Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Dying Light – Alison Joseph

Crime Fiction
4*s

As regular visitors to my blog are aware I do like my crime fiction to be served up from an unusual perspective every now and again and so when, I came across a fantast spotlight post written about this book on Confessions of a Mystery Novelist which not only indicated it was UK crime but that the setting was in part at least within a woman’s prison, oh and the chief protagonist is a nun, I had to investigate more closely. If you haven’t come across Margot’s blog before now and you enjoy crime fiction, you really do owe it to yourself to pay a visit.

The Dying Light is actually the fifth in Alison Joseph’s Sister Agnes series and although it was clear while reading the book there was possibly some background to Agnes herself that is pertinent to who she is, it didn’t in any way distract from the main story.

The story is on the surface at least, a simple one. One of the women in the prison is told her father has been murdered, not only that but the suspect is the young woman’s boyfriend, the man she was hoping to return to on her imminent release and turn over her new leaf. Everyone assumes the crime is drugs related but Cally is convinced that her boyfriend Mal is innocence, and asks Sister Agnes for help.

The mystery takes us to the dark world of crime but one with a very human face. I am usually a reader who is turned off by reading about in-fighting amongst villains or gangs but because of the way the way this is presented I was as keen as Agnes to understand why Mal would have turned on Cliff.

It helps that Agnes is quite unlike the nun personae that I expected. She’s a young woman, very devoted I’d say not so much to her faith but to doing the right thing. She has her own struggles of course, during this book, her mother is very ill and there are calls from her native France for her to return to see her matched by a reluctance from Agnes to do so. Is she, as her friends suspect, using the struggles of the women in the prison where she works a front for avoiding her own problems?

It is hard for a writer to truly transport anyone to an unfamiliar setting but I thought that Alison Joseph chose key points of prison life that her readers could easily imagine to draw us through into a building which is full of despair, and violence along with some hope for a better future. The power struggles between the women, and those in charge of them, was realistically but not overdramatised skilfully recreating the atmosphere.

I’d say that The Dying Light is a book that had me thinking about some of the issues it raised almost as much as the mystery itself. That isn’t to say this is a book you can only enjoy if you are religious, far from it, what it does is bridge the gap between the religious and the philosophical whilst never forgetting that its prime purposes is to entertain the reader.

First Published UK: 1999
Publisher: Headline
No of Pages: 248
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2018, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2018

Sanctum – Denise Mina #20BooksofSummer

Psychological Thriller
5*s

My 20 Books of Summer 2018 challenge is a great opportunity to catch up with the back catalogue of some of my favourite authors and so this book, which I found at the local book sale last November was guaranteed a place on the list. As the book was originally published in 2002 I was amazed to see when writing this review that it is now being published as an eBook on 5 July 2018.

Susie Harriot, a forensic psychologist has just been found guilty of murdering a serial killer in her care, Andrew Gow. Susie’s husband Lachlan (Lachie) believes her when she says she is innocent. What we read is Lachie’s recently discovered diary or notes on the case. Lachie having been convinced that she would be found innocent now becomes obsessive, trying to understand his wife’s relationship with Andrew Gow and he is in his element when he finds the notes she wrote about Andrew Gow when she was treating him along with a mountain of other documentation hidden away in her study. I couldn’t help feeling that some of this effort should have been made before, rather than after, the trial. As Lachie digs he begins to realise that the life he thought they were living as a family, wasn’t quite what it seemed.

In the aftermath of the trial Lachie’s parents visit along with an Aunt of Susie’s and he retreats to her previously private study to try to make sense of what has happened. He doesn’t sleep but he has a daughter to care for which causes a stir amongst the staff and other mothers at the nursery she attends – more psychological studies as we observe their behaviour! Denise Mina has a keen eye for observation made all the more delicious because we get to observe the reactions whilst taking a different message from some of the encounters than the Lachie does.

The real beauty of this book is the fact that each of the characters, and the relationships they have, is an individual psychological study. The plot is an original one and I couldn’t wait to see what Lachie would find next, and more intriguingly, what he would make of the information. Let’s just say Lachie is not perhaps as clear-sighted as he might be. There are elements of dark humour as well for instance his dismay when seeing his photo is in the paper, not just because the media are on to him but mainly because it isn’t a flattering picture. As the story progressed I became involved not only in his discoveries but his motivation and ‘take’ on what had happened.

The style of the book begins with a preface explaining the provenance of the document and the ending is in a similar style, ramming home the ‘true-crime’ feel that the book has, for instance the mini exploration around women who are attracted to and become romantically involved with murderers, their motivation and expectations, this device just increased the books appeal as far as I was concerned.
Whilst the characters are on the whole not too pleasant, the exploration of their lives was absolutely fascinating and I was completely hooked. It’s true this isn’t quite like the Paddy Meehan series, nor is it the exploration that I read most recently about Peter Manuel called The Long Drop but it has what I’d call a true psychological base which I love.

An absolute winner of a read and one that absolutely convinced me that I really must read the other books by Denise Mina that I missed when they were first published.

First Published UK: 2002
Publisher: Bantam Press
No of Pages: 304
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Blood Sisters – Jane Corry

Psychological Thriller
4*s

If you want a good psychological thriller to keep you engaged on the sunbed this year, you could do an awful lot worse than pick Jane Corry’s second novel, Blood Sisters.

Alison teaches art at evening classes, being talented but far too introverted to brave standing in front of a room full of teenagers it feels that this is the perfect solution, the trouble is, it isn’t enough to pay the bills and keep the wolf from the door, even when supplemented with her stained glass creations. Then she sees an advert to become the artist in residence at the local open prison, Alison applies and is successful and soon it is time for her to give those men who are deemed near to release a chance to find their own way of expressing themselves through art.

Kitty her half-sister is severely disabled and lives in a care home, unable to speak so that others can understand we do hear her rather fruity take on life through her thoughts which are ordered and often perceptive. Kitty was determined before her accident and that quality wasn’t removed by the accident.

With Alison becoming increasingly anxious that someone has discovered her secret, one which we can’t help but feel has its roots in the accident that both girls were in some fifteen years previously, the book soon takes on a dark and claustrophobic feel.

While neither sister was particularly ‘likeable’ both having more than the odd quirk, I did like the way the author chose to promote the lives of the disabled which felt like it was invested with far more than a gimmick in mind. The depiction of Kitty’s and the fellow resident’s, most notably Margaret and Jonny was sensitively but realistically done. This author isn’t one for fairy tales, the characters we meet have the feeling of real people even if in the earlier part of the book I did wonder how many coincidences we were expected to believe in but rest assured, even this part of the psychological thriller writer’s armoury is later revealed to be not exactly what I’d earlier assumed. While the scenes in the prison were in part used to increase the tension to the uppermost threshold, Jane Corry easily avoided the use of clichés when describing the men incarcerated there.

Given the title you can be forgiven for wondering if this is a book about a pair of siblings and their lives, and of course it is in part, but there is far more to this book than an event in the past, even if that is the hook that everything else revolves around.

Jane Corry has categorically proved with this second book (her first, My Husband’s Wife also being totally gripping) that not only can she write the twistiest and turniest of engaging thrillers but that she has nailed the absolute must for writers of this genre, her books are compelling precisely because the characters, no matter whether they are in prison or hospital or just clinging onto everyday life, are believable and consistent. People are complex and those who feature in Blood Sisters mirror that complexity in a terrifically satisfying read.

I’d like to say a big thank you to the publishers Penguin  for providing me with a copy of Blood Sisters, this unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 29 June 2017
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 464
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

All the Good Things – Clare Fisher

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

Bethany Mitchell is in prison for doing a ‘bad thing’, what that is isn’t revealed until close to the end of the book. Erika, Beth’s counsellor in prison asks her to record the good things in an attempt to get her to ultimately confront what she has done.

I started All the Good Things with an open-mind; what I didn’t expect was how hard the experience hit me.
Bethany is just twenty-one but her life was already an exercise in surviving from her earliest memories. And this is exactly what we learn as her good things are lessons she’s learnt, or people she’s bonded with as she makes her uncertain way through the care system. This isn’t a straightforward account of misery though as Bethany has experiences that I’m sure many of us can relate to from her first job at the Odeon, and those that many of us have been lucky enough to avoid such as being removed from her first foster home where she formed a bond with her foster-father Paul over her love of stories, however outlandish.

One of the things that is so compelling is that this girl who obviously has difficulty, however justified, in personal relationships is utterly realistic. She loves stories, she likes excitement and she lives in the moment. Beth is intelligent and troubled and with each episode of her life I wanted to step in and do something, quite what I wasn’t sure, but to let such a life travel in such a wayward manner was very much like watching a slow motioned car crash, ‘the bad thing’ or some other ‘bad thing’ felt the inevitable outcome.

The construction of the novel which has us simultaneously reaching back pretty much chronologically, through the episodes in Bethany’s life, as a child at school, with her boyfriends, leaving care and moving into her first flat and onto a relationship where she felt like she’d reached adulthood. We also see her growing in confidence as she is helped by Erika to make sense of her past and to hopefully work towards making a better future.

The book is almost a textbook lesson on life on one level that doing a bad thing does not make someone a bad person, on another when life is full of unhappy events, even if you have some good moments that can go on the list then sometimes one event leads to another and then to another until they become overwhelming.

Some items on Bethany’s list:

Friends you can be weird with.

How cats find the sun to lie in even on a cloudy day.

Reading books which make me laugh and books which make me cry and books which make me feel a bit more OK about who and where and what I am.

Ultimately Clare Fisher has hit the holy grail in writing about such a sensitive subject, not only making us care about her mixed-up protagonist from a less than easy starting point but doing so without explicitly excusing any of her behaviour. Only the hardest of hearts could read this story without feeling sympathy for more than one of the characters inside the covers.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Penguin who kindly sent me a copy of All The Good Things ahead of publication on 1 June 2017.

First Published UK: 1 June 2017
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 240
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

No Escape – N.J. Cooper

Crime Fiction 5*'s
Crime Fiction
5*’s

Karen Taylor returns to the old family chalet on the Isle of Wight to use it as a base to continue work on her paper about Dangerous Severe Personality Disorder. Her subject on the Island is Spike Falconer who has been convicted of killing a family of four during a picnic.

Karen goes to the prison daily to meet Spike who seems even more manipulative than she expected leaving her struggling to tie in her previous research to this enigma of a subject. She meets up with DCI Trench who is certain that Spike has committed further murders but is unable to get anyone to take his theories seriously. In a bid to get a handle on Spike she visits his family with little joy.

The story is gripping, the twists keep on coming and the characters credible. I’m sure the next few books will reveal more about the man in Karen’s life, Will Hawkins a Nurosurgeon who was one of the characters who appeared a little shadowy. I am going to get on and read the remaining books in this series, I am so glad I came across this author.

Vengence In Mind
Face of the Devil
Lifeblood
No Escape