbst ein Teil dieser kleinen eingeschworenen Brixtoner Gemeinschaft, die sich da zusammenfindet.

Auch wenn der Roman als leichte Strandlektüre daherkommt, liefert die Autorin doch auch Denkanstöße, die über den oberflächlichen Genuss hinausgehen. Kates Panikattacken und Einsamkeit in London sind glaubwürdig gezeichnet und legen eine feine Melancholie über den Text. Dies wird durch Rosemarys wehmütige, aber doch auch freudigen Erinnerungen an ihre Zeit mit George gespiegelt – die eine Frau steht am Anfang, die andere am Ende des Lebens und plötzlich entdecken sie die Gemeinsamkeiten. Der Roman thematisiert aber auch die wirtschaftlichen Nöte der Städte, die sich den Investoren geschlagen geben – ebenso wie Kates Zeitung letztlich – um zu überleben und bisweilen Entscheidungen fällen müssen, die aus finanzieller Sicht richtig, aber menschlich kaum vertretbar sind. Beglückt liest man jedoch, wie es in der anonymen Großstadt aber dennoch möglich sein kann, eine Gemeinschaft zu finden von Gleichgesinnten und Freunden, die sich umeinander sorgen und Freud und Leid teilen wollen. Ein Buch, das man gerne liest und am Ende bezaubert beiseitelegt.

Deborah Levy – Was das Leben kostet

deborah-levy-was-das-leben-kostet
Deborah Levy – Was das Leben kostet

Bücher von Deborah Levy, in denen die Autorin ihr Leben und ihre Erlebnisse zum Thema macht, sind nie leicht zu fassen und zu rezensieren. So auch „Was das Leben kostet“, in dem sie die Trennung von ihrem Ehemann und den Tod ihrer Mutter verarbeitet. War es in „Was ich nicht wissen will“ noch die Sprachlosigkeit, aus der sie einen Ausweg sucht, sind es nun die plötzlich entstehenden Lücken, die sie füllen muss. Ein neues Heim, das nicht heimelig werden will; die Definition des Ich, das nicht mehr (nur) Gattin und Mutter ist, sondern Frau in einer Welt, die scheinbar viel zu sehr von misogynen Männern dominiert wird; der Tod der Mutter und die darauf folgende Orientierungslosigkeit – mit dem Schreiben verarbeitet sie ihre Emotionen und die Suche nach Struktur und Sinn im neuen Dasein.

Vor allem ihre Begegnungen mit Männern haben beim Lesen einen ausgesprochenen Reiz. Womöglich übt sie eine besondere Anziehungskraft auf diejenigen Exemplare aus, die in einem – positiv formuliert – traditionellen Weltbild gefangen sind und Frauen nur als dekoratives Element wahrnehmen und denen jeder Horizont fehlt, das Gegenüber als gleichwertigen Gesprächs- und Lebenspartner anzuerkennen. Ohne Frage hat der gesellschaftliche Wandel, den die Frauen im 20. Jahrhundert erstritten haben, nicht jeden erreicht und stellt so manchen Mann vor große Herausforderungen, wenn an ihrem Weltbild gerüttelt wird und sie sich nicht in der Rolle wiederfinden, die sie sich qua Geschlecht zuschreiben.

Aber auch ihr Fahrrad, symbolisches Kampfmittel, an und mit dem sie ihre Wut und Energie zu kanalisieren versucht, nimmt eine interessante Rolle ein. Die neugewonnene Freiheit durch den Elektroantrieb ermöglicht die Mobilität im chronisch verstopften London bei gleichzeitig allen damit verbundenen Nachteilen wie erfrorene Finger im Winter und dem mühsamen Transport der Einkäufe. Aber es ist auch das Gerät, das ihr als Person die Schau stiehlt und die Aufmerksamkeit von Männern auf sich zieht.

„Freiheit ist nie umsonst. Wer je um Freiheit gerungen hat, weiß, was sie kostet.“

Als Kind ist Deborah Levy mit ihren Eltern aus Südafrika geflüchtet, nun flüchtet sie mit Anfang 50 aus dem Leben in Ehe und steht wieder vor dem Neuanfang und dem Aufbau nicht nur einer Ordnung, sondern auch des eigenen Ichs. Die Introspektion durch die Personalisierung des eigenen Ichs im Schreiben erlaubt es ihr, auch kritische und angreifbare Gedanken zu verbalisieren und ihr Leben neu zu strukturieren. Ein harter und steiniger, aber interessanter Weg, dem man als Leser gerne folgt.

Will Wiles – Plume

will-wiles-plume
Will Wiles – Plume

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.

Anthony Horowitz – The Sentence Is Death

anthony-horowitz-the-sentence-is-death
Anthony Horowitz – The Sentence Is Death

Why did he ever consent to write three books about Daniel Hawthorne? He can’t remember and now, there is another murder and he has to play the detective’s assistant and document to case to turn into a crime novel. Reluctantly, the narrator comes to the crime scene, but he is soon fascinated by the case. Richard Pryce, a well-known and respected lawyer, is found murdered in his house, killed by a bottle of 1982 Chateau Lafite worth thousands. On the wall, three greenish digits have been painted: 182. The number of suspects is remarkable, from the victim’s partner to his former clients – many might have wanted to see him dead. But who actually committed the crime?

After “The Word Is Murder”, this is the second instalment of this very unique crime series starring the author as narrator and the very peculiar former police detective Daniel Hawthorne who has his very own way of proceeding. Not to forget: again there are some very obvious hints to the number one crime writer Arthur Conan Doyle. It is not just Horowitz and Hawthorne as a comic version of Watson and Holmes, also the case bears close resemblance to some well-known cases of the private London detective.

The case was without any doubt cleverly constructed and is based on a very human vice. Signs everywhere lead to the murderer, yet, they have to be detected and read in the right way. The narrator is getting better in analysing crime scenes, yet this does not prevent him from coming to coherent, but unfortunately false conclusions. The character of Hawthorne has lost nothing of his peculiarity which made me enjoy reading about him and hating him at the same time. He strongly seems to be somewhere on the autism spectrum with his massive lack of social competence. Most of all, however, I really relished Horowitz’s humour which accounts for most of the fun of the read.

A wonderful series with certainly a highly unique style of narration.