Gillian Flynn: Sharp Objects (2006)

Sharp Objects

When two girls are abducted and killed in Missouri, journalist Camille Preaker is sent back to her home town to report on the crimes. Long-haunted by a childhood tragedy and estranged from her mother for years, Camille suddenly finds herself installed once again in her family’s mansion, reacquainting herself with her distant mother and the half-sister she barely knows – a precocious 13-year-old who holds a disquieting grip on the town. As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims – a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.

I had a feeling I might like Gillian Flynn very much that’s why I decided not to start with her latest novel, Gone Girl, but with her first,Sharp Objects That I went out to get the second, Dark Places, right after finishing this might tell you how much I liked it. She’s an author to my taste, but I have to admit I had a few “Ew!” moments while reading it. She’s not one to shy away from describing very sick things. What I liked was the voice, the taut writing and the story as such. While I had a feeling where this was going, I was still captivated.

Two girls are abducted in Camille’s hometown. One was found dead, her teeth missing, the other is still being searched for. Camille is a journalist for a very unglamorous newspaper in Chicago and her boss thinks it might be a good idea to send her home to investigate and write a few articles that might help the paper get out of its slump and Camille to improve her career. Knowing Camille her boss may have thought that going back to the place that hurt her and face her demons might be a healing experience. It isn’t. Camille is badly equipped to deal with her past and exposing herself to her toxic family and diving deep into the shadow aspects of her hometown take their toll. The sharp objects of the title refer to many different things and one is tied to Camille’s illness. If you have seen the US cover, you know already what I’m talking about. Camille is a cutter, only she’s not happy with slicing her body, she carves words into it. Meaningful words.

Right after Camille’s arrival, the second girl is found. Her teeth are missing too. What a bizarre, yet gruesome crime. Slowly the book reveals the truth behind the crimes and the hidden secrets of Camille’s family.

I don’t read in order to find “likable characters”. Or to say it in other words – I don’t need to bond with characters at all, but I think, I liked Camille, and was, once more, surprised how many people who reviewed this mentioned how much they hated her. Why? I don’t get it. Or maybe I do. It is as if there were some mental afflictions people are more hostile towards. If you’d like to label Camille, I’d say she’s suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder, one of a few afflictions, which get a lot of negative reactions. I thought Flynn drew a very believable character and I was rooting for her. I was hoping she might be able to come out of all of this healthier and stronger.

Sharp Objects is gripping and compelling and does a few daring things, one of which is showing that perpetrators come in many different forms.

This is my fourth contribution to Carl’s RIP challenge. Don’t miss visiting the RIP review site for other Mystery/Crime/Thriller/Ghost/Dark Fantasy related reviews.

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.

Anne Rivers Siddons: The House Next Door (1978)

The House Next Door

This summer I was suddenly in the mood to read ghost stories and haunted house stories. Looking for books to read I came across Anne Rivers Siddons The House Next Door, which is mentioned in Stephen King’s Danse Macabre as one of the best of its kind. I saw it mentioned again, some time later, in American Nightmares: The Haunted House Formula in American Popular Fiction by Dale Bailey. I’m a huge fan of the so-called Southern Gothic, which was another reason why I wanted to read The House Next Door as it clearly falls under that sub genre.

I had some preconceived ideas of what a haunted house story had to look like and I must say none of those match The House Next Door. It’s a really unusual take on the theme and maybe because of that particularly successful.

Nobody would suspect horrific events in suburban Atlanta, in a world of affluence, in which people lazily discuss their equally rich neighbours over a cocktail, but, if we believe Colquitt, the narrator of The House Next Door, horror has come to haunt the quiet, elegant neighbourhood, in which she and her husband live. Right at the beginning she tells us that the house next door is haunted and then describes why she thinks so in eloquent and elaborate details.

Colquitt and her husband are not the richest in this leafy suburban neighbourhood but they own a house next to a big piece of land, which has proven to be too difficult to build on as a small stream runs right through it. Colquitt cherishes this woodsy piece of land and spends a lot of time looking out of the window into the trees. One day, to her utter shock, her friend and neighbour announces that the land has been bought by a very young couple and that soon the beautiful land will turn into a construction site.

Colquitt dreads the destruction, the noise and dirt, and she also dreads the loss of privacy. While she isn’t a big fan of the young couple, she becomes friends with the young architect and falls in love with the plans of the house, and eagerly watches how it takes form and rises out of the ground. The house is spectacular. It looks as if it was growing out of the earth; it’s a dream made of glass and walls and strikingly beautiful.

While the construction progresses, strange things start to happen. Dead animals are found, people have accidents. I can’t say more or the book will be spoilt.

The Haunted House is unique because it really captures what domestic horror is all about: the place where we feel safest, our home, can turn into the unsafest place imaginable. The book is also unique because it’s not set in a remote wild landscape but in an elegant Southern suburb. The evil breaks into the lives of affluent, sheltered people, and turns their world upside down.

I have never read anything by Anne River Siddons before and while I had some problems with the characters, I really admire her descriptive skills. She elaborates the scenes so well, you think you’re watching a movie. I loved the descriptions of the house and how evil started to spread slowly. I didn’t like the characters, I found them annoying. I’m not the type who wants to gossip over a cocktail every evening, which they happily did. There’s a lot of drinking going on between these pages; not one social encounter takes place without abundant intake of alcohol. Still, I could feel with Colquitt. The shock over the loss of that beautiful untouched piece of land was something I could relate to. I also identified with her enthusiasm once she knew the project for the house. I love all sorts of houses and while this would be a bit too modern for me (I’m not so keen on too much glass), I can see how a house like this would work surrounded by so many trees. I would be like a big tree house.

The House Next Door is a unusual, atmospherical and well written example of a haunted house story with strong images that will stay with you long after you’ve finished the book. I liked that for once the house in question was not an old decrepit mansion, but a brand new stylish house designed by an artistic architect.

This is my first contribution to Carl’s RIP VIII Challenge. Don’t miss visiting the review site.