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.

Akwaeke Emezi – The Death of Vivek Oji

akwaeke emezi the death of vivek oji
Akwaeke Emezi – The Death of Vivek Oji

When they hear some noise outside, Kavita opens the door and finds her son Vivek dead on the porch. There was some commotion at the local market and Vivek had wanted to go there where he obviously was killed. But who would ever want to do something to her beloved son? Yes, he had always been different, a bit strange which also made it hard for his cousin and childhood best friend Osita who witnessed strange occurrences such as Vivek’s mind wandering away and making him believe being a different person. And that’s just what he was, secretly, without his parents’ knowledge. But Osita, too, has some secrets he keeps from his and Vivek’s family, some just because they do not fit in their village’s idea of a young man’s life, others because they would be impossible to endure for anybody.

Just like in her novel “Freshwater”, “The Death of Vivek Oji” centres around a young protagonist who differs, whose mind works in a very singular way, yet, Vivek’s is less extraordinary than Ada’s. Nevertheless, the main conflict is placed between the individual and society: a person who does not comply with general expectations and cannot really reveal his emotions and most certainly cannot live the way he would prefer since this simply does not work in the place he lives.

“We can’t keep insisting he was who we thought he was, when he wanted to be someone else and he died being that person, Chicka. We failed, don’t you see?”

The story is told in flashbacks to describe the long road that lead to Vivek’s death. Alternately, Vivek and Osita narrate from their point of view what they experienced and how they felt. Both are trapped somehow since there are things they cannot talk about to anybody except for each other, at the same time, it is difficult for Osita to support Vivek’s otherness. The struggles they go through are very well established and easy to relate to. From a western perspective, it is incredible what is done to Vivek, especially the exorcism performed on him, but there are still places where binary thinking is the rule.

There is some mystery to solve, yet, it is much more about young people who are trying to figure out who they are and how they can live in a place where fixed rules and high expectations do not go well together with who they are. Even though it is, in the end, a rather sad story in many ways, I’d consider it a great and noteworthy read.

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.

Heidi Perks – Three Perfect Liars

heidi perks three perfect liars
Heidi Perks – Three Perfect Liars

When Laura returns to her job after six month of maternity leave, she expects Mia, who substituted her in this time, to be gone. Yet, the young woman is still there, at Laura’s desk and with Laura’s most valuable customer and: she got a permanent contract. Laura is furious and soon convinced that there is something wrong with that seemingly sympathetic colleague who makes friends with everybody easily. The more Laura digs into it, the more paranoid she gets, neglecting her husband and young son, her mind only circulating around how to dethrone the enemy. Mia actually has something to hide and yes, there was a reason why she rushed to this rural area and wanted explicitly to work in this company. Janie, Laura and Mia’s boss Harry’s wife, on the contrary, is a full time mom and at the moment totally frustrated. It is not just that she has given up a splendid career, something is nagging on her and slowly destroying her marriage. When one evening, the offices burn down, all three of them seem to have had good reasons to destroy the company. But, did they also count on killing somebody inside the building?

Heidi Perks’s mystery is a marvellous story which hooked me immediately and keep me reading on as soon as I had started. Three female protagonists are very different from each other and hard to see through at the beginning. But the more you see them interact with each other, the more suspicious you get and while I was reading, I was constantly shifting sympathies since every piece of information added to the picture and slightly changed it.

At first, I felt compassionate for Laura. Coming back after months at home now struggling with her new role as mother and having a career at the same time. Her husband’s constant criticism – even though completely justified – and having somebody younger and attractive stealing her post while her boss lacked supporting her: I could easily understand why she felt like losing all confidence in herself and increasingly getting obsessed with Mia. I didn’t really like the later at first, mainly due to the fact that she was presented through Laura’s point of view, she seemed like an intruder with evil intentions. Yet, there was also another side which she kept from the office and which told an entirely different story. I didn’t know what to do with Janie, was it just lamenting at a very high level? Having a wonderful family and lots of money, what did she have to complain about? It was herself who suggested giving up her career. She was certainly the character least tangible of the three and her motives of ending her marriage remained quite blurry until the end.

A brilliantly crafted plot with a very female and perfidious fight between the three. There was also something really tragic about the story when the motives were finally revealed which kept me pondering about the fact that how easily you put together an allegedly coherent picture of a person or a situation while you might be totally wrong.

Julie Clark – The Flight

julie clark the flight
Julie Clark – The Flight

Everything had been planned meticulously for months. Taking the trip to Detroit and then vanishing somewhere in Canada. But when Claire Cook wakes up on the morning which will free her finally from her abusive husband, she learns that he has altered their plans, she is to go to Puerto Rico. All the strategy, fake passport, preparations were in vain. Eva, another woman, as desperate as Claire, runs into her at the airport and makes an offer: trade tickets. Both of then need a new start and have powerful people on their heels. None of them has anything to lose anymore and so they decide to step in each other’s shoes. When Claire lands in California, she finds out that the plane she was supposed to be on crashed which makes her a free woman with a new identity. But the new life she has hoped for for months, does not feel right somehow and one questions lingers at the back of her mind: what did Eva run from?

“The Flight” belongs to those books that you open and cannot put down anymore. It the brilliantly told story of two women who are desperate to an extent where they feel that there is nothing to left to lose anymore and who would take any risk since they know this could be their only and last chance to get their own life back. While we follow Claire’s first days in her new life, Eva’s last months before the meeting at the airport is narrated providing insight in her tragic story.

Full of suspense you simply keep on reading to find out if the women could escape. Yet, apart from this aspect, there is also some quite serious undertone since, on the one hand, we have Claire stuck in a marriage marked by psychological and physical abuse and a controlling and mighty husband who considers himself above the law. On the other hand, Eva’s life has totally derailed because of her background where there were no rich parents who could afford expensive lawyers or knew the right people and therefore she was paying for something her boyfriend actually was responsible for. This surely raises the questions to what extent women still much likelier become a victim of false accusations and endure years of assault because they do not find a way out of their lamentable situation. Additionally, can it be true that with money and power you can put yourself above the law and get away with it?

A great read that I totally enjoyed and which certainly will make me ponder a bit more after the last page.

Wendy Clarke – The Bride

wendy clarke the bride
Wendy Clarke – The Bride

There nothing in Alice’s life that didn’t go completely wrong in the last couple of weeks: her employer laid her off, her father didn’t want to see her and now, her partner leaves her because he is having a baby with another woman. After days in bed, she gets a message from an old friend. Joanna. Her former best friend with whom she has lost contact, but now, Joanna wants to meet her to get to know the man she’s going to marry. Could there be a better excuse to leave everything behind at least for a couple of days? Obviously, Joanna must be quite successful living in one of the new posh apartment blocks which must be super expensive. However, when, Alice knocks on the door, there is just Mark, Joanna’s husband to be and he knows nothing of a visitor. Joanna is not there, also the next day, she doesn’t show up. Alice feels increasingly uncomfortable until Mark tells her that Joanna has been kidnapped and that he needs her help to get her back.

Told from Alice’s point of view, you go through a horrendous mass of emotions – emotions which could hardly be more contradictory. Wendy Clarke leads the reader through a tour de force of lies, secrets and very spooky and distressing moments that, at times, give you the creeps. Just like her protagonist, you do not know whom to believe or trust, the whole situation she is caught in feels like a big ghost train rushing towards a giant obstacle without preparing for the impact.

I totally adore plots which keep you alert throughout the whole narration. It is those seemingly insignificant side notes that reveal that there’s so much you do not know, that all characters have some blind spots you don’t see and that everything might be completely different from what you expect or believe. Even though I found Alice a bit too naïve and shallow, I liked to follow her.

The further the plot gets, the higher the pace and suspense, thus a true page-turner that entertained me well.

Stefan Ahnhem – X Ways to Die

stefan ahnhem x ways to die
Stefan Ahnhem – X Ways to Die

Detective Fabian Risk actually could do with some free time to get his family together after the awful events that nearly killed his wife and daughter. Yet, he and his colleagues still have a serial killer on the loose and the killing of people does not stop. Even though the cases could hardly be more different, he senses that there must be some connection. They are finally getting closer to him, but while the Swedish seaside town of Helsingborg is gripped in fear, Fabian also has to complete his very own mission: His former colleague Elvin did not die from suicide, it was forensic scientist Ingvar Molander and obviously, Elvin had put the clues together correctly. Yet, there are still some missing pieces that Fabian needs to uncover before he can finally arrest him, knowing that he has not only a very clever nemesis who knows the rules of the game, but also one who is totally reckless and ready to do everything to get away with much more than one murder.

Stefan Ahnhem continues the story exactly where it ended in “Motive X” and does not waste any time but plunges directly into the plot. Just as in the novel before, “X Ways to Dies” moves at an extremely high pace and cleverly combines the different plot lines that finally tie the knot together. For me, Ahnhem is a worthy successor and heir of Stieg Larsson who set new milestones with his Millennium series; Ahnhem follows his footsteps in many respects by delivering a demanding plot full of suspense.

The latest instalment answers many questions which remained open in the one before thus completing the story and bringing it to a convincing end. What I totally adored was the fight between Risk and Molander, both very clever and certainly belonging to the best in their jobs thus fighting at eye level and giving a lot of insight into police work.  Several setbacks make Risk an authentic and credible protagonist who also shows his weak and vulnerable sides.

The only question left to be answered: does and if so how can the story go on?

Sarah Vaughan – Little Disasters

sarah vaughan little disasters
Sarah Vaughan – Little Disasters

Jess is the absolute role model of a mother, her friends have always admired her diligence and devotion to care for her two sons. When she unexpectedly gets pregnant with a third kid, her husband is over the moon but she does not really share his enthusiasm, she knows how demanding kids can be even for a home-stay-mom. When Betsey indeed turns out to be a rather challenging child, Jess loses her temper, the less she can control the girl, the easier she freaks out until she even gets close to wanting her dead. Her friends Liz, a paediatrist, senses that things do not go too well, but with her own kids and her job, she does not have the time to really take look into the situation. When one evening Jess turns up in the emergency room with Betsey showing obvious signs of neglect and being severely hurt, Liz is trapped between being a friend for Jess and informing the police. How well does she actually know what is going on at her friend’s home?

Sarah Vaughan masterly plays with truths, half-truths and all the things her characters consider truths. Told from different points of view, the reader over and over again gets caught in a trap by making sense of what you know and deciding on what and how the tragic incident happened. Forget it, you are completely wrong since – just as in real life – there is so much more.

Even though the main focus is on the one big question around Betsey’s injuries, the author addresses a lot of questions going far beyond the crime plot. The struggle of women who feel pressure to be the perfect wife, perfect mother, have a successful career and who easily prepare parties with exquisite food is palpable throughout the novel. The four women at the centre all struggle with complying with expectations and their very own goals and ideals. Showing weakness does not seem to be an option, just like asking for help and thus, precarious and even dangerous circumstances are silently endured. Additionally, the question of how far a friendship should or must go is tackled. Liz’ remorse is easy to understand and certainly nobody could ever wish to get into such a situation.

I totally adored the novel, after “Anatomy of a Scandal”, another thoroughly convincing plot with authentic characters and a lot of suspense.

Denise Mina – Conviction

denise mina conviction
Denise Mina – Conviction

Just like every day, Anna McDonald gets up in the morning and turns on a podcast to relax before the usual commotion of her family starts. This morning, however, will be completely different. First, she learns in a true crime podcast that her former friend Leon has been murdered on a boat off the French coast, then, her husband tells her that he’s going to run away with her best friend Estelle taking their two girls with them. When Estelle’s husband Fin Cohen, a famous musician, turns up and a photo of the two of them goes viral, her carefully built life crumbles and falls. It will not be long before someone will recognise her, before those people that she has hidden from for years will finally find her, before it all will start again. She needs to run away again, but before, together with Fin, she will find out what happened to Leon and if the person she supposes behind it all is still looking for her.

Sometimes you start a novel, expecting it to be entertaining and gripping, but then you are literally dragged into it and cannot stop reading. That’s what happened to me with “Conviction”, once I began reading, I was spellbound and fascinated and absolutely wanted to know what all this was about. Due to Denise Mina’s clever foreshadowing and the high pace of the plot, you don’t get a second to relax and breathe deeply, as the protagonist runs, you are tagged along and eagerly follow.

Denise Mina does not waste any time, the story starts like a bull at the gate and before you are even the slightest oriented, you are already in the middle of the mess that Anna is experiencing. Choosing a first person narrator was some clever decision as thus, we only get her perspective, only what she wants to share and which leaves the reader in the dark for quite some time. At first, she seems to be totally overreacting until you realise that there is much more behind it all. The good and dutiful housewife obvious is entangled in some unbelievably big conspiracy with powerful people far beyond any law enforcement.

A proper page-turner with unexpected twists and turns which also has some witty and comical bits and pieces to offer.

Lucy Atkins – Magpie Lane

Lucy-atkins-magpie-lane
Lucy Atkins – Magpie Lane

When Dee returns from an overnight trip to London, the Oxford College Master’s Lodging is a mess: Felicity, the girl she nannies and who suffers from selective mutism has vanished. Her Danish stepmother Mariah never bonded with the girl and since she has given to her own boy, she is totally exhausted and incapable of taking care of this extraordinary 8-year-old. Felicity must have sleepwalked, something she frequently does during her nightmares which have intensified since they moved to the old spooky house. For the police, Dee is one of the prime suspects because Nick Law, Felicity’s father, is convinced of her guilt. So they interview her over several days to get an understanding of the girl’s special situation and the relationship she had with her loving nanny who could never do her any harm, could she?

Lucy Atkins’s “Magpie Lane” is a very clever and creepy novel which brilliantly conveys the atmosphere of an old, dark house where you immediately believe ghosts could wander and haunt the inhabitants. Apart from this, she has created lovely characters who are not only very peculiar but with whom you bond straightaway even though some doubt about Dee’s involvement in Felicity’s vanishing is looming over the story.

I totally adored how Atkins uses the old university town in her novel. First of all, the house itself which provides a long and spine-chilling history, but also the cemeteries and walk ways which have a lot to tell. Apart from the surrounding, the people there also seem to live in the past which is especially tricky for a modern woman like Mariah. Even though she, on the one hand, is kind of “evil stepmother”, things are not that simple. I can understand how frustrating her situation is there: she is just “the wife of”, ignored for not being a real part of the Oxford community and everything with which she normally can charm people does not work here. Additionally, the situation with Felicity is undoubtedly highly challenging for her and then, things become even more dire with her own child crying day in, day out from colic.

Even though Dee is telling the story through the police interviews, Felicity is at the centre. This girl is surely a challenge for everybody but due to Dee’s sensibility you come to love and understand her increasingly. Her nightmares and obsession with death is somehow bizarre and unnerving yet understandable when you get to know her story. My personal highlight was the character of Linklater. The eccentric historian who seems to be completely unaware of the world outside his head fits perfectly in a place like Oxford and plays an important part in creating the somehow Gothic atmosphere.

Atkins’s way of foreshadowing adds to the suspenseful atmosphere and makes it a wonderful read that I enjoyed thoroughly.