thriller

I See You by Clare Mackintosh

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“With FindTheOne.com there are no blind-date nerves, there’s no stilted conversations over dinner. I’d argue it’s more honest than most online dating sites, with their airbrushed photos and their profiles full of lies. Salary range, hobbies, favorite foods…all irrelevant. Who builds a relationship on a mutual love of tapas? A match might be perfect on paper, yet lack the spark needed to set it alight.

FindTheOne.com cuts through all that rubbish; the pretense that anyone cares if you like opera or walks in the park. It means men can take their time. They can follow you for a while, engage you in conversation; see if you’re interesting enough to take for dinner, instead of wasting their time on a garrulous airhead. It means men can get up close and personal. Smell your perfume; your breath; your skin. Feel a spark. Act on it.”

I must admit to the guilty pleasure of reading a thriller. I like to read them scattered between translated or classical literature, simply for the ride. But, I don’t like all thrillers. I didn’t like Gone Girl, for example, and I wasn’t particularly taken with The Girl on The Train. However, I See You kept me engaged all afternoon.

It is based on the premise that a web site sells the details of women’s commutes to work, from which Tube line they take, to the carriage in which they sit, to the exit they use in heading for home. When Zoe discovers a connection between an advertisement on the Gazette and subsequent murders of the women pictured on each advert, the tension rises palatably until its surprising crescendo.

Try as I might, I could not guess the perpetrator. But, Clare Mackintosh does not forcibly manipulate either her reader, or the clues, into a neat little package. The resolution makes perfect sense and has been drawn carefully from the first chapter if one is mindful enough to see it.

If the reader will remember that it is not just the site, nor those who are drawn to it, but the mastermind behind it all. The mind that causes Zoe, and now me, to carefully observe her surroundings to see if anyone follows her with malicious intent.

 

Other reviews:

“Mackintosh scripts a hair-raising ride all the scarier because its premise—that our predictable routines make us easy targets—is sadly so plausible.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“[T]he steadily thickening paranoia will leave readers questioning their comfortable routines…a well-crafted blend of calculated malevolence, cunning plot twists, and redemption that will appeal to fans of Sophie Hannah, Ruth Rendell, and Ruth Ware.” —Booklist, starred review

Packed with suspense, twists, and turns…[Mackintosh’s] meticulous detail to investigative accuracy and talent in weaving a thrilling tale set her work apart from others in the field.” —Kirkus

(I See You by Clare Mackintosh will be published on February 21, 2017. Thanks to Penguin for the Advanced Reading Copy.)

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.

 

Under The Harrow by Flynn Berry

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I’ve been on a mad tear of devouring thrillers lately. They are my “go to” genre when I become distraught, which I am a wee bit right now. Facing the start of a new school year amid typical August heat in Illinois is only one of the things on my horizon. So, instead of reading more thoroughly for Paris in July, or Spanish Lit  Month as I have in prior years, I am buried in psychological thrillers which do not disappoint.

Under The Harrow by Flynn Berry is fantastic. It has the enigma I crave, along with the quality of writing I adore. One is not sacrificed for the other as so often happens in this genre.

When Nora arrives at her sister Rachel’s, expecting polenta and coq au vin, she finds instead the dog hanging from the banister on his tangled up lead and bloody handprints on the wall. Her sister has been stabbed numerous times and is lying dead upstairs in blackened blood. We come to find out that she had been attacked several years earlier on the way home from a party, and subsequently wonder if the two incidents are related.

But there are several other threads which cause dismay. One is the absence of their father whom they haven’t seen, nor does it appear that Nora wishes to see him, in a long time.

Our dad has not turned up. As far as I know, the police have not found him yet, but this is the funeral of his eldest daughter. He might learn of it somehow. He might limp up the aisle and settle in next to me and start to offer theories. The church doors are shut now, and I wonder if anyone would mind if I locked them.

And, there is the presence of Stephan, an old boyfriend whom Rachel did not seem to wish to marry.

Stephan has arrived, I realize with a shot of terror. He comes up and kisses me on the cheek. He smells of whiskey and from this morning, not last night…

They almost got married. Close brush, she said. He still wanted to.

I am only halfway through; this book will keep me pleasantly occupied tonight. I just had to tell you how much I’m enjoying it, how it appears to be one of the best thrillers I’ve read in years. Seriously.

No wonder it has been named one of the best books of summer by Elle, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Real Simple, The Huffington Post and more. Even Claire Messud said, “Once I started reading Under The Harrow, I couldn’t stop. It’s like Broadchurch written by Elena Ferrante.”

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.

“Privacy is the Last Thing We Have.” I Am No One by Patrick Flanery

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Each word I put on paper I imagine may be the last I write in freedom.

I came across this quote a mere 22 pages into I Am No One, and immediately found myself identifiying with Jeremy O’Keefe, the History professor who said it. How often I have wondered if our freedom of speech will someday be taken away, as the world that I have known and trusted slowly turns upside down.

Jeremy is now teaching at NYU, after leaving Columbia and then Oxford. His life is in shambles, and throughout this book which is a testament he seems to be recording, we are never quite convinced of his sanity. Is he telling the truth, or is he paranoid? Could it be he is somehow being manipulated?

The novel begins with a missed appointment he thinks he has made with one of his students. She doesn’t appear, and when he arrives home to check his email he finds a note cancelling their meeting which he does not remember writing. While he was waiting for her at the cafe, he exchanges a few brief words with a young man who keeps appearing, apparently coincidentally, in Jeremy’s life.

Things worsen when unmarked cardboard boxes appear, addressed to him with no indication of who sent them, yet they contain hundreds of pages of private information: every URL he has ever visited, every phone number he has called, and files of photographs of his life.

To me, this is the most fascinating part of the novel. Do we know how visible we are in our every movement? Do we know who it is that is watching is, or worse, keeping track of our private lives?

To be human is to be watched, to be part of society, because we are social animals, but we do not expect that observation by community or government will extend into our private lives. Those of us who are rational believe that as long as we are not breaking any laws, there is no reason the government should be watching what we do inside our homes, within the confines of our private property, and yet this apparently rational belief has been demonstrated, time and again, by behavior of law enforcement and intelligence services, to be profoundly false.

I Am No One is a literary thriller with immediate implications to the lives we live today. Privacy, past relationships, technology and terror are all brought into sharp focus as Patrick Flanery examines their interplay with this book. It is a job well done, a thoroughly fascinating read, making me wonder if any of us have the courage  to make our private lives visible. Should we be required to do so.

The Widow by Fiona Barton

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By the middle of the book, you’re satisfactorily muddled as to who is telling the truth: Jeanie Taylor or her husband, Glen? He is a little like the male character in Sleeping with the Enemy, a perfectionist in the extreme. But that does not necessarily mean that he is guilty of kidnapping Bella, a toddler who was playing in a nearby garden and disappeared while her mother was briefly occupied within their home.

Perhaps it is Jean who kidnapped the child. Even though she is meek, and almost childlike herself, she so longs for a baby of her own that it’s conceivable she could carry off someone else’s. As the journalist who interviews her says:

She’s smarter than she makes out. Puts on her little house wifely act – you know, standing by her man – but there’s all sorts going on in her head. Difficult for her because I think she believed he was innocent at one stage, but something changed. Something changed in their relationship.

There is a slow revelation of each character’s personality and the dynamics they have with one another. I like not knowing who to believe, husband or wife. I like wondering how it will all turn out.

But, this is such a tragic book to me. To me, psychological thrillers are a fascinating genre, but not when they include small children in the plot. The Widow turned from being a compelling book about a couple’s marriage dynamics to a horror story that I could barely finish.

That, however, is just my opinion. I passed The Widow to the teacher who works with talented and gifted children in our school, only to find out that she liked it better than Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. When I asked her why, she said it was because she didn’t feel manipulated, and that is certainly a valid point. No one likes to feel that the author has jerked them through a myriad of events just to create a plot that is suspenseful. With that I can agree; Fiona Barton writes her story without any arbitrary twists that end up being more annoying than convincing. And, she leaves us with plenty to think about after its conclusion.

 

The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison

I like the setting in Chicago with all it’s familiar places such as the Loop, Navy Pier, Printers Row,  and the Drake Hotel.
I like the backdrop of psychology not only in the heroine’s profession, but also in the exploration of Adler’s three life goals. “That Adler’s school is pragmatic and socially atuned is nowhere quite so evident as in his three main life tasks, which he identified as hallmarks of mental health: 1) the experience and expression of love, 2) the development of friendships and social ties, and 3) engagement in meaningful work.” (p. 130)
I like the way the reader is a casual, but engaged, observer. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl felt like it was constantly playing tricks on me for the sake of keeping me guessing. A. S. A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife has a crescendo slowly building to a completely unexpected, but believable, conclusion.
I like reading about strong women and seeing how they’ve coped with life’s adversities. Even if it is in a way I wouldn’t choose for myself.
I first heard of The Silent Wife when I read about it on Nadia’s blog, A Bookish Way of Life. Our reading likes are so compatible, and this book which came highly recommended by her is no exception. Read it for a thriller, read it for its multi-layered plot, and read it to see all the ways in which this wife is silent.

Defending Jacob by William Landay

A jury could only declare my son “not guilty,” never “innocent.” The stink would never leave us. I doubted I would ever walk into a courtroom again as a lawyer. But things were racing too fast to linger over the past or future. There was only now.

When Ben Rifkin is found stabbed three times in the chest, his schoolmate Jacob Barber quickly becomes the murder suspect. Jacob’s father, Assistant Defense Attorney Andy Barber, tells the story from the point of view as a lawyer and as a father. It is a compelling, and shocking ride, through which I was riveted at every turn.

The clues start piling up against Jacob quite quickly. There is a knife found in his bedroom which Jacob bought because it “was cool”; there is a fingerprint on the victim’s sweatshirt that is identified as Jacob’s. But of course, didn’t he stop to see if he could help Ben when he found him lying face down in the leaves? There is a story that Jacob has written, and published on Facebook, which describes in eerily accurate detail the specifics of the murder. Which only a murderer could know. Yet how can a parent believe his son is a killer?

Interspersed with the account of Jacob’s defense in the courtroom, is the trial which the family endures in their own home. The parents suffer terribly: their reputation in the town, their careers, their marriage, and even their own doubts about their son’s culpability. Isn’t it possible that Andy’s genetic history of violence could be passed down to their son? Andy visits his father, in jail for murder, and finds his father comes through for them in his own way. For which Andy and his wife are grateful.

But, it isn’t over until one turns the last page. Even when the case is ‘resolved’, the question remains: who is innocent? And worse yet, what do we do with our doubts? I found Defending Jacob to be an incredible book, well written and unforgettable.

The Boy In The Suitcase

To me, the great favor which Scandinavian crime novels have enjoyed is greatly overrated. Stieg Larsson, Jussi Adler-Olsen, and Jo Nesbo write thrillers with a great plot, but also with an over abundance of bloody, gory, dehumanizing horror. I haven’t really liked any of these crime novels, but I consider The Boy in The Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, to be the best of the bunch.

When Karin asks her friend Nina to pick up a suitcase in a locker, the last thing Nina expects to find is a little boy inside. When she does, she has unknowingly thrust herself into the middle of a very volatile situation. Searching for the boy is his mother, Sagita, and the man, Jucas, who has stolen him. Who will find him first? Will he be found alive? One wonders if this is yet another tale which involves nothing but destruction and death. Fortunately it is told with compassion, by authors who surely know what it means to be a mother. To have had a mother. Or, at the very least, to honor life.
“Here’s something you don’t often see in Nordic noir fiction — a novel written by two women about the criminal mistreatment of women and children, compassionately told from a feminine perspective and featuring female characters you can believe in…. the first collaborative effort of Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, and it packs an almighty punch.”—The New York Times Book Review, Notable Crime Book of 2011

Shutter Island by Dennis LeHane

“You know,” Cawley said, toeing the grass at his feet, head down, “I’ve built something valuable here. But valuable things also have a way of being misunderstood in their own time. Everyone wants a quick fix. We’re tired of being afraid, tired of being sad, tired of feeling overwhelmed, tired of feeling tired. We want the old days back, and we don’t even remember them, and we want to push into the future, paradoxically, at top speed. Patience and forbearance become the first casualties of progress. This is not news. Not news at all. It’s always been so.” Cawley raised his head. “So as many powerful friends as I have, I have just as many powerful enemies. People who would wrest what I’ve build from my control. I can’t allow that without a fight. You understand?”
Shutter Island is an absolutely riveting book, one I was not able to put down since I checked it out with The Savage Detectives two nights ago. It’s the story of Teddy Daniels, U. S. Marshall, who comes to Shutter Island in search of a missing woman, Rachel Solando. Ashecliffe Hospital is on Shutter Island, a psychiatric hospital, or penitentiary, for the criminally insane. And it is there that he finds people and events and codes which lead us all to a mind-bending conclusion.
At first I thought this novel was like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, where the doctors win over their patients by giving unnecessary lobotomies. But each connection I had to another book proved utterly false. There was no way I could predict the truth about Shutter Island that Dennis LeHane slowly revealed. What an amazing novel.

“The novel is brilliantly conceived and executed. . . . Its shocking outcome kept me awake deep into the night, as I began to grasp what the author had done to my innocent mind.” ~Washington Post Book World