Review: Sophie Hannah, The Telling Error (2014)

Sophie Hannah the telling errorControversial newspaper columnist Damon Blundy has been murdered, and a woman who has never met him – housewife and mother Nicki Clements – is brought in for questioning.

Nicki can’t answer any of the baffling questions detectives fire at her. And she can’t explain why she was so close to the crime scene – not without revealing the secret that could ruin her life. Because, although Nicki is not guilty of murder, she is far from innocent…

This is Sophie Hannah’s ninth novel featuring Culver Valley and chief protagonists Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer. It doesn’t feature them enough, IMHO, and instead features a dizzying array of characters and voices.

There’s Nicki, her husband and children, her friend who’s married to her brother, murdered Damon Blundy’s newspaper columns, Blundy’s wife, a politician and her husband, a novelist and his wife, a disgraced athlete and his mother, Simon Waterhouse, wife Charlie, Charlie’s sister Liv and cop Gibbs, plus the usual Culver Valley cops.

So, Blundy is murdered in an odd fashion. His wife reckons he never loved her and wants to know why, as well as who murdered him. Nicki has a secret that could ruin her life and gets herself inserted into the centre of the murder investigation. Her secret takes us off on a whole other trajectory, as does Blundy’s shoot-from-the-lip newspaper columns which target and fillet the characters of people who annoy him for some and no reason.

Waterhouse is tasked with finding the killer and Charlie is only involved on the periphery of the investigation, so there’s not a whole pile of interplay between them in terms of their odd relationship.

Overall, this is one I read through because I was so delighted with Sophie Hannah when I discovered her a few years ago. Previous novels have had more richness in their characters than this one, so don’t judge the author on this book alone.

Review: Dwayne Alexander Smith, Forty Acres

Dwayne A Smith Forty AcresWhat if overcoming the legacy of American slavery meant bringing back that very institution? 

Martin Grey, a smart, talented black lawyer working out of a storefront in Queens, becomes friendly with a group of some of the most powerful, wealthy, and esteemed black men in America. He’s dazzled by what they’ve accomplished, and they seem to think he has the potential to be as successful as they are. They invite him for a weekend away from it all—no wives, no cell phones, no talk of business. But far from home and cut off from everyone he loves, he discovers a disturbing secret that challenges some of his deepest convictions…

I always judge a book by whether I’m still thinking about it and its characters a few days later. This is such an amazing premise for a book – black slavery avenged by black men who now enslave white people in a plantation-type setting. And, yet, it didn’t linger.

In the novel, black men at the top of their careers follow the philosophy of a Dr Kasim, who believes that only by enslaving, beating, raping, and killing white people can the screams of their enslaved black ancestors be silenced.

Kasim believes that it is ‘black noise’ that keeps black men (black women must stay at home and bear children, boys preferably) ‘tipping the forelock’ (as we say in Ireland) to white people. This often-unconscious subservience is as effective as shackles in keeping the black man ‘in his place’, according to Kasim.

Given that Martin, an up-and-coming black lawyer, was to be the vehicle for our misgivings and doubts, his character lacked sufficient depth. This premise – that white people’s enslavement could ‘free’ black people – is open for rich debate at all sorts of philosophical levels and yet, as readers, we’re never pushed or challenged to go there.

Martin’s Jewish friend and law firm partner momentarily shines a light on how being excluded from the weekend gathering because he’s white (not because of his religion, a whole other debate no doubt) is ironic given the struggle by the black community to, rightly, have colour ignored when it comes to human rights for all.

Overall, a pacy read, a definite first novel, a great concept, loads of room for deeper analysis (though a thriller is hardly the ideal vehicle for this), and potentially thought-provoking …

Review: Stacy Green, All Good Deeds (2014)

stacy green all good deedsLucy Kendall isn’t a serial killer. The decade spent working in Child Protective Services before becoming a private investigator taught her two truths. One, CPS failed miserably in protecting children. Two, Lucy was more than willing to do it for them, meting out her brand of dark justice in spite of her own fear of death. But Lucy’s crusade is compromised when a self-proclaimed sociopath offers to help—and leaves her no choice but to accept it. 

When eight-year old Kailey Richardson is abducted, it sets off a chain of events linked to Justin Beckett, a suspect in a life-changing case in Lucy’s past. The path she’s chosen since dealing with Beckett has been dark and terrifying—but she has no idea just how deep she will go or where the twisted road will take her. 

This is my first Stacy Green novel and I’d certainly be interested in crossing paths with Lucy Kendall again. In this, the first of a proposed series, Kendall has her own code of honour – she only ‘murders’ active paedophiles. This is tied in to the finality of a death in her childhood and her certainty that paedophiles do not change their colours.

The release of Justin Beckett, convicted as a child himself, sets Lucy on a path to ‘clear out the garbage’, as one character describes. It’s high risk, she fully expects to get caught and, yet, she cannot stop. However, when she meets up with Chris, a self-described sociopath, she’s forced to think about her choices in more stark terms: is she a justified vigilante or a serial killer?

In much the same way as we have a good and not-so-good side to our own personalities, here Chris seems to represent Lucy’s darker side. He understands her as few others (apart from her computer hacker) do and agrees with her desire to clear the world of those the justice system spits out. Justin Beckett’s brother, Todd, now a detective, represents the goodness of the system when it works – he’s well-intentioned but tied by bureaucracy. And getting suspicious of Lucy …

Green handles the issue of paedophilia well – the horror is implied rather than overly spelled out, but you’re not left guessing either.

I took a while to warm to Lucy – she has an interesting back story but I just couldn’t empathise with her for a long time. However, I’d be curious to see how the story develops with her, how Lucy rationalises her reaction to the next dilemma, and how the Chris-Todd dynamic works out.

From a writing perspective, Green writes with confidence. She layers on the detail and narrative in just the right measure with short, sharp, suspenseful chapters designed to keep the action moving at pace. With enough twists and turns to have you saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t see that coming’, there’s enough here to keep any seasoned reader turning the pages.

*Novel received from author for review

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:

The-Accident-by-Chris-Pavone

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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