Claire Wright is a British actor living and hoping to improve her craft in the town that never sleeps, New York. Despite Claire’s best efforts to impress her agent and acting school teacher, the job offers aren’t exactly rolling in. Claire well knows that it would only take a few minutes effort from any casting director checking up on her to discover that there’s some dubious history from the set of a previous production filmed back in the U.K.
Yikes. Be prepared for the push and pull as your suspicions settle on one person and then are shunted briskly away to lay uneasily on the head of another. Rinse and repeat.
There’s a lot to like in this novel and there’s also a lot that simply doesn’t work. It’s clever or very clumsy in parts and there’s no continuity with either intent. Claire’s character is suitably complex and we’re all for seeing female characters showing their dark sides, just as male characters have been able to display for the last billion years in fiction. As you progress through BELIEVE ME you are never quite sure if you are dealing with an unreliable narrator – and this can brand a thriller as a one trick pony with there being so many novels about now of this type – or whether this is someone who makes a practice of making monumentally unwise decisions.
Does the reader become invested in the outcome of BELIEVE ME? Not really. We know where we are headed. Second novels following blockbuster debuts can have a terrific weight of expectation placed on them well before release and BELIEVE ME was no exception. The sub culture of sexual fetishes is in interesting inclusion, as is the plot device of selecting certain works of French poet Charles Baudelaire to illustrate the motivations of a killer. BELIEVE ME fires well straight out of the gates but credibility is stretched to breaking point as soon as Claire is asked to contribute her acting talents to the investigation.
BELIEVE ME waxes and wanes between holding your interest and pushing you off to do other things when it gets a bit tedious. You do need to fully invest in Claire and her nebulous reasonings in order to finish this book. Modern relationships are hideously complicated and hats off to BELIEVE ME, as this thriller takes that certainty to a whole new level of dangerous complexity.
The Outsider, Stephen King
Life has definitely become predictable for Terry Maitland and there’s a certain level of comfort in that for the small town sports coach. Having the trust of his friends, neighbours and colleagues is no small thing and staying put to support his community in a time of trouble would always be what Terry would choose to do. Being arrested in front of the entire town at a game is only the beginning of Terry’s nightmarish fall from grace. The murder of an eleven year old boy is a hard thing for Flint City to endure, let alone to find out that the chief suspect is one of their most beloved
Our beloved Uncle Stevie always has many wise things to share with us, his constant readers, and continues to faithfully inserts these pearls into the storytelling matrix of each new novel. Sometimes they may be bashed directly into your psyche and at other times they may merely brush against you in passing but at whatever level of introduction, there will always be a direct appeal to his reader’s hearts at some point. King writes ‘everyman’ like no other.
King has an inexhaustible supply of wry observations to dole out via the mouths of his creations and you will find plenty of these in THE OUTSIDER. This is a classic King piece and whilst wildly entertaining, could have done with a trim to reduce some ‘waffle’. King’s skill at spinning out his fantastical yarns always involves a lot of inclusions that don’t necessarily advance the plot but will have us smiling anyway.
How are with the science on this ‘woo-woo’ stuff in THE OUTSIDER? Not entirely sold. This is primarily written as a crime novel and the introduction of supernatural elements is always a handy out to logic, if there arises the need to explain something away. But we need to remember we are reading Stephen King, so that usually comes with the territory.
There’s a nice surprise awaiting King fans in THE OUTSIDER. For those readers lamenting the end of the Bill Hodges trilogy, fear not. THE OUTSIDER will catch you up with what’s been happening with one of your favourite King characters.
This review is written by a fan who can be critical of her favourite authors, including King, and can state hands down that THE OUTSIDER, with all its dark magic and violence, is a delight to read. Pure escapism written by the world’s greatest living author is never a waste of your time and THE OUTSIDER slides on up alongside the reader with a knowing smile and wink. Uncle Stevie knows what we need, once again.
GIVE ME YOUR HAND, MEGAN ABBOTT
It’s the weight of a massive secret that tips the balance between two women, confessed to in the time of a shared childhood that wasn’t all sunshine and roses for two children streets academically from their peers. A secret shared is not necessarily a secret halved. It means there is now another person made complicit by their silence.
Award winning American author Megan Abbott has written a thriller framed around the complexities of relationships that are quite often borne out of necessity and not affection. Competitors but not necessarily rivals, school relationships that don’t survive into adulthood, friendships for a season only.
Blood is a theme that river flows throughout the book, and this is a clinical inclusion to remind us that the inner lives of women are inextricably linked to their physical natures. Whether that dimension is evident or not from the outside, the power of it must be respected and acknowledged.
GIVE ME YOUR HAND plays on a small stage and this adds to the intimate menace of a read that slowly brings the conflict full circle right back to where it started, that being between two people who can’t seem to make it fully out of the orbit of each other. Female to female relationships could be the argued to be the most fraught and intense connections that women ever make, regardless of the sphere in which they come to exist.
Keeping it all close and personal, GIVE ME YOUR HAND is a carefully crafted work that drip feeds dread directly into the veins. You will need to commit yourself to the discovery as this book is comprised of a series of measured turns, rather than the relaying of screeching acts of violence. Small deliberate steps to a conclusion that is oddly satisfying. Don’t race to the end.
The Woman in the Woods, John Connolly
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.
Review - The Innocent Wife, Amy Lloyd
The campaign to free the handsome and misunderstood Dennis from a US prison has become Samantha’s life crusade and there seems to be no one discouraging her. The brakes of good sense are simply never applied and before she can blink, Samantha is married to a convicted felon, having convinced herself that she is the only one able to make such a troubled and beautiful soul truly happy.
THE INNOCENT WIFE plays out largely as a detached relation of one woman’s desperate need to belong and be part of something larger. It is possible to read the entirety of this book and not find a single character that you care enough about to wish a happy outcome. That’s quite a feat. Perhaps this lack of soft focus was intentional, to create a work where the reader is driven forward for reasons other than a sustained emotional investment.
Depicting without apology the train wreck that our modern culture has become, THE INNOCENT WIFE is an uneasy read of shame and loneliness. Killers are feted as visionaries, the public is relentlessly hungry for salacious content, and our constant connectivity has resulted in the plague that is social media. We are ourselves to blame for what we have become. For what we accept as normal.
The pacing of this interesting thriller prepares us for the inevitable, which is a collision somewhere soon around the corner. That feeling of voyeurism pervades throughout as Samantha attempts to validate herself with her connection to Dennis, who is both entirely and not at all what he seems. THE INNOCENT WIFE is a conceivable nightmare with nothing to cushion the inevitable fall. If you’re in the mood for some harsh lighting in your crime reading, THE INNOCENT WIFE will deliver.
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.
WATCH ME, JODY GEHRMAN
Kate Youngblood is both a college lecturer and a writer of fiction. Both career paths are currently giving the thirty something professor enormous trouble. Having written a successful crime novel as her debut piece, it was a high platform from which to dive when Kate’s second novel is nowhere near as well-received as its stellar predecessor. Will there be a third book, or is it best for Kate to park her writing ambitions for now?
WATCH ME is essentially a two-player piece which adds to the intensity of the interactions between the stalker and the stalked. The inclusion of all the required elements – the isolation, coercion, relentless observation, break-ins, electronic pursuits – can be a little tick in the box in this novel but they all do add to the increasing concern we have for Kate’s welfare. Kate is a little slow on the uptake to react and protect herself, so this can be a little frustrating to read of, though of course there can be no crime to read of without there being a targeted victim.
The passages devoted to stalker Sam are addressed to the (at first, oblivious) Kate so we are privy here to all aspects of Sam’s self-serving toxic masculinity. Sam truly believes he has the right to do all of what he is doing, and the wishes and fears of the object of his affection are of little concern to him, just long as his desired results are achieved.
Was expecting this work to go a little more into collegial issues of teacher/student relations but this is not the focus of WATCH ME. Not sure or not if it is depressing or helpful that the motions of this stalker (and those of real life and other fictional stalkers) all seem to follow the same predictable formula but as a tool to making the reader more aware, WATCH ME may be helpful. Two thirds of this novel power along to back Kate into a corner but WATCH ME does lose some puff in the home stretch. The definite strength of this novel are the insights we receive into Sam’s delusions of self-grandeur. Perhaps there can be no stalker without that narcissistic sense of self importance that eventually derails when the rest of the world calls it what it is – madness.
The Woman in the Window, A.J. Finn
Dr Anna Fox is a doctor currently without a practice but there are always people, others like herself, whom she can still help even whilst confined to her New York home. Without her much loved husband and daughter, there are too many hours in the day that Anna finds she needs to fill with small human interactions, elsewise the pills and wine will step up and do that for her. There is the gorgeous downstairs lodger, the online forums where she counsels other agoraphobics, her physiotherapist, her ex business partner, the myriad of delivery people who bring her food and other supplies. It
Reserve yourself a little time and settle in as this engaging novel will be a one or two sitting read. Anna, despite all she has experienced, is immensely relatable and a warm narrator to listen to. There is no shame, there is only the present and the need for Anna to get herself through one day and then through the next. It is very easy to see only a few pages in why THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW was a monster hit straight out of the gates. Immersive, introspective and warm, this read totally wraps you up in the four walls of Anna’s townhouse as her growing concerns about the neighbours become yours.
Brace yourself for the huge jump scare at chapter’s end in the final quarter of the novel - I promise you will be leaping out of your seat! (Tip: Do not read this book on public transport).
Author A.J. Finn (was quite surprised to find this was a male author) does an excellent job in building up both tension and our worries for Anna’s welfare, an obviously intelligent character who is coping the best way she can with loss and mental illness.
Review - Year One, Nora Roberts
As one American family enjoys their break at their Scottish holiday home, a terrible sickness is released when blood is spilt on ancient magical land. The sickness travels with the family back across the oceans and within an alarmingly short period of time, more than half of the world’s population is dead. The virus seems to be unstoppable.
Nora Roberts hands down is a fiction writing juggernaut and anything this author puts out is always going to be welcomed with great glee by her army of fans. The news that Roberts was turning her talents to the post-apocalyptic (which well when done well, is my absolute favourite of all genres) was a real boost for the genre and well received by the reading (and reviewers!) community.
What you will quickly discover as you dive in is that this dystopian novel is unexpectedly populated by fantasy characters like elves and fairies, sensitives and telekinetics etc. The novel would have worked well as a straight post virus work, or as a fantasy novel. YEAR ONE is a uncomfortable blend of both that does not quite hit the mark. Going into this read I wasn’t anticipating the fantasy elements, and it was quite disappointing to encounter them. Can’t help but feeling a little cheated by the inclusions of characters that have such handy superpowers at their disposal to deal with any challenges that come their way.
Roberts always creates characters that you will want to invest your time in, and this is the min strength we see again in YEAR ONE. They won’t all survive, and the readers will have an interest in seeing through which ones will make it with or without newly acquired abilities. It is not a dark read as the fairy elements are a bit ridiculous and lighten the mood. As a beach read it serves very well and the impetus in picking up the next novel is to see where everyone ends up – what new alliances will be formed, who will go on to lead, who will be able to adapt and survive.
Book review - Are You Sleeping, Kathleen Barber
Josie Buhrman has a terrific partner to whom she has told rather a lot of lies to. Caleb, with all his Kiwi charm, has been a solid and loving anchor for Josie, separating her from the mess of her family past which included the scandalous murder of her father, and the exit of her mother to a cult like order. Josie has travelled a long way from the mid-western town where she grew up and has set up a good life for herself away from all of the skeletons still festering in her family closet.
Crime fiction readers (and in particular, true crime or audio book enthusiasts) are generally mad podcast listeners also, so as a hook to make us pick up a novel by a new author, this absolutely worked!
Don’t be too fatigued about seeing once again that old trope of good twin/bad twin as it is put to good use in ARE YOU SLEEPING. Its likely readers will get the odd uncomfortable twinge about the twin stereotypes utilized also. One example of this is both twins having, at different times, the same romantic partner, the ability of the ‘good twin’ to forgive all ills for the sake of the blood tie etc. The reader will need to swallow those in order to move on and follow where it is all going. (Any twins out there, don’t groan too much!).
Readers will absolutely want to know the truth and also will absolutely feel empathy for Josie as she does her best to come through the mess without entirely destroying her new life with the (rather darling) Caleb. The toxicity of Josie’s twin Lanie makes her someone you wish the erstwhile Josie would run far, far away from and yet it is in this we are shown once again it is always that family ties which will continue to bind.
ARE YOU SLEEPING is a debut work for author Kathleen Barber. Insidiously adding weight to the past layer by layer, this is an enjoyable thriller with some clever dialogue that will satisfy those readers who not identify with the complexity of family dramas, but appreciate the recent wave of modern thrillers that include them.
Kudos to the book’s graphic designer for the 1970’s pulp fiction cover/s too – love it!