Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Guilty Party – Mel McGrath

Psychological Thriller
3*s

I am a complete sucker for a book featuring a good moral dilemma and The Guilty Party fits the bill completely! The question is, how guilty are you if you witness a crime but do nothing? One of the things that appeals about these types of books is that it makes me think – not only what would I do but also whether or not the actions of the characters reflect society.

A group of four university friends go to a music festival, in the spirit of keeping their friendship alive into their thirties. They are totally wrapped up in their own lives. When they leave the music behind they witness a man following a woman down a dark alley way – they try to look the other way but it appears a violent sexual assault takes place. The four do nothing. Having met them none of them seem particularly nice people but I did find it shocking that out of the four only Cassie seemed to feel any overt guilt when a body is found, drowned. The suspicion being this was the victim of the crime they witnessed. It is interesting that the characters are youngish but not ‘young’ and so this links with my wondering if this does in fact reflect the actions of a generation, or has the author created a pessimistic viewpoint.

The book is set fairly soon after the main event and each of the four characters reveal more about themselves, and their friendship. I found that these revelations about the characters to be if anything more disturbing than their lack of compassion for a fellow human. I was left feeling that the ties that bind the four together should have been severed years before, or better still not allowed to flourish in the first place.

The plotting was great as was the characterisation although with so many unpleasant characters, particularly of a ‘type’ meant that I was perhaps less engaged than I would normally be whilst reading. The dilemma at the book’s heart had me thinking though and although this certainly isn’t the first book that has explored this subject matter I felt the back story to the group of friends added an extra dimension.

So while this was a frankly uncomfortable read at times, I absolutely needed to find out more and that after all is the mark of a good writer.

I’d was incredibly fortunate in that HQ for allowed me to read a copy of The Guilty Party and this unbiased review is my thanks to them, and the author, for an intriguing and thought-provoking read.

First Published UK: 7 March 2019
Publisher: HQ
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Psychological Thriller
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Innocent Killer – Michael Griesbach

Non-Fiction
2*s

I’m not going to lie this book was requested from NetGalley some time ago, in fact it was published in February 2016! So why did it take me so long to get around to reading it? Well this book is strongly linked to the Netflix True Crime sensation which was  Making A Murderer, and I thought I would watch it but not being a great watcher of TV didn’t actually ever get around to it.  And then at the tail end of 2018 I did, and remembered The Innocent Killer!

True crime is always somewhat difficult to review, after all are we concentrating on the crime itself and how interesting/entertaining that is? You see what I mean? If you look at any true crime from that dimension it can seem at best completely heartless but to be blunt without the crime having some aspect to set it apart, its hard to see how you generate the interest. I’m hoping that the following review will indicate some of the areas that true crime writers need to consider when writing a book, it turns out true crime isn’t all about the crime after all.

The killer in this book is about Steven Avery, a man who lived in Manitowac County, Wisconsin, and this book concentrates for the most part on the crime he was convicted of the rape of a local woman back in the 1985 and went on to serve eighteen years in prison for the crime. Then in 2003 he was exonerated, the advances in DNA testing proving that another man was guilty of that crime. Then in a massive twist in the tale, just as Steven Avery’s civil suit was being played out in court for damages owed to him for the wrongful conviction, he was accused of the murder of a young woman photographer Teresa Halbach and in 2007 was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

Michael Griesbach it should be noted is a prosecuting attorney for the Manitowac County Prosecutor’s Office and with the majority of the book going into the background, trial and the ultimate work carried out by the innocence project that led to Steven Avery’s exoneration in relation to the rape charge. This is done in far more depth than the TV series whose focus is on the murder and subsequent imprisonment with a particular focus on how sound or otherwise the conviction for that crime is believed to be.

I really did appreciate the additional details provided in this book on the original prison charge although perhaps the author’s lack of experience in writing a novel is apparent especially with the repetition, and surprisingly for a lawyer, the unusual narrative structure in places.

However once we are at the point when Steven is released from prison the book fell down for me because the author is unable to write the second part from anything like an independent perspective. He’s name-dropping his friends, piling on the absolute outrage he feels at the nasty television producers for even daring to question the integrity of the officers who serve Manitowac County, and in doing so lost any credibility from this reader. In fact it was at that point I began to seriously question why he even wrote this book. A sceptical person might say he saw an opportunity and decided to cash in on it, someone less harsh might say he was standing up for his friends, who lets not forget, very nearly had to part with a small fortune had they been deemed liable for the incorrect incarceration of Steven on the original rape charge. It was therefore with no surprise that I learnt on finishing the book that Michael Griesbach acts as an attorney for one of the Police Officers whose actions in both investigations and trials are highlighted by the TV programme.

So in conclusion, if like me you are so late to the party that it is a distant and somewhat hazy memory for everyone else, you may find the additional information on the first charge informative however I’d save yourself some rage and close the book once that part is over.

I’d like to say a belated thank you to the publishers Random House UK who allowed me to read a copy of The Innocent Killer albeit over three years ago, better late than never?

First Published UK: 21 January 2016
Publisher: Random House UK
No of Pages: 304
Genre: Non Fiction – True Crime
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Scandal – Fredrik Backman

Crime Fiction
5*s

Is a book more rewarding if you spent the first section wondering whether or not to put it aside for something that doesn’t revolve around a sport that you have no interest in, only to find yourself completely drawn into the both the story and writing style? Whatever the answer, this is definitely one of my favourite reads of the year despite the uncertain start.

At the beginning of the book we hear shots but soon the action switches to a game of ice hockey. Now I wasn’t a fan of the straightforward hockey on proper ground being much smaller than my peers, no good at running and it was freezing cold, doing the same on ice only has peril written all over it as far as I’m concerned. But through the game we get to meet all the inhabitants of Beartown a small town in Sweden whose whole identity seems to be wrapped up in the game. Man, woman or child, if you live in Beartown then the fortune of your dwelling place depends on the success of the various teams ordered by age, if a little muddied by aptitude.

Those shots I mentioned kept me wondering as the action switched from the ice to the town and back again as young boys were ready to make their mark against the opponents whilst others failed in their efforts. Beartown Ice Hockey team are about to play in the semi-finals, and they want to win.

This book is full of diverse characters albeit a set that are united by their love of the game, or what it can mean for Beartown, a town that has been a long time in the decline. We see the board members sponsors, the coach, the General Manager, the fathers, mothers and sisters of the players as well as the team themselves. We even know a great deal about the woman who cleans the ice rink, the changing rooms and the offices for the club. Everyone is involved in some way or another. But the focus of the book isn’t about the game, or not directly, it’s about something that happened after a game and the consequences on all involved.

As I mentioned at the start of this review, I really wasn’t sure that this was a book for me and yet the writing was at pared down yet eloquent, holding so many truths of life that I wished I had read it when I was younger and still had some of the important thoughts that were shared.

Hate is simple. So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side, because that’s easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe – comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanise our enemy…

The writing style alone had me convinced, with phrases and messages carried through from one scene to another – when the book got tough, and it does, the stylistic flair kept the momentum going forward while the reader comes to terms with what has been revealed. There are issues galore and normally when I write that in a review I’m not being complimentary because it can feel as if the author is leaping from bandwagon to bandwagon. That isn’t the case with The Scandal where the issues in the book are tightly linked to the players on a personal level. The author hasn’t offered up platitudes or worst case scenarios, instead the author has a nuanced take and provides what I felt was a balanced path, best of all leaving the reader to come to his or her own opinions.

This is a story of friendship between males and females, yes despite the kernel of the action being a boys ice hockey team, there are some females who are also central to the story. It is also the story of those other major relationships of being a parent, a sibling, or a partner, of being loved and loving others. Most of all this is a tale of how loyalties can be divided and sometimes sitting on the fence isn’t an option. It is in fact a remarkable book that had me in tears more than once.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Penguin UK who allowed me to read a copy of The Scandal or Beartown if you are a US reader. This review is my unbiased thanks to them and to Fredrik Backman for a remarkable story which I’d love to tell you more about, but it really does have to be read and admired with little or no idea what you will find within its pages. I suspect readers will take away different messages. I feel that this is a book that we should see on school book lists and book clubs across the world.

First Published UK: 10 August 2017
Publisher:  Penguin
No. of Pages:  432
Genre: Crime Fiction
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Tattletale – Sarah J Naughton

Psychological Thriller 4*s
Psychological Thriller
4*s

I love unusual settings in books and this one was stunning. Set in a renovated church which has been altered and now houses vulnerable or adults in need, the stained glass windows divided between flats giving different colours depending which part of the building you are in. Jody lives in a flat in the building as did Abe, the young man who has been found in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs. Now in a coma, his next of kin Mags (Mary Magdalene) has been summoned back from her job as a lawyer in Vegas to the UK as she is his next of kin. Mags and Abe are not close and Mags doesn’t endear herself to the nurses caring for Abe or Jodie, in large part due to her remoteness to Abe.

This is a cleverly layered psychological thriller which demands careful attention. The main mystery is was Abe, as the police believe, suicidal? Or was he pushed over the bannisters? Jody doesn’t believe her boyfriend would leave her, they’d just returned from a night out and he was checking the door was closed properly against intruders, he had no reason to kill himself.

Mags doesn’t know what to think. She didn’t know Abe but it is clear early on that the two shared a difficult childhood where the rule of divide and conquer meant the two were locked in a life of self-preservation. The obvious consequence being was that if the other was the focus of the negative attention, all the better. What happened in their early life is slowly revealed over the course of the book giving a rich background to both characters. All the more important as we only view Abe through the eyes of those around him.

Jody comes across as a fairly passive character, her devotion to Abe unstinting and she is willing Abe to recover although the prognosis is, at best, bleak but she is also damaged by her past and to boot has received a caution for falsely crying rape. What the truth of Jody’s past is another mystery.

There are some really tough scenes to read in this book and although they are integral to the plot, it does make for difficult reading at times. On balance although we hear from both Jody and Mags in depth with some excerpts which I initially attributed to completely the wrong character, this is a plot led book. The rights and wrongs of the way this plot develops giving the reader an opportunity to question the morals of the tale, which for me overshadowed to a large extent, the characters that are behind it. While I felt sympathy for the damaged inhabitants of the church building, I also felt distanced from them, this is in part due to the problem with unreliable narrators, whether that unreliability is understandable or not!

This doesn’t have the fast pace of some psychological thrillers and I did find it took me a while to ‘place’ the characters in the early part of the book until their individual voices developed. While the narration of the other inhabitants of the church adding their details to those of Jody and Mags builds to give a fuller picture of the critical moments in the plot, for a while it just felt as if the story was becoming ever more murky, but full credit to the author, the pulling together of these stories was exceptionally well done. Sarah J Naughton has produced a psychological thriller with a unique feel.

I’d like to thank the publishers Orion, for allowing me to read a copy of Tattletale, the first book for adults by Sarah J Naughton, ahead of publication on 23 March 2017.

First Published UK: 23 March 2017
Publisher: Orion
No of Pages: 336
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
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