Sonia Faleiro – The Good Girls

Sonia Faleiro – The Good Girls

Padma and Lalli, inseparable cousins and friends, were only 16 and 14 when they were killed. As their small village in Uttar Pradesh was rather underdeveloped in hygienic and housing terms, the girls needed to go to the nearby fields to relieve themselves. One night in 2014, they went missing and were found hanging in the orchard a couple of hours later. Rumours spread fast about what might have happened and who could be responsible for their deaths, however, even though national media became interested in the case, investigations took their time and the police only reluctantly tried to solve the case. Girls from lower classes have never been high priority and their death seemed to cause more nuisance than alarm.

“This negligence contributed to an epidemic of missing and exploited children, many of them trafficked within and outside the country.”

Sonia Faleiro’s book is a true crime account of how the girls’ lives might have looked like in their last hours, the immediate reaction of the families and villagers and also a lot of facts which help to understand the circumstances in which this crime could take place. The subheading “An Ordinary Killing” already gives away a lot: the murder of girls and women had become to ordinary in India that people didn’t bat an eyelid anymore. However, the events of 2012, when a student was violated in a bus, made worldwide headlines and stirred protests which finally made people aware of the hostile and misogynist climate they were living in.

“Although Delhi was notoriously unsafe, stories about sexual assault didn’t often make the news.”

There are a lot of factors which enabled the murder of Padma and Lalli, their status as girls, their belonging to an inferior class, the remoteness and backwardness of their village – many standards and rights we in the western world take for granted simply do not apply there. But it is not only the crime itself which is abhorrent, also the situation of the police – understaffed, ill-equipped, prone to bribery – and even more of the medical examiner – without any training, just doing the job because nobody else would do it with the logical result of a post-mortem which is simply absurd – are just incredible. What I found most interesting was actually not the girls’ story and the dynamics in the village afterwards but the background information. Sonia Faleiro convincingly integrates them into the narrative which thus becomes informative while being appealing to read. I’d rather call it a journalistic piece of work than  fiction and it is surely a noteworthy contribution to the global discussion on women’s rights.

Courtney Summers – The Project

Courtney Summer – The Project

Lo Denham has lost her parents in a car accident in which she herself was also seriously injured and which marked her with a scar for life. Her sister Bea, six years her senior, is the last bit of family she has, but she has not been able to contact her for months. It must be The Unity Project’s fault, the sect Bea joined when she couldn’t make sense of the loss she experienced anymore. When a man claims that The Unity Project killed his son, Lo decides to take a closer look and to get nearer to the charismatic leader Lev Warren with the aim to expose the group’s doings in the magazine she works for. However, Lo is not prepared for the experiences she makes there.

Courtney Summers narrates the story from different points of view at different points in time, thus we get both sisters’ perspective on the highly emotional events in their lives. This also creates a lot of suspense since from the beginning, there are gaps which need to be filled to make sense. It also underlines the different characters of Lo and Bea which, nevertheless, does not hinder them from being fascinated by the same man.

The crucial point is most definitely the psychological impact a major tragic event such as the loss of the parents can have on young persons. Coming to grips with such a stroke of fate which does not make sense and is hard to understand is not only very hard but also makes people fragile and prone to others who are eager to exploit their situation. The leader of the group is surely an interesting character, it is easy to see how he manages to win people for his project and how he can make them follow him blindly. In this way, the novel also cleverly portrays the mechanism which work behind sects and which make it difficult to immediately see through them and more importantly to leave them.

I thoroughly enjoyed the novel due to the multifaceted characters and the message beyond the suspenseful and entertaining plot.

Sergei Lebedev – Untraceable

Sergei Lebedev – Untraceable

For many years, Kalitin has lived alone on the hill, in the house at the end of the road, isolated from his neighbours. He kept for himself, guarded the secrets of his former life, knowing that one day, they would catch up with him. Now, with the cancer in his body, there is not much time left anyway. His enemies are already on their way, two men, the ordinary set-up, to find and kill him. Agents who turn into angels of death because Kalitin not only knows too much, but because he was the man to develop Neophyte, a highly lethal substance which leaves no trace when applied, perfect to get rid of obnoxious people who know too much or who have fled the secure boundaries of their former home country. Such a behaviour against the code of honour is something Shershnev cannot accept. He has always been hard, hard against himself, hard against his son, hard against everybody. Two men who after a long life in the service of a country which does not exist anymore, have to fight their last battle.

“Kalitin knew that his inventions did not simply create specific weapons of death poured into ampoules. He also produced fear.”

Sergei Lebedev’s novel tells the story of two men who have seen everything in life and for whom life and death have been just states which a person can be in but nothing spiritual. Now, close to the end of their lives, they not only look back but also start to question what they have seen and done. “Untraceable” also tells the story of a lethal weapon we have heard of in the news more than once in the last couple of years. The time of shooting double agents, dissidents, whistle blowers and the like are gone, the strategies and means have become much more sophisticated, but one thing has remained the same: the human factor.

“In that world, most people did not yet see the dark side of science, its evil twin.”

For Kalitin, science, the discoveries and expansion of his knowledge about how nature works have always been paramount. However, he has come to understand that the leaders of the URRS for whom he worked had a different understanding and that, first and foremost, the individual scientist wasn’t worth much. He was only an obedient soldier on duty for the state. Surely, they gave him the opportunity to work in his lab, but at the end of his life, he also sees the price this came with and he can see the bigger picture. He wasn’t interested in politics, he has always seen himself just as a scientist, but eventually, he has to acknowledge that it isn’t so simple and that he cannot put the blame only on the others.

Shershnev, too, ruminates about his life which he has fully dedicated to the long gone state. He is one of the last still on duty who have lived in the USSR and who still, after all those decades, adheres to the old values. He has to admit having made mistakes. Big mistakes which haunt him now. Yet, he follows the assigned mission stubbornly, too weak to make a courageous decision himself.

The beginning was a bit slow, I didn’t get the connection between the different characters and chapter immediately. However, as soon as the main conflict was laid out, the novel was not only suspenseful but also morally challenging since it raises the big issue of science and the responsibility of the scientists. Additionally, it is no question that the former USSR was a rogue regime, yet, no system is flawless and to what extent each civil servant, soldier or simple citizen complies with given values and rules has to be answered individually.

A thrilling political thriller which also offers a lot of food for thought.

Anna-Lou Weatherley – The Woman Inside

Anna-Lou Weatherley – The Woman Inside

Shortly after her fiancé left her, Daisey gets drunk during a professional event. The same evening, she is attacked in her flat but unexpectedly can survive. Yet, he has no memory at all of what happened and of who her assailant might be. She is not the first, London is haunted by a clever man that much some DNA finding can confirm, more is not known. A complicated case for Detective Dan Riley and a lot of time pressure since they are sure that Daisey is not the last. But then, things seem to fall into place, all evidence hints at Daisey’s ex Luke who behaves highly suspiciously, too. Dan remains sceptical, he is sure that there is much more behind the coward murders, however, who might have a reason to direct police’s attention towards Luke? Can the forensic psychologist whom Dan is forced to consult shed new light on what the investigators have found?

I totally adored Anna-Lou Weatherley’s novel “The Stranger’s Wife” and her latest thriller did not disappoint me, either. It is not just the classic play of who is quicker and cleverer – the police or the murderer – it is the psychological profile of the wanted person which is extremely interesting and cleverly drafted to make it a really exceptional thriller.

Daisey is hit twice, first, her fiancé leaves her for a younger woman, then, she is attacked and seriously injured. Additionally, she cannot pay the expensive flat alone, this is why a new colleague moves in with her. She isn’t alone anymore, but her mental state is unstable. She seems to hear voices or people moving around in the flat, mixes up what her new flatmate tells her and she has some flashbacks which bring back fragments of the evening in question. She is really not doing fine and quite palpably, the horror isn’t over for her even though many friends and the police take care of her.

The narration is interrupted time and again by a second line of the plot which is set about two decades in the past and tells the story of twins who are quite close but also mysteriously witness some serious misadventures. It is obvious from the start that this part gives insight in the murderer’s childhood and provides the reason for his strange behaviour. However, you cannot link this narration to any of the characters of the present.

A mysterious plot which remains blurry for a long time but does not lose its suspense. A superb read which I enjoyed from the first to the last page.

Jane Harper – The Survivors

Jane Harper – The Survivors

It’s been twelve years since that one day which changed Kieran’s life. Now, with his wife Mia and their three-month-old daughter Audrey, they come back to Evelyn Bay to visit his parents. His father’s dementia has been deteriorating more quickly recently and thus they are moving house and sorting out stuff. Only shortly after they have arrived do they also meet their old friends: Olivia and Ash, now a couple, then also victims of that fierce storm which not only took Kieran’s brother’s life but also Olivia’s sister. And they meet Sean and his nephew Liam who lost his father and who still holds Kieran responsible for that. When the young waitress Bronte is found murdered on the beach, the memories of that unforgettable day resurface and all the emotions, too. Will twelve years after the disaster, which brought so much suffering and pain, the same happen again to that small community?

I liked Janes Harper’s novels “The Dry” and “Lost Man” since she is brilliant at catching the atmosphere and transferring this in her novels. “The Survivors”, too, has a special ambiance which defines the novel. The small circle of characters who all share the memories of that disastrous day and who all, in their own way, still can feel the pain that is connected to the storm and its outcome. Thus, the murder case at hand quickly becomes much less interesting than the question if people are hiding something, if the narrative of the events has to be re-written.

At first, I was misled by the title which I thought referred to the people who had survived the aforementioned storm, however, it is something completely different yet decisive for the plot. Even though the investigation on Bronte’s murderer seems not really to advance, the novel gets increasingly thrilling with more aspects of the storm day being evoked. Many characters act highly suspiciously which I totally adored since it made me spin one theory after another about the events. In the end, Harper provides a credible solution and no questions remains unanswered.

It is the landscape and the people formed by it who move at their own pace and who make “The Survivors” a wonderful read. It is a novel about how you can survive when others have died and especially how you can live with the guilt of being a survivor. For some however, being alive does not mean having survived, it is a daily fight against death. For me, the strongest novel by the author so far.

Roberto Perrone – The Second Life of Inspector Canessa

Roberto Perrone – The Second Life of Inspector Canessa

It’s been decades since Annibale Canessa and his brother Napoleone have last talked. Now, the later has been killed, together with Giuseppe Petri, former member of the Camorra and serial killer. Annibale quit his job as Carabiniere after his biggest success because it was obvious to him that he could only get one fish at the time, but police as well as jurisdiction were full of people collaborating with the mafia and far from providing justice. But now, he has to act since it is obvious that the murder of his brother will not be cleared up by official institutions. Together with his former colleagues, Canessa goes on a mission which is bloody and which will stir up dirt. A lot of things have changed since the 70s and 80s when Italy was in the hands of the criminal organisations, but unluckily not all.

Roberto Perrone is an Italian journalist and writer who amongst other wrote the biography pf Gianluigi Buffin, the famous goalkeeper. “The Second Life of Inspector Canessa” is the first instalment of the Annibale Canessa series which strongly reminded me of the “Mani Pulite” investigations of the 1990s when masses of crimes of industry leaders and politicians were exposed and the corrupt system uncovered resulting in the end of the Prima Repubblica.

Annibale has to start his investigation from scratch, neither has he an idea why his brother was killed or why he was together with the former camorrista nor does he dispose of any means to investigate. He only has his sharp mind, two loyal former colleagues and Carla, a journalist not only eager to collaborate but also attractive. They uncover several leads which do not add up, more people die and also the small group is attacked. Quite obviously, nobody wants them to dig deeper, not the police, not the jurisdiction, not the mafia. But Annibale has not only lost his brother, he has strong conviction which he follows.

A complex and suspenseful thriller which is totally entertaining but also disillusioning – it does not take much to imagine that all this could be true.

Rachel Hawkins – The Wife Upstairs

Rachel Hawkins – The Wife Upstairs

Jane is on the run, she hasn’t simply given up her old life, there are things which need to be forgotten und buried and never talked about. When she comes to Thornfield Estates, the McMansion area of Birmingham/Alabama, she sees a life which could hardly differ more from hers. Having grown up as a foster child, she has never known love and affection and surely not the riches she can observe in the families for whom she walks the dogs. One day, she meets Eddie Rochester who recently lost his wife Bea. They fall in love and suddenly, everything seems possible for Jane. Leading a carefree life, no worries about money anymore and a loving husband. But at times, she wonders if she sees something different, threatening in his eyes. Then, however, she remembers that she herself also has some secrets. Yet, there is a third person in that house also having secrets.

Rachel Hawkins does not hide that her novel is a modern version of Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre”. The names are identical and even parts of the characters’ biographies show large similarities, only small Adèle has been turned into a dog. The plot is not set among the British upper class but among the newly rich who are driven by greed, egoism and the conviction that they can have it all.

What I liked about this version of the classic plot is that Rachel Hawkins created some unexpected twists which keep suspense high and make you reassess the characters. You can never be totally sure about who is good and who is bad, actually, they are all some dark shade of grey. I would have liked the protagonist to be a bit more complex, Jane remains a bit plain and shallow throughout the novel for my liking even though the other characters repeatedly consider her rather clever and strong. On the other hand, everything around Bea was quite surprising and I actually adored the utterly malicious character.

An enjoyable read with a lot of Jane Eyre to be found and some new aspects which added to the suspense.

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.

Tana French – The Searcher

Tana French – The Searcher

‚That’s what I came looking for,‘ he says. ‚A small place. A small town in a small country. It seemed like that would be easier to make sense of. Guess I might’ve had that wrong.‘

Cal Hooper, former detective with the Chicago police, left the States for a small village in Ireland. He bought an old run-down house that he is now repairing to make it a liveable place. For a couple of days already, he has felt somehow observed but couldn’t see anybody, when suddenly a small boy appears. At first, Trey is shy and does not speak and only reluctantly comes closer. It takes some time for him to open up and reveal why he has come to Cal. His older brother Brendan has gone missing and nobody seems to be concerned or willing to do something about it. Trey is convinced that Brendan did not just pack his bag and leave to find his luck in Dublin, something really bad must have happened to him. Cal has come to like the shy boy who is eager to learn about repairing old furniture and has become a pleasant company, therefore, he agrees to use his experience as a cop and ask some questions. It does not take long for Cal to realise that his new home is all but an idyllic and peaceful place.

Tana French’s novel combines a mystery about a missing teenager with a heart-wrenching story about two lonely people who by chance find each other. It also shows a reality which nobody wants to see, a place which is out of the focus of any institutions and where some kind of parallel law has been established nobody dares to interfere with. The people, quite sadly, do not play an important role in this concept. Neglected youngsters either adapt or risk their lives.

The biggest star of the novel, at least for me, is surely Trey. A courageous small kid, about 12 years old, who obviously lacks all education but has the heart in the right place and definitely an understanding of right and wrong. Even though well known in the small village, he does not know anybody to turn to and has to address a total stranger to find help. Everything connected to him is touching deeply and it is heart-breaking to see how Cal manages to gain his trust and build a friendship.

The mystery part of the novel advances slowly but then accelerates and turns into a suspenseful crime story. The whole plot lives on the atmosphere and the characters who are brilliantly created and make it a great read.

Lawrence Osborne – The Glass Kingdom

Lawrence Osborne – The Glass Kingdom

What could be a good place to hide for some time? Bangkok it is Sarah resolves after she has stolen $200.000 from her former employer in New York. In the anonymous building “The Kingdom” she hopes to spend some weeks alone to have the situation cool down. Soon, she gets to know some other tenants, Mali, a half-Thai girl whom Sarah can never fully grasp. And there is the Chilean Ximena, a chef who dreams of her own restaurant whereas Natalie lives the life of a rich wife and sees Bangkok only as a short stop before moving to a better place. Even though most of the people keep to themselves, secrets move fast within the walls of the glass skyscraper and it does not take too long for Sarah to rouse her neighbours’ suspicions and interest.

I have been a huge fan of Lawrence Osborne’s novels for some years. Not only do his settings vary enormously – Morocco, Greece, Mexico, now Thailand – but he also creates highly interesting characters whom he confronts with challenging situations they, on the one hand, provoked themselves but which, on the other, unexpectedly get highly complicated without an actual good way out. Thus, he brings out the worst of human nature.

At first, Sarah seems a bit lost and you feel sympathy for her, but just until you learn which reckless behaviour brought her to the strange house. Yet, only for a short time do those negative feelings towards the protagonist linger since you soon realise that she is too naive and trusting for the world she entered. All other characters behave highly suspiciously and it is obvious that the young American will easily fall prey to them even though they are all quite diverse and aim at different things, whom their victim will be is more than obvious.

Just as the outer world is shaken by a political turmoil, also the inner world of The Kingdom seems to crumble. Decision have to be made and options have to be weighed quickly. Cleverly, Osborne builds increasing suspense and shows those sides of human character you never wanted to see. Threats appear from all corners, even the most unexpected, all heading to a highly tragic end.