Amy Suiter Clarke – Girl, 11

Amy Suiter Clarke – Girl, 11

Elle Castillo’s podcast on unsolved murder cases has gone through the ceiling since she started talking about Minnesota’s famous The Countdown Killer, short TCK. Two decades before, a series of missing and then found murdered girls shock the area of Twin Cities, obviously, they were chosen for their age thus forming a countdown. Only one girl could escape and in this way, the place where she had been hold captive was detected just as two dead bodies. The police believed that the killer was one of them even though both persons have never been identified but the fact that no more kidnapping happened seemed to prove it. However, the new popularity seems to have triggered him to restart – or is it just a very good copycat? No matter who, when Elle’s best friend’s daughter is abducted, Elle knows that she is responsible and in charge of finding the girl.

I really liked the perspective of the podcaster who goes through old materials and builds her own theories on what could have happened. A big fan of true crime podcasts myself, I enjoy listening to podcasts – no matter if the case has been solved or not – and I find it interesting how at times a new perspective of somebody without formal training in investigation can lead to new clues. Amy Suiter Clarke’s protagonist Elle in “Girl, 11” is therefore quite some sympathetic character whom I liked to follow from the start in her quest to find TCK.

All cases of young persons being abducted and killed are followed by the public impatiently, if it happens to be a whole series, people are even more into it. The character of TCK was interestingly created since he did not chose random victims but acted meticulously, even obsessively, to a strict programme. Elle’s investigation is led by her gut feeling, but from the start, you know that there is much more behind it, the author thus creates double suspense, on the one hand, the hunt for the killer, ln the other the question why Elle herself is that obsessed with especially this case.

A suspenseful thriller which accelerates its pace increasingly and also has some fascinating psychological aspects on both sides – the killer and the investigator – to offer.

Heidi Perks – The Whispers

Heidi Perks – The Whispers

When Grace returns to her British hometown of Clearwater after two decades in Australia, she hopes to renew the friendship with Anna. As kids and teenagers, the two had been close as sisters, due to her poor family situation, Anna more or less grew up with Grace’s family until they decided to move to the other side of the planet. However, Anna does not seem happy at all about Grace’s return, she has established a small circle of good friends and is reluctant of letting her former best friend join their group of four. After one evening at the local pub, Anna does not come home but neither her friends nor her husband seem to be really concerned so Grace takes over responsibility: she informs the police and starts to ask questions. Why do all people in the small sea-side town behave strangely? It has always been her to be in charge and to take care of the small and big catastrophes, so not much seems to have changed. But on her own, will she be able to find Anna and to uncover why all people are telling lies?

Heidi Perks wonderfully portrays life in a small town. Everybody knows everybody and is keen on spreading rumours, especially if there is something cheesy or malicious to share. As soon as Grace turns up for the first time at the schoolyard to bring her daughter to her new school, “The Whispers” among the mothers start and cannot be silenced anymore. Quite authentically, we hold as true the things we can observe and the bits and pieces of information we get and make sense of the story – and thus fall into the author’s trap since not much is really what it seems at first.

Admittedly, even though Grace as the protagonist is portrayed as a sympathetic woman, I did not really like her as she was, in my opinion, a bit creepy from the beginning. A lot of people live in the past and want to repeat it, therefore, returning to the place where she had a good time is not too strange, yet, the fact that she does not want to accept that Anna does not want to bond with her anymore and that she does not even make the slightest effort to find other friends, I found quite weird and obtrusive.

After Anna gets missing, the other characters indeed do behave inexplicably, yet, it does not take too long until the author reveals the other side of the story. As an experienced crime novel reader, you tend to be cautious and hesitant from the start when you are only presented with one character’s point of view, this is why I did not find it too surprising that not all things are what they seem at first. However, what I totally adored was how Heidi Perks managed to portray especially the small town women and their gossiping and how they make an effort of polishing their own lives to appear as someone superior to the others.

An entertaining read with some unexpected twists which brilliantly captures small town life.

Alan Parks – The April Dead

Alan Parks – The April Dead

1974 and Glasgow is shaken by homemade bombs. What so far was only known to happen in Northern Ireland, now also seems to have reached Scotland. Detective Harry McCoy is assigned the investigation, but first, he needs to head to the prison where his oldest friends Stevie Cooper is released. Harry tells him to keep his head down for a couple of days, despite knowing Stevie’s character only too well. Thus, he starts a series of gang feuds in Glasgow’s underworld which adds to the mysterious bombings. And there is another case which Harry tries to solve: an American father is looking for his son who disappeared while being stationed with the navy in Scotland. Just like always, all things happen at the same time and McCoy has another couple of challenging days ahead.

Following the Harry McCoy series from the first instalment, I have since been a huge fan of Alan Park’s novels. The first two, “Bloody January” and “February’s Son” presented us the protagonist of the series and his family background and link to the underworld, “Bobby March Will Live Forever” focussed a bit more on the police world in 1970s Glasgow, the latest book is again brilliant in creating a special atmosphere and gives insight in how, at times, the truth needs to be adapted to the needs while not losing sight of rightfulness and justice.

The bombings plot is quickly linked to a paramilitary army which, of course, strongly reminds of the IRA. A charismatic leader who abuses his followers to accomplish his mission in a complex political environment is perfectly chosen for a crime novel. The missing son is an interesting addition since this illustrates the family pressure which was much stronger five decades ago than today.

Undoubtedly the most fascinating aspect was this time how McCoy is torn between his conviction as a member of the police and his bond with Cooper, himself the number one of Glasgow’s underworld. McCoy is not actually afraid of what Cooper might be willing to do to him, but he shows respect while making his point as a detective, at the same time. Even though he follows his instinct, which is often totally right, he is also at fault at times and has to cope with the consequences and challenge his sense of justice.

Another enjoyable and suspenseful novel which is not only highly complex but cleverly made-up with a careful rhythm and thus, for me, one of the best crime series at the moment.

Robert Cole – A Breeze Across the Aegean

Robert Cole – A Breeze Across the Aegean

After his wife’s death, Nicholas has lost the energy to live and fallen into a dark hole. When he takes a holiday on the Greek Island of Rhodes, the incredible happens. He meets a woman who immediately sparks something in him. They are on the ferry to Halki and agree to meet in the afternoon before taking the ferry back to Rhodes. Yet, Alessandra does not show up. Nicholas is disappointed but apparently, she did not feel the same as he did during their brief encounter. Back in England, he goes on with his life when one evening, he sees a report about a young woman gone missing – Alessandra. Could he have been the last person to see her alive? He contacts the police and the parents before he resolves to return to Greece and to have a look himself since no one seems to be really preoccupied. He cannot simply do nothing when the one person who brought back his will to live has gone missing. It does not take long for him to be sure that there is much more behind Alessandra’s disappearance than just a woman who decided to start a new life and cut all former strings.

Robert Cole’s debut novel is a mixture of suspenseful crime and interesting dive into ancient history. Nicholas’ search for Alessandra is strongly linked to the past of the Greek islands, old trade routes between Europe and the Middle East as well as modern trade – which is rather of the illegal kind. Stolen goods of inestimable value, belonging to the world heritage which in the turmoil of wars fall into the hands of shady businessmen. Some of the history is well known, a lot was also new to me and I found it wonderfully integrated into the thrilling search for the young archaeologist.

Strongest is certainly the atmosphere of the islands which offer such a long and great history which finds its place in the novel. Even though Nicholas is a bit naive at times and irresponsible at others, I found this characters quite charming to follow. He cleverly understands the evidence and draws the right conclusions leading step by step him closer to Alessandra and some very dangerous dubious men.

Not an absolutely thrilling psychological mystery, but rather an entertaining, yet nevertheless enthralling, trip into history.

Deepa Anappara – Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line

deepa anappara djinn patrol on the purple line
Deepa Anappara – Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line

When Bahadur, one of his classmates, goes missing, nine-year-old Jai is determined to solve this case. He has watched so many episodes of Police Patrol that he knows exactly how such a problem is to be treated. Together with his friends Pari and Faiz, he starts to investigate around Purple Line and Bhoot Bazaar. Yet, more and more children and teenagers disappear from their basti and quite obviously, the police are not willing to do anything about it. The parents get either more and more afraid of their children being the next or angry as they feel helpless and powerless.

Deepa Anappara’s novel is a brilliant mixture of an oftentimes very funny plot and an absolutely serious topic. Daily, children go missing on Delhi’s streets without anybody taking notice of it. The life of a child, especially if she or he belongs to a minority, is worth next to nothing, not even the effort to take a note on it. Diverse cultures and religious racism play an important role in this, too. Boys and girls are treated differently and offered different chances in life. Born into the wrong family, you can only count on superstition for a better life since the boundaries are clearly set.

At the beginning of the novel, I totally adored Jai and his friends. They are vividly and wonderfully portrayed. Determined to find out what happened to their friend and equipped with their knowledge from true crime TV series, they start their investigation ignoring all warnings against the dangers that lurk around the bazaar. They take their job very serious and at the same time, just as kids do, ignore the facts that they live in the same slum but come from very different backgrounds.

With the number of children who disappear rising, the novel becomes increasingly serious and loses the light-heartedness of the beginning. The way a slum works becomes gradually more visible and thus, the novel grants insight in a world which is totally unknown to me.

The whole novel is sparkling with life, the characters are quite unique and lovable and it is totally understandable why the novel has been nominated on the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020.

Alan Parks – Bobby March Will Live Forever

alan parks bobby march will live forever
Alan Parks – Bobby March Will Live Forever

A heat wave is rolling over Glasgow in July 1973 and just so is the drug business booming. One of the victims is Bobby March, the city’s greatest rock star, found dead in a hotel. Yet, this goes more or less unnoticed since the town is holding its breath with looking for young Alice Kelly who has disappeared into thin air. Her parents are neither rich nor famous, no ransom has been demanded, so everybody fears she might have been killed by some random perpetrator. With his boss Murray away and Raeburn in charge, life at Glasgow police becomes unbearable for Detective Harry McCoy who is ordered to the most loathing jobs. With the heat not going to cool down, the atmosphere is getting more and more tense and it is just a question of time until the necessary explosion comes.

The third instalment of Alan Parks’s series set in the 1970s Glasgow is by far the best. In the first, “Bloody January”, we get an idea of the city slowly declining, in “February’s son”, we learn about the underworld and their connection with McCoy. Now, the focus is set on the police who have the hardest job imaginable to do. Apart from the very personal aspects in this novel, again Alan Parks managed to create a brilliant atmosphere which gives you a feeling of the city and the constraints the inhabitants have to live in.

The plot combines several lines all equally thrilling and suspenseful. Apart from the kidnapping story – which will have much wider repercussions than apparent at the beginning – and McCoy’s personal war with Raeburn, there is also the ominous death of rock star Bobby March which gets unexpectedly personal for McCoy, too (and serves to continue the witty naming of the series). Added to this, Harry is asked by his boss to secretly look for his niece, 15-year-old Laura has been in trouble for quite some time, but now her disappearance seems to be more serious. All this is poured over McCoy and leads to a fast-paced story which you have to follow carefully in order not to get lost. Yet, the skilful and clever detective can connect the dots and bring all cases to an end.

The character of Harry McCoy is a fantastic protagonist. On the one hand, he is totally down to earth and knows how to talk to people no matter their background. He is an excellent policeman yet blends in easily with the underworld and its shady figures. On the other hand, he is totally loyal to his colleagues and has very high standards when it comes to police work and law and order. He knows where not to look too closely, but he is also determined when it comes to crossing a red line. Thus, his pragmatic but straightforward approach to his work makes him a sympathetic and authentic character.

A superb read which combines a great protagonist with a complex plot and lives from the stunning atmosphere the author creates.

Nalini Singh – A Madness of Sunshine

nalini-singh-a-madness-of-sunshine
Nalini Singh – A Madness of Sunshine

After the death of her husband and a decade abroad, Anahera returns to Golden Cove, a small town on the west coast of New Zealand. Not much has changed there and vivid memories return to the young woman who was eager to escape the poor and violent home she grew up in. It is only days she is there when the beaming young Miriama does not return from running. The whole town is on their feet to search for the girl with the promising future that everybody loves. Police detective Will, an outsider to the Maori community, coordinates the search and quickly develops the greatest fears. In a town where domestic violence is a normal part of everyday life and where common secrets tend to be buried deep, it is not easy to investigate. When the inhabitants recollect a series of hikers missing over only a couple of weeks, they start to fear that a serial killer might be among them who now has started to go for women again.

Nalini Sing’s mystery thriller is a suspenseful story which lives from the atmosphere the author brilliantly creates. You arrive together with Anahera in the small town and feel like an outsider; she had been gone for so long that she is not a part of their life anymore, but the longer you stay there, the more you dive into the culture and get a feeling of the dynamics that drive a close community which is not very welcoming to people not belonging to them. Apart from the plot around the missing women, I found the description of nature, its forces and the old culture which lives in harmony with it the most interesting.

Anahera and Will first seem to be two opposing poles in the story, on the one hand, the woman who is a natural part of Golden Cove and who shares memories with everybody and knows to read and respect the nature she lives in. On the other hand, the police detective who is a double outsider due to his job people are highly suspicious of and since he is not of Maori descent. What they share are secrets they try to hide from the community and which quickly make them bond.

The case of Miriama starts with big questions marks, Nalini Sing has well dosed the information you get about the girls, but soon you see the discrepancy between the first picture of the girl and her other side which obviously was well-hidden. The more secrets are revealed the more suspense rises captivating the reader. “A Madness of Sunshine” is a slow burn that does not only rely on the mystery part but also offers a lot in psychological respects with interesting characters in a fascinating setting.

Shari Lapena – Someone We Know

shari-lapena-someone-we-know
Shari Lapena – Someone We Know

Aylesford is a small community not far from New York. People know each other, are friends, have barbecues together and share their everyday problems. New to the neighbourhood are Amanda and Robert Pierce, both stunningly attractive and younger than the rest with their teenage kids. When Amanda goes missing, everybody soon blames the husband, the obvious suspect, but then, slowly, the facades of the good people start to crumble. They are not the loving husbands who go to work every day to support their beloved family, they are not the good housewives who only care for their dears and they are not the good kids of the suburbs. They all have their secrets they thought well hidden, but now it’s time for revelation.

I hardly could put down Shari Lapena’s thriller since I was hooked from the first page. She has created the perfect environment for readers who enjoy a bit of schadenfreude. Those nice people who appear to be caring and concerned about the others and who are suddenly confronted with their dark sides that threaten the picture they have drawn of themselves. A great read that was not only fun to read because all of them sooner or later have to admit their misconduct, but first and foremost, because the plot was masterly woven and thus kept suspense high until the very end.

It’s hard to say more about the plot without giving away too much. I liked how Lapena slowly unravels the revelations and shifts the focus from one character to the next. They all act suspiciously and at a certain point, I gave up believing any of them since it was too obvious that none of them is innocent in one way or the other. The author skilfully plays with the reader along these lines and this keeps you addicted since you eagerly want to find out what actually happened. It’s a brilliant, enthralling novel that you cannot stop reading once you’ve started.

Tony Parsons – #taken

tony-parsons-taken
Tony Parsons – #taken

When Jessica Lyle is abducted in front of her apartment, the kidnappers obviously made a big mistake. It was not the lovely mother of a baby-boy, but her flatmate Snezia Jones who was the target since she is the mistress of London’s drug dealer number one: Harry Flowers. This is personal, the woman has been taken to get to the underworld boss who is so distressed that he comes personally to DC Max Wolfe to offer his assistance. It does not help the police that Jessica’s parents immediately go public with the case, they want their daughter back and they give their mission a hashtag to spread the word: #taken. Yet, this media hype only leads to more people who have waited a long time for their chance to take revenge on Harry Flowers. Jessica remains missing and obviously, the time is running out.

I absolutely love Tony Parson’s series about DC Max Wolfe, the sixth instalment actually was one of the best so far. The author has created a plot that can really surprise due to the astonishing twists and turns.

This time, Max Wolfe’s team really has a hard job to do since they need the cooperation of the drug dealer Harry Flowers and have to rely on his information – which not only is all but reliable but also brings Max and also his daughter Scout in the highest danger. The threat comes from a very unexpected side but it was absolutely credible from a human point of view. Apart from the missing person’s case, Max has to struggle again with his ex-wife Anne and the question of how to educate Scout. Surprisingly, the loss of Max’s lover Edie Wren which happened at the end of the last book in the series did not really play a big role even though I expected this to have a large impact on him.

Again, a masterly crafted plot around a set of very unique characters makes a great read.

RJ Jacobs – And Then You Were Gone

RJ-jacobs-and-then-you-were-gone
RJ Jacobs – And then you were gone

Emily is looking forward to spending an entire weekend with her busy boyfriend Paolo, even though they will go sailing and sleep on a boat while she cannot swim. But Paolo will take care of her. The trip starts lightly, but she is quickly feeling sick and just after a bit of wine, she falls into a very deep sleep. When she wakes up the next morning, Paolo is gone. He could hardly be fallen overboard, and even if so, he was a coast guard and is a strong swimmer. So: where is he? The police also cannot find any trace and the longer Paolo is absent, the surer Emily gets that he has been murdered. Especially when she is contacted by one of his former colleagues who tells her about strange doings in their lab. But the investigators simply won’t believe her, understandably since in their eyes, she is acting very strangely and with a bipolar disorder, they doubt her sanity. Yet, the question remains: what happened to Paolo?

The fact that the author himself is a psychologist with practical experience can easily be seen in the novel. “And then you were gone” is playing on all facets of the human mind: Emily’s bipolar disorder and the different states she gets in when she forgets to take her pills, but also on question about what you remember and how you remember, different ways of judging a situation depending on with which eyes you look at it. This certainly keeps you alert as a reader and you never really trust any of the characters since you never know what they are up to.

Apart from the psychological aspect, it is also a very classical crime novel in which the capital vices motivate the characters’ actions. Pride and greed drive them to cross borders that are never meant to cross and that make them forget all ethics for fame and reputation. The case is actually not too complicated which makes perfectly sense since the stress is clearly on Emily and her deteriorating mind. There are many different clues to follow and since you only get the story from Emily’s perspective it is quite obvious that she is also missing some. A thriller which did not absolutely make me get goose bumps but that I enjoyed a lot.