Tag Archives: crime

Review of ‘The Lost Man’ by Jane Harper

Thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown for the ARC of this book.

I’ve really enjoyed Jane Harper’s two previous books, but I think this is my favourite book by her so far. Unlike her other books, this is a standalone self-contained story of a family and the mystery surrounding the death of one of three brothers. It’s an easy, quick, engrossing read with a satisfying, if a little neat, conclusion.

In common with her previous books, this book does a wonderful job of evoking the huge landscapes and isolation of the Australian outback. I’m not sure I’ve read another author who is so good at bringing to life the landscape of a place without resorting to long, boring, florid descriptions which take you out of the story. It is such a skill to bring the landscape to life so well while always writing in service of the narrative. I love reading her books.

I really warmed to Nathan, the main character in this book, who is able to acknowledge his flaws and bad choices while still seeming somehow noble and trustworthy. His son Xander is also a really sweet and likeable character. It is really intriguing following the two of them trying to unravel the mystery of the reason behind Nathan’s brother Cameron’s death and uncovering secrets at the heart of their family.

I’d highly recommend this and Harper’s other books.


Review of ‘The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ by Stuart Turton

Thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for the ARC of this book.

This is going to be a very brief review because I really don’t want to spoil this book for anyone who might want to read it and pretty much anything I say about this book will be a spoiler.

I will just say that this is an incredibly complicated, intricately plotted and astonishingly detailed novel. I found it really difficult to get into because it throws you right into the action with an amnesiac unreliable narrator and it takes a while to get to grips with what is going on; but I’m glad I persisted because it is a thoroughly rewarding and unique read. I was not entirely satisfied with the ending but the journey was very interesting. 

I think the title is a bit misleading, I was expecting the book to be about a woman called Evelyn; however, she’s a fairly secondary character. Instead, it is told from a very buttoned-up traditional male perspective, which I found a bit off-putting to start off with. 

I’d definitely recommend this book to fans of golden age crime looking for thoroughly modern and mind-bending interpretation of the traditional 1920s crime novel.

Review of ‘A Maigret Christmas’ by Georges Simenon

imageThanks to NetGalley and Penguin for the ARC of this book.

The title of this book is a bit misleading, it comprises three short stories set at Christmas, but Maigret only actually features in one of the stories. The Christmas settings are also fairly incidental, there is nothing cozy or festive about this book, it mostly dwells on how often people commit suicide on Christmas Eve.

I’ve never read a Maigret book before and on the basis of this book, I don’t think I’ll be reading any again. I found the stories strange and stilted. The first two stories which are sort of police procedurals mostly take place in one or two rooms with the main policeman mostly just using a telephone to solve the crime rather than getting into any action.

Lots of things didn’t make sense, just one example is that department stores are open at 11pm on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day morning. This is key to the plots of two of the stories. I find it really hard to believe that a Catholic country would have such lax opening hours rules in the 1950s. Despite it being Christmas everything seems to go on as usual, except Maigret solves the crime from home rather than the office.

The first story is the Maigret story. He wakes up on Christmas Day with Madame Maigret and is visited by two ladies because a man dressed as Father Christmas has broken into one of their houses overnight. This was a really interesting, exciting premise which devolved into a mixed up, weird, detached story which I can’t even begin to explain and which was incredibly unsatisfying. I also really didn’t like the way poor lonely, childless Madame Maigret doesn’t even warrant a first name.

The second story was my favourite. It features a likeable police switchboard operator solving a crime which involves his family. It was an interesting way to tell a police story and had a sweet ending.

The third story begins with a totally incidental suicide and then follows a prostitute as she tries to look out for a drunk young woman on Christmas Eve. It was strange and bitter and fairly pointless and not at all what I was expecting from the cover of this book.

I was hoping for a festive exciting read but found this book cold and baffling.

Review of ‘I Am Pilgrim’ by Terry Hayes

I am PilgrimThanks to NetGalley and Transworld for the ARC of this book.

I’ve been wanting to read this book since I heard reviewers rave about it on the Radio 2 Book Club way back in August 2013, so I was really excited when I got a copy through NetGalley. However, I have to confess it has taken me ages to get around to reading it because I was put off by its length (624 pages). I should not have let this delay me picking it up because it’s great.

‘I Am Pilgrim’ is fabulous thriller reminiscent of the finer works of two of my favourite authors William Boyd and Robert Harris. It follows an American secret agent who has to find and stop an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist who is planning to release a smallpox virus in America and destroy the West. Mostly he must work alone to save the world and he is brilliant, but he is also able to acknowledge his mistakes and short-comings.

It’s a real page-turner, exciting and full of foreshadowing and clues without being predictable. I really enjoyed it.

Review of ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ by MJ Arlidge

Pop goes the weaselThanks to NetGalley and Penguin for the ARC of this book.

I read ‘Eeny Meeny’, the first in this series, last year and was intrigued to find out how the author would continue the series, as the storyline and crime in the first book were very personal to the main detective, Helen Grace.

Having read ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’, I think it would have been better if the author had left ‘Eeny Meeny’ as a stand alone book. i really don’t think Helen Grace is interesting or sympathetic enough to warrant a series, and a lot of the time I really dislike the choices she makes. For example, after hearing a witness provide her with a statement about child abuse, rather than returning to the police station to write up this evidence, she visits her dominator to be whipped in order to regain control and release stress; this really doesn’t ring true. I would imagine that a woman who spends her working life investigating horrible sexual crimes, prostitution and murder would choose to stay as far away from these things as possible in her personal life.

I really dislike the way this series focuses on a revels in details of sexual violence, particularly towards women. I feel like the author describes these things in an unnecessary gratuitous fashion to give people vicarious pleasure rather than for the sake of a really great narrative. The portrayal of the vulnerability of women is quite disturbing. Even though the murderers are women, they have been pushed into their crimes as a result of the horrible violence they have suffered and are therefore victims rather than empowered. Even the heroine Helen Grace has suffered sexual assault in the past.

I really hope Southampton doesn’t really have the horrible dark underbelly of prostitution and violence depicted in these books; they have an unrelentingly pessimistic view of the world. I hope that in future books in this series, Arlidge chooses to focus on different types of crime and murder, because the current focus on gratuitous violence and sexual crimes is really unpleasant to read.

Review of ‘The Stranger’ by Harlan Coben

I always enjoy reading Harlan Coben’s books, particularly his stand alone books as the storylines are usually less formulaic than his Myron Bolitar series.

‘The Stranger’ is a standalone book about a man who is approached by a stranger in a bar who tells him that his wife faked a pregnancy and miscarriage 2 years earlier. When he confronts his wife with this information she vanishes. His search for her reveals the usual Cobenesque twists and turns, deceit and secrets with a final dramatic climax.

It’s very easy to read, quite enjoyable but not one of Coben’s absolute best books. I think probably when you’ve read all his books they begin to lose impact a bit because they do tend to tread the same ground but with slight variations on the same themes. However, it was definitely a pleasant way to spend a few hours.

I thought that the storyline based around a group of people who blackmail people over things they have ordered on dodgy websites was not very believable. The baddies seemed too omniscient. Plus, as usual with Coben, the plot relied on severa unrelated bad events all coinciding rather fortuitously. However, if you can suspend your disbelief, it’s a fun read.

Review of ‘Found’ by Harlan Coben

FoundI love Coben’s crime thrillers for adults, but I haven’t been a very big fan of his young adult series focussing on Myron Bolitar’s nephew Mickey. However, this third instalment of the series is definitely the best so far. The premise is slightly less far fetched in this book and we get some answers to unsolved mysteries from the previous two books.

This book is a bit less action packed than the preceding books and does a better job of focussing on the school and basketball life of Mickey and his friends. The series revolves around Mickey saving missing or endangered teenagers, and the case in this book is much more believable. However, it is still a really daft premise especially the way they are directed towards teenagers they must save by pictures of butterflies appearing somewhere.

The book has a very satisfyingly conclusion, finally resolving the plot line introduced in the first book which placed a question mark over the death of Mickey’s father. I feel like now this has been resolved future books in the series will probably be better; this book definitely feels like Coben is beginning to get the hang of the young adult genre which I think he struggled with in the first couple of books.

Review of ‘A New York Christmas’ by Anne Perry

A New York ChristmasThanks to Bookbridgr and Headline for the ARC of this book.

At this time of year I like to read books set at Christmas to help get me in the mood for the forthcoming festive season. However, despite its title, this book has very little to do with Christmas, it has a bit of snow in it, but could really be set at any time of the year.

This is a very simple crime novella. It’s incredibly easy to read but lacks any depth. Once the murder occurs it is immediately obvious to the reader who the culprit is and this makes the lead character, Jemima Pitt, look incredibly naive, stupid and overly trusting, because she doesn’t immediately realise who did it, so it’s hard to have much respect for her.

Jemima has accompanied her friend Phinnie from London to New York for her society marriage to a rich business heir. Whilst she is there Jemima becomes embroiled in a search for and a murder involving Phinnie’s estranged mother. There is also a very simplistic and utterly predictable secondary love story.

Reading this book was a fairly pleasant way to spend an afternoon, but the book is thoroughly lightweight and forgettable and the crime element lacks any tension or suspense.

Review of ‘Eeny Meeny’ by M J Arlidge

Eeny MeenyI listened to the audiobook version of this book. It’s a very compelling crime story which starts with a very interesting and original premise but trails off a little towards the end as it starts to fall into some of the usual crime thriller tropes.

The book starts with the kidnapping of Sam and Amy, who are locked in a disused swimming pool and left with a gun and a mobile phone. They receive a phone call telling them that only one will survive and one must choose to shoot the other in order to gain his or her freedom.

I thought the book was going to follow Sam and Amy’s storyline, but very soon one of them is dead, one has been released and theirs is just the first in a series of similar kidnappings. The book actually follows police detective Helen Grace who is responsible for the police investigation into these crimes.

The book has a strong opening and the description of the plights of the people who are kidnapped is compelling if a little too grisly at times. I particularly did not enjoy the description of two of the victims eating maggots from a head wound, revolting.

However, I did not think the conclusion of the book was as strong as it falls into the trap of a major cliche which I really dislike in crime novels – that of involving the investigating police as victims of the killer and making the killer target the investigating officers. This is such an over-used plot device, I was really disappointed when a book which seemed to have such a fresh idea for a crime descended into such a cliched conclusion.

I also thought that the book had a few unnecessary scenes which I guess were supposed to be ‘titillating’ but which I thought were just cheap shock tactics such as a lesbian sex scene and the scenes where Grace visits an S&M prostitute. Particularly the latter didn’t fit in with the rest of the characterisation of her as a very efficient police officer.

For the most part the audiobook is well read. I was confused by the need to have four narrators when 90% of the book is told in the third person by the same narrator so the other narrators are only used for one or two chapters. I didn’t like the voice of the woman who read Amy’s chapter (she seemed to have a Northern accent, even though she is supposed to be from Southampton), so I was relieved not to have to listen to her much. This is the clip they use on the Audible sample, so don’t let her voice put you off getting this audiobook.

I have the next book in the series ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ from NetGalley and I’m interested to see how that book follows Helen Grace’s character progression.

Review of ‘Top Secret Twenty-One’ by Janet Evanovich

Top Secret 21Thanks to Bookbridgr and Headline for the review copy of this book.

I could probably just refer you to my review of Sizzling Sixteen by the same author, because essentially all the books in this series are the same. Unfortunately, this means that all the books have the same flaws: repetitive plots and a lack of character progression. However, I did feel that this book had a slightly more cohesive and interesting storyline than the previous Evanovich book I read, with a nice side trip to New York and Atlantic City involving Russian terrorists on top of the usual mooching around looking for idiots in Trenton.

I really think that by the 21st book in this series, Stephanie Plum should have evolved a bit, but she is still bumbling around making the same mistakes, still unable to choose fully between Morelli and Ranger, the two men in her life. At one point Stephanie ponders why her life has been drifting for so many years. If Evanovich realises this problem, why has she done nothing to rectify it? I just wanted to shout at the book, ‘Maybe, if you thought about more than what the men look like and picked a man with slightly more conversational skills than ‘Babe’ or ‘You’re a cupcake’, you’d find someone with whom you had a deeper connection and you’d be able to grow up and move on with your life’.

This book could probably be condensed into a fairly interesting 50 page novella, if Evanovich cut out all the filler:

  1. I don’t need to know what everyone is wearing
  2. I don’t need details of everything the characters eat or to know every time they are hungry (which is basically all the time)
  3. I don’t need a detailed description of every turn they make on their car journey, or where they park, or what car everyone drives
  4. I don’t need a detailed description of every place they visit where they fail to find the fugitive.

I don’t often appreciate the humour in Evanovich’s books, most of the time it is too stupid and falls flat. However, there was a Despicable Me inspired section with chihuahuas referred to as minions which made me smile in this book.

There’s not much to say about this book. Fans of Evanovich will enjoy it as another standard addition to the series but it’s as lacking in substance as the other books in this series. I keep picking them up, hoping they will have improved, but they don’t and I won’t bother reading any more in this series.