‘Woman in the Water’ – Katerina Diamond

Detectives Adrian Miles and Imogen Grey are now in a relationship, though that’s not common knowledge at work. However, on this case things come too close to home and it has serious repercussions for both.

On his way into work Miles stops as some women think their children saw a body in the water. Upon investigation, it is a woman…and she’s alive. Someone wanted her dead, but there’s no signs of robbery or sexual assault. It becomes a matter of some urgency to work out what on earth happened when the beaten body of a young man is also found nearby.

Before we know it we’ve been pulled into a very dark place. This isn’t a ‘whodunnit’, but a trying to pull it together to prove they did it kind of story.
We focus on Angela Corrigan, the much younger wife of local businessman Reece. Nobody will speak out against him, and though we’ve strong reason to believe he’s been up to all sorts of things nobody will talk, and there’s no evidence.

It’s testimony to the bullishness of these two Detectives that we get anywhere. However, it comes at awful personal expense.

Adrian Miles suffers in the course of this investigation in a way that you cannot begin to imagine. It’s brutal, totally demeaning and the disgust I felt as we learn the extent of the wrongdoings against not just him but so many others was upsetting.

While it was a dark story that was not, in any way, enjoyable to read, I am intrigued at the potential for where this might go next.

Thanks to Diamond and NetGalley for allowing me to read this in exchange for my honest thoughts, prior to its publication in November 2019.

 

‘Believe Me’ – J.P. Delaney

The title of this immediately brought to mind the Simon Armitage poem ‘I am very bothered’ since we’re never 100% certain of the narrator’s honest thoughts.
Our story focuses on a young English actress, Claire Wright, who’s trying to earn her living in America by trying to entrap men whose wives think they’re being unfaithful. She cannot ever proposition them, and she doesn’t have sex with them but she promises it and films the men so that their wives have evidence of infidelity. She has a great success rate, until she’s asked to proposition Patrick Fogler.

Later that evening we learn that Patrick’s wife, Stella, has been found murdered. There’s a definite suspicion that a serial killer is on the loose, but Claire is also under suspicion. And so begins a very strange sequence of events.

Claire is asked to work with the police to try and gather evidence to ascertain the likelihood of Fogler being their killer. She enters a dark and potentially dangerous place as she throws herself into her latest role.

While I enjoyed this thoroughly, the artifice surrounding Claire made it hard for me to really engage with her situation. I wasn’t sure how reliable her interactions were, so I felt quite removed from things as I looked for loopholes or things that cropped up unexpectedly.

I’m grateful to NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication in exchange for my thoughts.

 

‘Someone We Know’ – Shari Lapena

 

Raleigh is a fairly typical 16 year old, but when his mum reads a text sent by one of his friends she learns something pretty unpleasant about him. He’s broken into local neighbourhood homes. He confesses pretty quickly, but not to everything he was doing in the houses or the number of houses he went into.

His mum is, understandably, horrified and seeks the advice of a lawyer. His advice is to sit tight and admit to nothing. Raleigh will not be guilty of anything if nobody knows a crime has been committed. His mother is horrified by this advice and writes an anonymous letter to each of the victims.

Unfortunately, one of the homes Raleigh broke into belongs to the Pierces. Amanda was reported missing by her husband, and when her beaten body is fished out of a local lake we know there is more to this.

On one hand there’s the family trying to protect their son, and then there’s the mystery of the dead woman and who had incentive to kill her. Alongside this is new to the neighbourhood Carmine, desperate to solve the mystery of who broke into her home.

The main feeling I had as I read this was a kind of grim fascination. So many characters were hiding things, and there were a lot of secrets unearthed implicating any number of people. Nobody in their right mind would want to live in this neighbourhood!

Eventually, the net draws tighter and the truth is squeezed out. It wasn’t wholly unexpected but it certainly made me want to draw the curtains, lock the doors and keep myself well and truly isolated.

 

‘All We Ever Wanted’ – Emily Giffin

There’s no escaping the fact that this is a tough read, particularly when you stop to think about the implications.

Nina has got used to her lavish lifestyle. Through some shrewd business dealings her family are seriously wealthy, and that brings with it a certain amount of respect within their community. Her son, Finch, has just got into Princeton but that doesn’t prevent him doing something unbelievably crass which jeopardises everything he’s worked for.

Our first alert to the issue is mum being told by a ‘concerned’ friend (who you can tell is just loving it) that her son has taken a picture of a young girl from his school. The girl is clearly passed out, exposed and there’s a racist comment posted underneath. Immediately we want to know what comes next.

The novel doesn’t disappoint on that respect. We get a range of viewpoints so we can gauge the situation’s impact. Nina immediately shows concern for the girl, Lyla, and the emotional consequences of her son’s actions. His father, Kirk, believes that throwing money at the situation will resolve things. Lyla is embarrassed and wants to downplay things, believing her crush wouldn’t mean harm. Her father is angry, and wants to protect his daughter.

As we watch things unfold we can see just how devastating certain attitudes can be. As a parent it made me so worried. Just how much do we influence our children? What do we do if they make decisions at odds with our beliefs?

This is not a book that offers easy answers. No-one comes out of these events unscathed: and some are certainly more impacted than others. It made me angry, and desperately hoping that no son of mine ever feels it’s okay to support such attitudes.

‘The Institute’ – Stephen King

I’ve always had a mixed response to the Stephen King books I’ve read. The sense of horror and unease always creeps me out, and yet there’s usually a point in the book where things cross into implausible or are exaggerated to the degree that I find it irritating. There’s so much about his writing that sucks you in, but I always have a moment where something jars and it doesn’t quite seem to work. With The Institute this didn’t quite happen.

The concept to this immediately intrigued me, so I was rather surprised when the opening focused on Tim Jamieson and his decision to get off an overcrowded plane before ending up in the small town of Du Pray where he became a night knocker. It didn’t seem to make sense, so I was immediately intrigued to see how this element would be incorporated.

Our main character is Luke, an exceptionally talented kid who, at twelve, is being touted to attend two colleges. Unfortunately, before this can happen Luke’s parents are killed, he is drugged and taken across country to The Institute. What we then experience through Luke is an experiment of unimaginable horror.
Perhaps because this is told through Luke’s perspective, there’s a lot about The Institute that we don’t get told. There are hints of some of the things taking place, but even the small glimpses we did get were enough to have me scared. The group of teens/kids that are at this place though were all fascinating. The suggestion of what was being undertaken there was just plausible enough to have you wondering ‘what if’. It also raised some very interesting questions about the extent to which the mind could be manipulated.

While I can’t help but feel the whole thing was quite unlikely, my heart was definitely rooting for Luke as he undertook his dangerous game. As things drew together, Tim’s role became clearer. As things drew to a close the action was ramped up, and yet it didn’t seem off-putting. The final hints of a much bigger picture suggest King is happy for us to fear establishment and question the extent to which we are controlled. It certainly wasn’t neatly packed-up but it was enough.

 

‘Lullaby’ – Leila Slimani

I’ve had Lullaby on my bookcase for ages, but never really felt I could face reading it because of the subject. After reading the opening, which is pretty graphic, describing the violent way in which the nanny has attacked her two young charges I felt vindicated in not having picked it up earlier. What on earth would possess someone paid to care for children to attack them?

Having opened in this way it was inevitable that time would then have to be spent plotting the lead to this event. We get to see Myriam and Paul adjusting to life as parents, and Myriam’s resentment of her husband which leads to the decision to find a nanny. I felt the attitude of these parents was quite disturbing. They wanted cheap childcare but felt a sense of superiority over the women they were interviewing.

When they meet Louise she’s given glowing referrals, immediately bonds with the children and – before we know it – she’s hired. There’s then a slow creeping sense of unease as we watch Louise insidiously work her way into the very heart of the family. She cleans, cooks, keeps the children entertained and seems a regular Mary Poppins.

Having seen how this turns out, we’re acutely conscious of any signs of a problem. Initially it seemed as if Louise might end up having an affair with Paul, but the reality was much more scary. The family need her, but not as much as Louise seems to need them. Her declining mental health was hinted at, but each character was exhibiting signs that they could cause a problem.

As I neared the end of the book I was struck by the ambiguity of the situation. There’s no evident resolution, and yet this felt more appropriate than tying things up neatly. I feel this will sit with me for some time.

‘The Testaments’ – Margaret Atwood

Maybe I’m one of few people who haven’t watched the recent dramatisation of The Handmaid’s Tale past series one, but it meant I started reading this with no expectations of what may have happened in the years afterwards. I was intrigued to hear that Atwood had placed certain stipulations on those working on the series to ensure that what came in the book was feasible.

The story focuses on the gradual destruction of Gilead and what it represents. How such regimes are destroyed varies, but this time the threat is from within.
The book is told from three different perspectives and I found it really hard initially to tell who was who. Eventually their voices become quite distinct, but their stories merge and are intertwined.

I found the portrayal of Aunt Lydia quite hard to adjust to. This was not the woman seen previously and it made me curious to see how such a change of heart seemed to have come about. The details given suggest this was part of a long-game. It would be nice to think this was part of the initial idea, but it was very difficult to reconcile the two images.

Alongside this we have two younger voices, Agnes and Jade/Nicole. Each has a very different experience of life under this regime, yet both are needed to bring about its destruction. They are inextricably linked, but I found their shifting relationship rather difficult to find credible.

Perhaps some elements of the story were unfeasible. Certainly this book wasn’t perhaps strictly necessary. However, it offers an intriguing insight into some of the reactions to events described earlier.

‘Little Darlings’ – Melanie Goulding

Little Darlings is a curious read, and I don’t know whether to describe it as a psychological thriller or a paranormal mystery. It’s ambiguity leaves the reader rather nonplussed at the end, but it’s a read that forces you to keep going to try and puzzle it out.

Lauren Tranter has just given birth to twins. Sleep deprived, without a support network and full of doubt, she is struggling. While in hospital she thinks she hears a woman singing to twins. However, her children are the only twins in the hospital. Another night she believes the same woman has tried to abduct her twins. She locks herself in a hospital toilet and calls the police. There’s no evidence of anyone else having been in the hospital.

Eventually let home Lauren retreats into herself. She stays at home, full of doubt about her capabilities. Her husband is beyond rubbish – insisting on catching up on sleep during the day as the twins have kept him awake, and begrudging Lauren asking for a drink – and complains that she’s not taking control of stuff. Concerned for her welfare, or sulking because he actually isn’t the most important thing in her life? We’re not sure.

After a week or so, Lauren decides to try and get out for a walk. Things seem to be going well. Then she sits at a bench, falls asleep and wakes to find her babies missing. After a frantic police hunt the twins are found, by a woman who seems to have been having a relationship with Lauren’s husband, and Lauren is convinced her twins have been exchanged.

Interspersed with this narrative we have Harper, a member of the police who goes above and beyond to work out what’s happening. Her approach was unlikely, and yet it offers credence to the paranormal element of this story.

By the end there were signs that there was nothing mysterious about this at all. Lauren simply had a deeply immature and unpleasant husband, and she was mentally ill. The resolution of the narrative didn’t offer much hope, and left me feeling rather short-changed.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this and offer my thoughts in exchange for an ARC.

‘Confessions’ – Kanae Minato

How far would you go to get revenge? In this, we see the depths someone is prepared to plunge to in their quest to avenge something done to them.

The opening chapter sets up a terrible situation. A teacher stands in front of her class to explain why she is retiring, to explain how the death of her daughter earlier in the school year has affected her and to make the revelation that the death was not – as found – accidental, but murder and committed by two students in the class. Having outlined what seems to be a truly horrifying scenario, the teacher calmly outlines the way she has set about getting her revenge.

At this point we move into shorter chapters, each told from a different perspective, that provide us with further information about what happened/what led to it and the after-effects. I was still reeling from the opening and yet found myself compelled to try to work out what was going on.

Throughout, I was struck by the restrained narrative style and the attempts to justify certain actions were certainly interesting. However, the final moments turned everything on their head and made me reevaluate certain characters/ their actions.

An unusual read, and one I wouldn’t have picked up were it not for a recommendation from an online group. Definitely worth reading.

‘The Chain’ – Adrian McKinty

Well, that was a rollercoaster read.

We begin with Kylie on her way to school. She’s kidnapped at gunpoint, and chained in a basement. Horrific stuff, but even worse when we learn that her kidnappers are doing this because it is part of the condition of getting their own kidnapped son released.

The family have become part of The Chain, a terrifying concept that threatens your very existence unless you follow the rules.

Kylie’s mum is desperate to get her daughter back. She gathers the ransom then plans to carry out her own kidnap. The key rule is that she must not involve the police and must do as she is told.

I recall chain letters being a thing (a bit like those ‘share this post’ stuff) when I was younger, and the advice you were given was to ignore them because the senders couldn’t do anything. While you know this behaviour is morally unacceptable, how far would you be prepared to go to protect your children?

Horrific subject though it is, this was a story that really had you from the off.

The only thing that marred it for me was the shift to the viewpoint of the perpetrators. It seemed to move the focus of the book in a way that lost my interest a little, and I still find it hard to believe that someone who’d set this up for so long – and clearly been very successful – would make such careless errors.
Still, I can see why this is being touted as a thriller to read.