Review: Linwood Barclay, A Tap on the Window (2013)

Linwood Barclay A tap on the windowIt’s been two months since private investigator Cal Weaver’s teenage son Scott died in a tragic accident. Ever since, he and his wife have drifted apart, fracturing a once normal life. Cal is mired in grief, a grief he can’t move past. And maybe his grief has clouded his judgment. Because driving home one night, he makes his first big mistake.

A girl drenched in rain taps on his car window and asks for a ride as he sits at a stoplight. She’s the same age as Scott, and maybe she can help Cal find the dealer who sold his son the drugs that killed him. After a brief stop at a roadside diner, Cal senses that something’s not right with the girl or the situation. But it’s too late. He’s already involved.

If you’re the parent of a teenager, this book will give you shivers – it’s as much about the private lives of teenagers and the grief of parents as it is about the crimes at the centre of the book.

Here, PI Cal Weaver is trying to track down who sold his son the drugs that literally pushed him to his death. A misfit, Weaver’s son, Scott, struggled to fit in and his loose band of peers in a slightly claustrophobic small town all have their own issues, their own secrets, and their own very public social media profiles.

On the other hand, there is the town’s police department which believes that justice is sometimes better and quicker served with a well-placed blow to the body than a court appearance.

With everyone doing their own thing – parents, teenagers, cops – it’s no surprise that everyone is not who they seem. People are willing to do anything – including murder – to keep their secrets safe. Just who are the good guys, who are the bad guys, who’s just a hapless teenager, and how can one town sustain so many secrets.

And at the heart of it all is Cal and wife Donna’s relationship – fractured by the silence and blame after their son’s death, can they find a way through this new crisis?

It’s a good read – I didn’t find myself dwelling on it afterwards, going over plot points in my head, but while you’re reading it, it’s an entertaining book, with several twists to keep you going.

Review: Karen Rose, Watch Your Back (2013)

Karen Rose Watch Your BackBaltimore Homicide Detective Stevie Mazzetti has suffered losses no woman should have to endure. But when she learns that her ex-partner might have miscarried justice, she’s determined to put the past to rights, even when she becomes a target. It’s former Marine Clay Maynard’s job to see the risk in every situation, but he doesn’t have to look hard to find the danger surrounding Stevie. When Stevie attracts the attention of a vicious psychopath, Clay will do whatever it takes to keep her alive. That is, if he can stay ahead of a killer with everything to lose—and something terrifying to hide…

Existing fans of Karen Rose will know what to expect from her novels – fast-paced action, action-packed days and nights, characters you can empathise with, bullets galore, with a liberal dash of romance.

New fans might be a little confused by the cast of characters who have all appeared in previous Rose novels. My advice, go back to the start and work through them….

Here, Mazzetti and Maynard, who have appeared previously, get their time on stage. She’s still not able to fully let go of the grief surrounding the murders of her husband and son eight years ago. Maynard’s wondering how he can be around her, especially as she rejected him at the end of a previous novel.

Now, Mazzetti is in the eye of the storm with any number of reasons for people to kill her, and all too willing to try, killing innocent people in the process. Todd Robinetti, in particular, has Mazzetti in his crosshairs, not least because she’s the only one who suspects he killed his wife. With a new wife and a possible new career on the way, Robinetti needs to silence Mazzetti so that he can pursue new avenues. On top of that, he has a very lucrative sideline going which is going to make him mega-rich.

And, so the stage is set for a showdown – bullets are flying, Kevlar jackets are being shredded, all the friends from previous novels are helping out, Maynard is ever present, Mazzetti’s daughter is terrified, and Mazzetti is confused.

The novel is a nice take on grief, on the difficulties of moving on, of loving and when and whether to let go, on the blind spots of parenting. Add in murder and mayhem and you’re good to go.

As ever, a great read, fast paced, solid characters, probably a romance too many (Officer Hudson and Ruby), but a good companion over a few winter evenings…!

Review: Niall Williams, As it is in Heaven (1999)

Time has already stopped for Stephen Griffin when he moves into the little house by the sea. Twenty-eight years old and haunted by death, the tall, awkward, shy schoolteacher is content to care for his father in Dublin and let life pass him by. Then a miracle appears: a string ensemble from Venice and, with it, a violinist named Gabriella Castoldi.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I favour crime novels, but I absolutely will make an exception every time for Irish author Niall Williams. If you haven’t come across him and you love language – its lyricism, its poetry, its depth – then, really, his novels are a treat where, oftentimes you’ll read a sentence again and/or aloud just to savour its richness.

In this, Williams’ second novel, love is portrayed with the same lightning bolt qualities as reminiscent in Shakespeare or Brontë. Characters are struck dumb by the immediacy and strength of their feelings, nothing is the same and life assumes a darkness until they can be with their true love. At least that’s how it is for Stephen. Gabriella, sound woman that she is (!), is a little more reticent…

Alongside the story of their fledgling romance is a wonderful father-son narrative. Stephen’s mother and sister were killed in a car crash when he was a young boy and his tailor father, Philip, has chosen never to get over the loss. The loss of mother and daughter is central to both Philip and Stephen’s characters and to the great silence that has developed between them.

Anyone familiar with Irish families or Irish literature (look up playwright Brian Friel’s ‘Philadelphia, Here I Come’) will appreciate the huge role silence plays in our lives. No one does such vocal silences as the Irish – silences packed with meaning, interpretation, assumption, guilt, blame, even love. And so it is that over long silent games of chess that Stephen and Philip communicate. From the recklessness or carelessness of Stephen’s chess moves, Philip divines what is going on in his son’s life. Now that his son is in trouble, Philip has to postpone his death wish – to join wife Anne as soon as possible.

Niall Williams As it is in HeavenThis isn’t Williams’ greatest novel and there were parts I kept reading because I liked the language rather than the characters but, as an author, you simply have to check him out. His writing is very often a love letter to the west of Ireland and, here, you can almost touch the mountains around the Co Kerry town of Kenmare. You can feel the mist, taste Nelly Grant’s medicinal strawberries, and get lost in the night time walks.

Most of all, you will be carried away when Gabriella takes up the violin … as the notes leave her bow, listeners in the book and readers of the book are transported to Venice, to heartache, to the need to touch a loved one.

To conclude, this is no fast-paced read. It’s a slow meander through the life of a guy not made complete until he falls in love. It’s an exploration of what his love means and the most selfless love of all, that of a father for his son.

Read it for the language alone – and then you will read more of Niall Williams.

Interview: Chris Pavone – The Accident

Originally posted on SUSAN CONDON - Writer:


According to Michael Connelly, “Chris Pavone is the new best thing. The Accident proves the promise of The Expats. It is as intelligent and timely as it is relentless and gripping. Pavone is going to be around for a long time and now is the time to jump on the train.”

Moments before I met Chris Pavone, Stephen King had just Tweeted to his 350k+ followers, ‘THE ACCIDENT, by Chris Pavone:if you like real nail-biters, this is the best one so far this year’.

A wonderful writer and an interesting guy, Pavone talks writing, social media and the importance of having a plan. Similar to most avid readers, we have a preference for the physical rather than the virtual book, but his take on eBooks is refreshing – so maybe, after all, there is a place for both to inhabit our world . . .

Whether you’re a…

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Review: Sheila Bugler, The Waiting Game (2014)

Sheila Bugle the waiting gameDI Ellen Kelly’s career seems to be stalling – again. And her feelings for Jim O’Dwyer feel like they’re spiralling out of control. Meanwhile, someone is out there, stalking the weak, bringing misery and fear, and it’s Ellen’s job to stop them. Could it be that this time, for the first time, Ellen is the one trapped in the web?

I was sent this book to review by Brandon/O’Brien Press and was pleasantly surprised to find that, despite the Irish names, the book is set in the UK. Don’t ask me why, but I so much prefer crime novels set abroad, apart from the work of Tana French and Benjamin Black. But, hey, that’s my baggage!

So, this is the second in Irish-born Bugler’s DI Ellen Kelly’s series – I hadn’t come across the first and Bugler is a new author to me. But, to her credit, it’s easy enough to pick up the thread and I didn’t feel that I was at a loss here.

In this novel, a stalker is making Chloe’s life a misery – he’s in her house, leaves mementos, and has her terrified and lashing out at the police, mainly DI Kelly. Add in a reporter keen to snag a headline whatever the cost, two male co-workers, femme fatale Monica who has seduced her young neighbour and is also reporting a stalker, Monica’s mother, Monica’s father, Monica’s father’s girlfriend, plumber Jim O’Dwyer who is Ellen’s boyfriend, Ellen’s children, Ellen’s parents, Ellen’s brother, colleague Raj, Raj’s partner, Ellen’s boss, and another colleague Abby.

The novel is fast-paced with plenty of red herrings, some clever, some obvious. To be honest, I felt there were too many red herrings, and they became a distraction in the same way that the multiple back stories for the multiple characters became a distraction.

I actually liked the character, DI Kelly. She’s a mother of two, a widow of five years, trying and failing (like the rest of us) to juggle work and home life, and finding distraction at the end of the day in a glass of wine and mindless TV or soothing music. More could probably have been made of her psychological battles after the shooting incident obviously covered in the first book and the emotional upheaval of dating – and falling in love – again.

In terms of the plot – stalker, worried woman, heightened danger, family drama –  the best parts are probably Bugler’s accounts of how the anxiety of being stalked turns every shadow into a threat, every creak into a nightmare. And Chloe’s bravery in the face of her stalker – her attempts to regain control of her life – make the outcome quite poignant. On the down side, Chloe’s boss, Nathan, is an annoying character and his back story is slightly overworked for my liking. Less telling and more implied might have worked better here.

Would I recommend the novel? Yeah. Bugler is a new voice with a new type of character and, more importantly, DI Kelly is someone I’d like to see more of. More of Kelly and a smaller cast of characters with a tighter plot, and I’ll be a lifelong fan! I love crime series!

Review: Anita Shreve, Rescue (2010)

anita shreve rescueA rookie paramedic pulls a young woman alive from her totalled car, a first rescue that begins a lifelong tangle of love and wreckage. Sheila Arsenault is a gorgeous enigma–streetwise and tough-talking, with haunted eyes, fierce desires, and a never-look-back determination. Peter Webster, as straight an arrow as they come, falls for her instantly and entirely. Soon Sheila and Peter are embroiled in an intense love affair, married, and parents to a baby daughter. Like the crash that brought them together, it all happened so fast.

Shreve fans seem to be divided on this book. I guess I am too. The book lacks the depth of previous Shreve books and yet, as simple entertainment, it’s a nice easy read.

At the heart of the novel is whether it’s possible to rescue others – Webster’s occupation has him saving the lives of strangers and, yet, he’s finding it difficult to save the woman he loves from her demons. Should he try harder? Less? At all? And, ultimately, whose responsibility are her demons?

And, just as every action has a consequence, this book is full of consequences. When Peter crosses the line and dates someone he has ‘worked on’, there are consequences. When Sheila drinks, there are consequences. Consequences for Peter, for Sheila, and for Rowan, the baby daughter conceived on a night that, in retrospect, neither is sure they fully appreciated what was going on.

Shreve, as ever, draws her characters well, though there’s probably a little too much detail about Peter’s work – stories of rescues that don’t overly contribute to our understanding of him or the plot. And ex-wife Sheila’s subsequent life is wrapped up a little neatly for me …

Overall, a pleasant read; not up to Shreve’s usual standards, but a harmless diversion in itself. And, sometimes, that’s just what the doctor ordered.

Review: Åsa Larsson, The Black Path (2006)

Asa Larsson The Black PathIn The Black Path, The frozen body of a woman is found in a fishing ark on the ice near Torneträsk in northern Sweden. She has been brutally tortured, but the killing blow was clumsy, almost amateur.

The body is quickly identified, raising hopes of an open-and-shut solution. But when a six-month-old suicide is disinterred, Rebecka Martinsson and Anna-Maria Mella find themselves investigating shocking corruption at the heart of one of Sweden’s most successful mining companies. One that has powerful enemies of its own.

if you’re a fan of Scandinavian crime novels and, let’s face it, who isn’t, you’ll enjoy the stark characters and landscapes in this novel. One of a series featuring Martinsson and Mella, this was my first Larsson but won’t be my last.

Martinsson and Mella are welcome additions to a genre crowded with female protagonists – and damaged female protagonists. I liked Mella whose nights’ sleep are disturbed by the twists and turns of her three-year-old son – ‘Your face is cracked!’ he tells her one bleary eyed morning. Her husband is supportive but a disaster at home – and yet she would rather all of that, plus her three other kids, to the lonely life Martinsson is trying to recreate in her childhood home after a searing breakdown the previous year.

Martinsson is new to the Special Prosecutor role, a whizz at financials, and battling demons from her near and distant past, not to mention, lingering feelings for her old law firm boss. She, Mella and Mella’s sidekick, Sven-Erik, are thrown together to unravel the mystery surrounding the death of a mining executive.

As is apparent from the two main characters, nothing is what it seems – not with the mining executive, her brother, or her boss, Mauri Kallis. Larsson’s novel is character-rich, with the back story from each painted in, so that we become invested in each character. Whether it’s Sven-Erik grieving his lost cat, or Martinsson’s lonely neighbour, or Mauri Kallis’ younger sister, there are details aplenty to savour. Those details can threaten to swamp you but they also add to the richness of the narrative and the motivations of each character.

And, as ever, in Scandinavian novels, the landscape plays its own role – from the numbing cold of the frozen lake where the body is found to the compound that Kallis and his acolytes live in, to Africa where the company’s mining venture is mired in all sorts of trouble.

This is a read you won’t regret, with the main characters making baby steps towards redemption and a tolerable future. Which is a triumph in itself.

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