Elizabeth Strout – Lucy by the Sea

Elizabeth Strout – Lucy by the Sea

When the pandemic hits New York, her ex-husband William convinces Lucy Barton to leave the city and to come to live with him in a house in a small town in Maine, by the sea. Lucy trusts Williams, in these fields he knows much better what to do and thus, she leaves her apartment behind, while their two daughters also flee the metropolis. Lucy experiences the first weeks and months like many of us did: life has come to a standstill, everybody is afraid of the fatal virus and interaction with human beings is reduced to the absolute minimum. However, this new situation also offers room for reflection and questioning decisions made, things said and done and all that ultimately matters in life.

I was not really sure if I was already willing to read a novel in which the pandemic was a central aspect while the virus is still raging. However, I totally adore Elizabeth Strout’s novels and since I have met Lucy Barton before, I was looking forwards to “Lucy by the Sea”. As anticipated, I found the novel a wonderful read, slow in pace, which was simply perfect for the time portrayed and the topic, and deeply reflective which I personally perceived just like an invitation for myself, to take some time and seize the chance of the standstill to look back and ponder on where I have come from and where I want to go to.

Apart from the new rules in life – keeping a distance, wearing a mask, obeying lockdown – Elizabeth Strout again focuses on the fragile and complex family bonds that her characters are born in and cannot escape. William finds a part of his family and gets closer when everybody is getting more distant; their daughters Chrissy and Becka have grown up and find a renewed sisterly bond. Lucy has to accept that the girls have become independent and do not need their mother that much anymore. But also the couples’ relationships are put to a test. William and Lucy have been friendly for some time after their divorce, but can living under the same roof work? Lucy comes to understand that love can take different forms and is expressed in diverse ways and loving also means that losing is hard.

Without a doubt one of this year’s absolute highlights. The protagonist feels like a dear and close friend and towards the end, I did not want the novel to stop, but just to go on forever. Elizabeth Strout, again, has not only captured the mood of the pandemic and chronicled our lives but also demonstrates her deep insight in our human condition and what makes us real humans.

Thanks for the free book PRH International.

Peter Swanson – Nine Lives

Peter Swanson – Nine Lives

Nine people, seemingly chosen at random, get the same letter: no sender or return address and in the envelope just a sheet of paper with nine names. One of them is theirs.  They have no idea what this is supposed to mean and react quite differently to it. Some of them are worried, others just throw it away. But when the first person listed is murdered, mood shifts a bit. When the second body is discovered, they get nervous as it becomes more and more obvious: this is a kill list. And the strangers will all be dead just a short time after. FBI agent Jessica is among them and she is the first to discover a possible connection: the reason for the murderer lies in the past, many decades ago, there must have been an event that links them.

“Nine Lives” is only the second novel I read by Peter Swanson after “Before She Knew Him” which I also thoroughly enjoyed. His newest novel, too, keeps you long in the dark, just like the police, you wonder what the characters might have brought on the list, how nine – why nine and not ten? – people spread all over the country might be linked. What I liked especially and what came to my mind immediately after starting to read, was Agatha Christie’s crime mystery “And Then There Were None” which is referred to several times throughout the novel. A tricky puzzle where the pieces do not seem to fit for quite a long time and while you still ponder about the reason behind it all, you can only watch how one after the other is killed.

“It wasn’t simply revenge. It felt like something much more than that. Karma, maybe. I had the money, and I had the will, to do what the natural world would never do. I could set the world to rights, in one small way.”

What I appreciated most was how the people reacted to their death announcement. Swanson created quite diverse characters who cope with this challenging situation in very different ways. Ethan and Caroline’s way of bonding over the shared fate was for me the most loveable story as I could relate to this most – just having the feeling of not being alone in it, of having somebody to share the fears and thoughts with, and somehow accepting fate or whatever it is.

There are some noteworthy minor characters – a wannabe victim, a contract killer – whose motives and points of view bring some new spin to the plot, too. However, what is most remarkable is the personality of the character who is behind it all. Normally, you come to hate a serial killer who takes himself for God, emotionally, I found it not that easy here, which alone already makes it a great read since life is never just black and white, good or bad.

A very cleverly composed plot which is not totally nerve-wrecking but full of suspense and also thought-provoking: what would you do if you were on such a list?

Alex Lake – Wovon du nichts ahnst

alex-lake-wovon-du-nichts-ahnst
Alex Lake – Wovon du nichts ahnst

Sarah Havenant hat alles, wovon andere nur träumen: einen sie liebenden Ehemann, drei bezaubernde Kinder und als Ärztin ist sie ebenfalls angesehen und erfolgreich. In Maine leben sie in einer Kleinstadt, wo jeder jeden kennt und das Leben einem gemächlichen Takt folgt. Als eine alte Schulfreundin sich bei ihr meldet, ist sie irritiert, nicht nur, weil Rachel nach vielen Jahren wieder Kontakt aufnimmt, sondern weil diese sie fragt, welches ihr richtiges Facebook Konto ist. Offenbar gibt es noch ein zweites und als Sarah beginnt zu recherchieren, ist sie schockiert von dem, was sie findet: jemand hat in ihrem Namen einen Account mit intimen Bildern von ihr und ihrer Familie erstellt. Jemand, der sich in ihrer unmittelbaren Nähe aufhalten muss.  Sie ahnt nicht, dass dies nur der Anfang ist und ihr die schlimmsten Monate ihres Lebens bevorstehen…

„Wovon du nichts ahnst“ ist bereits der dritte Roman, der unter dem Pseudonym Alex Lake erschienen ist. Der Psychothriller kann von der ersten Seite an packen, er spielt mit den schlimmsten Ängsten, die man haben kann: jemand drängt sich heimlich in das eigene Leben und übernimmt die Kontrolle darüber.

Die Protagonistin Sarah ist überzeugend entworfen: als Ärztin neigt sie eher zu rationalen Erklärungen und weniger zu emotionalen Kurzschlussreaktionen, nichtsdestotrotz bietet ihre Vorgeschichte mit Angstzuständen Potenzial für Aussetzer und psychische Probleme. Im Laufe der Handlung wird sie immer panischer, vor allem als ihr klar wird, dass nichts hat, das sie dem Stalker entgegensetzen kann und als sie spürt, dass ihr Umfeld zunehmend Zweifel an ihr hegt. Glaubwürdig aber kein bisschen weniger erschreckend ist auch die Entwicklung, die ihre Ehe nimmt: steht Ben zunächst voll auf ihrer Seite, wachsen Skepsis und Sorge um seine Frau und er entfernt sich immer weiter von ihr, da er selbst auch nicht mehr weiß, was er glauben soll.

Mysteriös die kurzen Einschübe des Täters; für den Leser ist klar, dass Sarah nicht an einer dissoziativen Störung leidet, aber neben der Gefahr, die von dem Unbekannten ausgeht, macht ihr die Machtlosigkeit und wachsende Verzweiflung gegenüber ihrem nahen Umfeld zusätzlich zu schaffen. Es zeichnet sich bald ab, wer nur hinter diesem perfiden Spiel stecken kann, Alex Lake nutzt hier einen unerwarteten, aber völlig plausiblen Fortgang der Handlung, um die Spannung aufrechtzuerhalten, sie aber in eine andere Richtung zu lenken.

Ein fesselnder Psychothriller, der vielleicht in der Extremität letztlich nicht ganz authentisch wirkt, aber in weiten Teilen doch Ängsten spielt, die jeder, der moderne Medien nutzt, auch kennt.