‘The Searcher’ – Tana French

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this prior to publication. A very different, slower-paced, read to those by French that I’ve read before but it has a curious charm. It took me a while to attune myself to its rhythms, but once caught up it was hard to not want to learn more.

Our main character, Cal, is an American ex-cop who’s moved to a remote Irish village. He wants a peaceful life, but finds himself caught up in a situation he can’t walk away from.

Young Trey comes from a local family not known of for their good decisions. Trey’s brother went missing earlier in the year, and Cal is curious enough to do some searching. Of course he gets himself caught up in some strange shenanigans, and those around him harbour a few secrets of their own.

We do get answers, though not quite what we expected. Cal makes some curious decisions and in spite of the bleak subject, there were some positives to this. Rural idyll it might not be, but it certainly showed a charm of its own…

‘Innocent’ – Erin Kinsley

A book with so many shades of grey it really was hard to know where this was going to end.

Our story begins at a lavish summer wedding celebration. Our focus is on the guests, one of whom is a well-known celebrity. Tris Hart is the presenter of some familiar shows, and something of a local hero in Sterndale, the quiet town he lives in with his second wife, Izzy, and their young daughter. We see Tris playing his role well during the evening celebrations, and there is a little concern when he is accosted by someone he knows who wants to discuss their past. Next thing we know Tris is found injured near the hotel pool and is rushed to hospital where he’s taken to intensive care.

From the outset we know we’re dealing with a story that is about finding out who tried to kill Tris. During the course of the investigation we learn some of the secrets that the people of Sterndale have been hiding. It seems there are many with something they would rather people didn’t find out, and as the police dig deeper we start to build our own picture.

We do get our answers, but there’s a lot of misdirection and extra detail to burrow through in order to learn our truth. The sheer size of the cast, and the number of strands involved, did lessen the impact slightly for me but I enjoyed the fact that we built up a fuller picture of our flawed main character and came to understand them better as details were revealed.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this prior to publication in exchange for my honest opinion.

 

‘The Octopus’ – Tess Little

 

The Octopus is one of those novels that I have to say felt elusive as I was reading. I’m grateful to the publishers and NetGalley for letting me read it before publication, but having just finished it my thoughts are muddled to say the least.

My overwhelming thoughts after finishing this focus on the character of Richard. This is the character who is found dead the morning after his fiftieth birthday, seemingly of a drug overdose, where only eight people were in attendance. One of them must have been responsible, but who? As we learn more about Richard and his character, I think I can safely say every single one of them had reason to want the guy dead. He was a bully, lauded by Hollywood but vile to everyone around him unless they danced to his tune. Parallels with some real-life characters are clear, and while we are told his childhood was not particularly happy it doesn’t garner enough sympathy to excuse his general unpleasantness.

The construction of this book kept us somewhat in the dark regarding the true nature of the character of Richard. We begin with the party and the slow introduction to the people invited. We see things primarily through the eyes of Elspeth, Richard’s ex-wife, but it isn’t long before we start to realise that she has her own complicated story – and this is certainly intriguing, but we’re made to wait for it.

The party scene is elaborate, allowing us the chance to see how Richard interacts with each of the characters. Also introduced at the party is the character of Persephone, Richard’s pet octopus, who seems to represent his desire for control over others. The way he admires her and flaunts her to others exemplifies his attitude to those in his life. At one point Elspeth considers the octopus could have been the killer – what happens to this creature later in the novel certainly made me consider the cost to all involved of their relationships with this odious man.

This is a crime that does get solved, but in the process we uncover other more unsettling crimes that have been overlooked, ignored and even enabled by the reluctance of others to voice their concerns.

The Octopus is a book that did not leave me with many positive feelings at the end. I found it absorbing, but it was certainly not one I could say I enjoyed as it made me so angry at times.

 

Describing this as a thrilling read is something of a misnomer, but it is most certainly the kind of clever story that reveals itself slowly and which had me hooked from the outset.

We’re told that a mathematician, Grant McAllister, published an article that explored a clear set of rules to which detective stories must adhere. Based on this idea he published a book called The White Murders, a series of seven short stories examining these theories, but has not written anything since. A recluse, living on a remote Mediterranean island, so it is naturally exciting to learn that an editor is visiting Mr McAllister with the view to publishing a new copy of his work.

Our editor, Julia Hart, is the character who frames this story. We’re told she is sent to help Mr McAllister to edit his work so she reads each story aloud to him before they discuss it. The repetitive structure to this shouldn’t work, but it does…and is central to the success of The Eighth Detective.

What we learn after the first story reading is that each of these seven stories includes some unusual detail. It doesn’t necessarily affect the story, but there is something in each that seems incongruous- and we know it’s important, though we’re not sure to what.

As we listen to the individual stories and Julia’s discussion of them with the author, it is clear that each inconsistency is a clue. I was desperate to work this out and found myself eagerly taking apart each of the stories within the story to try and establish which element had been altered.

I was expecting something odd – and we can tell from quite early on that the title of the book is important (both the fictional book and the book we’re reading) – but I felt like the author had performed an amazing sleight of hand when we finally had the reveal.

This was a clever book, and one which would certainly stand up to rereading and closer examination. I enjoyed it immensely and even though some of the coincidences/tricks used were not wholly plausible and I would have liked to see the characters within our present story fleshed out a little more fully, I enjoyed this so much it has to be a five star rating.

I’m very grateful to the publishers, Michael Joseph, and NetGalley for letting me offer my thoughts on this prior to publication and I will certainly be getting my own copy of it to reread in the not too distant future.

‘Dark Waters’ – G.R. Halliday

 

In our second encounter with Detective Kennedy we have another puzzling crime, that goes beyond the worst thing you can imagine, and we learn a little more about this character and her backstory.

This took a little time to come together as the strands were so varied. Two mutilated bodies are found, and nobody can be sure if they’re linked, but the methods used on both bodies is eerily similar. Alongside this, we have a young woman (Annabelle) visiting the Highlands who is caught in a horrific crash when she swerved to avoid a young girl on the road. There’s also Scott, a Canadian tourist, who gets scared by some hostile behaviour towards him and then he meets a similarly awful fate which is linked to the mysterious appearance of a young girl immediately beforehand.

For a long time we switch between Annabelle’s experience waking up chained in a room and the investigation being led by Monica Kennedy. This lends a disconcerting quality to the book, where things take a long time to really get going. We know every detail will be relevant but there was almost a ‘real time’ quality to this that meant things didn’t happen at an implausibly rapid pace.

This is not one for the squeamish, and I was appalled at the levels of depravity shown by some of the characters in the book. Once again, I found myself curious to get more information about Detective Kennedy and what motivated her – though the little glimpses we get are certainly developing my idea of a wonderfully complex character.

A gritty read, but well worth it. Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication in exchange for my honest thoughts.

‘Never Look Back’ – Mary Burton

I wish now I had read the first two books in this series as I enjoyed this, though it works perfectly well as a stand-alone read.

The focus for our story is Agent Melina Shepherd. Found abandoned by the side of the road as a young child, Melinda has earned herself a reputation as a lone wolf who’s determined to see her cases out. When she is asked to investigate the disappearance of two local prostitutes she gets herself closer to a serial killer than she bargained for.

As the case is investigated we realise there’s more to this than meets the eye. The investigation results in things getting very personal for Marina, but she remains focused and professional throughout.

The revelations deliberately throw us off the scent for a while. We find out some pretty shocking details, and one of my key thoughts was how this would impact those concerned. The focus is more on the here and now, but as part of a series maybe this gets looked at later.

I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the chance to review this before publication, and I’m definitely curious to look at the first two books in the series.

 

From the Shadows (Monica Kennedy 1) – G.R. Halliday

From the Shadows is one of those books that throws a lot at you, and you can’t help but become immersed in the world described. It’s not pleasant reading, but it’s a tense experience.

Our story really begins with the discovery of a body of a young man. A serious attack, and the autopsy reveals the boy has had a stone lodged in his throat. DI Kennedy (as the main investigator) is our focus, and we get enough snippets to know her back-story is an intriguing one. Perhaps as the first in the series we’re not told everything, but certainly enough to know that Monica Kennedy has a little more to her than meets the eye.

Set in and around the Scottish Highlands, this beautiful setting forms a macabre backdrop.

Nobody is sure what they’re dealing with. The boy who was found was at home, fine, and had then disappeared by the morning. Before long, we’re starting to see links with other disappearances.

There’s a lot of characters involved, and some suspects are set up as quite deliberate red herrings. We get the voice of the killer but very little to identify them until late on. There’s evidence of police corruption, and Kennedy has to rely on some rather unconventional methods to get results.

Suffice to say there’s some parts that could have been refined but this was a solid introduction to a new character, and definitely had me keen to read more. Thanks to NetGalley I have a copy of Dark Waters (the second in the series) to read before its scheduled July 2020 publication.

 

‘Eight Perfect Murders’ – Peter Swanson

Malcolm Kershaw – bookstore worker, widow and suspect in a series of murders. At least that’s what we’re led to believe initially.

Malcolm narrates his story, and it’s clear we’re not being told everything. The question is, what’s being hidden and why? When an FBI agent asks to speak with Mal in connection to a series of murders we’re immediately intrigued. There seems to be a link between a number of deaths and a blog post written some years ago by Mal called Eight Perfect Murders. Someone appears to be using the list to carry out their own killing spree.

While the initial idea seems rather far-fetched, we slowly learn further details that indicates there is indeed a link. We also get told by Mal himself that he’s hiding things. The details he does give us mean we have developed a sense of trust and I certainly didn’t want to think badly of him.

As the story develops little details are revealed that start to affect the way we regard Mal. His actions become increasingly strange, and it’s evident that there’s twists coming…but it’s all about working out why and when this info is given.

It’s hard to say more without inadvertently revealing details that are crucial to the book’s success. While I’d not read all the books mentioned on the list, the literary link was appealing and Mal – though evidently not quite the good guy I had him pegged as initially – has a rather mercurial charm. By the notional end I felt rather disappointed that things were going to go that way.

A huge thanks to NetGalley for providing me with this in exchange for my thoughts.

 

‘The Murder at the Vicarage’ – Agatha Christie

I’ve read very few novels by Agatha Christie, but I have clear memories of Miss Marple being shown on tv when I was younger. First impressions do count…and I’d always had this vague recollection of her being a rather prim and interfering elderly woman.

My overwhelming response after reading this was that Miss Marple as she appears here was the germ of an idea, but she’s not fully formed. In fact, we see very little of her – just an appearance at key moments. She is presented as shrewd yet on the ‘busybody’ side – always hovering and overhearing/seeing things she perhaps doesn’t need to.

In this first of the Marple series we focus on the murder of Colonel Protheroe, the kind of man many could find reason to kill. He’s found shot in the Vicarage and we follow the vicar and various villagers around as they try to establish the truth.

There’s the usual red herrings thrown in, and what was proven here was that sometimes the obvious solutions are the truth. People are, at heart, quite predictable and observation counts for an awful lot.

 

‘The Hand on the Wall’ – Maureen Johnson

In the tantalizing finale to the Truly Devious trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson expertly tangles her dual narrative threads and ignites an explosive end for all who’ve walked through Ellingham Academy.

What can I say? At the same time as Stevie believes she’s solved the crime of the century, there are three mysterious deaths at Ellingham…are they linked? We get answers, finally, and not all of them are what we might have desired but they most certainly tie things up well.

After her somewhat unexpected return to Ellingham, Stevie is doggedly determined to find out the truth. She, along with the other students, is clearly upset by the deaths of the students, but if Stevie can finally piece together the clues that are in front of her she will get her peace of mind.

Unfortunately, there’s still unexplained issues and the net seems to be drawing in around Stevie. When a storm is forecast Stevie and her small group of friends come up with a daring plan to remain in Ellingham. Their main aim is to support David in his attempts to bring down his father, but Stevie recognises her opportunity to finally resolve the case of Alice Ellingham.

The story involving Stevie and her friends sweeps along. Occasionally they do things that are, to say the least, dangerous but when even your friends call you Nancy Drew it isn’t completely unbelievable. The nods to Agatha Christie were fun to spot, but there was always a modern element that kept this feeling relevant.

What I really enjoyed about this was the snippets of the story from 1937. Learning the truth about what happened and how it links to the modern day was fascinating. It offered some interesting ideas about certain characters, and definitely made it fun to watch others trying to make the links we’d been alerted to.