BOOK REVIEWS

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

“That’s the problem with summoning demons, you see. Sooner or later somebody else raises them against you.”

Readers who enjoyed Stuart Turton’s previous novel will probably find The Devil and the Dark Water to be a far more captivating read than I did. While I personally was not enamoured by The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, I was willing to give Turton another try.
The first quarter of The Devil and the Dark Water had me intrigued. The narrative opens in Batavia (Jakarta) in 1634. Our protagonist, Arent Hayes, a former mercenary turner bodyguard, is accompanying his employer and friend, Samuel Pipps, on a voyage to Amsterdam. This trip is not for pleasure as Samuel, a famous detective, has been convicted of a ‘mysterious’ crime and is under arrest. Arent wants to prove his innocence, but not knowing the crime Samuel has been accused of obstructs his attempts to free him. Still, he’s determined to protect him and decides to go alongside him to Amsterdam. As the passengers and crew embark this ship however, they are intercepted by a leper who perishes after pronouncing an ominous threat.
Before Samuel is taken to his cell in the ship, he tasks Arent with finding out more about the leper, believing that his threat was not empty one, and that someone means harm to the ship.
There are quite a few characters, but the 3rd person narrative tends to focus on Arent, the Governor General Jan Haan, and his wife, Sara Wessel. Sara, who happens to be very forward-thinking and in possession of some fine detective skills, joins Arent, and the two try to question the less-than-friendly crew and investigate the ship in order to find out whether something is truly haunting it.
Sinister occurrences seem to confirm our characters’ fears: someone or something is set on stopping the ship from reaching its destination.

At first the story held my attention, and I did find the novel to be rather atmospheric. Turton has clearly done extensive research in the way ship’s operated (from its hierarchy to the mentality of those willing to lead such a life) giving plenty of specific details relating to its various parts and or levels. Now, sadly, I can’t say the same for the narrative’s historical accuracy. The characters spoke in a very modern way, with the occasional ‘mayhap’ to give some authenticity. While sometimes adding modern elements to historical films or books can work (such as with The Favourite), here it just took me out. Having Sara remind herself and be reminded by others, such as her maid, that she is a ‘noble-woman’ seemed odd. While I understand that Turton did so because he wanted to explain to his readers that because of her class Sara could and couldn’t do certain things (or should be addressed in a certain way by those belonging to a lower class) or , but surely he knows that his audience would be already aware of this? The interactions between the characters also struck me as modern, and it seemed weird that every woman on the ship was so ahead of her times (Sara’s daughter is a genius). Arent struck me as the typical ‘giant’ with a heart of gold, who may have done some bad things in his past, but has now turned a new leaf. Samuel plays a very minor role, and while it made sense given his imprisonment, as things escalate on the ship, I would have expected for Arent to seek his counsel more often.
The middle of his novel drags. Arent and Sara investigate by asking the same boring questions to the same people, they explore the ship some more, and that’s kind of that. The Governor, who is compared to a hawk and happens to have very sharp nails, acts like a Bad Guy, which is not a spoiler since within a few lines of being introduced to him we know that he beats his wife.
Arent and Sara were similarly ‘good’. Unlike most other people on the boat they do not approve of the United East Indian Company. Given their respective backgrounds their humanitarian awareness seemed a tad odd.
Also, the whole romantic subplot….puh-lease.
There were quite a few moments that were meant to ‘unnerve’ the reader but I personally found them comical.
When characters made a certain discovery or realised something (“It can’t be…” he said out loud, as the answers arrived in a dizzying rush. “It can’t be…”) we had these ‘cliff-hangers’ as the narrative would jump to another character and by the time we returned to that other character I no longer cared to learn of their discovery. The writing in general wasn’t to my taste : “she had so much life, it was bursting through the seams of her” / “he was coming apart at the seams” / “her daughter’s [eyes] glittered with life. Her husband’s were empty, like two dark holes his soul had long run out”.
Toward the ending things take a chaotic turn. There are a few twists, most of which I’d predicted (not bragging, I have merely read enough mystery novels to know how certain stories will unfold). The novel’s main twist was painfully clichéd and made very little sense (it was obsolete).
Long, boring, unconvincing, and with a vague ‘historicalness’ that is miles away from the likes of Sarah Dunant or Eleanor Catton.

MY RATING: 2 ½ stars

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The Devotion of Suspect X (Detective Galileo #1) by Keigo Higashino

The Devotion of Suspect X is an unusual detective novel. By the end of the first chapter readers witness the murder that is at the centre of this novel. We know the identity and motivations of the perpetrator. What follows is a compulsive game of cat-and-mouse between ‘detective Galileo’ and Suspect X. At times this felt like a chess game, in which two highly intelligent individuals try to outmanoeuvre each other.
The final chapters of this novel took me by surprise and answered some of my niggling questions regarding the actions of a certain character. Still, [SPOILERS] I’m not quite certain why he just didn’t leave the ex-husband in the river or whatever it was…why let the police find a body in the first place? The ex-wife would have been questioned but if they had no proof of the guy being dead, surely they would have soon moved to more urgent cases…especially considering that this guy wasn’t exactly a model citizen and his disappearance could have been chalked up to loansharks or something…but then we wouldn’t have a novel so…[END SPOILERS].
I think this is a novel that to best appreciated this novel one should know very little about its plot and characters before picking it up. If you like tales of suspense, police procedural, and clever mysteries, you should definitely give The Devotion of Suspect X.
The only thing that kept me from giving this book a higher rating were the characters themselves. I found some of them to be a bit wooden, and I also wasn’t particularly keen on that ending.

My rating: 3 ¼ stars

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Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie — book review

Death on the Nile is one of Agatha Christie’s most ingenuous mysteries. While Christie has definitely penned more ‘twisty’ whoddunits, the shifting dynamics between the book’s various players make for a suspenseful story.
With the exception of our wonderfully punctilious Poirot, Death on the Nile is almost entirely populated by unlikable characters (who are either blatantly racist or express misogynistic and classist sentiments). While Christie’s characters are in essence stereotypes—the self-centred socialites, the oppressive mothers, the vociferous communist, the self-effacing plain-Jane, the vengeful scorned woman—to dismiss them as ‘shallow’ or ‘caricatures’ is rather unjustified. Through her sharp-wit, Christie observes how duplicitous her characters are, regardless of their class and gender. The murder victim is initially presented as heroine of sorts: admired for her beauty, wealth, and altruism. But, here and there, we see glimpses of her flippant and selfish nature.
Throughout the course of the novel, Poirot, as per usual, demonstrates the power of his little grey cells. His denouement, however, wasn’t as satisfying as it could have been. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed how enraged the suspects became once Poirot confronts them about their lies (I mean, they had it coming).

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz — book review

The Word Is Murder offers readers a mixture of old and new.
The prose and murder-mystery are heavily reminiscent of Agatha Christie and Josephine Tey, whom are often referred as the most prominent golden age detective fiction writers. What is innovative about The Word Is Murder is that it blurs the line 9780062676788_custom-7786acbfe35f1fe03f3898d44d248ca8035f2f4b-s400-c85.jpgbetween fiction and non-fiction as the protagonist and narrator of the novel is Anthony Horowitz himself. While Daniel Hawthorne, the murder victim, and the ‘suspects’ are fictive characters, there are quite a lot of real people in the story.

Another thing that made this ‘whodunnit’ interesting is that Hawthorne, a former police detective, is not a nice person. Holmes and Poirot, in spite of their peculiarities, are likeable characters. Hawthorne, as Horowitz often points out, is a rather rude man, and readers too will find the detective’s closed-off manner and barely concealed homophobia hard to digest. Yet, even if we do not like him, it would be foolish to deny his great detective skills (he is incredibly observant) and in the end, although irked by many of his qualities and opinions, I found myself rooting for him.
Not only does Horowitz find himself ‘assisting’ a man he dislikes in what could or could not be a murder investigation but he also has to write about it so he often reminiscence about his writing and creating process. In doing so, Horowitz also paints an amusing picture of the publishing and literary world.

This novel combines two of my favourite things: a whodunnit nestled in a book about books. An amusing investigation that isn’t as predictable as readers are initially led to believe.

My rating: ★★★★✰ 3.5 stars (rounded up to 4 because the audiobook edition is superbly narrated)

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AS LONG AS WE BOTH SHALL LIVE: BOOK REVIEW

As Long as We Both Shall Live by JoAnn Chaney
★★✰✰✰ 2 of 5 stars

So here’s the thing: if you want to kill your wife, don’t. Don’t kill her, don0t touch her. Ditch the bitch if you have to, get on with your life. Or make it work. But kill her? Nope.

As Long as We Both Shall Live has one of the most captivating prologues I have ever read….sadly the rest novel doesn’t live up to it.

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This novel tries too hard to come across as a hard-boiled detective story. With plenty of weird and unpleasant metaphors (ie. a man’s ‘thin’ lips are like ‘tuna’ ? w-h-a-t!) and an abundance of ass&balls jokes it just felt like being inside the head of an eight-year-old boy who has just learned ‘naughty’ words. These odd descriptions, unfunny quips, and the ‘trying-too-hard-to-be-hard’ dialogues pulled me right away from the story. Bit of pity since I wanted to like Chaney’s wicked humour.

There is this Detective Loren (the typical vulgar bully with a heart of gold) who is completely unprofessional. He is insubordinate and threatens witnesses and suspects alike. Really? Am I to believe that the secretary he cornered hasn’t put a complaint with his name stamped on it?

“Your boss-man, is he porking anyone in the office?”
Loren asked, a grin slowly blooming on his face.
“Pardon?”
“Oh, you heard me, Jilly. Is there some hot little piece of ass in the mailroom that might be riding his baloney pony during lunch hours?”

First of all, who even talks like that? Secondly, why does the narrative try to make this guy, Loren, seem like the typical ‘bear with the heart of gold’?!
His backstory served little purpose and only slowed the main narrative. Moreover, by giving this Loren-character the stage, the female detective, Spengler, is cast off to the sidelines. I would have rather had more of her personal life than Loren’s. Spengler is presented to us as the typical ‘attractive woman in an all men’s club’. Her colleagues – all men – make vulgar remarks about her and find her to be a ‘cold bitch’. This is such a bloody cliché. A) Why does she have to be uber beautiful? B) Why are all men depicted as dogs-in-heat?

Now, the biggest problem with this novel is that it was trying to ‘outdo’ (view spoiler) and the narrative perfectly acknowledges this: view spoiler
Now, I’m not suggesting that this type of ‘borrowing‘ doesn’t work. Barbara Vine (who wrote a number a brilliant psychological mysteries) uses a similar technique,(view spoiler). Here however this comes across as little more than a cheap trick.
For a long portion of the novel Matt and his relationship to his now dead wife, Marie, get very little page-time. They seem so barely sketched out that I never started to care about who did what. Their motivations and actions are incredibly unbelievable and melodramatic. The wife vs. husband jokes got old fast. (view spoiler)

You could call it Stockholm Syndrome, or you could call it marriage. Tomayto, tomahto.

Their daughters, and Marie’s friends make one-time only appearances that are completely laughable.
Lastly, I did not like the way in which the novel portrays men. They are all crass and or stupid. And the story wants to make it seem like Loren, the worst of them all, is actually the best of the lot? Nah.
And why is a woman breaking the law any better than a man breaking the law? Spengler is so unprofessional in that she seems (view spoiler).

It was unfortunate, but sometimes a woman had to take extreme measure to teach a man a lesson.

Disappointing, unbelievable, and with an incredibly over the top finale that is 100% soap opera, the only good thing about this novel is its prologue.

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THE MOVING FINGER (MISS MARPLE): BOOK REVIEW


The Moving Finger
by Agatha Christie

★★★★✰ 4.5 of 5 stars

It seems odd, now, to remember that Joanna and I were more amused by the letter than anything else. We hadn’t, then, the faintest inkling of what was to come – the trail of blood and violence and suspicion and fear.

The Moving Finger reveals a more mature side of Christie’s writing. While the narrative showcases her well-known traits, her wit and her amusing characters, underlining this story is a serious tone not often encountered in Christie’s mystery.

“There’s too much tendency to attribute to God the evils that man does of his own free will. I might concede you the Devil. God doesn’t really need to punish us, Miss Barton. We’re so very busy punishing ourselves.”

On a superficial level this is due the terms some of her characters use, but if I were to try and pin point the reason why The Moving Finger seems different from Christie’s usual, is the letters that set in motion the narrative. These vicious and insidious letters that bring about anger, shame and suspicion. These childish yet insidious letters make the mystery of this novel more likely, more real. Rich American millionaires and diamonds seem to belong in far off realities. These letters instead seem all too likely. They also reminded of a short story by Shirley Jackson (which was published in 1965), called The Possibility of Evil.
The narrator was a bit arrogant but I loved reading the scenes between him and his sister. Christie has mastered writing the ‘bickering’ siblings.
Overall, this was incredibly entertaining. The mystery wasn’t convoluted and I, for one, enjoyed reading about the various characters.

“Mrs. Dane Calthrop is a very remarkable woman, you know. She’s nearly always right.”
“It makes her rather alarming,” I said.
“Sincerity has that effect,” said Miss Marple.

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THE GHOST FIELDS (RUTH GALLOWAY): BOOK REVIEW


The Ghost Fields
by Elly Griffiths

★★★✰✰ 3 stars

“Stop!” shouts Nelson. “Police!”
In answer a bullet shoots past his ear.
“Ruth!” yells Nelson. “Get behind the duck.”

While I did find The Ghost Fields to be rather entertaining, it also made me realise that Elly Griffiths is not for me.
Maybe it’s down to the tone of her stories, which seem far from being the mysteries or crime stories that they are labeled as. The sort of humour that pervades the narrative in The Ghost Fields often came across as silly and out of place. More often than not it seems that the narrative makes fun of the characters, which made it difficult for me to take either them or their drama seriously.
Another thing that I disliked is the dichotomous portrayal of class: there is Ruth, a University lecturer therefore she lives cast off from other, throws literary or historical references, brains over looks etc…then we have Nelson who is a straight-talking policeman (who finds words such as feminism repelling) who dislikes the Blackstocks on sight (aristocrats…yuck!). We have the ‘eccentric’ Professors who talk only of their subject, the bitter aristocrats….everyone is either entitled or pretentious. Other characters are also rather one-dimensional: gym-bunnies, the kind pregnant woman, the self-assured American…it was hard for me to think of them as ‘people’ since they are merely stereotypes…that don’t even succeed in being amusing.
There is very little that would make this novel into mystery/crime. Yes, there is a body, and there are a few ‘detectives’ but it seemed to be more of melodrama: Ruth likes Nelson, Nelson has a wife but is jealous that Ruth is interest in Frank, Nelson’s wife is also interested in someone else. Drama alert!
Anyway, I still finished it so it wasn’t all that bad. It might be that Griffiths is simply not for me.

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The Burning by Jane Casey

An absorbing investigation lead by a determined and engaging protagonist.
DC Maeve Kerrigan is tasked with questioning the relatives and friends of the latest victim of a serial killer known as The Burning Man…expect that Rebecca Haworth’s murder may be the work of a copy-cat…
A fast-paced plot-line that switches between Maeve and Louise, Rebecca’s best friend. Louise is hiding something from us, and the way in which Casey switches from one woman to the other, creates further tension. Maeve’s investigation leads her to interrogate and question a lot of different people. Regardless of their age and of their relation to Rebecca, these scenes were vividly rendered. The dialogues and the actions of the various characters rang through to life. Casey creates incredibly believable conversations, so much so that even characters who make only brief appearances are as fleshed out as the novel’s main protagonists.
Maeve is an energetic and ambitious DC. She is driven to do a good job: while she might not be too self-assured, she believes in her abilities, and in her own judgement. It was refreshing to read of a female detective who isn’t merely ‘strong’ but who is very nuanced. She could easily amuse readers but she could also reveal very affective fears. The treatment she is subjected to, due to her ‘Irish-ness’ and her gender help us understand her.
The only ‘fault’ I can pinpoint is in the character of Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend. He was not very believable, and his motivations and personality were inconsistent.
Overall, this novel packs a suspenseful exploration of a troubled woman’s life. I deeply appreciated how cleverly Casey presents Rebecca to us: the various characters Maeve questions give very conflicting impressions of Rebecca.

My rating: 3 stars

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The More They Disappear by Jesse Donaldson

Perhaps I was expecting The More They Disappear to be more of a mystery. We know from the very start that Mary Jane is the one who shoots sheriff Lew Mattock. Mary Jane is a young drug-addict. She loathes both herself and her parents. Her boyfriend is the only one person she cares for, and together they believe they can be like Bonny and Clyde. Mark, the wannabe Clyde, is a college student who likes to buy and sell Oxy.
The deputy, Harlan Dupree, is forced to step up, taking the role of sheriff in a town that is torn by addiction and corruption. Harlan is viewed as a piss-poor replacement, yet, he does try to solve Lew’s murder. His investigation will reveal that Lew was incredibly corrupt and not quite the good man some believe he was. Except that most people, everybody but Lew’s son, knew just what sort of bully Lew could be. Harlan’s methods are rather inadequate. His efforts were shadowed by his constant mopey thoughts. Most of the characters, in fact, shared the same sense of self-pity. They all have horrible parents, they are all made fun of, they all have ‘inner’ potential…While I appreciated that no one was likeable, I found that by having 0 sympathetic characters I wasn’t that involved in the outcome of the story. Harlan and Lew’s son (what was his name? What was the point in him?) were so similarly bland that I confused one for the other. Mary Jane and Mark were the stereotypical angsty kids. The many sets of ‘couples’ and parents seemed all alike: the man is an asshole, the woman is a depressed chain-smoker.
The writing too was off-putting. Needless sex-scenes and lots of ‘nipple’ being described.
The More They Disappear offers depressing themes in a depressing manner. What could have been a raw and genuine portrayal of poverty and drug addiction turns into a ‘race’ for who is the most ‘misunderstood and unappreciated’ character. Pity parties are off-putting.

My rating: 2 stars

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Sacred by Dennis Lehane

Kenzie and Gennaro are hired by an incredibly wealthy – and dying – Trevor Stone to find his missing daughter. Things soon start to get complicated. Kenzie’s own mentor was looking for Desiree Stone and is now also MIA. Kenzie and Gennaro will venture from a shady Grief Counselling organisation, that is possibly connected to a religious cult, to sunny Florida. Money and the power that comes with it play a big role in this novel, and as the protagonists soon find out, money is a good motive.
While Lehane does incorporate more affecting moments into his storyline grief is a big theme of the novel – I found that this instalment was much more lighthearted that the previous ones. Horrible people do horrible things in this story but there was a ‘flashy-ness’ a dramatic aspect to their behaviour that undermined the seriousness of their actions. Still, while there were some high-end film-like scenarios, Lehane’s characters convey incredible realism: their dialogues and reactions ring true to life. I also deeply appreciated that we are shown that what happened in the previous novels has affected Kenzie and Gennaro. Their partnership is a vital aspect of this serious and I was happy to see how solid their relationship is,
Deeply entertaining and fast paced, Lehane packs another suspenseful and highly-strung story.

My rating: 3.75 stars

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