Michael Robotham – Good Girl, Bad Girl

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Michael Robotham – Good Girl, Bad Girl

When Evie Cormack was found almost starved hidden behind a secret wall and her so called father killed in the next room, it was clear that this must have a severe impact on the girl’s mind. But who is she? Nobody seems to miss her. Cyrus Haven, forensic psychologist with the Nottingham police, is highly interested in the case of “Angel Face” even though the now young woman refuses all cooperation with carers and doctors who already established that she possesses a unique gift: she can tell if somebody lies. Yet, Cyrus does not have the time to totally focus on her since the body of Jodie Sheehan, figure-skating prodigy, has been found close to her cousin’s home. The deeper the police investigate, the stranger and puzzling the facts that they dig out about the girl become: wasn’t Evie the golden girl with the promising career that everybody believed?

Michael Robotham’s latest thriller does not come with unnerving suspense, it stands out because of two other aspects: first of all, it really goes into the psyche of the protagonists and second, the complex story offers many leads and red herrings that keep you alert and reading on. The characters are much more intricate than you would expect for a mystery novel and thus add a lot of thrill to the plot.

Cyrus Haven, the psychologist, is himself an interesting character since his own family was murdered by his elder brother when he was just a child. The knowledge that not returning home on due time saved him sticks with him and finding his parents’ and sisters’ bodies surely had an impact on him. His subject of study is also designed very interestingly, she does not just react to her experiences of being abused and hidden, quite on the contrary, she is highly intelligent and capable of controlling her moods when interacting with psychologists. She can anticipate what is expected from her and thus play with those who want to gain insight in her brain what she refuses. On the other hand, there are some triggers that make her explode and react uncontrollably. Robotham gives them both a voice and with the first person narration grants a glimpse in their mind.

The murder case comes with many surprises, too. The more you learn about the victim, the more interesting the dead girl gets. She obviously had a certain image that was portrayed to her family and the world, but there are also secrets she kept and only shared with selected persons. Whenever the police are convinced to have established the course of the evening of her assassination, some aspects simply do not fit in the picture and keep them investigating further.

“Good Girl, Bad Girl” really is a psychological thriller that deserves this label. Cyrus and Evie are certainly an odd couple of which I would love to read more.

Lauren Wilkinson – American Spy

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Lauren Wilkinson – American Spy

When one night a man breaks into her New York apartment and tries to kill her, Marie knows that it is time to flee and to take her twin boys out of the country since they will not be secure there anymore. As a former member of the FBI she knows how to defend herself, she went through worse, but not her kids. She flees to a tiny village on Martinique where her mother has been living for decades, hoping to earn some time to write down everything that happened years before for her kids to understand one day when they are old enough. Marie thinks back to her beginnings at the agency when she had the impression of being stuck and then the unexpected chance to be a part of something bigger, of doing something good – which ended in an African bloodbath and forced her into hiding.

“American Spy” is Lauren Wilkinson’s first novel after some highly appraised shorter writings. What is quite fascinating about the thriller is that apart from the action part, it offers many different layers and aspects that can be discussed. It is set in the time of the Cold War and of course, first and foremost, the role of the two big players and their proxy wars in Africa obviously take a major part in the book. Yet, it can also be read as a feminist novel since the protagonist struggles to find her place in an all-male federal agency where people are openly sexist. Marie and her Caribbean background also qualify the novel under the label of a Black History book.

The thriller is full of suspense and provides insight into the world of spies. The complicated political situations they are in and the fact that the world is much more greyish than black and white at times forces them to either give up their ideals or simply quit their job. I liked a lot how the author combined Marie’s family history and the ghosts that haunt her with the bigger picture of world politics that, in the end, also can be broken down to personal relationships and enmities. The protagonist makes it easy to sympathise with her and thus you instantaneously immerse into the novel. Additionally, I learned a lot about Burkina Faso’s history, something that I was highly ignorant about.

Claire Douglas – Then She Vanishes

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Claire Douglas – Then She Vanishes

A double murder shakes the small seaside town of Tilby. Heather, a 32-year-old mother of a small boy has killed Clive Wilson, 58, and his mother Deirdre, 76, in the early hours before attempting suicide. But why did she do it? Did she even know them? Her mother is devastated and so is Heather’s childhood friend Jess, now a journalist with a newspaper in Bristol. For almost twenty years, they had not been in contact, but now she is reaching out to the family Jess once regarded as her own. How can one single family be stricken by fate that often? Heather’s father was killed in an accident when a gun was fired, her older sister Flora went missing at the age of sixteen, and now this. There’s something rotten, obviously, but can Jess figure it out?

Another page-turning mystery by Claire Douglas that hooked me immediately. I had high expectations that were totally fulfilled: many mysteries to solve, twists and turns, unexpected links and whole lot of characters that are not to be trusted. Just what you would expect from a great thriller.

What I liked most about the story were the secrets that everybody keeps, those small things that seem to be without any importance but suddenly become crucial but then it’s already too late to tell them. And then, people have to live with the knowledge that they are keeping some major facts that when being told could have saved somebody or prevented a lot of things. The plot is quite complex, at the beginning it all seems quite obvious, yet, the more it advances the more characters are added and the more multi-layered it becomes. Whenever you think you have seen through it all, your theory simply crumbles and falls – and this works out until the very last page.

Simply a great read that I could hardly put down.

Joyce Carol Oates – My Life as a Rat

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Joyce Carol Oates – My Life as a Rat

“I was twelve years old. This was the morning of the last day of my childhood.”

Violet Rue has always been her father’s favourite little girl. Just like her older sisters before, but not the brothers. The seventh of the children was loved beyond belief and treated differently. Jerome Kerrigan wasn’t an easy man, expecting his family to be obedient and to follow his orders. His education was strict and very clear. But then, one event changes everything. Her older brothers commit a cruel crime, killing a boy from the neighbourhood, a black boy. Violet Rue knows about it and she knows where the murder weapon is to be found. Keeping this secret is not really an option, but positioning herself against her family means that she has to life a life as a rat, a person who betrayed their closest.

I have read several novels written by Joyce Carol Oates and thus knew that she does not make it easy for her readers and demands a lot. Here, too, the book at times is hard to tolerate, the family situation is shocking and what the girl experiences – also after leaving the family – is merciless, just like reality sometimes is. A very strong narration that especially could convince me due to the tone of the young narrator who is torn between a childish naiveté and the need to grow-up and care for herself far too early.

It’s a novel about family bonds, family secrets, punishment, and all kinds of abuse. Powerfully Oates portrays how strong the core family members are sometimes linked and how the children and partners of abusive husbands sometimes keep silent just to secure their life. Violet knows as a young girl already what is right and what is wrong and that her decision to take the side of the victim will have severe consequences. But she – just like any child in a comparable situation – underestimates the hatred that people might show and how heartlessly her family is ready to cast her out.

A book not especially pleasurable to read but surely not to miss either.

Stefan Ahnhem – Motive X

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Stefan Ahnhem – Motive X

It’s only four weeks after his life was almost completely devastated, but now Fabian Risk sees light again when his daughter Matilda wakes from the coma. Yet, there is not really the time to spend it with his family since Helsingborg police have several tricky cases to solve: a young boy is found dead in a washing machine, a woman is killed and a third murder case also does not seem to have any recognizable pattern. The team’s nerves are on the edge since all of them also have to fight with their own demons. For Fabian, there is also something that has been nagging him since they found their former colleague Elvin dead in his apartment: he cannot believe in the suicide theory and slowly, the pieces seem to fall into place, but does he like the result? Could one of their colleagues actually be a serial murderer?

Stefan Ahnhem continues in this instalment of the Fabian Risk series exactly where he stopped in “18 below”. Quite often you can read a novel form a series without knowing what happened before, here, however, you will certainly not understand a lot without any prior knowledge. And it is obvious that there is more to come since, unfortunately, the big questions are not answered and this is why I could not rate it with five stars.

Again, the author underlines why he is one of the big names of Scandinavian crime. Ahnhem does not tell one story, but he has several plots running parallel, oscillating between them and pushing forward the pots at a very high speed. Admittedly, I could not really say which one is the most important plot here, but it made completely sense since life isn’t a succession of stories that wait in line until their time has come. This happen at the same time and rarely do you have the time to only focus on one case or problem at a time.

Since there is so much going on in “Motive X”, the character development is a bit reduced, but Risk seems to have found his private case to investigate all alone. This will surely be decisive for his life, even more than his family life which is in a very fragile state. Whom I followed eagerly again was Irene Lilja, she surely is somehow out of control, but her motives are good.

All in all, a great read with all the ingredients for a thriller that hooks you at once.

William Shaw – Deadland

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William Shaw – Deadland

It’s just a simple thing, a petty crime, and they have done it before. But the two teenagers Tap and Sloth do not have the least idea what chain of events they trigger when robbing a bag from a random commuter. They find two mobiles in it, one a very expensive iPhone, the other an old-fashioned throw-away phone. Of course they cannot really sell the iPhone but maybe Tap’s mother’s ex Mickey can do that. The next day, Mickey is found brutally murdered.  But that is not the only case DS Alexandra Cupidi’s team has to deal with: in the local museum an arm has been found in a sculpture after visitors had increasingly complained about the smell. Whom does this arm belong to? And who would commit such a crime?

I have devoured William Shaw’s series on Breen and Tozer in the 1960s London and was waiting curiously for something new by the author. “Deadland”, actually the second instalment of this series, again is a murder investigation, but hardly comparable to the other series which quite logically comes with the setting in modern days Kent. Yet, as expected, there is a cleverly constructed plot which connects seemingly loose strands and keeps suspense high throughout the novel.

Apart from the murder investigation, which could hardly be surpassed, I most of all liked the characters in the novel. They are all quite unique and individual. First of all, Alex Cupidi who is a clever detective but also single mother to a rebellious teenage girl. I really appreciated how she copes with her daughter’s troubles and even though she doesn’t approve of all of her decisions, tries to keep connected to Zoe and show understanding. Also the two good-for-nothing boys turn out to be good kinds in their own ways and know good from bad.

Even though it is just a side-line in the plot, I found Constable Jill Ferriter’s struggles after having shared the bed with a colleague after too much drinking and regretting it later was quite interesting. She did something stupid she regretted afterwards, but there is no easy way out of the situation, first of all, she still has to work with that colleague and second, what would happen if she reported this assault? Not only since she is police and does not want to be a victim, but also because this could seriously undermine her position in a mostly male job.

All in all, a brilliant read that leaves nothing to wish for.

Sally Hepworth – The Mother-in-Law

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Sally Hepworth – The Mother-in-Law

When one evening a police car stops in front of their house, Lucy immediately has a bad feeling. Her mother-in-law Diana has been found dead and the police treats it as a homicide. But why? Could there have been foul play? Well, Diana wasn’t somebody you instantly loved when you got to know her, you maybe never loved her and she, on the other hand, didn’t hide her despise for anybody outside her closest family circle. Lucy remembers how she first met the old, wealthy woman, recalls scenes of her family life when, again and again, Diana gave her the impression of being the wrong wife for her beloved son. And now, the police investigate her death.

Sally Hepworth’s novel caught me straightaway. From the first page on, I was intrigued by the story and just wanted to find out how Lucy could have killed Diana. Well, of course, there was always the possibility that somebody else also disliked Diana that much – but it took quite some time until I gave up my first suspicions and then, admittedly, looked at the plot cluelessly: but who? They all hated her more or less, but rather more.

The story is told in flashbacks what makes the actual plot advance only slowly. Yet, this does not reduce suspense since the memories of Lucy and Diana alike definitely contribute to arouse suspicion. What I enjoyed most was how you directly think you know everything, have an idea of who is the good guy and who is the bad guy and how, slowly but steadily, your tower of belief crumbles and ultimately falls because the characters get more profile, other sides of their personality are shown and they become really authentic and plausible in the way they act and behave. At the same time, Sally Hepworth’s novel is often really funny and entertaining, I liked her kind of humour deeply.

The author was definitely great discovery for me and I am eager to read more from her.

Samantha Downing – My Lovely Wife

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Samantha Downing – My Lovely Wife

They did it before and they are about to do it again. What looks like the absolute average family in Hidden Oaks – the father a tennis coach, the mother in real estates and two lovely kids – is all but average. They have a secret, or better: secrets in plural since they have killed more than one woman. And they are looking for their next victim. They are clever, a lot cleverer than all the other inhabitants of their small community and most certainly smarter than the police who don’t even know that somebody is missing. Yet, every run of luck has an ending and theirs is about to come, isn’t it?

Samantha Downing’s debut is a terrific thriller which combines the core emotions of human beings: love and hate. It’s masterly constructed and when you think you finally know what it all adds up to, you get a big surprise and a twist that takes suspense to another level.

First of all, the couple at the centre of the novel. The story is told from the husband’s point of view – interestingly, he never gets a name, there are only his aliases when he makes contact with possible victims. The point of view is limited of course which will play a major role and undeniably helps to lead you to wrong assumptions. As a reader, I should have known better, but I fell easily prey to Downing. At the beginning, you get the impression that the parents are a bit different, even strange to a certain extent, but even though you know that they have killed before, it doesn’t really keep you from seeing the loving father and mother who try to educate their children and deeply care for them. At some point, I even wished for them to get away with murder. Well, they are great in deceiving their environment and so is the reader.

An impressive psychological thriller which only reveals its full extent at the end of the novel and definitely makes you think about what you really know of the people around you and how easily you can be tricked and misled.

Annie Ward – Beautiful Bad

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Annie Ward – Beautiful Bad

When the police is called to a crime scene, they are prepared for the worst: a child’s voice could be heard during the 911 call. Flashback to a time fifteen years before. Maddie works as a teacher in Bulgaria while her best friend Jo is based with a NGO in Macedonia. During one of her visits, Maddie gets to know Jo’s British friends, among them Ian to whom she feels immediately attracted. Times are hard for the two young women abroad and not everything runs smoothly, misunderstandings, too much alcohol and words that better had not been said. Their friendship does not last in contrast to Maddie’s love for Ian, but their love was not meant to be immediately and now the big question if it ever was meant to be looms over them.

Annie Ward’s is a psychological thriller in which nothing is what it seems, in which you have to re-assess all relationships, all events narrated and all characters again and again to get a complete picture which differs a lot from the first impression you had. The fact that different characters’ perspectives are given alternately and that the story is told at different points in time, all mixed up so that you spring forward and backward and sometimes get the same event two times, does not make it always easy to keep an overview. Even though this to a certain extent supports the suspense that is created, for me it also contributed to some lengthiness.

There are two strong aspects in the novel that I found quite remarkable and authentic. First of all, it clearly shows how detrimental bad relationships can be. Being literally addicted to a person never is a good basis for a partnership since it easy opens the door for abuse and oppression. Second, the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder should never be underestimated. There are experiences that you will never forget and you never really come to terms with. They shape your personality if you want or not and have an impact on your behaviour, relationships and whole life.

“Beautiful Bad” could certainly surprise me with all the twists and turns and was cleverly crafted to lead you in a lot of wrong directions.

Sadie Jones – The Snakes

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Sadie Jones – The Snakes

Bea and Dan are frustrated with their London life and jobs and therefore decide to take a couple of months off. They start their tour across Europe in France where Bea’s brother Alex runs a hotel. Yet, when they arrive in the Burgundy village, it seems completely deserted. The hotel has never seen any guests and the house is completely run down. However, Alex is happy with the way things are. Bea is all but close to her family and when her parents announce to visit their children, she is all but amused. Dan cannot understand his wife’s hostility towards her parents, but there is a lot more that he doesn’t know and when they are hit by a major incident, he finally gets to know his real in-laws.

It’s the third novel by Sadie Jones that I have read and just like the other two before, again I really enjoyed her style of writing. The full extent of the story only slowly reveals and even though it is not a classic suspense novel, you know that there is a lot buried that will be uncovered sooner or later and you eagerly wait for it to show.

The strongest aspect were the complicated family ties. It is not clear at the beginning why Bea resents her parents so much, only when these two characters show up you start to understand her hatred and why she tried to cut all bonds. It is clearly a dysfunctional family in all respects: a strong and stubborn father who, self-centred as he is, just ignores the needs of the other family members and egoistically subordinates all to his wishes. The mother, however, is rather weak and clearly has a very unhealthy relationship with her children, even though they vary a lot. Alex and Bea seem to get along quite well even though there is a big gap in their age, yet, their different attitude towards the parents makes it impossible for them to really unite.

And the novel is about money. It is difficult to talk about it without revealing too much of the plot, thus, quite obviously, it doesn’t really help to make you happy. Even if you got masses of it. All in all, a very compelling read that I enjoyed a lot.