Month: December 2013

Rupture – Simon Lelic

Title – Rupture

Author – Simon Lelic

Published – 2010

Genre – Crime fiction / Mystery

After reviewing “The Child Who” it was suggested by Jackie of Farm Lane Books that Lelic’s first book – Rupture – was worth a read and  I was lucky to pick this copy up in a charity shop.

The premise of the book is that a teacher has walked into his school assembly and opened fire, he kills three pupils and another teacher before turning the gun on himself.  I actually read this a while ago but was reminded of it when reading Black Chalk. Rupture feels like the more realistic portrayal of the aftermath such an event.

The story is told from Lucia’s point of view – she’s a young DI who is being pressured by her boss to close her current investigation into the shooting, something that seems like an open and shut case to everyone else. The backstory is provided by transcripts or one-sided dialogue which are interspersed throughout. They’re a clever way of introducing the background but a little distracting as they’re one-sided and it can take a while to work out who is talking and what they’re talking about.

What gradually unfolds is a brutal story about the treatment of someone who others see as an outsider and the willingness of those in authority to turn a blind eye. Some of the scenes were truly horrible and made for uncomfortable reading, but in Lelic’s hands seemed completely plausible. The story of the teacher is also mirrored by two other plotlines in the book – one dealing with another pupil and the other with Lucia herself.  As the reader it’s easy to see those at fault who have allowed the bullying to spiral out of control, and interesting to see how blind the characters are to their own responsibility.

The characters are well-written and you’re really drawn in by them, especially with Lucia, who is so frustrated by the inaction of others but who really needs to act for herself.

This is not conventional crime fiction but it is a thought-provoking read. You can see other reviews at Reading Matters and It’s A Crime.

Score – 4/5

I Am Pilgrim – Terry Hayes

Title – I Am Pilgrim

Author – Terry Hayes

Published – 2013

Genre –  Adventure / Thriller

For some ridiculous reason that I can’t quite put my finger on I have been procrastinating for months over writing this review. I need to get it written now as this was one of my top reads in 2013, but time pressures mean it will be a shortish review – which seems a little unfair for one of the longest books I read this year.

I think the key to the brilliance of this book is that Hayes is best known (should you have ever heard of him) as a screenwriter and his credits include Mad Max 2, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Dead Calm and From Hell. So he knows about action and pace – and how to tell a story.

This story concerns two main characters. One is a retired US spy who has written a book about his experiences with forensic criminal investigation – which someone is using to commit the perfect crime. The second is across the other side of the world – a terrorist who is far smarter than any anti-terror organisation anticipates.  The story becomes thrilling a race against time across a global landscape.

Not only is the story fast-paced and full of action, but it’s so imaginative. The inventiveness of the author astonished me – not that I am going to give anything away here! The pace is important because if you take a long time to read a book that’s 700 pages long it’s easy to forget who the characters were that you met at the beginning. And on the subject of the beginning, there is quite a lot of time setting the scene and providing the backstory for the characters – something I know not everyone is keen on. Surprisingly for a book of this length I would say that it wouldn’t benefit from more editing – there’s nothing overwritten or too wordy about it.

I’ve given this five stars although it does have one aspect which is something that irritates me in a thriller – the use of first person narrative from the US agent means that you feel there’s less tension when you know that he manages to survive to the point at which he can tell the tale. Nevertheless – this is one of the best books I’ve read this year – a thrilling debut.

You can see another review at Crimepieces. Transworld also have a Pinterest board illustrating aspects of the book.

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What Lies Within – Tom Vowler

Title – What Lies Within

Author – Tom Vowler

Published – 2013

Genre – Psychological

This is one of a number of books that I am overdue in reviewing and wanted to complete before the end of 2013. It’s therefore a happy coincidence that this is a book that would benefit from a shorter review to avoid spoilers. I saw Tom Vowler on one of the ‘fresh blood’ panels at Crimefest in May and I think even he was struggling to tell people about the story without saying too much.

To lie: to speak falsely or utter untruth knowingly, as with intent to deceive. From the fibs and white lies we tell others to the complete deception we can perform on ourselves – this book makes you think about the ways in which we deceive and what we might be prepared to do to protect the status quo.

There are two main storylines, both told by women in the first person. There is a young teacher who is brutally attacked in her own home. Although not dwelling on the details of the attack we experience the physical and emotional aftermath through the victim’s eyes. This certainly makes for a moving and a harrowing read.

The other storyline features an artist, a mother of two living in a remote cottage on the edge of Dartmoor, when a prisoner escapes. Although the family is not overly concerned by the idea of a convict being on the run the events do bring an air of tension to the household – although the reason isn’t immediately obvious.

As the multiple storylines converge in both time and location events head towards a gripping conclusion.

It’s relatively unusual for a man to write with his main character as a woman and in the first person and I sometimes felt that Vowler was overworking the emotional side of things. I felt more comfortable (although that’s perhaps not the right word) where the narrative was taken on by the male characters. I was a little disappointed in the ending – there was a huge build up of tension and I felt a little let down by the resolution, but then I am quite particular about how I like books to end.

A thought-provoking and sometimes harrowing read. You can see another point of view on Fiction Fan’s blog and it features as one of Rhian’s top books of 2013 – It’s  A Crime! Thank you to Headline for my review copy.

Score – 4/5

Black Chalk – Albert Alla

Title – Black Chalk

Author – Albert Alla

Published – November 2013

Genre – Crime / psychological fiction

The premise of this book sounded intriguing – the story of the sole survivor of a school shooting, but, for me, it failed to deliver.

Nate is 17 when the shooting takes place at his Oxford school. Hospitalised immediately after the incident he is isolated from others affected by the events – either accidentally or due to the actions of his mother. The story follows Nate as he escapes the UK for a nomadic existence and embarks on some questionable relationships. After eight years he returns to the UK and to live with his parents.

I found Nate to be an unlikeable character. While the book is mostly concerned with his feelings and his emotional journey, in fact he seems to spend the first half of the book cruising along completely unbothered by the horror of what he experienced. When he returns to Oxford he meets a beautiful young girl that he quickly becomes besotted with. When he realises that she has a link to the shootings he remains selfish and puts his feelings before hers. This eventually leads to cataclysmic results.

I know this is fiction and may intend to provoke the reader into wondering how they would react or how others would react in the situation, but for me Nate’s behaviour and emotions lacked any credibility. Told in the first-person it actually might have been interesting to see his behaviour as others perceived it. I also found the writing could be difficult to read and follow, perhaps it’s because most of my reading is faster-paced crime fiction where emotions don’t figure so centrally to the story.

There was some real tension in the last few chapters of the book but the ending wasn’t what I would have hoped for.

This is the debut novel by Albert Alla and I must thank the publisher for my review copy.

Whilst I might not have enjoyed this there are plenty of very positive reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads. The good news, though, is that it reminds me that I do need to finish a review of the disturbing “Rupture” by Simon Lelic.

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Witness the Dead – Craig Robertson

51ACckYiqOL-2Title – Witness the Dead

Author – Craig Robertson

Published – 2013

Genre – Crime

Robertson’s gritty Glasgow-based books make quite a contrast to my recent Icelandic reading!

This is the fourth instalment from Robertson and the third featuring police photographer Tony Winter. The opening scene is as you would expect from Robertson – a brutal murder that requires Winter’s presence to record the scene. In this case it is the body of a young woman who has been discovered in Glasgow’s Necropolis. Quickly one death becomes two and as the second body is found in another cemetery – this time the Southern Necropolis – there’s talk of a serial killer.

The story then switches to a second timeline, moving back to 1972, when Winter’s uncle, Danny Nielson, was a detective on the hunt for a serial killer terrorising the Glasgow nightclubs. The killer preyed on young women who had been to the Klass nightclub and had the nickname ‘Red Silk’. The narrative swaps between the two timelines as we follow the investigations into both the contemporary and the 7o’s serial killers.

Initially it isn’t clear what the connection could be between the two threads, Nielsen is insistent that there is a connection, but no-one wants to listen. It’s hard for anyone to believe there could be a link between the murders decades apart when the man thought to be responsible for the 1970s murders is behind bars.

It’s interesting to see Nielson’s contribution to the books grow and his appearance in both timelines provides a lot of his backstory. It’s good that Robertson is avoiding the pitfall of following a formula with his books, he makes the most of his regular characters to change the focus of the plots.

The story features the regular cast of supporting characters – Winter’s on / off relationship with DS Rachel Narey and his friendship with DI Addison (who may have met his match in a new colleague). There is also some humour to lighten the mood, which in large part is thanks to Narey’s rather useless new partner.

The added bonus with this book is the interaction between Winter and a convicted killer. For once Winter is horrified rather than fascinated and the killer is a more than worthy adversary, able to manipulate Winter to a surprising degree.

Another compelling and gritty crime thriller that has Glasgow at its heart. Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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