Mads Peder Nordbo – The Girl Without Skin

mads-peder-nordbo-the-girl-withoiut-skin
Mads Peder Nordbo – The Girl Without Skin

Journalist Matthew has left his Danish home after with wife and their unborn daughter died in an accident. In Greenland he tries to make a new start. When an old, in ice conserved body is found, he believes to have found the story of his life: a new iceman just like Ötzi might be the scoop of his career. But it soon turns out that the body isn’t several hundred but only forty years old. His first deception leads him to old Greenland murder cases that were never solved. Four men had been killed and sliced open. When he starts to investigate, he doesn’t know what kind of hornets’ nests he is stirring up with his questions.

At first, “The Girl Without Skin” attracted me since the description sounded like a typical Scandinavian thriller set in the Greenland ice. As it turns out, there is much more to it than just brutal murders that need to be unravelled. Apart from the suspense and the clever story about these long time unsolved cases, it gives insight in a hardly known culture and the way the small community works – which is even worse than any of the violent killings.

I liked how the story slowly unfolds, one thing leads to another and you end up somewhere completely other than expected. All steps are well motivated and the highly complex case is solved satisfactorily. There is just one aspect that was a pity a bit: the protagonists, the Danish journalist, and his Greenlandic female helper resembled by far too much Stieg Larsson’s characters. The fearless investigative reporter who is eagerly ready to risk his life for a story and the inscrutable tattooed woman who is said to be a murderer and who easily hacks into official and highly protected computers – we have read that before. However, the parallels did not diminish any of the story’s appeal and suspense.

Alan Parks – February’s Son

alan-parks-february's-son
Alan Parks – February’s Son

It’s been three weeks since the events of that bloody January. Harry McCoy is about to return to work with the Glasgow police hoping for some more quiet times. But when Murray calls him in early, he knows that it must be serious: a young football stars has been found, not just killed but also mutilated. It is obvious quickly that his fame as sports stars wasn’t the reason for his killing, it is much more his engagement with the daughter one of Glasgow’s underworld bosses. And then it all gets very personal: Harry’s past is going to catch up with him and the eager policeman loses control.

I already really liked the first instalment of the Harry McCoy series, but the second was actually even better. This is especially due to the fact that the protagonist gets more contours, becomes more human and thus his character and decision making becomes understandable. The development and insight in this character was for me the strongest and most interesting in reading “February’s Son”.

Again the murder case is quite complex and all but foreseeable. Different cases are actually linked and it takes some time until you understand their connection and their particular relevance for McCoy. The whole series is set in 1973 which means there is a fairly different atmosphere in comparison to many novels set today. Glasgow is an all but friendly town constantly at war, the police’s job is to prevent the worst, not to take care of minor misdoings and therefore, they sometimes need to find less legal ways to keep the upper hand. The tone is harsh at times, certainly nothing for the highly sensitive. Fights are part of everyday life and a bleeding nose is nothing to worry too much about. Yet, this all fits perfectly and creates an authentic atmosphere of a time long gone. It will not be easy to outstrip this novel with a third.

Megan Collins – The Winter Sister

megan-collins-the-winter-sister
Megan Collins – The Winter Sister

It’s been sixteen years since her sister Persephone was murdered. Sylvie has created herself a new life, far away from home, but now she has to return to her hometown and confront her seriously ill mother. It doesn’t take long until all that happened that winter night comes back to her, especially when she meets Ben, her sister’s boyfriend, her sister’s murderer. Yet, Ben insists in his innocence. But can she trust him? And what about her mother who always refused to tell the girls who their respective fathers are and who also refused to talk about that night. Is it time now to open Pandora’s box and let the truth out?

Megan Collins’ debut is at the first glance a typical murder case: an 18-year-old girl is strangled and the murderer has been running free for sixteen years. However, at the second glance, it is much more a story about family relationships, about secrets and about love and trust. The small family of three females lived on secrets and lies, had they ever been open and honest with each other, the death of one daughter could have been prevented. Yet, that’s how human beings are, sometimes they lack the necessary courage to do what is right and thus risk to lose all they love.

The novel is well-created, even though at a certain point it is quite obvious how all the dots are linked, I found it full of suspense. Telling the story through Sylvie’s eyes gives you a certain bias at the beginning, but the missing pieces and gaps add to the thrill and the big questions marks Sylvie herself feels can also be experienced by the reader. Collins’ biggest strength is certainly the creation of the characters who all act convincingly and appear quite authentic. I am looking forward to read more from the author.

Donna Leon – Unto Us a Son Is Given

donna-leon-unto-us-a-son-is-given
Donna Leon – Unto Us a Son Is Given

Guido Brunetti is surprised when is father-in-law Count Falier asks him to meet him privately. The Count’s best friend is going to make a big mistake and he hopes that Guido could do something about it: the Spaniard Gonzalo Rodriguez de Tejada wants to adopt a much younger man. Even though nobody really is upset about his openly shown homosexuality, this seems to go too far for the upper society and is considered something absolutely inappropriate. But apart from that, Gonzalo’s friends fear that the chosen man, Attilio Circetti, Marchese di Torrebardo, is more interested in Gonzalo’s wealth than in the old man. When Gonzalo suddenly dies, the case isn’t abandoned but turns out to be much more complicated than expected.

Donna Leon’s 28th case for Commissario Guido Brunetti starts in a quite unique way since this time, no murder has been committed and Brunetti is not running after some evil criminal. It is a very personal story that reveals a lot about Venice’s society, especially the rich and noble and their very special views on the world. The actual murder case only appears after about two thirds of the novel which surprisingly does not reduce any suspense in it.

As the other novels before, the Guido Brunetti series lives on the special atmosphere of the Italian water city. Again, we get a glance behind the doors of the nobilità and how they resolve their cases. Brunetti’s has to do a lot of actually illegal work this time which does not seem to bother anybody too much. On the other hand, this is a very emotional and human story, it is the characters’ weaknesses, their longing for finding love and being loved that drives the story. It is much less about solving a crime than about revealing human nature and the core things of life. For me, definitely so far the strongest of Donna Leon’s novels since it goes far beyond just solving a murder case.

Fiona Barton – The Suspect

fiona-barton-the-suspect
Fiona Barton – The Suspect

It was supposed to be the best time of their life: Alex and Rosie fly to Thailand after their A-levels to travel and party. But then, things go completely wrong and now the two girls are dead. What happened in the burnt-down-guesthouse? And where is that English boy who might have seen them last and is obviously closely linked to the fire? The parents fly to Bangkok and reporter Kate Waters comes with them to cover the story. But what they find out isn’t what they had expected: Kate’s son Jake is the wanted English boy who is now on the run and prime suspect in the murder of Alex and Rosie.

Again, Fiona Barton could well entertain me with a plot with many twists and turns and a story full of suspense. The narrative does not follow chronology and is told from alternating perspectives which I found great since it provides a lot more depth for the characters on the one hand and keeps suspense high on the other. In the end, the case is solved without leaving any questions open.

What I liked most were actually the very different characters who seemed all quite authentic to me: first of all the two young women who could hardly be more different. Quiet Alex who wants to see the country and learn about the culture and Rosie just expecting to have a good time partying. That this combination wouldn’t work out too long is pretty obvious. The girls behave like typical teenagers do on their first trip alone far away from the parents, they are careless and easily fall prey to all kind of wrong-doers. Also their mothers are portrayed in convincing ways, especially Jenny who is very bitter after her husband left her alone with the daughter.

Most interesting of course is Kate whose role changes massively throughout the story: from the nosy reporter she herself becomes the target of the press and has to endure what is written about her boy without being able of doing anything against it.

Altogether, a perfectly pitched thriller that keeps you reading on and on and on to find out the truth about what happened in Thailand.

Alan Parks – Bloody January

Alan-Parks-bloody-january
Alan Parks – Bloody January

‚It can‘t have been that bad.‘ But it was.

January 1973 first brought a promotion to Detective Harry McCoy of Glasgow police, but then things wrecked havoc. When Howie Nairn, a prisoner in the Special Unit of Barlinnie wants to see him, he is a bit irritated. Why especially him? And what does he have to say? Nairn tells him to take care of a certain Lorna who works in a posh restaurant and is likely to be killed the next day. McCoy doesn’t really believe him but nevertheless sets out to search for her. In vain. He can only watch how the young woman is shot in central Glasgow by a man who then commits suicide. Quite a strange thing, but things are going to get a lot more complicated and soon McCoy has to realize that the laws aren’t made for everybody.

Alan Park‘s first novel of the McCoy series lives on the atmosphere of 1970s Glasgow. The city hasn’t turned into the town it is today but resembles a rather run down place where police and gangland work hand in hand – have to work hand in hand if they want to solve any case at all. McCoy is rather unconventional in his work, but he certainly has the heart in the right place and fights for justice.

There are two things I really liked about the story: on the one hand, it is quite complicated and all but foreseeable, on the other hand, Alan Parks‘s has chosen inconvenient aspects which he puts in a different light which shows the complexity of reality and that live is not only black and white but full of shades of grey. McCoy can work for the police but maintain good relationships with old friends who control the criminal world. The recognized upper class are not the good-doers but also have their dark sides. And many people struggle to make a living, wanting to be good but at times have to ignore their own values simply to survive.

A novel which is full of suspense, with a convincing protagonist and perfectly crafted atmosphere of a dark Glasgow.

Oyinkan Braithwaite – My Sister, the Serial Killer

oyikan-braithwaite-my-sister-the-serial-killer
Oyinkan Braithwaite  – My Sister, the Serial Killer

Korede and her sister Ayoola live in Lagos together with their mother since their father dies. Korede, who works at a hospital as a nurse, is a decent, but rather plain young woman whereas Ayoola always has all the looks on her. Even though the sisters couldn’t hardly be more different, they are sister after all so when Ayoola calls her, it is without any question that Korede shows up with some bleach to wipe away the mess of another murder. They have done it before and will also succeed this time. Why does she have to kill all her boyfriends? Korede wonders but since none of the was really important to her, she remains secret and the sister she is supposed to be. But when Ayoola starts dating to one man Korede really likes, things become a bit more complicated.

Oyinkan Braithwaite’s debut novel is a hilarious read full of absurd situations and fantastic characters. The author, who graduated in Creative Writing and was a 2016 finalist for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, surely knows how to create outstanding characters and how to combine humour with an actually very serious topic. What I appreciated most is how she, on the surface, wrote a funny story that, beneath, offers so much crucial and grave issues. What it all comes down to after all is the well-known fact that blood is thicker than water and that without any question, you know which side you have to be on.

Ayoola is a serial killer – absurd as it may sound, the title is absolutely clear about it and after the opening scene, you know all about her killings. Yet, this is one of the least interesting aspects, much more remarkable is the sisters’ relationship: jealousy, love, anger, hatred, support – the full spectrum of emotions. Of course, it is Korede that the reader commiserates, she is obviously the good girls that nobody notices, neither their parents nor the men. I wondered if Ayoola suffered from some kind of mental illness, she somehow does not really seem to realise what she does, but she definitely is rather egocentric and not very considerate when it comes to other people’s feelings.

“My sister, the Serial Killer” is a black comedy that should not be taken too seriously I guess. It is a great read that I utterly enjoyed. I am absolutely looking forward to reading more from the author.

Dirk Kurbjuweit – Fear

dirk-kurbjuweil-fear
Dirk Kurbjuweit – Fear

Randolph Tiefenthaler is a successful Berlin based architect. With his wife Rebecca and their two kids, they just moved into the stylish old houses of the German capital where they have find the seemingly perfect home. Yet, it doesn’t take too long until the neighbour from the basement, Dieter Tiberius, becomes more and more awkward and strange. He writes love letters to Rebecca, which is just annoying, but then he accuses her of child abuse and repeatedly calls the police to check on them. Randolph gets a lawyer, he contacts the youth welfare service, but there is nothing he can do to protect his family from the crazy man in the basement. The fear that he might attack his wife or hurt the children grows and with it the marriage become increasingly fragile. There nerves are on the edge until the day they cannot support it anymore and they need to help themselves to protect the family.

Dirk Kurbjuweit plays with the family idyll which is threatened in the core: the home. The loving father who has built the perfect life for himself and his wife, becomes suddenly incapable of action. He cannot protect his beloved, there is a danger close at hand that he cannot control and sees himself exposed defencelessly. The pressure which is on Randolph and Rebecca is palpable and you as a reader also feel the growing impression of being helpless, powerless and most of all vulnerable.

Even though from the start it is clear what the outcome of all will be, the thriller is full of suspense and the development of the plot gives you the creeps. Kurbjuweit has a very lively style of writing and making Randolph the narrator underlines the feeling of being a part of the story and makes it easy to sympathise with him and to commiserate with him.

Claire Douglas – Do not Disturb

claire-douglas-do-not-disturb
Claire Douglas – Do Not Disturb

After her husband’s breakdown, Kirsty and her family move from London to Hywelphilly, a small village in Wales where they buy a guesthouse. After weeks of refurbishing, they look forward to welcoming the first guests, among them to Kirsty’s dislike her cousin Selena whom she hasn’t seen for more than sixteen years. They had been like sisters, but Selena’s constant lying lead to the inevitable break. Kirsty’s two daughters Evie and Amelia struggle with the move at first, but when Selena and her daughter Ruby arrive, the house awakes. The cousins manage to sort out their quarrels; yet, Kirsty cannot get rid of the feeling that Selena still does not tell her the complete truth. When Selena’s former boyfriend shows up to rent a room, the atmosphere gets tense and with the arrival of Kirsty’s brother and his wife, trouble is in the air. And then, the worst fears come true: Selena gets murdered.

I really liked the novel because Claire Douglas has well dosed the revelation of secrets the characters keep – and there are many of them. Everybody has something to hide, buried down in his or her mind, even the nice ones are not what they seem at the first glance. There is something mysterious about the house, the whispers of the village inhabitants add to this and many of the incidents are hard to make sense of.

The novel is told from Kirsty’s perspective, quite normally, you are biased in what she tells as you only get her limited point of view. On the other hand, this adds to the suspense and you can easily share her feeling of unease. To me, Kirsty is authentic in her action and in the way she tries to protect her family. Since it is not clear where the threat comes from, you suspiciously eye all the other characters simply to learn in the end that you were completely wrong. I absolutely liked that especially since the whole mystery is solved convincingly.

“Do not disturb” triggers the biggest fear: having evil in your own home, the place where you want to feel safe and secure and where you assume that also your children are protected. Many twists and turns and unexpected revelations keep suspense high throughout the novel, a mystery thriller just as it should be.

Virginie Despentes – Vernon Subutex Two

virginie-despentes-vernon-subutex2
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.