mystery

The Trespasser by Tana French

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It starts slowly, and continues that way, almost painfully so. But then, as only Tana French knows how to do, you are suddenly caught up into dialogue and characterization that is so compelling you must continue to the end.

Is beautiful, Barbie-like Aislinn killed by a random stalker? By her date, Rory, for whom she is preparing dinner? Or, by a detective from within the police force itself? What matters, perhaps, is not who committed the murder as much as how we get there.

I am caught up in the thought process of Antoinette Conway and Steve Moran, sweating it out in the interrogation room, feeling Antoinette’s isolation and insecurity not quite covered up by the bravado with which she likes to cloak herself.  I search my life for the likes of Steve, her trusted partner and dependable colleague, and find that I, too, am not entirely alone even when I feel that way acutely.

I like the power of Tana French’s novels; they are never contrived, or trite, but look beyond the mystery to the core of each character. Who seem so very real to me.

 

IQ by Joe Ide

I can’t be diminished by people talking no matter who they are…

This is one of my favorite kinds of books, one with a tightly woven plot, spot-on dialogue, and best of all, a character with character.

How I admire IQ, Isaiah Quintabe, a young man making up for his past sins with the strength of his intellect. A young man with the voice of his dead brother, beloved guardian, speaking in his ear to remind him of all he’s been given and all he owes.

If you like courageous men of character facing the hardships they have endured, while solving a case set in the gang-ridden neighborhoods of Los Angeles, this is for you.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

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The praise for this one is incomparable. Endorsements from the likes of thriller writers Harlan Coban and Sue Grafton made me all the more eager to review The Couple Next Door.

Anne and Marco are young parents having a dinner party with their neighbors, Cynthia and Graham, while taking turns to check on their baby next door every half hour. When Anne feeds her daughter at 12:00 a.m. everything is fine; when Marco checks her at 12:30 a.m. everything is fine. But when they return home at 1:00 in the morning, to find their front door ajar about three inches, they also discover their baby, Cora, is gone.

Immediately, Anne castigates herself. They never should have left the baby alone when the sitter cancelled. Soon, it becomes apparent that a kidnapping has taken place. Or, is Anne implicated because she suffers from post-partum depression and is under the care of a psychiatrist? Each character’s motivations are closely examined in an intricate, well-wrought plot.

The story is a compelling one, the twists are not arbitrary or so sudden they seem artificial. The suspense is substantial as we take our suspicions from one character to the next. There is no doubt at the end, as there can be with translated literature, as to who committed the crime or why. All of these reasons make this a good read. It stops from being a great read, for me, because the sentences are jerky and flat, thrust at us like little jabs from some fencing dual. There are cliches we have heard all too often before.  But, if you want a suspenseful read, with a well drawn plot, this would be the book to pick up.

The Couple Next Door will be published August 23, 2016. Surely it is worth being compared to Gone Girl, and The Girl on The Train, except that I liked this one better than either of those.

Real Tigers by Mick Herron

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She’d heard once of a long-distance hiker, way before the days of e-readers, who’d carried a novel over the Alps, tearing out and discarding each page as he read it, to lighten his load. There was a lot to be said for that. For a baggage-free existence, each moment of your story jettisoned as soon as done; your future pristine, undiluted by all that’s gone before. You’d always be on the first page. Never have to turn back, relive your mistakes.

Slough House on Aldersgate Street is where all the screw ups have gone. The “slow horses” who are alcoholic, or hooked on coke, or in some way have made a mess of a case and been relegated to this building of shame.

Except they’re so likeable it’s hard to be scornful of their situation. Rather, one feels a certain amount of empathy, and a hope that the tight-assed superiors of Regent’s Park, such as Dame Ingrid Tearney, will get theirs.

I love the sparkling wit, so often comprised of sarcasm, which Herron bestows on his characters. Just as I have enjoyed Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels for the humor and beautifully developed characters, so I feel an affinity toward Mick Herron’s. What a pity it’s taken me his third book of the Slough House series, Real Tigers, to find them.

Thanks to SoHo Press for the introduction.

Three Truths And a Lie by Lisa Gardner

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I have never read anything  by Lisa Gardner before. But when my life feels hectic and overwrought, my favorite genre for escape is a thriller. And when time is short, there is little better than a short story.

Three Truths and A Lie is a story to be released in early January, and it is mesmerizing and stultifying and appropriately gory all at once. I came in from a long, twelve hour conference day, and read it that night.

“All right. Let’s begin.”

“So you know the game, three truths and a lie? Most of the details of what I’m going to tell you will be the truth. One will be a lie.”

And it is that line, of course, that compelled me to read this short story. Not that I wasn’t intrigued by the premise: a wealthy man is found dead in a seedy hotel room, with his amputated leg in a bathtub filled with dry ice. How come? Who did it?

It’s a detective story perfectly told, which makes me think I’ll read another novel by Lisa Gardner soon. Oh, that we were all as clever as her heroine addressing an audience of writers with this particular plot.

Paris in July: Murder on the Ile Sordou

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When I was a young bride living in Europe, I would often take the time offered to teachers in the summer to flit about my favorite countries. I would put on a shade of Chanel lipstick, which is no longer made, named Explosion; it was a brilliant fuschia which matched my maillot de bain perfectly, and somehow I felt quite comfortable on the beaches of the French Riviera wearing ridiculously bold colors. It was the 1980’s, after all.

Along the coast of the Riviera is a most beautiful city named Aix en Provence. which is about 30 km north of Marseille. It is here that the author of this mystery, M. L. Longworth, writes when she is not teaching in Paris. Her novel Murder on the Ile Sordou takes place on a fictitious island, but one that may resemble any of the islands off the coast of Marseille, and it is a novel with more ambiance than any mystery I have read.

While it may resemble the writing of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, or Donna Leon’s Venice, this mystery has a quality all of its own. M. L. Longworth brings France in general, and Provence in particular, to life with her dialogue, her setting, and her characters. Even the meals which they enjoyed after a two hour afternoon nap seemed indescribably delicious.

I’ve made a summer menu, so let’s just forget about the storm out there: we’ll begin with cucumber and melon gazpacho and then red snapper ceviche shooters, followed by vegetable spring rolls. Once we’re sitting we’ll eat roast bass with olive oil, mussels, and cherry tomatoes, and, finally, in honor of our meat-loving host, a rack of grilled lamb with stir-fried summer vegetables, wasabi puree, and a cilantro-mint vinaigrette.

A loud round of applause rang out. “And not to forget dessert,” Emile said, holding up his hand.” A chocolate cake served with fresh strawberries and vanilla bean ice cream, surrounded by a concoction I call ginger and lavender drizzle.”

Oh, the lavender in Provence! The seafood! The cresting waves of the sea on a summer evening…I was there in an instant, enjoying the remembered sensations even more than the mystery itself.

If I should tell you about the mystery, I would spoil the surprise. You must read it yourself to discover which of the guests who have arrived by boat will be murdered and why. But, while you are reading of the case to be solved, you will be immersed in the culture, and for me that was the most special aspect of this book.

 

The Secret Place by Tana French

The Secret Place

A Retir’d Friendship

 

Here let us sit and bless our Starres

Who did such happy quiet give,

As that remov’d from noise of warres.

In one another’s hearts we live.

 

Why should we entertain a feare?

Love cares not how the world is turn’d.

If crouds of dangers should appeare,

Yet friendship can be unconcern’d.

 

We weare about us such a charme,

No horrour can be our offence:

For mischief’s self can doe no harme

To friendship and to innocence.

 

~Katherine Philips

 

Could not put it down, this mystery by Tana French. It brought me back to girls’ mean ways, cliques and bonds, manipulations and trickery. But in this case, there is also evil of the worst kind; unspeakable actions disguised as loving intent. It’s a powerful mystery, one that had me absolutely riveted for the past two days. Rarely have I read dialogue so true, nor a plot more expertly woven.

An Officer and A Spy by Robert Harris

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There is no such thing as a secret–not really, not in the modern world, not with photography and telegraphy and railways and newspaper presses. The old days of an inner circle of like-minded souls communicating with parchment and quill pens are gone. Sooner or later most things will be revealed.

While Claude DeBussy was composing Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune, and Emile Zola was writing highly anticipated novels, Georges Picquard began investigating the case of Alfred Dreyfus. Accused of being a traitor against the French, and already half-condemned because of being a Jew, Dreyfus had been sent to Devil’s Island where he was isolated and tortured for allegedly giving secret information to the Germans.

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However, the deeper Major Picquard looks into the case, the more he is certain that the wrong man is being punished. When he comes to the generals above him with near irrefutable proof that they have convicted an innocent man, Picquard is the one who finds himself in a similar situation: being hounded and scorned by military powers who will not accept that they were wrong. On pride alone, they refuse to set the innocent free.

I was absolutely riveted to this novel. How it is that I have not read anything written by Robert Harris before I do not know, but he has quickly leapt to a “must read” author for me, one whose books I am eager to go through from the very beginning. He masterfully tells the tale, with details exquisitely recorded, in such a way that before I know it I have read fifty pages.

I highly recommend this book based on the true story of Alfred Dreyfus in Paris during the 1890’s.

First Impressions by Charlie Lovett (and give-away)

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…I cannot help but be reminded of the dangers that befall those who succumb to their first impressions.

Sometimes, first impressions can be a good thing. I remember reading of Charlie Lovett’s book, The Bookman’s Tale, on Nadia’s blog and being delighted to win a copy of it for my own. When the chance to read his latest book, First Impressions, came my way I eagerly accepted this book based on my first impression of hearing about him months ago.

Even when Jane Austen warned readers long ago of the fallibility of first impressions; how wrong we can be when we trust our initial reaction.

This charming novel depicts a relationship between Jane Austen and a clergyman of 80 years of age. Theirs is a tremendous friendship based on literary pleasures. They love to read to each other, and they love to share in the development of characters Jane created in her books Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, and most importantly, Pride and Prejudice.

Balanced against this picturesque tableau is the present day life of Sophie Collingwood, a bibliophile of the first order. When her beloved Uncle Bertram is found dead, Sophie is thrust into discovering the true cause of his death as she cannot believe that he simply fell down the stairs outside his home. It is a home which had been stacked from floor to ceiling, on every conceivable horizontal surface, with books. These were the treasures that he shared with Sophie all her growing up. They were to become her own library in due time.

But when she takes residence in her uncle’s apartment, which had been left to her, she discovers that all the furniture, and worse, all the books, have been sold. More distressing than that is the way that she has received requests from two men, each of whom want a second edition of the book which had been written by Jane Austen’s friend.

Sophie embarks on a quest to answer the question of why “the second edition of a painfully dull book of allegories merited all this cloak and dagger intrigue.” For she is seduced by a handsome man named Winston, while fending off threats from another man named Smedley, and wondering how much a third man, named Eric, really means to her.

This is a book which imagines a thrilling scenario behind the story of Pride and Prejudice, casting doubt on Jane Austen as the true author, while immersing the reader into the lives of fellow bibliophiles all the while. One feels at home in the company of Sophie and her uncle, Jane and her friend, and the old book shops filled with dust motes and musty smells. One longs to reread a favorite Jane Austen novel upon finishing this book which has fleshed her out so well.

Penguin books has given me the opportunity to give away this book, plus a classic copy of Pride and Prejudice, to one reader (U.S./Canada only, please). If you would like to enter in the give-away, simply leave a comment with your favorite Jane Austen novel.

(Congratulations to Heidi who has won a copy from the publisher!)

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

In an era, and a country, where crime is supposed to be non-existent because “theory dictated that there was more work, more fairness, less exploitation”, we find a Russia which is truly terrifying.

I have always been fascinated with Russia. I took almost enough Russian literature in university to have a minor in it. I suspect that in many ways, I have glorified this land of ice and snow, hand-painted boxes, and tortured writers. I probably have overlooked most of the suffering and pain that its citizens have endured.

The bleakness of Russia in the 1950’s comes alive in this brilliant mystery. It is written with layers of paranoia over layers of deception. It is written with the characters’ fear and trembling, only mirrored by those in charge because they realize their lives are no different. Everyone is an accusation away from a life of exile. Or, torture.

If you finished Gone Girl (or The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affairwith a sigh of disappointment, as I did, you need to read Child 44. It is a true mystery, an exquisitely wrought thriller with no games played at the reader’s expense.