No Time to Cry is fast paced, multi-layered and it is everything you would expect from a traditional crime thriller. Two lines of inquiry are followed by Constance Fairchild, and both of them are of intense personal interest to her. Both of them pose direct danger to her life. She is the link between them and she has to juggle them as they grow closer to their respective dénouement.
The prose is crisp and unrelenting. Every chapter offers new, nail-biting developments.
The plot and the writing are excellent, but I found Fairchild herself slightly unconvincing. She is a blue-blood lady, which concept instantly brings to mind the proud but tired tradition of aristocrat detectives, such as Inspectors Lynley or Alleyn. Bearing her posh upbringing and public schooling in mind, she speaks surprising like your everyday plod, inclusive of all the wisecracks, street lingo and pungent curses. She is of course not quite on speaking terms with her father – the lord of the mannor, and is condescending about Charlotte, her equally if not richer old school-friend who happens to be her brother’s girlfriend. It all feel a bit incestuous and claustrophobic to me.
Having said that, a cracking fast read, worth a try.
I am a devoted worshipper of Hercule Poirot and anything to do with him that does not live up to his high standards is, naturally, a sacrilege in my eyes. But I don’t want him to become obsolete so Sophie Hannah’s undertaking to bring Hercule back to life is a commendable one. As long as it is done to perfection!
I read Hannah’s first offering, liked on some levels and disliked it on others. I missed the second instalment and now to The Mystery of the Three Quarters. I loved it!
This review is not about how good the book is, but how true it is to the very essence of what Hercule Poirot stands for. And yes, it is him resurrected. Hannah has captured his quirks and his depth. The painstaking process of discovery that his grey cells engage in is spot on. The other characters are painted skilfully: they have clearly defined personality, motives and are intricately interlinked. It is all Agatha Christie herself!
The Light Between Oceans is an exquisite exposition of human vulnerability. It is about the insurmountable need to give love to a child, and the intricately linked selfishness and selflessness involved in this act.
The story of Isabel and Tom and little Lucy the ocean brought to their doorstep is set against the sweeping background of the interwar period in Australia. The Great War plays its part in influencing Tom’s actions, or rather reactions.
The writing flows effortlessly and takes the reader with it on a sea voyage into the depths and complexities of human heart.
This book is a rare gem.
There are two time dimensions in this story: two eras with a single point of reference – the fire. The fire has destroyed a compound which was a home of a religious cult led by the charismatic and savage father John. The opening chapter thrusts the reader straight into the inferno as the reader follows the female narrator and watches with her eyes the death to the people she called her brothers and sisters and the destruction to the place she knew as her home. She doesn’t take it passively – she does everything in her power to save lives.
After the Fire she is examined by a psychologist and interviewed by an FBI agent, and the events Before the Fire are masterfully pieced together to recreate the life within an extreme religious sect. The young woman embarks on a journey of self-discovery which is a bit of a minefield as she has too many secrets to bury while at the same time uncovering the truth.
Fundamentalism and religious brainwash are pitted against the failings of human nature and against the power of rational mind. There are no winners as such, but this book isn’t about the black-and-white victories, it is about salvation and survival of reason.
Everything in this novel points out to an obvious and inescapable conclusion: the title, the opening scenes, things that are untold but insinuated about the characters. As a reader you are lulled into a false sense of certainty that you can cross the Ts and dot the Is all by yourself, without the writer’s help. You feel like you could write that book, no problem. Which is an illusion cleverly contrived by Edwards.
Naturally, you come to discover how wrong you were as you near the end of the story. You are still tortured with other possibilities and you twist like that proverbial worm on a hook until the least expected denouement falls into your lap.
I found myself frowning, feeling a little cheated at that point. I guess it was my inner Miss Marple who felt she had not been presented with all the evidence – sour grapes.
The story is narrated in the first person. The prose is straightforward and genuine. It does not stand in the way of the plot. You feel for the protagonist who struggles to believe in what his eyes (and a couple of other characters) are telling him.
Jar of Hearts starts with what would normally be a satisfying ending to a crime story: a woman who was an accessory to murder and dismemberment of her once best friend is imprisoned. That woman is Geo, a successful thirty-something, at the height of her corporate career and on the threshold of her nuptials to an equally rich and successful man. As a result of her arrest, her life falls apart and she loses most of what she has achieved so far. Yet, she is a callous and clever operator and survives prison with flying colours, building alliances with powerful criminals and using her body to win favours with prison guards. When she is released she goes back to live in the relative comfort of her surgeon father’s house. This is why I was unable to warm up to her. I didn’t like her at the start of the novel and neither did I get to like her towards the end. I felt no empathy with her, even more so because I was expected to understand her in the end. I may have understood but I still didn’t feel there were any redeeming features to her, any meaningful atonement.
Equally, I was unable to read her ex-boyfriend responsible for the killing of her friend: I couldn’t fathom why he was the way he was, what drove him to become a violent man, rapist and murderer. There was no background to him – he was just the chief-baddie until such time when even greater evil took the spotlight. Then he simply became dispensable.
The third protagonist, Kai, was perhaps the most sympathetic of the lot, but I found him a bit juvenile; he didn’t grow or develop for me, remaining for ever sixteen and with a boyish crush on Geo.
So the main characters didn’t work for me. A couple of minor characters were however well drawn and realistic, like Cat.
I also loved the prose and the pace.
The writing in Jar of Hearts is smooth and fast, composed, factual, to the point. Not a single word is wasted. The story is plotted with precision. It moves forward briskly and takes the reader on a ride. It isn’t so much thrilling or suspenseful as it is revealing, like reading someone’s secret diary.
Some books are brilliant because they open your eyes to human conditions you know nothing about it, and they take you somewhere where you’ve never been before. Other books are brilliant because they make you look inwardly, within yourself, and face your own fears, or your past or your internal demons. Falling Short falls within the second category.
I was sucked into the world of Frances and Jackson because so much of it I recognised as my own. Partly because their story in the present time is set in a school and I know that working environment intimately having taught now for well over ten years. The teachers, their sentiments and resentments are spot on. Some of the observations made me laugh out loud.
But the book is absorbing on a deeper level too. I was able to identify with what the characters were going through, particularly Jackson and his fragmented, compartmentalised identity which he so aptly smothered with cynicism and apparent lack of ambition. Which one of us had not made life-obliterating mistakes that led to us to being judged harshly, running away and feeling that maybe others were a bit too harsh on us because we hadn’t meant to do it, or to hurt anyone, least of all ourselves? How many of us can articulate our feelings well and without inhibition?
And Frances? How many of us have felt at least once in our lives that we were going nowhere, blundering from one disaster to another? Though we could still put on Madonna’s ‘Pappa Don’t Preach’ and dance to it in those precious few moments of subconscious carpe-diem madness? The writing to describe those, and other, moments is vibrant, breathless and vivid, like here: “she’d kicked off her shoes, and her arms were raised above her head as her long body undulated with the unmoored urgency of a sheet hung out in a high wind.”
This book will touch a nerve, and you will love it for it.