Recently I was lucky enough to holiday in Sicily and take time out from this mostly disappointing London summer. I still haven’t been reading as many books as I used to but wanted to take some quality holiday reading with me. I knew I could trust Karen at Orenda Books for gripping reads – I’ve never had a dud read from Orenda and these three titles didn’t disappoint either.
So, what did I read?
A Suitable Lie by Michael J Malone – Widowed with a young child, Andy is certain that he will never again experience true love. Then he meets Anna … but she is not all that she seems…
I usually avoid domestic psychological thrillers but this is sympathetically written without being overblown. I don’t want to give any of the plot away but it is worth pointing out that this is far superior to other novels that touch on similar themes. A sad story but not sensational in its misery. It really drew me in.
The Mine by Antti Tuomainen – Investigative reporter Janne Vuori sets out to uncover the truth about a mining company, whose illegal activities have created an environmental disaster in a small town in Northern Finland.
I don’t know what it is about the way Tuomainen writes his descriptions of locations but I often find myself intrigued and looking them up online! I have read all three of Tuomainen’s books that have been translated into English and I think this may be the best… although I am tempted to go back and re-read Dark as My Heart, just to make sure! I could really feel the pain of Janne’s personal life unravelling and as for the mystery of the mining company – if only the book was twice long with double the intrigue!
Exquisite by Sarah Stovell – Bo Luxton has it all – a loving family, a beautiful home and a clutch of bestselling books to her name. Enter Alice Dark, an aspiring writer.When they meet at a writers’ retreat, the chemistry is instant, and a sinister relationship develops…
This is definitely the page turner of the three books! I could not put this book down. It reminded me a little of Harriet Lane’s novels but with an injection of high intensity thriller. Who do you believe? What happened next? Wow.
The Healer by Antti Tuomainen
It’s two days before Christmas and Helsinki is battling ruthless climate catastrophe: subway tunnels are flooded; the streets are full of abandoned vehicles; the social order is crumbling and private security firms have undermined the police force. Tapani Lehtinen, a struggling poet, is among the few still willing to live in the city. When Tapani’s journalist wife Johanna goes missing, he embarks on a frantic hunt for her. Johanna’s disappearance seems to be connected to a story she was researching about a serial killer known as ‘The Healer’.
First Impressions: I really liked the world of climate change Helskinki that you were thrown into as it was all enveloping and completely believable. There is chaos but the city is still functioning and recognisable. You are treated to this consistent world all the way through the novel and again, like in Tuomainen’s Dark as My Heart, I wish I knew Helsinki better to fully appreciate his descriptions.
Highlights: There was lots associated with the climate change world I enjoyed and found thoughtful like the refugee problems; although the context was different the social problems and attitudes were the same as we have now. I loved the author’s cool and poetic writing style and the way Tapani seems detached from his surroundings. The security companies and police operations were interesting (and probably recognisable today in some corrupt countries) as were the differences between the wealthy and ordinary citizens.
If I was an editor: What an original novel! Could it be longer to draw out the intrigue?
Overall: A fantastic noir/serial killer/climate change mash up. I’m all in on Cli-Fi if this is the benchmark!
Fear is the Rider by Kenneth Cook
What better way to celebrate Australia Day this week than to read and review an outback thriller!
A young man driving from Sydney to Adelaide for work decides to take a short detour into the desert. He turns his hatchback on to a notoriously dangerous track that bisects uninhabited stone-covered flats.
He’s not far along the road when a distraught young woman stumbles from the scrub and flags him down. A journalist from Sydney, she has just escaped the clutches of an inexplicable, terrifying creature.
Now this desert-dwelling creature has her jeep. Her axe. And her scent…
First Impressions: Oh, I am hooked! You are straight out there on the Obiri Track and I knew my Sunday afternoon had been hijacked!
Highlights: Oh my, what an adrenalin rush! I never would have imagined detail about gear changes and road surfaces would have me enthralled. The only reason I didn’t read this in one sitting is because I had to take little breaks whenever the tension briefly subsided in order to calm my heart!
If I was an editor: There is absolutely nothing to critique about the pacing! I will only say that I would have liked a bit more depth to the myth of the man/monster that was chasing them, and, as for the other solitary characters stumbled across in the frantic chase, I’d have liked them to be a little more interesting and not so cardboard cut out. However, both of these wishes would alter the story and it is fair dinkum brilliant in its current form.
Overall: Kim at Reading Matters summed it up perfectly: Wolf Creek meets Mad Max. I suspect I will be launching straight into Cook’s other novels.
*Kim felt the ending was somewhat unbelievable. I think I was too traumatised by this point to notice.
Thank you to Text Publishing for a copy of the ARC.
UK Reviewers – this will archive on Netgalley on the 27th. I’ve never given out such a warning before so take my recommendation seriously if you want an adrenalin raising outback chase!
This is the Water by Yannick Murphy
In the New England world of junior competitive swimming, parents spend hours driving their children to training and meets. Annie has two girls on the team, a dead brother and a fading marriage. She does not know a killer is lurking at the facility.
First Impressions: I liked the way the first few chapters are like a game of spin the bottle: you heard a little bit about a few of the swim mums and you had to wait to see whose story you would be following for the rest of the novel. The writing style has divided opinion but I really liked it as it is original.
Highlights: I loved the ending. Not just the final actions in the last few chapters, but the last few paragraphs. I closed the book and thought that it was all just a storm in a teacup (no spoiler here, don’t worry). This calm is a really nice comparison to the first few chapters that I mentioned above. I liked the setting – rural, small town New England, very claustrophobic, everything revolving around the swim team. Do junior swimming worlds like this really exist? Gosh, I don’t know!
If I was an editor: I know this novel would divide people like marmite. Even as an individual reader my feelings kept changing: I went from loving it, to being bored with it, to staying up late trying to finish it, all the time not knowing what to make of it. Is all the detail necessary? Yes, of course. No, not really. I can’t decide! Anyway, the important thing for an editor is that this book will get people talking and wanting to share their opinion.
Overall: Unique. I still don’t know if I liked it or not. I think I did!
This is the Water: 4 stars
Thank you to Bookbridgr for a copy of the ARC to review.
The Children’s Act by Ian McEwan
Fiona Maye is a leading High Court Judge for the children’s court. Her professional success has come at a price to her home life but she manages to keep the two separated until one ethical case regarding a blood transfusion enters her court…
First Impressions: As has been the case with his other novels, I fell very easily into McEwan’s writing style and it was quite comforting knowing I would probably enjoy the story.
Highlights: I thought it was interesting that Fiona had such a detached personality when she was dealing with such passionate cases every day. In fact, as a reader McEwan keeps you at arm’s length from the fervor and feeling of both Fiona’s story and the ethical cases she has to decide for. It is all quite clinical and professional and I wonder if this is Fiona’s true personality or she had become this way through climbing the career ladder. I quite liked the objective summaries of Fiona’s various cases as it could have easily fallen into dramatic overload; there are enough novels that fall into this territory.
If I was an editor: I would think this novel was the right length. A perfect afternoon read for fans! I wondered if it was believable that the father of two girls who didn’t believe in education or careers for girls to hire a female to represent him, but perhaps he would. I can’t say I know enough about Charedim Jews to speak confidently on this matter… I have read some reviews that comment on McEwan being rather indulgent in including his various opinions about religion. Yes, I guess that is true but I just enjoyed the story and found it believable.
Overall: Classic McEwan. (His more recent works anyway…)
The Children’s Act: 4 stars
Thank you to Random House for a copy of the ARC to review.
Her by Harriet Lane
Nina is sophisticated and independent. Completely in control. Emma is a whisper from her past and when Nina sees Emma in the local store she can’t help but involve herself in Emma’s life. What does Nina want from Emma? Will Emma recognise Nina before it’s too late?
First Impressions: I enjoyed this story. It was very easy to get into and while many reviews comment on how it is told from two perspectives, only certain scenes are which means it is not as repetitive as I imagined it to be.
Highlights: This story made a real impression on me but not necessarily for all the right reasons. As I have a young son I found it really disturbing that Nina would get to Emma through so many small anyonmous cruelties to her three year old son. However I did find it compelling reading…
If I was an editor: Why did the story end at least one chapter too short? I had to check to ensure I had the fully copy of the novel – it can’t end now! I immediately thought that this is just laziness on the part of the author but I have thought about the ending much more than I wanted to since finishing the novel so perhaps in this instance it was incredibly successful… I also tell myself that the husband would have been a dominant presence in the actions of the last few paragraphs to make it feel alright…
On a more neutral note I would have liked to see Nina’s sociopathic nature revealed more throughout the novel. Sure, she was obsessed but that’s not the same as sociopathic. Also, while a lot of reviews comment on how Nina’s motivation to attack Emma was weak, I thought it was OK. Some people would hold a grudge and it did need to be an event that was not so defining that Emma wouldn’t recognise Nina.
Overall: Maybe not for those with young children… Definitely one of the better psychological thrillers out there at the moment. I would now like to read Alys, Always to see how it compares.
Her: 4 stars
Thank you to Orion for a copy of the ARC to review.
After the Darkness by Honey Brown
To say domestic psychological thrillers are on trend in the publishing world is an understatement. Some, such as Emma Chapman’s How to be a Good Wife, are brilliant but I often find myself somewhat disappointed after reading books in this new genre. After the Darkness sounded intriguing, if only because the thriller aspect is set on The Great Ocean Road, but was I to find it brilliant or disappointing?
Driving home from a holiday along a remote coastal road, Trudy and Bruce pass an art gallery they had never noticed before and decided to pull in to have a look. The gallery does not appear on any tourist map and there are no other visitors in the car park. Once inside, they begin to get a creepy feeling from the both the building and the owner. They were right to feel uneasy…
Trudy and Bruce manage to escape, battered, bruised and still partially drugged. They hope life can return to normal but a man is dead and someone is watching them…
First Impressions: The characters of Trudy and Bruce are incredibly realistic. Their knowledge of construction and building helped to develop their unease and events in the house, and this background information was naturally integrated into the story so it didn’t at all feel contrived.
Highlights: I thought the author was very clever at subtly scattering little clues here and there. After the one small mistake Trudy and Bruce made in the gallery I was holding my breath for quite some time waiting for them to realise! Their hesitation in immediately contacting the police was fully understandable, as were all their actions after escaping the gallery. In the hands of a less skilled writer, one event in particular could have easily become quite ridiculous but the author obviously has a talent for keeping everything understated and steady. The pace of the story was even throughout and luckily the events in the gallery weren’t too gory for me! Disturbing, but not gory. I had feared a Wolf Creek scenario…
If I was an editor: I would be thrilled to find such a great example of a psychological thriller! I personally didn’t enjoy the character of the youngest daughter but I guess she balances out the siblings and this really is nitpicking. I also don’t know if the cover gives an accurate indication of the content and may turn away some potential readers.
Overall: I want to read more Honey Brown!
After the Darkness: 4 stars
The Burial by Courtney Collins
In the early 20th century, Jessie has been released from prison after being convicted of horse rustling. The condition of her release is that she is to be apprenticed to Fitz, a man she immediately has a bad feeling about. In the remote valley Jack Brown, an Aboriginal stockman, also comes into Fitz’s employ to help Jessie continue with illegal horse rustling. Disaster strikes the Fitz property and Jessie goes on the run with Jack Brown leading the chase.
First Impressions: The story is told from the perspective of a buried baby and this point of view is incredibly touching. Once the story gets going the pace is thrilling.
Highlights: I loved all the characters. Just when I thought I was spoilt with all the exciting characters, in walked Sergeant Andrew Barlow. The Seven Sisters settlement was a great addition to the atmosphere of the story (can’t say more or I will spoil it). The descriptions of returned WW1 soldiers with no farming skills living on isolated government granted farms was haunting.
If I was an editor: I would have liked the cracking pace to continue for the whole novel. As the chase continued through the second half of the novel the pace was still good but it took on a bit more of a melancholy feel.
Overall: Fantastic. A wonderful description of life in early 20th century Australia.
The Burial: 5 stars
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
Stories about unreliable female narrators with compromised memories seem to be an ever growing trend in novels. Most are good and some like How to be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman are excellent. How does Elizabeth is Missing fare?
Elizabeth is missing. Maud finds this note in her pocket to remind her that she hasn’t seen her friend for a while. Where is Elizabeth? Maud is becoming very forgetful in her old age and keeps buying tins of peaches and making cups of tea and plates of toast. However, she is determined to find her friend and also remember what happened to her sister Sukey after the war ended.
First Impressions: Maud’s forgetfulness and the repetition of her thoughts did make me wonder if I would soon tire of the story. Would it turn out to be another shallow read with an incredibly contained plot?
Highlights: How wrong were my initial thoughts! Although the two mysteries – Elizabeth and Sukey – were interesting, the way the author depicted alzheimer’s was incredible. From my limited knowledge Healey was so accurate with Maud’s thoughts and actions. It was this part of the novel that saddened me the most – how sad the situation for Maud and her family. It got me thinking about why it is we all seem to want to live forever. The tension between Maud’s two adult children regarding her care was realistic and I could sympathise with both son and daughter. One of the funniest moments was when Maud’s granddaughter could rank which of Maud’s frequent questions would wind up her mother most.
If I was an editor: I don’t know how I could improve upon what the author has written. As interesting as the two mysteries are I probably did prefer the day to day drama of Maud’s life. It is almost like two books in one and the author has managed this well.
Overall: Ever so sad but not necessarily for the two mysteries which were each compelling in their own right.
Elizabeth is Missing: 5 stars
Thank you to Penguin Books (UK) for a copy of the ARC to review.
I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
After reading a few quite heavy books recently, I wanted an action story; a page turner that wasn’t quite 100% mindless. I found it!
Pilgrim is the name of a man who doesn’t exist. Now retired and the author of a book about perfect crimes he is drawn back into action after the discovery of a body in a cheap Manhattan hotel. This crime will take him to the Middle East and help him find a man called the Saracen who is taking the long road to revenge against the USA.
First Impressions: This would make a brilliant film.
Highlights: An incredibly well researched and planned novel. It was completely believable at all turns. I liked the way Hayes kept the story moving backwards and forwards in time so you have to keep your wits about you and piece together the timeline yourself. Hayes has an insider knowledge of all the locations and all the characters were interesting with convincing motivations. A real page turner for the astute reader if ever there was one.
If I was an editor: I did wonder at one point if too many layers were being added to the story. It was a similar feeling to watching a three hour film and yearning for a 94 minute gem from the ‘good old days’. As everything tied together at the end, the plot meanderings were worth it.
Overall: Wow. All the reviews are correct. Satisfying and fun but not necessarily profound. A cut above your average thriller.
I am Pilgim: 4 stars
Thank you to Random House (Transworld) for a copy of the ARC to review.