Kelley Armstrong: Omens (2013) The Cainsville Trilogy I

Omens

I always meant to return to Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series, but when I saw she has a new series out, which is a real departure from her dark fantasy series and much more of a thriller/crime series, I was very interested.

Omens is a terrific read and an unusual genre, one could call it a thriller with elements of magical realism. The only bad thing I can say about this book is that it’s not a standalone and that part II will only be out in 2014.

Olivia Talyor-Jones is a 24-year-old, rich society girl, just about to get married to her fiancé James when her world is turned upside down. Not only does she find out that she has been adopted, but her birth parents are serving a life sentence. They are serial killers who have committed four ritualistic murders.

Shocked by the discovery, haunted by the press and pushed away by her adoptive mother and her fiancé, she follows some signs and ends up in the small-town Cainsville, located not too far away from her hometown Chicago. Olivia decides to cut herself off from her former life for the time being, to look for an apartment and get a job.

Cainsville is a small town that seems to be stuck in another time and as soon as Olivia arrives, she encounters signs and omens which lead her to different interesting discoveries about the town and its people and her parents. Her birth parents hear that she has been found and want to get in contact with her. When Olivia meets dubious lawyer Gabriel Walsh, who was her birth mother’s lawyer during one of her appeals, she decides to visit Pamela, her mothe, and hire Walsh.

There were always doubts about her parents really being serial killers and after Olivia has met her mother and memories of her early childhood resurface, she starts to hope that they are innocent and, together with Gabriel, she wants to prove it. Their research puts them in great danger and the story we get to read is suspenseful and fast-paced.

The end of this book tells me that the supernatural elements which are toned down in this book, will become more important in the future. It seems that Olivia has been brought to Cainsville for a reason.

I enjoyed Omens a great deal and can hardly wait for the next book. This absorbing novel would appeal to people who do not like to read fantasy but enjoy a good thriller with a strong and likable heroine. There is potential for a love story here as well. I liked the description of the small town Cainsville a lot. It reminded me a bit of  Louise Penny’s Three Pines, just with some magical realism thrown in.

This is my third contribution to Carl’s RIP VIII. At this pace I will have read four books before the second month starts. So far I have covered these genres”Haunted House”, “Urban Fantasy” and “Thriller”. Next up is, hopefully, – “Gaslamp Fantasy” (don’t tell me you are not intrigued).

If you’d like to see what others have reviewed so far, here’s the link to the  RIP review site.

Louise Penny: Still Life (2005)

The discovery of a dead body in the woods on Thanksgiving Weekend brings Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his colleagues from the Surete du Quebec to a small village in the Eastern Townships. Gamache cannot understand why anyone would want to deliberately kill well-loved artist Jane Neal, especially any of the residents of Three Pines – a place so free from crime it doesn’t even have its own police force. But Gamache knows that evil is lurking somewhere behind the white picket fences and that, if he watches closely enough, Three Pines will start to give up its dark secrets…

Still Life by Canadian writer Louise Penny was a real discovery. There hasn’t been a start to a crime series since I’ve read the first of Peter Robinson’s Chief Inspector Ranks series that I enjoyed this much.

If I could I would move to Three Pines, the small fictional village, located a few hours from Montreal, in rural Québec. It’s a small village that sounds as if it was a place where time stands still and reminded me a lot of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford. Old cottages face a small village center and are surrounded by old trees and lush gardens. The place is very green and picturesque, the descriptions of it atmospheric and full of tiny details of the season. It’s the end of autumn, dead leaves are falling, it rains and the temperature is slowly dropping. A storm will come and soon it will be winter. Before the crime is solved, snow will begin to fall and a lot of the investigation will have taken place in front of a cozy fire.

It’s hard to believe a crime could happen is such an idyllic setting but it does and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache from the Sureté du Québec and his team have to leave Montreal and try to find out what happened to Jane Neal. The old woman was found dead in the forest on the morning of Thanksgiving. It is the hunting season and Jane has been shot dead by an arrow. However bow, arrow and shooter are missing. Was it maybe no hunting accident?

Gamache and his team will have to stay in Three Pines for the duration of the investigation. They move into Olivier’s and Gabri’s B&B. The two men also own the local bistro which is known for its excellent food. The investigation introduces us to Jane Neal’s friends, a small but interesting community. The painters Clara and Peter, Myrna, a former psychologist who opened a book shop in Three Pines, Ben, the son of Timmer, one of Jane’s best friends, Ruth, a poet and many more.

While Still Life has at times the feel of a cozy, it’s more complex than the average novel of that genre. Chief Inspector Gamache is a kind, intelligent but strict and far from flawless man. It will be interesting to see how he will be portayed in the following books. His team is promising as well, his subordinate is a sort of son figure for him while there is a rookie character with whom he gets into one conflict after another. The novel is well constructed, moving on a steady pace and the crime isn’t solved too easily and very plausible.

I have never read a Canadian crime novel before and I was glad Louise Penny provided a lot of interesting information about Québec, the way the French and the English live together, the peculiarities of the region.

What I liked best apart from a wide range of  psychological insights are the well-drawn characters and the wonderfully atmospheric descriptions of the place. That makes me wonder how the series will go on. It seems part two is set in Three Pines as well but the following parts are not.

If you like to immerse yourself in your crime novels and want them well constructed with detailed descriptions and some very appealing characters, you shouldn’t miss the start to this series. It’s great. And I love the cover.

Maggi Andersen: Murder in Devon (2009)

I have never participated in a book tour before and thought it would be something new to try. When I was asked if I would like to read Australian writer Maggi Andersen’s Murder in Devon I accepted gladly. I like mysteries. I was aware that she is rather known for her Romance novels and that this crime novel belongs to the sub-category of Romantic Suspense. Although I’m really not a Romance reader, I have read Romantic Suspense in the past and liked it.

Casey wakes up, one morning in the cottage of her friends, in Devon. To her horror, someone has broken into the house, killed Don, her friend, and badly wounded his wife Tessa who is lying on the floor unconscious. Maybe due to a few glasses too many or exhaustion, Casey didn’t hear a thing. Don and Tessa are her oldest and closest friends. There are not many other people in her life as she isn’t good at relationships and has no family left. All this together makes the murder all the more painful.

Casey is the deputy editor of a woman’s magazine, while Don was a famous investigative reporter. Her friend Tessa is a psychologist working with abuse victims. Both Tessa and Don have had intense conflicts with people related to their work. Needless to say that there are many suspects.

While Chief Inspector Carlisle, who is responsible for the case  seems capable, Casey cannot let it be and has to actively investigate on her own. She isn’t even aware at first that she is a suspect. Carlisle isn’t amused that she is interfering with his investigation and when the two realize that they are drawn to each other and begin an affair, even less. Not only does he not want her to interfere but he knows she puts herself in great danger.

When Casey searches Don’s things and finds a list of paintings that are known to have been stolen by the Nazis – most of them are still missing – the discovery triggers a hunt that leads her from London to Germany and back.

I’m not an expert when it comes to romance novels but I can easily see that this part of the book did not work. The attraction came out of the blue and didn’t feel realistic. It somehow even felt like it was glued on the rest of the story which could have done very well without it. Despite the fact that the book is in serious need of editing (sentences were missing, many typos…) the crime part was gripping and I really wanted to finish and know who did it. I didn’t think it was too predictable at all.

If you like an entertaining crime novel which isn’t too gruesome but not exactly cozy crime with some history thrown in and if you prefer your crime to be action-driven and not psychological, then you’re in good hands here. It wasn’t really my thing but at least I was not bored.

One tiny thing I’d like to add is that Maggi Andersen supports the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals). There are always animals featuring in her books. In this one it’s a cat called Socrates. Here is her website.

I received a copy from the author and reviewed it as part of a Virtual Author Book Tour If you’d like to read the impressions of other participants, click on the link.

Georges Simenon: Maigret’s Christmas or The Girl who believed in Santa Claus aka Un Noël de Maigret (1951)

Nine stories present Simenon’s dauntless detective in a series of cases in which Maigret’s paternal side is activated and his detection efforts considerably aided by some observant and resourceful children.

I haven’t read any Simenon for a long time and when I was browsing amazon. fr. and discovered Un Noël de Maigret I thought it might be fun to read it at this time of the year. I thought it would be a longer book or a collection of short stories but the book contained only a 100 page long novella. It has been taken out of a collection with the same title and reissued on its own. Maybe it was the best and longest story in the original book. The English version Maigret’s Christmas contains still all nine stories, one of which is The Girl who believed in Santa Claus, the story that I have read. So, if you are in the mood for a lot of Christmas themed Maigret, you will have to get the English version.

The story has very melancholic undertones. It is easily summarized in a few sentences. On Christmas day two neighbours of Maigret come to visit to tell him that the little step-daughter of one of the two women pretends that Santa Claus has visited her in her bedroom at night. He offered her a big doll and tried to remove some floorboards in order to access the apartment below. The step-mother, a cold and distant woman, says she doesn’t believe the little girl, she says, she thinks she made everything up. The second woman, a spinster with a crush on Maigret, has a keen interest in the little girl and forced the step-mother to come along and tell Maigret all about the odd story the child is telling.

The story behind the Santa Claus and the solving of the mystery is not that gripping. The charm of this book lies in the person of Maigret and his psychological analysis. Maigret treats people with amazing respect, he is truly non-judgemental. The book is also infused with his and his wifes sadness about their childlessness. Christmas, being the family holiday it is, reminds them of their fate in a painful way.

Simenon excels in descriptions and psychological analysis. I could compare him to some other crime authors but that wouldn’t do him any justice. He wrote before Rendell, Mankell and all the others. He is very subtle, very poignant. This is not one of his great works but it is well done and his craftmanship can be perceived in every sentence. There is no superfluous word in this book, it’s soothingly unadorned.

I have read a few non Maigret books that I enjoyed a lot (Three Bedrooms in Manhattan aka Trois chambres à Manhattan is wonderful)  but I am not too familiar with his Maigret books.

Who has read any? Which did you like? Or do you prefer those without the inspector?

Das weisse Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte aka The White Ribbon (2009) A German Mystery

From July, 1913 to the outbreak of World War I, a series of incidents take place in a German village. A horse trips on a wire and throws the rider; a woman falls to her death through rotted planks; the local baron’s son is hung upside down in a mill; parents slap and bully their children; a man is cruel to his long-suffering lover; another sexually abuses his daughter. People disappear. A callow teacher, who courts a nanny in the baron’s household, narrates the story and tries to investigate the connections among these accidents and crimes. What is foreshadowed? Are the children holy innocents? God may be in His heaven, but all is not right with the world; the center cannot hold.

The German movie The White Ribbon has won many prizes. It is labelled “mystery” and “drama”. For me this was a mystery with a very ghostly feel. Perfect for the R.I.P Challenge.

I was curious. I did not know much, just that the movie takes place in a German village, from July 1913 until the beginning of the first world war. Strange things happen in this village. The doctor has an accident because someone has set a trap for him. A woman dies. Children disappear and are found again injured, showing signs of torture. A bird gets savagely mutilated. The mother of a boy with down syndrome leaves without telling anyone. To say the least, this is a dark, gloomy and disturbing movie. An illustration of the so-called Poisonous or Black Pedagogy that was applied in Germany for a very long time. Most people in this movie are mean and cruel. If they don’t hurt each other with actions they do it with words. Things are not outspoken, everything happens behind closed doors. This is a society that is afraid of eternal sin but still commits so many daily crimes. In one of the last sequences people hear at church that war broke out. They cheer.

I did not enjoy this movie but must admit that it is very good. I have read a lot about this time and it is very accurate. The actors are outstanding and the black and white cinematography is atmospheric. It is also a very literary movie as the teacher who looks back on these events narrates many parts as if reading his memoirs.

I think The White Ribbon is a fascinating but very depressing movie. Don’t watch it if you need cheering up. As for the mystery part… Nothing is really resolved. I have my theories and would be glad to share them with someone who has seen it too. But to avoid spoilers I will keep quiet about it for now.