Nicci French: Friday On My Mind (2015) Frieda Klein 5

Friday On My Mind

I just finished the fifth novel in Nicci French’s Frieda Klein series, Friday On My Mind. I really like this series although not all the books are equally good. Part of the appeal is that they are set in London, so, understandably I wasn’t too keen on book four, in which Frieda is returning to her childhood home and which therefore takes place mostly outside of London.

In this novel, we are back in London. It’s quite different from the other books, but I’m happy to say it’s one of the best of the series. Frieda isn’t only  looking for a perpetrator, no, she’s on the run and desperately trying to clear her name. A body has been found in the Thames. The dead man has a hospital tag with Frieda’s name around his wrist. His throat has been cut, so he’s clearly a murder victim. For various reasons, the police suspect Frieda.

Hiding in London proves to be very difficult. And dangerous. The police are hunting her and with CCTV everywhere, she might be discovered all too soon. But the danger doesn’t come from the police, it comes from the murderer who chases her as well.

As usual, Frieda does a lot of foolish things and puts herself and her friends in danger.

I really enjoyed this fifth installment. I liked the story and I like Frieda and her circle of friends who play an important role in this book.

Another aspect I enjoyed was that because Frieda was on the run, she came into contact with people who live on the margins of society and under precarious circumstances. This gave the book depth. On a side note—This is  the second UK novel I’ve read recently, in which the killing and/or abuse of homeless people plays a role. I felt tempted to google this and was shocked to find out how often this really happens. It’s appalling.

The sixth book is due in June (Saturday Requiem) but I will probably wait until it’s available in paperback.

Here are the links to the reviews of the other books in the series:

Blue Monday

Tuesday’s Gone

Waiting for Wednesday

Thursday’s Child

A Bunch of Mini Crime and Thriller Reviews

The Ice TwinsCop TownChemistry of DeathUntil It's OverDisclaimerMurder on the Orient EXpress

I went over my stacks of read books during German Literature Month and was startled when I noticed how many books, especially thriller and crime novels, I had read but not reviewed. I could probably write longer posts but decided to write a few very short reviews instead. That way, you might still hear about a book worth reading or one you should avoid and I don’t have to post every single day until the end of the year.

Disclaimer

Renée Knight’s Disclaimer is possibly the thriller disappointment of the year. The premise was interesting – a woman receives a novel in which the authors describe something that happened a long time ago and that she never told anyone. I think the book has two major flaws. One is that it’s not believable. I hate it when plot relies on one character suspecting another without questioning things. That alone would have annoyed me but I also thought the story was highly unbelievable. Sometimes a book can be salvaged through great atmosphere and description. Not so this novel. In my opinion that’s the second flaw of Disclaimer. While it’s said to be set in London, it might as well have been set on the moon. Not once did I see the city. Unbelievable story, wonky psychology, and zero atmosphere.

Murder on the Orient EXpress

Murder on the Orient Express was another disappointment. I picked it because I was in the mood to read a locked-room mystery and because I haven’t read any Agatha Christie in a long time. So far I’ve only ever read her standalone novels and one or two Miss Marple novels. While they might be formulaic, I still really enjoyed them. This was my first Hercule Poirot. I never picked them up because for me, as a native French speaker, the name is so silly. It sounds like poireau – leek – or poivrot – drunkard – . Plus Hercule? Really? I expected him to be on the boring side and that’s what he is. I wasn’t fascinated by his deductive skills. Still, it was a quick read and I loved the setting. I only found the murder and the way it was solved a bit lame. Still, if you like a great setting – a train in winter – and are in favour of cozy crime and whodunnits – especially locked-room mysteries – this might be for you.

The Ice Twins

The Ice Twins had a lot to offer. Stunning descriptions and atmosphere. After the death of one of their twin daughters, Angus and Sara Moorcroft move to a remote Scottish island. Such eerie, creepy descriptions and certainly not a place I would have chosen to live in, after the awful loss of a child. It gets creepier when the surviving twin begins to claim that she’s the other one. The part that affected me the most and which is the creepiest is the favouritism. While the father openly preferred one kid, the mother preferred the other. What does it mean, when you suddenly think that it’s not your favourite who has survived?  The Ice Twins was psychologically compelling. The descriptions are great. Unfortunately the end was a bit of a disaster. Not only was it disappointing and far-fetched, I also found it misogynistic. When I bought the book, I thought S.K.Tremayne was a woman but after finishing, I started to doubt that. And indeed, S.K. Tremayne is a man. I’m not surprised. The ending leaves no doubt.

Cop Town

With Karin Slaughter’s standalone novel Cop Town I finally enter the territory of the books I loved without reservations. Like Nicci French or Sarah Bolton, she is one of my favourite mainstream crime writers.  I’ve been reading her series for years, but when I heard she’d written a standalone novel, set in the 70s in Atlanta, I was interested immediately. What sounded particularly great was the research she’d done for this book. The period details are amazing. Her choices of two female protagonists make this a very feminist novel, as it’s in part a murder mystery – there’s a shooter killing cops – and a book about women on the police force, a workplace that’s dominated by white males who are sexist, racists, anti-Semites, homophobic . . . you name it. Into this explosive environment comes Kate, a rookie cop. She’s recently widowed, her husband died in Vietnam. Kate comes from an upper-class, Jewish family. The Vietnam angle, is another well-done angle.  Her first day is a shocker, but to the surprise of everyone, even her partner Maggie, she doesn’t give up. Maggie comes from a cop family. Her uncle and her brother have joined the force. They both didn’t want her to follow them in their footsteps and the aggression and violence she has to endure, are appalling. Notably her uncle Terry is the prototypical male white homophobic sexist racist. The shooter’s been active for a while, which infuriates the cops and even leads them to plant false evidence.  Maggie and Kate decide to take matters into their own hands. A dangerous idea. Slaughter’s writing is tight, as usual, the period details so well captured, the story is gripping. A remarkable achievement. It works as a crime novel and as a novel on the 70s, Atlanta, gender issues . . .  It’s shocking to think what women had to put up with to fulfill the dream of working in a male dominated  job. A word of warning—I’m not the most squeamish but there’s some violence in this book that was very hard to read and get out of my mind again.

Until It's Over

Everyone reading this blog knows how much I love the author duo Nicci French. I’m slowly reading my way through their novels. Surprisingly I wouldn’t have heard of Until It’s Over, if it hadn’t been mentioned by one of my readers a year ago (I’m really sorry I can’t remember who it was). I got it back then and kept it for later. A while ago, I read a review of it and that’s how I remembered I had it on my piles. I’m glad I read that review before reading the book because, with the wrong expectation, I might have been disappointed. They did something very unusual here. They wrote two distinct parts. Part one is told from the point of view of London Cycling Courier Astrid, part two from the point of view of the perpetrator. It wasn’t easy to adapt to part two because I loved part one so much. Astrid lives together with a group of friends in an old house, in an area of London that hasn’t bee gentrified yet. Suddenly people around her are murdered. What has it got to do with her? While the story is suspenseful, it’s not what I liked best. I liked to read about this group of friends who share a house. Loved the setting, which Nicci French captures so well- the bars, the parks, the houses. London is as much a character as the people. Part two is very good too, but I would have loved to go on reading from Astrid’s point of view. Once I had gotten used to the new narrator, I liked part two almost as much. I’ve read a lot of Nicci French’s novels. Some I loved, some I found OK; this was one of the best.

Chemistry of Death

The Chemistry of Death is another book that has been lying on my piles almost since it came out. For some reasons, I didn’t think I would like it because I got a bit tired of serial killer novels. In theory I would like them, because, for me, a great serial killer novel is like a realistic ghost or horror story. That’s why setting, atmosphere and mood are so important in this subgenre. Sadly, many authors just use the trope to avoid to have to dig for good reasons for murder and many of those “products” are as far from psychologically compelling as can be. However, there’s one thing I don’t like even in the best serial killer books —the showdown ending. All these books get frantic towards the end and there are recurring elements that are frankly annoying – e.g. hero/heroine tries to avoid killer and runs right into his arms. While The Chemistry of Death does have a formulaic ending, the rest of the book is so astonishingly well done, that it hasn’t only become one of the favourites of this year but I think it’s possibly one of the best crime novels I’ve ever read. I loved the mourning, depressed narrator, loved, the almost gothic descriptions of murder scenes and locations. The atmosphere is brooding, haunting. Don’t be put of by the serial killer thing— this is so well written and atmospheric, it would be sad to miss it.

Have you read any of these? Does anyone know a good locked-room mystery?

Ursula Poznanski: Erebos (2011)

Erebos Poznanski

Are you playing the game – or is the game playing you? A highly addictive thriller about power, manipulation and revenge.

‘Enter. Or turn back. This is Erebos.’

Nick is given a sinister but brilliant computer game called Erebos. The game is highly addictive but asks its players to carry out actions in the real world in order to keep playing online, actions which become more and more terrifyingly manipulative. As Nick loses friends and all sense of right and wrong in the real world, he gains power and advances further towards his online goal – to become one of the Inner Circle of Erebos. But what is virtual and what is reality? How far will Nick go to achieve his goal? And what does Erebos really want?

Enter Erebos at your own risk. Exciting, suspenseful and totally unputdownable.

I must honestly say, when Lizzy suggested Erebos as her readalong title, I wasn’t thrilled. I couldn’t tell you why. Certainly not because it’s a YA novel. Maybe because I wasn’t sure whether it was some sort of fantasy or a realistic thriller? And because I was worried about the writing. Some recent German thrillers that have made it into translation were anything but well written. Imagine my surprise when I detected that Erebos wasn’t only well-written but so gripping and believable, I couldn’t put it down. It might be the thriller of the year for me. Unfortunately for this review, part of the appeal is that we don’t really know what’s going on. Is it realistic? Is it fantasy? Science-fiction? I don’t want to say too much. Only that I think it would appeal to anyone, whether you like more fantastic stories, or only read realistic novels.

So what’s it about? At a school in London, students exchange a computer game. Those who play it are not allowed to talk about it. Those who don’t, either want to be part of what feels almost like a secret society, or they openly hate the game.

Nick is at first one of those who don’t play the game. He watches his friends and is worried. What happens to them? Why are they sucked into this game like this? Finally someone passes the game on to him and he tries it out. Initially, he’s skeptical but that passes quickly and he, like all the others, is sucked into the world of Erebos.

Being addicted to a game might be bad enough, but this one seems to have an agenda of its own. It seems to know the players and their secrets and uses this against them. Part of the game are assignments in real life, and soon the virtual danger become very real.

I deliberately kept this summary very short because, as I wrote earlier, part of the appeal is discovering what’s going on.

Nick is a great protagonist and we root for him. He’s likable but flawed and undergoes important changes.

I really loved how Ursula Poznanski described the world of the game and the addictive part was shown in a very believable way. Once the assignments in the real word start, an entertaining read turns into an eerie thriller. I couldn’t stop reading, wanted to find out what was behind it all. So often thrillers have disappointing endings. Here again, Erebos is an exception. It’s pitch perfect from beginning to end. A must read for those who love YA novels and for fans of original, futuristic thrillers. I’m not surprised that Erebos has won the Deutscher Jugendbuchpreis, the German prize for Children’s Literature. It’s captivating and topical.

I finished this book before the attacks in Paris but meanwhile, I’ve heard that the terrorists also communicate via computer online games. A communication that’s particularly hard to decipher. All of a sudden, Erebos his even more topical. It certainly has a lot to say about addiction, manipulation, and retribution. Don’t miss it.

Harriet Lane: Her (2014)

Her

Last year I read Harriet Lane’s Alys, Always and loved it so much that I had to read her new novel Her as soon as it came out. Amanda Craig calls it “Thriller of the Year” and while I might not have read enough of the books that came out in 2014 to confirm this, it’s certainly the best thriller I’ve read so far this year. Take Lucie Whitehouse’s Before We Met and one of Ruth Rendell’s psychological thrillers and you’ll end up with something like Her.

Her has a split narrative. Nina tells one half of the chapters, while Emma narrates the other half. Do you ever wonder what people truly think of you? What they might say about you behind your back? Whether they truly like you or just pretend they do? If you have, and I’m pretty sure, we’ve all wondered at some time, this book will resonate deeply with you as Nina is not so much an unreliable narrator as an unreliable character. She does tell us the truth, albeit in small doses, but she’s anything but truthful to Emma.

At the beginning of the book Nina sees Emma in the street, in London. She hasn’t seen her in years, decades even, and is pretty sure that Emma will not remember her. However, Nina remembers Emma because, all those years ago, Emma did something that Nina could never forgive.

At first Nina doesn’t do anything. She just relishes seeing Emma in a bad place, with one small demanding child and a second on the way. She’s not a young mother and the sleepless nights, the demands of motherhood, have taken their toll. She’s not as gorgeous as she once was. And she’s neither rich nor does she have a career, unlike Nina who lives a life of elegance and wealth and is a succesful painter.

Their paths cross again. This time Nina makes contact. What follows is extremely chilling. Nina befriends Emma, is helpful and kind, but we know what she really feels. Unbeknownst to Emma she manipulates, stages disasters that are just small at first but become more menacing every time.

Reading what Nina thinks and does, followed by Emma’s interpretation of the events, made me feel so uncomfortable. I couldn’t help putting myself into Emma’s place and tried to imagine what it would be like being duped like this. Creepy.

The book is extremely gripping because we constantly ask two questions: What did Emma do all those years ago? and How far will Nina go?

What makes this book even more readable is Harriet Lane’s writing. Her descriptions are fresh and elegant. The only thing that bothered me was the depiction of motherhood. I’m sure it’s stressful to have small children but to the extent this is described here?

The end wasn’t exactly what I had expected but I thought it made sense and it shed another, even darker light on Nina.

If you liked Notes on a Scandal or Ruth Rendell’s psychological thrillers, you’ll enjoy this and appreciate Harriet Lane’s lovely, elegant writing.

C.E. Lawrence: Silent Screams (2009) Lee Campbell Series 1

Silent Screams

C.E. Lawrence is the byline of the New York-based writer, performer, composer, poet and playwright Carole Buggé. The first time I came across her name was when I was reading a Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine (#7 2012). The magazine contained one of Carole’s short stories The Way it Is and an interview with C.E.Lawrence titled The darker half of Carole Buggé. I enjoyed the story and found the interview extremely fascinating. Thanks to the interview I learned that while Carole Buggé has written cozy mysteries and Sherlock Holmes novels, C.E.Lawrence explores the darker side of crime, sending her main protagonist, profiler Lee Campbell, after nasty serial killers. When I discovered that the multi-talent Carole Buggé gave an online course in mystery writing, I signed up. It was instructive and great fun. During the course we “spoke” about setting and when Carole mentioned that New York was as much a character in her novels as Lee Campbell, I picked up Silent Screams, the first in the series.

I’ve read a fair amount of non-fiction on serial killers, watched a few movies and TV shows, but I’ve never read a novel in which a profiler was the main character. I was curious to see how she’d pull it off. It’s a favourite theme in TV series; adding something new, seemed quite difficult.

She’s pulled it off admirably well because she added two new things. The first is her character, psychologist Lee Campbell. He’s a troubled soul, who, after a breakdown, has spent time in a psychiatric hospital because of depression. When the book starts, he functions but is still not exactly stable. His friend and colleague doubts he’s ready to take on a big case, but Lee feels he must as the dead girl they find shows the signs of ritualistic murder. As I said before, C.E. Lawrence added two new things and the second is tied to the first. Her novels are set in New York and the way she describes it is detailed and fascinating. It shows an insider’s perspective that hasn’t a lot to do with the cliché New York we’ve come to know through movies. Additionally she’s set the book at a special moment in time: a few months after 9/11. And that’s when we understand Lee’s breakdown. He may have been depressed before – some elements of family history we read about may explain it – but 9/11 triggers the breakdown. I don’t think that I’ve ever read a book, which managed to make me experience some of the horror 9/11 must have been for those who lived in New York. At times I forgot this is a crime novel because I was so captivated by the descriptions.

While Lee battles his demons and moves through a traumatized city, the “Slasher”, as they have come to call him, kills another girl. And another one. Early on, Lee himself is targeted as well. It’s that story line in particular that I found gripping. Why would a serial killer target a profiler from the very beginning? Did he have something to do with the disappearance of Lee’s sister a few years ago?

Readers of this blog know that I don’t like frantic pacing. I was very glad that this novel only picked up speed after the first third and even then, it was anything but frantic.

Overall this was an enjoyable read. It had a few flaws – occasionally too much explaining – but they didn’t bother me. What I found really intriguing – other than the amazing way she explored the time and setting – was that this thriller, despite its darkness, had many elements of a cozy mystery: great atmosphere, careful descriptions, likable characters and a laid-back pace. Due to the end, which I won’t spoil here, of course, I’m very curious to see what case Lee will have to solve next and am going to read book two Silent Victim soon.

If you’d like to read some of Carole’s shorter fiction – one of her stories can be found in the anthology Vengeance: Mystery Writers of America Presents, edited by Lee Child.

Her books have been translated into Germand and French.

Lucie Whitehouse: Before We Met (2014)

Before We Met

Lucie Whitehouse’s latest novel Before We Met, was a quick, fast-paced read. The book falls under the sub category of “domestic noir”. I didn’t even know that a sub-genre like that exists before I read Marina Sofia’s take on the term “chick noir”. I’m not sure I’m happy about these labels either. The only thing “domestic noir” tells us basically, is that it’s a married woman who gets in trouble. Before We Met was compared to Gone Girl, but since I haven’t read it that wasn’t something that made me pick it up. But when I saw Lucie Whitehouse compared to Nicci French in Guy’s review, I knew I had to read it as I’m a huge Nicci French fan. There are similarities, although, funny enough, the husband/wife duo Nicci French rarely write about married women. Their protagonists are mostly single women. The similarity is in the writing, and the pacing. Lucie Whitehouse and Nicci French both know how to write an engaging, well-plotted story that moves forward at a steady pace.

Hannah is a Brit who works in New York, where mutual friends introduce her to Mark who is British as well. Their relationship and the speed with which it develops catches them both unawares. Hannah didn’t really think she was the marrying kind, but handsome, attentive Mark wins her over and within a couple of months they are married. Mark is the owner of a successful British company, located in London. Hannah has a succesful career in New York. After they get married, she decides to relocate and follows Mark to London.  At the beginning of the novel they have been married for eight months. They live in a beautiful, huge house and are very happy together. Hannah is a little worried because she ‘s still not found a job but other than that everything is great. Until the day Mark doesn’t come home from a business trip.

That he doesn’t come home and tells her on the phone he’s lost his cell phone, is annoying, but it doesn’t alarm Hannah. What alarms her though is to find out that Mark has emptied her bank account and that a mysterious woman calls at his office.

I can’t write much more as the less you know, the more you will like this novel. It has quite a few unexpected twists and turns. For every explanation Hannah finds there’s a new unanswered question and in the end she doesn’t know whether she’s being protected or whether she is in danger.

As I said at the beginning, this was a quick read. It’s suspenseful and the writing is very smooth, very readable. My only negative comment would be that I found some of Hannah’s’ decisions not clever, but people react in strange ways under stress.

S. J. Bolton: Dead Scared (2012)

Dead Scared

Dead Scared was my third novel by S.J. Bolton. It’s the second novel featuring Lacey Flint and DI Mark Joesbury. I liked Sacrifice and Now You See Me a lot, but I really loved Dead Scared. I think it’s one of my all-time favourite crime novels. It’s got everything I like in a plot-driven crime novel. Great setting, evocative atmosphere, appealing characters, a well-paced plot and a really great story. For once she didn’t even stretch believability all that much.

Evi Oliver is a student counsellor at the university of Cambridge. She has contacted the police because she is alarmed that so many female students commit suicide. Maybe there is an internet community or a group that drives them to take their own lives? The police don’t know what to make of this and decide to send an undercover agent who will pretend to be a vulnerable young student. Lacey Flint seems the right choice. Nobody but Evi knows her identity and even Evi doesn’t know her name.

What is striking in this series of suicides is that the young women choose very violent forms, which are not typically chosen by women. Just when Lacey arrives another woman has tried to take her life. She set herself on fire but could be saved. She has been severely burned and it’s not sure she will survive.

As soon as Lacey moves into her room, she starts to feel weird. It does make her nervous to pretend to be a young student and the many suicides are quite creepy. Additionally she’s targeted right away and becomes the victim of a rather sinister student prank. The fact that she doesn’t sleep well, has peculiar nightmares and wakes feeling groggy doesn’t help either.

After some investigations, Lacey concludes that Evi isn’t imagining things. It’s even possible that there is no online community but that there is something  much more threatening at work. When Evi is suddenly being stalked it becomes obvious that the situation is very dangerous for the two women.

Dead Scared is set in the university milieu of Cambridge and the way Bolton described the city is very evocative, giving the book traits that could have been taken from a Gothic novel.

As readers know from the first Lacey Flint/DI Joesbury book, Lacey isn’t exactly who she seems to be. She’s tough but due to a troubled past also very fragile. The relationship between Lacey and Joesbury intensifies in this book and is even more important than in the first.

The idea behind the crimes is really great and I wondered the whole time what was going on. I had a feeling but still kept on turning pages as quickly as I could.

I had barely finished the book when I already ordered the next in the Lacey Flint series. I’m pretty sure it’s not one of those books that will stay on the unread books pile for long.