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.

Anthony Horowitz – Moonflower Murders

Anthony Horowitz – Moonflower Murders

Former editor Susan Ryeland is running a hotel on Crete with her partner when one day she is contacted by the Trehearnes who themselves also run a hotel in England. On their premises, a dreadful murder had taken place years ago which was used by writer Alan Conway as the basis for a successful novel. Since Susan edited Conway’s novels before he died, she might help them because their daughter Cecily has vanished. Immediately before her disappearance, she had read Conway’s novel and obviously was come across some important information related to the crime. As his editor, Susan must know the novel very well so she might be the one to help solve the case. Since she is rather short of money, she consents to come to Suffolk to investigate the circumstances.

After the “Magpie Murders”, “Moonflower Murders” is the second instalment in the Susan Ryeland series featuring the literary detective Atticus Pünd invented by the deceased novelist Alan Conway. Just like in the first novel, we have a novel within a novel which helps to solve a mystery and links two lines of narration. As a reader, you really have to pay attention not to mix up everything since you have a bunch of fictional characters who are represented in the second narration.

Over the last couple of years, Anthony Horowitz has become one of my favourite authors who never disappoints me. He most certainly is a master of complex plots which pay homage to the great crime writers and the Golden Age of crime fiction by respecting Ronald Knox’ “Ten Commandments” of mysteries.

Just as expected, masterly crafted and even though I liked “Magpie Murders” a bit more, an enjoyable read I can only recommend.

Patrick Hoffman – Clean Hands

patrick hoffman clean hands
Patrick Hoffman – Clean Hands

Elizabeth is used to a high working load and stress, but this situation might bring her down. One of her young lawyer’s phones has been pickpocketed and he had neither security nor lock on it – but highly sensitive data on their current case. The best woman to take care of such a mess is Valencia Walker, former CIA officer and fixer of unsolvable cases. Indeed, she and her team can track the phone down immediately, but nevertheless, some blackmailing takes place. While Valencia sets everything in motion to stop any more harm from occurring, Elizabeth wonders why she is doing all this and if she shouldn’t just give all up, not knowing what else there is to come.

Patrick Hoffman’s mystery novel seems to be quite obvious from the start: a young and inexperienced lawyer who is threatened and therefore sells his boss. Then, some young and rather stupid men who are simply lucky and can seize a chance when it presents itself in front of them. Quite naturally, things become a bit complicated and tricky for Valencia and her team and then – you realise that this isn’t the point of it at all.

The story advances at quite some high pace with some parentheses every now and then which provide some more depth and insight and which slow the plot down a bit so that you can take a breath before it regains speed. The number of characters makes it a bit hard at times not to lose the thread, but overall, I can only conclude that the plot is brilliantly crafted and none of what happens could be foreseen from the beginning.

Even though it is clearly fiction and I don’t tend to be prone to believing any conspiracy theories about governments or any agencies carrying out secret missions in the homeland, there are some aspects of the story which at least made me ponder about the probability. That’s what I totally appreciate in a good novel: being hooked from the start and having something lingering in my mind after the last page.

William Shaw – Grave’s End

william shaw graves end
William Shaw – Grave’s End

An unoccupied house which is for sale becomes a crime scene when a body is found in a freezer. This is just the first of a couple of bodies that DS Alexandra Cupidi has to deal with. They do not seem to be connected in any way, but the deeper she digs, the more apparent it becomes that all is somehow linked to the housing project September Homes which causes fierce protests among locals. One of them is the victim in the freezer, Vincent Gibbons, who had been observing badgers in the area and feared that the new houses would kill them or drive them away. Alex Cupidi’s daughter Zoë and their neighbour and ex policeman Bill South also protest against the destruction of the habitat, but quite soon, all three of them have to realise that powerful enemies are willing to do everything to stop them from interfering with the project.

The third instalment of the DS Alexandra Cupidi series so far is the best in my opinion. A single body with no obvious links to anything is the starting point of a highly complex murder investigation which expands from chapter to chapter. What I totally adored were the chapters the old badger is given a voice, thus, the topic of building houses without considering the impact on wildlife becomes a lot more important and interesting and one can only agree with the badger when it concludes, “People stink.”

The plot is perfectly crafted, first moving at a slower pace but then accelerating and also raising suspense. The connections between the different dots are all but obvious and it was a great fun puzzling over it. In the end, the case is solved without leaving any questions unanswered. What I liked most this time was how the characters developed, especially the relationship between Alexandra and her daughter. Bill also becomes more and more a close friend of the two while remaining a bit stubborn but he has the heart in the right place. Alexandra’s partner Jill also becomes more remarkable providing just glimpses of her past where a lot seems to remain to be uncovered.

A series which I absolutely adore and would like to read more of.

Jackie Kabler – The Perfect Couple

jackie kabler the perfect couple
Jackie Kabler – The Perfect Couple

Life has been perfect for Gemma and her husband Danny. The successful journalist and IT specialist have decided to flee busy London and settle in Bristol in a nice home where the quality of living is higher. When Gemma returns one Friday evening only three weeks after their move, she expects Danny to be at home waiting for her with dinner. However, their house is deserted, no sign that her partner has been at home after work. First, she is only slightly concerned, working overtime is not unusual in his job, but not getting hold of him makes her wonder. After changing his job, he hasn’t gotten a new mobile phone and thus, they only communicate via e-mail which he doesn’t answer. Gemma bravely waits two days, becoming increasingly frightened before she contacts the police for filing a missing persons’ report. What she learns then is that two men looking like Danny’s twins have been murdered in the area and soon she finds herself prime suspect in a serial killer case as strangely, there is not the least sign in her home of Danny ever having lived there with her. What is she actually hiding?

Jackie Kabler’s mystery novel starts quite typical for a thriller, you are immediately thrown into the plot and discover the vanishing of her husband together with Gemma. Thus, you get her growing concern first hand and can easily follow her thoughts. When the police’s side of the story is told, the author switches the point of view and leaves you quite quickly in the positing where you wonder if either you were fooled by Gemma who seemingly has set up some very good murder plot or if the woman suffers from some kind of serious mental troubles and even only imagined to have a husband whom strangely hardly anybody seems to have known. On the other hand, there is some creepy feeling that Danny might have taken advantage of Gemma for some scheme of his own, they haven’t been married that long and he proposed only weeks after they had gotten to know each other.

I totally adored the constant insecurity about whom to trust and what to believe; the more you learn about the characters and the further the events develop, you have to adapt your opinion and change sides more than once. Some unexpected twists and turns keep you hooked to the novel and make it hard to put it down. “The Perfect Couple” is a psychological thriller with an interestingly drawn protagonist and a surprising storyline which make a thrilling and gripping read.

Amy Engel – The Familiar Dark

amy engel the familiar dark
Amy Engel – The Familiar Dark

Two 12-year-old girls have been murdered, but except for their parents, nobody really seems to care about it. Maybe they had it coming, that’s how it is with girls their age, they should have paid more attention to whom they mingle with. Eve Taggert is not willing to simply accept that her daughter Junie has gone and nobody is hold responsible for the senseless death. What did she and her friend Izzy do in the park at that time and bad weather? She starts to ask questions even though her brother Cal, a policeman and close to the investigation, tries to keep her away and out of trouble which her private research soon causes. The more Eve learns, the closer she also gets to her own family and especially her mother with whom she had cut all contact before Junie was born because she never wanted to be like her. But in the course of the events, Eve must realise that she shares more traits with her mother than she ever expected.

Amy Engel’s mystery novel deals with the greatest horror that parents could ever go through: learning about the death of their beloved child and having the impression that nobody bothers to find the culprit and to bring him or her to justice. However, it is also about life in small and remote community where poverty and precarious standards of living are a daily occurrence. Growing up in trailer homes or small, run-down apartments where children only get a nook for themselves and see the adults drink alcohol or being addicted to drugs of all kinds – this is not the childhood one could ever wish for. Even if some want the best for their children, just like Eve, getting out of this isn’t as easy as it seems.

The story is narrated from Eve’s point of view which gives you a deep insight in the emotions she goes through. Not just losing her daughter and thus the sense of life, but she also falls back into old patterns she had given up and totally loses her footing. Even though she could not offer Junie much, she put an effort in her daughter’s education and she lead a decent life and loved her – more than she herself had experienced as a kid. To see such a woman being hit by fate is especially bitter.

Amy Engel does a great job in showing the development of Eve, going from being totally blinded by mourning and anger to gaining strength – even if she becomes a bit too reckless and headless at times – and in the end, fearlessly doing what she needs to do.

Notwithstanding that a lot is going wrong in the small town of Barren Springs, what I liked a lot is that the author did not paint the characters in black and white. The greatest villains do also show their positive and human sides – just as the “good” ones suddenly are capable of quite some crime.  Albeit a murder investigation is at the centre of the novel, for me it was much more a psychological study of small town life and people who struggle in life. It does not lack suspense though and several unexpected twists and turns keep you reading on.

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.

Emily Elgar – Grace is Gone

emily.elgar-grace-is-gone
Emily Elgar – Grace is Gone

When Cara comes to her neighbours’ house, she’s got a guilty conscience, she hasn’t seen Grace as often as she could have and the girl hardly has contact to anybody apart from her mother. Suffering from multiple diseases, she is confined to the house and needs a wheelchair to move around. What Cara finds, however, is not Grace and her loving mother Meg, but a horrible crime scene: the mother has been slaughtered and the daughter is gone. Who would do such a thing to the most beloved family of the small Cornish city of Ashford? Haven’t they suffered enough with the daughter fatally ill and their son who drowned a couple of years earlier? Together with journalist Jon, who published a not so pleasing portrait of mother and daughter a couple of months before, Cara starts to investigate and soon realises that the public picture of Grace and Meg differs a lot from reality.

Emily Elgar’s novel is a real page turner which offers some unexpected twists. The author has well dosed the revelations about Grace and Megan’s past to keep the reader hooked and curious to find out who they really were. What I liked most was the fact that – set aside the murder of Meg – most of what is told about them could be true and surely happens every day. This makes the suspenseful psychological thriller also a very sad story and leads the reader to ponder about the question how such a story could take place.

It is quite difficult to talk about the characters or the plot without giving away too much of it and spoiling the fun for other readers. I liked having alternate narrators who tell the events from their respective point of view and I also rarely find crime stories where the police and their investigation only play a minor role, or rather: none at all. Even though I had the correct idea of why and how the scheme was set up, I enjoyed reading the novel thoroughly.