REVIEW: She Lies Close by Sharon Doering

REVIEW: She Lies Close by Sharon Doering

Series: N/A

Book Number: N/A

Read this book for: psychological thriller, unreliable narrator, missing person’s case, female lead character, twisting plot, suspense 

Quick Review: Intense, emotional, and chilling, this twisting story will grip you, and make you question your opinions about the characters again and again.  


Five-year-old Ava Boone vanished without a trace six months ago. No witnesses, no sightings or arrests. But Grace Wright just moved in next door to the only suspect the case had: quiet, middle-aged Leland Ernest. Recently divorced, Grace uprooted her two small children to start again and hopes the move will reset her crippling insomnia. With whispered neighborhood gossip and increasingly sleepless nights, Grace develops a fierce obsession with Leland and the safety of her children. Could she really be living next door to a child-kidnapper? A murderer? With reality and dream blurring more each day, Grace desperately pursues the truth – following Ava’s family, demanding answers from the police – and then a body is discovered…  

SHE LIES CLOSE is a recently published stand-alone psychological thriller by Sharon Doering. It tracks the emotional and mental spiral of Grace Wright, a recently divorced mother of two whose anxiety over her children’s wellbeing has led her to obsess over her neighbour, a suspect in the kidnapping of a little girl the same age as her own.  

That fear and anxiety permeates this novel, and the emotional intensity of Grace’s worry is one of the most prominent and powerful aspects of the story. Her nerves are palpable, and somehow make her actions – even though they are unreasonable – completely understandable, rather than over the top. Doering also handles Grace’s slipping grip on reality with subtlety and deftness. 

This subtlety means we’re never quite sure what is real and what isn’t in Grace’s experience, which is perfect, because as time goes on, neither is she. Without spoiling anything, it’s this unreliability that drives the plot, but it also makes you desperate for answers as to what is actually going on, and turns a fairly simple plot scenario into something much darker and more twisted. 

I was expecting a fairly simple resolution to the plot of this novel: a woman who is completely obsessed with a particular crime and suspect suddenly becomes much more involved than you expect at the outset. However, Doering has created a couple of fascinating twists on that particular theme that made the ending a bit of a surprise to me; the reversals and changes are almost Hitchcock-ian. 

If you are looking for a tense psychological thriller that will drag you in with tension and keep you riveted, desperate for a resolution, SHE LIES CLOSE is definitely worth picking up! 


REVIEW: No Signal by Jem Tugwell (iMe #2)

REVIEW: No Signal by Jem Tugwell (iMe #2)

Series: iMe
Book Number: 2
Read this book for: futuristic mystery, tech mystery, UK/European mystery, thriller, political thriller
Quick Review: Fast-paced, brilliantly imagined, and thoughtful, this is multiple genres and stories in one; fans of many different genres will enjoy this novel.


Can a game change the world?

The Ten are chosen – they are reckless, driven and strong.
They are tested. Ten become Four.
In a country where everyone is tracked, how can the Four hide from the police?

DI Clive Lussac hates the system that controls everything, but he’s ill and it’s helping him. He must decide: conform or fight.

As Clive’s world unravels, he and his partners DC Ava Miller and DS Zoe Jordan can’t believe the entry price to the game.
They strive to answer the real questions.
Why does the ultimate Augmented Reality game have four different finishes?
And how is a simple game wrapped up in politics, religion and the environment?

NO SIGNAL is the second in the near-future sci fi series by Jem Tugwell that features the ‘iMe’ system – implants for all British citizens that allow continuous tracking and monitoring. Under such a system of surveillance, you would imagine no crime could possibly be committed without those people being immediately caught. But this system has a few holes, as this series fascinatingly explores.

This is the second book in Tugwell’s ingeniously imagined iMe series (check out the review for book one, PROXIMITY, here). You do not necessarily need to read the first instalment to pick this one up, but it does help rather a lot to understand the dynamics on DI Clive Lussac’s team, his standing with the police department, and how the system works. It’s also a very interesting introduction to the world, so it’s worth a look.

It’s also worth a look as the technology/sci fi element to this is one of the best parts of this story; it’s such a believable concept, imagined so vividly with all the little logistics details worked out – immigration, visitors, removal, system failures, and how other countries might interact with a country that has adopted such a system. Then, he goes on to imagine how this would impact the religious and political life in the country in a vivid and real way. And yet, the technology is blended with the world such a way that it never becomes overwhelming for the story.

One of the most interesting parts about this story is the ‘game’ – the selection process and the lengths the players go to are gripping, partly because it’s plausible, and partly because it’s a very interesting concept. Tugwell does a great job of making you care about the way these characters chase across the UK under the eyes of this ubiquitous system, and then horror when you realize what they are doing – both willingly and unwittingly. It gives this story a surprising amount tension in a setup where the entire concept is that nothing can go un-tracked.

Most thrillers would stop with the chase of the game – the thriller element. However, that’s only part of this novel. The rest of it is an interesting discussion of political factors that are relevant to us even outside this sci-fi world, and a hunt to discover which political faction might be behind the attacks. The fact that multiple sides of the spectrum could be responsible for the use of extreme force like this is terrifying and thought provoking.

If you can’t decide what genre you’d like to spend some time in, or if you’re interested in the fusion of technology and detective work — or if you’re just looking for a thriller with a really interesting backdrop — NO SIGNAL is something to check out!

REVIEW: The Weight Of Small Things by Julie Lancaster

REVIEW: The Weight Of Small Things by Julie Lancaster

Series: N/A
Book Number: N/A
Read this book for: unconventional storytelling, suspense, thriller, unreliable narrators, domestic mystery
Quick Review: Chilling, unsettling and surprisingly dark; a unique book that has to be experienced.


Nine-year-old Frankie Appleton likes to count gates.
One day she hopes to design the perfect gate – a gate to keep the bad things out.
Little does she know that the bad things have already got in.
Now her mother is dead, and the only other person with a house key has disappeared.
Frankie thinks she knows who it is. But first she has to prove it.

THE WEIGHT OF SMALL THINGS is a brand new novel by Julie Lancaster, which follows the web of stories spun around a nine-year-old girl, Frankie Appleton. Her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, but as she sets out trying to prove that her mother was murdered, the story spins out to her past, her mother’s past, and the dangers that lurk around her.

This is not a book for those looking for a cozy whodunnit. This novel is an experience, as you are drawn through the lenses of a list of characters who all have a particularly distorted and unreliable lens way that they see the world. It depicts mental illness in a vivid, visceral, uncomfortably realistic way. Parsing the reality of the story through the twists and turns of some very disturbed individuals is not for the faint of heart or the easily unsettled. There are moments and twists that will trouble even veteran horror readers.

And despite being a fantastic whodunnit, which twists and turns and keeps you guessing, the ultimate point of the novel at some point stops being what happened — whether or not there was a murder and who was responsible — and more about what happens to each of the individual characters (friends, neighbours, family members) through which the story is told. It’s an absolutely fascinating dissection of some very particular worldviews and every character has a much darker side than you would imagine.

A major part of what will compel you to keep turning pages is the element of suspense that Lancaster has layered in so subtly that you don’t realize that it’s there. You simply find yourself tense, worried about Frankie and what might happen to her. The subtlety, combined with the unpredictable, unstable nature of so many of the characters, makes that tension so much stronger than most straightforward ’suspense’ novels.

This novel will disturb you, but you will not be able to put it down. THE WEIGHT OF SMALL THINGS is a masterfully crafted novel that you have to experience to understand.

REVIEW: The Venerable Tiger by Sam Siciliano (Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes #17)

REVIEW: The Venerable Tiger by Sam Siciliano (Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes #17)

Series: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Book Number: 17?
Read this book for: Holmes pastiche, Sherlock Holmes, alternate universe Sherlock Holmes, British mystery, Victorian mystery
Quick Review: The successor to the classic Speckled Band, with all the fun of classic Holmes, but tighter plotting; a great addition to the Holmes universe.


Sherlock Holmes acquires a new client when a beautiful young woman, Isabel Stone, faints on the steps of his Baker Street rooms. She has come to beg his assistance in reclaiming the priceless jewels kept from her by her tyrannical stepfather, Captain Grimbold Pratt. But shortly after agreeing to take her case, Captain Pratt comes to Baker Street, furious that Isabel is trying to deprive him of his fortune. Unsure who to believe, Holmes and his cousin, Dr Henry Vernier, must travel to Pratt’s estate, home to tigers, wolves and murderers, to unravel a family mystery dating back to the Indian Mutiny.

THE VENERABLE TIGER is a new Holmes pastiche in a great series from Titan Books that is steadily expanding the universe of Sherlock Holmes.

This is at least the 17th instalment in Titan Books’ “The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” series, penned by multiple authors, and at least the sixth Holmes novel written by Siciliano. Like the Holmes stories themselves, chronology does not make much of a difference to your reading enjoyment. However, if you are reading the Further Adventures series, there is a helpful note that places this story after The Moonstone’s Curse but before The Devil and the Four. In fact, there are a few references to the places and characters from The Moonstone’s Curse – including the main character, Dr. Vernier!

Wait – no Watson? Watson is mentioned as Holmes’ occasionally inaccurate biographer in this novel, but his role as narrator is filled by Holmes’ cousin Dr. Vernier. Vernier bears a number of similarities to Watson; he’s a doctor (albeit not one that had fought in the wars), he acts as Holmes’ right hand and offers a bit of physical protection, he follows a little quicker than Watson but he has his own opinions and is also emotional. Other than the name, Vernier’s stand-in for those accustomed to Holmes is not too jarring.

Some elements of the plot will also feel familiar to those who have read the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories – with its dangerous exotic animals, run-down country house, young lady in trouble from her stepfather, and the question of a hidden inheritance, this novel is a different spin on The Adventure of the Speckled Band. I have to admit to some bias here – I have a great fondness for Speckled Band, possibly one of the most ridiculous pieces in the Holmes canon. However, this version is far more tightly plotted, and benefits from that treatment to make it different from the piece that inspired it. In fact, the plot is quite interesting, and the characters are vivid.

And, even better, the spirit and tone of the classic Holmes adventure are alive and well in this instalment. A seemingly impossible problem, clever deductions, the Victorian country house, danger, and hidden treasures are all present here, and told with the same tone, pacing, and slight sense of amazement that Watson’s original narrations always brought.If you are a Holmes fan looking for some new adventures with the Great Detective, THE VENERABLE TIGER is one to pick up!

REVIEW: Are Snakes Necessary? by Brian De Palma and Susan Lehman

REVIEW: Are Snakes Necessary? by Brian De Palma and Susan Lehman

Series: N/A
Book Number: N/A
Read this book for: noir, femme fatales, no investigators, surprise plot twists, thriller, American thriller, unfortunate circumstances
Quick Review: Brilliant plotting, breathless pacing, and completely unable to be put down once you’ve started it; this is a must-read for noir fans.


When the beautiful young videographer offered to join his campaign, Senator Lee Rogers should’ve known better. But saying no would have taken a stronger man than Rogers, with his ailing wife and his robust libido. Enter Barton Brock, the senator’s fixer. He’s already gotten rid of one troublesome young woman—how hard could this new one turn out to be?

Pursued from Washington D.C. to the streets of Paris, 18-year-old Fanny Cours knows her reputation and budding career are on the line. But what she doesn’t realize is that her life might be as well…

ARE SNAKES NECESSARY is a noir novel billed as a ‘female revenge story’. It is definitely that, in several ways, but it is also a well-plotted, gripping thriller.

Hard Case Crime has a knack for finding incredible writers and storytellers that are dipping their toes into the noir genre (check out reviews for screenwriter Donald E. Westlake’s FOREVER AND A DEATH, and Stephen King’s THE COLORADO KID, as well as Scott Von Doviak’s excellent CHARLESGATE CONFIDENTIAL). This novel is no exception. Brian De Palma is a legendary filmmaker — having directed Scarface, Dressed to Kill, and The Untouchables — and here, with the help of accomplished author Susan Lehman, he shows that he is also a fantastic storyteller in print.

The writing style of the novel comes directly from De Palma’s film background; sparse, quick-moving prose, present tense delivery, brilliant descriptors that are an evocative shorthand for what is going on in a character’s mind. It almost reads like a screenplay, but that pacing and near-abrupt style adds to the noir feel.

And this is a noir novel, all the way through. It is filled with femme fatales, rogues and scoundrels, shadowy fixers and a somewhat jaded outlook. Despite all that, it walks the line between too much and too little admirably, refusing to take itself too seriously, and managing to steer shy of being too camp.

Part of what keeps it from veering into the too-camp territory is the plot, which is a truly stunning series of masterstrokes. Without spoilers, this novel manages to wrap together several increasingly disparate plots in several surprising, satisfying ways. Needing to know what happens next in the crazy rollercoaster of events kept me turning pages without putting the book down even once; I sat down and read this from cover to cover in one sitting.

If you are interested in tight, fascinating plotting, nods to noir films, and a delivery that is paced in a way that will not let you go once you begin, definitely pick up ARE SNAKES NECESSARY?

REVIEW: The Waxwork Corpse by Simon Michael (Charles Holborne #5)

REVIEW: The Waxwork Corpse by Simon Michael (Charles Holborne #5)

Series: Charles Holborne
Book Number: 1
Read this book for: legal thriller, 60s London, semi-historical, amateur detective, based on a true story, realistic
Quick Review: A brilliantly written court case, a fascinating whodunnit and interesting circumstances combine for a page-turner that is both sensational and realistic.


London, 1965

Charles Holborne, maverick barrister, will never fit in at the Bar; he is too working-class, too Jewish and too dangerous.

But that makes him the perfect outsider to prosecute a shocking murder case which has already made its way to the press.

By chance, a body was found, dumped in a lake. It had clearly been there for some time, but the conditions in the water have meant that it was nearly perfectly preserved.

The police have managed to match this ‘waxwork corpse’ to a missing woman and if her husband — a senior judge — was the one who killed her, the scandal threatens to rock the British justice to its foundations.

The waxwork corpse is not the only thing to be raised from the past. The investigation also dredges up a violent mistake made by Charles in his youth which, if revealed, could put his own life at stake…

THE WAXWORK CORPSE is the fifth Charles Holborne legal thriller, based on a real Old Bailey case, from Simon Michael. It follows the rest of the series and provides yet another a taut, well-written, and highly believable legal thriller.

This is the fifth novel in the series (you can read the review for the opening novel, THE BRIEF on the blog), and I do recommend reading the other novels before jumping in to this one. This installment contains some spoilers for previous novels. However, you can read it as a stand-alone if you don’t mind the spoilers – everything is self-contained and there’s enough explanation that you aren’t left wondering too much about mentions of prior events.

Even more than the first novel, this book is about the court case. If you want a good legal thriller — tightly procedural, realistic, detailed and interesting — this is the book for you. Michael’s experience at the Bar shines through in the way that he writes courtroom drama, and the little details that can make or break a case. The way the case is written, which comprises the majority of the novel, makes this story well worth the read on its own.

On top of the great legal writing, however, is an interesting case. The high-profile characters, a near-perfect murder, and the details that lead to discoveries are only a small part of the novel, but those bits are enough to satisfy whodunnit fans. The investigation is a minor area of the plot, but still one that keeps you turning pages.

There is also some development and backstory layered in to Holborne’s character in this novel, and Michael does a great job of adding that depth without it feeling forced or too heavy-handed. Holborne actually develops and changes a bit as a character through the course of this novel — a rare feat for a lead in a series that has already stretched to five books, and one that is extremely gratifying to watch.

If you are at all interested in legal thrillers, THE WAXWORK CORPSE is one that you must read. This series is one of the finest examples of the genre.

REVIEW: The Broken Shore by Peter Temple

REVIEW: The Broken Shore by Peter Temple

Series: N/A

Book Number: N/A

Read this book for: Australian mystery, noir detective, damaged detective, dark secrets, intertwined plot, literary mystery

Quick Review: A beautifully written noir piece with a slow-burn pace; it takes a while to get into but once hooked, you won’t be able to put it down.

***

Joe Cashin was different once. He moved easily then. He was surer and less thoughtful. But there are consequences when you’ve come so close to dying. For Cashin, they included a posting away from the world of Homicide to the quiet place on the coast where he grew up. Now all he has to do is play the country cop and walk the dogs. And sometimes think about how he was before. Then prominent local Charles Bourgoyne is beaten and left for dead. Everything seems to point to three boys from the nearby Aboriginal community; everyone seems to want it to. But Cashin is unconvinced. And as tragedy unfolds relentlessly into tragedy, he finds himself holding onto something that might be better let go.

THE BROKEN SHORE is a 2005 mystery from writer Peter Temple, winner of the Gold Dagger award for Best Crime Novel of the Year. It is an Australian piece of crime fiction, given to me as a gift by some thoughtful friends who recently visited the country and picked out the most perfect ’souvenir’ to bring back – a fantastic crime novel that I likely would never have been aware of otherwise!

This is a stand-alone novel, but it feels like part of a series; there is so much backstory about the main character, Detective Senior Sergeant Joe Cashin, that it feels like there should be volumes before to fill in some of the blanks. Rather than being a detraction, however, the lack of history makes you desperate to learn more about the character, and as you start to get more bits and pieces of information, the character becomes more and more fascinating. While there are still things you would like to know about him by the end of the novel, it does not feel like you are missing anything crucial. There has also been a sequel/companion novel published, called TRUTH.

In fact, much of this novel remains vague, open, and unclear on the characters and events that happen. If you are one of those readers who needs concrete answers, with all loose ends tied up and everything neatly filed away, this might be a challenging read for you. The novel answers enough questions to create a satisfying resolution, but also leaves enough questions to remain pleasingly open to interpretation. This increases the novel’s sense of dark realism.

This novel is very stylistically noir – a little bit cynical, a little bit darker than reality – but does not become overdramatic. Everything, from the characters to the pacing of the plot, combine to make a story that draws you in completely. The pacing is slow and a little bit confusing at first, but as some of the threads find one another and weave together, you find out a bit more about the characters and the plot picks up. It comes to a head with some action and a clever resolution that is even more gratifying given the level of unknown that you started with. It is far from simple, but still streamlined, once you reach the end.

A quick caveat: one of the things that contributed to the confusion I felt at the beginning of the novel is the amount of Australian slang contained in the novel. If you are not Australian or familiar with the more colloquial parts of the language, the first third of the novel has a bit of a steep learning curve. However, once you start to understand the language, and the plot picks up speed, the confusion evaporates.

THE BROKEN SHORE is an incredible piece of writing that fans of noir and literary crime fiction should definitely consider! We’re adding more Australian crime fiction to the reading lists on the strength of its plot and writing.

REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon by James Lovegrove

REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon by James Lovegrove

Series: N/A

Book Number: N/A

Read this book for: classic Holmes pastiche, Sherlock Holmes, cozy mystery, supernatural elements, classic mystery, whodunnit

Quick Review: A classic and seasonal Holmes story, full of brilliant deductions, solid characterization, and a writing so familiar that you could imagine Conan Doyle penning it himself.

***

It is 1890, and in the days before Christmas Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson are visited at Baker Street by a new client. Eve Allerthorpe – eldest daughter of a grand but somewhat eccentric Yorkshire-based dynasty – is greatly distressed, as she believes she is being haunted by a demonic Christmas spirit.

Her late mother told her terrifying tales of the sinister Black Thurrick, and Eve is sure that she has seen the creature from her bedroom window. What is more, she has begun to receive mysterious parcels of birch twigs, the Black Thurrick’s calling card…

Eve stands to inherit a fortune if she is sound in mind, but it seems that something – or someone – is threatening her sanity. Holmes and Watson travel to the Allerthorpe family seat at Fellscar Keep to investigate, but soon discover that there is more to the case than at first appeared. There is another spirit haunting the family, and when a member of the household is found dead, the companions realise that no one is beyond suspicion.

Continue reading “REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon by James Lovegrove”

REVIEW: Rule Britannia by Alec Marsh (Drabble & Harris #1)

REVIEW: Rule Britannia by Alec Marsh (Drabble & Harris #1)

Series: Drabble & Harris

Book Number: 1

Read this book for: UK mystery, period mystery, historical references, action, adventure, thriller, heroes in danger, amateur investigator

Quick Review: A period, action-packed adventure – the English Indiana Jones.

***

Ernest Drabble, a Cambridge historian and mountaineer, travels to rural Devon to inspect the decapitated head of Oliver Cromwell a macabre artefact owned by Dr Wilkinson. Drabble only tells one person of his plans Harris, an old school friend and press reporter.

On the train to Devon, Drabble narrowly avoids being murdered, only to reach his destination and find Dr Wilkinson has been killed. Gripped in Wilkinson’s hand is a telegram from Winston Churchill instructing him to bring the head of Oliver Cromwell to London.

Drabble has unwittingly become embroiled in a pro-Nazi conspiracy headed by a high-status Conservative member of the British government.

And so, Drabble teams up with Wilkinson’s secretary, Kate Honeyand, to find the head and rescue Harris who is being tortured for information.

Continue reading “REVIEW: Rule Britannia by Alec Marsh (Drabble & Harris #1)”

REVIEW: Killing Eve: Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings (Killing Eve #1)

REVIEW: Killing Eve: Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings (Killing Eve #1)

Series: Killing Eve

Book Number: 1

Read this book for: female assassin, female investigator, spy thriller, assassin thriller, contemporary and stylish, international locations, UK based

Quick Review: Not long, but a fantastically paced, stylish spy thriller.

***

She is the perfect assassin.

A Russian orphan, saved from the death penalty for the brutal revenge she took on her gangster father’s killers.

Ruthlessly trained. Given a new life. New names, new faces – whichever fits.

Her paymasters call themselves The Twelve. But she knows nothing of them. Konstantin is the man who saved her and the one she answers to.

She is Villanelle. Without conscience. Without guilt. Without weakness.

Eve Polastri is the woman who hunts her. MI5, until one error of judgment costs her everything.

Then stopping a ruthless assassin becomes more than her job. It becomes personal.

Continue reading “REVIEW: Killing Eve: Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings (Killing Eve #1)”