Emily Houghton – Before I Saw You

Emily Houghton – Before I Saw You

After a fire at her work place seriously injured her, Alice finds herself in St Francis’s Hospital in a very poor state. She does not even want to look in the mirror for fear of what she might see, and she definitely does not want others to see the monster she has become. Thus, the patients in her ward have to live with the voice coming from behind the drawn curtains. At first, she refuses contact but over the time she realises that old Mr Petersen and especially Alfie Mack next to her are likable people who make staying in hospital a lot more acceptable. Alfie is the good soul of their small community, always funny and entertaining, spreading warmth and hope. At night, however, he is haunted by the accident which made him lose his leg and all the negative emotions he pushes back during daylight. Slowly, the two of them bond, yet, without ever seeing each other.

Emily Houghton tells the story of two people who have to go through a very hard time: the lives they had have ceased to exist from one second to the next and now, they find themselves in a kind of void between before and after. Quite naturally, sharing the similar experiences makes them bond easily, on the other hand, how can you open up to another person and make new friends or even more when you haven’t come to grips with your own situation, yet? The author gives her characters the time they need to adjust and to stretch out a hand.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Even though there is a lot of sadness due to the accidents the characters had to go through and the hardship they have to endure while healing, the plot is full of love and care which makes you believe in the good in mankind and – of course – in love. Beautifully narrated by highlighting the anxieties and thoughts Alice and Alfie go through which again and again keep them from doing what should be done but which is simply a hurdle too high to take at that moment. What I liked most was the fact that Alice and Alfie fell in love other without seeing each other, they can surely say that it is the character that counts and which attracted them.

A heart-warming story providing hope and confidence when life seems to be too hard to endure.

Marie Benedict – The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

Marie Benedict – The Mystery of Mrs Christie

An abandoned car brings the police to Styles, the famous residence of Agatha and Archibald Christie. The famous writer has gone missing after a fierce quarrel between the couple during breakfast. Archie does not seem concerned at all and he is astonishingly reluctant to cooperate with the investigators. For the detectives, his behaviour is highly suspicious and even more so when they uncover an affair he has had for quite some time and because of which he asked his wife for a divorce. Yet, all this information is not really helpful in determining the whereabouts of the grand dame of crime. This is one way the story can be told, but maybe there is also a completely different version.

“Then the phone rang, shattering my lonely vigil. When I picked it up, I nearly cried in relief to hear a familiar voice. But then the voice spoke. And in that moment, I knew that everything had changed.”

Agatha Christie’s disappearance in December 1926 is, due to broad media coverage, a well known fact. However, the mystery has never been really solved and the crime writer herself did not comment on what actually happened during the ten days of her absence. Marie Benedict, by whom I already totally adored the portrait of Hedy Lamarr in “The Only Woman in the Room”, fills this gap with a very clever story which especially enthused my due to the tone which perfectly copies the crime writer’s style.

The narration tells the events of two points in time alternatingly. The first recounts how Agatha and Archie met, their first years during WW1 and their quick marriage which is immediately followed by darker years stemming from Archie’s depressive and dark moods. The second point of time follows the events after her disappearance. The first is shown from Agatha’s point of view, the later gives more insight in Archie’s state of mind thus revealing a lot to the reader but at the same time, omitting very relevant pieces of information which keeps suspense at a high level.

Even though it is a mystery, it is also the story of a woman who wants her marriage to succeed, who is willing to put herself and her daughter second after her husband’s needs and who fights even though there is nothing to win anymore. However, she does not breakdown but emerges stronger and wiser since she used her cleverness and capacity of plotting to free herself of her marital chains.

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.

Sam Lloyd – Der Mädchenwald

Sam Lloyd – Der Mädchenwald

Sie wollte nur kurz ans Auto gehen, doch dann wird die 13-jährige Elissa vor der Halle, in der sie eigentlich an einem Schachturnier teilnimmt, entführt. In einem Keller unter einem Cottage hält man sie gefangen, angekettet und nur mit dem Allernötigsten ausgestattet. Sie bekommt Besuch, nicht nur von dem grausamen Entführer, der brutal zuschlägt, wenn sie nicht gehorcht, sondern auch von einem Jungen, der etwas gleich alt sein muss und sich als Elijah vorstellt. Elissa gelingt es, sein Vertrauen zu wecken, aber wird das genügen, damit der scheinbar etwas eingeschränkte Junge sich auch zu ihrem Helfer wird instrumentalisieren lassen? Elissas Hoffnung wird bald jedoch schon schwer enttäuscht und sie muss sich fragen, ob sie Elijah nicht gänzlich falsch eingeschätzt hat und er derjenige ist, vor dem sie wirklich Angst haben sollte.

„Dieser Junge“, fährt Annie fort. „Er ist ein Kämpfer. Sein Leben ist ihm mehr wert als alles andere. Was auch immer nötig ist, um es zu erhalten, er wird es tun.“

Auch wenn Elissa als Opfer eigentlich im Zentrum der Handlung steht, ist es doch Elijah, der durch sein ungewöhnliches Verhalten sofort alle Aufmerksamkeit auf sich zieht. Die Passagen, in denen der Junge die Erzählerstimme übernimmt, sind schwer einzuschätzen, man kann vieles nicht wirklich einordnen, es scheint nicht zusammenzupassen, was er erzählt und vor allem wie. Auch seine Gegenspielerin ist mit interessanten Facetten ausgestattet, sie beherrscht nicht nur das Schachspiel, sondern ist eine Meisterin im Verstecken geheimer Botschaften. Mit diesen beiden Figuren ist die Grundlage für einen spannenden und unterhaltsamen Thriller gelegt. Leider hat er mich aber nicht wirklich packen können.

Der Hauptgrund, weshalb mich die Geschichte nicht überzeugte, sind letztlich zu viele Ungereimtheiten, Teile, die einfach nicht geschmeidig ineinanderpassen wollten. Der Entführer bleibt als Figur völlig nebelig, weshalb Elijah für ihn so wichtig ist, wird nur am Rande erwähnt, aber nicht überzeugend erläutert. Auch seine Helferin Annie erscheint als brutale Sadistin, die zwar eine Erklärung für die Entführungen liefert – vermeintlich untaugliche alleinerziehende Mütter, vor denen die Kinder gerettet werden müssen – aber auch diese Motivation bleibt eher diffus als sinnhaft zu wirken.

Die Unstimmigkeiten in der Figur Elijah mögen sich durch das psychologische Profil, das im Laufe der Handlung ersichtlich wird, erklären, wirken aber doch auch recht willkürlich zusammengesetzt. Dass ein junges Mädchen wie Elissa in dieser Situation derart abgebrüht agieren könnte, dass sie ihre Entführer zu manipulieren versucht, kann auch nur in der Fiktion als vorstellbar gelten.

Es knirscht beim Lesen hier und da, gerade auch Elijahs Erzählpassagen sind sprachlich herausfordernd, was sich jedoch durch die Figur noch rechtfertigen lässt, aber gleichermaßen auch Spannung nimmt, da man mehr so durch die Erzählung holpert. Die Ermittlerin bleibt gänzlich blass, außer bezogen auf ihren Privatproblemen, die meines Erachtens völlig überflüssig waren.

Durchaus gutes Grundkonzept und auch zwei interessante Protagonisten, die Umsetzung jedoch hat mich nicht überzeugt.

Charlotte Link – Ohne Schuld

Charlotte Link – Ohne Schuld

Detective Seargant Kate Linville freut sich auf ihren neuen Job bei der Polizei von North Yorkshire und vor allem sieht sie der Zusammenarbeit mit Chief Inspector Caleb Hale mit Freude entgegen, vor allem ihm ist ihr Entschluss bei der Scotland Scotland Yard zu kündigen geschuldet. Im Zug von London Richtung Norden gerät Kate in einen mysteriösen Zwischenfall: ein Mann versucht Xenia, die auf dem Rückweg von einem Wochenende bei einer Freundin ist, zu erschießen. Kate kann mit ihr in die Toilette flüchten und sie so schützen. Der Fall bleibt rätselhaft, noch mehr Fragen löst jedoch ein zweiter Anschlag auf eine junge Frau aus, die allseits beliebte Lehrerin verunglückt mit dem Fahrrad wegen eines heimtückisch gespannten Drahts, bevor auf sie ebenfalls Schüsse abgefeuert werden – aus genau jener Waffe, die auch im Zug verwendet wurde. Die Frauen kennen sich nicht, es scheint keine Verbindung zwischen beiden zu geben. Statt die letzten Urlaubstage zu genießen, muss Kate direkt ihren neuen Job antreten.

Charlotte Links dritter Fall um Kate Linville stellt die Ermittler vor eine scheinbar unlösbare Herausforderung: zwei Anschläge innerhalb kürzester Zeit, keine erkennbare Verbindung und zahlreiche Zeugen, die offenkundig einiges zu verheimlichen haben. Hinzu kommt die Suspendierung von Caleb Hale, so dass sein unerfahrener und unsicherer Kollege die Leitung spontan übernehmen muss.

Der Fall ist spannend von der ersten Seite an, als Leser bekommt man nicht die Zeit, sich langsam in die Geschichte einzufinden, man ist unmittelbar im Geschehen. Gleich mehrere Verbrechen finden parallel statt, neben den Anschlägen auf die beiden Frauen gibt es noch eine Geiselnahme und ein offenbar länger zurückliegendes Verbrechen, das sich lange Zeit nicht wirklich einordnen lässt.

Die Geschichte ist clever konstruiert und lässt den Leser lange im Dunkeln tappen und mitfiebern, der Autorin gelingt es jedoch, eine überzeugende Auflösung zu liefern, die glaubwürdig motiviert ist, zu den Charakteren passt und aus ihrer Biografie heraus stimmig wirkt. Was mich insbesondere begeistern konnte, war die Tatsache, dass nicht das schlicht Böse regiert, sondern dass Notlagen und Ausnahmesituationen zu den drastischen Handlungen führen und verdeutlichen, wie schnell in einer Überforderungssituation kein Ausweg mehr gefunden wird und Menschen sich gezwungen sehen, drastische Entscheidungen zu treffen.

Ein spannender Kriminalroman, der unmittelbar mitreißt und einem nicht mehr loslässt. Vielleicht ein bisschen zu viel Eigensinn der Protagonistin, aber dies zeichnet sie wiederum auch aus und lässt sie erfolgreich ihren Job machen. Charlotte Link kommt ohne 08/15 Versatzstücke aus, die leider in der Massenware Krimi heute sehr gängig geworden sind, und bildet damit eine sehr empfehlenswerte Ausnahme im Genre.

Ein herzlicher Dank geht an das Bloggerportal für das Rezensionsexemplar. Mehr Informationen zu Buch und Autorin finden sich auf der Internetseite der Penguin Random House Verlagsgruppe.

Daisy Johnson – Sisters

Daisy Johnson – Sisters

Two sisters, September and July, just 10 months apart in age but sticking together like twins, even more, just as if they were only one person. In Oxford, where they first lived with their mother, an author of children’s books featuring two girls just like her own daughters, they were always in trouble and didn’t make friends with the other kids. By moving to the old family house, their mother hopes things will get easier. However, the spooky surroundings with walls who could tell decades of dark stories, triggers something between the girls which makes their unhealthy bond even more dangerous for the younger and weaker of the two sisters.

Daisy Johnson portrays a sisterly connection which goes far beyond what is known to link siblings. The fact that the girls are born within only a couple of months makes them grow up and experience everything together. They are like one person separated incidentally, also their character seems to have split in the two: September the wild and furious one, July, in contrast, obedient and more thoughtful. Since she is younger, she easily gives in to her sister’s will and thus follows without ever challenging her.

The atmosphere is gloomy in every line. Right from the start, you sense that some catastrophe is looming and just waiting to present itself. Even though at times, the sisterly bond also seems to be protective, the negative impact is obvious. Their mother is detached, she suffers from a depression which makes it impossible for her to see what is coming, she senses that the relationship her daughters have formed in detrimental, even harmful for July, but she is unable to do something about it.

An intense and vivid narrative with quite some eerie notes.

Martin Edwards – Gallows Court

Martin Edwards – Gallows Court

Mehrere ungewöhnliche Todesfälle erschüttern das London des Jahres 1930. Ein Journalist wird angefahren und tödlich verletzt, ein angesehener Banker richtet sich selbst, nachdem sein Mord an einer jungen Frau scheinbar aufgedeckt wurde. Der aufstrebende Reporter Jacob Flint von „The Clarion“ ist nach anonymen Tipps wiederholt zur richtigen Zeit am richtigen Ort und kann darüber berichtet. Bald schon entdeckt er, dass diese und weitere mysteriöse Todesfälle mit der unnahbaren Miss Rachel Savernake zusammenzuhängen scheinen, jener Frau, die jüngst einen spektakulären Fall lösen konnte, an dem die Polizei sich die Zähne ausbiss. Flint ahnt nicht, dass er nur Mittel zum Zweck ist und ebenso schnell wieder geopfert werden soll, wie er die Chance zum großen Durchbruch bekommt. Denn die Fälle sind kein Zufall, sie haben eine Verbindung, die unter allen Umständen geheim bleiben soll, denn niemand darf wissen, was im Gallows Court vor sich geht.

Martin Edwards, seit 2015 Präsident des Detetction Club, jenes illustren Zirkels von Kriminalroman-Autoren des Golden Age of Crime Fiction, schreibt in guter Tradition seines Clubs. Teil 1 der Serie um Rachel Savernake ist eine komplizierte Geschichte um einen Geheimbund, die als unzählige lose Fäden beginnt und sich langsam zu einem Netz von Intrigen und allerlei Verbrechen zusammenwebt. Die Menge an Figuren auseinanderzuhalten und bei den mannigfaltigen Beziehungen nicht den Überblick zu verlieren, ist zugegebenermaßen nicht ganz einfach, aber es lohnt sich, denn am Ende liegt eine clever konstruierte Geschichte vor einem, deren Lösung herausfordert aber gleichermaßen unterhält.

Ganz in der Tradition von Autoren wie Agatha Christie oder Georges Simenon liegen auf dem Weg der Handlung zahlreiche Hinweise und Spuren, die man als Leser fleißig einsammelt und wie Puzzlestücke versucht zusammenzusetzen. Interessanterweise greifen jedoch naheliegende Annahmen – die Herren der besseren Gesellschaft sind böse, die Damen sind die bedauernswerten Opfer – schnell zu kurz und gerade der Kontrast von Gut und Böse wird immer wieder herausgefordert, denn so klar ist keineswegs, wer auf welcher Seite steht. Am Ende werden jedoch alle Unklarheiten restlos geklärt und der Fall sauber gelöst.

Ein traditioneller Krimi mit zahlreichen Toten jedoch ohne detaillierte Grausamkeiten, der vor allem mit der Figurenzeichnung punkten kann.

Rosie Price – What Red Was

Rosie Price – What Red Was

It is their first week at university when Max and Kate realise not only that they live on the same floor but that they are soul mates. They can hardly be separated anymore, they are friends, not lovers, but closer than you could ever be. They share the love for film and any secret. Even though their backgrounds couldn’t be more different, Kate from the countryside modestly raised by her mother whereas Max’ parents are successful and quite rich. Yet, one evening changes everything when Max’ cousin Lewis, who has eyed their friendship jealously for years, thinks he can take whatever he wants: Kate. The young woman falls into a deep hole. Afterwards, there is not much left of the creative and lively art student; suffering from a severe depression and increasingly self-harming herself, she does not find a way to confide in somebody. She has always been more insecure than others but now, she has lost her footing.

Rosie Price’s book starts out like a wonderful college novel. The immediate friendship between Kate and Max is mesmerising, it is really enchanting to see how two strangers can get along so well and form mutual trust without hesitation. But then the tide turns and so does the atmosphere. What I liked about it was the fact that the author does not use any direct brutal violence to describe what happens to Kate but focuses much more on the effect this traumatic experience has on her.

“And so instead she said nothing, hoping that if she chose not to voice whatever it was that lodged in her chest, somewhere between her lungs and her heart, it would diminish; that its toxicity might find its own means of excreting itself from her body”

The protagonist does not break down immediately, she keeps on going and to a certain extent is capable of deceiving the people around her and pretending everything is fine. I guess this is the trickiest part of such an experience that you cannot see what is going on inside somebody’s head and if you are not really closely observing, the actual emotional state might go unnoticed. A positive aspect, on the other hand, is that help comes from an unexpected person and that ultimately, Kate finds a way of opening up and talking to somebody about what is going on with her. In my opinion, the representation of Kate’s state of mind is quite accurate and also how she tries to hint at what happens but is not understood.

The story might trigger destructive memories in some readers, nevertheless I would definitely recommend reading the novel since it provides insight how a woman might become a victim in a supposedly safe environment and how these assaults might go unnoticed and the perpetrators get away with it.

JP Delaney – Playing Nice

jp delaney - playing nice
JP Delaney – Playing Nice

Theo’s birth is highly dramatic, much too early, the young boy has to be taken to intensive care while his mother Maddie is still weakened by the C-section. So, it’s Pete’s task to get familiar with all the machines and to take care of his little son. Despite the turbulent start, Theo develops much better than expected and Pete turns out to be the perfect father while Maddie struggles with her new role. Quite naturally, they decide to have Pete stay at home since his job is less well paid and he totally likes taking care of the boy. When one day Miles and his wife Lucy are in front of their door, they only have faint memories of the couple whose boy was born on the same day as Theo and who was also taken to an incubator. The reason for their visit will shake their lives: the boys were swapped and Theo actually is their biological son. What starts as a friendly encounter, since they all sit in the same boat, quickly turns into the most evil fight no parent would ever like to be in. And just like in war, Miles is willing to use any weapon available to get his boy.

A novel like a roller coaster ride, emotionally challenging and breath-taking, reading it caused me almost a night without sleep since I couldn’t put it away. It is a conflict which is unsolvable, yet, the way it all turns out is unbearable to read and makes you wonder the whole time: could this happen to me, too? What incriminating material would police find if they checked on my computer and mobile phone? And at the same time: this is so absolutely unfair, this cannot be true, but how often do you hear of those stories where institutions are simply wrong and easily fooled?

At the beginning, I was wondering if Maddie’s difficulties of bonding with her son would become the major focus of the novel, quite soon, this shifted when the core problem became known. You cannot say what to do in such a case and just like the protagonists, I would never have expected it all to turn out that way. It is sheer unbelievable how everything that happens is turned against Pete and Maddie, even the most harmless incidents become major reproaches and raise questions about their parenting. It isn’t illogical at all, that is the terrible realisation, from the characters’ point of view, they hardly have any other option than interpreting the signs in this way. It hurts reading it, it really hurts, first and foremost when you look at what the situation does to Pete and Maddie. I guess, at some point, I might have given up had I been in their shoes.

To call it a wonderful read would somehow be awkward, yet, it is a brilliantly crafted novel with a very interesting conflict and, above all, authentic and lively characters who could just be you or me. Even though it is fiction and as a thriller mainly aims at making you feel a cold shiver running down your spine, it is also a novel that makes you ponder a lot.

Heidi Perks – Three Perfect Liars

heidi perks three perfect liars
Heidi Perks – Three Perfect Liars

When Laura returns to her job after six month of maternity leave, she expects Mia, who substituted her in this time, to be gone. Yet, the young woman is still there, at Laura’s desk and with Laura’s most valuable customer and: she got a permanent contract. Laura is furious and soon convinced that there is something wrong with that seemingly sympathetic colleague who makes friends with everybody easily. The more Laura digs into it, the more paranoid she gets, neglecting her husband and young son, her mind only circulating around how to dethrone the enemy. Mia actually has something to hide and yes, there was a reason why she rushed to this rural area and wanted explicitly to work in this company. Janie, Laura and Mia’s boss Harry’s wife, on the contrary, is a full time mom and at the moment totally frustrated. It is not just that she has given up a splendid career, something is nagging on her and slowly destroying her marriage. When one evening, the offices burn down, all three of them seem to have had good reasons to destroy the company. But, did they also count on killing somebody inside the building?

Heidi Perks’s mystery is a marvellous story which hooked me immediately and keep me reading on as soon as I had started. Three female protagonists are very different from each other and hard to see through at the beginning. But the more you see them interact with each other, the more suspicious you get and while I was reading, I was constantly shifting sympathies since every piece of information added to the picture and slightly changed it.

At first, I felt compassionate for Laura. Coming back after months at home now struggling with her new role as mother and having a career at the same time. Her husband’s constant criticism – even though completely justified – and having somebody younger and attractive stealing her post while her boss lacked supporting her: I could easily understand why she felt like losing all confidence in herself and increasingly getting obsessed with Mia. I didn’t really like the later at first, mainly due to the fact that she was presented through Laura’s point of view, she seemed like an intruder with evil intentions. Yet, there was also another side which she kept from the office and which told an entirely different story. I didn’t know what to do with Janie, was it just lamenting at a very high level? Having a wonderful family and lots of money, what did she have to complain about? It was herself who suggested giving up her career. She was certainly the character least tangible of the three and her motives of ending her marriage remained quite blurry until the end.

A brilliantly crafted plot with a very female and perfidious fight between the three. There was also something really tragic about the story when the motives were finally revealed which kept me pondering about the fact that how easily you put together an allegedly coherent picture of a person or a situation while you might be totally wrong.