Book review: Lisa Gardner, The Survivors Club, (1998)

Lisa Gardner Survivors ClubThe Survivors Club … that’s what Jillian Hayes, Carol Rosen, and Meg Pesaturo call it. They won’t consider themselves victims. They are survivors. They faced the blazing headlines and helped lead the investigation that caught the man who changed their lives forever.

I liked this book, mostly for Gardner’s characterisation and pace. The plot becomes overly coincidental in points, with links and similarities popping up as if to prop up the plot more than anything else.
Jillian, Carol and Meg have had their lives changed by a rapist. Detective Roan Griffin’s life has been changed by the death of this wife. And, when their lives clash over the murder of the man dubbed the College Hill Rapist, all of their lives are destined to change again.
This book is quite strong on the different impacts each of the women suffers after their encounter with Eddie Como, the College Hill Rapist. One copes by organising and over-coping, another shops but can’t turn the television off, and another simply can’t remember anything at all. Their lives have been turned upside down and the one thing they had all secretly hoped for – the death of the rapist – turns out not to be as liberating as they had expected.

The pace of the novel skips along quite nicely, the cops are the usual collection of damaged, third generation cop types, and Rhode Island and Providence sound lovely.

I really enjoy Gardner’s DD Warren series and you’ll find a familiar writing style here. Your thoughts won’t linger on this novel after you’ve finished it, but all the female characters are all strong in their own way and it is their fortitude in the face of myriad challenges that provides the foundation for this novel IMHO.

Review: Jo Nesbo, Cockroaches (2013)

In steaming hot Bangkok, Norwegian detective Harry Hole is tasked with investigating the death of the Norwegian ambassador. He’s been found in a seedy motel room and the powers that be in Norway have decided that Hole, with his alcohol problems, is the man to tie up the loose ends quietly. Except it’s never like that with Hole…Jo Nesbo Cockroaches

Written in Norwegian in 1998 but not released in English until 2013, this is Book Number Two in the Harry Hole series. Who knows why the order is off centre, but for Hole fans, this is still a good read, even though you may know where the character is going.
All the characteristics are here, the relentless drive, the weakness for alcohol and drugs, the ability to attach significance to even the smallest thing, the lone ranger attitude.
It’s nice to see Hole in different surroundings to the relentless greyness and cold of Norway. The setting couldn’t be hotter and Hole’s height, pale colour, and difficulties with the language and the heat actually make for a lighter feel than you would usually associate with this series.
Bangkok provides an atmospheric backdrop. With its heroin dens, brothels, children for sale, ex-pat community, pole dancing, and traffic gridlock, the noise and humidity hop off the page as Hole upsets both the Thai underworld and the ex-pat community with his questions and disregard for status.
The ambassador’s wife and daughter and the lonely embassy staff, the intricacies of relationships within the hotbed of the embassy, the blurred lines between opportunism and immorality – these are all drawn with Nesbo’s usual accuracy. Not knowing any Thai people, it’s impossible to comment on his characterisation of them; however, the book does recall a previous visit to Bangkok, so the city’s heat, squalor and crowdedness rang true for this author.
For all that, it’s not a novel that lingered in my mind. In between reading session, my mind didn’t drift back to the plot, wondering how it was going to play out. So, yes, it was an enjoyable read in terms of colouring in Hole’s character a little – but not a lot – more.

Review: Karin Alvtegen, Missing (2000)

Sibylla Forsenström doesn’t exist. For 15 years, she has been excluded from society. As one of the homeless in Stockholm, she takes each day as it comes and has all her possessions in her rucksack. One night, she is in the wrong place at the wrong time. A man is brutally murdered and too many circumstances lead to Sibylla as being the murderer. For 15 years nobody has asked for her, but suddenly she is the most wanted person in Sweden. She knows how to survive, but now she has to flee…Karin alvtegen missing

If you like your Scandinavian crime, you’ll like this one by Karin Alvtegen. Unusually told from the suspect’s perspective, it has the added twist of mental illness and parental cruelty thrown in. Though, to be honest, the parental cruelty angle is not the strongest…

What is interesting here is how it is possible to live life invisibly, how people who live on society’s fringes find each other and forge allegiances of convenience. Whether it’s the shambling tramp or her ex on a barge or the awkward schoolboy, ‘misfits’ find each other and have their own code.

Alvtegen’s account of Sibylla’s childhood is a little forced, apart from the teenager’s growing need to rebel spectacularly and the unpredictable results when that goes predictably wrong. Her way of getting by is to, occasionally, adopt strategies from her mother’s class, live by her wits and score the occasional night in a hotel room with white sheets and an en suite.

But, just once, it goes horribly wrong and, from Sibylla’s perspective, society has turned on her again, and she is determined not to be trapped by its need to make the crime fit the person. Her growing sense of self is well portrayed as is the ingenuity it takes to live on the other side.

Chilling, no; but compelling, undoubtedly.

Review: Tess Gerritsen, Whistle Blower (1992)

When things go bang in the night, anything can happen. And so it follows that when Victor Holland is knocked down by Catherine Weaver on a dark road on a wet night …Tess Gerritsen Whistle Blower

In this case, Victor has also been shot and is fleeing those determined to keep him from spilling the beans on a secret that has links to the highest echelons in Washington.

Now that Catherine is involved, she’s not safe either…

This book dates from Gerritsen’s romance thriller-writing days, seemingly, a phase I didn’t know about, having come across her through the Rizzoli and Isles TV series. Written very much in the style of Karen Rose – hero and heroine, instant connection – it’s a very easy read and the type of book to pleasantly while away a flight or a day at the beach.

The characters are pleasant enough, if a little stereotypical – Victor is the earnest but handsome scientist; Cathy, a film make-up artist, thinks she’s plain, but of course she’s not; Cathy’s ex is handsome and a womaniser; FBI agent Polowski, rumpled but with his heart in the right place; Victor’s kooky friends from college are suitably kooky …

The plot holds up reasonably well – Victor stumbles across something, people start to die, he and Cathy go on the run, the truth must out to save mankind, they remain unsure of their mutual attraction. And, in fairness to Gerritsen, the drama holds up well, with the FBI and the bad guys in close pursuit, where every safe haven is but a temporary respite from the chase.

I liked the novel. It could have done with a little editing in terms of the occasional slip into Mills & Boon-style dialogue, but if you speed read those bits, it’s a pleasant respite from real life!


Review: Benjamin Black, The Silver Swan (2007)

It is the mid-1950s and a woman Quirke loved has died, a man he admired is dying, and his daughter has no time for him. Along comes an old college friend whose wife has died by suicide. But the post mortem points to another conclusion…Benjamin Black The Silver Swan

This will be a short review, which you just know can’t be a good thing. I was disappointed in this book as a follow up to Christine Falls, which introduced pathologist Quirke, a widower to the wrong woman, in love with the wrong woman, enthralled by the wrong liquid (alcohol, not tea!) and generally in bad form.

In this Quirke novel #2, the tone is quite morose, the characters without enough colour to induce sympathy, empathy or, in my case, a whole pile of interest. Usually, I take a few days after finishing a book before writing the review as I want the book to settle in my mind and tease out nuances I missed in the first reading. Here, however, I found myself turning pages simply to move the action along – in Christine Falls, the very Irish conundrum of unwed mothers and their ‘illegitimate’ babies was evocatively portrayed. Here, it’s repressed Ireland (Deirdre Hunt) being liberated by Lesley White (England, dare I whisper?) in a plot that failed to engage me.

Having said that, I’d like to see what Black (Wexford-born author John Banville) does with Quirke next… A second chance …

Book reviews: Mo Hayder, Gone & Poppet

In ‘Gone’, Hayder’s seventh novel, and the fifth to feature murder detective JMo Hayder Goneack Caffery, the scene is set in early winter, in the West Country. Caffery is brought in to interview the victim of a car-jacking. So far, so routine. But this incident is different. This time the car was taken by force, and on the back seat was a passenger, an eleven year old girl. She is still missing.

In ‘Poppet’ (Jack Caffery #6), the mentally ill patients in Beechway High Secure Unit are highly suggestible. A hallucination can spread like a virus. When unexplained power cuts lead to a series of horrifying incidents, fear spreads from the inmates to the staff. Amidst the growing hysteria, AJ, a senior psychiatric nurse, is desperate to protect his hayder poppet

Let me preface my remarks by saying that I really like Mo Hayder’s Jack Caffery novels. I did try to read ‘Tokyo’, but couldn’t take to it and left it unfinished. Here, I read these two novels back to back and it was only my positive experiences of Hayder’s previous novels, including ‘Gone’, that kept me reading Poppet.

In ‘Gone’, we see quite a lot of one missing child’s mother, a strong female character, who pushes the boundaries when it comes to trying to find her daughter. In ‘Poppet’, we spend a lot of time with AJ – a fine character, but no Jack Caffery.

And, isn’t that why we read serial novels, to get to know a character more and delve deeper into their 360-degree lives, as they, and we, bring more of them to each novel, each crime, each entanglement with other people. Here, however, we are one-fifth of the way into Poppet before any sign of Sgt. Flea Marley, who, Caffery believes, holds the key to solving a previous case of a missing celebrity. As before, they dance around each other, inching ever closer to … something.

So, I’ll be curious, when ‘Wolf’ comes out, if this trend towards sharing the Caffery novels with other characters to such a large extent continues.

If one thing binds the two novels, it is that badness – evil? – is never as obvious as we’d like, no neon arrow pointing towards the bad guy. Evil can live with us, look like us, talk like us, seduce us and we never see it for who it is. Rather, we look at those who don’t look comfortable in our landscape and try to make the person fit the crime, rather than be led by the actual crime itself.


Review: David Baldacci, The Hit (2013)

CIA hitman Will Robie meets his match when he is assigned his next mission. He is tasked with killing another CIA assassin, Jessica Reel, who might just be as good, if not better, than Robie. And, she’s gone rogue, seemingly…David Baldacci The Hit2

This is a good book, not a great book, but a page turner of sorts. A contradiction in description? Maybe. It’s an enjoyable read but not one that lingers.

It’s a kind of Bond novel – international locations, explosions, assassinations, corruption, high-level intrigue, red herrings, good looking central characters, and an interesting premise: send a killer to catch a killer.

As ever in crime novels, the characters fit an incredible amount into a single day and, here, Will and Jessica are on and off planes, trains and automobiles faster than you can shake a stick at a corrupt politician. Between New York, the Middle East, a short-lived jaunt in dear old Dublin, and Canada, the pace rockets along with Will and Jessica dancing a dance as old as time: can you trust any man?!

Borrow this one, don’t buy it …

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