Month: December 2011

The Child Who – Simon Lelic

Title – The Child Who

Author – Simon Lelic

Published – Jan 2012

Genre – Crime fiction / Mystery

During the last year I heard a lot of praise for Simon Lelic. Not an author that I had noticed on the bookshop shelves but there seemed to many fans on Twitter singing his praises. Lelic’s second book, “The Facility”, was published in back in January 2011 and in paperback in September. With rave reviews from many whose views I respect it’s surprising that it never got on to my wishlist.

I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of The Child Who, Lelic’s third title, from the lovely people at Mantle – so now I had the opportunity to find out what all the fuss was about.

The first thing to say is that the writing style is exceptional. I wish I had the vocabulary to do it justice! This is someone who has taken care over what he has written and the reader reaps the rewards.

The story itself is dark. Solicitor Leo Curtice has the luck, or perhaps misfortune, to take a call from the police looking for a duty solicitor. Agreeing to take on the case Curtice discovers it’s one that’s not only the talk of the town, but the country, a young boy arrested for the brutal murder of an 11 year-old girl. Initially he’s elated, after the everyday drudgery of drunk and disorderlies, there’s a certain kudos to taking the case and regardless of that he’s a man who wants to make a difference. He does expect that there will be a certain amount of press attention but is taken aback by the reality of the situation he eventually finds himself in.

Curtice’s involvement with the case puts a strain on his family and you know from a short introduction (from his wife’s perspective) that there is a dreadful consequence. Despite everything he tries to “do the right thing” for his client – but this is not without a personal cost.

Although there is a legal context to the story it feels light on the details of the legal process, but they’re not intrinsic to the story Lelic is telling. The character of Daniel, the 12 year-old murderer, also feels sketchy, but he’s an unwilling participant in the events and seen from Curtice’s perspective he’s uncommunicative.  

This isn’t really a story about the investigation of the crime or the legal shenanigans in trying to mount a defense, but more about the impact on those drawn into the events. The mystery of the story is what was the terrible price that Curtice paid through his involvement.

I’m sure we can all think of cases, certianly in the UK press, which bear some similarities to this fictional one and it’s hard to view the culprits with anything other than revulsion. However Lelic’s careful storytelling challenges the reader to consider that everyone involved becomes a victim.

Almost a 5 star read for me. I did enjoy it, although the subject matter is dark, but in the end its middle ground between literary fiction & crime fiction made it not quite enough of one or the other for me.

If you want to find out more about Simon Lelic you should read the interview with him on Reader Dad Book reviews.

Score – 4/5

Blogging – one year on

I am about to celebrate (if that’s the right word) the first anniversary of my blog. So I think that allows me a moment to reflect on what I’ve learnt during the year.

I’ve always been an avid reader and my father was instrumental in encouraging me to read a lot of the same fiction he enjoyed, so after the early years of Blyton, Ransome and Nesbit I was reading McBain, Chandler and Tey! I’ve never lost my love of a good “whodunnit” and the daily commute provides a regular opportunity to read. But blogging has given me a slightly different perspective. I don’t think that in the past I have given much consideration to what made a good book (or not) and what aspects I like or don’t like in what I read. In the past it would be finish one book and move onto the next, but the committment to writing a review means I give a lot more thought to what I’m reading. I didn’t study English Lit very far at school – I actually hated all that analysing and reading meaning into things, so perhaps I’m a latecomer to what others take for granted. What I hadn’t realised before was that there were so many varied ways of actually telling the story and in a genre like crime fiction this can have a real impact on the reader’s experience. I’ve developed more of an appreciation for writers and how they craft their story.  

And it’s not just that I’ve found out more what I read, I’ve also learnt:

  • that if you like an author there’s a fair chance you could get to meet them
  • that “bookish” people aren’t “bookish” at all – you only have to look on Twitter, blog comments, or go to an event at Goldsboro books!
  • that there are a huge number of awards for books
  • that for every person who agrees with you about a book there’s another one who thinks the complete opposite

and finally

  • that I’m never going to have time to read all the books I would like!

I’d be interested to know what others feel they’ve learnt from blogging.

Sweetheart – Chelsea Cain

Title – Sweetheart

Author – Chelsea Cain

Published – 2008

Genre – Crime fiction

I seem to be following the review of my favourite book so far this year with one of the worst I have read. Not every book you read can warrant a wholly positive review, and sometimes it’s nigh on impossible to find something complimentary to say. So abandoning the adage of “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” here goes.

This is the second book in the Gretchen Lowell series by Cain. Things don’t start too badly – an unidentified woman’s body has been found in a park and Detective Archie Sheridan and his partner have been assigned the investigation. It becomes clear that Sheridan is suffering, both physically and mentally, from an encounter with Lowell, who we learn was a female serial killer (known as the Beauty Killer). Sheridan seems to have an ongoing relationship with Lowell, paying her regular visits in prison, despite the fact that she seriously injured him. Lowell is clearly manipulating him, something which is plain to his ex-wife and partner.

We’re then introduced to the second character we follow in the book – reporter Susan Ward. Her paper is poised to run an expose she has written, when two unexpected deaths put the whole story in jeopardy. Out of frustration she offers to help Sheridan publicise his case. She and Sheridan appear to have some shared history from a case called the After School Killer.

So far so good. But then Lowell manages to escape from prison and any credibility the book had escapes with her.

I found it impossible to feel sympathy for any of the characters. Sheridan is weak and unrealistic, not least in his obsession with Lowell. Ward is naive and seems inexperienced and it was a stretch of the imagination to think that she would be allowed to follow a pair of detectives so closely. Even Lowell doesn’t hold the fascination that you feel with Hannibal Lecter – a great baddie could have made up for some weakness in the other protagonists.

The plot really asks you to suspend your disbelief, and whilst that may be the case for a lot of crime fiction, it’s rare that it is to such a huge extent. The basic premise of the escaping killer is poor, and it just got worse. And the nicknames for the serial killers – Beauty Killer, After School Killer. Really?

I certainly have no interest in reading either the preceding book in the series, or the next one. There are just too many other books out there that I’m itching to start!

1star

Already Gone – John Rector

Title – Already Gone

Author – John Rector

Published – 2011

Genre – Crime fiction

I feel as if I have been waiting for this book since I started this blog at the beginning of 2011. So here it is – the first “5 star” review.

Jake Reese is an ordinary guy with an ordinary job, trying to block out the memory of his violent past by planning for the future with his new wife, Diane. But the past has a habit of refusing to stay buried…When two men attack Jake in a car park and cut off his ring finger, he tries to dismiss it as an unlucky case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But when events take a more sinister turn and Diane goes missing, Jake knows he can no longer hide from the truth.

As he embarks on a mission to find Diane, Jake finds himself dragged back into the life he thought he had walked away from forever and the days ahead begin to unfold in terrifying ways…

The opening is gripping – quite literally – as Jake is mysteriously attacked outside a bar and the assailants cut off his finger with bolt cutters. They give him no clue why they have done this, and he’s unable (or unwilling) to think of a reason for the assault. But Jake is no innocent – he has a violent past that he has worked hard to put behind him, in fact he’s recently married and is about to take up a new position as a university lecturer.

The attack affects the relationship between Jake and his wife, Diane, which isn’t helped when he starts drinking to excess. The tension creeps up when Jake spots his two attackers on the university campus, and then Diane disappears. Unable to convince the police to take her disappearance seriously Jake takes matters into his own hands.

And I’ll leave the storyline there to avoid any chance of giving too much away!

So what is it that really makes this such a great read? I think in truth the answer is balance. A bit like Goldilocks & those bears, it’s finding something that has just the right amount of action, a plot that makes you think, but isn’t so convoluted that you don’t know whether you’re coming or going. There’s plenty of tension, changes of pace, some pretty gruesome violence and there are psychological angles that keep the reader guessing until the very end.

Jake’s character is well written – although he had a violent past and he doesn’t shirk from getting his hands dirty, he obviously loves his wife & while this may cloud his judgement he remains likeable. I was certainly rooting for him. He suffers physically and mentally from the very beginning of the story. Unlike some authors whose heroes seem to miraculously heal, Rector keeps it realistic with Jake bandaged and bruised.

From a personal point of view I also think I rated the book so highly because, for once, I didn’t didn’t get to the end & think “it was OK but it would have been better if “, there was just nothing I would change. 

Rector is an engaging writer and it’s no word of a lie to say I couldn’t put the book down. 

Score – 5/5