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

Little Deaths – Emma Flint

Crime Fiction
5*s

Little Deaths is inspired by the true story of Alice Crimmins who was tried for the murder of her two young children in Queens, New York in 1965, and oh my, what a compelling story this is!

We are introduced to the mother, now Ruth Malone, who lives in an apartment in Queens whose two children Frankie and Cindy went missing from their bedroom. With little Cindy found strangled in a nearby parking lot a day later, Frankie remained missing for a further ten days, and then he too was found murdered. Despite the horrible crime as the book unfolds we see that Ruth was tried, not as much on hard evidence but because the former cocktail waitress did not behave as the public expects a bereaved mother to act.

I was instantly drawn into the tale, the world that Ruth lived in is one that is relatively easy to sympathise with. Her life hadn’t turned out as she expected, her dreams stunted by the birth of her two children and then she separated from her husband Frank. At the time the children went missing the two were locked in a custody battle with Ruth determined not to relinquish her children but at the same time nor was she going to live like a nun.  Contrary to the working class values that was Queens at that time, her neighbours disapproved of her association with a number of other men,added to which she cared about her appearance, drank and smoked. The hard truth is that Ruth wanted more from her life but did that mean she was the one who killed the children?  The countless crimes against Ruth mount throughout the book as the police, certain of her guilt, have her under almost constant surveillance so when she buys a new dress soon after Cindy’s body was found, her guilt was almost confirmed.

Emma Flint has provided us with one of the most complex of female characters and each incident can be viewed from differing angles and the conclusions made will depend on which angle you consider to be most realistic. This creation really takes the book way beyond a simple rehash of the crime itself. I felt I knew Ruth, I could both identify with some of her thoughts whilst at other times wonder why she made life quite so hard for herself, after all she was far from stupid – perhaps that was her downfall?

In the mix of characters we have Ruth’s mother, her ex Frank, a couple of male friends, the police and the crime reporter determined to make a name for himself, Pete Wonicke, whose obsession with the case added a whole other layer of interest to the story. On the sidelines are the former babysitter and other neighbours all who are pertinent, maybe not to the main mystery but in building the picture of the time and place. The atmosphere of this book was really spot on for both and part of what I loved so much was the feeling of being transported to a different world. The third person narrative was entirely appropriate for the book which is an exploration of values of the time as much as a murder mystery.

I know it is a cliché but once I started this book I simply couldn’t put it down, and as a result of how wrapped up in Ruth’s story I became, have spent my time since with an obsession with Alice Crimmins. From my research I can confirm that the author has clearly done hers although I’m sure the book had far more impact because I read it before learning about the case that inspired it.

I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of this book from the publishers Picador and this review is my unbiased thanks to them.

First Published UK: 12 January 2017
Publisher: Picador
No of Pages:  320
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Pariah – David Jackson

Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction
4*s

NYPD detective Callum Doyle is the star of this book set in, yes you guessed it New York! He’s in a bit of a pickle though as the other detectives are already worried about working with him following the death of his partner in the corner of a car park complete with a hooker… but it only gets worse.

This fast-paced thriller puts us in the shoes of a man who is forced to cut himself off from those closest to him when their lives appear to be in danger just by being associated with him. Unable to go to work and investigate the murder of his partner he decides to go it alone and try to track down the killer not an easy task when everyone he talks to is in danger. Who is watching Callum Doyle and what do they want from him?

With tension oozing off every page I read this with my heart in my mouth. How could the killer be found when those Callum turns to are either threatened or die a terrible death? This book is not for the faint-hearted, there is a fair amount of violence as the killer goes on the rampage, seemingly unstoppable. Fortunately Callum’s well-timed humour, just stopped this book from becoming too grim for words and he seems a genuine kind of guy although understandably confused by the situation he has found himself in. In many ways I think we learnt a lot about the man behind the badge as much from his interactions in his personal life, as those in what seems like a team with issues! I certainly don’t think this book would have worked so well without the many facets of the man’s character.
There are a wealth of other intriguing characters with as many great ones from the edges of society as well as his colleagues from the NYPD. As Callum becomes increasingly desperate he walks into lion’s dens of varying descriptions as he tracks pimps and heavies to try to find out who is behind the explosion of violence so close to home.

Although the plot itself isn’t complicated, and is told in a straightforward linear time-frame, it is well-structured and underpinned by some terrific action. If you like fast and furious then Pariah is probably a book you’d enjoy. The clues to the killer’s identity are released at a good rate although that didn’t have me any closer to guessing who was behind the mayhem until pages before the final reveal.

The writing style is confident, especially for a debut novel, and I was drawn into the storyline immediately and this is despite the fact that crime fiction involving gangsters isn’t high on my list of reading favourites. The interplay between the characters was pitch-perfect and didn’t rely on endless clichés, something that is tough to pull-off when there is danger around every corner as far as Callum is concerned.

This is also a book with a backstory, which doesn’t really fully come out in this book, so I’m going to have to keep reading the other books in the series to find out more! This really is a talented start to a new crime fiction series.

First Published UK: 20 August 2014
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
No of Pages: 304
Genre: Crime Fiction Series
Amazon UK
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Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read

Reconstructing Amelia – Kimberly McCreight

Psychological Thriller 4*s
Psychological Thriller
4*s

Kate Baron is a successful litigation lawyer and single mother to Amelia. Despite her hectic life Kate has made a success of their small family with time put aside to concentrate on Amelia to make up for the hours spent working late. Amelia used to have the company of her nanny who had looked after her since she was a small child but at fifteen Kate was persuaded by Amelia who argued she was too old.

One day Kate gets a call from Amelia’s school while she is in one of the most important meetings of her career, Amelia has been suspended, the matter to be discussed in person with the Headmaster. Later that day Amelia is found dead; soon classified as suicide but then Kate gets a text that claims that her daughter’s death wasn’t suicide at all. Kate sets about what really happened to Amelia and the texts, emails and social media pages, including a blog will make the most hardened adult wince.

This book quickly drew me in to the heart of the tale which is Kate’s belief that she knew her daughter but as soon as she starts investigating, she finds out that Amelia had secrets, lots and not just from Kate but from her best friend too. Female teenage friendships are complicated at the best of times but in the progressive American High School that Amelia attended there were also secret societies complete with initiation tasks and a complete stink, rather than a mere whiff, of bullying about them. Could membership, or not, really be behind the loss of life, of all that potential?

As the gap between mother and daughter is laid bare, the tension mounts as Kate is determined to uncover the truth and it would seem that there is more than one person who is determined to obfuscate what really happened that day. And the author manages that tension superbly with only too realistic text exchanges between Amelia and Ben, a friend from out of town, revealing one version of events whilst an anonymous blog is busy revealing the secrets of many of the pupils to all and sundry telling a slightly different one. We also get Amelia’s perspective of her life in the lead up to the fateful day as well as Kate’s in the present, and in the past – be warned, keep your eye on the dates that head up each narration to be sure where you are on the timeline!

This was a far more engaging read than I expected and there were plenty of secrets to discover but this is one of those reads where I think you have to go with the flow and not question some decisions and actions too closely, if you do you may find yourself wondering quite how likely some of the scenarios posed really are. This is a dramatic read, one that could make parents of teenage girls get into a spin and worry themselves stupid about the dangers of social media, but in many ways, although the book uses social media as a vehicle to illustrate Amelia’s life, at the heart of the book is a young girl’s loneliness and her need to be accepted by her peers, and that story definitely pre-dates facebook, mobile phones and emails. One thing is for sure Kimberly McCreight has created a haunting story which won’t be forgotten in a hurry!

First Published UK: 20 June 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read

You Should Have Known – Jean Hanff Korelitz #20booksofsummer

Book 11

Psychological Thriller 4*s
Psychological Thriller
4*s

Grace Sachs, a marriage counsellor has written a book to warn women to pay attention to the clues the men they meet give them. She loftily imagines that this book will change the lives of those women who read her book, far more than the most popular book on the self-help shelf labelled relationships. Grace’s book isn’t about keeping a man, it is about not choosing the wrong one. Written during her spare time from her work, the book has been bidded upon and Grace is appearing in magazines and been invited for a TV interview when one week, she isn’t able to get hold of her husband, Jonathan, a renowned pediatric oncologist.

As readers we don’t hear from Jonathan himself, all that we know about him is filtered through Grace’s eyes, and we know, because we’ve been told that she is an excellent judge of character. She needs to be, it’s her job to get to the root of the problem and point out to the warring couples in front of her that he told you that he didn’t respect women, or he showed you that he drank too much so there isn’t much point complaining five years down the road. In short Grace is a little bit full of herself.

Grace is busy, not only does she have her practice, she has a twelve-year-old son Henry, who she mollycoddles, a book to promote and a school fund-raising committee for the best private school in New York. She also has her weekly visits to her father and step-mother Eve, a woman who she’s never taken to and she certainly doesn’t like Eve’s two grown-up children. Having fallen out with her best friend soon after her wedding Grace and Jonathan don’t have an awful lot of friends and so when one week she isn’t sure exactly where Jonathan is when she can’t get hold of him, she doesn’t have anyone to lean on.

The book is quite a wordy one, but one of those books where the description of rooms, clothes and people do matter, we are being immersed in Grace’s life which is at times uncomfortable, because she does have fixed ideas and we all know that she’s going to get her comeuppance for being quite so judgemental about others!

When one of Grace’s fundraising committee members dies the community goes into overdrive from the moment the headmaster sends the first email hinting at a tragedy. The section where we watch the news spread through the parents is so accurate, if the subject matter wasn’t so serious it would be funny. The book scores highly at taking a look at a certain ‘type’ of parent, well mother, and whilst not actually parodying them, it comes close – again only funny while you forget that there really are people like this walking the earth, and you may well have met a local variation of them, worse still, you may have actually had to have a conversation with them.

Although the tension builds at a steady pace, this is by no means a thriller in the conventional sense. This is a book about a woman coming to terms with the fact that she ‘made a mistake’ and the resultant shame that she experiences because of that particularly because she stuck her head above the parapet and proclaimed that she knew best! Funnily enough I had a lot of sympathy for Grace, whilst not liking her particularly.

This book kept me interested, there were enough things to wonder about as Grace retraced her steps, and the decisions she’d made, during her life and if the end was a little too neatly sewn up, well that’s ok, sometimes we do want the character’s to be ok following a trauma, we can accept that in real-life scars would linger but hey this is fiction!

Published UK: 6 March 2014
Publisher: Faber & Faber
No of Pages: 448
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Bookstore – Deborah Meyler

Contemporary Fiction 5*'s
Contemporary Fiction
5*’s

The Owl is the ramshackle bookshop in New York that Esme Garland frequently browses in while getting used to her new life doing a PhD in art history at Colombia University. Soon after arriving in New York she meets and falls in love with Mitchell van Leuven; the sort of man my Grandmother would call a ‘cad and a bounder.’ Poor naïve Esme finds out that she is pregnant but before she can tell Mitchell he finishes with her in a casually cruel way by saying that the sex isn’t up to much! Ever practical Esme realises if she is going to keep the baby she will need a job. Where better to find one than in the shabby bookshop she loves, staffed by an eclectic mix of people?

I have to say I love this book so much and I was really sad to turn the last page. Who can’t love a book that makes reference to Winston from Orwell’s 1984 a couple of sentences before a reference to Paddington Bear? Unfortunately as this was an ARC I’m not able to quote from the book which is a shame as there are some fantastic phrases not just about art (which isn’t something I know a great deal about so I probably missed out on some of these) and books, but daily observations such as the instructions which come with pregnancy testing kits which had me literally laughing out loud.

The underlying story isn’t complex or unusual and although Esme does appear a little unworldly at times, she is only twenty-three so comes across as a real person. That didn’t stop me wanting to her at times! Mitchell is a truly awful character but there are some delightful ones too including the homeless guys that hang around the perfectly described bookshop. Deborah Meyler certainly has the knack of description down to a fine art so that I could imagine the bookshop with floor to ceiling books double shelved with a battered armchair on the mezzanine where the occasional A-Lister goes to hide away from the world.

This book made me want to visit New York and specifically The Owl so this is up there with my favourite books of 2013 which I would recommend to all booklovers.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.