Lisa Taddeo – Animal

Lisa Taddeo – Animal

Joan flees New York to California after he lover Victor shot himself publicly in front of her. With little money left, she finds a small place to stay and she also finds the woman she was looking for. Alice, whom she had tracked online over all those years. She thinks back to what her life had to offer so far, her mother who was unable to love her, her father whom she admired childishly. Both have long been gone. Joan can run, but somehow her bad luck follows her, she seems prone to attracting all kind of evil and so it does not take too long until it comes back to her.

Lisa Taddeo made her debut with “Three women“ which I already liked a lot. In her latest novel, too, complicated relationships between men and women are central to the story’s development. The narrator herself is unable to love unconditionally, she needs to have the upper hand over her lovers, yet, this presumed precaution measure fires back and somehow she is stuck in the role of the kid who is longing for being loved. She is addressing her account of the events to somebody, yet it takes until the end for the reader to understand whom she tells about her life.

From a psychological point of view, Taddeo has created quite interesting characters. Violence and love are constantly opposed and they seem not to able to exist without each other. Joan’s grandmother has been raped, a dramatic experience of violence, yet, we do never learn about what this did to the woman. On the other hand, Joan’s mother does not seem to be a direct victim, yet, she reacts quite strongly and refuses her daughter the love she craves for. The women in her family are no good role models, yet, her father, too, does not provide a good example of how to behave, especially at critical moments in his life. As a consequence, Joan is unable to lead a relationship at eye level and feels the need to protect herself from the things that might happen.

Thus, as a grown up, Joan replicates what she has seen as a kid and ignores the effect this might have on others, only when she is confronted with a kind of mirror, her genuine feelings offer her another way.

“Animal” is all but an easy read, yet, it offers a lot of food for thought and raises important questions concerning central human emotions and behaviour. I am not an expert, however, I would classify Joan’s thinking with all those flashbacks as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder which is highly likely from her family’s history. In this respect, the author very successfully displays the impact of traumatic events on untreated children.

President Bill Clinton/ James Patterson – The President’s Daughter

President Bill Clinton/James Patterson – THe President’s Daughter

Matthew Keating wanted to serve a second term as POTUS, but his mission against one of the evilest terrorists went disastrously wrong and cost him the presidency. Now, he is doing more or less nothing apart from fishing and not so much enjoying himself. When his daughter Mel is abducted by IS terrorist Asim Al-Asheed who wants to revenge his wife and daughters, ex SEAL Matt takes it personal. Since the official agencies totally fail to rescue the girl, he decides to become active himself to get her back. He is still well-connected and secretly sets up a small team to do what a father has to do.

The second cooperation between former President Bill Clinton and well-known crime writer James Patterson is a fast-paced mixture of political and spy thriller which also gives deep insight in how the different national agencies work with and against each other. The thriller brilliantly shows that politics can be a nasty business where personal agendas at times conflict with national interests and ethics. Also, since the end of the Cold War, the lines between confronting enemies have become blurred and the world is a much more complex place with several stakeholders all acting and interfering simultaneously.

First and foremost, the novel lives on the protagonist Matt Keating who tries to free his daughter. Even though we first meet him in the role of the president, his former occupation as a member of the US SEALs is a much more formative aspect of his character. When he learns of is successor’s unwillingness of helping to liberate his daughter, he reactivates his knowledge and connections to rescue her on his own. Admittedly, I doubt how realistic this might be, however, it certainly makes a good action-loaded plot. The daughter, too, is a tough cookie, even though raised in a rather comfortable position, she is courageous and has a strong will to survive which gives her more power than was to be expected.

What I found most interesting, however, was not just the war between the terrorist and the USA but how China meddles and how conflicting interests endanger civilians which are nothing more than collateral damage. Ironically, it is a private affair that leads to the downfall of the current president – highly likely in our times.

Great entertainment which surely also works quite well on the screen since it incorporates the core virtues of bravery, persistence, teamwork and love.

Yukito Ayatsuji – The Decagon House Murders

Yukito Ayatsuji – The Decagon House Murders

Murder and mystery are what they are all interested in as the members of the so called Mystery Club of their university. They like to delve in the classic stories and to solve the puzzles of crimes. They have even given themselves nick names after the great classic writers of crime novels:  Ellery, Carr, Leroux, Poe, Van, Agatha and Orczy. When they are invited to the remote island of Tsunojima, they are thrilled. It has been the place of a quadruple murder the year before and thus promises an interesting week which they want to spend with writing and enjoying themselves. Yet, they did not count on somebody waiting there for them to settle an old bill which is to be paid with their lives. In the meantime, on the mainland, three people receive letters insinuating that something strange might be going on and that a presumably dead killer might still be around.

“Even if the world were viewed as a chessboard, and every person on it a chess piece, there would still be a limit as to how far future moves could be predicted. The most meticulous plan, plotted to the last detail, could still go wrong sometime, somewhere, somehow.”

Yukito Ayatsuji’s debut novel is clearly inspired by the novels of the Golden Age of crime using the classic setting. “The Decagon House Murders” was first published in Japan in 1987 but only now the English translation is available. The reader alternatingly follows the evens on the island, where one after the other student finds his/her death and on the mainland, where they do not know what exactly happens there but try to combine the murders of the year before with the current events and the mysterious letters they got. Even though both lines of enquiry provide numerous ideas of what could be happening, the reader remains in the dark until the very end, just to discover what can only be called the perfect murder.

The novel is a homage to the classic crime novels and mystery readers who have always enjoyed Agatha Christie and the like will be totally enthralled. The plot, first of all, lives on the atmosphere of the island which is not very welcoming and cut off from the outside thus strongly reminding of “And Then There Were None”. The fact that it was the scene of a dreadful murder only months before adds to the its mysterious vibes. The murders seem to be carefully planned, no repetition in how they students find death and therefore leaving you pondering about one person could manage all this without being detected.

A classic whodunnit I thoroughly enjoyed.

Megan Hunter – The Harpy

Megan Hunter – The Harpy

Lucy is a loving wife and mother of two small boys. Even though she at times regrets not having finished her doctorate, her life is quite close to perfect, at least from the outside. Until she gets a voice message informing her of her husband Jake’s affair with his colleague. Jake immediately admits everything, yet, it wasn’t a single misstep, but actually three. They agree not to give up everything they have built up and Lucy is allowed to hurt him three times, too. What he does not know is that forever, she has been fascinated by harpies, the mythological creatures symbolising the underworld and evil. Thus, Lucy’s revenge is not small but a thoroughly made-up, destructive plan of vengeance.

A couple of years ago, I read Megan Hunter’s post-apocalyptic debut “The End We Start From” and liked it a lot, thus I was eager to read her latest novel “The Harpy” which did more than fulfil my expectations. The atmosphere is burning, the idea of the dreadful mythological creatures always looming over the action. Quite often, the harpy is used to depreciate a nasty woman. Lucy can be considered nasty in what she does, however, the betrayal she has to endure is no less harmful.

Of course, Lucy’s revenge is the central aspect of the plot. Yet, it is not just their marriage that is under scrutiny, the whole circle Lucy and Jake move in comes to a closer inspection. Superficial friendships which end immediately end when someone does not comply with the unwritten rules, feigned sympathy and kindness – isn’t this world an awful one to live in? Plus the reduction of an intelligent woman to caring mother who becomes invisible as a woman and is considered little more than a domestic worker for the family, a life surely man find themselves in involuntarily.

From a psychological point of view, the novel is also quite interesting, depicting Lucy’s transformation from loving housewife to independent and reckless avenging angel. She frees herself from the clichés she has lived to so long and goes beyond all boundaries. A beautifully written brilliant novel that I enjoyed thoroughly.

Jussi Adler-Olsen – Victim 2117

Jussi adler-olsen victim 2117
Jussi Adler-Olsen – Victim 2117

This could be his last chance for a break-through as a journalist. When Barcelona based Joan Aiguader decides to write about a victim, the 2117th refugees who dies on the dangerous way across the Mediterranean Sea, he cannot anticipate that his article will shake Department Q, Copenhagen’s cold case unit, or that he himself will soon fall in the hands of reckless terrorists. The poor woman who found death on Greek shores is well known to Assad, member of the famous and most successful unit within the Danish police. Lely Kababi once saved his life when his family had fled Iraq and now, so many years without the least information about her whereabouts, he sees her on a picture and next to her is his wife Marwa whom he has neither seen nor spoken for 16 years. Assad needs to get in touch, but he knows just from looking at the picture that this will not be easy since there is another person to be seen: his worst enemy who obviously is seeking revenge.

Jussi Adler-Olsen continues his Department Q series with a suspenseful and highly political instalment which combines current events with the story around the very special unit of the Danish law enforcement authorities. When I read the first novel, I immediately fell for the very peculiar characters Adler-Olsen created. They seemed to be quite a unique assortment of individuals who nevertheless managed to work well together and were highly successful due to their distinctive and diverse skills. All of them had a story which only slowly has been revealed throughout the different books, now it is time for Assad’s story, the most secretive of all.

I am not quite sure if I find Assad’s backstory totally convincing, but I grant it to literature to extent the borders of plausibility at times. Additionally, I am also not in the position to judge on what can happen in Middle East countries in times of war. Setting aside this aspect, I found the characters’ motivation very convincing – Assad’s as well as his opponent’s. I was quite happy to finally get an idea of his life before joining Department! Q which has always been quite blurry. And I totally adored how Adler-Olsen managed to combine this with current affairs that have been central to European politics for quite some time now. Especially the role of journalists – unfortunately only crucial at the very beginning – has been quite authentically portrayed.

The different points of view accelerate the action and lead to a high pace. It does not take long to be totally captured by the novel and again, the author has demonstrated that among the multitude of great Scandinavian crime writers, he surely is at the very top.

Anna-Lou Weatherley – The Stranger’s Wife

anna-lou-weatherley-the-strangers-wife
Anna-Lou Weatherley – The Stranger’s Wife

You should never underestimate a woman’s revenge. When her nanny and friend vanishes, Beth decides that – since it all will finally come out anyhow – she can also make the first step herself: she tells her husband Evan that she’s going to leave him for her affair Nick. Evan seems to accept this calmly, they have lived next to each other but hardly with each other for years now, calling this a marriage was embellishing the situation. But he warns his wife that she will be sorry for this step. At that moment, Beth doesn’t have a clue what he means, how powerful her husband actually is and first of all, WHO she has been married to all these years. With her decision to leave him, she has triggered a ball that will send her directly into hell. But Beth is a fighter, much more a fighter than Evan could ever imagine.

Anna-Lou Weatherley’s novel really deserves the title “page-turner”. From the first chapter when the nanny goes missing to the very end: it is a rollercoaster ride of emotional ups and downs that fascinatingly and almost addictively keeps you reading on. The author has created enemies who fight on a very high level – a wonderful read that I enjoyed throughout.

“The Stranger’s Wife” is a psychological thriller combined with some serious issues that make you ponder quite some time after having finished reading it. I totally adored the idea of a woman fighting back, not accepting fate and a bullying husband who knows all the important people and thinks that life runs according to his personal laws. Having his evil character slowly unfold was exciting and frightening at the same time since you always wonder how well you actually know the people around you and how much and what they might hide. Yet, the story also showed that marital abuse and physical as well as psychological violence happens in all social classes, the rich can be affected in the same way as the poor, money does not make a difference when it comes to aggressions.

A marvellous plot with interesting and multifaceted characters, thus I can easily pardon the fact that it needed a kind of coincidence to make everything fall into place. The novel literally absorbed me and I hardly could put it down.

Marie Benedict – The Only Woman in the Room

marie-benedict-the-only-woman-in-the-room
Marie Benedict – The Only Woman in the Room

Hedy Lamarr – Hollywood Star of the glorious 1940s with an unknown past. She grew up in Vienna where she had her first successful performances which attracted the attention of Fritz Mandl, an influential military arms manufacturer. Being Jewish wasn’t that big a problem at the time, but her father already felt that refusing a man like Mandl added to their religion wasn’t a good idea and thus, she first accepted the invitation to dinner and finally married him. But soon after their honeymoon, things changed drastically and the only role she was allowed to play was that of the silent wife who was nice to look at. What her husband did underestimate was her quick wit and her capacity of listening. And listen she did when he met the big players who prepared for a new world order with the help of her husband’s weapons. After her successful escape to the US, she used her intelligence and her knowledge for revenge: she developed a radio guidance system for torpedoes.

Admittedly, I had never heard of Hedy Lamarr before starting to read the novel. And even at the beginning I supposed the protagonist was simply a fictional character. When I became aware of the actual background, the woman’s life felt even more impressive than just the narration which I already liked a lot.

The actress is the narrator and centre of the novel and it does not take too long for the reader to figure out that she isn’t just the nice face and talented actress but a smart woman interested in everyday politics with a sharp and alert mind. She follows her father’s line of thoughts about Mandl’s advances and understands that she isn’t in a position to freely decide. The way she planned her escape shows not only how clever she can plot but also her courage. In America she is first reduced to the beautiful actress and it surely hit her hard when her invention was refused by the navy. If it rally was because she was a woman as the novel suggests or if there were other motives doesn’t really matter – she wasn’t recognised for what she was, but only for what people saw in her. Hopefully narratives of these kind of women help to change the mind of those who still believe that the looks go hand in hand with a simple mind.

Rebecca Fleet – The House Swap

rebecca-fleet-the-house-swap
Rebecca Fleet – The House Swap

After the hard time they have gone through in their relationship, Caroline and Francis need a vacation, best without their son Eddie. A house swap seems to be a good idea so they leave Leeds for a week in the suburbs of London. Somehow the house is strange, it looks like nobody actually lives in there, it is absolutely impersonal, almost clinical. But the woman seemed to be nice enough to let her into their own apartment. When Caroline receives a strange message on her cell phone, she is alarmed: did something awake the ghosts of the past? Did her ex affair Carl get in contact again? And who is this strange neighbour Amber who seems to observe them and behaves in a very strange way when she comes to visit them late in the evening. Caroline can sense the danger but she doesn’t know where it is really coming from…

The novel starts at quite some low pace and admittedly I was a bit annoyed because I couldn’t make sense of a lot of things at the beginning. It was obvious that Francis and Caroline had some problems in the past, she had an affair with a colleague, he was addicted to pills, but since this had happened obviously two years before, I didn’t quite understand the relevance of all this for the house swap. And there was this voice talking to Caroline, but it was not clear where it was coming from. I do not really like to be in the dark and not understanding anything.

However, the further you get in the novel and the more you understand, the more thrill you feel and the better the plot gets. Of course you are supposed to run in the completely wrong direction with the assumptions of what is behind all this – eagerly I did – just to learn then that it is not only much more complicated, very cleverly constructed, and also a lot more dangerous for the characters than you would have assumed.

“The House Swap” is a fantastic thriller as soon as you get over the first few pages. It can surprise and offers an especially interesting psychological aspect which is only revealed towards the end.