Category Archives: Thriller

Cocaine Blues – Kerry Greenwood – 8/10

“The Princesse nudged Phryne in the ribs with an albow evidently especially sharpened for the purpose of compelling attention… She was the last person in the world whom Phryne could imagine selling any sort of drug. She was so oppressively healthy.”

Cocaine Blues

The Honourable Phryne Fisher is rather bored with London society and, having demonstrated some super sleuthing at a party, accepts the commission of a gentleman of wealth to check up on his daughter in Melbourne, who seems to be being poisoned by her husband. Little does Phryne expect the cavalcade of adventures awaiting her in her hometown.

The plot in this opening novel takes a little while to get going, and Greenwood is determined to keep a side-plot rumbling along; as we are being introduced to Phryne and her crew, the slower pace is fine. It took me a while to get into the mystery of the Russian dancers, but as the pace of the book does not permit impatience, one trundles along quite happily.

Phryne is a wonderful character; a dab hand at most things, but not perfect. She rather delights in causing scandal which is usually very funny. I have to say, I love Dot – Phryne rescues her from a bad situation which has made her harbour murderous intentions, and sets her back on the straight and narrow. Dot’s a nervous creature but with a heart of gold, frequently concerned about Phryne’s wellbeing and ethics, but clearly knows a friend when she sees one. The television series appears to stay truer to the spirit of Dot’s character than to Phryne’s (I suspect Phryne is edited on screen for ratings purposes!). Bert and Cec, Phryne’s local henchmen, are also frequently a source of comedy and excellent foils for Phryne (especially the more stubborn Bert).

We are so very firmly in 1920s Melbourne here. The telephone is a source of mystery and fear for those who don’t encounter it often, calling cards are left, Phryne resides at the Windsor hotel and drives the only Hispano-Suiza in Australia. Greenwood sets a compelling stage.

Highly enjoyable and definitely recommended for Australian fans of private investigator fiction and period drama.

Additional info

A birthday gift from The German.
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press, 175 pages (paperback)
Order Cocaine Blues (Phryne Fisher Mysteries)from Amazon*
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A Dangerous Fiction – Barbara Rogan – 7/10

“In the well-ordered world of fiction, murder and mayhem never arrive unheralded. For as long as men have told tales, disaster has been foreshadowed by omens and signs. But if there were portents the day my troubles began, I never saw them.”

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Successfully running a publishing firm, Jo Donovan’s life seems to be coming together again after the shock of the death of her husband. When a would-be client starts stalking her, she starts to see ominous shadows everywhere. Then someone close to her dies in suspicious circumstances, and Jo herself becomes a suspect.

It’s been a few months since I read this one so I’m struggling to remember all the details, but it was very enjoyable. For a start, I didn’t figure out who the baddie was at all – massive surprise at the end. And the way that Jo’s security was taken away, step by step, was quite… not chilling, but obviously devastating for Jo.

The cast size is just about right. Rogan develops 5-6 characters enough that they could all be suspects and that Jo has thorough interactions with them, without any of them feeling like they take over the story. There are some cute bit-part characters too. I loved the ex-Marine with the guard dog.

It’s all set in New York and is very New York, though not as totally New York as a couple of other books I read later in the year (particularly Let The Great World Spin and My Salinger Year).

Definitely worth a read – it’s a quick thriller, but with a fun literary setting and pretty well done.

Additional information:

Copy kindly provided some months ago by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher: Penguin, 324 pages
Order A Dangerous Fiction: A Mystery from Amazon*
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Can Anybody Help Me – Sinead Crowley – 7/10

“With consciousness came distress. Her eyes flickered open and met his. but her thirst was greater than her feat and she moved her hand feebly on the blanket, her fingers flickering in the direction of the bedside locker.”

Can anybody help me FINAL

(adapted from Goodreads) Struggling with a new baby in a new city with a new husband, Yvonne turns to an online support group for help and support. When one of her new friends goes offline, Yvonne is concerned but dismisses her fears. She doesn’t know the woman, after all. But when the body of a young woman with striking similarities to Yvonne’s missing friend is found, Yvonne realises that they’re all in terrifying danger. Can she persuade Sergeant Claire Boyle, herself about to go on maternity leave, to take her fears seriously?

This felt quite slow to get going (despite the nearly first-page murder), as two apparently separate storylines took their time to intermingle. Once we did get going though, there was no stopping our twisty-turny plot. Relatively straightforward to children of the internet age, some of it might be confusing to older readers. I loved it.Writing? So standard, so good, right? for a police procedural? I’ve got nothing to say on the writing – nothing exceptional, but certainly nothing that got in the way or in any way detracts from the book.

As I always do, I really like the lead police character in this one; and of course she’s a single-minded five-months-pregnant go-getter determined to absolutely get this bad guy right now. Yvonne came across as a bit pathetic, but on the whole totally believable and rounded. I was unconvinced by Eamonn as a character – he seems overly charming, too nice. But for me the most skilful bit of character-building was the online chat – Yvonne’s character chatted online in a manner that fitted her offline personality, and the other online voices were easily distinguishable and well-built up.

My knowledge of Dublin is zero (never having been), and Crowley sets the scene well with the run-down estate, the dingy pub, the pleasant terrace houses, the surety of rain at an Irish funeral. There’s a smattering of Irish dialect to make absolutely sure that you know you’re in Ireland – I didn’t mind it, and I imagine it makes the dialogue more authentic. It certainly doesn’t get in the way.

And I most definitely did not see the identity of the bad guy coming. I had a couple of indications in that general direction, but it was a huge surprise to me when it was revealed. A quick, thrilling read, and a slightly scary look into online forums (fora?) and life.

Additional info
Copy from publisher through NetGalley (which I have not used in a while!)
Publisher: Quercus Books, 400 pages
Order Can Anybody Help Me?from Amazon*
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The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes – Marcus Sakey – 7/10

(at least 18 months since I read this. Might be a little vague)

“‘Y cuidate lo que dices,’ Daniel replied over his shoulder, then did a double take. Huh. I know Spanish. Cool.”

The-Two-Deaths-of-Daniel-Hayes-HB

Daniel wakes upon on an “apocalyptic beach, water frothing beneath a shivering sky, wind a steady howl over the shoals”, naked and with no memory of how he got there, why he’s there, or even who he is. In an attempt to resolve the mystery, he gets in the car and heads as far west as he can, piecing his life back together before it gets ripped apart again.

This sort of “forgotten identity” novel is pretty unusual and the whole plot construct was impressive. He gets back West and then ends up in a cat and mouse-with-no-memory game, no idea who he can trust, what is true, what is an illusion, what is a mis-memory. It gets very confusing as lots of people play multiple characters or there are only glimpses of them and Daniel isn’t sure who they are.

As a result, the characters don’t have to be particularly magnetic; Daniel is a dark sort of person who is driven to anger and violence by extreme circumstances. Bad guys are bad guys, the wife is a bit strange but in the end her motivations are straightforward enough. I particularly liked the older woman, Sophie, the guiding aunt figure – she’s a useful plot device and a nice person into the mix.

The emptiness of the Hollywood life is laid out pretty starkly here – less humorously than in The Lawgiver. Daniel and Laney’s relationship is sweetly captured in emails and notes – actually a funnier way to give credence to an unlikely romance. I did not see the enormous twist at the end coming at all – I couldn’t figure out what was going on for ages and then it suddenly hits you. Not sure that’s where I wanted it to end up, but it’s all slick and throws the rest of the book into the right angle to make sense of.

Interesting, unusual, massive twist at the end.

Additional information:

Copy sent by We Love This Book so long ago for review that I missed every deadline imaginable.
Publisher: Bantam Press, 388 paperback pages 
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The Bedlam Detective – Stephen Gallagher – 6/10

“The names of the house always charmed her. They hadn’t when she’d lived here, but they charmed her whenever she returned. Prospect Place. St Cuthbert’s. Puffin. St Elmo’s. Evangeline was a city dweller now, a grown woman, and these names were her childhood.”

bedlam

Two country girls have been found brutally murdered, not far from the estate of Sir Owain Lancaster, who returned alone some years ago from a disastrous trip to the Amazon. Sebastian Becker is sent to investigate, wondering if Sir Owain needs treatment in the infamous hospital above his office – Bedlam…

Becker is a solid everyman sort of detective, sympathetic without being ingratiating, persistent without being omniscient. Some home troubles make him a slightly more rounded character but not all that much time is devoted to making him an interesting person – he is the vehicle for the story. On the other hand there is a huge amount of time and paper devoted to the tale of Sir Owain’s misadventures in the Amazon – we have his diary as well as the observations of those around him so his is really the most rounded character in the book. Which begs the question – why bother with the London side-story and the murder of the girls? If the author just wanted to tell the tale of Sir Owain’s (literally incredible) visit to South America, why not just tell it by itself?

As with all these historical endeavours, one wonders how authentic it is. Would Sebastian’s autistic son really have fared so well in 19th century London? Is the life portrayed in Bethlehem Hospital accurate (or even close to accurate)? The London of the book felt quite sanitised, compared to the bleakness of country living. There’s an assortment of bit parts which are cleverly and amusingly put together – I particularly liked Becker’s family and the country plod who is supposed to assist Becker in his investigations.

I felt that towards the end, the author was in a bit deep with the plot/stories he had constructed and it needed to be wrapped up – the episode at the country hall has heavy touches of deus ex machina to it. As I look at the slim book beside me (it’s only just over 300 pages), more and more threads of plot come back to me and it’s surprising to consider they were all included in the same novel!

Overall, an enjoyable enough mystery; a bit dark for what I’m used to, and if you don’t mind the heavy-handed wrapping up, you should find it pretty gripping.

Additional information:

Copy kindly sent by the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Publisher: Broadway Paperbacks, 305 paperback pages 
Order The Bedlam Detectivefrom Amazon*
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Close My Eyes – Sophie McKenzie – 7/10

“Of course, what I didn’t realise then is that grief, like the seasons, is cyclical. I would just start to feel open to life again, then find myself thrust back under the water, drowning in loss.”

closemyeyes_paperback_1471111733_300

Geniver Loxley lost her daughter Beth in a stillbirth eight years ago, and has been struggling ever since. When a stranger turns up on her doorstep, claiming that Beth is still alive and that there was a huge conspiracy to have Geniver believe that Beth is dead, and then that stranger is killed in a hit-and-run, Gen can’t help but cling to the thread of hope, and, terrified of the violence seeking to catch up with her, she starts to try to track down her daughter.

This is a very tightly written thriller; McKenzie steers Geniver neatly down the line between compulsion and madness, between paranoia and reasonable fear. Like Geniver, the reader never knows whether her husband is involved or not, whose information she can trust, or whether Geniver is actually mad. The voice of a child weaves through the story, popping up intermittently, and remains a mystery until the end – enough to keep the reader looking for the next interruption. It reminded me a lot of Louise Douglas’ The Secrets Between Us, although the characterisation is tighter and the mystery/madness angle more delicate than in TSBU.

In a sense, there is a little too much background information on the main characters: so much time and so many words are spent on Art’s background, his rise to money and fame – it’s clear that he is desperate to succeed at all costs. Similarly, we spend just a bit too time in Geniver’s reproductive doldrums; as if a stillbirth wasn’t traumatic enough, she hasn’t fallen pregnant since and remains single-mindedly focussed on Beth, excluded from her friends’ worlds of muddy football kit and birthday parties. In some ways, her exclusion from the world of a mother calls into question her suitability to take charge of a child, should Beth be found alive.

I’d figured out that the villain must be one of three people, given the assortment of red herrings, and was gratified to discover that one of them was the main villain, with a lot of help from a second one! There’s a really chilling ending to this one, after the big climax/shoot-out/confrontation which we all knew was coming, which I didn’t expect and which ends the reading experience with quite a cold, brutal feeling – as if the rest of the book wasn’t brutal enough!

A well-paced, enthralling debut – I look forward to more of McKenzie’s work.

Additional information:
Copy kindly provided by the publisher in return for an honest review.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 390 pages (paperback)
Order Close My Eyesfrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

Silenced – Kristina Ohlsson – 6/10

“And by the time they found her, she was already another person.”

silenced

Having really enjoyed Ohlsson’s debut novel Unwanted, I was thrilled to have the sequel to hand as soon as I finished it. 

Having eventually concluded the Sebastiansson case, Alex Recht’s team is back at work after the summer holiday, struggling with a variety of cases that have been pushed their way. Fredrika Bergman has finally been made to feel at home in the police force after a rocky start, but a troublesome pregnancy is sapping her of her fiery investigative style. Peder Rydh’s life seems to have gone totally off the rails, not improved by the arrival of a smug new transfer from the Sodermalm force. Are the two apparently open-and-shut cases they’re working on related?

Having aired a strong position on domestic abuse in Unwanted, Ohlsson turns her attentions to asylum seekers in this novel. A pastor whose covert support for asylum seekers over decades has ripped his family apart and attracted some unwelcome attention appears to have lost his daughter to drugs, shot his wife and committed suicide. Why can’t the police track down his other daughter? In Thailand, why won’t Johanna’s email, flights, hotel or phone recognise her? Why is she being silenced? And why did a man who died in a hit-and-run appear to have no records at all?

Perhaps by the nature of its multi-crime plot, Silenced reads less coherently and focussed than Unwanted. The police characters have been better developed (I was pleased to see Peder called to account for his ridiculous behaviour, and Fredrika soften up a bit), and the newly introduced characters were consistently strong, but I felt the plot was too disjointed, flicking back and forth between the family drama, the anonymous victim and the woman in Thailand being shut off from the world… when we did get to the climax, I got really confused.

Still a gripping read, but not as good as Unwanted. I can’t wait for the third in the trilogy (out in mid 2013!).

Additional information:

Copy kindly provided by the publisher (Simon & Schuster) in return for an honest review.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 468 pages (paperback)
Order Silencedfrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting
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