B.A. Paris – Bring Me Back

BA_paris-bring-me-back
B.A. Paris – Bring Me Back

Twelve years ago, a stop on a highway changes the life of Finn and Layla. While he is going to the toilet, she disappears. They had been in love, he had asked her to marry him during their holidays in France, now he is desperate to find her. That’s what he tells the police, but it is only part of the story. After some time of mourning, Finn gets closer to Layla’s sister Ellen, strange at first, but it feels right, even though he could never love her in the same way he loved Layla. Shortly after Finn asks Ellen to marry him, strange things start to happen. Ellen believes to have seen Layla, Finn is receiving e-mails seemingly coming from her and they find Russian dolls – something only Ellen and Layla know the significance of. It is impossible that somebody else is playing tricks on them. It must be Layla. But what does she want and is Ellen or Finn actually in danger?

Since I enjoyed “Behind Closed Doors” from B.A. Paris a lot, I was eager to read her latest thriller and again, she did not disappoint me. “Bring me back” is a classic thriller, right from the start you know that you cannot fully trust the characters, they have lied to others before and so they might not tell you the truth either. It keeps you alert, and since you don’t know where the discernible danger is actually coming from, the suspense is slowly rising.

What I liked especially was the construction of the novel. On the one hand, you have the story in the present told by Finn. On the other hand, you have something like secret diary entries which shed a slightly different light on the story told. After some time, Finn is replaced by Layla which gives you another perspective and adds to the suspense. The author deliberately leads to clues which turn out wrong, provides different explanations which cannot stand the tests they are put at, so you wonder throughout the novel what all this is about. It is not easy to find a good solution out of the plot, but for me, it absolutely worked and all was explained in a convincing way.

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Caroline O’Donoghue – Promising Young Women

caroline-odonogue - promising-young-women
Caroline O’Donoghue – Promising Young Women

Jane Peters is a 16-year-old women working in marketing. She mainly does secretarial tasks, nothing too demanding and far from the fancy marketing stuff she had expected. It is her private website where she provides advice as agony aunt “Jolly Politely” that keeps her mood up since she spilt with her boyfriend. When she attracts the attention of her boss Clem, an unexpected chance opens up and she can win a new and important customer for her company. Yet, Clem is not only interested in her professionally and thus an uncontrollable spiral of dependence is set in motion.

Caroline O’Donoghue’s debut novel promised a new side of the old man-woman, power-dependence topic with a witty and strong minded female protagonist who is capable of breaking through old walls and securing herself a place in a man’s world. However, this isn’t what I found in the novel and admittedly I am a bit disappointed.

First if all, the characters are full of clichés and quite foreseeable. Jane as well as her colleagues are rather naive and slightly stupid when it comes to relationships and interpersonal dynamics. Why don’t they see the obvious thing in front of them and why are they eagerly abused? That you are not full of self-confidence when you are young and new in the job and quickly impressed by male conduct is understandable, but running into the trap in front of you isn’t necessary either. Likewise, the male characters are also rather one-dimensional and predictable in their behaviour.

Thus, the whole story becomes a bit stereotypical and lacks individuality and originality. What I could expect from a really important and ground-breaking novel would also be a completely different ending, this was a quite disappointing, the message cannot actually be to look out for a more female adequate job where you don’t meet those bullying men.

The style of writing, however, is something I really liked, it is funny and often amusing and full of puns. Caroline O’Donoghue is witty and creative and the light-heartedness with which Jane comments on the postings on her website are not just funny but also very clever and true. Sadly, she herself does not act accordingly. All in all, there was more in the story from a feminist point of view, as it is, it is somehow nice, but without the impact it might have had.

Claire Douglas – Missing

claire-douglas-missing
Claire Douglas – Missing

Eine unheimliche Entdeckung führt Francesca, genannt Frankie, aus London zurück in ihre Heimatstadt Oldcliffe-on-Sea in Cornwall: offenbar wurden die Reste einer Frauenleiche an Land gespült und Daniel vermutet, dass es seine Schwester Sophie war, Frankie ehemals beste Freundin, die 18 Jahre zuvor spurlos verschwunden ist. Er bittet Frankie zurückzukehren und mit ihm gemeinsam die Leiche zu identifizieren. Widerwillig reist sie zurück, keine guten Erinnerungen hat sie an die Stadt und das trübe kalte Wetter empfängt sie passend zu ihrer Stimmung. Der Aufenthalt wird nicht einfach werden, mit jeder Begegnung alter Bekannter kommen mehr Dinge in Frankies Bewusstsein zurück, die sie fast zwei Jahrzehnte verdrängt hatte. Aber sie und Daniel müssen endlich herausfinden, was damals mit Sophie geschah und dafür auch unangenehme Gespräche führen. Doch schon kurz nach der Ankunft beschleicht Frankie das ungute Gefühlt, dass irgendetwas nicht stimmt und sie verfolgt und bedrängt wird.

Claire Douglas Thriller spielt mit dem Leser, indem wesentliche Informationslücken erst nach und nach geschlossen werden. „Niemand sagt die ganze Wahrheit“ lautet der deutsche Untertitel, der sehr passend gewählt wurde. Das verzögernde Moment ist es, das die Spannung aufrechterhält. Passend dazu wird abwechselnd zur Handlung um Frankie eine zweite Geschichte erzählt: die von Sophie, 18 Jahre zuvor.

Zunächst hat es den Anschein, als wenn man die typische Protagonistin hätte, der jemand Böses will. Man fühlt mit Frankie, die in einer anonymen Ferienwohnung unterkommt, in der seltsame Dinge vor sich gehen, die sie mehr und mehr verängstigen. Komische Geräusche werden ergänzt durch direkte Drohungen, eine seltsame Nachbarin tut ihr Weiteres, um den Aufenthalt möglichst unangenehm zu gestalten. Allerdings zeigen sich auch bald Risse in der glatten Fassade. Das darunterliegende Bild setzt sich aus immer weiteren Mosaiksteinchen zusammen, bis es am Ende etwas gänzlich anderes präsentiert, als man erwartet hatte.

Die Grundidee des Thrillers ist recht gelungen, auch die Anlage der Protagonistin kann überzeugen. Allerdings fand ich die Handlung ab einem gewissen Punkt doch leider sehr vorhersehbar, was die Spannung etwas hat leiden lassen. Auch das Ende oder der eigentliche Ausgangspunkt konnte mich nur bedingt überzeugen. Der Schreibstil und die Konstruktion des Romans erzeugen jedoch den notwendigen Reiz, dass man als Leser das Buch nicht aus der Hand legen mag, da man unbedingt herausfinden möchte, was genau mit den Mädchen geschah.

Ein Dank geht an das Bloggerportal für das Rezensionsexemplar. Mehr Informationen zu Autorin und Titel finden sich auf der Seite der Verlagsgruppe Random House.

Ruth Ware – The Death of Mrs Westaway

ruth-ware-the-death-of-mrs-westaway
Ruth Ware – The Death of Mrs Westaway

Harriet Westaway, called Hal, is broke, totally broke. When she receives a letter stating that her grandmother has died and she is to inherit a substantial sum, this seems to be the solution to all her problems. Yet: the dead woman simply cannot be her grandmother. They share the same last name, but all the dates on the birth certificates show that there must have been a mistake. Nevertheless, she travels to Cornwall to the funeral where she meets “her family”: Harding, Abel and Ezra – presumably her mother Maud’s brothers. Before Maud died three years ago, she never spoke of neither her family nor Hal’s father, she and her mother were all family she had and now, she got three uncles and their families. Hal feels uncomfortable betraying them, even though they apparently do much better in life than she herself and they easily could do without a couple of pounds. But more than the nagging bad conscience she senses that the old mansion, Trepassen, she is staying at has some secrets to hide – especially the deceased Mrs Westaway’s servant Mrs Warren seems to know something she does not want to share – and she recognises Hal. How could that be?

I have read several of Ruth Ware’s novels and I like that she always finds a completely new story and that you are not reminded of any former books – a problem of so many authors who seem to write the same novel over and over again. Even though Ware has become famous for her psychological thrillers, I wouldn’t classify “The Death of Mrs Westaway” as one, for me it is rather a suspenseful family drama without the big thrill but a lot of secrets and mysteries.

What I liked especially was the setting of the old house in which all the secrets have lain buried for two decades. The floor boards creak when you walk on them, there is an old study with masses of books and you can hear the wind howl. Plus, the secretive family who is not very open and welcoming to the stranger and who surely does not want any old stories to be uncovered.

For her protagonist, Ruth Ware has chosen a very unique character. A young orphaned woman is not that rare in those kinds of novels, however, Hal is a tarot reader and has a special capacity of reading people – in order to tell them what they want to hear. She herself does not believe in the cards as fortune-tellers, they are much more providing guidance and concentration at the facts at hand.

The story itself is captivating immediately since you anxiously wait until Hal’s deliberate deception is revealed and she is thrown-out. Then you realise that things might be a bit more complicated and the further you get, the more pieces of the puzzle appear leading to a new picture.

There are many small aspects which make the novel absolutely outstanding, first of all the title which seems so simple since you know right from the start that a certain Mrs Westaway has died. Yet, at the end, there is much more to this than you might have guessed at first. Second, Harriet has a tattoo of a magpie, a reference to her mother and closely linked to Trepassen – which is a corruption of the Cornish word for magpie farm. She calls herself “Hal” which is also the name of the goddess of death in Norse mythology and whom the magpies served.

All in all, a captivating read in which it is worth looking at the details.

Michael Ondaatje – Warlight

michael-ondaatje-warlight
Michael Ondaatje – Warlight

Rachel and Nathaniel were still teenagers when immediately after WW II their parents packed to leave the country. The kids were supposed to attend boarding school after summer break, but only a few days after the school had begun again, they left and went completely to live with a man they named „The Moth“ who was supposed to be their caretaker while the parents were away. Even though they at first felt left behind, it was a time of freedom and carelessness, the house often full of interesting and mysterious people and both, Nathaniel and Rachel, became somehow used to the situation. When their mother suddenly showed up again, they understood that things were not what they had thought them to be. It was only after their mother’s death, when Nathaniel is approached by special operations, that he gains insight in who his mother had actually been.

“Warlight” – during the time of the second world war, when there were frequent blackouts in London, there was only the so called “Warlight”, dimmed lights to guide emergency traffic, the rest was covered in black and you could only sense movements in the shadow but not see them. This is the perfect title for Michael Ondaatje’s novel: a lot of what happens remains somewhere in the dark for the protagonist to see. He can only assume things from the quick glances he is granted, but he cannot be sure if his hypotheses are correct. It also represents quite well the atmosphere which is always a bit gloomy and melancholy and certainly never joyful.

At the beginning of the novel, the reader just as the protagonist and narrator is quite irritated by the parents’ behaviour. They leave the country, neither telling their children where exactly they are headed too or why after all they have to leave. The teenagers stay with people they hardly know and not to forget: the war has just ended and the memories of the bombings are still fresh. How could ever parents do such a thing? It becomes even more infuriating when they find their mother’s luggage which she obviously didn’t take with her. It takes some time to figure out the mother’s real role and thus to understand her behaviour. This is also when the novel becomes the most interesting.

This is also where Michael Ondaatje’s virtuosity becomes evident: none of the characters, no matter how random he or she seemed, was introduced without a reason and they all have their specific role in the novel. It all makes sense and culminates in much greater questions than the nucleus of a single family we are presented with at first can ever offer: how far would you go for your country? What are you willing to sacrifice? And it clearly shows that the two categories of “good” and “bad” are simply inadequate for the world we are living in.

Ruth Rendell – Dark Corners

ruth-rendell-dark-corners
Ruth Rendell – Dark Corners

Nachdem Carl Martin, ein junger Autor, von seinem Vater ein Haus in London geerbt hat, findet er in dessen Nachlass eine Reihe von mysteriösen homöopathischen Pillen und Tinkturen. Er will sie entsorgen, aber wie das Leben so spielt, vergisst er sie. Aus Geldnot und weil der Wohnungsmarkt lukrativ ist, vermietet Carl die Räume im Obergeschoss. Da er keine Lust auf lange Interviews hat, erhält der erste Interessent den Zuschlag: Dermot McKinnon. Als eine Freundin ihn zufällig um Rat bzgl. einer Diät bittet, fallen Carl die Pillen wieder ein, eine Sorte war seiner Erinnerung nach auch zur Gewichtsreduktion geeignet. Das Angebot, ihm diese abzukaufen, nimmt Carl gerne an. Am nächsten Morgen wird die Freundin jedoch tot in ihrer Wohnung aufgefunden, offenbar sind die Tabletten Schuld an ihrem Ableben. Carl macht sich Vorwürfe, doch damit nicht genug: sein Untermieter hatte den Deal zufällig belauscht und droht nun zur Polizei und zur Presse zu gehen und Carl als Mörder zu entlarven. Die grausame Spirale ist in Gang gesetzt und Carl sieht sich gefangen in einer Situation, aus der es scheinbar keinen Ausweg gibt.

Ruth Rendell, die auch unter dem Pseudonym Barbara Vine schrieb, hat die Veröffentlichung ihres letzten Romans „Dark Corners“ nicht mehr miterlebt. Mit weit über 60 Romanen zählt sie nicht nur zu einer der eifrigsten, sondern auch der erfolgreichsten Krimi- und Thrillerautoren Großbritanniens. Mehrfach erhielt sie den Gold Dagger Award für den besten Krimi des Jahres.

Ihr letztes Werk bleibt jedoch weit hinter den zugegebenermaßen hohen Erwartungen zurück. Was ihr sehr gut gelungen ist, ist die psychische Anspannung, unter der Carl durch die Drohungen seines Untermieters steht, zu transportieren. Das ungute Gefühl, die unmittelbare Bedrohung sind durch die ganze Geschichte hindurch zu spüren. Es kriecht unter die Haut und setzt sich dort fest, sehnsüchtig wartet man auf die Erlösung. Bevor diese jedoch endlich kommt, muss man es mit den leider sehr eindimensionalen Charakteren aushalten. Weder Carl noch sein Untermieter oder ihre jeweiligen Lebensgefährtinnen können überzeugen, von dümmlich bis einfältig, von passiv bis einfallslos – sie sind einfach sehr schwer zu ertragen und wirken unausgereift. Auch die Lösung seiner Probleme, die Carl findet, scheinen mir zu konstruiert, um sie wirklich als authentisch anzusehen und sie passen in keiner Weise zu der Anlage der Figur.

Alles in allem hat der Roman durchaus Potenzial, das er jedoch leider nicht ausschöpft.

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.

Heather Child – Everything about you

heather-child-everything-about-you
Heather Child – Everything about you

21-year-old Freya is not very happy with her life as it is: she is still living together with her ex-boyfriend Julian, her job just serves to earn money but is not actually promising a career and she still misses Judy who first was a friend and then moved in with Freya and her mother and became something like a real sister. When Julian is not interested in the latest technological device from his father, Freya accepts to use the high-tech personal assistant. Since she is still longing for Ruby who went missing without any trace, the assistant is modelled according to the young woman’s features: it can copy her voice, react just like Judy reacted and knows everything about Freya and Ruby. Can this virtual version of her sister also lead to the one in flesh and bone?

Since technology becomes more and more present in our everyday life and since we rely increasingly on our smart phones to do the thinking for us, the idea of this futuristic personal assistant was quite intriguing. Especially since we tend to ignore the negative side effects of handing over more and more data to these uncontrollable technical devices.

However, the novel did not hold up to the high expectations. I liked Freya’s first steps with her new assistant; her incredulously questioning where this machine got all the information from and how she slowly loses control over her life were portrayed in a really authentic way that is easy to imagine in the very near future. Then, however, the more the plot progresses and the more the whole story becomes a kind of computer game in a virtual reality environment, it was a bit too much for me. I am all but into computer games and not at all interested in any virtual realities where completely different rules apply and the unthinkable is possible.  Thus, the moment we lost the track of reality I was more or less out. This might work better for those readers who are really into VR.

All in all, an interesting concept, yet a bit too unrealistic for my liking.

Helen Callaghan – Everything is Lies

helen-callaghan-everything-is-lies
Helen Callaghan – Everything is Lies

One evening when Sophia is out with her colleagues, she gets a strange phone call from her mother who asks her to come back home. It is always the same and thus, she cuts her short and goes on amusing herself. The next morning, the bad conscience is nagging and she gets in the car to visit her parents. What she finds in their house is horrible: her mother hanging from a tree, her father badly injured. What happened? The police soon close the file, for them the case is clear: an extended suicide. But when Sophia find her mother’s diaries, she is convinced that her mother would never have attempted suicide. And what about the burglaries? Over months, her parents had been the victims of break-ins. The deeper Sophia digs in her mother Nina’s past, the more complex and strange things seem to be, but there are not many people who believe her.

Helen Callaghan caught me immediately. Even though the beginning leads into a completely different way, centring about Sophia’s work at an architectural agency, she soon accelerates and with the first part of Nina’s diary, I was completely absorbed by the novel.

The most striking part is definitely Nina’s past in the cult she joined as a student. It is a wonderful example of how easy it is to manipulate a young woman who lacks self-confidence and experience. Cleverly they approach her and they use the right amount of charm to trick her into their community. At the moment she arrives at their house, there is no way out anymore for her, she is already too deeply involved emotionally to think and act clearly.

The thriller is full of suspense, offering twists and turns at the perfect moment to keep the plot running on. The protagonist also seems to be quite authentic and you can easily sympathise with her.

I really enjoyed the novel, it is a most accomplished psychological thriller which leaves nothing to be desired.

Kirsty Logan – The Gloaming

kirsty-logan-the-gloaming
Kirsty Logan – The Gloaming

Peter, a boxer, falls in love with Signe, a ballet dancer. This unusual match somehow triggers nature and becomes something very special. Signe soon falls pregnant, but of the three babies, only one, Islay, survives. After they had their second daughter, Mara, they move to a remote Scottish island into a huge house. This is where their third kid, the long awaited boy, Bee, arrives. Yet, the forces of nature demand donations and soon the rough sea catches young Bee and leaves the family devastated. Islay flees the haunted island as soon as she can. Mara remains there with the parents not only grieving but also deteriorating more form day to day. With the arrival of Pearl, the chance for Mara to have a more positive look on life suddenly opens up. But Pearl is mysterious and she, too, has a close connection to the earthly forces.

“The Gloaming” is an outstanding novel. It is not exactly fantasy, nor can it completely be classified as a kind of fairy tale. It is somewhere in between the reality as we know it and hardly palpable forces that come from the earth. They are not supernatural, quite the opposite, they are natural and thus guide the characters and decide on what happens. It is somehow close to very old cultures, old folkloristic sagas and beliefs that revive and are called back to the people’s memory.

What I liked best about the novel was the way Kirsty Logan created the atmosphere. Throughout the novel, you have the feeling that there is something about the island or the house, something beyond the characters’ control. It is spooky somehow and gives you the creeps at times. On the other hand, there is a sadness and melancholy which weighs especially on Mara and with is often hard to support.

There is something magical in the novel, yet, it wasn’t exactly the kind of book I love to read.