Claire McGowan – What You Did

claire-mcgowan-what-you-did
Claire McGowan – What You Did

It was meant to be a relaxed weekend and reunion of old friends, but then it turns into an absolute nightmare. It’s been 25 years that Ali and her husband Mike first met their friends Karen, Jodi, Bill and Callum at university, a reason to celebrate in their new home. Yet, after a lot of alcohol, a loud cry from Karen suddenly ends the joyful get together: Karen claims to have been assaulted by Mike, her bleeding and overall status seem confirm her accusation. After Mike’s arrest, Ali’s world slowly crumbles and falls, the more she learns about her husband, the more she has to ask herself if she really knew whom she has been married to for all those years. Not only did he have an affair all those years, but also are there money transfers to an unknown account and more pieces of information that are far beyond just being inconvenient: they are purely frightening. But this is just the beginning.

Claire McGowan’s thriller is absolutely breath taking. It is mainly narrated from Ali’s point of you and you constantly ask yourself: what would I do if I were in her shoes? Whom would I believe, my husband or my former best friend? Would I stick to my ideals or try to save the life I had worked for for years? How far would I be willing to go for the person I love? The story moves at a very high pace, just whenever you think the characters have found a way of coping with the catastrophe, the next follows immediately only to make the whole situation even worse. There is no moment to relax and sit down to think through the mess they are in, they are forced to react to ever more complications from one minute to the other.

The plot is very cleverly constructed, revealing its full potential only slowly. What makes it especially delicate is the fact that it plays on those core emotions in life: trust and believe in the people who are closest to you. It hurts a lot more to feel betrayed by the ones you love than coping with just with stressful situations. Additionally, I found it quite clever to put Ali in the position where she is presented as an advocate for women who have been assaulted and speak out against their perpetrators and then finding her in the position where she is inclined to take the other side and rather believe her husband than the woman – and friend! – who without any doubt is a victim.

I utterly rushed through the novel since I could hardly put it down. The short chapters even accelerated the plot and made you read on just one more chapter and another one and so on until the end. A brilliant story that I enjoyed throughout.

Catherine Ryan Howard – Rewind

catherine-ryan-howard-rewind
Catherine Ryan Howard – Rewind

Andrew, manager of Shanamore Cottages, does not trust his eyes when he watches the camera he secretly installed in the bedroom of the cottages: his only guest has just been murdered. Yet, he surely cannot call the police but has to cope with the situation. Rewind. Strange things seem to happen in the life of influencer Natalie. However, her husband Mike does not believe her, supposedly because he himself is behind it all. He not only seems to have an affair but also wants her to believe that she has gone nuts. The key to it all seems to lie in the cottages where her obviously spent several days, so she packs her bag and spontaneously goes there. She knows immediately that this has been a mistake, the place is not only remote but more than literally abandoned in November and the people out there more than creepy. She does not know how correct her assessment of the place is and how wrong she was about the connection between this village and herself.

I have read Catherine Ryan Howard’s former novel “The Liar’s Girls” about Dublin’s Canal Killer and had liked it a lot. That’s why I was eager to read another of her thrillers and I wasn’t disappointed. Again, she starts with a murder and the reader has to figure out how this character ended up killed. “Rewind” is cleverly constructed and it takes some time to connect the dots and to make sense of it all. Yet, suspense does not decline once you see through the plot as there is still a chance that the actual culprit might simply walk away without ever being discovered and charged.

What I found strongest apart from the carefully composed plot, was the atmosphere the author creates. The small village of Shanamore really gives you the creeps only when reading about it. This place – added the time of the year, November, which is in itself often spine-chilling due to the cold and darkness – is perfect for hideous murders and you wouldn’t expect anybody else than weird and dubious characters walking around there. But also the action taking place in Dublin that makes Natalie feel increasingly hesitant and insecure about herself adds to the overall frightening ambiance of the novel.

Catherine Ryan Howard provides a lot of wrong leads that make you readjust the picture again and again and ponder how all can possibly fit into the picture. The solution is plausible and does not leave any question unanswered. “Rewind” is a perfect page-turner that I read in just one sitting since it hooked me immediately.

S.J. Watson – Before I Go to Sleep [dt. Ich.Darf.Nicht.Schlafen]

SJ-watson-before-I-go-to-sleep
S.J. Watson – Before I Go to Sleep [dt. Ich.Darf.Nicht.Schlafen]

Als Christine morgens wach wird, kommt ihr das Schlafzimmer fremd vor, ebenso der Mann, mit dem sie offenkundig die Nacht verbracht hat. Scheinbar hatte sie am Abend zuvor ordentlich gefeiert, so dass sie keinerlei Erinnerung mehr hat. Im Badezimmer erschrickt sie: wer ist die Frau, die ihr aus dem Spiegel entgegenblickt? Sie ist mindestens zwanzig Jahre älter als sie selbst! Jeden Morgen wiederholt sich dasselbe Spiel: seit einem Autounfall leidet sie an Amnesie und kann sich an nichts mehr erinnern. Ihr Ehemann Ben hat das Haus sorgfältig präpariert, damit sie die wichtigsten Eckdaten schnell erkennt. Nachdem Ben zur Arbeit aufgebrochen ist, befindet sich Christine alleine in dem fremden Haus. Ein Telefonanruf verunsichert sie, ein Arzt will sich mit ihr treffen und weist auf ein Tagebuch hin, in dem sie seit Wochen Dinge notiert, die sie in minutiöser Arbeit rekonstruiert haben. Christine beginnt in ihrem eigenen Leben zu lesen und je weiter sie voranschreitet, desto seltsamer und beunruhigender werden die Erkenntnisse. Irgendwie wollen die Puzzlestücke nicht zusammenpassen und bald schon weiß sie nicht mehr, ob sie irgendwem überhaupt vertrauen kann.

S.J. Watsons Debutroman „Before I Go to Sleep“ war ein ungewöhnlicher Erfolg für ein Erstlingswerk, geschrieben hat es der Autor in seinen Pausen als Hörakustiker. Der Psychothriller wurde 2011/2012 mit zahlreichen Preisen ausgezeichnet und 2014 folgte die hochkarätig besetzte Verfilmung, die jedoch in keiner Weise an den Erfolg des Buches anknüpfen konnte.

Zu Beginn weist wenig daraufhin, dass es sich um einen Thriller handelt. Man bedauert Christine um ihre leidliche Situation und gemeinsam mit der Protagonistin versucht man Sinn in das Chaos, das sie umgibt, zu bringen. Es ist leicht, sich in sie hineinzuversetzen, da der Wissensstand zwischen ihr und dem Hörer/Leser identisch ist. Die Begegnung mit Dr. Nasch wirft weitaus mehr Fragen auf als sie beantwortet. Warum verheimlicht sie ihrem Mann die Treffen und was hat sie in den letzten Wochen bereits an Erinnerungen rekonstruieren können? Vor allem jedoch: weshalb hat sie als Notiz an sich selbst „Do not trust Ben“ in ihr Tagebuch geschrieben? Christines heimliches Treffen mit ihrer ehemaligen besten Freundin Claire befördert noch mehr Ungereimtheiten zu Tage und spätestens jetzt lässt sich der Psychothriller nicht mehr aufhalten und fährt sie ganzes Potenzial aus.

Die Handlung lebt von der Konstruktion rund um Christines Amnesie. Immer mehr Fakten trägt sie zusammen, die erst nach und nach einen Sinn ergeben und mit Zunahme des Wissens steigt jedoch nicht nur die Gewissheit über das eigene Leben, sondern vor allem die Angst vor der Gefahr, in der Christine schwebt, die immer deutlicher wird. Zielstrebig bewegt sich das Buch auf den dramatischen Höhepunkt zu, der dann auch die letzten Lücken schließt und so alle Fragen restlos beantwortet. Ein Psychothriller, der seinen Namen wirklich verdient hat und mich restlos begeistert – so sehr, dass das Finale mein Sportprogramm, bei dem ich das Hörbuch hörte, deutlich ausdehnte, um endlich zu erfahren, wie alles zusammenhängt.

Wiebke Lorenz – Einer wird sterben

wiebke-lorenz-einer-wird-sterben
Wiebke Lorenz – Einer wird sterben

Wieder einmal ist Stella allein zu Hause, aber das ist der Preis, den sie als Gattin eines Piloten zahlen muss. Dafür hat sie es in der Villa in der ruhigen Wohngegend schön eingerichtet. Doch dann geschehen Dinge, die sie verunsichern. Erst fährt ein Wagen vor und parkt in der Straße, zwei Personen sitzen drin und bewegen weder sich noch das Auto. Dann streiken im Haus verschiedene Geräte, bis sie nachts an der Mülltonne überfallen wird und offene Drohungen erhält. Hat es etwas mit dem unheilvollen Datum zu tun? Jahre zuvor war die Sommersonnenwende der einschneidende Markstein in ihrem und Pauls Leben: bei einem Unfall wurden sie schwer und Pauls Exfrau tödlich verletzt. Paul saß am Steuer, hätte mit diesem Bekenntnis aber seine Karriere riskiert, weshalb Stella die Schuld auf sich nahm. Kann jemand davon wissen und bedroht sie nun nach all den Jahren? Und gerade jetzt ist Paul nicht nur nicht da, sondern auch kaum erreichbar und wenn sie ihn am Telefon hat, scheint er den Ernst der Lage nicht verstanden zu haben. Doch die Bedrohung ist real.

Der Plot hat alles, was ein Psychothriller braucht: lange verborgene Geheimnisse, die auch nach zig Jahren noch lauern und nur darauf warten, endlich ihr brisantes Potenzial zu entfalten; Zeichen, die vielfältig deutbar sind und durch die Unklarheit nur zu noch mehr Verunsicherung führen; eine Frau, die sich alleine in einer Villa befindet und dem Schicksal ausgeliefert ist. Doch leider führen diese Zutaten nicht zu einem spannenden Thrill, der beim Leser eine Gänsehaut auslöst; im Gegenteil, die Handlung schleppt sich so dahin und die Protagonistin wird einem von Kapitel zu Kapitel unsympathischer, so dass man ihr fast ein böses Ende wünscht.

Stella ist leider genau die Art von Figur, die ich nur schwer ertragen kann: das hilflose Dummchen, das alleine kaum überlebensfähig ist. Wie diese Figur jemals als Lehrerin gearbeitet haben soll, ist mir schleierhaft. Sie ist kaum zu einfachsten Tätigkeiten in der Lage, weshalb sie auch nur für den Besuch des Yoga Kurses zuständig ist und ansonsten offenbar untätig in der Villa rumliegt, Putzen übernimmt glücklicherweise eine Haushälterin. Unsozial wie sie zudem ist, pflegt sie auch keine Kontakte zu anderen Menschen, schon gar nicht zur Nachbarschaft. Hierzu wird sie nun aber gezwungen, weil eine aufwändige und völlig überzogene Nebenhandlung diese unmittelbar involviert und so weitere unglaubwürdige und nervige Figuren in die Handlung einbringt. Dies führt weder zu Spannungsaufbau, noch zur reizvollen Nebenhöhenpunkten, sondern wirkt konstruiert und hölzern.

Die Auflösung hat dann zwar nochmals eine vermeintliche Wendung gebracht, die jedoch so vorhersehbar war, dass man im letzten Viertel des Romans nur noch sehnsüchtig darauf gewartet hat, dass alles möglichst bald zu Ende ist. Spannende Unterhaltung geht anders.

Christian von Ditfurth – Ultimatum

Christian-von-Ditfurth-ultimatum
Christian von Ditfurth – Ultimatum

Der Ehemann der Kanzlerin wird in Berlin entführt. Die Forderung der Geiselnehmer: erst die Freilassung des Verbrechers Bob Wedenstein, dann die Entlassung des Innenministers, als letztes den südlichen Euroländern die Schulden erlassen – die Forderungen werden immer drastischer, mit der Hand des First Husband untermauern sie ihre Ernsthaftigkeit. Die Regierung und die Ermittlungsbehörden stehen unter Druck, da interessiert sie der verdächtige Tod der russischen Kulturattachée nur mäßig. Als sich in Paris ein paralleles Szenario anbahnt, ist klar, dass der Angriff größer ist und sich nicht nur gegen die Kanzlerin und Deutschland richtet. Einzig Kommissar Eugen de Bodt, dem es gelingt den Gatten der Kanzlerin zu befreien, scheint einen klaren Kopf zu bewahren und die Absicht der Terroristen zu durchschauen. Aber auch er ahnt noch nicht, was sie sich tatsächlich ausgedacht haben.

Das Szenario klang vielversprechend, eine Gruppe von schlagstarken und entschlossenen Terroristen versetzt Deutschland und Frankreich in Angst und Schrecken. Die Methoden tragen unverkennbare Parallelen zum Agieren der RAF und es scheint kaum ein Mittel zu geben, um sie aufzuhalten. Glücklicherweise jedoch verfügt Kommissar de Bodt über die Gabe, sich in die Gedankenwelt der Verbrecher zu versetzen und so deren Vorgehen und Pläne zu antizipieren – dies macht ihn, neben seiner Leidenschaft für philosophische Sprüche, bei seinen Vorgesetzten nicht unbedingt beliebter.

Der vielversprechende Ansatz stolpert jedoch für mein Empfinden gleich über mehrere Schwächen. Die überzeugende Grundidee gerät insgesamt zu groß, zu sehr aufgeblasen, um glaubwürdig zu sein. Irgendwann verzettelt sich das Szenario und hat mich dann leider auch verloren. Auch wenn de Bodt mit seinem Team arbeitet, bleibt er doch der alleinige Held, von dem alles abhängt. Superhelden passen gut in das Marvel Universum, für realistische Geschichten sind sie meist zu wenig menschlich und können mich nicht wirklich für sich gewinnen – zugegebenermaßen haben mich seine Sprüche auch mehr genervt, als dass ich ihnen etwas abgewinnen hätte können. Ähnlich wie die Handlung war auch die Erzählweise ziemlich aufgebläht; immer wieder endlose Dialoge, die letztlich die Geschichte selten vorangebracht haben und stattdessen eher noch die Spannung haben abflachen lassen, so waren sie für einen rasanten Thriller eher hinderlich als bereichernd.

Fazit: leider große Enttäuschung, da die hohen Erwartungen so gar nicht erfüllt wurden.

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.

Max Manning – The Victim

max-manning-the-victim
Max Manning – The Victim

When one evening Gem Golding stops at a drugstore to get some pain killers, a man approaches her and tries to hijack her car. He obviously has a knife, but she never wanted to become a victim. So she has to make a choice quickly: either give in, surrender to him and the situation or fight for her life. Depending on how she decides, her life will take different turns. Gem will either be the fighter or the victim.

Max Manning’s thriller is an interesting play with how the options presented to us and the decisions made have a huge impact on what follows. He continues the story by narrating the two outcomes in a paralleled line, showing the result of each of Gem’s choice and the consequences that necessarily come with it: the psychological effect the decision has on her but also on her husband Drew, her relationship with him, but also her career in PR which forces her to work late hours.

Both sides are convincing in their own way and both stories have their appeal. Yet, admittedly, I got frequently confused which annoyed me a lot. It took some time until I had figured out the concept but until that I was wondering if I could really have misunderstood so much. A different font or the like might have helped a lot. There were some interesting twists and turns, also the characters varied a lot depending on the story line which made it quite interesting and kept suspense high.

An utterly singular concept of dealing with a story, however, it did not fully work out for me which is a pity since I really appreciated the story itself and the writer’s style of writing.

J.P. Delaney – The Perfect Wife

jp-delaney-the-perfect-wife
J.P. Delaney – The Perfect Wife

Tim Scott, prodigy of Silicon Valley, has lost his wife and is since mourning. But he wouldn’t be one of the richest and most admired IT specialists if he wasn’t the one with visions. And now his dream has come true: a cobot, perfect replica of his wife Abbie, lookalike and fed with memories of former wife’s life. As soon as the public becomes aware of this technological milestone, strong opinions collide: how do you treat a robot who looks, speaks and behaves like a human? Who do Abbie’s memories belong to? And why would someone prefer to live with a machine if he could have any woman in the country? For Tim the last question is easy to answer, but this is something he would never tell the public or his new partner. He mission is far bigger than just building a perfect copy of Abbie.

“The Perfect Wife” is a stunning combination of science-fiction novel and thriller. I especially appreciated the perspective taken: together with recently awaken cobot Abbie, we learn our way around the world of Tim Scott and only bit by bit gain knowledge about the seemingly perfect marriage he and Abbie had. There is a second voice adding information somehow from the inside Tim’s company, yet it takes until the very end to understand where this voice comes from. Many unexpected twists and turns keep suspense high and the more the action advances, the more you ask yourself what your position is when it comes to artificial intelligence.

Creating the perfect partner has been mankind’s dream forever, already in the old Greek tales you find the example of Pygmalion and throughout our history, this has always been a vision. Now, our technical knowledge and the means seem at a point where this could be possible. I found JP Delaney’s idea quite realistic and not too far-fetched after all. Machine learning has been around for a couple of years now and more and more humanoid robots inhabit our world. We even talk to them as if they were humans and Siri, Alexa and the like have become a normal part of our life.

There is another aspect I found particularly interesting: Tim’s and Abbie’s son was diagnosed with autism and the cobot seems to be much more capable of understanding his ways of communication than human beings. They share some similarities in how their programming/brains work which leads me to wonder if with the help of machines, we could facilitate life for many people suffering from this or similar disorders.

All in all, a suspenseful thriller which raises the most relevant questions of our time and surely mirrors our human hubris. Something we definitely must reconsider.

Wendy Clarke – We Were Sisters

wendy-clarke-we-were-sisters
Wendy Clarke – We Were Sisters

Kelly’s childhood was all but easy. Her father was never at home and her mother didn’t care about her at all, her whole focus was on the foster children who came and went off again. When Kelly was eight, she was promised a sister, this time to stay with them forever. Freya, two years her senior, turned out to be a very headstrong and reckless girl who soon took over control and manipulated Kelly’s mum. This is why Kelly was not too sad when she did not return after a stay at a hospital. Yet, a couple of years later, Freya is back, but now, Kelly is older and not the weak girl who puts up with everything anymore. However, all these are stories of the past, by now, Kelly has a loving husband and three wonderful kids. But, when strange things start to happen, Kelly is unsure whether to blame the lack of sleep or if she is reading the signs correctly. Is Freya back? But she saw her die, this cannot be, can it?

Wendy Clarke’s thriller “We were sisters” keeps the reader a long time in the dark. The story is narrated at two periods of time, on the one hand, the adult Kelly who tries to cope with three children and the constant fear that something from the past might endanger her lucky little family; on the other hand, her memories of the past, the disturbed family she grew up in and the encounter with her foster sister Freya. Thus, it takes some time to sort out what happened and to form an idea of what the signs she sees might mean actually. The author, however, has to offer some twists and turns which come quite unexpectedly.

I adore those stories where there is a creepy feeling that there is a threat coming from somewhere without the characters knowing where to look for it. I was really surprised by the ending as it all turns out quite differently from what I had in mind – brilliantly done. Nevertheless, even though it all makes totally sense, I had the impression that it was a bit too much. Also Kelly’s relationship – or rather: non-relationship – with her parents seemed a bit exaggerated to me, just as her feeling of being threatened without a real reason before all the strange things started to happen. Yet, I enjoyed Wendy Clarke’s writing a lot, she certainly knows how to keep you hooked.

Riley Sager – Lock Every Door

riley-sager-lock-every-door
Riley Sager – Lock Every Door

When Jules comes home early because she has been laid off, she finds her boyfriend with another girl. Without a job and no home anymore, she is close to giving up when she sees an ad for a house sitter. This might solve both her problems for the moment. When she enters the apartment for the first time, the interior holds up to what the outside of this old Upper West Side house promised. The Bartholomew is incredible and Jules more than happy when she is hired for the job which is paid more than generously: one thousand dollars per week. But there are some strict rules to follow. When you’ve got nowhere else to go and no money in your bank account, you agree to almost everything, but Jules has no idea what she has agreed to with moving into the Bartholomew.

Riley Sager’s thriller got me hooked from the very beginning. I like those stories with old houses in which there are strange sounds you cannot identify and that have secrets behind every door and residents who are suspicious in every imaginable and unimaginable way. The setting is just perfectly chosen for a spine-tingling story and the way the author composed the story, with foreshadowings which give you some idea of what might come without telling too much, keeps you alert and thrilled all the time.

I liked the protagonist Jules immediately, she seems to be a clever young woman, with her family background not an easy prey for wrongdoers. You sympathise with her due to her very poor situation and the luck that seems to have come to her life unexpectedly. The inhabitants of the house are intriguingly drawn, quite eccentric but well-fitting to the surrounding.

Yet, what I liked best was that fact that when I was sure to have sorted out everything, I had to learn that I was downright wrong with my assumptions. Really some unexpected turns and connections – masterly done! Nevertheless, it all adds up and makes completely sense, looking at the plot again from the end, you see how you misinterpreted signs and easily were deceived by the author. Brilliantly done and well written, one of those books that you hate to finish.