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All the Hidden Truths by Claire Askew

All the Hidden Truths touches a nerve. It is topical as it tackles the most disturbing challenges of modern times: gun violence and the media intrusion on victims’ and their families’ privacy.

After a fatal shooting at Three Rivers College in Edinburgh, three women’s lives are brought into the spotlight: Moira’s (the mother of the shooter), Ishbel (the mother of his first victim) and DI Birch (the investigating officer). Askew digs deep to exploretheir reactions and how they transform under pressure from the ever-present and unscrupulous attention of the press.

Row emotions are dissected with sensitivity and great insights, family secrets are revealed and some difficult questions answered. Askew makes poignant observations about the nature of gun crime where everyone ends up a victim, including the perpetratorand the society overall.

The resolution is most satisfying and Askew leads us towards it with skill and conviction.

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Before We Fall by Grace Lowrie

Grace Lowrie does not shy away from dilemmas. She puts her characters in difficult situations and lets them make their own choices. The challenges she poses to them are unique. There are no templates in Lowrie’s stories, no candyfloss.

In Before We Fall, upon being diagnosed with cancer, Cally makes a bold choice to run away from everything she knows and holds dear in order to live what is left of her life to the fullest. She could choose to undergo treatment but prefers to indulge in hedonistic carpe diem. She goes to London where she becomes a pole dancer and meets the moody guy next door, the reclusive artist, Bay. Two beings on the edge of life, they are instantly attracted to each other. Their first encounter, prickly at first, slowly morphs into a turbulent, sexually charged relationship.

I was drawn into this story from the first page. It is both emotionally intense and reflective at the same time. It runs deep into the human psyche and into the mortal condition that is life. The prose is smooth and does not intrude on the story; the characters are complex. An absorbing read!

 

No Time to Cry by James Oswald

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.

 

The Mystery of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah

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 by ML Stedman

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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.

After the Fire by Will Hill

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.

Because She Loves Me by Mark Edwards

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.