Virginie Despentes – Vernon Subutex Two

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Virginie Despentes – Vernon Subutex Two

Vernon Subutex is living in the streets of Paris now; he found a quite comfortable place in the parc des Buttes Chaumont and doesn’t really care about his old acquaintances. But they show up one after the other since there are still things going on all connected to him. First of all, Emilie’s apartment was broken into and Vernon’s rucksack has been stolen. He didn’t really care about it, but he had something that many people were keen on seeing destroyed: tapes with recordings of Vernon’s and Alex Bleach’s discussions in which the later and now dead musician reveals that Vodka Satana hasn’t died from an overdose but was killed. A whole bunch of people gathers on the Parisian hill, all grieving their own kind of loss, searching for meaning in their life and finding in Vernon the piece that holds them all together.

I liked the second instalment of the Vernon Subutex series a lot more than the first. I had the impression that the different stories which are told somehow better fit together and they are a lot more interesting than in the first. Even though Vernon Subutex still gives the novel the title and he is definitely the linking item between all of the characters, he just plays a minor role here.

It is not obvious from the beginning how all the characters relate, sometimes it needs a longer explanation to reveal the missing link. But Virginie Despentes has equipped them all with stunning lives that are not only interesting to read but also very diverse and each offer something completely new. What she manages in this way is to offer a broad picture of the French society, especially since her characters come from all kinds of classes and normally they wouldn’t really interact. But here, it does not only work, but it is convincing and great to read.

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Stuart Evers – If this is Home

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Stuart Evers – If this is Home

When he left the UK, Mark Wilkinson also left behind his name and entered the US as Joe Novak. By now, he is known as Mr Jones and selling apartments in Las Vegas. But something from his past is haunting him, he has episodes, hears voices or better: one voice: the one of Bethany, his girl-friend when he was still a teenager and living in England. He is thirty now and Bethany has been dead for thirteen years. He had wanted to leave their sad hometown together with her, to build a life together in New York, but then, she was murdered. After an incident with a client, he returns to England, now to find out the truth about Bethany’s death.

I was eager to read the novel due to the high praise I could read everywhere. After having finished, I am somewhere between disappointed and deeply confused. Either I didn’t get it at all or it absolutely didn’t work for me.

First of all, I had the impression that the first and the second half of the novel didn’t work together at all. It’s like having completely different characters and two independent stories told. In the beginning, we get a lot of clichés about men who are by far too rich and who think they own the world. It might be quite realistic, but not very interesting and ultimately, it leads to nothing for me. The second part, when Mark tries to figure out what happened to Bethany made a lot more sense, even though he hears her ghost talking constantly. I was waiting for the stunning moment when the circumstances of Bethany’s death are revealed, I expected something unusual, unforeseen and really surprising. Yet, this didn’t come. Actually, I didn’t even understand why he had to change his name all the time and what he was running from after all.

You-Jeong Jeong – The Good Son

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You-Jeong Jeon – The Good Son

When Yu-jin wakes up, he needs some time to orient himself. But: where does all the blood come from? He is obviously not hurt, but what happened the evening before? When he explores the home, he finds his mother stabbed. Was there some burglary he cannot remember? Yet, there are no signs of any break-in. Did he himself do it? He is confused and not a single memory of the hours before he fell asleep will come back. The body has to disappear, otherwise he would obviously be the main suspect. Nevertheless, he tries to enquire the murder and therefore searches his mother’s room where he finds her diaries – notes that will reveal a lot to him about his family, his step-brother and first of all, about himself.

At the beginning of “The good son”, the reader is as confused as the protagonist. He seems to be quite likeable, therefore you first reject the idea of him being a murderer. However, your view of Yu-jin will change a lot, the more you learn about him the more you have to adapt your opinion – not only while reading more of his thoughts on that morning when he makes a body disappear and gets himself deeper and deeper in trouble, but first and foremost when reading the mother’s diaries. That’s when the novel turns into a highly psychological analysis of a young and promising man who doesn’t know himself as good as he thought he would.

The plot develops a fascinating cruelty which completely drags you along. The emotions you feel are highly contradictory, between pity and disgust, between the hope that he will get away with it and at the same time that the police come to arrest him. Even though his action is absolutely comprehensible and logical, you reject it, too. I really like those kinds of novels which keep you oscillating emotionally.

It is absolutely a crime noir and definitely quite “Asian” in a certain way. Not only the family structures and the pressure on the members differs at lot from our western view, but also the rules according to which people act are different and make the characters sometimes act in an unexpected way. Just as the characters are finely modelled, the plot can amaze a lot and thus offers a lot of unexpected surprises.

Karen Perry – Your Closest Friend

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Karen Perry – Your Closest Friend

She shouldn’t have been there in the first place, Shoreditch, the part of London where the attack took place in which Cara was almost killed. It was this young girl, Amy, who saved her by pulling her into a store and then hiding with her for hours. Cara just left her lover when she met the killer, under the pressure of the events, she told Amy about her affair and the lost love of her husband. The events bring them close together and when Cara needs somebody to babysit her daughter, Amy moves in. What seems to be a close friendship, turns out to be something completely different and it won’t take too long until Cara doesn’t recognize her own life anymore and has to realize that she is in real danger.

Karen Perry, the pseudonym of Karen Gillece and Paul Perry, has chosen two quite different main characters for her sixth thriller: on the one hand, the down-to-earth successful radio maker Cara who supports her family and has established herself a picture book life – however, only when looked at from the outside. On the other hand, it is obvious from the beginning that Amy is suffering from hearing voices and that her extreme emotion leads her much more than a rational view of reality. Alternating their points of views gives the reader an advance which does not diminish the suspense.

You know exactly what is going to happen, yet, the question remains how far Amy is ready to go to attain her goal. Would she kill for it? Whom? How destructive is she actually or does she break down before something really bad happens? Something really bad is in the air – and then it happens.

I really liked Karen Perry’s style of writing which keeps you reading on because you want to know how this mess will finally be solved. Nevertheless, I was a bit disappointed by the protagonist Cara. At first, she seems to be quite clever and everything but easy to manipulate. But the more the plot advances, the more naive and even plainly stupid she becomes. This is a bit annoying because at a certain point, it is absolutely apparent who is behind it all, but she remains stubbornly ignorant. All in all, quite some entertaining thriller.

Ruth Ware – The Death of Mrs Westaway

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Ruth Ware – The Death of Mrs Westaway

Harriet Westaway, called Hal, is broke, totally broke. When she receives a letter stating that her grandmother has died and she is to inherit a substantial sum, this seems to be the solution to all her problems. Yet: the dead woman simply cannot be her grandmother. They share the same last name, but all the dates on the birth certificates show that there must have been a mistake. Nevertheless, she travels to Cornwall to the funeral where she meets “her family”: Harding, Abel and Ezra – presumably her mother Maud’s brothers. Before Maud died three years ago, she never spoke of neither her family nor Hal’s father, she and her mother were all family she had and now, she got three uncles and their families. Hal feels uncomfortable betraying them, even though they apparently do much better in life than she herself and they easily could do without a couple of pounds. But more than the nagging bad conscience she senses that the old mansion, Trepassen, she is staying at has some secrets to hide – especially the deceased Mrs Westaway’s servant Mrs Warren seems to know something she does not want to share – and she recognises Hal. How could that be?

I have read several of Ruth Ware’s novels and I like that she always finds a completely new story and that you are not reminded of any former books – a problem of so many authors who seem to write the same novel over and over again. Even though Ware has become famous for her psychological thrillers, I wouldn’t classify “The Death of Mrs Westaway” as one, for me it is rather a suspenseful family drama without the big thrill but a lot of secrets and mysteries.

What I liked especially was the setting of the old house in which all the secrets have lain buried for two decades. The floor boards creak when you walk on them, there is an old study with masses of books and you can hear the wind howl. Plus, the secretive family who is not very open and welcoming to the stranger and who surely does not want any old stories to be uncovered.

For her protagonist, Ruth Ware has chosen a very unique character. A young orphaned woman is not that rare in those kinds of novels, however, Hal is a tarot reader and has a special capacity of reading people – in order to tell them what they want to hear. She herself does not believe in the cards as fortune-tellers, they are much more providing guidance and concentration at the facts at hand.

The story itself is captivating immediately since you anxiously wait until Hal’s deliberate deception is revealed and she is thrown-out. Then you realise that things might be a bit more complicated and the further you get, the more pieces of the puzzle appear leading to a new picture.

There are many small aspects which make the novel absolutely outstanding, first of all the title which seems so simple since you know right from the start that a certain Mrs Westaway has died. Yet, at the end, there is much more to this than you might have guessed at first. Second, Harriet has a tattoo of a magpie, a reference to her mother and closely linked to Trepassen – which is a corruption of the Cornish word for magpie farm. She calls herself “Hal” which is also the name of the goddess of death in Norse mythology and whom the magpies served.

All in all, a captivating read in which it is worth looking at the details.

Ruth Rendell – Dark Corners

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Ruth Rendell – Dark Corners

Nachdem Carl Martin, ein junger Autor, von seinem Vater ein Haus in London geerbt hat, findet er in dessen Nachlass eine Reihe von mysteriösen homöopathischen Pillen und Tinkturen. Er will sie entsorgen, aber wie das Leben so spielt, vergisst er sie. Aus Geldnot und weil der Wohnungsmarkt lukrativ ist, vermietet Carl die Räume im Obergeschoss. Da er keine Lust auf lange Interviews hat, erhält der erste Interessent den Zuschlag: Dermot McKinnon. Als eine Freundin ihn zufällig um Rat bzgl. einer Diät bittet, fallen Carl die Pillen wieder ein, eine Sorte war seiner Erinnerung nach auch zur Gewichtsreduktion geeignet. Das Angebot, ihm diese abzukaufen, nimmt Carl gerne an. Am nächsten Morgen wird die Freundin jedoch tot in ihrer Wohnung aufgefunden, offenbar sind die Tabletten Schuld an ihrem Ableben. Carl macht sich Vorwürfe, doch damit nicht genug: sein Untermieter hatte den Deal zufällig belauscht und droht nun zur Polizei und zur Presse zu gehen und Carl als Mörder zu entlarven. Die grausame Spirale ist in Gang gesetzt und Carl sieht sich gefangen in einer Situation, aus der es scheinbar keinen Ausweg gibt.

Ruth Rendell, die auch unter dem Pseudonym Barbara Vine schrieb, hat die Veröffentlichung ihres letzten Romans „Dark Corners“ nicht mehr miterlebt. Mit weit über 60 Romanen zählt sie nicht nur zu einer der eifrigsten, sondern auch der erfolgreichsten Krimi- und Thrillerautoren Großbritanniens. Mehrfach erhielt sie den Gold Dagger Award für den besten Krimi des Jahres.

Ihr letztes Werk bleibt jedoch weit hinter den zugegebenermaßen hohen Erwartungen zurück. Was ihr sehr gut gelungen ist, ist die psychische Anspannung, unter der Carl durch die Drohungen seines Untermieters steht, zu transportieren. Das ungute Gefühl, die unmittelbare Bedrohung sind durch die ganze Geschichte hindurch zu spüren. Es kriecht unter die Haut und setzt sich dort fest, sehnsüchtig wartet man auf die Erlösung. Bevor diese jedoch endlich kommt, muss man es mit den leider sehr eindimensionalen Charakteren aushalten. Weder Carl noch sein Untermieter oder ihre jeweiligen Lebensgefährtinnen können überzeugen, von dümmlich bis einfältig, von passiv bis einfallslos – sie sind einfach sehr schwer zu ertragen und wirken unausgereift. Auch die Lösung seiner Probleme, die Carl findet, scheinen mir zu konstruiert, um sie wirklich als authentisch anzusehen und sie passen in keiner Weise zu der Anlage der Figur.

Alles in allem hat der Roman durchaus Potenzial, das er jedoch leider nicht ausschöpft.

Lynn Brittney – Murder in Belgravia

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Lynn – Brittney – Murder in Belgravia

London, 1915. Lord Murcheson has been stabbed and murdered in his house, his wife Lady Harriet was found there wounded, too. She claims to have committed to crime with a pair of scissors, which is highly unlikely due to her severe injuries.  While Lady Harriet is fighting for her life at the hospital, Chief Inspector Peter Beech takes over the case. The city is at war and thus, men are scarce with the Metropolitan Police. Beech has quite an innovative idea which seems to be more than reasonable for the case at hand: he wants to employ women for the investigation. Thus, Victoria Ellingsham, trained in law, and medical doctor Caroline Allardyce join the small team of Beech, charming ex-boxer PC Billy Rigsby and former Special Branch Arthur Tollman. While London is under attack of the Germans, the unusual squat investigates the case, comes across masses of legal and illegal drugs, prostitutes and the abduction of a young girl who worked in the Murcheson household.

“Murder in Belgravia” follows the lines of classic murder cases in the style of Agatha Christie. The most striking about the novel is the atmosphere. Not only is the situation of World War I convincingly portrayed with the city under fire at night and the shortage of men for the police and other forces, but you also feel yourself transported back to the times when lords and ladies lived in a completely different world which only scarcely overlapped with average or lower class people.

The case itself has to be solved without any modern forensics or other sophisticated medical or technical means which I liked a lot. It is due to a quick-witted intellect and particularly the women’s sharp observation that they can assemble the necessary pieces of evidence to rumble the murderer.

Lynn Brittney’s book is a cosy crime novel that I really enjoyed to read. She has created awesome characters of whom I would like to read more.

Sarah Bailey – The Dark Lake

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Sarah Bailey – The Dark Lake

The murder of a beloved teacher moves the whole city of Smithson in Australia. Rosalind Ryan is found dead in the waters of Sonny Lake after a stunning performance of her art class in their version of Romeo and Juliet. Gemma Woodstock and her partner Felix take over the investigation even though Gemma has known Rosalind for her whole life. But her superior doesn’t know that she not only knew the beautiful young woman, but that that there is much more that links the two. The investigation leads to nothing, nobody can provide any useful information, neither her family not her colleagues really seem to have a motive. Yet, somebody must have hated her so much that he killed her.

Sarah Bailey’s debut thriller “The Dark Lake” has an interesting setting. You hardly ever come across an Australian small town where everybody knows everybody and where all the characters have some kind of old common memories and histories. The most striking moment was for me, however, when everybody was complaining about the hot temperatures on Christmas – quite uncommon for most European or North-American novels. Well, things are different down-under, but the concept of a good thriller is the same, and “The Dark Lake” has much to offer in that respect.

The case is highly complicated and for a very long time I didn’t actually have the slightest clue of what was going on. The author has masterly crafted her plot and it takes some time until a lot of dub-plots suddenly make sense. The protagonist Gem is also quite interesting, she is not only the policewoman, but also a mother of a young boy and doubting her relationship with the kid’s father. An affair with her partner doesn’t make things easier – but that’s just how life is. She is somehow typically female, she follows her intuition and she has a different way of approaching suspects and of observing places. I really appreciated this different point of view in the investigation.

Even though much becomes clear when you come to the end of the novel, a downside was for me Gem’s private life in the present and the past. It was just a bit too much and slowed down the pace, even though it made perfectly sense for the story to tell it all.

Clarissa Goenawan – Rainbirds

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Clarissa Goenawan – Rainbirds

When the news of his beloved sister’s death reaches Ren, he hurries to the small town of Akakawa where she had been worked as a teacher for the last couple of years. The police do not have many cues about the young woman’s crucial death, she fell victim to a merciless murderer and was heavily mutilated. Ren starts to ask questions himself, first the landlord where his sister had stayed and with whom she seemed to have had quite a delicate agreement. But also at her work place, there are interesting people who might know more than they would admit at first. In his dreams, Ren is haunted by a young girl with pigtails who obviously wants to tell him something, but he needs time to understand the girl’s message.

Clarissa Goenawan’s novel is set in 1990s in rural Japan and thus the atmosphere is far from the Tokyo rush that you might have in mind when thinking about young people on the Asian island. The plot moves at a moderate pace; modern media simply does not exist so people need to talk to each other to get information or to – very conventionally – send letters. Even though the motive that drives the action is an unsolved murder case, the novel is far from being a real crime novel. It is much more about the brother’s loss, a rather dysfunctional family (or rather: families since none of the families presented can be considered functional in any way) and in a way also about love or different kinds of love. It is a quite melancholy book with some rather dark and even mystical aspects.

I felt sorry for the young protagonist most of the time. He is quite lonely and now with his beloved sister gone, he got nobody to rely on anymore. His childhood memories were quite depressing and it is a wonder that from what he and his sister experienced they didn’t develop any serious mental illness. There is something intriguing about the other characters, too, albeit I assume that this is also stemming from the fact that they are portrayed in a fairly typical Japanese way, eccentric to some extent, which is rather unknown or unusual for Europeans. What I found quite interesting is the fact that the writer herself isn’t Japanese, but for me, her novel is thoroughly Japanese concerning the atmosphere and the characters.

Joy Fielding – The Bad Daughter

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Joy Fielding – The Bad Daughter

Many years ago, Robin has left her hometown of Red Bluff and cut all connections with her family. It was when her father married her then best friend and her brother’s fiancée soon after their mother had died of cancer. She simply couldn’t forgive him. In L.A. she started a new life as a therapist and was about to marry Blake. Now, she needs to go back because her father has been fatally wounded, his wife shot dead and the twelve-year-old daughter seriously injured by some gunmen who entered the house at night. Her sister Melanie isn’t very keen on welcoming her back, Robin had always been their mother’s favourite. But now the two have to get along somehow and help the police find the murderer. But they soon figure out that things aren’t that easy and when Melanie’s son and their brother Alec come under suspicion, things are complicated while the real criminal is running free…

Joy Fielding is one of the best-known contemporary thriller writers and “The Bad Daughter” can hold up to the expectations. A cleverly constructed plot, multifaceted characters who do not show their real face immediately and several leads that only lead you to dead ends make a round and sound story.

Setting the story in a dysfunctional family where there are many unsaid things buried under the surface and which can surprise you again and again with the characters’ unexpected yet credible behaviour was definitely a clever step. The fact that you do not really like all the characters just makes them more authentic and the story a lot livelier.

Even though I am not sure if I really find the solution 100 percent convincing, I liked the novel. It is not an absolutely fast-paced and nerve-wrecking thriller, but the looming danger of the perpetrator still being around surely was responsible some goose bumps.