Month: June 2015

The Replacement – Patrick Redmond

51deE1X+L-LTitle – The Replacement

Author – Patrick Redmond

Published – 2015 (paperback)

Genre – Psychological thriller

It’s an odd way to start a review but I must say up front that I really didn’t like this book. If the trend is for books with dislikable characters at their heart then this has them in spades. Nevertheless, I couldn’t put it down, it is like the literary equivalent to gawping at a car crash.

The story starts by featuring the Randalls, a well-to-do family living what appears to be an enviable life; it is certainly one where appearances seem to matter more than people’s feelings. We’re rapidly introduce to the characters: mother Caroline who is at the heart of village life, the recently retired lawyer father, and the twin sons in their twenties who are both trying to live up to their parents’ expectations. We’re also introduced to Stuart whose life no one would envy. The same age as the twins, he is working for an estate agents, worrying about his elderly grandmother, having lost his parents and sister at an early age. The cast of characters goes on with extended families and girlfriends. All have their part to play in the condensed saga (it takes place over just a few months) that unfolds.

The author begins by providing some insight into the personalities involved and by and large they all come across as unpleasant in one way or another – they are all manipulative, devious and scheming. Appearance is everything and ruthless behaviour at the cost of others is the way to get ahead. Stuart is the complete contrast to this, perhaps showing that his life without entitlement has bred a more pleasant person.

The main plot starts when Stuart and the Randalls’ paths cross and an unexpected connection is discovered. Stuart’s introduction into the Randalls’ life is divisive and this brings out the worst in all involved. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that the characters are also fickle and their feelings can change in the blink of an eye (or in response to a single sentence). And just when you think that the behaviour can’t get any worse there’s an incident which is truly shocking.

The tension in the story is delivered by the relationships and the reactions of those involved – and the belief that if you hang on until the end of the book then someone must rise above the rest. The story is also full of secrets and there’s some pleasure to be taken in waiting to see if and how people will be found out.

Redmond has created an intriguing book and an unpleasant cast of characters, with a story that is a cross between a family saga and a psychological thriller.

You can see another review of this title at Raven Crime Reads. Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse – Piu Marie Eatwell

71BPoOmnNpLTitle – The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse

Author – Piu Marie Eatwell

Published – 2015

Genre – True Crime

There’s quite a broad spectrum of books which fall into the ‘true crime’ category – from those that are purely factual to those which ‘fictionalise’ events such as ‘The Maul and the Pear Tree’ or even put real characters into their crime fiction, as in ‘The Dante Club’. Piu Marie Eatwell’s book is very much towards the purely factual account with her story of the eccentric 5th Duke of Portland, but with an element of characterisation of those involved which helps bring the story to life.

The book is based around the Druce-Portland case which arose in 1897 when Anna Maria Druce claimed that her late father-in-law, Thomas Druce, had been the alter ego of the 5th Duke of Portland. She was petitioning for the grave of Druce to be exhumed in the belief that the coffin would be empty as the Duke had faked the death of his Druce persona. The claim would then see her children become the heirs to the Portland estate.

On the face of it this seems to be both a ridiculous claim and one that could easily be resolved. However, the book covers the the origination of the case in 1897 to its ‘resolution’ in 1908, with background pre-dating the claim thrown in for good measure. And as if that’s not enough, I was lucky to read the paperback which was updated following further information that came to light as result of the publication of the hardback version. So the case wasn’t as straight-forward as it might seem!

In setting the scene we discover that the 5th Duke was remarkably eccentric and the suggestion that he lived a double-life for some years seems more credible. The complexity of the case is compounded by the secrets people were driven to keep during the morally superior Victorian period. The legal saga was well publicised at the time and the sums involved in the Portland estate drew the interest of a number of men who were keen to manipulate the situation to take their share of the spoils. The full story sees multiple claims being made and subsequent investigations which aimed to unravel the various deceptions.

The book is obviously exactingly researched but the author’s interpretation of events and the inclusion of background which places the issues in context makes this a fascinating read.

You can see another review of this title at Fleur in her World. Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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Little Black Lies – Sharon Bolton

81-jyQP7n-LTitle – Little Black Lies

Author – Sharon (SJ) Bolton

Published – 2 July 2015

Genre – Crime fiction / psychological thriller

I would normally wait until closer to the date of publication but I enjoyed this book so much that I can’t wait to tell people about it. If you met me at Crimefest and asked what the best book I’d read so far this year was then you will have heard me extolling the virtues of Little Black Lies already. I have to say that this is likely to be a shorter review than normal because I don’t really want to give very much of the story away.

The setting is unusual, it’s the Falkland Islands, and the remote location, rugged landscape and isolated community give Bolton a great setting, reminiscent of nordic / scandi noir.

The story, set in 1994, takes place over 6 days and is told in three parts, each from a different point of view. We start with Catrin, an Islander who lost her two small sons in an accident for which she holds her former best friend Rachel responsible. As the third anniversary of the boys’ deaths approaches she has come up with a plan which will put an end to the grief that still envelopes her. Her plans are interrupted when she is drafted in to help search for a small boy who has disappeared, and it seems this is not the first time a child has gone missing.

The other points of view are Callum, a former serviceman who fought on the islands and returned to settle, and Rachel, Catrin’s former best friend. Rather than swapping  pov through the book, the three sections are discrete and this gives you a much better feel for the three individuals. Using the different characters and their different perspectives is used to hide some facts and reveal others, which keeps the reader guessing.

I’ve not read all of Bolton’s books (yet) but there are certainly similarities in the themes of this book which are familiar from Sacrifice and Like This, For Ever. The death and loss of children can be seen as taboo and the grief and the devastating effect this has had on Catrin are both moving and credible. But having isolated herself from everyone who cares about her, Catrin is moving through to anger and revenge.

Bolton has a compelling way of writing and I know ‘page turner’ is something of a cliché but I really couldn’t put this down, I just had to find out what happened next. This is by far the book I have most enjoyed so far this year, a skilfully woven story with engaging and sympathetic characters that uses multiple perspectives to ingenious effect.

Thank you to the publisher for the netgalley. You can see another point of view over at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel.

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