Asked by lawyer Moxie Castin to investigate who or what caused the death of a woman found buried in the woods, private detective Charlie Parker can’t say no. There’s history between Charlie and Moxie, and Charlie knows full well that the finding of a Star of David on a nearby tree at the burial site would not be the only reason Castin has such a keen interest. Yes, the deceased had evidently given birth just before she was murdered, and the local police expect to find the body of a newborn nearby.
Sixteen novels in and are we tired of hearing about the troubled Charlie Parker? No, indeed we are not. He has marvellous entertaining friends too. THE WOMAN IN THE WOODS is brilliant, and its hard to fault at all a series that bundles you so successfully through the emotional washing machine with each novel. At the end of each Parker book we have been through a hell of a ride, and we are inevitably changed. Or at least until the next Parker outing anyway; then we will possibly have even more love and grief wrenched out of us for someone we just want to see toddle happily off on a beach holiday.
This is one damaged man, but the changes wrought by Parker’s other worldly interactions are not necessarily always to his disadvantage. Connolly has a delicate task ahead in not making Charlie too much of a super hero or the immortal of private detectives. This might be why Charlie generally has the stuffing beaten out of him at least once in each novel, to keep him humble, even though the man seems quite resistant to actually dying. Charlie straddles the worlds of good and bad, alive and dead. Each encounter Charlie has with the darkness threads through his psyche and subtly alters the man into something increasingly thought of as ‘other’. We don’t want to go too far down that road.
THE WOMAN IN THE WOODS has a plot that makes you grateful you’ve read all the priors for some back story. This series has travelled so far from the first book (EVERY DEAD THING, published 2009 – yikes) that you are doing yourself a major disservice if you haven’t read all the others. It’s quite an evolution; both that of Charlie himself and of us as readers of top notch quality crime fiction. Connolly has only a handful of peers in this genre that write as such a consistently high level so even if you’re not a fan of the ‘woo-woo’, you need to read these books.
If that’s not enough gush for you, let me make simple on the recommendation. If you love this writers’ books, you will also love this one. If you haven’t read them before, you’ll still be fine with this one, but the experience will be a little golden (and easier!) if you pick up some of the key priors. THE WOMAN IN THE WOODS is a beautifully crafted work of crime fiction from one of our modern masters.
THE OTHER WIFE, MICHAEL ROBOTHAM
Joe O’Loughlin’s children have known loss, most recently that of their mother Julianne. Living with this legacy of grief, Joe and his daughters are taking each day as it comes which also involves facing the harsh reality of Joe’s advancing Parkinsons Disease. Joe’s work as a clinical psychologist has exposed him to all the horrors and trickery of man (this is novel #9 in the series) and the knowledge that he won’t be around for his two girls forever is never far from his mind.
THE OTHER WIFE is the latest bittersweet entry in an excellent series that progressively takes a little bit more of your heart with each encounter. And these are crime novels, so that is truly a testament to the author’s mastery of characterization. Creating characters that we are fully invested in will always trump the impact of a complex and clever plot. THE OTHER WIFE is a shining example of both achievements.
THE OTHER WIFE serves well as a standalone but if you’ve been on the bandwagon with the rest of us crime readers, you have likely read at least one of the priors in the Joe O’Loughlin series. Oh yes, reading this series is totally a personal concern now – we have a genuine need to see how Joe is faring with each series entry. This latest work does not have the frenetic pace of some of the others but your heart will still pound in concern for Joe, and you will definitely want to cheer him on as Joe battles to keep it all together in such difficult circumstances. Joe is a little edgier in this outing, and you do get a sense of that ticking time clock with his health.
In a time where novelists from all genres seem to be turning inwards and examining the complex nature of family relationships (as opposed to globally looking outwards, with that not being the most positive thing perhaps to be doing with your time right now), THE OTHER WIFE reinforces that the biggest mysteries are always present, whether ignored or simply as yet undiscovered, in every family.
Review - The Ruin, Dervla McTiernan
Detective Sergeant Cormac Reilly has moved with his girlfriend to a new town and is once again a newbie in the ranks of the local police branch. Tasked to cast a fresh eye over their cold cases, Cormac is diligently ploughing through the work but is keen to take on something more high profile. It does niggle that he is not tackling anything current and that his new Galway colleagues aren’t that welcoming, but there is at least one friendly face in the office and Cormac knows he must prove his worth once again to a new audience.
You’ve heard a fair bit of buzz about this novel? There’s an excellent reason for that! THE RUIN is a ripper of a read and remarkably polished for a debut novel. Additionally, it is impressive as series entries face a much harder task in engaging instantly the fickle minds of crime readers. The series read is (happily) prolific in the crime fiction sphere. There is a huge demand for police procedurals in particular and this rides largely on the strength of that immediacy of engagement with the cast of characters. The reader needs to be sold as quickly as possible, and this is achieved here in THE RUIN with gratifying ease.
THE RUIN is so confidently written with fully rounded characters that we are assured of some great reading from this series in the future. Cormac Reilly is a refreshing change from the rumpled, often archaic male protagonist that we are used to seeing leading our fictional crime investigations. It does feel like the days of encountering that kind of protagonist might be over. The novel does seems a bit over populated perspective wise at times but the dual lead of Aisling and Cormac gives a good balance to the investigation and its corresponding impact on the bereaved left behind.
Launching into this book you might think there had been a series predecessor as it is well threaded with lots of scope for possible future plot points to come. Looking forward to catching up with the cast of THE RUIN soon! Congratulations to us all, here is the newest addition to our stable of favourite crime authors.
Review - My Husband's Lies, Caroline England
Jen, the much-loved hub of the group, can hardly believe that she now is the mother of three daughters, working a meh career, married to Ian who turns into a total grump when his team doesn’t win. Handsome Dan is on the uncertain precipice of new fatherhood whilst his girlfriend Geri waits patiently for him to get on board the pregnancy train. Newly married Nick is not sure that he has made all the right decisions up to this point and is more than a little suspicious that his family are keeping some secrets from him. Will is in love with someone else but is powerless to anything about it
There is much to like about MY HUSBANDS LIES. We have an intimate view over the shoulders of four people who thought that they would be together forever, but in reality, time has been gradually easing them apart. It’s a long time for a group of school friends to stay at this level of closeness, and you do get the feeling that this closeness has caused the differing levels of arrested development in all four. It’s a little claustrophobic, and no one’s bad behaviour goes unnoticed.
The majority of this book will have you sharply curious as to what will happen to the fab four with growing concern for their welfare as they hurtle to the conclusion. The ending is little short of bizarre but perhaps that was the intention. It’s also unclear, as the character winding it all up has not been under the focus for most of the novel. The title doesn’t quite fit with the book either – whose husband does it refer to?
The characters are written so well in MY HUSBAND’S LIES, including the supporting characters, that there is a burning desire to find out what happens next after the final few explosive pages. This novel will keep you deeply immersed in the various tangled webs woven and leave you with plenty of questions.
Our House, Louise Candlish
Bram and Fiona have two terrific kids, and the most gorgeous of London homes. So pretty from the outside that people stop to take the occasional photo. So warm and welcoming on the inside that the couple dream of their children bringing up their own families within the same walls. Comfortingly, the house is also a huge asset for the family’s financial future.
OUR HOUSE takes a new slant on modern crime and it is that twitchingly horrifying to know that this sort of thing can actually happen. Your homeowner’s hackles will be well and truly up and ready to attack. OUR HOUSE melds a modern relationship drama with a suspense thriller plot that plays out simultaneously with the discoveries of Fi as she tries to figure out what the hell has taken hold of her (cheating) husband. What happened to Bram that he would sell his own children’s home out from underneath them? Where has he gone?
The absolute unfairness of what is happening to Fi rankles throughout, and it is concern for her that will have the reader galloping through to find out if she ends up okay. It is fair cop to say that there is some middle novel lag, but this is the time needed in which to delve a little more into the backstory of how Fi comes to be in the middle of such a tangled mess. There is never any doubt about who is to blame and we realize that the bad guys aren’t only the ones doing dodgy deals with your title deeds.
Compelling reading, OUR HOUSE is a novel about suspicion, fraud and family. It could easily have been a one trick pony but author Louise Candlish has made sure there is plenty going on in this novel and alternates the viewpoints enough so that we are required to think again about what we have just read. The London suburbs prove to be dense enough to hide the most fractured of families and the deepest of secrets.
THE BLACKBIRD SEASON, KATE MORETTI
One day the blackbirds begin to fall. Naturally, this is something of a spectacle and attention is drawn to the small Pennsylvanian town of Mount Oanoke. With this new focus comes the media and a visiting journalist inadvertently witnesses an encounter that is later viewed as something quite sinister.
There is lots and lots going on in THE BLACKBIRD SEASON. Author Kate Moretti juggles all of these pans up in the air with skill, never letting the dust settle on any of the adults involved in the investigation for the missing Lucia. Our suspicions are thrown over a small cast of characters but there is also a supporting cast of others who are drawn closer in when the plot requires.
We are reminded in this book that you are only as golden as your last success, and that there will always be people surrounding you eager to witness any falls from grace. The sharks are constantly circling in THE BLACKBIRD SEASON and it is this sense of menace that is never far away. As a dramatic piece, this book would make a terrific film (I seem to be opining that a lot lately about modern crime novels), populated as it is with complex characters that have as much going on in their internal lives as is evident to anyone who now has cause to observe them from the outside.
THE BLACKBIRD SEASON is the story of a missing girl, but it is also the story of how relationships can often be weighed down by the legacy of old ghosts and that how any human interaction is never really insignificant.
THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR, SALLY HEPWORTH
Essie, Fran and Ange are all residents of Pleasant Court. All are mothers, all have annoying (at least at times) partners, all are deeply immersed in the everyday battle that is trying to keep on top of family, household, and all of the things. Other relationships barely get a look in.
THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR reinforces the notion that despite being constantly surrounded by people, you can often feel alone. Deep suburbia provides such a huge source of material and is finally in drama fiction being recognized for that richness. There is a lot going on in this book, and it’s a little heartbreaking when you realize that the male characters are largely oblivious to the density in what is going in the lives of their spouses. Husbands and wives are almost living two different paths, one with the thought burden, and one living largely without it.
The mystery element in THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR is on a slow burn but when you grasp the enormity of it, it is enormous. You will be having too much fun following about the three women, recognizing in their struggles just how common these experiences are to all of us. You receive your plot twist in spades, we promise.
A small setting, only a few characters, and plenty of domestic intrigue, THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR is almost a one seating read as once in Pleasant Street, the reader will not want to leave. Domestic noir is definitely having its day and author Sally Hepworth is on top of that for sure.
Book review - The Accident, S.D. Monaghan
Tara and David are typical “Hollywooders” in that appearances are everything. What looks flashy and successful from the outside is all actually a bit of a façade. Having built a new home they can barely afford, the wheels of the couple’s happy little marriage cart are only one revolution away from falling off completely. Tara’s art isn’t selling the way it used to, David is insecure in his hold on his pretty young wife (his former student) and an unexpected pregnancy is adding emotional weight to a relationship that would never have been called rock solid, even at the romantic beginning
What is lacking in the reading of this book is the wish to barrack the characters on and see them through. The two leads in THE ACCIDENT have very little chemistry, which makes the lengths they are prepared to go to in order to coverup a death largely self serving – this couple were not a likeable pair to begin with. It is refreshing however to read a domestic thriller from the point of view of the husband (too), with the catalyst for drama stemming from his choices, and not by those of his wife.
THE ACCIDENT, as a relationship tale of choice and consequence, had a fair amount of scope straight from its fast moving beginning. All the ingredients were there for a psychological thriller, condensed to a fairly small stage and played out upon the complicated landscape of the modern marriage. This novel does not quite reach the mark in fulfilling its early promise, though the musings of the husband upon how he got himself into his predicament are quite insightful and add much to the novel’s melancholic and regretful air. There is more than a little bit of “reap what ye sow” in THE ACCIDENT so it may be intentional that we don’t hold much sympathy for David and Tara. We just might however be curious to see who is left standing at the end.
Book review - Did You see Melody? , Sophie Hannah
Tired and irritable from her cross continental flight from the UK, the last straw for Cara Burrows is being sent to the wrong room in the middle of the night by hotel reception. Disturbing a teenager and a man in the room, the over reaction is completely bizarre to Cara but in the light of day, it becomes just one of those things. The purpose of Cara’s trip was to regroup her thoughts and have a well-deserved break from her insufferable family so beyond that, she’d rather just enjoy what the Arizona resort has to offer. Cara has big mental fish to fry.
There’s both highs and dips with this novel. Some of the dialogue is quite fun and the main character Cara is comically harried with all that is going on in her life. We’ve all been there. Mother and teen daughter relationships based on sarcasm are very relatable, as is the faux cheeriness you often encounter from hotel staff when all you want to do is be left alone to enjoy your holiday. Author Sophie Hannah contrives to balance all of the mayhem of hotel goers joining forces for a holiday adventure with the darker depiction of a child’s murder.
As the abduction/murder plot is rather over worked, you will need to check your reality radar (and eyerolling) at the door in order to complete this read. As a beach towel novel, DID YOU SEE MELODY may have served a little better. As a crime novel, it’s a little oddball. It needs a little more darkness, or a little more lightness to slide home successfully in either category. Whether you are new to this author of an existing fan you will appreciate how Hannah has brought together a lot of diverse characters and made them interact in the unlikely environment of a high end desert resort.
Shades of “It’s a Mad, Mad World” for sure, but in the hands of Hannah DID YOU SEE MELODY has enough intrigue (satisfactorily largely in the hands of the women) to push (rather than sweep away) the reader through what is essentially a one location mystery. It’s a bit of frenetic trip in order to answer the burning question of the novel - did Cara really see Melody at the Swallowtail Resort?
Book review - Friend Request, Laura Marshall
Louise is on the treadmill of busyness that all single parents are forced to negotiate every day. Her son is great, her ex operates at the standard level of selfish and annoying, her fledgling business is going well and in the between-times Louise checks in and tries to keep up with everyone else’s frantic lives via Facebook. The bright shiny lives of Louise’s friends, ex colleagues and acquaintances are cyber surreal to her and the friends that were once vitally important in the school years have now become just posts on her phone screen.
FRIEND REQUEST is not a social media crime novel as expected; the platform is used instead here to spark off a chain of events. Thematically the story does not labour over the highlight reel that is social media but it is importantly touched upon, tying it neatly back into the past before Facebook etc when many of the same societal pressures existed for young people, albeit in a less technologically advanced age. Different generations facing the same age old concerns. Children being horrific to other children. The feeling of being completely alone as a teenager even though you are typically surrounded by many people on any given day of your school dictated life.
Louise’s slow disintegration is written with care, and it is the increasing of Louise second guessing herself that rachets up the tension. Is Louise actually being stalked, is she over thinking, is there real danger to Louise’s own life and that of her son now as a result of what she participated in as a child. As a reader we’re never entirely sure but there is never any doubt that Louise is fearful and keen to find out the answers to all the questions she should have asked long ago.
Laura Marshall’s debut novel reminds us why most of us move on and far beyond what we were in high school. Remove the rose-coloured glasses, and the “good old days” actually probably were anything but. The adults in this novel are being forced to remember what they were, and its uncomfortable for them to be reminded. This is a cleverly written ‘slow draw’ mystery of dread and old baggage. It will resonate with those who have had to pull back from toxic friends, online or otherwise, and with those who wish they could blank out the mistakes they have made in the past.