Steve Cavanagh – TH1RT3EN

Steve-Cavanagh - Thirteen
Steve Cavanagh – Th1rt3en

It’s one of the biggest murder trials New York has seen for some time and all the country is waiting for actor Robert „Bobby“ Solomon to be convicted for the double murder of his girlfriend and her lover. Chances for Bobby are low, all the evidence is clearly against him: he was at the crime scene, blood all over, he left a finger print on a dollar note which was found on the victims, the murder weapon, a baseball bat, belongs to him and has his prints and blood of the victims all over. And he does not have an alibi for the time of the deed. Yet, there is another factor which will make sure that Bobby goes to jail: the murderer is on the jury. But, the killer didn’t anticipate Eddie Flynn, Bobby’s defence attorney, who looked his client in the eyes and saw that this man is innocent. So there must be someone else to blame. Let the game begin.

Steve Cavanagh’s legal crime novel has a rather slow start, but then it takes up pace and suddenly you can only wonder what unfolds in front of you. A brilliant puzzle and fight between two highly intelligent combatants who quickly combine facts and spectacularly try to outplay the enemy. “Th1rt3en” is the fourth novel of the Eddie Flynn series which can also be read without knowledge of the preceding books. For the third of the series, “The Liar”, Steve Cavanagh was awarded the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger in 2018.

The novel clearly lives on the fight between the killer and the lawyer. Both are highly interesting characters and certainly equal in many respects. On the one hand, Joshua Kane who seems to have perfected crime and taken killing to a higher level. It is brilliant how he proceeds and does not only care about the murder itself but also about what follows after. On the other hand, it seems as if nothing can stop Eddie Flynn, his sharp intellect guarantees clever tactical manoeuvres and seeing things that other might overlook.

It’s the classic fight of good versus evil integrated in a complex story. When the actual trial starts, the plot accelerates and suspense rises enormously. It is fascinating to follow the story line and see how all pieces finally fall into places. Even though there are some blunt and brutal murders, “TH1RT3EN” is a rather demanding and intellectual thriller that demands all your attention and concentration, something I highly appreciate.

André Aciman – Fünf Lieben lang

andre-aciman-fünf-lieben-lang
André Aciman – Fünf Lieben lang

Zehn Jahre sind vergangen seit jenem denkwürdigen Sommer, der Sommer, in dem er auf der Insel San Giustiniano nicht nur wie in jedem Jahr die Ferien in der Familienvilla verbracht, sondern seit er zum ersten Mal Begehren spürte. Vieles hat sich inzwischen verändert, das Dorf ist nahezu ausgestorben, die Villa niedergebrannt und auch Nanni ist nicht mehr da, der junge Schreiner, den er nicht nur wegen seiner Kunstfertigkeit bewunderte und täglich aufsuchte, sondern der in ihm ungeahnte Gefühle erweckte. Dies war seine erste Liebe, weitere sollten folgen – Giovanni, Maud, Manfred, Chloe – alle gänzlich verschieden, alle unterschiedlich intensiv.

André Acimans Roman, dessen Teile nur lose durch den Protagonisten verbunden sind, ansonsten jedoch keine durchgängige Struktur aufweisen, ist eine Erkundung eines Gefühls, das sich nicht immer fassen lässt und das sich in völlig verschiedenen Variationen offenbart. Mal als intensive körperliche Erfahrung, mal als verlässliche Zuneigung, die Jahre überdauert und auch durch andere Lieben nicht aufgelöst wird, mal als langer Eroberungskampf und mal als widerstandslose Hingebung. So unterschiedlich sich die einzelnen Kapitel gestalten, so verschieden konnten sie mich begeistern, zwischen intensiver Analyse dessen, was in dem Jungen vor sich geht, und geradezu oberflächlicher Scheinwelt bildet Aciman alles ab.

Ohne Frage gelingt es dem Autor, die ganze Bandbreite des Themas zumindest auszuloten. Jede der geschilderten Formen von Liebe – auch jene zum Vater, die jedoch mehr der Wunsch nach Anerkennung und Wahrnehmung zu sein scheint – findet ihren Platz und kann neben anderen existieren und ein Teil des Protagonisten werden und widerspricht so der Behauptung des Vaters, dass es nur eine einzige Liebe geben kann. Bemerkenswert bei alledem ist die Abwesenheit aller moralischen und konventionellen Instanzen, die es dem Protagonisten erlaubt, Männer und Frauen gleichermaßen einfach zu lieben und dieses Faktum kein einziges Wort wert sein zu lassen.

Sprachlich ausdrucksstark und sehr nah bei seiner Figur kann Aciman mich als Autor begeistern. Die Handlung selbst bleibt mir an manchen Stellen, gerade in Kapitel 2, zu vage und geradezu banal, um zu überzeugen. Es fehlt noch etwas, das sich jedoch nur schwer greifen lässt.

Hank Green – An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

hank-green-an-absolutely-remarkable-thing
Hank Green – An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

When April May leaves the office totally exhausted at 3am to return home, she comes across a surely true remarkable thing. She calls her friend Andy to meet her and to bring his camera so that they could film this big sculpture which suddenly was just there in the middle of New York City. April names it Carl and Andy uploads their short video to YouTube. What both of them do not have the least premonition of at that moment is what happens afterwards. All over the world, Carls have appeared, but New York’s one is considered the first and April May somehow the connection to these strange and unmovable figures. This could be the story, but not in our times anymore because the internet is yearning for idols, for people to worship and follow and April May has become exactly that. She is not the 23-year-old design student anymore, a brand replaces her personality and obviously, for the Carls, she is the human being to communicate with.

Hank Green knows what he is talking about in making the internet and different social media platforms the centre of his debut novel since he himself has become famous as a video blogger and with different web projects. “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” is often classified as a science-fiction novel, I would like to disagree here because there is not much that isn’t real today in it. Just the one aspect, aliens making contact, yet the rest of far from being futuristic and imaginative but all too real.

No matter which genre you assign the book to, it is a great read that offers food for thought on several levels. Normally, I prefer novels with realistic settings and plots that create the impression of authenticity. Well, this is not really the case here with those Carls showing up unexpectedly. Yet, I was immediately hooked and couldn’t put it down anymore. April May – I have to say it here: did I ever come across a protagonist with a more ridiculous name? I don’t think so – is quite an interesting character since, on the one hand, she surely is a bit naive or at least does not anticipate the extent of her doings. On the other hand, she seems to be quite natural and acts on impulse which I liked at lot since it made it easy to sympathise with her in a certain way. Her development from young woman to brand is remarkable and gives you a great idea of media and internet dynamics; I also liked the marketing background coming with it which was masterly integrated into the novel.

I you ever wanted to explain to anybody how the internet community works and what the advantages and dangers of social media are, just hand over this novel. I think it is a wonderful example of today’s communication mechanisms and of how nobody can control these processes anymore once set in motion. The internet is not a separate space any longer where you can have something like a second life, it has become a part of our real life and certainly has an impact on what happens in the real world nowadays. It is flattering that Green makes his alien believe that there is some clever and beautiful life on earth, yet, for me the more important message to take from the book was certainly the question of how we can synergise those two worlds that we are living in without forgetting who we are when creating ourselves.

In several respects a great read that could have an important impact and make us readers ponder about our behaviour.

Toni Morrison – Jazz

toni-morrison-jazz
Toni Morrison – Jazz

Eine ausgelassene Party in Harlem, 1926. Plötzlich wird die feiernde Schar von einem Schuss aufgeschreckt, der die junge Dorcas niederstreckt und tötet. Der Täter ist bekannt: Joe Spur, ihr 50-jähriger Geliebter. Dorcas wird beerdigt, dabei kommt es zum Eklat, als Violet, Joes Frau, den Gottesdienst stört. Gerechtigkeit gibt es nicht, Polizei will man nicht und Dorcas kann eh niemand wieder lebendig machen. Das Leben in Harlem geht weiter. Doch wie soll es weitergehen für Joe, der Dorcas noch immer liebt; für Violet, die man nun Violent nennt und die sich fragt, was Joe an dem Mädchen fand; für Dorcas‘ Tante Alice Manfred, die sie großgezogen hat und für ihre Freundin, die die sich anbahnende Liebelei beobachtete. Harlem Mitte der 1920er Jahre folgt seinen eigenen Gesetzen und die führen die Menschen bisweilen auf ungeahnte Wege.

„Jazz“ ist Toni Morrisons zweiter Roman der sogenannten „Beloved“ Trilogie, für den ersten Band hatte sie 1988 den Pulitzer Preis gewonnen. Wie sich unschwer am Titel erkennen lässt, spielt die Handlung im schwarze Harlem der Jazz-Ära, jedoch erschafft Morrison eine ganz andere Atmosphäre als die der Roaring Twenties, wie sie von weißen Autoren wie F. Scott Fitzgerald oder Edith Wharton beschrieben werden. Es ist nicht die Zeit des ausgelassenen Feierns mit Frauen in exquisiten Kleidern, sondern der alltägliche Kampf ums Überleben:

„Jede Woche seit Dorcas‘ Tod, den ganzen Januar und Februar hindurch, legte irgendeine Zeitung die Knochen einer gebrochenen Frau frei. Mann tötet Frau. Acht der Vergewaltigung angeklagte Männer freigesprochen. Frau und Mädchen Opfer von. Frau begeht Selbstmord. Weiße Angreifer angeklagt. Fünf Frauen festgehalten. Frau sagt, Ehemann prügelt sie. In eifersüchtiger Wut hat ein Mann. Wehrlos wie Federvieh, dachte sie. Oder doch nicht?”

 Morrison schildert aus abwechselnden Perspektiven die Vorgänge in der Lenox Avenue. Die großen Hoffnungen, die Violet und Joe einst in die Stadt geführt haben, wo das Leben so viel einfacher sein sollte als das Dasein als Sklave auf den Feldern der Plantagenbesitzer. Die Enttäuschungen darüber, auch in New York als Schwarze nur Menschen zweiter Klasse zu sein. Die feinen Unterschiede, die durch die Nuancen der Hautfarbe bedingt sind – es ist eine eigene Welt, die nach ihren eigenen Regeln funktioniert.

„Als wir von der 140th Street in eine größere Wohnung in der Lenox zogen, da haben die hellhäutigeren Mieter versucht, uns draußen zu halten. Ich und Violet haben gegen sie gekämpft, als wenn es Weiße gewesen wären. Und wir blieben Sieger. Es waren schlechte Zeiten, und weiße wie schwarze Vermieter haben sich um die Farbigen geschlagen wegen den hohen Mieten, die für uns in Ordnung waren (…)“

Morrison legt den Finger in die Wunde und riss mit ihrem historischen Roman Anfang der 1990er Jahre nochmal vieles auf, was noch lange nicht überwunden war und heute, mehr als 50 Jahre nach dem Civil Rights Movement und dem formalen Ende der Segregation, wieder infrage gestellt wird. Neben der brisanten Thematik besticht der Roman vor allem durch die Atmosphäre und die klare, geradezu nüchterne Sprache, mit der sie grausamste Situationen zu schildern weiß. Ein Roman, der wieder mehr ins Bewusstsein gerückt werden sollte, trotz oder vielleicht gerade wegen seines Alters von nunmehr fast 30 Jahren. Einziger Kritikpunkt ist eine Übersetzungsunsitte: die Namen wurden für die deutsche Ausgabe „angepasst“, was ich nicht nur überflüssig, sondern ärgerlich finde. Die Anspielung hätte durch eine Fußnote einfach gelöst werden können.

Shari Lapena – Someone We Know

shari-lapena-someone-we-know
Shari Lapena – Someone We Know

Aylesford is a small community not far from New York. People know each other, are friends, have barbecues together and share their everyday problems. New to the neighbourhood are Amanda and Robert Pierce, both stunningly attractive and younger than the rest with their teenage kids. When Amanda goes missing, everybody soon blames the husband, the obvious suspect, but then, slowly, the facades of the good people start to crumble. They are not the loving husbands who go to work every day to support their beloved family, they are not the good housewives who only care for their dears and they are not the good kids of the suburbs. They all have their secrets they thought well hidden, but now it’s time for revelation.

I hardly could put down Shari Lapena’s thriller since I was hooked from the first page. She has created the perfect environment for readers who enjoy a bit of schadenfreude. Those nice people who appear to be caring and concerned about the others and who are suddenly confronted with their dark sides that threaten the picture they have drawn of themselves. A great read that was not only fun to read because all of them sooner or later have to admit their misconduct, but first and foremost, because the plot was masterly woven and thus kept suspense high until the very end.

It’s hard to say more about the plot without giving away too much. I liked how Lapena slowly unravels the revelations and shifts the focus from one character to the next. They all act suspiciously and at a certain point, I gave up believing any of them since it was too obvious that none of them is innocent in one way or the other. The author skilfully plays with the reader along these lines and this keeps you addicted since you eagerly want to find out what actually happened. It’s a brilliant, enthralling novel that you cannot stop reading once you’ve started.

Nicole Dennis-Benn – Patsy

nicole-dennis-benn-patsy
Nicole Dennis-Benn – Patsy

Patricia Reynolds, called Patsy, has waited for years to fulfil her dream: going to the USA and leaving Jamaica behind. Even though she only got a visitor’s visa, she plans to never come back and instead make a career in the north just like her best friend Cicely. She abandons her daughter Tru who is too young to understand what happens and now has to cope with living with a new family while her mother seemingly enjoys her life in the Big Apple. However, it does not take too long for Patsy to understand that nobody waited for illegal immigrants and that she will have to take cleaning and nursing jobs to survive. The years pass and while Patsy slowly has to accept that her dream of a better life will never come true, her daughter struggles to find her place in a world that she simply does not fit in. She wants to play football like the boys and tries to ignore all signs that make her a girl.

Nicole Dennis-Benn’s novel offers a broad variety of subjects ranging from the situation of undocumented immigrants and their lives in the shadows, dreams her characters have that simply do not come true, the concepts of being a man or a woman and behaving according to others’ expectations, what it means to be a mother and to stick to your ideas and goals in life nevertheless, love and abuse, unhealthy relationships and dishonest friendships.

The author wonderfully parallels the developments of mother and daughter under harsh circumstances in the two different countries. Albeit the fact that there is an age gap of 21 years, a lot of progress is analogous like adapting to a new situation, high hopes that increasingly have to be adjusted to reality and finally, finding love where they never would have expected it. Especially Patsy’s American Dream gone bad is very powerfully narrated, most of all the moments when darkness surrounds her are most compelling. While I found most of the plot very interesting and brilliantly narrated, the novel was a bit too long and thus lengthy at times for my liking.

Lauren Wilkinson – American Spy

lauren-wilkinson-american-spy
Lauren Wilkinson – American Spy

When one night a man breaks into her New York apartment and tries to kill her, Marie knows that it is time to flee and to take her twin boys out of the country since they will not be secure there anymore. As a former member of the FBI she knows how to defend herself, she went through worse, but not her kids. She flees to a tiny village on Martinique where her mother has been living for decades, hoping to earn some time to write down everything that happened years before for her kids to understand one day when they are old enough. Marie thinks back to her beginnings at the agency when she had the impression of being stuck and then the unexpected chance to be a part of something bigger, of doing something good – which ended in an African bloodbath and forced her into hiding.

“American Spy” is Lauren Wilkinson’s first novel after some highly appraised shorter writings. What is quite fascinating about the thriller is that apart from the action part, it offers many different layers and aspects that can be discussed. It is set in the time of the Cold War and of course, first and foremost, the role of the two big players and their proxy wars in Africa obviously take a major part in the book. Yet, it can also be read as a feminist novel since the protagonist struggles to find her place in an all-male federal agency where people are openly sexist. Marie and her Caribbean background also qualify the novel under the label of a Black History book.

The thriller is full of suspense and provides insight into the world of spies. The complicated political situations they are in and the fact that the world is much more greyish than black and white at times forces them to either give up their ideals or simply quit their job. I liked a lot how the author combined Marie’s family history and the ghosts that haunt her with the bigger picture of world politics that, in the end, also can be broken down to personal relationships and enmities. The protagonist makes it easy to sympathise with her and thus you instantaneously immerse into the novel. Additionally, I learned a lot about Burkina Faso’s history, something that I was highly ignorant about.

Dominic Smith – The Electric Hotel

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Dominic Smith – The Electric Hotel

Claude Ballard is a legend in film making. Having started at the times of the brothers Lumière and the silent film, his „The Electric Hotel“ was a highly innovative masterpiece which is meant to have been lost for decades. Yet, when a student comes to interview Ballard about his life and work, he not only learns about the beginning of the moving pictures, but also makes an interesting discovery.

Dominic Smith’s novel is a must read for film lovers, at the example of Claude Ballard who wanders the streets of Paris and New York of 1910 to capture real life through the lens, the history and development of the silent film is narrated. His only film – “The Electric Hotel” – could have been a great success, but times weren’t easy and so were the women, first and foremost Sabine Montrose the actress who had the main role in his film and his life.

The cinematic background is clearly well researched and also the times that the characters remember come to life vividly. Yet, I am not enough into cinema to really enjoy this intensive read and the characters were quite hard for me to relate to. I am sure that readers with more interest I the topic will find a lot more delight in the novel than I did.

Patricia Highsmith – Carol oder Salz und sein Preis

patricia-highsmith-carol
Patricia Highsmith – Carol oder Salz und sein Preis

Die 22-jährige Therese Belivet ist nach New York gezogen, um dort als Bühnenbildnerin zu arbeiten. Ohne die richtigen Kontakte ist das jedoch nicht so einfach und so nimmt sie einen Job in einem Kaufhaus an. In der Puppenabteilung trifft sie kurz vor Weihnachten auf Carol Aird, die für ihre Tochter nach einem Geschenk sucht. Sofort ist Therese von dieser Frau fasziniert und auch bei Carol hinterlässt diese flüchtige und zufällige Begegnung Spuren. Was folgt ist eine Liebesgeschichte, die nicht sein darf. In den USA der ausgehenden 1940er Jahre können zwei Frauen sich nicht lieben, schon gar nicht, wenn eine verheiratet ist und der gehobenen Gesellschaft angehört.

Patricia Highsmith kannte ich bislang nur als Autorin von psychologisch interessanten Krimis (The Two Faces of January, The Tremor of Forgery, The Cry of The Owl, Der talentierte Mr Ripley), eine Liebesgeschichte und vor allem in dieser Konstellation war nun doch eher unerwartet. Die Autorin ahnte sicherlich auch die Reaktionen des zeitgenössischen Publikums voraus, weshalb der Roman 1952 unter dem Pseudonym Claire Morgan erschien und erst fast 40 Jahre später Patricia Highsmith zugeordnet wurde. Interessanterweise verarbeitet Highsmith in dem Roman gleich zwei autobiografische Aspekte: sie selbst arbeitete ebenfalls als Puppenverkäuferin und hatte bei Bloomingdale’s eine ähnlich beeindruckende Begegnung wie ihre Protagonistin und ihre Beziehung mit Kathryn Cohen konnte sie ebenfalls nur im Geheimen leben.

Der Leser begleitet Therese in der Geschichte, erlebt ihre Faszination und Verliebtheit, die auch mit einiger Verwirrung einhergeht. Besonders die Annäherung der beiden Frauen ist Highsmith sehr gut gelungen, es ist nicht die überbordende Leidenschaft, sondern ein langsames Herantasten an die andere. Durch Carols Scheidung und der Kampf mit ihrem Noch-Gatten Harge um das Sorgerecht für die gemeinsame Tochter wird die Liebe verkompliziert und Therese findet sich häufig in der Situation wieder, durch das Verhalten der älteren Frau verunsichert zu werden und nicht zu wissen, ob ihre Empfindungen von Carol gleichermaßen geteilt werden und ob sie nicht nur ein temporärer Zeitvertreib ist.

Eine Liebesgeschichte mit vielen Facetten, die ferner von Kitsch kaum sein könnte und ein sehr lesenswertes Zeugnis seiner Zeit – Patricia Highsmith für mich einmal ganz anders.

K.C. Maher – The Best of Crimes

kc-maher-the-best-of-crimes
K.C. Maher – The Best of Crimes

When Walter turns himself in to the police, nobody wants to hear about it. He has committed a crime that the small town ignores – but, it is a crime and he wants to be sentenced. How could it all come so far? How could he kidnap a child for three days? Flashback. Walter was a child prodigy and due to his maths skills already as a young man makes a career in the financing business. In Sterling he finds an older but loving wife and with their child Olivia their family is perfectly complete. In their community, they are a typical family, not like the one from across the street. The father has always been absent and so is the mother, leaving young Amanda alone. The two girls become close friends and Olivia’s family somehow adopts Amada. While the girls grow up, Sterling and Walter become more and more distant until they finally break apart – leaving Walter and the almost teenager Amanda in a very precarious situation.

When I read the first pages of the novel, I was like “Oh my god, not another Lolita story!”. I was afraid that the worst could happen, yet, the strange reaction of the inhabitants of the small town made me wonder: would they ever accept a man who seriously molested a child? I doubted this and luckily read on. What unfolded then was a wonderful story of love and affection of two persons being left and feeling alone and thus becoming a very unique couple.

Even though at the beginning, the relationship between Walter and Amanda is perfectly innocent, at a certain point there is a thin line which somehow is crossed. You feel uncomfortable about how close they are, and even though Walter tries to set up clear boundaries to prevent anything from happening, there is an underlying feeling of an edgy uneasiness. The author plays with a taboo without transgression, but it makes clear that when it comes to affection between an adult and a child, there is some grey area. On the one hand, Walter is the best that could ever happen to Amanda. There is no doubt about his positive influence on her education and personal development. On the other hand, he is much more than a father figure which clearly is a no go considering her age.

Interestingly, both mothers fail in their role as educator and carer, something which you rarely encounter. They do not mistreat their daughters but definitely neglect them. Thus, the novel has a lot to offer from a psychological point of view. Not only the parents’ roles, but also the fact that Walter as a child prodigy never really had a childhood or normal adolescence and now with Amanda somehow lives through a time that he missed out at that age.

A wonderfully written novel that certainly could surprise me several times and which offers much to ponder about.