Month: March 2012

Every Vow You Break – Julia Crouch

Title – Every Vow You Break

Author – Julia Crouch

Published – 29 March 2012

Genre – Psychological thriller

I have to confess that I wasn’t a big of Julia Crouch’s first novel Cuckoo, but I have been looking forward the publication of her second psychological thriller.

Marcus Wayland is a fairly unsuccessful actor in England, but a contact on Trout Island, in New York state, has offered him the lead role in “the Scottish play”. So Marcus and his family (wife Lara, teenage twins Olly and Bella and little Jack) arrive in Trout Island for a six-week stay so that he can make the most of this opportunity.

Trout Island turns out to be something of a sleepy backwater. The house the theatre company are putting them up in is smelly and dusty, there are few people to be seen in the neighbourhood and the theatre isn’t too well-known. Perhaps not quite what they were expecting.

Lara seems to be another put upon housewife. She has supported Marcus when he hasn’t be able to find enough work, he has recently persuaded her to have an abortion against her wishes and the family seem happy to leave her to the drudgery of running the home. However, a chance meeting at a party thrown for the theatre company reminds her of all that she has been missing.

While Lara wrestles with her feelings and Marcus becomes involved in rehearsals with the theatre company, the family are subject to some odd and slightly sinister incidents.

There is a sub-plot to the main story, involving the twins and a burgeoning relationship between Bella and a handsome local boy. This provides some extra tension in the story as well as a few moments of serious wincing! This is driven by friction between the twins which has its roots in a dark and unpleasant secret.

The early part of the book has a slow pace, one that perhaps reflects the sultry weather and lethargy of the Wayland family. But the slow pace doesn’t help to build the tension, rather it dissipates it.  The sense of place is excellent – you could believe that Crouch is just as familiar with the wilds of New York state as she is with Brighton.

The book reaches a climax with a change of pace and an increase in the tension, but I have to confess that certain aspects of the ending didn’t really come as a surprise.

I’m sure that there will be many fans who will enjoy this just as much as they did Cuckoo, but for me it doesn’t provide the nail-biting tension that makes a really great psychological thriller.

Thanks to Headline for the review copy. You can see an alternative review at The Bibliomouse.

Score – 3/5

Before I Go To Sleep – S J Watson

Title – Before I Go To Sleep

Author – S J Watson

Published – 2011

Genre – Crime fiction

This is one of those books that I was bound to read – winner of the 2011 CWA New Blood Dagger, best crime/thriller in the Galaxy National Book Awards, 7 weeks at the top of the Sunday Times bestsellers list and picked for the Richard & Judy spring bookclub 2012.  It also has 478 (and rising) 5 star reviews on Amazon. How could this not be a brilliant book?

The premise is relatively unusual and starts off as a real, if you’ll excuse the cliché, page turner. Every morning when Chrissie wakes up she has no memory of who she is, or where she is. She doesn’t know who the man in the bed next to her is or in fact anything that has happened to her in at least the last two decades. Her husband is practised at explaining all the relevant details she needs for the day, and there are photos from her past in the loo and messages on a whiteboard in the kitchen. She can manage for the day, or even through a nap, but after a night’s sleep it’s all back to square one.

But there is one glimmer of hope – she receives a phone call from a doctor who says he has been working with her to recapture her memory and to this end he has encouraged her to keep a journal. So each day, after his phone call,  Chrissie begins by reading the journal, and then adding to it, recording the often mundane details of each new day.  It is the journal that holds the key to the story – because without her memory she must rely on her husband to fill in the details of her life, and when reading over many days’ entries she starts to believe that there are inconsistencies.

As she reads her journal, and you discover more about Chrissie’s story and see what her husband tells her each day, you really do want to keep reading to find out what happens next.

Sadly though I didn’t think that the climax of the book lived up to the expectation raised by the rest of the story. Not only was the outcome pretty disappointing I also felt that there were too many plot holes. I certainly don’t want to give anything important away, but there were quite a few aspects of the story which felt as if they wouldn’t stand up to much scrutiny. For example – if you have no memory and you suddenly start writing a journal, heading off to your room for “naps” when you’re really writing, surely this behaviour would be odd & pretty obvious to your husband . . .  but I guess not.

Although I hadn’t come across this use of memory, or lack of it, in crime fiction it did remind me of two things – one was the film Memento, and the other was a 1980’s Equinox documentary (Equinox: Prisoner of Consciousness). One emotion common to both the film and documentary was anger, so one of my first quibbles with the book was how accepting Chrissie seemed at her situation. She was sad about what she had missed, but she never seemed to get angry or frustrated – both emotions which would seem to be pretty understandable in her situation. She just came across as quite accepting, and I didn’t actually care too much about her, I was more interested in the story than her part in it.

If you haven’t read this already the you should probably see what all the fuss was about, but I think there were better crime fiction / psychological thrillers published last year.

You can see a different perspective on the book at Leeswammes’ blog.

Score – 3/5

A Land More Kind Than Home – Wiley Cash

Title – A Land More Kind Than Home

Author – Wiley Cash

Published – 29 March 2012

Genre – Contemporary fiction

This is a thought-provoking debut novel by Cash, set in his home state of North Carolina. Dealing with an unconventional aspect of religion in the US, the story is told from three different perspectives – local matriarch Adelaide Lyle, sheriff Clem Barefield. and nine-year-old Jess Hall.

One Sunday morning Jess’s brother, Christopher, is taken away by Pastor Chambliss from the Sunday school Adelaide holds outside the church. Overcome by curiosity Jess and his best friend sneak down to the church – an old general store with yellowing newspaper covering the windows – to take a look inside.  But this is no ordinary church, it’s “River Road Church of Christ in Signs Following”, and the Pastor is a believer in the power of healing, drinking poison and snake-handling. So Jess finds it hard to understand what he sees through the window.

Through Jess’s tale of the events leading up to the Pastor’s interest in his brother, and the backstory told by the Sheriff and Adelaide, we learn something of the town’s history and the influence of the Pastor on its inhabitants.

This isn’t an expose on the less conventional approach to religion – we don’t hear from anyone who is a believer or a worshipper in the Church. In the Sheriff we have a narrator who is looking for the rational explanation for events, and he has a history with Jess’s family which may or may not influence how he deals with what happens to Christopher. Adelaide’s upbringing is unconventional and although she has her own strong beliefs, her experience with the pastor has stopped her attending the church.

What the reader sees from Jess’s perspective explains the story, but Jess is unable to see the whole story for himself. The tension in the story is waiting to see if he will tell his version of events, and if so to whom.

For someone who reads a lot of crime fiction this felt quite slow to get going, it’s a terrible habit to be waiting for something to happen in every book! It’s quite a small story with a limited cast of characters, but they’re all well written and very believable, and you do hope that the truth will prevail.

The story is beautifully written, and Cash really captures the small town feel of this part of America, a place that feels as if time has passed it by.

Many thanks to Transworld for the review copy of this book.

You can see another review of this over at Notes of Life.

Score – 4/5

To Tell the Truth – Anna Smith

Title – To Tell the Truth

Author – Anna Smith

Published – 2012

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the second crime novel by Anna Smith, featuring Rosie Gilmour the journalist we first met in The Dead Won’t Sleep. Picking up just a six months from the end of the previous book, Rosie is in Spain recuperating from the ordeals of her investigation into bent policeman Gavin Fox. When a young Scottish girl is snatched from outside her parent’s holiday home on the beach on the Costa del Sol, Rosie is the obvious journalist for the Post to send.

Enthusiastic to be back on the job Rosie begins her investigation into the girl’s disappearance, accompanied by the Post’s photographer Matt. She catches an early break when she’s approached by a young Moroccan man, a rent boy, who not only has important information about the abduction, but who also gives Rosie a lead on a story which strikes at the heart of the British government.

As well as seeing the story from Rosie’s point of view,  we also follow Amy’s abductor Besmir. Caught up in the sex trade and trafficking, Besmir is haunted by his past and the fate of this little girl brings back memories which drive him to question what he is doing for him employer – a man not to be argued with!

As with the previous book, Smith brings the characters to life and you know that she is drawing on her own experiences in telling these unpalatable stories.

It’s hard not to think of the story of Madeline McCann when reading this book – the huge publicity the story attracted when Maddy was first snatched will be familiar to many people reading this book – but hopefully that’s where the similarities end.

If you enjoyed The Dead Won’t Sleep, then you won’t be disappointed by this second installment. The essential ingredients of the ballsy, uncompromising journalist, a hard-hitting story, strong language and plenty of action are all there.

If you’re new to these novels there’s enough background to fill in any important information, although in fact there might  be a little too much for any new readers to want to go back and read the previous book.

Thanks to Quercus for the review copy of this book.

Score – 4/5

Tideline – Penny Hancock

Title – Tideline

Author – Penny Hancock

Published – 2012

Genre – Psychological thriller

This is one of those books that I had heard good things about on Twitter before I started to read it. Everything I saw suggested that this was going to be a gripping debut psychological thriller.

When Sonia answers her door to Jez, her friend’s teenage nephew, she sees a powerful reminder of someone from her youth. She lets Jez in and plies him with drink until he’s incapable of leaving. Perhaps the act isn’t intentional then, but when he is still in the house the following morning she visits her mother at her retirement home and returns with tranquilisers to help ensure Jez’s compliance. So very quickly her act becomes much more deliberate.

When Jez arrives at River Cottage Sonia is on her own, but she’s a voice coach who works from home, her husband is away on business and her daughter is at University, so Sonia must has to keep Jez under wraps when clients visit and her family return home.

Interspersed in the story are Sonia’s memories of Seb, the young boy who Jez reminds her of. And these parts I found fairly unpleasant. Sonia was obviously enthralled by the boy and would do whatever he asked of her, somehow this willingness to be led jars with the adult Sonia who has taken control of someone else’s life.

We also see the story from Sonia’s friend Helen’s perspective – the Aunt with whom Jez was staying. There seem to have been some cracks in  Helen’s relationship with her husband, and Jez’s disappearance exacerbates this, as well as a problem with alcohol. Of course calling on her friend, Sonia, to help doesn’t get her the support she needs!

Set along the Thames in Greenwich, Hancock certainly manages to capture the sense of the area and the lives of the middle-classes there – though doubtless many of them don’t have a captive teenager!

Told in the present tense and mostly from Sonia’s point of view, this has all the ingredients to make a really gripping thriller, but somehow it missed the mark with me. Despite the fact that Jez is “captive” from the first chapter the pace felt quite slow. There were lots of opportunities to really ramp up the tension, but some of these were glossed over and others just didn’t manage to put me on the edge of my seat.

Jez felt one-dimensional – we never saw the situation from his point of view, and he didn’t come across as a terribly believable teenager (a fifteen year old who chooses to drink red wine?) and to be honest I found that I didn’t really care too much about him.

However, as the book draws to its conclusion there’s an increase in pace and the plot has some unexpected twist and turns.

For a different point of view have a look at Milo’s Rambles or Curiosity Killed the Bookworm.

Score – 3/5

Heat Wave – Richard Castle

51mb5E-dLQLTitle – Heat Wave

Author – Richard Castle

Published – 2010

Genre – Crime fiction

Another short(er) review – this time for a book that was a Christmas gift. I was a little late to discover the TV series “Castle” but have now managed to watch all three series & am eagerly looking forward to the fourth series starting this evening.

In the TV show Richard Castle is a crime writer shadowing NYPD Detective Kate Beckett, who he uses as the inspiration for his fictional character Nikki Heat. The TV show is one of the better examples of US TV crime – often well-plotted, intelligently written, and funny.

The book really “does what it says on the tin”. To all intents and purposes this is the book Castle wrote using Beckett as his “inspiration”. Told from Heat’s point of view it reads just as you might imagine Castle would write a female character, especially when there is a journalist called Rook shadowing her, who bears a strong resemblance to Castle’s own character.

There is a good mystery at the heart of the story, but the relationship between the two main characters provides as much interest, especially for fans of the TV show. In fact it reads like a longer episode of the show – no bad thing.

There is nothing about this book that gives any indication that Richard Castle isn’t a genuine author, and from the similarity to the style of the TV series I assume that it was written by someone involved in the scripts for the show.

It’s tempting to give this 5 stars – I enjoyed it so much, but I will settle on 4 & hope that leaves my crime fiction blogging credentials intact.

Score – 4/5

The Wife Who Ran Away – Tess Stimson

Title – The Wife Who Ran Away

Author – Tess Stimson

Published – 2012

Genre – Contemporary fiction

Another short review – and another book courtesy of Pan Macmillan. If I were to run away (which is pretty unlikely) then Italy is where I would head for – so I was drawn to the premise of this book.

With a husband who doesn’t seem to notice her, a teenage daughter who is becoming unruly, a demanding mother and problems at work, Kate makes a snap decision to escape it all. She gets into a taxi in her lunch hour, goes to the airport and the next thing she knows she’s knocking on the door of an old friend in Italy.

Although this all seems very spontaneous, there is some background to her escape which, as Stimson slowly lets the reader discover, may explain the out of character behaviour.

The story is told from multiple perspectives – Kate, her husband, step-son, daughter and mother. As she doesn’t tell anyone that she’s leaving, it’s interesting to see how they each deal with her disappearance, and indeed how long it takes them to notice that she’s gone. It also shows the contrast between how she thinks the various members of her family will feel, and what they really make of the situation. The one jarring aspect for me, though, was the difference between what her husband thought about the situation and what he said & did about it – but perhaps that’s what men are like!

Although she arrives in Italy with no intention of doing anything other than turning round and going home, she somehow finds herself with a job and a flat. All in just a few weeks!

I have to say this was a bit on the raunchy side for me. There’s nothing like trying to read on the train & praying that the man next to you can’t see any of the words on the pages you’re reading!

I found the story pretty slow going, although when an incident at home threatened to force Kate into making a decision I felt the story picked up the pace.

Score – 3/5

The Language of Flowers – Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Title – The Language of Flowers

Author – Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Published – 2011

Genre – Contemporary fiction

After almost three weeks of upheaval in our house (due to some kitchen improvements) and a “To be reviewed” pile that’s growing like Topsy, I’ve decided to post a few shorter reviews.

First up – The Language of Flowers. Not my normal genre, but I was lucky to get a copy of this book at an event held by Pan Macmillan. It’s one of those titles that seemed to receive a lot of mentions on Twitter, but I didn’t really know what it was about.

The book is Victoria’s story. She’s spent her life in the foster-care system and the book opens on her 18th birthday when she is emancipated and has to begin life on her own. And she’s very much on her own. It becomes clear that she’s had a difficult time in the care system and this is either the result of, or the cause of, difficulties she has in maintaining relationships.

Victoria has an affinity for plants and this stems (excuse the pun!) back to some time she spent with Elizabeth, who fostered her when she was 9. Elizabeth had her own a vineyard and a sister with a flower farm. Although Victoria only seemed to live with her for a short time, it was there that she learnt about the language of flowers. This knowledge is something Victoria uses to her advantage when she has the chance to help out a florist and from this she starts to put down roots (sorry!).

There were some aspects of the story and how Victoria dealt with the relationships she formed which were pretty strange, but her background makes this seem more believable.

I found this very slow to start, but once the characters became clearer to me I got caught up in their story, and wanted very much to find out the secret which lies at the heart of the book. It was an enjoyable read, although I suspect it may be aimed at a younger audience. The publishers have done themselves proud with the printed books – one of those cases where the printed version is so much more than the e-version.

You can see another review of this over at Leeswamme’s blog.

Score – 4/5