Wendy Clarke – The Bride

wendy clarke the bride
Wendy Clarke – The Bride

There nothing in Alice’s life that didn’t go completely wrong in the last couple of weeks: her employer laid her off, her father didn’t want to see her and now, her partner leaves her because he is having a baby with another woman. After days in bed, she gets a message from an old friend. Joanna. Her former best friend with whom she has lost contact, but now, Joanna wants to meet her to get to know the man she’s going to marry. Could there be a better excuse to leave everything behind at least for a couple of days? Obviously, Joanna must be quite successful living in one of the new posh apartment blocks which must be super expensive. However, when, Alice knocks on the door, there is just Mark, Joanna’s husband to be and he knows nothing of a visitor. Joanna is not there, also the next day, she doesn’t show up. Alice feels increasingly uncomfortable until Mark tells her that Joanna has been kidnapped and that he needs her help to get her back.

Told from Alice’s point of view, you go through a horrendous mass of emotions – emotions which could hardly be more contradictory. Wendy Clarke leads the reader through a tour de force of lies, secrets and very spooky and distressing moments that, at times, give you the creeps. Just like her protagonist, you do not know whom to believe or trust, the whole situation she is caught in feels like a big ghost train rushing towards a giant obstacle without preparing for the impact.

I totally adore plots which keep you alert throughout the whole narration. It is those seemingly insignificant side notes that reveal that there’s so much you do not know, that all characters have some blind spots you don’t see and that everything might be completely different from what you expect or believe. Even though I found Alice a bit too naïve and shallow, I liked to follow her.

The further the plot gets, the higher the pace and suspense, thus a true page-turner that entertained me well.

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.

Denise Mina – Conviction

denise mina conviction
Denise Mina – Conviction

Just like every day, Anna McDonald gets up in the morning and turns on a podcast to relax before the usual commotion of her family starts. This morning, however, will be completely different. First, she learns in a true crime podcast that her former friend Leon has been murdered on a boat off the French coast, then, her husband tells her that he’s going to run away with her best friend Estelle taking their two girls with them. When Estelle’s husband Fin Cohen, a famous musician, turns up and a photo of the two of them goes viral, her carefully built life crumbles and falls. It will not be long before someone will recognise her, before those people that she has hidden from for years will finally find her, before it all will start again. She needs to run away again, but before, together with Fin, she will find out what happened to Leon and if the person she supposes behind it all is still looking for her.

Sometimes you start a novel, expecting it to be entertaining and gripping, but then you are literally dragged into it and cannot stop reading. That’s what happened to me with “Conviction”, once I began reading, I was spellbound and fascinated and absolutely wanted to know what all this was about. Due to Denise Mina’s clever foreshadowing and the high pace of the plot, you don’t get a second to relax and breathe deeply, as the protagonist runs, you are tagged along and eagerly follow.

Denise Mina does not waste any time, the story starts like a bull at the gate and before you are even the slightest oriented, you are already in the middle of the mess that Anna is experiencing. Choosing a first person narrator was some clever decision as thus, we only get her perspective, only what she wants to share and which leaves the reader in the dark for quite some time. At first, she seems to be totally overreacting until you realise that there is much more behind it all. The good and dutiful housewife obvious is entangled in some unbelievably big conspiracy with powerful people far beyond any law enforcement.

A proper page-turner with unexpected twists and turns which also has some witty and comical bits and pieces to offer.

Jackie Kabler – The Perfect Couple

jackie kabler the perfect couple
Jackie Kabler – The Perfect Couple

Life has been perfect for Gemma and her husband Danny. The successful journalist and IT specialist have decided to flee busy London and settle in Bristol in a nice home where the quality of living is higher. When Gemma returns one Friday evening only three weeks after their move, she expects Danny to be at home waiting for her with dinner. However, their house is deserted, no sign that her partner has been at home after work. First, she is only slightly concerned, working overtime is not unusual in his job, but not getting hold of him makes her wonder. After changing his job, he hasn’t gotten a new mobile phone and thus, they only communicate via e-mail which he doesn’t answer. Gemma bravely waits two days, becoming increasingly frightened before she contacts the police for filing a missing persons’ report. What she learns then is that two men looking like Danny’s twins have been murdered in the area and soon she finds herself prime suspect in a serial killer case as strangely, there is not the least sign in her home of Danny ever having lived there with her. What is she actually hiding?

Jackie Kabler’s mystery novel starts quite typical for a thriller, you are immediately thrown into the plot and discover the vanishing of her husband together with Gemma. Thus, you get her growing concern first hand and can easily follow her thoughts. When the police’s side of the story is told, the author switches the point of view and leaves you quite quickly in the positing where you wonder if either you were fooled by Gemma who seemingly has set up some very good murder plot or if the woman suffers from some kind of serious mental troubles and even only imagined to have a husband whom strangely hardly anybody seems to have known. On the other hand, there is some creepy feeling that Danny might have taken advantage of Gemma for some scheme of his own, they haven’t been married that long and he proposed only weeks after they had gotten to know each other.

I totally adored the constant insecurity about whom to trust and what to believe; the more you learn about the characters and the further the events develop, you have to adapt your opinion and change sides more than once. Some unexpected twists and turns keep you hooked to the novel and make it hard to put it down. “The Perfect Couple” is a psychological thriller with an interestingly drawn protagonist and a surprising storyline which make a thrilling and gripping read.

Lucy Atkins – Magpie Lane

Lucy-atkins-magpie-lane
Lucy Atkins – Magpie Lane

When Dee returns from an overnight trip to London, the Oxford College Master’s Lodging is a mess: Felicity, the girl she nannies and who suffers from selective mutism has vanished. Her Danish stepmother Mariah never bonded with the girl and since she has given to her own boy, she is totally exhausted and incapable of taking care of this extraordinary 8-year-old. Felicity must have sleepwalked, something she frequently does during her nightmares which have intensified since they moved to the old spooky house. For the police, Dee is one of the prime suspects because Nick Law, Felicity’s father, is convinced of her guilt. So they interview her over several days to get an understanding of the girl’s special situation and the relationship she had with her loving nanny who could never do her any harm, could she?

Lucy Atkins’s “Magpie Lane” is a very clever and creepy novel which brilliantly conveys the atmosphere of an old, dark house where you immediately believe ghosts could wander and haunt the inhabitants. Apart from this, she has created lovely characters who are not only very peculiar but with whom you bond straightaway even though some doubt about Dee’s involvement in Felicity’s vanishing is looming over the story.

I totally adored how Atkins uses the old university town in her novel. First of all, the house itself which provides a long and spine-chilling history, but also the cemeteries and walk ways which have a lot to tell. Apart from the surrounding, the people there also seem to live in the past which is especially tricky for a modern woman like Mariah. Even though she, on the one hand, is kind of “evil stepmother”, things are not that simple. I can understand how frustrating her situation is there: she is just “the wife of”, ignored for not being a real part of the Oxford community and everything with which she normally can charm people does not work here. Additionally, the situation with Felicity is undoubtedly highly challenging for her and then, things become even more dire with her own child crying day in, day out from colic.

Even though Dee is telling the story through the police interviews, Felicity is at the centre. This girl is surely a challenge for everybody but due to Dee’s sensibility you come to love and understand her increasingly. Her nightmares and obsession with death is somehow bizarre and unnerving yet understandable when you get to know her story. My personal highlight was the character of Linklater. The eccentric historian who seems to be completely unaware of the world outside his head fits perfectly in a place like Oxford and plays an important part in creating the somehow Gothic atmosphere.

Atkins’s way of foreshadowing adds to the suspenseful atmosphere and makes it a wonderful read that I enjoyed thoroughly.

Jessie Burton – Die Geheimnisse meiner Mutter

jessie burton die geheimnisse meiner Mutter
Jessie Burton – Die Geheimnisse meiner Mutter

Rose ist ohne Mutter aufgewachsen, als Kind phantasierte sie sich alle möglichen Szenarien zusammen, wo die sein könnte und weshalb sie ihre Tochter einfach verlassen hat. Auch ihr Vater erzählt nicht über die Zeit Anfang der 80er Jahre, wie es dazu kam, dass die Dinge so gelaufen sind. 34 Jahre später jedoch gibt er Rose zwei Bücher von Constance Holden mit der Info, dass diese ihre Mutter gekannt hatte und die letzte war, die Elise gesehen hat, bevor sie verschwand. Rose merkt schnell, dass es nicht einfach ist an die Autorin heranzukommen, durch einen Trick schleicht sie sich als Assistentin in das Leben der älteren Dame, die nach drei Jahrzehnten zum ersten Mal wieder schreibt. Vielleicht findet sie in diesem neuen Roman Antworten auf die vielen Fragen, die sie sich ihr Leben lang schon gestellt hat.

Jessie Burtons Geschichte schildert nicht nur die Suche nach den unbekannten Wurzeln, sondern auch die Suche nach sich selbst und der Frage, wer man eigentlich ist. Rose ist ganz typisch für ihre Generation, die zwar erwachsen ist und einen Studienabschluss hat, aber auch jenseits der 30 noch suchend durch das eigene Leben irrt und nicht weiß, was sie eigentlich von diesem erwartet: eine Beziehung, ein Kind, berufliche Erfüllung? Alles befindet sich in einem fragilen Zustand, weshalb sie sich umso mehr an die Vergangenheit klammert und hofft, durch das Finden ihrer Mutter auch die Antworten zu bekommen, die sie selbst nicht zu geben vermag.

Auf zwei Zeitebenen erleben wir einerseits die Gegenwart Roses und ihre Annäherung an Constance. Je enger die Verbindung zu der Autorin wird, desto weiter entfernt sie sich jedoch auch von ihrem Freund. Was vorher feine Risse in der Beziehung waren, werden plötzlich unüberwindbare Gräben. Der neue Roman scheint biografische Elemente zu enthalten, doch so richtig bringt auch er Rose in ihrer Suche nicht weiter und offen kann sie Constance nicht mit ihren Anliegen konfrontieren, immerhin hat sie sich unter falscher Identität in ihr Haus eingeschlichen. Ebenso wie viele Jahre später ihre Tochter ist auch die junge Elise ist von der Schriftstellerin fasziniert und bereit, alles für diese aufzugeben. Doch das Ungleichgewicht in ihrer Beziehung wird in der Ferne nicht durch die neuen Erfahrungen kompensiert, sondern nur noch offenkundiger und führt unweigerlich in die Katastrophe.

Erzählerisch überzeugt Jessie Burton, beide Handlungsstränge sind sauber gearbeitet und können jeder für sich durchaus begeistern. Allerdings ist bei mir der Funken nicht ganz übergesprungen. Die Faszination, die Constance Holden auf die beiden Frauen ausübt, hat sich mir nicht im gleichen Maße offenbart. Ich fand sie als jüngere und noch mehr als ältere Frau kalt und abweisend, eigentlich kein Mensch, der andere für sich gewinnt, denn an Zuneigung bietet sie wenig und Interesse scheint sie nur für sich selbst zu haben. Elise verfällt ihr als unbedarftes Mädchen, Rose ist eigentlich schon viel weiter im Leben, macht aber eher den Eindruck einer vielleicht 20-Jährigen, die noch keine Vorstellung davon hat, wo ihre Reise hingehen soll. Zwar hat Rose für sich am Ende den Eindruck deutlich weitergekommen zu sein, ich empfinde sie jedoch ähnlich planlos wie zu Beginn und kann nicht wirklich eine Entwicklung erkennen. Für diese Rückkehr zum Ausgangspunkt waren leider ein paar Schleifen zu viel erforderlich, die Geschichte hätte stringenter erzählt werden dürfen.

Alan Parks – Bobby March Will Live Forever

alan parks bobby march will live forever
Alan Parks – Bobby March Will Live Forever

A heat wave is rolling over Glasgow in July 1973 and just so is the drug business booming. One of the victims is Bobby March, the city’s greatest rock star, found dead in a hotel. Yet, this goes more or less unnoticed since the town is holding its breath with looking for young Alice Kelly who has disappeared into thin air. Her parents are neither rich nor famous, no ransom has been demanded, so everybody fears she might have been killed by some random perpetrator. With his boss Murray away and Raeburn in charge, life at Glasgow police becomes unbearable for Detective Harry McCoy who is ordered to the most loathing jobs. With the heat not going to cool down, the atmosphere is getting more and more tense and it is just a question of time until the necessary explosion comes.

The third instalment of Alan Parks’s series set in the 1970s Glasgow is by far the best. In the first, “Bloody January”, we get an idea of the city slowly declining, in “February’s son”, we learn about the underworld and their connection with McCoy. Now, the focus is set on the police who have the hardest job imaginable to do. Apart from the very personal aspects in this novel, again Alan Parks managed to create a brilliant atmosphere which gives you a feeling of the city and the constraints the inhabitants have to live in.

The plot combines several lines all equally thrilling and suspenseful. Apart from the kidnapping story – which will have much wider repercussions than apparent at the beginning – and McCoy’s personal war with Raeburn, there is also the ominous death of rock star Bobby March which gets unexpectedly personal for McCoy, too (and serves to continue the witty naming of the series). Added to this, Harry is asked by his boss to secretly look for his niece, 15-year-old Laura has been in trouble for quite some time, but now her disappearance seems to be more serious. All this is poured over McCoy and leads to a fast-paced story which you have to follow carefully in order not to get lost. Yet, the skilful and clever detective can connect the dots and bring all cases to an end.

The character of Harry McCoy is a fantastic protagonist. On the one hand, he is totally down to earth and knows how to talk to people no matter their background. He is an excellent policeman yet blends in easily with the underworld and its shady figures. On the other hand, he is totally loyal to his colleagues and has very high standards when it comes to police work and law and order. He knows where not to look too closely, but he is also determined when it comes to crossing a red line. Thus, his pragmatic but straightforward approach to his work makes him a sympathetic and authentic character.

A superb read which combines a great protagonist with a complex plot and lives from the stunning atmosphere the author creates.

Rosanna Amaka – The Book of Echoes

rosanna amaka the book of echos
Rosanna Amaka – The Book of Echoes

The new decade has just begun when life as he knows it ends for 16-year-old Michael Watson: his mother is murdered in their home and he and his little sisters find themselves alone in Brixton. The person who always told him that people of Jamaican descend have to work two times as hard as others and should keep their head down is gone and it does not take too long until his mother’s concerns are proven right. Thousands of kilometres south in a small Nigerian village, Ngozi has to say goodbye to her mother and younger sisters, she is sent to town to work as a maid and earn money for the family. Two kids who hardly have anything in common except for the very poor and hard start in life. Yet, they are born fighters and in them, they carry the echo of decades of people who had to face a similar situation and also fought for their future.

Rosanna Amaka tells the two very different stories alternatingly, you switch from Thatcher London to chaotic Nigeria and even though the surrounds could hardly differ more, there are some parallels between Michael and Ngozi. It is obvious that their lives have to collide at one point, yet, much less obvious to answer is the question if they will succeed and escape the poor life they are born in.

I totally adored the story around Ngozi even though there is not much to adore in her life. The hardship of her family who does not know how to make ends meet, a father who ignores his kids and later the families who employ and exploit her. Born and raised in Europe, one cannot really imagine the life of a girl of her background:

“’Ngozi, as a woman there are some things we have no choice in,’ she says and gets up from her chair. (…) She goes to sleep and to cry over the innocence her daughter will lose.”

Young girls are the most vulnerable and those who can just take advantage of it. Her employer, the employer’s wife, white men coming to Africa who believe to be superior and to have the right to treat people there like goods – it is not just what they have to endure but also how they seem to accept this as a fact of life, just as Ngozi’s mother put it.

For me, it took a bit too long to bring the two parts together, admittedly, the end was also a bit too foreseeable and sweet. Each on its own works perfectly well and could have done without the other actually. Nevertheless, the novel is beautifully written and I totally enjoyed reading it.

Emily Elgar – Grace is Gone

emily.elgar-grace-is-gone
Emily Elgar – Grace is Gone

When Cara comes to her neighbours’ house, she’s got a guilty conscience, she hasn’t seen Grace as often as she could have and the girl hardly has contact to anybody apart from her mother. Suffering from multiple diseases, she is confined to the house and needs a wheelchair to move around. What Cara finds, however, is not Grace and her loving mother Meg, but a horrible crime scene: the mother has been slaughtered and the daughter is gone. Who would do such a thing to the most beloved family of the small Cornish city of Ashford? Haven’t they suffered enough with the daughter fatally ill and their son who drowned a couple of years earlier? Together with journalist Jon, who published a not so pleasing portrait of mother and daughter a couple of months before, Cara starts to investigate and soon realises that the public picture of Grace and Meg differs a lot from reality.

Emily Elgar’s novel is a real page turner which offers some unexpected twists. The author has well dosed the revelations about Grace and Megan’s past to keep the reader hooked and curious to find out who they really were. What I liked most was the fact that – set aside the murder of Meg – most of what is told about them could be true and surely happens every day. This makes the suspenseful psychological thriller also a very sad story and leads the reader to ponder about the question how such a story could take place.

It is quite difficult to talk about the characters or the plot without giving away too much of it and spoiling the fun for other readers. I liked having alternate narrators who tell the events from their respective point of view and I also rarely find crime stories where the police and their investigation only play a minor role, or rather: none at all. Even though I had the correct idea of why and how the scheme was set up, I enjoyed reading the novel thoroughly.

Michael Wood – The Murder House

michael-wood-the-murder-house
Michael Wood – The Murder House

It is the most disturbing crime scene Sheffield police have ever seen: three persons have literally been slaughtered at home. The morning after the wedding reception of their daughter Leah, Clive and Serena Mercer as well as their son Jeremy are attacked and brutally killed, only Jeremy’s daughter is spared, but she had to witness the crime. When DCI Matilda Darke and her team start the investigation, they soon realise that this case will not be easy to solve, apparently everybody loved the family of well-respected and highly admired doctors. There simply seems to be nobody with a motive and especially nobody to commit such a crime. Yet, forensics come up with an ID: Keith Lumb, arrested several times for petty burglary, left traces at the house, but could this man really be capable of a triple killing? And why should he do this?

Michael Wood’s thriller “The Murder House” is a real page-turner. Once you start reading, the story doesn’t let go anymore and you keep on reading. The case is quite complex and the author brilliantly laid some wrong leads to keep you in the dark for a long time. In the end, however, it all makes sense and the pieces fall perfectly into place. A second plot line about a missing boy shifts focus at times, but also provides some suspense and is quite interesting from a psychological point of view.

Apart from the murder investigation, I liked the characters in the novel who seem quite authentic in the way they are presented and how they cope with the high demand of their job. They show different facets of their personality and all of them have their very own demons they have to fight with. However, they can also laugh and support each other, what I totally adored.

An exciting thriller with a lot of suspense and a carefully crafted plot which leaves nothing else to wish for.