Not a Review: THE HUSBAND’S SECRET by Liane Moriarty

TheHusbandsSecretAudioI don’t normally read two of any author’s book’s in quick succession but my book club is going to discuss this one and BIG LITTLE LIES tomorrow. I wonder if my fellow club members will be as hard pressed as I am to tell the difference between the two.

I’m quite serious. Both books have three main female characters. These women are all basically middle class, middle-aged, east-coast Australian women whose sense of self comes largely from their role in their respective families (their jobs if they have them are background features of their lives). I am already struggling to separate any of them as distinct memories in my mind and I was mixing up their names long before I finished the second book. The stories are both very (very) long, predictable tales of what can happen when people keep secrets. There are glimpses of the author’s excellent observational skills in both books (here she could easily have been writing about the community surround the Catholic primary school I attended) but ultimately they present a pretty shallow view of humanity, sometimes squirm-inducingly so. They also spell out every element of the morality tales they contain so the reader doesn’t have to think. At all. Aside from the actual plot details I can’t think of any significant way THE HUSBAND’S SECRET differs from BIG LITTLE LIES.

I know of course that many authors write to a formula, including some of my favourites, so I can’t really criticise Moriarty for making use of one. Especially one that is obviously so popular. However, having tried it twice now I’m pretty certain hers is not a formula that works for me. I was happy enough to listen to Caroline Lee’s excellent narration as I did a long stint of driving today but I’ve already decided to give away unread the third Moriarty novel I own.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

aww2017-badgeThis is the 8th book I’ve read for the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge (but it’s stretching the point to call this a review). For more information about the challenge check out my challenge progresssign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Caroline Lee
Publisher Bolinda Audio, 2013
ASIN B00C2TYQXY
Length 13 hours 48 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series standalone
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in Liane Moriarty (Aus), mini review | 9 Comments

Review: BIG LITTLE LIES by Liane Moriarty

Somewhere in the almost 16 hours of the audio version of BIG LITTLE LIES is a good story. Even a great one, though the ending was too schmaltzy for my tastes. But that good story is only 8 hours long. 10 at a stretch. If I’d been reading this in print form I’d have skipped great swathes of it just to get to the point.

At its heart it is the story of three women. They all have kindergarten-aged children attending Pirriwee Public school in a beachside suburb of Sydney. Madeline is the loud, feisty, funny one. She is struggling to come to terms with the role her ex-husband and his new wife are playing in her oldest daughter’s life but she tackles this, and everything else in life, head-on. Celeste is the stupidly rich, beautiful one who adores her twin boys enough to stay with their father. Even though he is violent. Jane is the single mother, young enough to be mistaken for the nanny. When her son is accused of bullying she is torn between believing him innocent and wondering if he has inherited something awful from the man she slept with once.

All three of these characters, and most of the minor ones who flesh out this world, are well drawn. Not all are likeable – as in real life – but they are realistic. People you’ve met. People you’ve liked. People you’ve tried to avoid being in the same room with. The politics that plays out in the school community is deftly drawn and – again – believable. If you haven’t had this exact experience you’ve come close in a workplace or community group or somewhere. People forging alliances for their own selfish ends, listening to half-truths, manufacturing outrage on behalf of others, taking action without thought… Moriarty has depicted this type of community with equal parts heart and humour and spot-on observational skills.

The problem, for me, is that BIG LITTLE LIES lacked suspense. Partly due to the often stultifying details that pad out the book, especially in the first half. And partly due to its predictability.

We learn at the beginning of the book that someone dies at the school trivia night but we don’t know who or how. We then go back to the beginning of the school year – ostensibly to the point that sets events in motion – and discover what series of events lead to the death. But it’s a bit like watching a children’s pantomime. Every time something even vaguely scary (or interesting) looks like happening there were so many hints I wanted to scream “look out he’s behind you“.  I guess I don’t like books that tell me every, single thing they want me know. I like to be left to use my own imagination. Or at least be able to feel a little bit clever for seeing where things are going. Here the signposts are so big and loud and obvious even someone not paying attention at all would have known what was coming.

For half a moment towards the end I thought there might have been a genuine surprise. Some people’s initial reaction to the death was not quite as predictable or as ordinary as the rest of the book would have suggested. If it had finished then – at about the 15-hour mark – I would have felt better about the overall read. But it didn’t. Finish then I mean. Ultimately no one did anything extraordinary and everything was wrapped up very, very neatly. Just as the real world doesn’t ever do.

I think I’m crankier than I ought to be with a book that isn’t all bad and has elements that are genuinely good. But it’s the missed opportunity that I mind most. BIG LITTLE LIES had the potential to be something…else. Memorable rather than forgettable. Subversive rather than safe.


aww2017-badgeThis is the 7th book I’ve read and reviewed for the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge. For more information about the challenge check out my challenge progresssign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Caroline Lee
Publisher Bolinda Audio, 2014
ASIN B00M1Z1SOY
Length 15 hours 56 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series standalone
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in Australia, book review, Liane Moriarty (Aus) | 6 Comments

Review: A FRIGHTFULLY ENGLISH EXECUTION by Shamini Flint

Oodles of people can produce light, cosy mysteries that are entertaining but difficult to take seriously. And oodles more can pen blood-soaked tales of death and darkness. But I can’t think of another author who so consistently delivers stories that offer insightful glimpses into unknown worlds in a tone that manages to be light without being mocking or in any way dismissive of the pain her characters are experiencing. Shamini Flint really is a terrific teller of tales.

In the seventh book of the series Flint’s disgruntled Singaporean protagonist heads to England for a Commonwealth conference on policing. To make matters worse than going to a cold climate to talk about policing rather than doing actual police work, his wife decides to accompany him. He brightens a little when told there is a cold case for him to look into; the unsolved murder of Fatima Daud some five years earlier. But – unfathomably in Inspector Singh’s eyes – he isn’t supposed to solve the case.

‘Surely the best solution is to catch the murderer?’

‘We are here to explore whether the investigation might have had more success if it had engaged with the wider community and submit a paper with recommendations to the conference.”

Despite his baffling bureaucratic orders Singh is soon investigating the murder itself rather than the politics which surrounded the original case and even his wife gets in on the act.

This book couldn’t have been more timely given that it also incorporates a modern-day potential terrorist incident planned for the UK. Flint provides an incisive view of how terrorists can be ‘made’ and manages to show the absurdity of that path without any of the broad brush strokes that are often applied to this topic. Flint pulls off a delicate balancing act and delivers real understanding of this complex issue that, one way or another, we all must deal with.

The book is not all about politics though. At its heart there is a ripper yarn that unfolds with a mixture of suspense, warmth and humour. And did I mention the suspense? It’s a nail-biter, made all the more poignant when Mrs Singh puts herself in danger. The couple’s relationship is explored in more depth here than in many of the earlier novels and we really get to see that it is more complex than it might previously have appeared. It’s so refreshing to see a series novel offer surprises about its core characters without resorting to soap opera elements.

In short, I loved everything about this book. Hope you do too.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Piatkus, 2016
ISBN 9780349402727
Length 361 pages
Format paperback
Book Series # in the Inspector Singh series
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in book review, England, Shamini Flint | 1 Comment

Books of the month: May 2017

Non-Pick of the month

I finished only two books during May. Two paltry books! And both of those were audio books. It’s been several years since my reading count for a month was so low. I blame my crazy working hours and the migraine inducing lighting in my temporary office accommodation. I’ve been coming home from work and lying in a dark room for a whole month.

Of the two books I finished the one I liked was Gunnar Staalesen’s WHERE ROSES NEVER DIE which went on to win this year’s Petrona Award for best Scandinavian crime novel of the year. That’s a judges’ decision I can get behind, though I might have nudged Kati Hiekkapelto’s THE EXILED ahead in my personal scoring. I really enjoyed the Staalesen novel though and agree with the judges that it lives up to its ambitious premise.

The other book I finished was Megan Abbott’s YOU WILL KNOW ME which wasn’t my cup of tea. Given that it’s received so many accolades I was surprised to discover last weekend that most of my fellow book clubbers didn’t enjoy it much either. The general consensus was that the plot went nowhere and that we wouldn’t have read to the end if it hadn’t been a book club read. We also wondered if perhaps the book’s setting was a bit alien to our Australian experience (there are cultural differences between us). I was glad not to be a lone voice in the wilderness (again) but felt extra guilty for having selected the book for my club to read. On the bright side it did generate a good discussion – something that doesn’t tend to happen if we all like a book.

I did slog through half of another book but gave up when it was due back to the library. But I think the fact I could only read a few pages at a time due to eye strain was a bigger problem than the book itself.

Progress on bookish goals

aww2017-badgeAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Read & Review 25 books 

No progress during the month so I’m still at 6 down, 19 to go. I’ll have to put in a real spurt to achieve this one.

image borrowed and edited from http://theviewfromthebluehouse.blogspot.com.au/2010/02/classic-crime-curriculum.htmlParticipate 8 times in Crimes of the Century

With the challenge host on hiatus I’m also having a holiday from reading “classic” crime.

mount-tbr-2017Read 36 books owned prior to the start of the year and/or reduce the TBR to less than 100 (from 131)

Neither of the two books I finished were ones I owned before the start of this year so the tally on reading pre-owned books remains stalled at last month’s 15 and my TBR is now at exactly what it was at the start of the year: 131. Sigh.

Image sourced from http://mumsgrapevine.com.au/2014/01/7-ways-to-buy-australian-made/

Buy no physical or eBooks from stores outside Australia (Audio books are my exception)

So far so good.

USAFictionChallengeButtonRead at least 10 books eligible for my virtual tour of the US via its fiction (each one set in a different state and by a new-to-me author).

Did not add to my tally this month, my yearly total read is a paltry 2

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

What about you? How did your reading go in May? Any books you need to recommend? 

Posted in books of the month, Gunnar Staalesen, Megan Abbott | 2 Comments

Review: YOU WILL KNOW ME by Megan Abbott

I feel like more often than not I need to apologise to my book club when it’s my turn to pick our monthly read. Though maybe I will be the only one of us who found YOU WILL KNOW ME more of a slog than anything labelled thriller ought to be. Maybe my club mates will have found the things I missed…the things that have garnered the book its many accolades and glowing reviews.

YOU WILL KNOW ME is the story of the Knox family. Though narrated by mum Katie the story – indeed the Knox family itself – revolves entirely around daughter Devon. She of the extraordinary gymnastic talent. A potential Olympian no less. When a young man who is connected to the community that has built up around Devon and her dreams is killed in a hit and run incident there’s a lot more worry about how the situation might affect Devon’s chances of securing the next rung on the ladder to Olympic stardom than genuine concern about Ryan’s death. Which is, I guess, the point.

My lack of connection to this book could be due to the fact I don’t know or care anything about competitive gymnastics. Except that I can be completely consumed by art which draws me into a world I know nothing and care even less about. Dick Francis has made me cry about horses more than once and Connie Britton (and friends) had me binge-watching a TV show about American football when I don’t even watch the local kind as a sport. But I was not drawn into the gymnastics world depicted by this book because that depiction felt pretty superficial. Though perhaps that was the point after all.

As a novel of suspense the book also failed me. There really wasn’t any. At all. Despite a lot of portentous statements (a pet peeve). “The incident” happens more than a third of the way into the book which of itself is not necessarily a bad thing but neither the lead up nor the subsequent action offer much in the way of drama. The early stuff is either dull as dishwater or scene-setting “how psychopaths can be formed in suburbia” material and I found the resolution drawn-out and completely predictable. Maybe I’ve read too many of these things.

The book’s characters didn’t do much for me either. Katie Knox is really the only one who I felt was drawn with any depth to her and even that was only a relative thing. Maybe teenage girls who have spent their entire lives at the centre of their universe can’t have any depth to them. But I found the minor characters – including Devon’s dad Eric, her coach, the parents of her fellow gymnasts and the girlfriend of the man whose inconvenient death causes a blip in Devon’s life – shallow and unengaging too. Katie’s story and her choices are, ultimately, pretty gobsmacking and seem deserving of more consideration but I feel like the author allowed the potential of this genuinely original tale to get lost amidst the teen angst and parental bitchiness.

Or maybe I just missed whatever it is that everyone else sees here. I found YOU WILL ALWAYS KNOW ME a disappointment but I am definitely in the minority.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Lauren Fortgang
Publisher Hachette Audio[2016]
ASIN B01E9EMMV2
Length 9 hours 11 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series standalone
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in book review, Megan Abbott, USA | 2 Comments

Review: WHERE ROSES NEVER DIE by Gunnar Staalesen

I occasionally wonder if authors of long-running series anticipate new readers with every book or assume that at some point they are writing for existing fans only. I wonder this because as a reader I am generally reluctant to break into a series that has hit double-digits long before I have read a single volume. There is, after all, just so much I can never know unless I go back to the beginning. But, being determined to read the shortlist for this year’s Petrona Award, I decided to have a go at the 19th book featuring Norwegian private investigator Varg Veum even though I’ve not read any of its predecessors.

I did not immediately warm to the book’s central character and it’s because I suspect that was due to me never having ‘met’ him before that I was once again pondering the curly issue of the different kinds of readers authors have to consider. As a pretty dedicated fan of the genre I have come across many alcoholic misanthropes in the guise of detectives so was both jaded and resigned when encountering yet another one. There was enough back story provided here for me to glean the man was grieving the death of a girlfriend/wife several years ago but not quite enough to make me terribly interested in his aquavit-inspired stupors. And Staalesen’s models for his character are closer to the American, hard-boiled detective than my favourite fictional sleuths ever are. That said, by the end of the novel Veum’s determination and humour did earn my grudging admiration if not my undying love.

Everything else about the book was terrific, particularly the story. Veum is asked by Maja Misvær to investigate the disappearance of her 3 year old daughter Mette. The child disappeared while playing in front of the suburban family home on a seemingly ordinary day in 1977. Nearly 25 years later the statute of limitations on the crime is all but expired but Maja Misvær is actually prompted to contact Veum when she hears that one of the men who was a neighbour at the time of her daughter’s disappearance was killed by jewellery store robbers fleeing the scene of their own crime. Soon, she worries, anyone who knows anything will be gone and she may have forever lost the chance to learn what happened to her daughter. This kind of cold case is always intriguing – there are probably few readers who don’t know of some local missing persons case that has gone unsolved – and Staalesen does a great job of peeling away the layers of secrecy that might easily build up in any group of people and result in an impossible to predict disaster.

The Misvær family home is part of a small co-op, built by a well-known architect in the mid-70’s and this device provides both the suspect pool for the disappearance as well as offering an interesting way to comment on Norwegian society during this time period. In what seems like a series of utterly futile visits to each of the families who lived in the co-op when Mette disappeared (some are still there, some have moved away) Veum painstakingly teases out snippets that show what was being displayed to the world was not the whole truth about everyone’s lives. I think if I’d read a lot of this kind of thing when I was younger I might have scoffed at the lunacy being expected to believe people would hid such things even in the face of such obvious need to reveal the whole truth but that would have been due to my own youthful ignorance. I’m a little wiser now and I know that people keep all kinds of secrets for all kinds of reasons and I found this aspect of the book tantalisingly realistic. I also found myself wanting to stick up for our hero even though he wasn’t destined to be one of my all-time favourite sleuths. He solves two major crimes during the course of the novel and on both occasions police were very dismissive of his efforts and claim he stumbled across the solutions. Maybe so but an entire police force didn’t seem capable of solving either crime.

I even got a surprise with the resolution of WHERE ROSES NEVER DIE which topped off a great reading experience for me. So I feel I must offer thanks to all of those who played a key role in providing this for me which in addition to  Gunnar Staalesen includes the excellent translator Don Bartlett and English actor Colin Mace who was the terrific narrator of the audio version I listened to.

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Narrator Colin Mace
Translator Don Bartlett
Publisher This edition Audible studios 2016 (original edition 2015?)
ASIN B01F7RBMUC
Length 8 hours 26 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #19 in the Varg Veum series (though only 7 have been translated into English so far)
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in book review, Gunnar Staalesen, Norway | 9 Comments

Books of the month: April 2017

Pick of the month

I was working crazy hours during April so read a lot fewer books during the month but there were a couple of real gems (both from the shortlist for this year’s Petrona Award). My favourite of these (by a slim margin) was Kati Hiekappelto’s THE EXILED. The book is so topical yet intelligent. It doesn’t just pay lip service to complex issues like the world’s latest refugee crisis and how displaced people – whole communities and individuals too – struggle to find a place to call home. It explores these issues sensitively and thoughtfully. Oh and there’s a cold case for the crime fans too.

The rest, in reading order 

  •  Samuel Bjork – I’M TRAVELLING ALONE (an exposition-filled story too violent and psychopath-y for my tastes)
  • Yrsa Sigurdardottier – WHY DID YOU LIE? (the other contender for favourite read of the month – a terrifically constructed tale about people’s pasts coming back to haunt them)
  • Bill Pronzini – BLOWBACK (my 1977 book for crimes of the century had a well-drawn main character but was too steeped in horrible misogyny for my liking)
  • Sandi Wallace – DEAD AGAIN (a good premise spoiled by horrendous professional ethics of the protagonist and too much emphasis on a ‘will they/won’t they’ plot element)

Progress on bookish goals

aww2017-badgeAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Read & Review 25 books 

6 down, 19 to go. Looking doubtful, especially given my current workload.

image borrowed and edited from http://theviewfromthebluehouse.blogspot.com.au/2010/02/classic-crime-curriculum.htmlParticipate 8 times in Crimes of the Century

4 down, 4 to go. Was looking good for this one but the host of this meme is taking a break…not sure it will count if I choose my own ‘old book’ to read 🙂

mount-tbr-2017Read 36 books owned prior to the start of the year and/or reduce the TBR to less than 100 (from 131)

Poor progress this month with only 1 of the 5 books read belonging to my pre-2017 collection, bringing my total of pre-owned books read for the year to 15. And with acquisitions taken into account my TBR is back up to 131 which once again more than I started the year with. Sigh.

Image sourced from http://mumsgrapevine.com.au/2014/01/7-ways-to-buy-australian-made/

Buy no physical or eBooks from stores outside Australia (Audio books are my exception)

So far so good.

USAFictionChallengeButtonRead at least 10 books eligible for my virtual tour of the US via its fiction (each one set in a different state and by a new-to-me author).

Did not add to my tally this month, my yearly total read is a paltry 2 (I did attempt a book set in Washington state but abandoned it about 1/4 of the way through) (I blame the book not the state)

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

What about you? How did your reading go in April? Any books you need to recommend? 

Posted in Bill Pronzini, books of the month, Kati Hiekkapelto, Samuel Bjork, Sandi Wallace (Aus), Yrsa Sigurdardottir | 2 Comments

Review: THE EXILED by Kati Hiekkapelto

Kati Hiekkapelto’s third novel to feature Finnish-Hungarian policewoman Anna Fekete is another of the titles on this year’s Petrona Award shortlist; the announcement of which was just the impetus I needed to catch up with the series. And though I have enjoyed its two predecessors very much I think THE EXILED is in a whole different class. It is an outstanding read.

Though I have travelled a reasonable amount I was born and have lived all my life on a giant island with naturally stable borders and politics. A very long way from everywhere else on the planet. Which helps, I hope, explain why places with more fluid and volatile geography and political situations are both fascinating and alien-seeming to me. Keeping up with events in such places via the news can be difficult as there’s an ‘other-worldiness’ that adds distance from my own day-to-day experiences. What good fiction, such as THE EXILED, can offer that factual reporting often lacks is a way to humanise the situations and make them, paradoxically, more realistic.

In this novel Hiekkapelto sends her heroine ‘home’. Or at least to the place she was born. The town of Kanisza was a Hungarian community in Yugoslavia when Anna and her family fled it in the 1990’s. Her mother and brother have returned to the town which is now part of Serbia and where those residents who only speak Hungarian need translators to carry out official business. Throughout the book there is a heartfelt and credible exploration of what constitutes ‘home’ for Anna and people like her who feel like outsiders no matter where they go. But the exiled people of the book’s title are even more clearly homeless. Focus in this story is on two groups of dispossessed souls: the streams of refugees fleeing the Middle East into Europe and the Roma people who have never felt welcome irrespective of how long an association they’ve had with a location.

Our entry into these worlds is, not surprisingly, via a crime. Though at least initially it’s a much more minor one that genre fans might be used to as Anna’s handbag is stolen while she is out with friends one night. When she reports the theft to the local police she learns that the thief was a young Romani man. And that he died soon after taking her bag. When Anna realises that the police do not seem interested in investigating the death she investigates on her own and begins to unravel links to an event in her own family’s past. It’s a very layered and compelling story about small town life and the damage we can do when we try to cover up a mistake.

Taking the series away from the familiar surroundings and characters is something of a risk but Hiekkapelto has provided enough of the ‘known’ to keep series fans happy as Anna catches up with her surviving family members and even maintains an email connection to one of her Finnish colleagues. Seeing a different aspect of Anna’s story as she reconnects with old friends and exposes greater depth in her relationships with her mother and brother makes her a more interesting character than ever for me.

I enjoyed the audio narration of the book but should report that Julie Maisey makes no effort to sound anything other than English. I prefer this to poor attempts at accents (if you could even work out what accents would be appropriate for this setting and its people of multiple heritage lines) but some commenters have remarked that it doesn’t feel right to them. However you read it, I would urge you to track down Kati Hiekkapelto’s THE EXILED which is topical, thoughtful and totally compelling. As a bonus it could easily be read as a standalone novel if you haven’t yet read the two earlier books in the series.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

I have reviewed this book’s two predecessors THE HUMMINGBIRD and THE DEFENCELESS

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Julie Maisey
Translator David Hackston
Publisher This edition Audible Studios 2016
ASIN B01LXPOI53
Length 9 hours 29 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #3 in the Anna Fekete series
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in book review, Kati Hiekkapelto, Serbia | 2 Comments

Review: BLOWBACK by Bill Pronzini

When it began I thought the most annoying thing about my choice for this month’s Crimes of the Century read would be that its protagonist’s name is never provided. I’m prepared to accept that Ralph Ellison or Graham Greene might have been making a deep or existentially interesting point when choosing this particular literary device but in virtually every other instance I’ve encountered it I am underwhelmed. Here too I was soon rolling my eyes at the clunky way a fictional nameless chap is forced to wander through life being referred to vaguely. But, unfortunately, this was far from the most annoying thing about the book.

That was, without doubt, its central premise which is in summary, when a woman uses the allure of her vagina no man can be held accountable for his actions.

I know the book is 40 years old but I’m tired of making allowances for this mindset regardless of the era in which it is depicted. Because let’s face it the attitude has not been consigned to history’s dustbin.

So, story-wise at least, BLOWBACK was a dud for me. It is a quite convoluted tale set in northern California in which a nameless private investigator is asked by an old army buddy to attend his fishing camp. There is a woman there whose vagina is causing mayhem amongst all the people with penises (OK they’re not the exact words Harry uses to get his nameless friend involved but it’s what he means). There is a lot of flirting and innuendo, then a dead Persian rug dealer turns up. The resolution, you should not be surprised to discover, has nothing to do with carpets and everything to do with evil vaginas.

All of that said I should point out the highlight of the book which is our nameless hero. He is very well drawn despite his nameless existence. He seems very realistic and Pronzini does a great job of showing us how he is feeling during the series of precarious situations he encounters. The best example of this is that throughout the story he is awaiting news about whether a lesion on his lung is benign or not and the way he struggles with this is quite beautifully depicted. He’s a ‘blokey bloke’ and keeps his worries to himself but the first-person point of view allows us to get a sense of how daunting he is finding the whole experience of facing his own mortality in a different way than he must have done during his years in the army or police force.

Because of that I am on the fence about whether or not to give Pronzini another go as an author. Perhaps those of you familiar with his work can recommend something with less evil vaginas.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Doug Hamilton
Publisher This edition Speaking Volumes 2013, Original edition 1977
ASIN B01MS7D8MO
Length 5 hours 42 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #4 in the nameless detective series
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in Bill Pronzini, book review, USA | 7 Comments

Review: WHY DID YOU LIE? by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

The multiple-threads-without-obvious-connection novels are coming thick and fast these days but few are as skillfully realised as Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s standalone novel WHY DID YOU LIE?

There are three strands which all, on the face of it, sound a little dull. Or at least not very mysterious. A policewoman struggles to cope with her husband’s attempted suicide; unable to make the decision to remove his life support despite there being no hope of his return to health. A family returns to Iceland after a house-swapping holiday to discover some odd things not as they would have expected. Four people head to the very inhospitable lighthouse on Thrídrangar (basically a large rock sticking out of the sea) to undertake some maintenance and have to stay longer than they planned.

I was a good third of the way into the book before realising that nothing traditionally ‘thrilling’ had happened yet but I was completely hooked. I’m not sure I can explain why. Part of it is the expectation: the sense that things will…eventually…go awry and Sigurdardottir makes the anticipation work. She cuts between the three strands at exactly the right moment. Not in a James-Patterson “cliffhanger at the end of every 3-page chapter” kind of way. But we spend enough time with each set of characters to be invested in learning more about their respective situations but not too much that we become bored. There’s lots of suggestion and doubt and misdirection too so that even the savviest of crime fiction readers will not be able to predict everything that happens. Even when things do start to knit together – when we start to see why bad things are happening to this disparate group of people – it’s still not clear which of the characters we’ve come to know is responsible for the mayhem.

Something else which helps build the suspense is the ordinariness of the characters. They are people who are easy to identify with because they’re people we recognise…people like us. When their lives slowly start to unravel the unease they must be feeling is all too easy to imagine. I also like that the characters are understated. Not filled with quirks and psychological damage or other obvious elements designed to make them stand out.

The psychological thriller label is used too often but in the case of WHY DID THEY LIE? it is apt. It is unsettling rather than bump-in-the-night scary but that’s just what I like.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Katherine Manners
Translator Victoria Cribb
Publisher Hodder & Stoughton, 2016
ASIN B01EXXZ0CW
Length 11 hours 11 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series standalone
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in book review, Iceland, Yrsa Sigurdardottir | 7 Comments