Following the death of her husband abroad, Imogen returns to England. She is impoverished and bitter. By contrast, her sister Rachel appears to be a successful business woman, happily married and a mother. She has all that Imogen doesn’t, and more. While Imogen has to rely on pity and handouts, Rachel is supporting their parents in the upkeep of their beautiful home called the Old Rectory. The title of the book, Facade, aptly represents that old family home but it also has another deeper and more sinister meaning – it’s about all the secrets and sins that are hidden behind the facade. Twenty years earlier, Rachel’s baby brother drowned. An air of mystery and unspoken secrets lie behind that death. With Imogen’s return and her embarking on a vicious campaign of revenge, the silence will have to be broken and the secrets will drift to the surface. Facade is a complex, gripping and unputdownable psychological thriller. With every new page and every new revelation you will be drawn deeper into it, and you won’t be able to take a break until the very last page when everything is finally revealed. Matthews has achieved huge depth in her portrayal of her protagonists, Imogen and Rachel, who narrate this twisty tale. Their perspectives are diametrically different to begin with, but then as you go on, you begin to discover disturbing overlaps and similarities. This book is really well written and the storyline structured to perfection. Highly recommended. The author has recently released another thriller, The Girl in the Van. It promises to be as good as Facade. It’s already on my list.
Running away from trouble in the UK, Jess arrives in Paris to hole up for a while with her brother Ben, who has half-heartedly invited her (or rather acceded to her inviting herself). But when she gets to his flat in an upmarket apartment block, Ben is nowhere to be found and a patch of bleached floor testifies to something sinister. Jess has nowhere else to go. She stays and tries to understand what happened. The neighbours aren’t friendly or forthcoming with any information about Ben. It seems like they close ranks or simply don’t know; or perhaps it is their famous French discretion. Each of them harbours their own version of Ben and what their relationships with him were like. None of them were straightforward. Their memories are coloured with emotions, frayed, and there are huge gaps as information is withdrawn from the reader until the very end. None of the characters are likeable or trustworthy and that includes Ben as seen through their eyes. You can’t tell whether he was a victim or a perpetrator. The suspense is maintained right to the final chapters. There are hard-hitting themes in this tense psychological thriller: alcoholism, sexual exploitation, modern slavery, drugs, societal inequalities, police corruption and the corruptive effect of wealth on morality and family dynamics etc etc etc. Although the ending was inevitable and therefore expected, the nuance of it and the few final twists make it worth reading to the last page while remembering to breathe. My only tiny issue was with the slowness of retrospection when each character speaks for themselves – there is a lot of internal monologue, telling rather than showing, and repeated explanations. That adds up to the over 400 pages of this book, which if some of that was left to the reader to work out for themselves would make this book much tighter and faster-paced.
This book is like one of those fireworks displays. You start reading it and you know you are in for something spectacular that will be blow your brains. But there is a bit of a wait – the slow burner of anticipation in the first two-thirds of the book. That’s where Jensen develops her characters and builds the suspense. From page 1 you are told that Connor is going to be taken. In a way he expects it himself. He’s carrying a guilty secret and is overwhelmed by grief over a tragedy that has befallen his girlfriend. His mother Lucy is totally absorbed by his brother’s illness. Kieron has a degenerative liver condition and may soon need a liver transplant if he is to live. His father, Aiden, is entangled in an affair he doesn’t know how to end and fears that if he does end it, the consequences may be dire for him and his family.
Days are counted to the moment of Connor’s disappearance, and when it finally happens you will be tempted to conclude that maybe, on some level, you could have predicted it. That moment is the first firework going off, but it certainly isn’t the last. More and more revelations and twists blow up in your face, a whole barrage of even bolder, brighter and more explosive illuminations. In the last third of the book Jenson puts on the real fireworks extravaganza. You will be kept on your toes to the very end, and then you will be exhausted.
This is one of those unorthodox books that defeat the star-rating system. I couldn’t say, hand on heart, that I loved it and thus give it five stars. The story was gruesome and the protagonist unlikeable (never mind loveable). Grace has some character traces of Eleonor Oliphant (withdrawn from society at large, odd, damaged, lonely) but she isn’t sweet or vulnerable. She is hard as nails, her job isn’t for the faint-hearted and although she cares deeply, she shows it in most unpredictable ways. But although The Undiscovered Death of Grace McGill isn’t loveable, it is a brilliant book. I simply cannot give it less than 5 stars. Its brilliance comes from the original concept, nuanced characterisation, moral and societal commentary that doesn’t amount to preaching, and the shocking twists that turn the whole storyline on its head. If you’re squeamish, you may find some passages difficult to read, especially those describing Grace’s task of cleaning houses after the bodies of their occupants lay there undiscovered for months. Similarly, Grace’s interactions with her alcoholic, abusive father are unpleasant and upsetting – you may well want to step in and smash the man’s head in. If you can deal with those explicit passages, Grace McGill will take you to some very dark places as she searches for the truth about the disappearance of a young woman fifty years ago. Chilling read!
A transatlantic ship with over two-thousand passengers onboard carries the secret of an old gentleman’s death from Southampton to New York. At first, his death is dismissed by the captain as an accident, but James Temple, a persistent Scotland Yard detective, is permitted to investigate – as long as he is accompanied everywhere by the ship’s officer, Mr Birch. A thorough inquiry follows, witnesses are pursued and interviewed, and slowly a picture of art theft and high-society indiscretions begins to be painted.
Tom Hindle’s writing has been compared to Agatha Christie and indeed it has the elements of classic detective narrative and plotting. The partnership between James Temple and Timothy Birch is particularly vibrant and really benefits the story. Both characters are complex, each man harbouring his own secrets. The underlying tragedy of Birch’s missing daughter adds extra emotional depth to Birch’s narrative (the story is told from his point of view).
More deaths and further complications abound but the investigation ploughs on to the final unmasking of the killer. However it isn’t the identity of the killer that provides the ultimate, most unexpected twist to this tale. It is something entirely different. I did not see it coming and I must admit that it was quite a shock. I shouldn’t even intimate at what it is as that would spoil your pleasure of reading this book and getting to that earth-shattering denouement in your own time.
Someone is playing a sick game, literally. A computer game has been transferred from screen to real life, with real people racing against each other and against death to save themselves and their loved ones. Detectives Joel Norris and Lucy Rose are tasked with catching the psychopathic killer before yet another casualty is found dead and someone else is too traumatised to talk to them. Lethal Game is a very solid police procedural./suspense thriller. I found the investigation element of it authentic and convincing, full of inside knowledge about policing and full of credible detail. Only when I got to the author’s bio at the end of the book did I learn that he used to be a police detective. I wasn’t in the least surprised. The plot comprises parallel developments in the investigation and the first-hand experiences of the victims; it is a skilfully handled., with visceral descriptions. As reader, I found myself drawn into the lives of the detectives, particularly DS Rose. Her rocky, unstable relationships with her father were brilliantly conveyed – a highlight of the book. Lethal Game is the second book in a series, but I didn’t feel disadvantaged in any way reading it without having read the first one. A really good read.
Religious cults have been the subject matter of many works of fiction, the idea of secretive communes pursuing rapture and eternal life fascinating writers and inspiring endless speculations and fears, curiosity, suspicions, even envy and loathing. In “The Cult” Abby Davies takes an interesting perspective of looking at the interaction between the world at large and the small but fierce world of a spiritual sect seeking immortality through the blood of the pure and innocent who need to be “resourced” from the outside. Two young children are induced out of their home in the middle of the night and, after having witnessed a violent attack, disappear in the woods. The reader senses that there is more to their disappearance than the two mobster wanting to silence them. As the search for the children gets under way, a story of another child, called Love, is told. We follow Love’s story from the time she is about ten through to adulthood. Love isn’t an ordinary child – she is the product of a cult led by the charismatic, and controlling, Uncle Saviour. Love worships him and her unconditional belief in him shapes her into someone even more deluded and coercive than him. There are three distinctive narratives within this story: that of Love, Lilly (the children’s mother) and DI Pearline Ottoline (the detective in charge of the investigation). The three narratives come together in the final denouement. I found Love’s tale the most compelling but not the easiest to digest. Unlike in other cult fiction, such as “After the Fire”, there does not seem to be any room for redemption; the years of brainwash leaving Love bereft of sense of reality and empathy. A thought provoking read.
Reading just those first opening paragraphs of “The Man Who Died Twice” I was instantly transported to the cosy, yet somewhat deadly, word of the Thursday Murder Club and its jolly members. I experienced a thrill equal only to that of coming home after a long time away and catching up with dear old friends whose lives, let me assure you, did not stand still in my absence. Far from it!
In the second instalment of Richard Osmond’s mysteries, Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, Ron and Bodgan are up to their eyeballs in murder, theft, mugging, spies and all sorts of crime and punishment. The fearsome septuagenarians are drawn – rather willingly – into the world of espionage, mafia, diamonds and double-crossing, not to mention the inexcusable mugging of one their own which they vow to avenge, come hell or high water.
The man in the title of this book is Douglas, Elizabeth’s ex-husband and her fellow ex-MI5 operative who arrives in the retirement village with his pockets full of stolen diamonds and the merciless mobster, Lomax, hot on his heels (followed closely by the Mafia). If that wasn’t enough for the Club to reckon with, Ibrahim is attacked in the street by a teenage troublemaker, Ryan Baird (who has no idea what deep water he has just waded into). The two plotlines take off from here, wheeze, twist and meander, until they are brought together in a spectacular finale.
Vibrant, funny, wonderfully human, “The Man Who Died Twice” is a worthy successor to “The Thursday Murder Club”. More please!
The Whistleblower is a vivid and authentic political thriller. Gil Peck, its protagonist and narrator, is an unapologetic anti-hero. Like a shark, he cannot stand still – he has to be on the move constantly, chasing scoops and grabbing new headlines. He is a political reporter with links to those in power (an in opposition) in the 1997 fictional Britain (although the fiction is just thinly veiled reality). His contacts are as morally corrupt as he is: sex, drugs, underhanded manoeuvres and few regrets. Everyone in this book has a political agenda and seems to live on knife’s edge. The vibe of the late nineties – as Labour led by the then charismatic Tony Blair consolidated its grip on power – is depicted with vibrant authenticity. The frenzied media of that era are depicted honestly and without disclaimers.
On top of his professional intensity, Gil Peck is deeply flawed on a personal level: obsessively washing his hands and mumbling superstitious chants when distressed (which is pretty much all the the time), drinking excessively and snorting cocaine in order to keep going. He has detached himself from his Jewish roots and antagonised his family, and in particular his sister Clare (a high flying government figure). All in all, he is a fantastically fleshed out character. As the story unfolds and he begins to dig deeper in his sister’s last cry for help and her suspicious death, his softer, more human side starts to emerge.
If this book was a film it would probably be categorised as a dramatised documentary rather a feature movie. It does feel very real and utterly credible, and that’s what makes it unputdownable. Reading it you will feel like you’ve been let in a big fat state secret.
In the Hawthorne and Horowitz series, the renown author of Alex Ryder adventures and a screenwriter of the iconic TV series of Midsomer Murders and Poirot steps out of the limelight to become a humble chronicler of his fictional detective’s murder cases. It is very cleverly done. The mixture of fiction and what seems like a memoir gives you a sense of immediacy with the author/character.
The story is set in Horowitz’s reality as a writer: a literary festival is held on a tiny, sparsely populated island of Alderney. A group of celebrities arrive and thus a pool of potential suspects is created. The island is in the throes of an internal battle over the proposed powerlines which are advocated by a rich entrepreneur Charles Le Mesurier but opposed by most of the residents. Soon, Charles is found dead and Hawthorne (shadowed by Horowitz) is on the case. A few obligatory red herrings are thrown into the mix and Hawthorne himself seems to harbour his own secrets and ulterior motives that make him look less objective than he should be as an investigator.
A Line to Kill is a satisfying traditional whodunnit full of twists and spins, and sub-plots smoothly woven into the fabric of the main story. The characters are well-drawn, introduced in small incremental steps giving the reader a chance to get to know them organically. Horowitz has a well-practised hand when it comes to detail the use of which makes this murder mystery a proper nut to crack.