Paul Vidich – The Coldest Warrior

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Paul Vidich – The Coldest Warrior

1953 – the Korean War has ended, but the Cold War emerges and the intelligence services’ nerves are frayed. When CIA officer Dr Charles Wilson dies under blurry circumstances, all information is closed down immediately. It will take twenty-two years until his death gets the attention it deserves. He “jumped or fell” from the ninth floor of a Washington hotel and his family is now demanding answers. Jack Gabriel, an old friend of Wilson’s, also an agent himself, starts digging and the deeper he gets, the more coincidental deaths among key witnesses this cases produces. Somebody tries to hide something and Gabriel soon has to ask himself how much he is willing to risk for the truth.

Paul Vidich narrates a fictional story based on the real events of the mysterious death of Frank Olson, CIA employee and biological warfare expert. The author has seen himself what the agency’s policy of secretiveness can do to a family: Olson was his uncle and he could witness the family’s grief at close range.

 “That was the story of the Agency then. We could do whatever we wanted because we were fighting the Soviet Union.”

The CIA killed its own men if need be. What sounds like the plot of a superb spy novel today, was a reality back then. As Vidich recalls, raising the subject at family reunions was a taboo, even though somebody suffered a terrible injustice, everybody remained silent and thus approved of the methods. Reading about the disclosure of Wilson’s/ Olson’s murder makes you oscillate between fascination and abhorrence. A lot has been revealed about the dark sides of espionage and spying, nevertheless, I am still stunned each time I read about how ruthless the business can be and how little a human life counts.

It is remarkable how Vidich manages to transport the story in an entertaining way even though he is that close to the case. A fast paced read that gives much more insight than you could ever wish for.

Jo Spain – Six Wicked Reasons

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Jo Spain – Six Wicked Reasons

When the long lost son returns after ten years without a word, Frazer Lattimer calls his six children for a family reunion. It is only reluctantly that they return to the family villa in Spanish Cove, all of them had a good reason for leaving. Yet, Adam‘s unexpected knock on the door when they all thought him dead makes them change their mind. However, from the very first minute, underlying suspicions and open hatred dominate the atmosphere and their anger escalates on a boat trip when one of them kills their father. None of them is innocent, but who really hated the old man that much that he or she could kill him?

Jo Spain‘s mystery is a highly suspenseful murder investigation combined with the psychological analysis of a family which is dominated by secrets and lies. Six children with six different fates, a controlling father and a mother who died from the grief over her lost son – there is a lot to discover under the surface of the successful and rich Lattimer clan.

I highly adored how Jo Spain slowly unfolds the secrets around each of the now grown up children. Starting with the murder of their old father, you are highly alert when hearing all their different stories, looking for motives that could lead them so far. The author created individuals who all have their flaws and weaknesses that they try to hide but which ultimately have to come out, so in every new chapter, you have something totally unexpected come to the light adding to the picture of this young and pitiable generation.

Suspense rises slowly the better you get to know the family members and yet, the conspiracy and murder nevertheless came as a surprise to me since it was brilliantly set up and convincingly motivated. A great read in every respect.

Tanen Jones – The Better Liar

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Tanen Jones – The Better Liar

When her father dies, he leaves a wish in his will that Leslie Flores hasn’t expected: she will only inherit the money if her sister Robin also signs the papers. So she sets out for Las Vegas where Robin is supposed to live. They haven’t talked for a decade and Leslie is all but looking forward to do so now. But when she finally arrives at her sister’s apartment, she finds her dead and apparently, Robin has lived there under a false name. When Leslie makes the acquaintance of young charismatic Mary who dreams of a career as an actress, an idea forms in her head: why not take the woman with her back to Albuquerque and have her play Robin’s role for a couple of days? Nobody has seen her sister for ten years and Mary has some clear resemblance to Robin, so why should anybody become suspicious? It’s is a win-win situation, Mary could take her share of the money and make her start in Hollywood and Leslie would get her part of her father’s inheritance. Mary agrees but soon she realises that the respectable wife and mother also has some secrets she hides.

Tanen Jones’s “The Better Liar” is a highly surprising psychological novel with many unexpected twists and turns. The two protagonists develop from average women into enemies who fight their war on a very high emotional and psychological level. The story is told alternately from their different points of you, thus the reader is always aware of their respective plots and ahead of each character – at least you believe you are, but at certain point you also have to recognise that there are some highly relevant pieces of information they did not reveal to you and this makes things appear in a totally different light.

The novel starts at a rather slow pace with Leslie looking out for her sister and then finding her dead and seeing her father’s money in jeopardy. You wonder why she would take a stranger to her house, especially a house with a very young kid – this seems to be too dangerous, just for the money? Why does she need it, seemingly, she and her husband lead quite a good life. This and the question if she really succeeds with presenting a stranger as her sister seem to be the mystery of the novel, yet, with Mary’s arrival in Albuquerque, the real story slowly unfolds and the plot takes up pace and becomes much more dynamic and gripping.

Tanen Jones wonderfully leads the reader into wrong directions over and over again which I liked a lot. I totally adored how the two women play with each other and was eagerly awaiting the end to see who would finally win their very special game. Yet, some twists lacked a bit plausibility, but from a psychological point of view, a great read.

J.T. Ellison – Good Girls Lie

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J.T. Ellison – Good Girls Lie

The Goode School will be the perfect place to leave her old life behind. Ash Carlisle has just lost both her parents and is now happy to flee to Marchburg, Virginia, to concentrate on school and forget what happened in Oxford. However, her fellow schoolmates do not like secrets and eye her suspiciously, it is obvious that the newcomer has some interesting things to tell them and this exclusive all-girls school has its own rules that have to be followed. When Ash is exposed and her roommate found dead, her carefully set up facade is threatened to crumble and reveal the real person she so hard tried to hide.

J.T. Ellison has chosen the perfect setting for a mysterious story where everybody has some well-hidden secrets: the old buildings of the élite private school provide the characters with tunnels and undisclosed rooms, a history of secret societies with old passed down hazings and rules that bind the girls, rumours about suspicious deaths and a headmistress with her very own agenda. It all adds up to a thrilling atmosphere where the protagonist herself offers only shady bits and pieces of her own story so that you are well alert not to trust any of them.

I really adored J.T. Ellison’s style of writing, the author brilliantly creates suspense by only hinting at what happened back in England and by insinuating that there is much more to know about Ash. It only takes a couple of pages to dive into the atmosphere of this elite school and its very own rules that seem to have a long history and make the girls bond immediately.

Admittedly, there were some aspects I found not totally convincing, e.g. 16-year-olds acting and plotting like adults, the detective providing the girls with core information about one of the deceased, another detective investigating such a delicate case even though she has been suspended or the headmistress’s behaviour which equals much more the girls’ than would be considered adequate for her position. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the read and the mystery surrounding the characters.

Catherine Ryan Howard – Rewind

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Catherine Ryan Howard – Rewind

Andrew, manager of Shanamore Cottages, does not trust his eyes when he watches the camera he secretly installed in the bedroom of the cottages: his only guest has just been murdered. Yet, he surely cannot call the police but has to cope with the situation. Rewind. Strange things seem to happen in the life of influencer Natalie. However, her husband Mike does not believe her, supposedly because he himself is behind it all. He not only seems to have an affair but also wants her to believe that she has gone nuts. The key to it all seems to lie in the cottages where her obviously spent several days, so she packs her bag and spontaneously goes there. She knows immediately that this has been a mistake, the place is not only remote but more than literally abandoned in November and the people out there more than creepy. She does not know how correct her assessment of the place is and how wrong she was about the connection between this village and herself.

I have read Catherine Ryan Howard’s former novel “The Liar’s Girls” about Dublin’s Canal Killer and had liked it a lot. That’s why I was eager to read another of her thrillers and I wasn’t disappointed. Again, she starts with a murder and the reader has to figure out how this character ended up killed. “Rewind” is cleverly constructed and it takes some time to connect the dots and to make sense of it all. Yet, suspense does not decline once you see through the plot as there is still a chance that the actual culprit might simply walk away without ever being discovered and charged.

What I found strongest apart from the carefully composed plot, was the atmosphere the author creates. The small village of Shanamore really gives you the creeps only when reading about it. This place – added the time of the year, November, which is in itself often spine-chilling due to the cold and darkness – is perfect for hideous murders and you wouldn’t expect anybody else than weird and dubious characters walking around there. But also the action taking place in Dublin that makes Natalie feel increasingly hesitant and insecure about herself adds to the overall frightening ambiance of the novel.

Catherine Ryan Howard provides a lot of wrong leads that make you readjust the picture again and again and ponder how all can possibly fit into the picture. The solution is plausible and does not leave any question unanswered. “Rewind” is a perfect page-turner that I read in just one sitting since it hooked me immediately.

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.

Yann Ollivier – En attendant Boulez

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Yann Ollivier – En attendant Boulez

Ça ne fait pas longtemps que Jade Valois fait partie de l’équipe et la seule raison de l’accepter était qu’elle savait parler le chinois. Et maintenant, c’est sa chance : dans la Philharmonie, une pianiste chinoise a été tuée et l’affaire est délicate comme le gouvernement chinois se mêle immédiatement. La jeune Han Li devait présenter la première d’un œuvre exceptionnel par Entertainment Inc : « Chopart », un projet crée uniquement par les algorithmes et attendu avec grand intérêt par le public culturel. Que sait l’intelligence artificielle créer ? Mais d’abord, ce sont les humains qui sont au centre d’intérêt de la jeune policière car le meurtre de la pianiste est seulement le début d’une série d’assassinats au monde de musique.

Le titre déjà indique qu’on va parler de la musique, le compositeur et chef d’orchestre Pierre Boulez est bien connu comme un enfant terrible à cause de ses polémiques. Boulez a joué un rôle important dans le développement de la musique électronique, dans le roman de Yann Ollivier, cela avance encore, c’est seulement le logiciel maintenant qui devient créateur et qui remplace l’homme.

J’ai bien aimé le personnage principal, Jade Valois, une jeune femme qui grâce à ses connaissances du chinois et de la musique classique peut résoudre ce cas complexe. Yann Ollivier a parfaitement dessiné le monde de la musique classique et il ne faut pas longtemps pour s’y perdre. Ce qui m’a intéressé avant tout, c’était une petite action secondaire : le problème du copyright si le créateur n’est pas un être humain.

Emma Rous – The Au Pair

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Emma Rous – The Au Pair

After her beloved father has died, Seraphine Mayes digs into her family’s history. When she finds a photograph of her mother, her older brother Edwin and one baby, she is astonished: it must have been taken on the day of her birth, but which one is the baby? Seraphine or her twin brother Danny? And why does the mother look so happy, only hours before she committed suicide? The photo must have been taken by the au pair who was then looking for Edwin, a certain Laura. When the young woman starts her search for the former babysitter, memories of rumours surrounding her family home Summerbourne also come back to her mind: why did everybody in the small village always say that twins do not survive in that house? When Seraphine tracks down Laura and tries to contact her, she inadvertently sets in motion a series of events.

Emma Rous’ mystery starts as a simply family story and then develops into a suspenseful crime novel. The story is told alternatingly between Seraphine’s search for Laura and the latter’s experiences as an au pair 25 years before. Two young women full of distress who cannot foresee what they run into. The plot is carefully crafted and to sort out the complex connections takes some time thanks to unexpected twists and turns.

“The Au Pair” clearly lives on the two protagonists. I liked both of them dearly, Seraphine’s stubbornness is quite convincing, she does not give up even when being threatened, actually this only spurs her curiosity and fervour to uncover the events surrounding her birth. On the other hand, Laura had to flee from her evil stepfather and tries to regain control over her life. Both women are created multifacetedly, especially their relationships are complicated which makes them authentic and believable. Apart from the characters, I especially liked the atmosphere of the novel and the spooky tales that circle around the two family homes which give you the impression of old gothic homes which have some secrets buried that are never meant to come to the light.

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.

Felicity McLean – The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone

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Felicity McLean – The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone

It’s been twenty years that Tikka Molloy fled her Australian home. Now that her sister is seriously ill, she returns not only to her family but also to a secret that the girls have kept for two decades. They have always been friends with the three van Apfel girls who just lived across the street, Cordelia, Hannah and Ruth were their closest friends that they confided in. And so did the Molloy girls. This is why they shared their plan of running away. But something went totally wrong. Tikka’s older sister Lauren was to go with them, but somehow they miss each other at their agreed meeting point and a few days after they ran away, only 8-year-old Ruth turned up again. Dead. Returning home brings back all the memories of the weeks before the van Apfel girls’ disappearance.

Felicity McLean’s novel mixes different topics and genres. On the one hand, it is a coming-of-age novel, the girls all have to face the fact that adults can be evil and that sometimes are not to be trusted. On the other hand, it is also a mystery novel, you don’t know what really happened, if the girls might still be alive. And it is a study in how to live with the knowledge that behaving in a different way in a certain situation might have made a big difference.

As other reviewers have pointed out before, yes, while reading you have the impression of having read it before. There are certain parallels to other novels such as “The Suicide Sisters” and much of the plot has been treated in similar ways before. Yet, I liked to read it anyway especially because McLean manages to convincingly get the tone of eleven-year-old Tikka who is at times naive but always good-hearted and well-meaning. A perfect beach read that I thoroughly enjoyed.