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.
The book has a classic opener: teenage parents, Tallulah and Zach, vanish on the night he takes her out to propose to her. Tallulah’s mother, Kim, is left behind to take care of their child Noah. What follows are three narratives – one which take us up to the moment of the couple’s disappearance, told from Tallulah’s perspective; another one that relays the impromptu investigation of the disappearance by the new headmaster’s partner, Sophie; and finally the third thread that interlocks the other two, told from the point of view of Tallulah’s mother.
The plotting is tight, precise and gripping. Jewell leaves herself no room for error: everything flows, links and weaves together. Every new chapter introduces a new nugget of information – another revelation, another hook, and another diversion. Ultimately, all threads lead relentlessly to the conclusion that is inescapable and yet unpredictable. The drip of information and the transformations of the main characters’ emotions and attitudes give the reader a sense of discovery as if I, the patient and diligent reader, have reached the conclusion all under my own steam. I could not find any gaps or any loose ends in Jewell’s plotting. All my questions were answered in the end.
Jewell constructs deep and complex characters. They are believable if unorthodox. Tallulah, a quiet and unassuming mother and social care student, undergoes a rebellious identity crisis any typical teenager would be susceptible to without, for one second, losing her love for and devotion to her baby. Her mother Kim is pitted against Zach’s mother Meg in a few master strokes of Jewell’s pen. Scarlett, the seductive, entitled femme fatale is burdened with her own vulnerabilities. The level-headed Liam shocks towards the end. And so on – the gallery of characters is rich, multi-dimensional and memorable.
The language takes the back seat to the story. It is clean, precise, unobtrusive – a bit Hemingway-esque. All and all, another cracking read from Lisa Jewell.
Eight-year-old Chrissie is a child-killer. She is pleased with her effort – it gives that fizzy, sherbet-like feeling in the depths of her stomach. She can hardly contain herself from telling others that it was her, but, being a neglected and unloved little girl and the poorest from an already very poor housing estate, she has a strong sense of self-preservation, so she keeps her secret to herself. Not to mention that she doesn’t really understand death – her da had been declared “dead” by her ma on a few occasions but always managed to come back. But Steven, the toddler Chrissie throttled, seems unable to rise from the dead and his death endures to Chrissie’s bemusement. Twenty years later, Chrissie has a new identity as Julie and a daughter of her own. She believes that she is undeserving of motherhood, and fears that her child will be taken away from her. Julie picks up where Chrissie has left off and embarks on a journey of re-discovery and cautious redemption. The narrative oscillates between Chrissie’s and Julie’s stories which complement each other perfectly.
This is a harrowing read, but one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone, whatever your reading preferences. It has a lasting resonance, a heart and a soul, and most of all – conscience. Chrissie’s voice is captured brilliantly. The little girl’s loneliness, despair, her everyday struggle for survival and love are heart-wrenching. Her anger is palpable. Each of her life’s raw disappointments hit me hard as an adult and member of the society that has made this child into what she is. Despite the bleak and gory subject there is a message of hope in this book: people aren’t born evil and they certainly don’t have to remain so. All it takes is for someone to care.
Other characters are also wonderfully observed and drawn: Chrissie’s inept mother, Chrissie’s best friend, the sister of the boy Chrissie’s has killed, Chrissie’s absentee-father… The commentary on our society is damning, but not the commentary on our humanity.
Freddie, a fifteen-year-old youngster, returns home after a night out to announce to his parents that he has killed someone. That is the dramatic opening of “The Lies We Tell”. What follows is a background story of Freddie’s parents, Sarah and Tom, told in the first-person narrative, starting from the moment they met. Slowly and reluctantly Sarah and Tom reveal their own dark secrets to each other which ultimately destabilises their already shaky marriage filled with doubts, incompatibility and mistrust. Following this long and detailed introduction spanning the first twenty years of their marriage, the story picks up again at the point of Freddie’s revelation. Drastic parental actions are taken (I won’t reveal what they are), but ultimately there comes the day of reckoning with a final twist, which isn’t as much shocking as it is unpredictable due to the introduction of a couple of new characters.
I enjoy book by Jane Corry, but this one is slightly different in that it isn’t a tight and fast-paced thriller, but rather a family drama. The long section that takes us linearly through the history of Sarah and Tom’s marriage does not conform to the definition of the genre.
Although it isn’t “thrilling” the book is certainly thought provoking and emotionally charged. I didn’t find Sarah’s character believable, but her dilemma and her reactions made me reflect on what I would do in her place.
“A Quiet Life in the Country” is the first book in Lady Hardcastle Mysteries. Both Lady Hardcastle and her faithful lady’s maid/companion are introduced as they arrive on the scene and settle in their new home in West Country. They begin to make friends amongst the land gentry, the “new money” and the lower classes.
They are unfortunate enough to discover a body of a hanged man and embark on a discreet investigation into the circumstances of his death. While they are at it they mingle with the locals which enables the author to present the locality and historical setting of this series really well.
The story is told in the first person by the unexpectedly eloquent lady’s maid who seems to be very well travelled and educated (presumably thanks to being Lady Hardcastle’s companion). The banter between the main characters is witty. It is also unusually egalitarian and societally uninhibited.
All in all a relaxing and amusing historical cozy.
If you enjoy light, amusing and elegant humour and would relish the thrills and chills of the supernatural kind, the Something Wicked is definitely for you.
Lord Penrith is murdered by exsanguination, with only two drops of his blood left on the carpet. When an investigation into his bizarre death commences, two worlds collide, but not necessarily clash: the modern and rational world of detective Galbraith and the darkly mysterious, ancient world of secret agent, Pole. They are the worlds of humans and vampires. Williams pits the two characters against each other and at the same time brings them together rather amicably in their collaboration to track down the killer.
London features prominently in this novella. The author’s intimacy with its boroughs, squares, back alleys and all its unique rhymes and rhythms is evident. The late night’s excursion into Brompton Cemetery will send a shiver down your spine, but don’t fear – it won’t give you nightmares. This humorous detective thriller isn’t a horror. And did I mention the thrills of tango?
Williams doesn’t fail to bring history into the equation – after all, his day job is writing historical fiction. I enjoyed his exposé on the arrival of vampires in Britain and the bargain Pole (then Ivan Paolo) had struck with Charles II.
All in all, a quick fun read that will take you out of the box of grey reality.
On the run from the Holy Inquisition, Giordano Bruno arrived in England and travelled to Oxford, seeking professorship with Oxford University. SJ Parris used these historical facts to spin a fast-past and intricate crime thriller set in 1583 – during the turbulent reign of Elizabeth I when assassination plots, religious persecutions and political intrigue ruled the day.
Bruno is recruited by Walsingham to act as his spy and to uncover any catholic conspiracies against the queen. It is suspected that such conspiracies are operated by those of the prestigious Oxford academia who secretly adhere to the old faith and refuse to recognise Elizabeth’s legitimacy. Bruno has his own personal reasons to visit Oxford University library – he is searching for a prohibited occultist manuscript he believes may have found its way to England.
As soon as Bruno sets foot at the College a body of one of the Fellows is found mauled viciously by a diabolical dog, the death disturbingly resonant of the martyrdom of St Sebastian. At the insistence of the College Rector, the death is dismissed as an unfortunate accident. But soon another death follows and its similarity to yet another martyred saint cannot be ignored. Bruno is requested to investigate. He ventures into the secret world of sectarian Oxford and over the next few, action-packed days, risking his own life – and heart – follows the clues to make stunning discoveries and not only find the killer but also learn hard-hitting truths about devotion, love and passion, obsession and the all-destroying power of religious convictions.
The historical setting of the tumultuous Elizabethan era in general and the scholarly Oxford in particular provides a rich and intriguing background for a gripping thriller with a multi-layered and complex plot, vivid characters and a historically accurate theme. Bruno is an interesting protagonist: a man possessed of an open mind in the world rife with bigotry and dogmatism, a humanist and scientist, a survivor and a pragmatic idealist. I will be reading more of this series.
I think I have become slightly addicted to Agatha Raisin and her world of small, secretive villages scattered around the Cotswolds.
Something Borrowed Someone Dead is yet another foray into one of such village, called Piddlebury. The name alone tells a story! One of its residents, the universally loathed Gloria French, is poisoned. Her claim to fame was her knack for borrowing and never returning whatever tickled her fancy. Such bad habit on its own doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to murder someone, but then this is Piddlebury. The locals are a bit tetchy.
Agatha is engaged by one of the residents, Mr Tarrant to find the murderer so that people stop suspecting each other. The atmosphere in the village is tense. Agatha wades on it with her big personality and makes a few enemies. Soon, the murderer is after her. Her investigating antics follow, peppered with her personal dramas involving James Lacey and the beautiful Toni…
The plot of this instalment isn’t the most elaborate or credible, but this is after all Agatha Raisin, not John Rebus, so a touch of suspended belief is perfectly in order.