Category Archives: Crime

Book Review: Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Behind Closed Doors is about the perfect couple Grace and Jack whom everyone envies, but when you delve deeper you begin to uncover the cracks beneath. Why does Grace never answer the phone when her friends call? How can she cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim? And why are there bars on the bedroom windows?

Behind Closed Doors is an emotionally gripping and thought-provoking thriller that will keep you at the edge of your seat.  Recommended for the not-faint hearted readers who want a fast paced and captivating read. An excellent chilling debut from B.A. Paris who I am intrigued to read more from.

This addictive read leaves you with a pervasive sense of uneasiness long after the last page is turned and with the lesson…. you never know what’s going on behind any closed door!

By Nazia

Behind Closed Doors

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, books, Crime, Modern Fiction, Mystery, Thrillers

Book Review: Silence Between Breaths by Cath Staincliffe

I recently read The Silence Between Breaths By Cath Staincliffe. This book starts with Passengers boarding the 10.35 train from Manchester to London with ordinary people going about their ways. Amongst these people is Saheel, carrying a deadly rucksack….

This book was clever and harrowing and it tells us about Saheel’s family and what they too have to face with the knowledge of knowing the unthinkable.

It was an easy read but emotionally heartbreaking  and has been proven to be an excellent topic in any reading group.

Jagruti

Silence between breaths

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, books, Brent Libraries, Cath Staincliffe, Crime, Modern Fiction, reading

Book Review: Ten Days by Gillian Slovo

ten days

Overall I enjoyed this book but a felt it needed more work and didn’t reach its full potential.

The book is about some fictional London riots, it is inspired by the real riots in 2011.  We follow a cast of characters involved in various ways: a family who live on the estate at the heart of the riots, the chief of police, the ambitious Home Secretary and his scheming entourage.

Some of the characters are more engaging and convincing than others.  My favourite was Peter, the Home Secretary, had the whole book been about him and his plotting for power I think I would have enjoyed it much more.  The least convincing I found was Cathy, who lived on the Lovelace estate with her teenage daughter.  Her character felt very two dimensional and also not very entertaining, I mean you could say that a scheming politician is a two dimensional cliché – but at least they are fun to read!  Cathy is a sort of dull too-good-to-be-true do-gooder, she cares deeply about her community but seems like an outsider too, no real explanation is given as to why she is living in relative squalor on a estate that is about to be demolished.  The book doesn’t tell us her background but she doesn’t seem to originate from that estate which makes you ask “how did she end up there?”  It was interesting that I had a chance to go to an event where Gillian Slovo was talking about her work, one of the audience asked her what Cathy does for a living (the book mentions her coming and going from work) and Gillian said that she didn’t know, she hadn’t given her fictional character a job.  Now I think some novels go into too much detail about each character, leaving nothing to the reader’s imagination, so I don’t think we have to know every detail – but I think the author should know!  Perhaps because Gillian’s past work has often involved adapting other people’s words for the stage she hasn’t gotten into the habit of creating her own characters in detail, she says she doesn’t work that way – but I think she should try it, the novel was weaker because some of the characters felt half formed.

London riots

 

Apart from following Peter’s sordid tale my other favourite part of the novel was the build up to the riot.  It occurred during a boiling hot early summer and you can almost feel the heat coming off the pages as you read.  Slovo skilfully captures a tense overheated atmosphere of something about to erupt.  Unfortunately the scenes describing the actual riot didn’t live up to the early promise as they felt flat and unconvincing to me, I tried to picture what she was describing (considering I’ve never been in a riot of any kind!) but nothing realistic came into my mind – was this down to bad writing or my lack of imagination?  Not sure.

I felt the novel could have scored an extra point if it had just had another thorough edit or two.

3.5/5

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, books, Cityread London, Crime, Modern Fiction

What are you missing?

So far this year I’ve been reading lots of books, fiction and non-fiction, about missing people. That is, about people who go missing, and the people who miss them. Mostly the cause is abduction. I have a fairly good idea about why I chose these, though I can verify that it hasn’t been a purely conscious choice, I just, as is usual for me, went by books that caught my mind. Since this is Mental Health Awareness Week, the topic is very pertinent. As others who also have mental health that can be fragile will likely verify, at the peak of most severe illness, one’s very self feels to go missing. The theme of MHAW this year is Relationships, so a poignant and raw topic all round. When your self/mind/psyche/being feels to be AWOL, how on earth do you maintain the relationships you have, never mind cultivate new ones – having a relationship with your own self at those times can be even too much to bear. But it has to be done to survive, and such is the work of psychotherapy – and reading carefully chosen [whether by the conscious or subconscious mind!] books can indeed be part of this.

“What is this thing that happens? When disaster strikes and women come, with their cakes and their bandages, with their cups of tea and their soothing fingers. It’s the complicity of the birthing chamber, the laying out of the dead. They pick the bits of tragedy up off the floor and try to knit them together in some shape, the way I’d felt I could knit Carmel back to life. Not the way they were before, something lumpy and misshapen – but so there’s a whole again.”

The girl in the red coat by Kate Hamer

the-girl-in-the-red-coat-kate-hamerA few days ago I finished reading The girl in the red coat. It’s a seemingly understated book about loss. A mother loses her daughter, the daughter loses herself, the mother has lost her husband, the couple who abduct the daughter lose their way. Does the mother find her daughter? Does the daughter find herself? It is a novel about hidden powers, and the energy of love, betrayal and connection. It is rather a profound novel, and the quote above spoke to me deeply. It is highly resonant of a fairy tale, and if you’ve ever read Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola-Estes you are likely to be moved by this book.

TAsylumWhat happens when ideas of safety, freedom, longing, sanity and damage collide? The Asylum, a strong thriller by Johan Theorin attempts to address these conflicts in a labyrinth of twists and turns. The protagonist, Jan, is missing someone from his troubled childhood. He is a staff member of a nursery attached to a secure psychiatric hospital, where children of the patients receive care. This, in a different way, is also about relationships and grief.DeepShelter

Right now I’m coming to the end of Deep Shelter by Oliver Harris. It’s set in London, which for me is always a win for bringing things close to home – psychologically speaking that is. It reminds me, in a way, of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Here we enter the literal underworld, a parallel world of fear and power beneath our very feet, our very heart. When we search for love and human connection, power can stand in its way, and ideas of freedom and responsibility seep in, too. There’s a deeper theme of loss in there as well, and but I will leave that to you to discover.

The damage that can ensue from someone going missing, whether physically or psychically – or both, transcends time and rationality. It threads into not only our relationship with those around us, but with the very self. It is a common theme in literature, as in life. Authors tackle it with depth and sensitivity. We see the scars on the psyche in glittering sore technicolour. Yet, it seems terribly hard for many people to actually talk about these kinds of themes with their nearest and dearest. That profound distress, that is often seen clinically as a ‘Mental Health Condition’, attracts such stigma in society, still. Many cases of such illness, however, and I count myself in this, are a result of the trauma of loss on all kinds of levels. The mind can break down under such despair and loneliness.

This Mental Health Awareness Week, therefore, perhaps take some time to ponder those times when you have experienced a sense of loss of self and/or loss of another, and open your heart to that and to the world.

Katie

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, books, Crime, mental health, Mental Health Awareness Week, Missing people, Modern Fiction, Mystery, reading, Thrillers

Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I know this book has already been reviewed on this blog by my colleague but I enjoyed this book so much that I wanted to add my review too!

gone-girl-book-cover-med

This is the story of married couple Nick and Amy Dunne.  On their fifth wedding anniversary Nick comes home to find his front door wide open, furniture overturned as if there has been a violent struggle and his wife gone.  The book then gives us alternate chapters of Nick dealing with the fallout of his wife’s disappearance and extracts from Amy’s diary telling the story of their relationship from their meeting  up to the time of her apparent kidnap and probable murder.  Neither the reader nor the characters know what really happened to Amy so we all get to engage in a captivating guessing game as well as finding out about the dysfunctional relationship of two very flawed characters.

The initial chapters I struggled with a little, I disliked the characters and found a lot of the regular pop references unfamiliar partly because it’s an American book and partly because I’ve just never been very clued up on popular culture now or as a child!  But as I read on the negatives became positives and I found myself gripped by the story and enjoying the writing style.  I think it’s a real tribute to Flynn that she has managed to write such a compelling book where pretty much all the characters are various degrees of repellent! Usually I find it hard to get into a story when you are unable to root for any of the characters, these characters are all rotters; Amy, Nick, their families, their friends, the police investigating the case, the lawyers who get involved and the media reporting on the case – by no means are they all evil but none of them are remotely likeable or admirable in their behaviour.  I guess the ‘character’ you are rooting for is the story itself – you just have to see it played out.  For once I agree with the opinions on the book cover, this book really was ‘addictive’, I read it in a weekend which is very unusual for me as I tend to be a slow reader.

gone girl scene

Scene from the movie. Amy’s husband and parents use the media to plead for Amy’s return…but are they as innocent as they seem?

Another thing I enjoyed about the book was the setting.  After I had got over the unfamiliarity the alien-ness became an asset.  It is primarily set in a mid-American town that is really suffering in the economic recession; it’s a background of boarded up shops, layoffs, struggles and broken dreams – a setting very fitting and very real.

The first part of the book focuses on the past of their relationship and immediate aftermath of the disappearance.  Then it shifts to a sort of PR battle between various characters but primarily focusing on Nick.  First he is the pitiable ‘widower’, then the prime suspect, next the terrible husband, then pitied again as the wrongly accused and back to prime suspect.  These shifts are not entirely based on evidence found but also the media’s changing angle on the story which swings this way and that.  It is an interesting analysis of how the media judges those involved in crime and makes decisions about who is the victim and who the villain – there are many examples of this process in real life news stories.

set_gone_girl

The happy couple? The state of the couple’s marriage comes under the media spotlight when Amy goes missing.

The third section of the book is a sort of conclusion, dealing with the aftermath of events.  This is the part of the book I enjoyed the least.  It’s not bad but I often find with mysteries and thrillers that the questions (what happened? who’s guilty? will the police work it out? etc.) are actually more interesting than the answers!

I highly recommend this book and if you haven’t read it yet or seen the film I think you should pick up a copy today.  If you haven’t managed to avoid plot spoilers, and it’s tricky as it has been widely discussed and reviewed, I still recommend you read it as it is a well crafted tale that offers enjoyment beyond the twists, turns and surprises.

4.5/5

Zoe

6 Comments

Filed under Book Review, books, Crime, Modern Fiction, Mystery, Thrillers

Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

This is a first, including a book review of a book that the reviewer hasn’t finished reading yet!  But Demi is enjoying this page turner so much that she wanted to write something to encourage us all to get our own copies out from the library straight away.  She’s convinced me – I’ll be borrowing my copy tonight!

Zoe

girl on the train

Basic run down of the story bearing in mind I am only actually half way through… We have the main character Rachael Watson whom is divorced and living with a close friend Cathy in Ashbury, she commutes to work every day from Ashbury to London, passing her old home and the home a few doors down from this were she has familiarised herself with the occupants and their daily routine, she gives them nicknames Jess and Jason. Rachael is an alcoholic, and a chapter or so in she loses her job but as her friend Cathy is the landlady well owner of her current accommodation she continues to commute to London at her usual time every day to avoid Cathy finding out about her unemployment.
Then one day ‘Jess’ is seen in the garden with an Asian man, whom is not ‘Jason’…
Rachael’s mind runs wild as she watches the affair from the window of the train, the way Jess so elegantly turns to kiss this man with such passion it makes her feel betrayed on behalf of Jason, she feels she needs to tell him! She feels he must know.

Later that day Rachael is sitting in the park and the sight she saw earlier has had her on edge, she buys some cans of G&T and chills trying to work out why her ‘perfect couple’ aren’t so perfect, when she gets a call from Tom… her ex-husband whom cheated on her and she isn’t over because he married the woman and had a child with and she is barren. She didn’t answer. Finally the urge to know what he had to say consumed her and she listened to her voicemails to find that it wasn’t Tom, it was Anna his wife. Infuriated by her voicemail Rachael whom is now tipsy, decides to go to Toms house and confront her and maybe even bump into ‘Jess’ and confront her too. On the train she sits opposite a red haired man whose smiling at her in a way that makes her skin crawl.
Rachael blacks out at Witney train station, blacking out has become a common thing for her lately. When she awakes she is at home with blood all over her pillow, naked in her bed and hasn’t a single memory as to how she got there. She goes downstairs to find her handbag with her phone to see if there’s anything to indicate how the night ended, and notices she has a massive gash and lump on her head that has been bleeding. She has some very abusive voicemails from Tom, and no recall of what happened after she got off the train.
She decides to follow her tracks back and see if she can recall anything so again she gets on the train gets off at Witney and gets dazed and dizzy when she enters the underpass she remembers being there blood in her hair

Looking out the window can lead to trouble - read this on the train instead!

Looking out the window can lead to trouble – read this on the train instead!

and hands and the red haired man helping her up. The memory makes her feel uncomfortable and dizzy so she heads into London to the library, where she sees ‘Jess’s’ face appear on yahoos front page!
‘Jess’ whom is really Megan Hipwell has gone missing… last night.

Demi

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, books, Crime, Libraries, reading

Book Review: The Modigliani Scandal by Ken Follett

modigliani scandal

This book follows the adventures of a large cast of characters who are all connected to the art world. There are forgers, dealers, artists, art historians, gallery owners and art thieves. They each have their own story and then the individual stories also clash or overlap. I guess the main thrust of the novel, the thread that brings the cast together, is the search of a lost masterpiece by turn of the century Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani.

I have read Ken Follett before, I have read his doorstop medieval epics Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. I enjoyed them both, they had exciting stories and interesting characters and were pacey enough to make getting through 900 or so pages a breeze. This was different; much shorter, a thriller/crime genre not a saga, written and set in the 1970s but the main difference was that is was awful!

When I first started reading it I thought it was OK. Follett introduces us to a selection of utterly unlikeable characters, which I thought in a way was refreshing. I think I have complained in a previous review about characters being too perfect – this lot were the opposite; nasty, spoiled, petulant, lazy, stupid, bitter – a real rubbish bunch. But then the reader was left not rooting for anyone and the storyline was rather weak, it weaved between the threads in a way that made you ask “which one was he again?” and then realising you didn’t care enough to look back to a previous chapter to work out who was doing what. There was the occasional pleasing scene but overall this felt more like a piece of experimental writing Follett might have done as an exercise to hone his craft rather than a finished novel. Particularly bad was the climax to the search for the lost piece of art which, if you do decide to read this novel against my advice, will leave your mouth hanging opening in disbelief (and not in a good way).

0.75/5

Zoe

Amedeo Modigliani painted in Paris in the 1900s, he dies young and his work did not begin to sell well until after his death.  The fact that some great artist only sell work after they've died is a theme explored by the book.

Amedeo Modigliani painted in Paris in the 1900s, he died young and his work did not begin to sell well until after his death. The fact that some great artist only sell work after they’ve died is a theme explored by the book.

2 Comments

Filed under Book Review, books, Crime, reading

What is Urban Fantasy?

Rivers_of_London

Next month Brent Libraries are joining in with a fantastic scheme to encourage reading called Cityread London.  Have you heard of it?  It’s been running for a few years now and is basically like an absolutely massive book group.  Everyone in the city is encouraged to read the same book in the month of April and discuss it, attend related events etc.  You can read more about it on the Cityread London website.

This year’s chosen books is Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch which is described as ‘urban fantasy’, we started telling our library users about this book but many of them asked “What’s Urban Fantasy?” – and we found we weren’t sure how to define it!  Luckily for us Paulo who works in Lewisham Libraries, who are also part of the scheme, has provided a wonderfully comprehensive definition.  And here it is…

“Since ancient times, the supernatural has captivated storytellers and their audiences. Some of the earliest WIZARDsurviving literary forms—myths and folktales—feature such preternatural beings as wizards, ghosts, fairies, or vampires living among humans. Today, this fascination exists in the current boom in urban fantasy, a genre defined as texts where fantasy and the mundane world interact, intersect, and interweave throughout a tale which is significantly about a real city.

Urban fantasy’s roots date back to the late 1980s and early 1990s, when readers were introduced to the possibility of supernatural, fantastic beings in modern settings, and later authors contributed to the development of what is now identified as “traditional urban fantasy”.

Buffy-the-Vampire-SlayerUrban fantasy describes a work that is set primarily in the real world and contains aspects of fantasy. These matters may involve the arrivals of alien races, the discovery of earthbound mythological creatures, coexistence between humans and paranormal beings, conflicts between humans and malicious paranormals, and subsequent changes to city management. The protagonists are often under a responsibility or in a position to help others survive or get justice from a world even more bizarre than our own.

Many urban fantasy novels geared toward adults are told via a first-person narrative, and Brooklyn Knightoften feature supernatural beings, protagonists who are involved in law enforcement or vigilantism. There has always been a strong noir element to adult urban fantasy, as there is often an underlying mystery to be solved in the books, even if the protagonist is not technically on the side of the police. The characters’ struggles to manage both the extraordinary and mundane sides of their lives tend to be difficult, especially when family or romance is involved, drawing a parallel with the general difficulties of adult life.

TwilightbookOn the other hand, teen urban fantasy novels often follow inexperienced protagonists who are unexpectedly drawn into paranormal struggles. Amidst these conflicts, characters often gain allies, find romance, and, in some cases, develop or discover supernatural abilities of their own. A common thread running through almost all teen urban fantasy is that as well as dealing with the fantasy element, they’re also coming into their own and learning who they are. These coming-of-age themes and a teen ‘voice’ are what distinguish young adult urban fantasy from adult books in the genre.”

So there you are – thanks Paulo!

Please join in with Cityread by reading the book this April.  You can also meet the author at Kilburn Library on 20th April – please see our website for details of this and other Cityread events.

Leave a comment

Filed under books, Cityread London, Crime, Libraries, reading

Book Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

This book is inspired by real people and events. Agnes Magnusdottir really was found guilty of murder in 1820s Iceland and the author uses known facts about her life but the bulk of the novel is fiction as Kent uses her imagination to fill in the gaps. Agnes hasBURIAL-RITES been found guilty of murder and is awaiting the date of her execution. While this is arrange the authorities have to find somewhere to keep her and also ensure she has access to spiritual guidance. The novel covers the following months as she is kept in the home of a family and slowly tells her tale to a young priest. We follow events as they happen while also finding out about Agnes’ past as she recounts her experiences from childhood up to her arrest for murder. The setting is really interesting. You may find it strange that a criminal is sent to live in a family home! However it is established early in the novel that Iceland is an unindustrialised nation of small communities and doesn’t have the facilities or institutions other European nations might have had at this period to properly detain prisoners. The way the people in the novel live sounds medieval rather than nineteenth century, they are basically peasants living off the land – of course many British people of this time would have had a similar existence but there would also have been large towns with factories and big institutions that Iceland did not have, nor did British people have to battle with the weather to the same extent as the Icelanders. The setting is a long way from the drawing rooms and balls that would have featured in an Austen novel of this same period! The unfamiliar setting is a definite asset for the novel. The characters, family and servants, all pretty much live in a couple of rooms, they all sleep in one room. The novel is mostly set in mid-winter when it is so cold that it is dangerous to travel or really go out at all. So criminal, family and priest are pretty much stuck together making a claustrophobic and often tense atmosphere which works well for this story line.

The very bleak setting for the novel.

The very bleak setting for the novel.

Overall I liked this book very much. The story felt believable and the characters ‘real’.  Kent uses her imagination but doesn’t create a wildly over-the-top explanation as to why Agnes has found herself in such a terrible position, the tale she has concocted does feel like it could be true. What I didn’t always like was the writing style – Kent is a very descriptive writer, she can easily make a woman walking into the kitchen and getting a bowl of soup to eat last 4 or 5 pages! She likes to describe everything from the woman’s dirty finger nails to the smear of grease on the side of the saucepan to the slurping sound of the woman eating the soup – nothing wrong in this it’s just not to my taste. I particularly didn’t like the way Kent was constantly describing bodily functions! People seemed to constantly sweat, spit, chew, slurp, dribble, cough, vomit, wee, poo, sneeze etc. I know these things happen I just don’t like to be constantly reminded. I imagined the one room where everyone slept to be filled with bad smells and the sound of liquid noises – yuk! . A great story and well written (even if the writing wasn’t always to my taste) 4/5

Zoe

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, books, Crime, Historical novel