Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2018

Sisters of Mercy – Caroline Overington

Psychological Suspense
5*s

Agnes Moore disappears on the day that she is supposed to board a plane to return to England from Sydney. She had made the epic journey to meet up with her younger sister Snow. Agnes had supposed she was an orphan having been left in an orphanage but all these years later she’s learned that she is a beneficiary of her father’s will, and that she has a younger sister. Her family at home in England have no idea of what has happened to her.

Until the reading of the will Snow was also unaware of her sibling living a different kind of life on the other side of the world. Unlike Agnes who was full of excitement at the thought, Snow was not so keen.

The third main character in this story is a journalist New South Wales journalist Jack ‘Tap’ Fawcett who first reports the story Agnes’s disappearance after her daughter Ruby travels to Australia to make an appeal. Then he starts receiving letters from a prisoner.

Caroline Overington uses her settings judiciously. The disappearance of Agnes was the day of a red dust storm, an event that is used by the journalist to nudge at his reader’s memories to conjure up the day and time in their minds. It is also an event that gives the reader something unusual to picture somehow making the disappearance part of an eerie day.

I was really impressed with the way this tale unfolds but unusually for me I will caveat this review with the fact that there are some scenes of suffering that are upsetting. Snow’s letters to the journalist from prison form the backbone of the story. She starts writing to him because she believes that he is misreporting the facts behind the disappearance of her sister and wants to correct them.

People say that I don’t seem to care that my sister went missing after coming all the way out to Australia to visit me, but think about it from my point of view. I didn’t want her to come out in the first place.

As the reader is pretty much in the dark as to what her supposed crime might be at the start the clues come from these letters.

Although Sisters of Mercy might be judged from its premise to be a mystery story, it is really a character study of a woman. If you are a reader who has to like the main character it is possibly not a book for you but I was fascinated as Snow reveals herself, in her own words seemingly naïve about the reaction of the recipient.

I already had a huge respect for Caroline Overington having read a couple of her previous books and I’m glad she is one of the few authors whose work has travelled across the world from Australia. This is an author who steers well away from a formula, her books are all different but all I think, incredibly engaging. Sisters of Mercy is not a story that is wrapped up neatly at the end and because the author chose this method I find myself wondering about the events in it long after I turned the last page.

I’d like to thank the fabulous blogger, Margot Kinberg, for prompting me to buy a copy of this book following her feature of it in a spotlight post on her blog Confessions of a Mystery Novelist…

First Published UK: 2012
Publisher: Random House
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
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Previous Books by Caroline Overington Reviewed by Cleopatra Loves Books

I Came to Say Goodbye
Last Woman Hanged

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

The Night Visitor – Lucy Atkins

Psychological Thriller
5*s

A book that captured me from the first page where we meet Olivia Sweetman making her way to address all two hundred guests gathered at The Hunterian Museum, Royal College of Surgeons in London. All those people are amongst the jars of organs to celebrate the publication of historian Olivia Sweetman’s book, Annabel, a study of a Victorian woman who became one of the first surgeons, a woman who also had a sensational personal life too, captured within Annabel in her own words.

After the celebrations the book switches to the run up to the publication of the book, eventually as far back as when Olivia first saw Annabel’s diary in Ileford Manor in Sussex in the hands of Vivian, the housekeeper cum research assistant that Olivia would come to depend on as she juggled her television appearances as a celebratory historian, her marriage to David, busy writing and researching his own book, and her three children Dom, Paul and Jess.

I adored every word of this book, there is always something absolutely irresistible in a book about a book after all, but The Night Visitor has taken this kernel and added the most memorable characters, a plot that is underpinned by meticulous timing so that I became bound up in Olivia’s fight for her reputation long before I understood why she was needing to fight in the first place.

Adding to the history we also hear about beetles, more specifically the dung-beetles that Olivia Sweetman’s father studied, hence that eye-catching cover.

‘Your eye for detail, your doggedness, you’re just remarkable,’ she said, looking into my eyes. Hers really are a striking colour. At that moment they reminded me of a beetle called, Necrophilia formosa, whose iridescent carapace is somewhere between violet and royal blue and which feeds on beautiful flowers that reek powerfully of rotting fish.

So we have Olivia the modern woman juggling life and making her mark studying a woman who was forging ahead in a man’s world in the Victorian times, and we have Vivian, who outshines them both with her strangeness, her adherence to strict routines, her sharp mind which is at odds with her position as a housekeeper but most of all a character who is oh so very believable. When reading the chapters narrated by Vivian, we hear from the two women in turn throughout the book, I was strongly reminded of some of the wonderful creations of Ruth Rendell who created equally dislikeable but fascinating characters.

Olivia has Vivian in her life as a necessary evil, she looks down on the woman who she depends on to give her access to Annabel’s diary, to do the tiring leg-work during the research into this woman’s life and while she is grateful for all her hard-work, her doggedness and attention to detail, once the book is edited, she finds her relentless appeals to write another book difficult to shut down. This struggle between the needy and the needed while trying to maintain the smooth politeness that society demands that makes the entire story so believable.

Whilst the plotting is superb it is definitely the characters that lead this novel and even the bit parts are wonderfully drawn giving you a real sense of the describer and described in broad brush strokes

I do remember how grim I felt as I sat behind Maureen’s desk, unreasonably infuriated by her ‘Smile! It’s gin o’clock!’ sticker on the till and her ‘Keep Calm, It’s Only a Royal Baby’ coaster. I was fighting the urge to rip both objects up and put them in the bin. I have known Maureen since childhood, we were in the same class at primary school and she has always irritated me. She is intrusive, bossy and rather dim.

The Night Visitor will hopefully not haunt me in the way that she haunted Vivian, but these characters, the intricate storyline full of fascinating detail will stay with me for a long time to come. I can safely predict this will be one of my books of 2017.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Quercus who provided me with a copy of The Night Visitor. This review is my unbiased thanks to them.

First Published UK: 4 May 2017
Publisher: Quercus
No of Pages:  368
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Amazon UK
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

A Suitable Lie – Michael J Malone

Psychological Thriller 4*s
Psychological Thriller
4*s

Having read so many great things about this novel I was lucky enough to receive a signed copy from the lovely Karen Sullivan at Orenda books.

Andy Boyd is a widower and has been more or less single ever since his wife died in childbirth, instead concentrating on his career in a bank and raising his precious son Pat. That is until Anna moves to town as she is due to start working at the bank. The pair quickly fall in love, and Andy believes he has found someone to share his life with, especially as Anna is so good with Pat. The fairy tale continues and the pair marry but Andy has an accident and ends up in hospital on his wedding night. What happened behind the closed door is quite at odds to the picture that is shown to his family, friends and colleagues.

Yes, this is a story of domestic violence perpetrated against a man, and as such it is an emotional read and without a doubt, a story well-worth telling, especially as Michael Malone does so with eloquence and a healthy dose of realism. The story set in the 1990s gives us a man’s man a rugby player whose physical strength clearly outweighs that of the petite Anna and yet the occasional lashing out becomes something much more ingrained as time goes on and his weakness is his inability to speak out. And this is a man with a fantastic support network of his mother and brother who have been there throughout the black days following his first-wife’s death.

This is a book that is hard to read because this is the truth of many people’s lives and although we have many books that focus on violence against women, in this day and age only a fool would believe that the reverse isn’t possible. That isn’t to say men in the grip of such a situation don’t have the same qualms as Andy does regarding how others would perceive the truth but I do feel that society has come to recognise that women aren’t always the victims and men are not always the aggressors.

The book flows well and I’m glad to report doesn’t relentlessly list one violent event after another, it has the subtlety required to allow the reader to understand why Andy stays with Anna and allows his confidence to be eroded. There is a matter of some dodgy goings on at the bank which gives us a chance to marvel at the author’s ability to create some fantastic, and realistic characters. The workplace scenes providing the perfect antidote to the suffocating atmosphere that is Andy’s home life.

This was a book that quickly sucked me into the narrative, Andy is a sympathetic character and easy to like but at times, as is often the case with books that are ‘issue-driven’ I felt that there was an over-emphasis on certain aspects in a seeming effort to convince the reader, such as the size and strength difference between the pair, authors, please learn to trust your readers; I certainly had no problem believing the scenarios! I have to admit I felt drained by the storyline, particularly as it wasn’t quite the light-hearted read to match the pre-Christmas holiday mood, but as a portrayal of what the worst of relationships can look like underneath the glossy, happy experience, it was spot-on.

A recommended read for those who are looking for something slightly different within the psychological thriller genre this is a book with a message well worth sharing.

 

First Published UK: 15 September 2016
Publisher: Orenda Books
No of Pages: 276
Genre: Psychological Thriller – Domestic
Amazon UK
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Ice Beneath Her – Camilla Grebe

Psychological Thriller 4*s
Psychological Thriller
4*s

Set in Sweden this psychological thriller is one that will chill you as much as thrill you.

“You never know friend or foe, ’til the ice beneath gives way.”

A woman is found dead, her head separated from her body with her eyes staring towards the doorway. The police force recall a case ten years previously where another victim, a man was found in similar circumstances. Are the cases linked? And where is Jesper Orre the owner of the house where the unknown woman was found?

This book is told from the viewpoint of Emma Boham, a sales assistant who works at Clothes & More, police officer Peter and Hanne a psychological profiler. All three have issues of one kind or another and these add a whole other dimension to the story as we are treated to all their back-stories that enables the reader to understand their actions in the present.

Emma Boham is the fiancé of Jesper Orre and her story starts in the past, working forwards to the discovery of the woman’s body. Jesper insisted that their relationship was kept a secret and we hear the stress of being the CEO at Clothes & More as told to Emma, these aren’t helped by malicious and frequent media articles attacking him as a person and the harsh working conditions imposed on the staff. Through Emma we get to see the business from not only her perspective but those of her colleagues with black marks being displayed on the calendar for infringement of the rules.

Peter’s story is one of loneliness and isolation, a man who has long-standing commitment issues and a teenage son who he doesn’t engage with although still being infrequently in touch with his mother. Of course we don’t just learn about Peter but also the investigation into the murder but with the pressure on to get results and no idea who the woman it is safe to say the investigation is struggling, which is why they turn to psychological profiler Henne.

I found Henne’s story the saddest of all of the three narrators. Trapped into a marriage with an authoritarian man she is also suffering with emergent dementia but she’s keen to help out especially when she was involved in the similar case ten years previously. Her love of the Innuits is evident throughout her narration and links neatly to the quote above that led to the title of this book.

I was really drawn into this story immediately, I am a lover of character led crime fiction and there were plenty of characters, aside from the main narrators to puzzle over, to sympathise with whilst occasionally being frustrated by their inability to move out of their destructive lives.

With many of the chapters ending on a revelation and then moving to another narrator and a whole new line to explore this is a book that begs its reader to read just a little bit more and of course before you know it, you’re racing towards the finishing line with heart pounding as all the pieces fall rapidly into place. I did have an inkling on one of the key players but as in the best of this type of book, guessing the person is one thing, identifying the real motive is something else entirely so close but no cigar on that score!

I really loved the setting which is mainly in Stockholm and the cold dark weather complete with snow played the perfect part in this drama that chilled me to the bone.

I haven’t read any of Camilla Grebe’s previous books which she co-wrote with Asa Träff, but the first, Some Kind of Peace is on my wishlist now!

I’d like to thank Bonnier Publishing for giving me an advance copy of The Ice Beneath Her and this unbiased review is my thank you to them. I can’t however finish this review without mentioning the brilliance of the translation by Elizabeth Clark Wessel which was so good I wouldn’t have known that this book wasn’t originally written in English.

First Published UK: 8 September 2016
Publisher: Bonnier Publishing
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