The Hanging Girl by Jussi Adler-Olsen
In the middle of a hard-won morning nap in the basement of police headquarters, Carl Morck receives a call from a colleague working on the Danish island of Bornholm. Carl is dismissive at first, but then he receives some shocking news. Carl then has no choice but to lead Department Q into the tragic cold case of a vivacious seventeen-year-old girl who vanished from school, only to be found dead hanging high up in a tree. The investigation will take them from the remote island of Bornholm to a hidden cult, where Carl and his assistants must stop a string of new murders by a skilled manipulator who refuses to let anything-or anyone-get in the way.
First Impressions: Hooked from page one. Love the Bornholm setting and local police issues such as excess weight issues on the ferries.
Highlights: I felt this novel seemed a bit more contemporary than the previous five in the series with the brief references to Ipads, as well as all the New Age cults, groups and spiritualities. Fascinating. I liked how three years had passed and Dept Q have been working on all sorts of crimes in the interim. It makes it feel a realistic workplace. The relationships between Carl, Rose and Assad have developed over this time and they may even be sort of close to bordering on being actual friends! There’s a certain tenderness in their ‘duty of care’ for each other. Most importantly, this story has a cracking pace and I couldn’t stop reading it! If only it was a few hundred pages longer…
If I was an editor: Oh no! How long do I have to wait to find out what’s up with Rose?
Overall: The best one in the series yet.
The Hanging Girl: 5 Stars
Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback
1717: A Finnish family move to the isolated Blackasen Mountain in Swedish Lapland. Winter sets in and the Lapps call it a Wolf Winter: the kind of winter that will remind people they are mortal and alone. A body is found on the mountain and only the newcomers are interested in knowing who committed this murder. What secrets does the mountain community hold?
First Impressions: I was instantly transported to 1717 Lapland. I felt the isolation and, as the story progressed, the oppressiveness of the snow.
Highlights: I loved the historical context of this novel. I can’t believe I am about to say this but I wanted more information about the wars Sweden was involved in as the trickle down effect they had on the settlement was just not enough! The priest was my favourite character and I wanted to know more about him. I thought he was the best written character which is interesting as the author is female and the other two main characters are also female. There is so much in this novel and the author has struck the right balance between the mysterious and reality. It’s a fascinating community she has created, a snapshot of another era. The role of women was definitely complex. Based on other reviews I was worried that Maija may be a snowbound Miss Marple trying to solve the crime but no, she was merely curious and her involvement in trying to solve the case was believable. On a different note, I really enjoyed reading the extras at the end of this novel. These sorts of author interviews are usually superficial but Ekback was answering some really probing questions!
If I was an editor: The novel is primarily about relationships with murders and disappearances muted in the background and adding to the atmosphere. It was therefore a little surprising at the end to see such a focus on how much the disappearances were disturbing the community. The answer to the crimes and disappearances also felt too modern.
Overall: A perfect remedy for those still suffering from Burial Rights withdrawal.
Wolf Winter: 5 stars
Thank you to BookBridgr for a copy of the novel to review.
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
I was thrilled to win a lovely signed hardback copy of Sarah Waters’ latest novel on Audible’s Twitter account. I have adored Waters’ earlier novels but her last two have left me a little underwhelmed. How would The Paying Guests fare in my opinion?
It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned and the out-of-work. In South London life is about to be transformed as impoverished widow Mrs Wray and her spinster daughter Frances are obliged to take in lodgers. With the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber passions mount and frustration gathers. No one can foresee just how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.
First Impressions: From the first page I felt a huge sense of relief as I could tell that The Paying Guests would be a Sarah Waters’ books that I enjoy. With the writing style it was very easy to find myself lost in the story.
Highlights: I loved the way Waters described the tension and chemistry between people. She turns it into a tangible electricity that can almost be seen like those electrostatic generators (?) in high school science lessons! The plight of the ex-servicemen is also interesting and brought to mind some other 1920s novels I have recently read such as The Burial by Courtney Collins and Bereft by Chris Womersley. More generally, the writing style itself is a highlight in this novel. For instance, when summarising the plot in the first section it is hard to say much more about what happens other than ‘relationships are formed’. I found it all rather addictive and just kept turning those pages…
If I was an editor: I would be a little disappointed with the final section. The court case is well written about and even feels a bit more circa 1850s than 1920s yet it did feel a bit Wilkie Collins without the sensation. It was a good continuation of the story but I felt Waters’ usual elements of intrigue, revelations and maybe even a comeuppance or two were sadly lacking. Perhaps I have been spoiled in the past.
Overall: Will be enjoyed by many but particularly by Waters connoisseurs.
The Paying Guests: 5 Stars
Malice by Keigo Higashino
I loved The Devotion of Suspect X by Higashino so was delighted to receive a review copy of Malice.
Acclaimed author Kunihiko Hidaka is found brutally murdered the night before he emigrates to Vancouver. Both is wife and best friend have rock solid alibis. Or do they? Detective Kaga recognises Nonoguchi, the best friend, from his previous profession as a high school teacher. Something about Nonoguchi’s story just doesn’t sit right with Kaga so he decides to investigate further.
First Impressions: This is very similar to The Devotion of Suspect X in that we know who the killer is rather early on. When I first read Suspect X I didn’t know if that would work for me but it does. I don’t know if taking the story backwards to establish a motive is a Japanese style of crime writing or it is unique to Higashino.
Highlights: I liked the intrigue of Kaga’s investigations into both Hidaka’s and Nonoguchi’s pasts. Kaga himself was an interesting character and I would have liked to learn more about him. The translation is well done as the Japanese style was captured but there weren’t any abstract or confusing thoughts. I usually don’t enjoy books that take a trip down memory lane back to school but Higashino, in what seems to be a Japanese tradition, recounts school days well.
If I was an editor: I would give this a big tick as a good crime novel. However, while I enjoyed it, I haven’t found it particularly memorable. Perhaps having the murder victim an author and the subsequent inclusion of literature politics didn’t grab me so much.
Overall: Enjoyable, but start with The Devotion of Suspect X so you can appreciate the style.
Malice: 4 stars
Thank you to Little, Brown for a copy of the ARC to review.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
I was first intrigued by the premise of this book when I heard Hannah Kent on Conversations with Richard Fidler a whole year ago. Unfortunately I have only just found time to read Burial Rites and it seems the web is now saturated with so many excellent reviews there is probably little I can add to the discussion!
Iceland 1829: Agnes Magnusdottir is sent to a remote farm to serve the remainder of her prison sentence before her execution. Does being at her lover’s crime scene mean she was guilty of murder?
First Impressions: I loved the variety of different sources that were included to enhance the tone and setting of the story such as historical documents and verses from the Sagas. It was all so well written that I did not find the range of unfamiliar Icelandic names for people and places daunting. Yes, it is similar to Alias Grace as many point out but much more of a page turner.
Highlights: The scene when Agnes first arrives at the farmhouse and takes a bath will stay with me for a long time. I could feel her desperation. The setting is amazing and there is a crisp feel to Kent’s prose as if the setting is permeating the story. The 19th century Icelandic culture of family, rigid social structure and community obligations is ingrained in the prose. Finally, when Agnes is given the opportunity to tell her story it read like one of the Sagas. I would have liked to listen to this on an audio book.
If I was an editor: I would be really annoyed if Burial Rites did not make the shortlist for so many prizes!
Overall: Well deserving of the hype.
Burial Rites: 5 stars