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.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
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

Review: I’M TRAVELLING ALONE by Samuel Bjork

One of the things I generally like about European crime fiction is that it isn’t as full of psychopaths and violence as mainstream American and English novels can be but this one seems squarely aimed at that market. It’s undoubtedly a smart move economically, those books sell like the proverbial hot cakes, but it doesn’t fully engage me. Dead children in odd costumes. A religious cult. Several characters fueled by madness including a serial killer with a convoluted motive. A police squad full of eccentric geniuses, including one with a death wish. The loved ones of our heroes in danger. To me I’M TRAVELLING ALONE seemed as if it had been penned by someone more familiar with a “10 tips for great thriller writing” checklist than actual crime fiction of the kind I like.

The forces of good are represented by an ageing, overweight chap called Holger Munch.He’s divorced with an adult daughter and a 6 year old granddaughter he adores. His closest colleague is Mia Kruger. A thirty-something loner, bordering on alcoholic, who is planning her own suicide when the book opens. For reasons that become clear as the story progresses. For me the most compelling police character is young Gabriel, a hacker who has taken a ‘real’ job now that his girlfriend is pregnant. The way he approaches the transition from one sphere to the other (teenager to adult, potential criminal to police worker) seems most real to me and I’d have liked to see more of him.

Evil is represented by a somewhat confusing cacophony of characters and story threads, at least one of which is almost entirely pointless. Perhaps this wouldn’t have bugged me as much if the book hadn’t been so long. There is a lot of exposition here and countless 2-page spreads without a paragraph break or dialogue…just endless words. The story was just engaging enough to keep me reading (with only a moderate amount of eye-rolling) but I will admit to skimming some of the exposition.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Translator Charlotte Barslund
Publisher This translation Corgi, 2015 (original edition 2013)
ISBN 9780552170901
Length 524 pages
Format paperback
Book Series #1 in the Munch & Kruger series
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in book review, Norway, Samuel Bjork | 4 Comments

Books of the month: March 2017

Pick of the month

The good news is my reading picked up in both quantity and quality during March but the downside of that is it takes more effort to choose a favourite read of the month. After see-sawing between two I’m going with Sarah Ward’s A DEADLY THAW which I thought excellent.  It has a mixture of contemporary and cold case elements, addresses a confronting theme in a realistic way and is not predictable. I don’t get surprised all that often by procedurals anymore and am always pleased when it happens.

The rest, in reading order 

  •  Jørn Lier Horst, ORDEAL (a solid series back on top form)
  • Elizabeth Edmondson, A MAN OF SOME REPUTE (a historical mystery set in post war Britain that I enjoyed as I listened but a day later couldn’t remember enough about it to string together a proper review)
  • Laura Lippman, WILDE LAKE (a thought-provoking look at the way time can make our actions and behaviour look very different but an unlikeable central character kept this from being a great read for me)
  • Candice Fox, CRIMSON LAKE (first book in a new series featuring two fractured characters seeking justice in different ways)
  • Margery Allingham, THE CASE OF THE LATE PIG (my Crimes of the Century read for the month was another irksome tale of the English upper class)
  • Meg & Tom Keneally, THE UNMOURNED (second in a series set in colonial Australia from the father/daughter duo was a terrific romp and very atmospheric)
  • J.M. Peace, THE TWISTED KNOT (second book from a serving police officer that really makes you question what constitutes justice)
  • Sally Andrew, RECIPES FOR LOVE AND MURDER (a South African cosy with dark overtones that is only enhanced by the audio format)
  • Ellery Adams, MURDER IN THE PAPERBACK PARLOR (my next read in the series that takes place in a retreat for book lovers, I can’t help but wish myself there)
  • Agatha Christie, SPARKLING CYANIDE (I listened to a narration by Hugh Fraser and was thoroughly captivated, even if I didn’t quite believe all the suspects would have love as a motive for murder)
  • Adrian McKinty, GUN STREET GIRL (the 4th book in the Sean Duffy trilogy is another cracker of a read – or listen – and was vying for favourite of the month but wasn’t as surprising as the one I selected)

Progress on bookish goals

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

5 down, 20 to go. Heading in the right direction at least.

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

3 down, 5 to go. Looking good for this one.

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

Better progress this month with 7 of my books read belonging to my pre-2017 collection, bringing my total of pre-owned books read for the year to 14. But with acquisitions taken into account my TBR now stands at 128 which is a paltry a reduction on the year’s starting total. At least it’s downward movement this month.

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 March? Any books you need to recommend? 

Posted in Adrian McKinty, Agatha Christie, books of the month, Candice Fox (Aus), Elizabeth Edmondson, Ellery Adams, J.M. Peace (Aus), Jorn Lier Horst, Laura Lippman, Margery Allingham, Meg Keneally (Aus), Sally Andrew, Sarah Ward, Tom Keneally (Aus) | 7 Comments

2017 Mt TBR Challenge – Mountaineering Checkpoint #1

In an effort to get my unread book count under control I joined the My Reader’s Block Mount TBR Challenge this year. I didn’t want to be unrealistic so aimed to read at least 36 books that I owned prior to the start of this year. With a quarter of the year over I have read 14 eligible books which qualifies as a modest success (if I keep up this pace I will meet my goal, but of course the more time passes the more I am tempted by new titles).

  1. Tom Keneally – Crimes Of The Father
  2. Cath Staincliffe  – The Silence Between Breaths
  3. Sheila Connolly- Red Delicious Death (no review)
  4. Josephine Pullein-Thompson – Gin And Murder
  5. Kate Dyer-Seeley  – Scene Of The Climb
  6. Ariana Franklin & Samantha Norman – Winter Siege (no review)
  7. Rebecca Bradley – Shallow Waters (no review)
  8. Elizabeth Edmondson – A Man Of Some Repute 
  9. Margery Allingham – The Case Of The Late Pig
  10. J.M. Peace – The Twisted Knot
  11. Ellery Adams – Murder In The Paperback Parlor
  12. Agatha Christie – Sparkling Cyanide
  13. Sarah Ward – A Deadly Thaw
  14. Adrian McKinty – Gun Street Girl

According to the challenge progress chart I have reached Pike’s Peak and am a few steps up Mount Blanc.

I’m keeping track of books read over here, if there are any unread books on the list you think I need to read now let me know

Posted in memes and challenges, progress report | 6 Comments

Review: A DEADLY THAW by Sarah Ward

Sarah Ward’s second police procedural to link a present-day crime with Derbyshire’s recent past is a knockout. Certainly the best example of the genre I’ve read so far this year. The most difficult thing about reviewing it is explaining why I think that without giving too much away. But I’ll have a go.

Firstly there’s the story. It opens with a body being discovered in an abandoned building. Nothing very original there you might be thinking. But the dead man is quickly identified as Andrew Fisher; a man who was supposedly killed a decade ago. The husband who Lena Fisher has served an entire prison sentence for murdering. I’m not going to give you any more plot details but will say the twists kept coming and kept surprising me. Lots of novels have a good premise. The elevator pitch if you will. But A DEADLY THAW is one of the much rarer offerings that has an intriguing premise and manages to deliver ever more intrigue until the very end.

As with Ward’s first novel, 2015’s IN BITTER CHILL, I think the main character is DC Connie Childs but she is not such a lone wolf that she is able to investigate crime without assistance. Her boss, the enigmatic DI Francis Sadler, and fellow DC Damian Palmer are both very involved in the investigation. We are exposed to a little of their personal lives (but not too much) and we see how difficult and frustrating their professional lives can be. People lie and obfuscate and forget. And for every tip that leads somewhere useful there are a dozen or more that go nowhere but, of course, you don’t know which is which until the time is wasted. Who’d be a cop eh?

We also see a lot of the civilians who are involved in or impacted by the case in some way. I like that the book lets us see things from different perspectives, not just that of the police. Among the people we meet here are Lena Fisher and her sister Kat who has never known why her sister murdered her husband (or whoever he was) and is now caught up in more inexplicable mess brought into her life by her secretive sister. Their relationship is complex but believable.

It must be near-impossible for a genre author to come up with something even vaguely original these days but Sarah Ward’s mix of contemporary procedural and cold case storyline does so. I really liked the way A DEADLY THAW unfolded, showing how events of the past can have a long-lasting effect and also offering a sobering reminder that one person’s perspective on events is rarely the whole story. I think what I liked most about the book was its deliciously unsettling resolution. Sometimes doing the right thing is downright dangerous.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Faber & Faber, 2016
ISBN 9780571321032
Length pages
Format paperback
Book Series #2 in the Connie Childs series
Source of review copy I bought it

Posted in book review, England, Sarah Ward | 6 Comments