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BOOK REVIEW: The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

Saturday, August 25, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Chaos is coming, old son.

With those words the peace of Three Pines is shattered. As families prepare to head back to the city and children say goodbye to summer, a stranger is found murdered in the village bistro and antiques store. Once again, Chief Inspector Gamache and his team are called in to strip back layers of lies, exposing both treasures and rancid secrets buried in the wilderness.

No one admits to knowing the murdered man, but as secrets are revealed, chaos begins to close in on the beloved bistro owner, Olivier. How did he make such a spectacular success of his business? What past did he leave behind and why has he buried himself in this tiny village? And why does every lead in the investigation find its way back to him?

As Olivier grows more frantic, a trail of clues and treasures— from first editions of Charlotte’s Web and Jane Eyre to a spider web with the word “WOE” woven in it—lead the Chief Inspector deep into the woods and across the continent in search of the truth, and finally back to Three Pines as the little village braces for the truth and the final, brutal telling.


My Thoughts:


I’ve really enjoyed all of Louise Penny’s earlier books in the Inspector Gamache crime series, but have had this one sitting on my shelf for ages, waiting for me to read. Having met Louise Penny at the Perth Writers Festival this year (she is lovely!), I decided to catch up on the series.

Her books have mostly centred on the fictional town of Three Pines in the province of Quebec in Canada, with an array of loveable and eccentric locals who appear again and again. They include a gay couple who run the local bistro, a warm-hearted second-hand bookseller, a couple of married artists, and a foul-mouthed old woman who is an award-winning poet and has a pet duck called Rosa. Describing the series in this way, the books sound like cosy murder mysteries, and there is certainly plenty of warmth and humour. However, the depth of characterisation, the lyrical writing, and the darkness of the human psyche revealed both in the murders and the inner lives of the characters lift this series out of the ordinary.

The Brutal Telling centres on the murder of an old hermit who has lived hidden away in the forest outside Three Pines for decades with no-one – or nearly no-one - aware of his existence.

To Inspector Gamache’s surprise, he discovers the old man’s wooden hut is filled with antique treasures (such as a priceless first edition copy of Jane Eyre published under the pseudonym Currer Bell, something I myself would very much like to own.) His quest to find the murderer also leads him to follow in the footsteps of Emily Carr, the first Canadian artist to embrace Fauvism and Post-Impressionism. I have been interested in Emily Carr since reading The Forest Lover, a novel by Susan Vreeland that is inspired by her life, and so was really intrigued by this section of The Brutal Telling. This combination of warmth, intelligence and psychological depth combine to make Louise Penny’s books a cut above most contemporary crime novels and so I urge you to read one if you’ve never tried her before. But start at the beginning, with Still Life, as this series has a strong character arc.

You might also be interested in my review of The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

BOOK REVIEW: The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

Friday, May 04, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

It's been twenty years since Cormac Reilly discovered the body of Hilaria Blake in her crumbling Georgian home. But he's never forgotten the two children she left behind...

When Aisling Conroy's boyfriend Jack is found in the freezing black waters of the river Corrib, the police tell her it was suicide. A surgical resident, she throws herself into study and work, trying to forget - until Jack's sister Maude shows up. Maude suspects foul play, and she is determined to prove it.

DI Cormac Reilly is the detective assigned with the re-investigation of an 'accidental' overdose twenty years ago - of Jack and Maude's drug- and alcohol-addled mother. Cormac is under increasing pressure to charge Maude for murder when his colleague Danny uncovers a piece of evidence that will change everything...

This unsettling crime debut draws us deep into the dark heart of Ireland and asks who will protect you when the authorities can't - or won't. Perfect for fans of Tana French and Jane Casey.


My Thoughts:

For me, the best crime novels are tense, evocative reads, set somewhere misty and atmospheric that raises the hairs on your skin, with characters who are complex and alive, who you cannot help caring about, and written in terse language that nonetheless has the power to haunt you with its beauty. I want to be moved by the characters’ plight and gripped by the compulsion to know what happened, and I want to be genuinely surprised by the denouement.

It is, unsurprisingly, difficult to find all that in the one package. When I do find it, I tend to be very faithful to the author, reading every book of theirs I can find.

The Ruin, by Irish-born Australian-resident author Dervla McTiernan, gave me all that I wanted in a contemporary crime novel, but since it is her debut, I can’t rush out and buy all of her backlist. I am, however, impatiently waiting for her next book.

The story is set in Ireland, a suitably misty and atmospheric setting for me. It begins with a young rookie policeman, Cormac Reilly, discovering the corpse of a drug addict in a cold and filthy ruin of a house. It seems clear enough that she died of a drug overdose. The real trouble is what to do with her two young children. Regretfully Cormac arranges for them to go into foster care, but something about the brother and sister haunt him. He never really forgets them.

Now, many years later, Cormac is back in Galway, after having taken a demotion in order to move with his girlfriend, who has taken a plum new job in the area. He is frustrated because his new commander gives him nothing but cold cases to work on, and he wants to get his teeth into something real.

Then a body is found floating in the freezing black waters of the river. It’s a young man named Jack – and he is the little boy Cormac put into care so long ago. When the detective begins digging, he finds that Jack’s death was not a suicide, as the police believe – and that the roots of the mystery lie in the death of Jack’s mother so long ago.

I really loved the character of Cormac, who has troubles of his own but is not one of those drunk, damaged detectives that seem to have taken over so much of contemporary crime fiction lately (I am really tired of that trope, are you?) Cormac is clever, dogged, and wants to help people, and his love for his girlfriend and his willingness to make sacrifices for her makes him a very empathetic character.

Best of all, the dramatic tension in this novel never flags. I was absolutely riveted to the page, each new unexpected turn tightening the screw. And, no, I didn’t guess the murderer!

The Ruin is world-class crime fiction, and Dervla McTiernan cannot write fast enough to please me.

For another great crime thriller, check out my review of See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think!


BOOK REVIEW: Inspector Morse Book 3, The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn by Colin Dexter

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


The Blurb (from Goodreads):

Nicholas Quinn is deaf, so he considers himself lucky to be appointed to the Foreign Examinations Board at Oxford, which designs tests for students of English around the world. But when someone slips cyanide into Nicholas's sherry, Inspector Morse has a multiple-choice murder. Any one of a tight little group of academics could have killed Quinn. Before Morse is done, all their dirty little secrets will be exposed. And a murderer will be cramming for his finals.


My Thoughts:


I have been assured by Colin Dexter fans that the Inspector Morse series gets better as it goes along and so I read the third book in the series, though not without qualms. Published in 1977, the book is set in the claustrophobic world of the Oxford Examinations Syndicate and centres on the murder of a deaf academic. The case is as labyrinthine as the earlier two books in the series, but in this instalment Inspector Morse seems less like a bumbling fool and more like a man gifted with the ability to make intuitive leaps of deduction. He and Sergeant Lewis seem more in tune with each other, with Lewis providing the dogged methodical police work. And my major gripe with the series so far – Morse’s sexist attitudes to women – is a little less acute in this book (perhaps because there is only one female character). The books have an oddly old-fashioned feel about them, because of their lack of forensic evidence and modern-day technology, and also because of Dexter’s writing style. He was born in 1930, in the midst of the ‘Golden Age’ of detective fiction, and his books have the same feel of being a cerebral puzzle as writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers (whose work I admire enormously). It is this aspect of Dexter’s work that I enjoy – the task of pitting my brains against Inspector Morse’s. I have to admit that Morse won. I had no idea who the murderer was until the very end, which offered a most satisfying twist. Of the three Colin Dexter books I have read in recent weeks, this was the most enjoyable. It is up to Colin Dexter fans to convince me to keep on reading the series. 

You might also be interested in reading my reviews of book 1 and book 2 from the Inspector Morse series. 

Have you read this series? Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts. 



BOOK REVIEW: Inspector Morse Book 2, Last Seen Wearing by Colin Dexter

Friday, January 19, 2018


The Blurb (from Goodreads):

Valerie Taylor has been missing since she was a sexy seventeen, more than two years ago. Inspector Morse is sure she's dead. But if she is, who forged the letter to her parents saying "I am alright so don't worry"? Never has a woman provided Morse with such a challenge, for each time the pieces of the jigsaw start falling into place, someone scatters them again. So Valerie remains as tantalizingly elusive as ever. Morse prefers a body—a body dead from unnatural causes. And very soon he gets one…


My Thoughts:

I’m giving the Inspector Morse mysteries by Colin Dexter a go, having never read them before. I started with Book 1, which I enjoyed with reservations. I have had exactly the same experience with Book 2. The mystery is interesting, with lots of unexpected twists and turns. It focuses on a cold case of a missing girl, who disappeared on her way to school at the age of seventeen. The detective working the case concluded she had run away with a man, but now that detective is dead. Only a few days later, the parent of the dead girl receive a letter from her telling them not to worry. Suspicions are raised, and Morse is assigned the case. He believes the girl is dead, and so he sets out to find the murderer. However, every time he thinks he has come close to solving the case, something happens to up-end all his suppositions.

I don’t find the character of Inspector Morse very likeable in these books. He seems to bumble round, leaping to conclusions, then trying to force the facts to fit his theories. He is also, I am sad to say, a misogynist with a taste for pornography. The depiction of women was my major problem in Book 1, and it is even more marked in Book 2. I understand that the book was published in 1976, and that it is aimed for a male readership, but it still makes me uncomfortable. The saving grace for me with this series so far has been the pleasure Colin Dexter takes with playing with language in his plots – Inspector Morse’s facility with crosswords and other word puzzles adds a welcome intelligence to the plot. 

You might be interested in my review of Book 1 in the series, Last Bus to Woodstock.  

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. 



BOOK REVIEW: Inspector Morse: Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Beautiful Sylvia Kaye and another young woman had been seen hitching a ride not long before Sylvia's bludgeoned body is found outside a pub in Woodstock, near Oxford. Morse is sure the other hitchhiker can tell him much of what he needs to know. But his confidence is shaken by the cool inscrutability of the girl he's certain was Sylvia's companion on that ill-fated September evening. Shrewd as Morse is, he's also distracted by the complex scenarios that the murder set in motion among Sylvia's girlfriends and their Oxford playmates. To grasp the painful truth, and act upon it, requires from Morse the last atom of his professional discipline.


My Thoughts:

I am a big fan of the ‘Inspector Morse’ TV series, and its spin-off ‘Lewis’, and yet I had never read any of the novels by Colin Dexter which inspired the shows. I had heard that they were good old-fashioned murder mysteries with clever plots, which is something I am always hunting for, and so I thought I’d give them a go.

The first book in the series, Last Bus to Woodstock, was published in 1975, and so it reads like historical fiction now. The plot depends on a warning letter being hand-delivered because of the slowness of the English postal system; there are no mobile phones, or internet, or traffic cameras, or DNA testing. Inspector Morse has old-fashioned tastes in music (Wagner) and hobbies (cryptic crosswords) and very old-fashioned attitudes to women, who are all pretty typists with good legs. The casual misogyny can be a little hard to take (the conclusion that the murdered girl must have been promiscuous because she didn’t wear a bra, for example). However, the mystery itself is really clever and surprising, and I happen to love classical music and cryptic clues, and so I quite enjoyed the character of Inspector Morse, who is much lazier and bumbling in the novel than he is in the TV show.

For another great read written by an author who also works on British TV scripts, check out my review of The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz.

Please leave a comment, I love to know your thoughts!

BOOK REVIEW: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Friday, November 24, 2017


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Into the Water is the incredible new standalone thriller from Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train. Published in over forty languages and now a No. 1 box office hit film starring Emily Blunt, The Girl on the Train is a global phenomenon.

With the same propulsion that captivated millions of readers worldwide in The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins unfurls a gripping, twisting, layered story set in a small riverside town. Once again Hawkins demonstrates her powerful understanding of human instincts and the damage they can inflict.

Into the Water is an addictive novel of psychological suspense about the slipperiness of the truth, and a family drowning in secrets.'


My Thoughts:

Paula Hawkins made her name with her debut contemporary suspense novel The Girl on the Train, which helped spark a new reading craze about ordinary people in dangerous situations that has been dubbed ‘domestic noir’. I was looking for a book to read on a long car journey and I had about three seconds to choose one while my husband drove around the block. I grabbed this one, confident I’d get a strong, dynamic, fast-moving story with a tricky mystery at its heart.

I was not disappointed.

Into the Water
centres on the death of Nel Abbott, who was writing a book about the Drowning Pool, a place where witches had once been dunked and unhappy women had long sought escape from unhappy lives. Before Nel died, she had rung her sister Jules. Her sister, however, did not pick up. She had not spoken to her sister in many years. Now Jules has to deal with her own guilt and remorse, as well as a grieving teenage niece and the growing conviction that Nel had not killed herself.

Books like Into the Water hinge on long-buried secrets and misunderstandings. Part of the pleasure in reading is trying to negotiate through the lies and half-truths told by the characters. Into the Water has a great many points-of-view, which means the reader really has to concentrate to follow the story, and so it’s not an easy read. Neither is it a gnaw-your-fingernails-to-the-bone kind of suspense. It is, however, a dark, twisty, and surprising mystery that I read in a single sitting. Even better, I did not manage to guess the murderer (which I had done with The Girl on the Train). I really enjoyed it and will be most interested in what Paula Hawkins does next.

You can read my review of The Girl on the Train here. 

Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment below. 

BOOK REVIEW: The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg

Sunday, October 01, 2017

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Returning to her hometown of Fjallbacka after the funeral of her parents, writer Erica Falck finds a community on the brink of tragedy. The death of her childhood friend, Alex, is just the beginning. Her wrists slashed, her body frozen in an ice-cold bath, it seems that she has taken her own life.

Erica conceives a book about the beautiful but remote Alex, one that will answer questions about their own shared past. While her interest grows into an obsession, local detective Patrik Hedstrom is following his own suspicions about the case. But it is only when they start working together that the truth begins to emerge about a small town with a deeply disturbing past.

My Thoughts:

I haven’t really been swept up into the craze for Nordic-noir (ie hard-boiled contemporary crime set in Finland or Norway or Denmark), but I do love a good atmospheric mystery and so I grabbed The Ice Princess on my e-reader when I saw it on sale.

First published in Sweden in 2003 and translated into English in 2007, The Ice Princess is Camilla Lackberg’s first novel and is the beginning of a series set in the small fishing village of Fjallbacka, which has since been made into a hugely popular television drama in Sweden. Camilla Lackberg is Sweden’s top-selling author, with sales of more than 20 million books in 60 countries.

The story begins when the writer Erica Falck is one of the first people to find the body of a woman frozen in a bath. The corpse is one of her childhood friends, Alexandra Wijkner, and at first it seems as if she had slashed her own wrists. However, there are a few unexplained mysteries about her death and Erica begins to hunt for the truth. Meanwhile, another old friend – local detective Patrik Hedstrom – has his own suspicions. When the two join forces, they uncover a long-hidden secret that will have tragic ramifications for the whole town.

The great strengths of this novel are the depths of characterisation, unusual for a murder mystery, and the ice-bound setting which adds so much tension and atmosphere. The book is not a thriller by any means; its suspense builds slowly but surely, and the growing relationship between Erica and Patrik adds warmth and charm. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to the next in the series.



If you would like to read more books about 'dark happenings in cold places', please take a look at my review of Hannah Kent's wonderful novel, The Good People.

Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

BOOK REVIEW: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Wednesday, September 06, 2017



The Blurb (From Goodreads):

In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.

My Thoughts:


"Lizzie Borden took an axe,
and gave her mother forty whacks;
when she saw what she had done,
she gave her father forty-one."


This chilling children’s playground rhyme was inspired by the true-life story of Lizzie Borden, who was – in 1892 - tried but then acquitted for murdering her father and stepmother with an axe. The case was never solved, and still continues to interest more than a hundred years after the event.

Sarah Schmidt says that she was inspired to write Look What I Have Done after Lizzie Borden came to her in a dream. I’m always fascinated by novels inspired by dreams, as so many of my own books begin in this way, and so I was eager to read her take on the well-known story.

The novel is told in alternating first-person accounts by Lizzie, her sister Emma, the Irish housemaid Bridget, and a loutish young man who seems to have been hired by the sisters’ maternal uncle to hurt or attack their father in some way. None of the voices seem particularly reliable, and so it is hard to ascertain the truth of what has happened. The atmosphere in the house is claustrophobic and cloying, with many descriptions of the stench of rotting meat and over-ripe pears. Lizzie’s voice is awkward and childish and gleeful in turns, and – although Sarah Schmidt does not attempt to answer the question of who was truly the murderer – by the end of the book, I felt sure that it was Lizzie and that her acquittal was a miscarriage of justice.

For another wonderfully eerie, historical mystery check out my review of Wolf Winter by Cecila Ekback.

Please leave a comment - I love to know your thoughts!


BOOK REVIEW: The Traitor's Girl by Christine Wells

Friday, August 25, 2017



The Blurb (From Goodreads):

'I think I'm in danger. It's a matter of some urgency. You must please come at once.'

After receiving a mysterious summons from her long-lost grandmother, Australian teacher Annabel Logan agrees to visit her home in the Cotswolds. But when she arrives at the magnificent Beechwood Hall, it appears abandoned and the local villagers have no idea where the reclusive Caroline Banks might be.

The one person who might know something is enigmatic journalist Simon Colepeper. He reveals that Carrie became a spy and agent provocateur for MI5 during the Second World War. But when British intelligence failed to investigate a dangerous traitor, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

Concerned that her grandmother's secret past has caught up with her, Annabel stays on to investigate. But the more she uncovers, the more difficult it becomes to know who to trust. There are strange incidents occurring at Beechwood and Annabel must use all her ingenuity and daring to find Carrie before it's too late.

From the streets of Seville, Paris and London in the thirties and forties, to the modern English countryside, The Traitor's Girl is a captivating story of passion, intrigue and betrayal.

My Thoughts:

Another gorgeous cover & intriguing title made me very keen to read Christine Wells’s new book, The Traitor’s Girl, which moves between contemporary times and war-torn London in the 30s. I love novels with dual timelines, and really enjoyed Christine Wells’s earlier book, The Wife’s Tale. I also love books about female spies and resistance fighters, so this was always going to appeal to me.

Annabel Logan thinks she has no family, but one day hears from her long-lost grandmother begging for her help as she fears she is in danger. Annabel drops everything and rushes to Beechwood Manor, her grandmother’s old manor house in the Cotswolds. However, her grandmother is nowhere to be found and there are signs of a violent break-in. With the help of a handsome journalist, Simon, Annabel sets out to discover what has happened. She discovers that her grandmother was once a spy for MI5 during the Second World War, but that she was somehow betrayed and imprisoned.

Suspecting that the grandmother’s past may have something to do with her disappearance, Annabel races against time to learn her secrets and try and solve the mystery. Lots of intrigue, passion and betrayals made for a riveting read. The pages just seemed to turn themselves!

You can see my review of The Wife's Tale here. 

And to read my 2016 interview with Christine Wells, click here.

Don't forget to leave a comment with your thoughts!

BOOK REVIEW: The Dying Season (The Patriarch) By Martin Walker

Monday, August 14, 2017



The Dying Season (Bruno, Chief of Police #8), AKA The Patriarch
by Martin Walker

The Blurb (from GoodReads):

When Bruno is invited to the lavish birthday celebration of World War II flying ace and national icon Marco “the Patriarch” Desaix, it’s the fulfillment of a boyhood dream. But when the party ends in the death of Gilbert, Marco’s longtime friend, it’s another day on the job for the chef de police. All signs point to a tragic accident, but Bruno isn’t so sure. There is more to the Desaix family’s lives and loyalties than meets the eye. There is Victor, the Patriarch’s son, Gilbert’s old comrade-in-arms and sometime rival; Victor’s seductive wife, Madeleine, whose roving eye intrigues Bruno even more than her fierce political ambitions; Yevgeny, another son, an artist whose paintings seem to hold keys to the past; and the Patriarch himself, whose postwar Soviet ties may have intersected all too closely with Gilbert’s career in Cold War intelligence.

Bruno is diverted by a dangerous conflict between a local animal rights activist and outraged hunters—as well as meals to cook, wine to share, and an ever more complicated romantic situation. But as his entanglement with the Desaix family grows and his suspicions heighten, Bruno’s inquiries into Gilbert’s life become a deadly threat to his own.

My Thoughts:

I really enjoy this series of contemporary crime novels by Martin Walker, partly because of its setting in the picturesque Dordogne and partly because of its hero, the gentle and good-natured police chief, Bruno. He is kind to dogs and children, cooks amazing French feasts, and falls into bed with various beautiful women, sometimes rather to his dismay.

Despite the emphasis on food and love, and the slow pace of the books, these mysteries cannot be described as ‘cosy’ as they always illuminate some dark aspect of French life. In this book – the eighth in the series – there are confrontations between environmentalists and hunters protecting their age-old traditions, and a powerful man with links to Russia and Israel. A great, light read.

You might be interested in my review of the previous book in this series, Children of War, you can read it here.

Please leave a comment - I love to know your thoughts!

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