Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Before She Knew Him – Peter Swanson

Crime Fiction

Often us booklovers are drawn to compare notes on the kinds of characters we like with broadly speaking divisions, those characters we like, we’d be happy to have them as friends, and those that you actively dislike. I’ve, in my more contemplative moments wondered why I am so happy to read about unlikeable characters, and I’ve decided that the authors who create these to populate their books tend to have other dynamics going on that make the likeableness of the character a bonus rather than a hinderance.

In Before She Knew Him there are unlikeable characters and to make things even harder the author has created a world, like he has in his previous novels, that is unlikely to exist but just likely enough to make the fiction only too believable.

Hen (short for Henrietta) Mazur and her husband Lloyd have recently moved house to a small suburb in Boston. They love their new house, they’ve left behind what appears to have been a few bad memories and Hen is now following her artistic path as an illustrator in the new neighbourhood. Their neighbours Mira and Matthew invite them for a dinner party. Hen, who has suffered with her mental health isn’t keen but Lloyd wants them to get out and mix. So they go and in one of those weird coincidences that occur in real life as well as novels, Hen makes a connection between Matthew and a victim of a murder who lived close to them in their previous home. What are the chances?

The book then takes on what could be a farcical turn, but doesn’t quite. Hen convinced that Matthew is in fact hiding some huge dark secret does what anyone would do in such a situation. Yes, she chooses to stalk her neighbour, whilst of course keeping this a secret from her husband, who is likely to worry far too much that she needs to go back to the doctor and have her medication altered.

In between this we see things from Matthew’s point of view. The only thing he is hiding from his wife is the visits his brother Richard makes to the house when Mira is out of town working. Mira has to travel a great deal for her work and Richard visits in her absence because she actively dislikes him – not surprisingly as we read excerpts from his thoughts, I’m sure most readers would decide to put him on the ‘not a friend pile!’

So all in all, exactly what you’d expect from a book by Peter Swanson. A bunch of weird characters, some less likeable than others followed by a somewhat bizarre scenario which is all rescued by some brash actions putting various people in danger of being discovered, followed and perhaps, given this is crime fiction, killed! And it was brilliantly pulled off. I didn’t want to put the book down, so engaged was I with what in the hands of a lesser writer would easily have been thrown against the ‘don’t be ridiculous’ wall.

I’d like to thank the publishers Faber and Faber who allowed me to read the experience that Before She Knew Him which will be published on 5 March 2019.

First Published UK: 5 March 2019
Publisher: Faber & Faber
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Previous Books by Peter Swanson

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart
The Kind Worth Killing
Her Every Fear
All the Beautiful Lies


Posted in 20 Books of Summer 2015!, Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2018

The Lighthouse – P.D. James #20BooksofSummer

Crime Fiction

One of my favourite tropes in mystery novels one where there is a limited number of suspects. This is quite hard to make believable even in times gone by, but in more modern settings it has to be a challenge to have a cast iron setting. One of the only reasonable places for this set-up has to be an island which no-one can get to, and of course no-one can leave. P.D. James has therefore sensibly chosen the secluded island of Combe off the coast of Cornwall. Even better this island is used as a retreat for under-pressure men and women, only those of the better classes need apply of course.

At the time of the unexplained death on the island was preparing for some very important guests and so the murder needs the brightest and the best to investigate, so that would be Commander Adam Dalgliesh, DI Kate Miskin and Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith. They all drop there current work and hurry to the island.

In the best traditions of this kind of murder mystery is that the dead person wasn’t exactly a likeable person. I say the best tradition because it is far easier to read about murder when there is a part of you that can’t help feel that it isn’t any great loss to the world. This way you can concentrate on helping the police from the side-lines without any emotional involvement wasted.

I’ve always enjoyed reading P.D. James’s novels and this one was no exception, the plotting was brilliant with many of the limited number of suspects having a reason to what the victim bumped off, it wasn’t at all easy to detect who the perpetrator was with my thoughts changing as the story progressed.

The characters are predictably an unusual bunch and most of them quite frankly not the kind you would invite around for dinner, but they were distinct with some depth and of course their own motivation for wanting the victim dead, but being unlikable doesn’t mean they are killers.

So onto the setting, an island complete with all the features of island life. The reliance on being able to escape is dependent on the tides, the visibility through the continual threat of mist and fog and of course not forgetting the main feature the lighthouse which despite being on the coast, holds centre stage within the book itself.

This book was written in 2005 and features the SARS which was the health scare of this time, being a highly infectious respiratory disease and it is worth noting that the author was the grand age of 84 at the time it was written. It did become fashionable to say that the latter books lack the originality of those written earlier but having read this one and comparing it to modern crime writers I am moved to say, I like the certain old-fashioned feel, and find some of the author’s attempt to modernise the writing more jarring than when she followed her heart and wrote to a plot that is tried and tested with her own twists which are devious and clever. The Lighthouse is the 13th out of 14 in the Adam Dalgliesh series

The Lighthouse is my eleventh read in my 20 Books for Summer 2018 Challenge and one that took me back to an author who became a firm favourite at the start of my foray into crime fiction.

First Published UK: 2005
Publisher: Faber & Faber
No of Pages: 480
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Viral – Helen FitzGerald

Psychological Thriller 5*s
Psychological Thriller

Well this is one opener that can’t be ignored:

So far, twenty-three thousand and ninety-six people have seen me online. They include my mother, my father, my little sister, my grandmother, my other grandmother, my grandfather, my boss, my sixth year Biology teacher and my boyfriend James.

What they have seen is a video of Su Oliphant-Brotheridge on holiday in Magaluf with her sister Leah. Let’s be coy and just say that the uploaded video isn’t something that any of the people listed above would want to see which just goes to illustrate that Helen FitzGerald isn’t one to dodge difficult subjects. But really the video is a launch pad for an exploration of far more than intoxication and seedy holiday destinations!

Even, or especially because of that opener, this may not be the story that you expect although it does of course touch on the infamy on a world-wide stage that the internet has opened up, especially to the younger members of society who used to be able to hide (and forget about?) their youthful transgressions with relative ease. But this book isn’t just about the evils of the internet…

Su was adopted by Ruth and Bernie from South Korea where she lived with them in Scotland where by the time the story opens Ruth is a judge and Bernie is a music teacher, this book is also an exploration of the relationship between Su and her adoptive family. The anguish her family feel when she disappears following the upload of the video is palpable and the different way they react is so authentic, which underlines the prowess of this author to not only come up with a provocative and up-to-the-minute plot but also create characters that you don’t doubt for a minute. A textbook way to encourage the reader to become immersed in the storyline.

As well as the fascinating multiple threads in the storyline which concentrates as much on the interplay of relationships in a family, as it does on the rights and wrongs of the act and the people involved in sending it viral, the author also managed to sway my opinion, probably not so much on the wider aspects of the internet, but definitely on the ‘goodness’ or otherwise of many of the characters. Best of all this is served up with more than a sprinkle of humour, the book had me giving fairly regular wry smiles which far from breaking the tension, accurately mirrored the underlying fears of those concerned. It is a pleasure to read books about teenagers that accurately recognise that they are not a different species, the world may be a different place, the nature of inter-generational relationships has shifted but underneath all of that, they are just trying to work their way through the complexity that is growing up.

I want to say a big thank you to Helen FitzGerald for writing another fascinating and highly insightful book that should be enjoyed across the generations as well as to Faber and Faber for allowing me to read a review copy. Viral was published on 4 February 2016.

Helen FitzGerald is fast becoming one of my favourite writers with her excellent execution of varied and compelling storylines.

Other Brilliant Books by Helen FitzGerald

The Cry

When a baby goes missing on a lonely roadside in Australia, it sets off a police investigation that will become a media sensation and dinner-table talk across the world.

The Exit

82 year old Rose, is convinced that something sinister is going on in Room 7 and that her own life is under threat. But Rose has dementia – so what does she actually know, and who would believe her anyway? As Catherine starts investigating Rose’s allegations, terrible revelations surface about everyone involved. Can Catherine find out what’s really going on?

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Kind Worth Killing – Peter Swanson

Psychological Thriller 5*'s
Psychological Thriller

The magnificent Strangers On A Train has had a makeover – here we have two strangers, Ted Severson with at least one too many Gin Martini’s inside him and Lily Kintner who joins him in an airport lounge. The conversation starts and Lily proposes that they tell each other only the truth…. After all they will never meet each other again. During the flight from Heathrow to Boston the conversation continues, aided by another drink or two and Ted confesses that he wants to kill his wife, she’s been unfaithful and if he divorces her she will get the proceeds of his hard-work. To his, and my, surprise she offers to help stating…

After all, some people are the kind worth killing, like a lying, stinking, cheating spouse. . . .”

Following the trip Ted and Lily plan to meet, and an assignation is set in an anonymous bar, in a town where neither are known. Ted goes home to Miranda and to the more mundane issue of the restoration of the dream house that he is funding all the time deciding whether he will meet Lily or not.

Lily was late, and as I slowly sipped my Guinness, I became convinced she was not going to show up. I felt a strange combination of relief and disappointment. If I never saw Lily again my life would return to normal. Could I honestly say I would still murder my wife without her help and her encouragement?

A Kind Worth Killing took a few pages to truly captivate me, but once it did I was blown away by the seemingly endless twists and turns and the play the author makes on your emotion all of which are at such a frequency that had me struggling to catch my breath.

The story is told mainly by Ted and Lily and it is via their individual view of the situation that the reader is able to piece together a far bigger picture than first appears to be the case. Later on a detective’s viewpoint is thrown into the mix adding yet more shades to this murky, disturbing and thoroughly enthralling tale. The story was far deeper and darker than I expected and you will struggle to find a character to admire in the whole of the 325 pages, but if you are anything like me you will be interested in what makes them tick!

This book has an almost cinematic feeling and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see this as a film in the not too distant future.

I’d like to say an enormous thank you to the publishers Faber and Faber for allowing me to read this stunning thriller which was published on 19 February 2015. I was clearly wrong for resisting The Girl With A Heart For A Clock, Peter Swanson’s first novel and will be remedying this very soon.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Exit – Helen FitzGerald

Psychological Suspense 4*'s
Psychological Suspense

Catherine, a lover of social media, unemployed and drifting is finally driven to get a job as a way of avoiding another unpleasant evening meeting with her Mum where she would be presented with her failure following items for discussion, and quite possibly, a list!

The first of Catherine’s lists appeared when she was aged five:

  1. Make three new friends at school and ask them if they’d like to come over to play some time
  2. Write a story for me.
  3. Put your dirty clothes in the washing basket in the utility room (This, Catherine, is something I would like you to do from now on)
  4. Make your own breakfast – cereal and milk. (This is also something I’d like you to do from now on.)
  5. Do at least three kind things for others.

and they continued every Sunday until she left school.

The job Catherine managed to bag was at Dear Green nursing home where the most appealing of the residents is 82-year-old Rose. Rose has dementia and appears to be thrown back to an event that occurred when she was 10 and an evacuee with her sister at a farm. Rose is also a famous author and illustrator with a series of books to her name which features a brave little girl called Tilly, books the young Catherine had loved.

The early scenes of the book are very engaging, while Catherine is young and thoughtless she has some good qualities and the obvious mystery is what Rose is re-enacting when she is gripped by the memory from childhood, but also she is desperate to bring attention to the home, Room 7 is locked and Rose alludes to danger but is unable to articulate in words what she is so frightened of.

As more characters are introduced and then layered with individual characteristics, I was charmed by the captivating dialogue between Catherine and some of the residents, and slowly she appears to alter her opinion on her previously frivolous life and become more measured in her approach to her work, but this soon runs in tandem to something altogether darker and more disturbing.

I loved The Cry , despite the fact that it made me feel very uncomfortable, and had half-expected another scenario where all the characters had varying degrees of unpleasantness, but Helen FitzGerald is clearly not a one-trick pony. I can’t tell you any more about the plot without spoiling the story for others, but I am able to confirm that the characterisation is excellent with my opinion on some, particularly Catherine’s mother, swayed by the revelations that the author timed perfectly. Along with this the author has an expert touch cleverly building the tension while still keeping the overall feel of the story intact and the plot, well that was hole free!

In a way this story inevitably reminded me of Elizabeth is Missing , but in contrast to that book Rose retained control with less emphasis on the limitations of her illness as a whole, instead focussing in the long ago event that had such an impact on her life.  However like Elizabeth she had a mystery in the past and one in the present and only at the point of revelation does it all become clear.

Another winner from this talented author and I want to say a big thank you to the publishers Faber and Faber for allowing me to read this book prior to the publication date of 5 February 2015

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Cry – Helen Fizgerald

Psychological Thriller 5*'s
Psychological Thriller

This psychological thriller is a taut engaging novel which seems to ratchet up the tension with each turned page. The revelations are perfectly timed and this book of wrongs peels back the layers of truth brutally and with relish.

This is not a particularly long book at 307 pages, it is very much a tale of our times with facebook stalking, blogs and twitter all making an appearance and judgement on Joanna. This is the story of a woman who believed a man would cherish her forever, a daughter abandoned by her father and a baby that goes missing.

A twenty hour plane journey to visit her boyfriend’s mother is almost more than poor Joanna can bear. Baby Noah is just nine weeks old and is crying incessantly and Joanna has an ear infection, the passengers are annoyed and Alistair has gone to sleep. In short the start of this trip is nothing short of a nightmare. Believe it or not this is only the start of a horrendous chain of events.

This is a book that is entirely too plausible which is why it will resonate with the deep-seated fear of every parent. Helen Fizgerald has accurately captured the feelings that most parents feel but never admit too, the strain that suddenly shines a spot light on a relationship showing up all the dirt that was hidden previously. The scenes with the other characters are also accurate, unlike many books, those around Joanna and Alistair interact in a way entirely consistent with what they know. Each sentence takes the reader further into the nightmare. The power of the writing meant I felt almost complicit in the events with. Sympathy for Joanna vying with horror at what had happened.

I am fascinated how the media can orchestrate the reactions of their readers and this book shows the media at their best as they swing the public opinion in one direction, and then another, as events are revealed.

I struggle to call this an enjoyable read due to the subject matter but one that I simply couldn’t put down in my eagerness to find out the truth. I will be buying the back catalogue from this Australian Author.