Claire McGowan – The Vanishing Triangle

Claire McGowan – The Vanishing Triangle

Crime writer Claire McGowan has grown up in a small town in Northern Ireland which she always perceived as a safe place despite the Troubles. Of course, the news daily reported about bombings and people killed but what she hadn’t been aware of was the incredibly high number of girls and women who were abducted or simply vanished in both Northern and the Republic of Ireland. Some of the cases happened close to where she lived, happened to girls her age who roamed the same places when she did but she has never even heard of it. Only rarely was a suspect arrested and even more seldom convicted for rape or murder. How could the country have such a high number of women murdered and except for their families nobody seems to care?

I have enjoyed Claire McGowan’s crime novels for some years now, not only because the plots are suspenseful and complex, but also because she manages to capture the atmosphere of a place, to create a special mood that can only exist there. With her deep understanding for the people and the places they live and which shape their thinking and acting, I was curious to read her true crime investigation of femicides.  

What her enquiry uncovers is not the Ireland that has attracted tourists and business for decades. It is a country that was shaped by the Catholic church and whose legislation was far behind other European countries in terms of women’s rights. With the Troubles, it was often safer not to have seen anything and, first and foremost, not to say anything, thus atrocious crimes could happen in broad daylight in front of everybody’s eyes. The deeper she digs the more cases she finds and can link to a small area, the so called “Vanishing Triangle”, where an astonishing number of woman have disappeared and whose cases remain unsolved.

McGowan tells the women’s stories, lists the evidence and also provides reasons why their bodies are still missing or why prime suspects still walk free. All this grants a look in the country’s state in the 1980s and 1990s – a lot has changed since, but still society and police often fail female victims today.

A read which is as interesting as it is disturbing. I really enjoy listening to true crime podcasts thus the topic attracted me immediately. What I really appreciated was that Claire McGowan did not take a neutral position towards her account but you can sense her anger and the incredulity with which she looks at her findings and which makes you wonder why not more people shout out because of this.

Helen Fields – One for Sorrow

Helen Fields – One for Sorrow

First, their pathologist is killed, then another attack is clearly aimed at police and paramedics. Edinburgh has to face a brutal serial killer who is not targeting the public to cause general panic but only aims at the forces. DCI Ava Turner and DI Luc Callanach are confronted with death every day – but not the death of their colleagues and friends. It is obvious that the cases are linked, but they simply cannot find the thread that holds them all together, they only know that it is just a question of time until the bomber hits again, taking more lives of those who help others every day.

Helen Field’s latest case for her Edinburgh team is full of twists and demands everything from her protagonists. This time, it is personal, Ava is affected directly by the death of her friend and still grieving when she needs all her wits to hunt down the serial killer. “One for Sorrow” is already the seventh novel in the series and in my opinion definitely the best. It had me gripped immediately and I kept speculating about the identity of the killer, following wrong leads cleverly laid out again and again.

There are two time levels in the novel. On the one hand, we follow the police investigation which is always several steps behind their enemy. The killer is knowledgeable and perfectly follows his plan. What I liked especially was the scene where they ask a profiler to help them to identify the person behind it all. It made absolutely sense and was highly informative and interesting to follow the line of argumentation.

On the other hand, there is a kind of totally gone wrong love story about a young woman named Quinn and her boyfriend who, instead of accepting the breakup, turns into a freaking stalker. It is obvious that this is the missing link to the bombings, yet, you need to see the whole picture of Quinn’s story to understand the motive behind it all.

A suspenseful and highly emotional mystery I hardly could put down.

Fiona Leitch – A Cornish Christmas Murder

Fiona Leitch – A Cornish Christmas Murder

Jodie Parker and her catering team – consisting of her 13-year-old daughter Daisy, her mother and her right hand Debbie – have taken over a job at short notice at Bodmin Moor, an old abbey about to be turned into a guest house. Millionaire Isaac is hosting a Christmas party for kids with a Santa and all it needs to have a great event. The food is great and they all have a wonderful day. Yet, when they want to leave in the evening, it turns out that due to heavy snow fall, all roads are blocked. Thus, Jodie and her team, Isaac with his assistant and his son as well as Santa Steve have to stay overnight. Two knocks on the door bring more stranded people: a group of four Japanese women and a mysterious couple. They make the best of the situation, but when a dead body is discovered the next morning, they realise that a murderer must be among them.

I hadn’t noticed that “A Cornish Christmas Murder” is the fourth in Fiona Leitch series about the nosey ex member of the Met Police Jodie Parker. Yet, the cosy crime novel offers enough about her backstory to simply enjoy the case at hand. It is a classic setting with a group of strangers gathering in an isolated place where no mysterious intruder could have entered secretly to commit the deed. Thus, you know soon that one of the lovely bunch must be the culprit, only the questions of how and why remain of which the search for an answer is entertaining to follow.

It was especially that Agatha Christie-esque setting that drew me to the novel and I wasn’t disappointed. Christmas time is a jolly period which makes people especially unaware of the dark sides of the world. Despite the unwanted stay at the mansion, the night guests explore the premises and make the best of it. And the house has to offer some secret passages which open room for speculation about past times – and present times, too. Some late-comers about whom we do not learn too much add suspense to the circle of suspects.

The protagonist is a very likable down-to-earth woman – with quite a clever daughter – whom I liked immediately. The case offers some mysteries which are not too obvious to untangle but find a convincing end. A charming and diverting read perfect for the Christmas season.

Claire McGowan – I Know You

Claire McGowan – I Know You

When teenager Casey Adams leaves for Los Angeles, she hopes that her job as a nanny with a Hollywood film maker will be the first step in a career. Yet, David is hardly at home and his wife Abby is not only frustrated as she does not get any acting offers anymore but also totally unable to cope with her two kids, 5-year-old Madison and baby Carson. All is left to Casey who herself struggles with the tasks being young and unexperienced with kids. Things develop in the worst imaginable way ending in a family drama. Twenty years later in England, Rachel finds herself accused of the murder of her boy-friend’s wife. All evidence is against her, why did she run when she accidentally stumbled over the body in the woods and not call the police? Rachel has a reason to stay away from murder as she knows how death row feels.

Claire McGowan has created another highly suspenseful and complex psychological thriller. Casey’s and Rachel’s story alternate, it only takes a couple of pages to realise how they are linked and why the two plot lines are connected over such a long time and two quite unalike places. Both murder cases are interesting to follow even though they could hardly be more different and the fact that there is a common ground gives it a little extra of suspense.

It is easy to comprehend Casey’s feeling of exhaustion as she is not really prepared for her job as a nanny. Working for a glamorous family sounded great only on paper, reality hits her hard, but she has a good heart and tries to do what is best for the kids. It takes some time for her to understand the underlying mechanics of the family, that David and Abby’s relationship is going down the plughole and that all she can do is make sure the kids are all right. Until they aren’t anymore. Being accused of multiple murder, nobody wants to believe her, that is the hardest part of the story because you can easily empathise with her despair in telling them about her innocence without being heard. Yet, there are some gaps in her story and the question is looming if she can actually be believed.

Rachel on the other hand, is a lot stronger but nevertheless also a prime suspect whom everybody turns their back to when the police start to question her. She is also alone and tries to prove her innocence. It is obvious that somebody tries to frame her, the big question is just: who would want to do such a thing and why?

A great read that I totally adored. Two wonderful protagonists who are multifaceted in their character traits and a suspenseful plot which brilliantly links the two stories.

Max Seeck – The Ice Coven

Max Seeck – The Ice Coven

The disappearance of a famous blogger does not seem to be a too interesting case for Jessica Niemi and her team of Helsinki police. After a big music business event, she did not come home and has since vanished into thin air. Her roommate also cannot contribute anything to Lisa Yamamoto’s whereabouts. When the body of a Ukrainian prostitute in Manga clothing is washed ashore, the investigators do not link the two events immediately, but, bit by bit, they untangle the complex web and soon find themselves confronted with a network of ill doings which goes far beyond the city limits. While working on the most challenging case of her career, Jessica is still mourning the loss of her former boss and friend while Erne’s successor openly hates and threatens to expose her, thus destroying her carefully constructed life.

Already in the first case for Jessica Niemi, Max Seeck masterfully crafted a highly complex plot which was great to follow as a reader. “The Ice Coven”, too, seems to be not too mystifying at the beginning but then it slowly unfolds its whole potential and turns into a high-paced thriller. The short chapters add to the suspense which rises and only climaxes at the very end even though long before you were fooled to believe you know what is going on.

Apart from the crime story, the book’s most outstanding element is the protagonist. Being familiar with the first instalment, you already know her backstory, the things she hides from her colleagues and the demons that haunt her. Still, there are some white spaces to be discovered in further stories which I am eagerly looking for.

A multi-layered thriller which is hard to put down once you started.

Tammy Cohen – The Wedding Party

Tammy Cohen – The Wedding Party

All her life Lucy has dreamt of the perfect wedding. It took her 18 months to plan everything to detail so that her nuptials to Jason would be the most spectacular moment. The wedding party arrives on the beautiful Greek island of Kefalonia already a couple of days prior to enjoy themselves and to prepare for the big day. Yet, from the start, things do not run as smoothly as expected. Lucy’s sister Jess appears with a stranger in tow, her parents behave strangely and her wedding planner Nina is asking repeatedly for the pay of the last bill which Lucy simply couldn’t settle as she has been overspending and is totally broke. It is only her best friend Shelly who supports her unconditionally. But this is only the beginning, with the strange woman Vivian, a doomy omen seems to have arrived at their luxurious hotel threatening not only to destroy the best day of her life but her whole family.

I have been a huge fan of Tammy Cohen for years and thus was looking forward to reading her latest novel. Again, she did not disappoint me but created a gripping plot which had me struggle to put the book down once I had started. Brilliantly crafted, suspense is high from the beginning as you know that something absolutely terrible is going to happen, yet, the big question is: what?

Lucy just wants her wedding to be perfect, not necessarily for herself, but much more for her Instagram followers and colleagues. She seems to be doing everything right except for spending money she does not have and not telling her husband-to-be about it. Her sister, on the contrary, is more on the rebel side of life not caring too much about outer appearances and following her own ideals. That she might spoil her sister’s wedding by bringing a total stranger does not really occur to her, it is just her way of having a bit of fun. Their parents, too, seem to have fallen apart, even though the girls do not have a clue why this might be. Just for the sake of the wedding, they all try at least to play their assigned role for a couple of days longer.

Even though it could be a carefree week under the sun, smaller and bigger secrets surface one after the other leading to an increasingly dense atmosphere among the party and opening up all doors for speculation about what might happen. From the police interviews interjected, you can only guess so much, but this is this theorising that makes reading the novel great fun.

Wonderfully depicted characters who all have their flaws and shortcomings mixed with a lot of drama and suspense – a perfect summer read.

Jo Spain – The Perfect Lie

Jo Spain – The Perfect Lie

Erin and her husband Danny are the perfect couple and still totally in love when, one morning, Danny’s partner appears unexpectedly at their door and Danny jumps to death. When Erin starts asking questions about the why, the police remain quiet, she only learns that there must have been some internal investigation and that obviously her husband wasn’t the good cop she has always assumed. Yet, a lot of things are strange and when Erin is approached by a guy named Cal who tells her that she shouldn’t believe the rumours because Danny wanted to help his sister against all obstacles within the police, she does not know what to believe anymore. Eighteen months later, she finds herself in court – charged with murdering her husband. How could things turn out so badly?

Again, Jo Spain has created a suspenseful novel in which nothing is as it appears at first glance. “The Perfect Lie” is not just around one lie, but around many lies, things left unsaid, bits and pieces which form a perfect picture but couldn’t be farer from reality. Since the story is narrated at different points in time, you quite naturally interpret the action based on what you know at that moment, just to learn a bit later that all your assumptions were totally wrong since you were lacking that relevant piece of information.

Erin is in her early thirties when she is confronted with the most tragic event imaginable: witnessing her husband committing suicide. Yet, this does not leave her grieving in shock and incapable of action. However, her questions are greeted with rejection and she is treated in the most horrible way by the police and her husband’s former colleagues and friends. No wonder she turns to the people who are willing to help her and one can only wonder why so many behave in this way. Suspense, however, is mainly created by the fact that she finds herself accused of murder only months later. As a reader, you witness the moment Danny decides to take his life, all is clear so quite naturally, it is totally unbelievable how this could have been turned against the widow. How far would police go to cover any trace of misconduct?

I was gripped form the start and couldn’t put down the novel once I had read the first chapter. Spain perfectly plays with our conviction to understand a situation based on the bits of information we have just to demonstrate that maybe we came to a conclusion a bit too quickly since things are not always what they seem. A superb read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Christophe Gavat – Cap Canaille

Christophe Gavat – Cap Canaille

Loin de Paris et du 36 quai des Orfèvres, la vie doit être plus agréable. Mais le commandant Henri Saint-Donat se rend vite compte que Marseille est beaucoup mais pas une vielle paisible. Son premier « barbecue » – une personne brûlée dans une voiture, méthode typique pour régler les comptes parmi les trafiquants – offre une surprise : ça fait des décennies déjà qu’il connaît la victime : la fameuse Carlton. Qui a bien tuée la criminelle élégante et séduisante ? La mort d’un frère d’une famille criminelle marseillaise à Paris offre une connexion aussi inattendue qu’inexplicable. Un cas compliqué pour Saint-Donat et ses subordonnés Basile Urteguy et Louise Clet.

« Cap Canaille » a gagné le Prix du Quai des Orfèvres 2021, l’ancien lieutenant et commissaire Christophe Gavat qui a été décoré de la médaille d’honneur pour acte de courage et de dévouement connaît bien son métier et donne une bonne idée du travail policier.

Le cas – ou plutôt les deux cas – sont bien compliqués et prennent leur temps. Le roman reste plein de suspense quoique l’auteur développe aussi ses caractères et leur donne un air authentique avec leur histoire à part du travail. Mais, c’est avant tout la description de la région au bord de la Méditerranée qui m’a plue beaucoup.

JP Delaney – Playing Nice

jp delaney - playing nice
JP Delaney – Playing Nice

Theo’s birth is highly dramatic, much too early, the young boy has to be taken to intensive care while his mother Maddie is still weakened by the C-section. So, it’s Pete’s task to get familiar with all the machines and to take care of his little son. Despite the turbulent start, Theo develops much better than expected and Pete turns out to be the perfect father while Maddie struggles with her new role. Quite naturally, they decide to have Pete stay at home since his job is less well paid and he totally likes taking care of the boy. When one day Miles and his wife Lucy are in front of their door, they only have faint memories of the couple whose boy was born on the same day as Theo and who was also taken to an incubator. The reason for their visit will shake their lives: the boys were swapped and Theo actually is their biological son. What starts as a friendly encounter, since they all sit in the same boat, quickly turns into the most evil fight no parent would ever like to be in. And just like in war, Miles is willing to use any weapon available to get his boy.

A novel like a roller coaster ride, emotionally challenging and breath-taking, reading it caused me almost a night without sleep since I couldn’t put it away. It is a conflict which is unsolvable, yet, the way it all turns out is unbearable to read and makes you wonder the whole time: could this happen to me, too? What incriminating material would police find if they checked on my computer and mobile phone? And at the same time: this is so absolutely unfair, this cannot be true, but how often do you hear of those stories where institutions are simply wrong and easily fooled?

At the beginning, I was wondering if Maddie’s difficulties of bonding with her son would become the major focus of the novel, quite soon, this shifted when the core problem became known. You cannot say what to do in such a case and just like the protagonists, I would never have expected it all to turn out that way. It is sheer unbelievable how everything that happens is turned against Pete and Maddie, even the most harmless incidents become major reproaches and raise questions about their parenting. It isn’t illogical at all, that is the terrible realisation, from the characters’ point of view, they hardly have any other option than interpreting the signs in this way. It hurts reading it, it really hurts, first and foremost when you look at what the situation does to Pete and Maddie. I guess, at some point, I might have given up had I been in their shoes.

To call it a wonderful read would somehow be awkward, yet, it is a brilliantly crafted novel with a very interesting conflict and, above all, authentic and lively characters who could just be you or me. Even though it is fiction and as a thriller mainly aims at making you feel a cold shiver running down your spine, it is also a novel that makes you ponder a lot.

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.