Psychological thriller

Blood Orange – Harriet Tyce

Title – Blood Orange

Author – Harriet Tyce

Published – Feb 2019

Genre – Crime fiction

This is one of the few review copies I’ve picked up this year (good news for my TBR), one of the books I picked up at the Headline New Voices event in Bristol.

I’ve categorised it as ‘crime fiction’ but it’s a gripping mix of domestic noir and legal, and unusually for me I read it in just one day.

Alison is one of those women who seem to be commonplace in crime fiction at present – a woman who appears to have it all (career, husband, daughter, illicit boyfriend) but treats it all quite carelessly. A self-destructive barrister, she realises that she drinks too much but despite swearing off the booze and being given her first murder case she fails to get her excesses under control.

The murder case isn’t the main plot but provides an interesting additional thread. The case means working with her boyfriend, a man who treats her abhorrently but seems to be another vice that she can’t give up. They are to defend an alleged murderer, Miranda, who is accused of stabbing her husband to death while he slept. Initially there seems to be little doubt that the accused woman murdered her husband but as they prise the details of their relationship out of her it becomes clear that the relationship was an abusive one, and Alison begins to see some similarities between Miranda’s experience and her own.

Against the backdrop of the case Alison’s home life begins to deteriorate and neither her husband nor her boyfriend seem to have a positive influence on her. She is frustrating when you know that she is making a bad decision (there are a lot) or she gets herself into  an unpleasant situation (there are some real ‘eww’ moments) but there is something about her that makes you want to stick with her despite the frustration.

As is often the case where the main character is drinking too much they and those around them all become unreliable narrators and this gives an underlying tension to the plot and to all Alison’s interactions. She perhaps doesn’t realise that people around her are untrustworthy but the reader certainly sees the possibility, even if it isn’t the case.

As Alison’s relationships fail her domestic issues reach a climax and the case against Miranda heads to court. Things didn’t pan out as I expected which I was pleasantly surprised by but they do take a dark turn.

I’m not a fan of books where you’re supposed to dislike the main character but there is something about Alison, perhaps a vulnerability that the writer has given her, that made me want to not only stick with the book but also made me want to root for her. I can’t say that this was an enjoyable read but it did have me gripped. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

1star1star1star1star

Advertisements

The Trophy Child – Paula Daly

Title – The Trophy Child

Author – Paula Daly

Published – 2017

Genre – Psychological thriller

A book that’s full of characters that you love to hate. There is a complicated ‘blended’ family; husband and wife Noel and Karen with her son Ewan, Noel’s teenage daughter Verity and Brontë – their joint child. In a local nursing home is Noel’s first wife, Jennifer, trapped there because of her MS.

Where Brontë is concerned Karen is a ‘Tiger Mother’, determined to have perfection and avoid the disappointment she feels with her son. So Karen fills Brontë’s time with music lessons (the harp), Stagecoach (for self-confidence), extra tuition (maths) and she is pushing Brontë all of the time.

Then Brontë disappears and the family’s relationships come under the spotlight as Detective Sergeant Joanne Aspinall sets about trying to find the missing girl, even though she also has a connection to the family, something she fails to disclose.

These are people that you wouldn’t want to be your friends, and you definitely wouldn’t want to be Brontë. And I’m not a fan of books where the characters aren’t likeable. Verity feels like the hero of the piece although there is a mystery about her and something she has done which requires weekly drug tests at her school and trips to a psychotherapist. Nevertheless she seems to be the most normal person in the family. I also liked the character of Joanne although I’m not a fan of characters who are economical with the truth.

I enjoyed the crime aspects of the story but less so the dysfunctional family. It is a twisty tale which I’d be surprised if many readers could see where it was going but it also asks the reader to suspend their disbelief to a considerable extent.

You can read an interview with Paula Daly about her writing process here.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

1star1star1star

Before I Let You In – Jenny Blackhurst

Title – Before I Let You In

Author – Jenny Blackhurst

Published – 2016

Genre – Psychological thriller

This was a gripping psychological thriller with a real sting in the tail. The opening of the book sets the scene with the uncomfortable initial session of a psychiatric consultation between Karen, the psychiatrist, and Jessica, the new patient.

Karen is one of a group of three close friends – Bea and Eleanor making up the trio. The women are quite different characters – which is probably true of most groups of close friends. Eleanor is the maternal figure, loving being a Mum, Bea is footloose and fancy free and Karen is the ‘fixer’, the one who sorts out her friends’ problems. But all is not sweetness and light – Bea is still affected by an incident from her past, Eleanor feels as if she is falling apart and Karen’s long-term partner is often absent.

Over a period of five weeks the psychiatric sessions continue and Jessica continues to be a confrontational patient.  There is a gentle increase in tension as Karen becomes increasingly disturbed about how much her new patient knows about her and her closest friends. And Karen understands the importance of the rules of confidentiality.

The chapters are told from different points of view – Karen, Bea, and Eleanor in the past tense, third person, a number of chapters in the past first person from someone who isn’t identified and interspersed with these are a number of short pieces of what seem to be interview transcript in the present, hinting at the events that will unfold.

As well as being a psychological thriller this is also a book about female friendships – but perhaps in a more realistic way than they might be portrayed in ‘chic lit’ where you might normally find them. These are all characters with shades of good and bad and they are all put under an increasing amount of pressure. With the secrets within the group and a series of sinister events the book was bound to reach a compelling climax.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

1star1star1star1star

29 Seconds – T M Logan

Title – 29 Seconds

Author – T M Logan

Published – March 2018

Genre – Psychological thriller

Sarah is a young mother wit a professional job at a university, her husband has moved out and she’s trying to juggle her career and childcare. Her boss is the worst kind of lecherous sexual predator and she finds that she has no-one to turn to for help when he sets his sights on her. The ’29 Seconds’ of the title is the time it takes Sarah to make a phone call to take up the offer from a mysterious Russian, repaying a debt he owes her.

The book is incredibly timely and highlights the issues that have cropped up in the #MeToo campaign. Sarah is put in the invidious position of having to decide if she wants to keep her job enough to have sex with her boss.

I could empathise with Sarah up to a point but the plot felt like it took things too far, losing some credibility (I know, it’s fiction). I’m not a fan of stories of any kind, book, film, play, that depend on a single decision, one that as a reader you would prefer them not to take, I find the outcome frustrating when you could see it would be the wrong thing to do. The author has painted Sarah into a corner where she feels she has nowhere else to turn but as soon as she has made her move (and things don’t pan out quite as she anticipates) there is someone that she confides in who would have helped if she’d asked. The other characters felt like caricatures – the repugnant boss, the mysterious Russian, the earnest best friend – but they served their purpose.

I read the book quite quickly but that was partly because the phone call of the title doesn’t happen until half way so I was spurred on to get to the crux of the story. The premise is an unusual one and the aftermath of the call isn’t what I expected.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

1star1star1star

SaveSave

SaveSave

The Breakdown – B A Paris

Title – The Breakdown

Author – B A Paris

Published – Feb 2017

Genre – Psychological thriller

With a set of bookshelves that are just my ‘to read’ books it can be difficult choosing the next book to read, in this case I went for a book that Goodreads told me was in the running for their annual Goodreads Choice Awards in the ‘Mystery and Thrillers’ category.

On a stormy night Cass takes a shortcut home through the woods and drives past a woman parked in her car. When the news the next day is that the woman has been found dead and she also realises that she knew the woman, Cass becomes consumed by guilt.

I wasn’t hugely keen on Cass as a character. She’s suffering from memory lapses and is worried that she, like her mother before her, is suffering from early onset dementia, but her initial decision not to tell her husband what happened felt like a frustrating mistake when you’re looking in from the outside. I know authors play with ‘what if’ scenarios but as a reader I’m not keen on the plots that rely on the main character making the wrong choice at the beginning (usually keeping a secret) on which the rest of the plot depends. Despite my misgivings I couldn’t fault the writer in creating a character who felt fragile, fractured and brought to close to breaking point.

As with The Roanoke Girls it would be very easy to compare this to (in this case) a single film/play which would give away the main premise (I won’t). As it was I felt the author was trying to keep the suspense going until close to the end of the book when I had realised some (admittedly not all) of the key elements much earlier on.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

1star1star1star

The Other Woman – Laura Wilson

Title – The Other Woman

Author – Laura Wilson

Published – Oct 2017

Genre – Psychological thriller

The question is how to review the book without giving too much away. So the title tells you that there is another woman involved, the two-page first chapter takes place six months after the main story opens and tells the reader that at some point in the book someone will die. And there we have it because much more and I will spoil the book.

The main character is Sophie and she is the epitome of the smug, wealthy woman often found in these thrillers, she has it all but doesn’t seem to realise it. Being suspicious of her husband Sophie gets herself into a situation that offers both tension and farce. Event spirals out of control and the more she tries to make things better the worse they become. The more farcical aspects deliver some black humour, although there was nothing to laugh about and often I felt like shouting at Sophie! Needless to say that the more the events resemble a farce the less realistic they seem but when engrossed by the book – who cares! It had me absolutely gripped, the pace is unrelenting. I was so invested in the character that when I wasn’t reading I found I was feeling guilty and it took a while to realise that it was being driven by what I’d been reading.

And all the time you’re still wondering ‘so whose death is referred to in the first chapter’! The plot throws all sorts of things at you but I didn’t suspect the ending until very late on when it became inevitable and it was only on the last page that you were sure of what had happened.

I’ve had a quick look on Amazon and this really seems to be a ‘marmite’ book that’s dividing readers. I would say give it a try.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

1star1star1star1star

He Said/She Said – Erin Kelly

Title – He Said/She Said

Author – Erin Kelly

Published – April 2017

Genre – Psychological thriller

I occasionally start a book with preconceived ideas because I’ve heard other people talking about it or seen it being promoted but in this case I hadn’t come across many references – I requested the Netgalley on the strength of the author without reading the blurb. Which means it’s perhaps a little odd for me to say that the book wasn’t what I expected. Without any idea of what the story would be about, my assumptions kept catching me out; the opening made me think I was going to be reading a legal thriller and then it was more about crime and rape and perceptions and then it was about stalking and then … well it keeps you on your toes!

The opening of the book is sparse on background, leaving the reader to figure things out for themselves. Young couple Laura and Kit are appearing as witnesses at a trial after an incident that took place when they were watching the eclipse in 1999. The story hinges on a momentary outburst from Laura and what may have been an error of judgement haunts her and Kit. His obsession with chasing eclipses provides a framework for the story which spans 15 years to bring events up to date and is told from their two perspectives.  But enough said – it feels important not to give too much away though!

What I will say is that the story is cleverly crafted and there are plenty of moments when you kick yourself for not having spotted the clues, but Kelly’s writing ensures these are subtle and not ‘signposted’, the moments of revelation unexpected but plausible. The characters are realistically drawn, warts and all, most of them aren’t particularly likeable but this wasn’t a book where you felt you were being forced to hate them. In the moments of tension (and there are plenty) you root for them even though you might not always agree with their choices.

An unusual psychological thriller, smartly executed,  that will keep you intrigued as the plot unravels.

1star1star1star1star