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Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz — book review

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“Can you tell me what happened on the night of the murder? I asked and even as I uttered the words I felt slightly ridiculous. They sounded so old-fashioned, so clichéd. If I’d seen them in a novel, I’d have edited them out.”

Anthony Horowitz has written yet another labyrinthine whodunnit that pays homage to Golden Age Detective fiction. In Moonflower Murders readers will be reunited with Susan Ryeland, a former editor who now runs a small hotel in Crete with her partner Andreas. Running a hotel is exhausting and Susan, nostalgic about her old life, years for a break. It just so happens that she’s approached by a couple, the Trehearnes, own a five-star hotel, Branlow Hall, in Suffolk. Eight years previously a guest was brutally murdered in his room. Susan just so happens to have edited a book that was inspired by this murder (Alan Conway’s Atticus Pünd Takes the Case). The Trehearnes’ daughter, Cecily, disappeared after telling them that Alan’s novel holds the truth behind the 2008 murder. The Trehearnes hire Susan, hoping that her knowledge of the book and her ties to the now deceased Alan will shed light on Cecily’s disappearance. Similarly to Magpie Murders the novel is divided between Susan’s narrative and Alan’s novel.
While it does take a stretch of the imagination to believe that the Trehearnes would hire Susan and not a private detective to find what happened to their daughter, I soon fell into the flow of story. Susan’s presence at Branlow Hall ruffles quite a few feathers. There is Cecily’s icy sister, the various hotel employees, Cecily’s husband and their nanny…we have quite a large cast. Some of them hold Susan accountable for Alan’s novel, others simply don’t like the idea of her ‘snooping’ around. Yet Susan, who is determined to find out what happened to Cecily, knows that her disappearance is tied up to that fateful night in 2008.
While I did like the story-within-the-story technique in Magpie Murders, in this novel I was far more invested in Susan’s ‘reality’ than Alan’s book. In fact, as much as I like I Horowitz’s writing, I did dislike Alan’s. I found myself agreeing with Susan’s comments about Atticus Pünd Takes the Case: Alan’s narrative is populated by cruel caricatures of the ‘real’ people from Branlow Hall. I just didn’t particularly care for Pünd and his investigation. Alan’s novel seems a clumsy attempt at imitating Agatha Christie. His dialogues lack her wit and his detective is forgettable. I wish that Horowitz had also included a few relevant chapters from Alan’s novel, rather than giving us the whole thing.
While many of the easter eggs and allusions in Alan’s novel went over my head (was all that kerfuffle with the names truly necessary?), I knew the identity of the killer early on…which is perhaps inevitable given that Alan tries so hard to emulate the Queen of Crime (view spoiler). While I do understand that much of what I disliked in Atticus Pünd Takes the Case was intentional (as characters from Susan’s narrative point out its many flaws), I still don’t understand why readers should have to read the whole thing. Also, Alan’s novel takes us away from the more interesting whodunnit.
For the most part I liked Susan’s investigation. There were so many subplots and red-herrings that it was hard to keep all the facts straight but for the most part I was intrigued by the unfolding of her investigation.
Sadly, I couldn’t help but noticing that Horowitz has written yet another book that casts homosexuality in a negative light. This is the third book by him (the other ones being Magpie Murders and The House of Silk) in which gay men are portrayed as morally corrupt (they are sadistic, pedophiles, liars, manipulative). Which…what gives Horowitz? Throughout Moonflower Murders characters make comments about ‘what can and what can’t be said’ nowadays, which suggests some sort of awareness towards ‘modern’ sensibilities’. While I do not except, nor desire, for characters to be models of virtue, it seems odd to make your 3 gay characters either horrible, such as with Alan and Frank, or a former prostitute who leads an unhealthy and unfulfilling existence. Great representation…not. While there aren’t any extremely likeable characters, Alan and Frank are perhaps the worst of the whole lot. When talking about Alan and Frank, other characters conflate their sexual orientation with their morally reprehensible behaviour. They will say ‘I have nothing against gay men’ and go on to say something that equates being gay with perversion. This is the second novel by Horowitz in which his main character doesn’t challenge other characters’ homophobic remarks (Susan…you’ve let me down).
In Horowitz’s novels being gay makes you undesirable.
This whole thing bugged me so much that I was unable to become truly invested in the story. Still, I did like Horowitz’s depiction of the publishing industry, and I was interested in Susan’s observations about the editing process or writing in general.

“Every writer is different,” I said. “But they don’t steal, exactly. They absorb. It’s such a strange profession, really, living in a sort of twilight between the world they belong to and the world they create.”

This was far from a ‘bad’ whodunnit. While I was disappointed by the way gay characters were portrayed, Horowitz’s writing is nevertheless engaging (and his quintessentially British humour gets to me). Atticus Pünd Takes the Case on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Lethal White by Robert Galbraith — book review

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“Life had taught him that a great and powerful love could be felt for the most apparently unworthy people, a circumstance that ought, after all, to give everybody consolation.”

This may actually be my favourite instalment so far.
The opening of Lethal White is fraught with tension and Robin’s wedding day is far from ideal. A year later, in 2012, London is about to host the Olympics. Although they have become partners, the unspoken bond between Robin and Strike is somewhat strained by the former’s marriage and it is by working together on their latest case that the tension between them is eased.
When a clearly distressed young man comes to Strike’s office and asks him to investigate the murder of a child our duo find themselves navigating the complicated politics of London: from a group of self-proclaimed communists who wants to strongly opposes the Olympics to two powerful families who work in the Parliament.
Whereas the previous instalments shone a light to the modelling and publishing industry, Lethal White is rooted in Britain’s political sphere: class divide, corruption, sexual harassment, blackmailing, murder…these all add up to a labyrinthine mystery.
There is a certain grittiness to the world depicted in this story: people are selfish, violent, cowardly, capable of saying and doing abhorrent things. Yet Galbraith doesn’t present us with a wholly bleak reality: there are moments in which even the most horrible of individuals is shown in an emphatic light.
Galbraith’s wry humour presents us with a sharp social commentary in which the line between good and bad is repeatedly blurred.
In spite of this novel’s length, I was never bored. The dialogues crackle with a combination of humour and tension, while a sense of growing unease accompanies Robin and Strike’s investigation.

My rating: ★★★★★ 5 stars

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A Beautiful Crime by Christopher Bollen — book review

40535984.jpgA Beautiful Crime is a tantalisingly suspenseful part thriller part romance, one that brilliantly captures the landscape, aesthetics, and politics of Venice.

“The love of the city had killed its people. Quite simply, Venice had been visited to death.”

The opening of the novel has a terrific hook. We know that someone at some point is going to die. But who? And how?

“When you see an opportunity, take it. You can brood over the ethics later.”

Vaguely reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley but starring two much more sympathetic, and empathetic, protagonists, A Beautiful Crime follows a tense cat-and-mouse game in which readers are never sure who is deceiving who.

Nick is a twenty-five year old from Ohio whose move to New York didn’t exactly result in a clearer idea of who he is or what he wants to do. His older boyfriend doesn’t seem to understand Nick’s restlessness. When Nick meets Clay, who is just two years older than him and from New York, sparks fly.
In spite of their different backgrounds, they fall hard and fast for each other. Clay, rumoured to have murdered his best friend after having tricked him into making him his heir, needs a lot of money and fast. Together they decide that the easiest way to get so much money is to con someone who has more money than sense. It just so happens that the person Clay hates most in the world fits the bill.
In order for their plan to succeed they go to Venice since it is where Richard Forsyth West, aka their mark, is currently staying.

Christopher Bollen maintains a taut tension throughout the course of his narrative. Readers, alongside Nick and Clay, will fear that some hitch might reveal and ruin their plans. What may appear as simple conversations will have you sitting on the edge of your seat. And while we know that objectively what Nick and Clay are doing is wrong, we are still rooting for them to succeed.
Time and time again, in both New York and Venice, Nick and Clay wrestle with their morals as well as their greed, desire, love, and any personal vendettas they may or may not harbour.

Bollen’s writing style presents us with some breathtaking and insightful descriptions of Venice. As a former resident of the comune of Venice I am perhaps a bit too critical when I read novels that feature this city. So, I’m happy to say, or write, that Bollen’s depiction of this city is truly true to life. He really does render its beauty and incongruities, providing an interesting commentary on Venice and its inhabitants, of its fatal dependency on tourism, and of the way it is perceived by the rest of the world.
Although both Nick and Clay view Venice through the eyes of an outsider, the Venetians we encounter along the way, from Daniela to Battista, give us an insight of the ‘real’ Venice.

“What would Venice be like without any Venetians living in it? There were only fifty-three thousand of these rare humans left, and the number was shrinking by a thousand each year.”

Venice is much more than the glamorous backdrop to Nick and Clay con as in many ways it plays a central role in the story. It is a city or romance and of ruin. It fills Nick and Clay with equal parts awe and melancholy. The dizzying spell it casts on those who live there is clear. There were moments in which Bollen’s portrayal of Venice brought to mind Thomas Mann’s in Death in Venice. In both of these works Venice appears as a labyrinthine and suggestive city one that might very well bring the worst out of people.

“Nick was hallucinating. Hew was mistaking marble ballrooms and gilt facades and velvet-upholstered gondolas for real life. People went mad in Venice because it lacked the reality check of poverty and ugliness and ordinary struggles. ”

Alongside this high-stakes con we read of Nick and Clay’s relationship. Part of me wanted to see more of them together but in order for their plan to succeed it is vital they are not seen together, so it made sense that they didn’t get share many scenes. Their feelings for one another add a moving note to the story.
Both the secondary characters and the ones who had only small cameos were nuanced and fully fleshed out. At times it was difficult to discern whether someone’s intentions were good or bad which made the story all the more compelling.

“These monsters, Nick thought, and at the same exact moment, These wonderful people.”

Bollen does a terrific job in rendering the ‘artsy’ community of Venice and of giving us an amusing impression of the ‘inglese italianato’ (or perhaps in this case the Americano italianato/the Italianised American) those types of art and cultural enthusiasts who like to play at being intellectual.

I also appreciated the novel’s engagement with issues such as racism (Clay is black), class, and privilege. Wealth, youth, and beauty also make their way into Bollen’s narrative. Both Nick and Clay have to confront their own desire for wealth and of what they would be willing to do for their own safety.

I only spotted two mistakes in Bollon’s Italian which is so refreshing! Usually books set in Italy by non-Italian writers are not only riddled with clichés but with easily avoided mistakes (such as papa instead of papà). Bollon not only captures Venice but he also mentions the Venice-Mestre dynamic.

Bollon’s engaging prose offers plenty of amusing descriptions (“the silent brag of an attractive companion”), easily renders a beautiful landscape, and provides thoughtful character studies.

A Beautiful Crime is an exhilarating novel that will have you flipping pages like there’s no tomorrow. In spite of its dark moments and of the unease the pervades most of its scenes, Bollen’s narrative maintains a beautiful momentum. Through striking depictions of love, friendship, and, of course, Venice A Beautiful Crime is a thrilling read.

My rating: ★★★★✰ 4.25 stars

Some of my favourite quotes

“He believed in friendliness the same way he believed in his youth: he thought both could save him. His youth and friendliness were master keys to all future rooms.”

“The world promised Nick nothing at that age but showed him glimpses of its finest possibilities.”

“For him, walking around as a gay man in his hometown was tantamount to being out on bail: he was free to go about his business, but everyone treated him with a heightened suspicion, as if unsure whether he had committed a crime.”

“Nick saw it as a chance to be delivered from the purgatory of mid-twenties aimlessness.”

“In the stronghold of dry, hot days, visitors clotted the streets like human glue, and cruise ships barged into San Marco’s Basin with horns that blasted louder than any church bells.”

“Wheelie suitcases had become the unofficial soundtrack of Venice, a city that had triumphed for millennia on the very absence of wheels.”

“It was a secondhand high to watch a first-timer take in the city.”

“Another person’s idea of normalcy was always a foreign country, just as your borders on that dominion were constantly expanding or shrinking, ejecting proud, long-standing residents while taking in exciting new émigrés that would have been denied entry the year before.”

“In the hush of early evening, Venice changed from past to present. ”

“Nick preferred to think of people as messy whirlpools of wants and desires, as unpredictable bundles of urges even when the appropriate bait was placed in front of them. ”

“Nothing else could touch him, large or small, because he’d filled his quota on pain. But the loss of a parent doesn’t immunize a person from betrayal any more than surviving a shark bite protects its victim from a car crash.”

“Nick found himself impressed by his own bullshit. It was undeniably top-quality bullshit. It sounded so erudite and convincing, even to the one who was spewing it.”

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Long Bright River by Liz Moore — book review

Untitled drawing (4).jpgSet against the opioid crisis in Philadelphia Liz Moore’s thought-provoking novel portrays the long-lasting and devastating effects that addiction have on an individual, on a family, and on an entire neighbourhood.

“These girls, he says. He looks at me and puts one finger to his right temple, taps it twice. Stupid, is what he means. No sense.”

In Long Bright River Moore focuses her narrative on the fraught relationship between two sisters, showing the circumstances that can lead to or result in addiction, parental negligence, and crime. Sadly, what had the potential of being a captivating tale is somewhat let down by an uneven structure and an undeveloped murder storyline.

The Good
The setting of this novel is strikingly rendered. Moore has done an amazing job in depicting both Philadelphia. The neighbourhood of Kensington, the area in which much of the story’s action takes place, comes alive on Moore’s pages. Kensington is reputed has having the highest rates of heroin use in the United States. On its streets there is crime, addiction, and prostitution. While Moore does capture its desperation, she also introduces us to some of its compassionate inhabitants. Readers get a nuanced yet unflinching look at this neighbourhood. There are entire families that fall into drugs. One’s parents, one’s uncles and aunts, and one’s cousin. We understand how difficult it is to break this cycle. Nature and nurture are both to blame for the way in which many children follow the same pattern as their parents and lead a life of crime and addiction. Rather than just presenting us with a Hollywood version of an addict or a prostitute, Moore digs deeper. The people who Mickey encounters on her patrol come across as real people. So much so that readers are bound to feel a mixture of heartbreak and horror over them. Unsurprisingly Dennis Lehane has praised this novel. In many ways Moore’s strong sense of place reminded me of his novels.
Another refreshing thing about Long Bright River is that it subverts the ‘good sister/bad sister0 trope that has been oh-so-popular in recent years. The dynamic between Mickey and Kacey was complex and painfully believable. I certainly felt invested in their relationship and its outcome. The choices they make aren’t always easy to understand but we are fully aware of the circumstances that have shaped them in such a way. Through flashbacks we see the way in which they slowly yet irrevocably drift apart and their past closeness becomes a thing of the past. Yet, in spite of their painful history, the two are bound to each other.
Having a family in Long Bright River is not an easy thing. Mickey’s career path in the police department has made her into a persona non grata to most of her blood relatives. But, as readers soon will realise, this familial uneasiness runs both ways. Connections can be formed with unexpected people, such as Mickey does with her elderly neighbour (who was perhaps my favourite character in the entire novel).
I liked the ambivalence of Moore’s story. There are no easy answers or solutions. People capable of violence or malice can also be capable of kindness.

The Could-Have-Been-Better Things
Mickey’s staccato narration takes some getting used to. While I do understand that if her internal monologue or descriptions occasionally sounded robotic it was because she is a somewhat aloof and logical individual, I wish her narrative hadn’t been so wooden. The ‘then’ sections—aka the flashbacks—would have had a much more emotional impact if they’d been narrated by Kacey. Mickey’s perspective has its limitation. The story would benefitted from having her as the narrator as it would have allowed a more balanced portrayal of their relationship. Kacey was a much more interesting and compelling character, and I do think that having her as a narrator would have made me care more for her.
The pacing isn’t great. There are many instances in which the plot loose itself and doesn’t really advance Mickey’s investigation. Mickey herself makes a lot of dumb decisions, and some of them do seem a bit outlandish. For me, the murder investigation was the novel’s weakest point. While it does show the way in which vulnerable people are used or disregarded by the system that is supposed to help them, it also resorts to cheap, and occasionally predictable, ‘twists’. At times this murder-storyline seems forgotten, only to be later picked up at a too convenient moment.

Overall thoughts
Long Bright River is a mournful novel as Mickey’s search for her sister is not an easy one. The story shows the in interplay between addiction, poverty, and crime in a stark manner without resorting to pulpy stereotypes. It presents with the devastating reality of the opioid crisis, the way in which can destroy entire families and neighbourhoods, by focusing on the individual rather than the statistics.
Although it has its flaws (the pacing, structure, and protagonist had their weaknesses) I would still recommend it as I could see how much work Moore has put into it.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3.25 stars

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The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie — book review

51Cf9ajBQ3L._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThe Murder of Roger Ackroyd is an excellent example of why I consider Agatha Christie to be the Queen of Crime.

“Fortunately words, ingeniously used, will serve to mask the ugliness of naked facts.”

It’s curious that one of the most influential crime novels ever written came about by accident. The idea for this novel was given to Christie by her brother-in-law (she states as much in
her autobiography). Still, I doubt that there are many authors who could have pulled it off as Christie does. Now that I have finally re-read it I can also confirm that knowing the twist did not deter my reading experience…if anything I was able to appreciate just how clever a twist it was.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is in many ways a very Christiesque type of book.
While the story implements a lot of the established conventions of the detective novel (the countryside setting, red herrings, the eccentric and brilliant detective and his intellectually inferior companion) it is also cleverly and unexpectedly subversive.
Once again Christie plays around with themes of justice and good & evil. Poirot calls into question the morals of the people connected to Roger Ackroyd (his family, friends, and employees). Thanks to his little grey cells he’s able to disentangle the truth from an increasingly intricate web of lies…

My rating: ★★★★✰ 4.5 stars

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The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup — review

In spite of its promising beginning The Chestnut Man implements far too many cliches for my liking (a few of which are listed on CrimeReads).41154336.jpg
This book centres on a series of gruesome killings in Copenhagen. On each crime scene the killer leaves behind a chestnut doll.
Although the writing is detached it does pay attention to the visual aspect of its scenes, pointing out something in the environment where the characters are, and emphasising some of their gestures and or habits. In this it had an almost cinematic feeling to it, and perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising given that the novel’s author is also a screenwriter (of the successful The Killing, and the not quite as well received The Snowman).
While I initially thought the novel unsentimental tone worked in its favour, making most scenes much more chilling, but I soon noticed that it wasn’t as impartial as it seemed. Even when the narrative follows other characters, it clearly favours its two ‘protagonists’. The narrative’s voice seemed to treat characters other than Hess and Thulin with dislike, or it addressed them by their nationality (the narrative calls Hess’ former colleague François the Frenchman…even after we already have been informed that yes, François is French), vices, or the role they play in the story. For example, when the narratives follows the two ‘bad’ detectives that work against our two main leads, it is quick to present them as stupid, since it has to emphasise that they are CORRUPT and STUPID.
While the chapters’ shortness occasionally did create a sense of suspense, they often seemed to end on rather silly note, and it seemed that the author was make even the most boring or ordinary scenes abruptly end witha sort of ‘cliff-hanger’.
Here are a lists of the clichés that I could have personally done without :

The Brooding Male Lead With A Past
In spite of his intelligence, this temperamental guy often behaves in a way that makes his superiors see him as insubordinate. Yet, he is the only who notices the chestnut men, and he is the main drive behind the investigation’s process.
I really disliked Hesse. I thought he was arrogant and difficult for no reason (yes, he has been ‘relocated’, but would he really act like such a sulk? ). He made no attempt to form a work-relationship with his colleagues, so I’m not sure why I should feel bad that they regard him with hostility (very tit for tat if you ask me).

The Hot Female Detective Who Is Good At Her Job But Not The Greatest Mother
She takes no shit from her male colleagues, who often try it on with her. While I’m sure that there are cases where male detectives try to sexually harass their female colleagues, I’m getting kind of tired of reading of the same scenes, especially if they are included just to make her seem more ‘badass’. Allegedly Thulin is smart, but her expertise lies in certain computer programs (she wants to join the department for cyber crime) so she is surprisingly useless for most of the investigation. In addition to her supposedly intelligence, she also has a banger of a body. I get that being strong or fit is an advantage in her line of work but it’s one thing to have a muscular body, it’s another to have the perfect body (much is made of “her slender waist and shapely backside”). When questioning a doctor she ‘uses’ her looks and acts “coquettishly” to trip this guy up. Couldn’t she have been able to question him effectively without having to rely on her physical appearance ? What about her brains? Not enough?
And because the story has to stress that she is not like other women, in that she is focused on her career, she also has to have an active sexual life. And no, she doesn’t do ‘romance’. Nor does she have time for her child (which is perfectly reasonable given the type of job that she does, yet she is made to seem like a careless mother). Anyway, she is too busy and badass for any of that sentimental stuff.

Corruption Ahoy
We have these two detectives who are clearly there just to make our leads look good. They are racist, sexist, stupid, amoral, and incompetent. Yep. Because they are jealous of our main leads they try to make their life harder. The narrative makes it clear that these are BAD detectives. In fact, most of the police personnel seems unfit to work.

The Detective’s ‘Crazy Wall’
You know the wall that appears in shows like The Wire and True Detective. It’s full of strings, scribbles, articles, and all of that sort of stuff. Well Hess happens to have one of his own, and the narrative reveals this in such a dramatic way, as if it’s a huge reveal or something when it is anything but.

Consulting a Convicted Killer
This whole interaction was laughable and full of poorly veiled allusions.

The Twist
Knowing the killer’s identity doesn’t always detract from my overall reading experience. Here however I found the killer’s character and motivations too be rather overdone.

This was a very bland thriller. I disliked both the narrative’s judg-y tone and its shallow characters. The plot went on and on, but I wasn’t all that interested.

My rating: ★★✰✰✰ 2.5 stars

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And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie — book review

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I can definitely see why many consider And Then There Were None to be Agatha Christie’s magnum opus. Over the past year I have read—or listened to—approximately 30 works by her. With the exception of one one or two anomalies, her books have never failed to entertain me. And I agree with those who call her the queen of crime fiction. Most of her murder-mystery stories implement literary devices that are now considered to be conventions of this genre, and while readers are duped by red herrings and false leads, her professional, or amateur, detectives always manage to extrapolate the truth. The guilty parties are punished, justice is served, and everything is well in the world.
In And Then There Were None she disrupts her usual form, as she challenges her readers expectations by providing us with a cast of quite likely guilty characters. Justice in And Then There Were None takes a sinister role, as we become invested in the lives of the people it seeks to punish.
A rhyme also acquires a dark and deadly significances as Christie uses the ten little soldiers rhyme to create, maintain, and build tension. As the story progresses, and the number of soldiers dwindles, this seemingly harmless rhyme seems far more terrifying than it first appeared to. Christie almost seems to be making a game out of this rhyme, one that is guaranteed to captivate her readers’ attention.
As per usual Christie demonstrates a shrewd insight into human nature. Cut off from the rest of society, the guests soon realise the direness of their situation…soon they fall prey to suspicion and an ever growing sense of uneasiness. The crimes they may, or may have not, committed will arouse further mistrust among the already divided group. Readers too will find themselves questioning the reliability of these characters, and depending on our feelings towards them, we will hope for their innocence or guilt…
With a few singularly effective descriptions Christie breathes life into her characters and their personalities. The changing dynamics between these various characters also provide us with yet another source of excitement. While their various exchanges and discussions do demonstrate Christie’s wit, I had the distinctive impression that this time around Christie had reined in her humour.

When reading crime fiction we often expect the naming and capturing of a criminal. This is usually followed by a restoration of both a moral and a social order…in And Then There Were None it is not the case.

A note on the audiobook edition:
Dan Stevens is such a charismatic narrator. His performance make for a highly engaging experience.

My rating: ★★★★★ 5 stars

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The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

the-ruin-image-1024x538.pngAt first I was intrigued by the prologue featuring young Garda Cormac Reilly who—after answering a call out—is faced with his first dead body and two neglected children. The rest of the book, which is set years later and follows a newly transferred to Galway Reilly, was markedly less engaging. Maybe readers who haven’t read a lot of crime fiction might be able to enjoy this one more than I did.

Reilly’s new department and colleagues do not provide the warmest of welcomes, and he finds himself being mostly assigned to cold cases (would a department really waste such a high-flying detective?). By ‘chance’ he has to look back into his own case (the one featuring at the beginning of this book) which happens to be connected to the death of Aisling Conroy’s boyfriend Jack. Although McTiernan emphasises how good Reilly is at his job, as the story progresses, I had the impression that he makes a really bad detective. In spite of his years of service he lets himself be intimidated by some of his greener colleagues (who are the typical chauvinist, possibly crook, police bullies), and repeatedly fails to pick up on the odd behaviour of another character.
The story also follows Aisling, as she tries to reconcile herself with the possibility that Jack was not as happy as he seemed, and her full-on job as a surgical resident. When Jack’s estranged sister appears out of the blue, Aisling begins to question wherever Jack’s death was a suicide.

The book tries to include many different topics and themes, but it does so in such a rushed manner that not one of them felt particularly well explored.
The storyline lacked interesting suspects or suspense, consisting instead in a monotone narrative featuring a bland, apparently good-at-his-job protagonist, his chauvinistic, lazy, possibly sadistic male colleagues, his no-nonsense ambitious young female colleagues (who I found incredibly unsympathetic), and conveniently evil characters…
Maybe if the plot had provided me with some more engaging material I could have looked past the thin-as-paper characters…towards the end there are two plot points which really annoyed me: one which seemed a cheap solution to what had until then been a genuine portrayal of the difficult reality of abortion in Ireland; the other was the classic—and obvious—reveal (view spoiler).
Rather than Tana French, this reminded me ofClose to Home : the type of detective stories that provide little insight in the human psyche, presenting us instead with a narrative chock full of unlikely—and unbelievable—coincides, a dichotomous depiction of good and bad, and a series of poorly explored discussions (on child abuse, abortion, pedophilia, extenuating working conditions for residents and social workers, police corruption, alcoholism, biological family vs. adoption, and the list goes on and on).
Cormac Reilly could have been an interesting character but he was forgettable and incompetent…which is why I won’t be picking up the next instalment of this series.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3 just-about-stars

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The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney — book review

“That was Wyatt’s philosophy when it came to the past: Stay out of it. ”

The Long and Faraway Gone is a well written if somewhat uneven novel.

5b5a93e914135281e49d38b5_the-long-and-faraway-gone

I can definitely see why it has drawn comparisons to books by Dennis Lehane. Both authors render a strong sense of place, so much so that the settings of their stories transcend the role of backdrop, becoming an active character into their narratives, one that can—and will—sway the direction of the story.

One of the links between two apparently unrelated storylines in The Long and Faraway Gone is that they both take place in Oklahoma City. In the summer of 1986 two young individuals experienced tragic and traumatic losses: Wyatt was the only survivor in an armer robbery while Julianna’s alluring—and troubled—older sister Genevieve went missing during the annual State Fair.
Years later Wyatt—now a private investigator—and Julianna—a nurse—grow increasingly preoccupied over the past . Soon their obsessions will derail the course of their everyday lives as they jeopardise personal relationships, and their careers, by undertaking investigations of their own.

Wyatt’s humour and emphatic nature made him into a compelling protagonist. His story seemed a lot more fleshed out and coherent than Julianna’s. While I was willing to look past Wyatt’s mistakes, and understood why his stay in Oklahoma City affects him so much, I was unable to reconcile myself with Julianna’s appalling behaviour. Her narrative seemed to have a lot more padding, and while her ‘investigation’ definitely had some tense moments, I was always looking forward to return to Wyatt’s story.
It was interesting to see how their storylines occasionally mirrored one another, yet Lou Berney never resorted to throw an unlikely connection between the two as a way of linking these two stories together.

Berney, similarly to Lehane, is skilled in giving each of his characters—regardless of their role—a convincing personality. With a few clever descriptions, and by articulating those idiosyncrasy relating to an individual’s mannerisms or their way of speaking, Berney creates realistic and memorable characters. Regardless if we like them or not, his characterisation is such that they do not fall neatly into a ‘good person’ or ‘bad person’ category. Because his characters are rendered in such vivid detail, his dialogues crackle with energy. There are so many great lines and exchanges that make The Long and Faraway Gone into such an engaging novel.
The resolution to the main characters’ interrogation of their past, although unexpected, is surprisingly mundane. Berney doesn’t try to make the characters’ tragedy into part of larger and unlikely plot, providing instead solutions that are far more realistic.

In spite of a few minor quibbles—mostly relating to Julianna’s narrative—I thought that The Long and Faraway Gone was an engaging read and I am eager to read more by Berney.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3.5 stars (rounded up to 4)

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The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz — book review

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For the most part The House of Silk was an entertaining read. Horowitz captures the essence of the dynamic between Sherlock Holmes and Watson so that readers will find his portrayal of these two famous characters to be all too familiar. As per usual Horowitz also cleverly combines more than one mystery together, throwing in many literary devices that have become conventions of the detective genre (ie. red herrings).

Readers, alongside Watson, will be for the most part in the dark when it comes to Holmes’ idiosyncratic investigations. This was intentionally frustrating, and more than once Holmes fails to explain his investigation to his friend—and by extent us. Still, I was intrigued by our duo’s exploits, and by the way two seemingly unconnected cases intermingled with one another.
Horowitz’s humour and wit are as per usual present and a source of great amusement. Although I was captivated by the fast-pace and evocative narrative, I was frustrated by a certain plot point (view spoiler) and it seemed that the latter half of this book could have been paced better.

Although Horowitz’s has created a realistic and richly described historical setting I appreciated the way Watson’s narrative and running commentary reflect contemporary sensibilities…and given his modern audience Horowitz is unafraid to tackle the darker aspects of the society he writes of.
In spite of a few minor quibbles, I’m glad I read this and I recommend it to fans of detective fiction, even those who aren’t all that familiar with Arthur Conan Doyle‘s work.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3.25 stars

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