Heidi Perks – The Whispers

Heidi Perks – The Whispers

When Grace returns to her British hometown of Clearwater after two decades in Australia, she hopes to renew the friendship with Anna. As kids and teenagers, the two had been close as sisters, due to her poor family situation, Anna more or less grew up with Grace’s family until they decided to move to the other side of the planet. However, Anna does not seem happy at all about Grace’s return, she has established a small circle of good friends and is reluctant of letting her former best friend join their group of four. After one evening at the local pub, Anna does not come home but neither her friends nor her husband seem to be really concerned so Grace takes over responsibility: she informs the police and starts to ask questions. Why do all people in the small sea-side town behave strangely? It has always been her to be in charge and to take care of the small and big catastrophes, so not much seems to have changed. But on her own, will she be able to find Anna and to uncover why all people are telling lies?

Heidi Perks wonderfully portrays life in a small town. Everybody knows everybody and is keen on spreading rumours, especially if there is something cheesy or malicious to share. As soon as Grace turns up for the first time at the schoolyard to bring her daughter to her new school, “The Whispers” among the mothers start and cannot be silenced anymore. Quite authentically, we hold as true the things we can observe and the bits and pieces of information we get and make sense of the story – and thus fall into the author’s trap since not much is really what it seems at first.

Admittedly, even though Grace as the protagonist is portrayed as a sympathetic woman, I did not really like her as she was, in my opinion, a bit creepy from the beginning. A lot of people live in the past and want to repeat it, therefore, returning to the place where she had a good time is not too strange, yet, the fact that she does not want to accept that Anna does not want to bond with her anymore and that she does not even make the slightest effort to find other friends, I found quite weird and obtrusive.

After Anna gets missing, the other characters indeed do behave inexplicably, yet, it does not take too long until the author reveals the other side of the story. As an experienced crime novel reader, you tend to be cautious and hesitant from the start when you are only presented with one character’s point of view, this is why I did not find it too surprising that not all things are what they seem at first. However, what I totally adored was how Heidi Perks managed to portray especially the small town women and their gossiping and how they make an effort of polishing their own lives to appear as someone superior to the others.

An entertaining read with some unexpected twists which brilliantly captures small town life.

Michael Farris Smith – NICK

Michael Farris Smith – NICK

World War I is raging and Nick Caraway among the young soldiers who fight in France. His life threatened when he lies in the trench, he is looking for distraction in Paris on those few days he is off duty. He falls for a woman but times like these are not made for love. When he returns to the US in 1919, he suffers from what we today call post-traumatic stress syndrome. He does not know where to go or what to do with his life and thus ends up in New Orleans. The lively city promises forgetting but there, too, he is haunted in his dreams.

I was so looking forward to reading Michael Farris Smith’s novel about Nick Caraway since I have read “The Great Gatsby” several times, watched the film adaptations even more often and totally adore Fitzgerald’s characters. Knowing that the plot was set in the time before Nick meets Jay Gatsby, it was clear that this novel would not be a kind of spin-off, but I wasn’t expecting something with absolutely no connection to the classic novel at all. Apart from the protagonist’s name and the very last page, I couldn’t see any link and admittedly I was quite disappointed since I had expected a totally different story.

First of all, having read Fitzgerald so many times, I have developed some idea of the character Nick. He has always been that gentle and shy young man who is attentive and a good listener and friend. He never appeared to be the party animal who headlessly consumes alcohol and goes to brothels. Therefore, the encounters with women in “NICK“ do not fit to my idea of the character at all. He also never made the impression of being totally traumatized by his war experiences which, on the contrary, is the leading motive in this novel.

Roaring Twenties, lively New York party life, people enjoying themselves – this is the atmosphere I adored in The Great Gatsby, none of this can be found in “NICK”. It starts with exhausting war descriptions, something I avoid reading normally and I wasn’t prepared for at all. Pages after page we read about soldiers fighting, this might be attractive for some readers, unfortunately, this is no topic for me. After depressing war scenes, we have gloomy and depressed Nick not knowing how to cope with the experiences he made in France. No glitter here, but a lot of fire and ashes.

Reading “NICK” without having “The Great Gatsby” in mind might lead to a totally different reading experience. For me, sadly, a disappointment in many respects for which also some beautifully put sentences and an interesting character development could not make amends.

Nalini Singh – A Madness of Sunshine

nalini-singh-a-madness-of-sunshine
Nalini Singh – A Madness of Sunshine

After the death of her husband and a decade abroad, Anahera returns to Golden Cove, a small town on the west coast of New Zealand. Not much has changed there and vivid memories return to the young woman who was eager to escape the poor and violent home she grew up in. It is only days she is there when the beaming young Miriama does not return from running. The whole town is on their feet to search for the girl with the promising future that everybody loves. Police detective Will, an outsider to the Maori community, coordinates the search and quickly develops the greatest fears. In a town where domestic violence is a normal part of everyday life and where common secrets tend to be buried deep, it is not easy to investigate. When the inhabitants recollect a series of hikers missing over only a couple of weeks, they start to fear that a serial killer might be among them who now has started to go for women again.

Nalini Sing’s mystery thriller is a suspenseful story which lives from the atmosphere the author brilliantly creates. You arrive together with Anahera in the small town and feel like an outsider; she had been gone for so long that she is not a part of their life anymore, but the longer you stay there, the more you dive into the culture and get a feeling of the dynamics that drive a close community which is not very welcoming to people not belonging to them. Apart from the plot around the missing women, I found the description of nature, its forces and the old culture which lives in harmony with it the most interesting.

Anahera and Will first seem to be two opposing poles in the story, on the one hand, the woman who is a natural part of Golden Cove and who shares memories with everybody and knows to read and respect the nature she lives in. On the other hand, the police detective who is a double outsider due to his job people are highly suspicious of and since he is not of Maori descent. What they share are secrets they try to hide from the community and which quickly make them bond.

The case of Miriama starts with big questions marks, Nalini Sing has well dosed the information you get about the girls, but soon you see the discrepancy between the first picture of the girl and her other side which obviously was well-hidden. The more secrets are revealed the more suspense rises captivating the reader. “A Madness of Sunshine” is a slow burn that does not only rely on the mystery part but also offers a lot in psychological respects with interesting characters in a fascinating setting.