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The Soul of Discretion: Simon Serrailler Book 8 (Simon Serrailler 8)
The Soul of Discretion: Simon Serrailler Book 8 (Simon Serrailler 8)
by Susan Hill
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.91

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well Handled, Susan Hill., 29 Oct. 2014
Susan Hill is a wonderful writer and I buy her books for the sheer pleasure of reading her beautiful concise prose. Before she started writing detective fiction Hill produced atmospheric ghost stories with complex characters that often chilled the blood.

She switched with the ease of a master to writing the Serrailler series of detective stories. DCI Simon Serrailler is the central character in Hill's series and this is his eighth outing. Over the course of the previous novels we followed Serrailler both as a professional and also in his personal life. There is naturally a cast of regular characters who feature in the novels and Serrailler's sister Cat Deerborn, is a doctor which gives Hill the scope to explore such important themes as the Health Care System, terminal illness, hospice care and more controversially, assisted dying along with the usual detective fiction themes of brutal murder and intrigue.

This novel is superbly written and Hill deals sensitively and unmelodramatically with sexual crimes and in particular with the question of consent and when consent can be deemed to have been effectively given. It is difficult to deal with the horror of paedophilia, rape etc. but Hill manages to do so without sensationalism while also pointing out the difficulties and perhaps flaws inherent in the legal system.

I recommend this book not just to fans of the genre but to readers of general fiction but with the caveat that it is deals with very disturbing topics and is not one of those books, however well written, that I would return to again.

For those new to the series, The Soul of Discretion can be read as a stand alone novel and if you enjoy it as much as I did you might wish to read the other books in the series.

The Aftermath
The Aftermath
by Rhidian Brook
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth Reading., 7 Oct. 2014
This review is from: The Aftermath (Paperback)
The Aftermath opens in 1946 three years after the Anglo-American air raids set the city of Hamburg on fire resulting in the deaths of more than 40,000 inhabitants. Colonel Lewis Morgan is stationed in Hamburg as part of the British contingent charged with rebuilding the devastated city and the de-Natzification of its citizens.One year after the war has ended thousands remain displaced and Morgan is requisitioned a grand house on the banks of the Elbe where he is joined by his family.However, when his family arrives it is to discover that Morgan has chosen to allow the current German occupants to live on the upper floor of the house rather than have them evicted. Initially at least, this does not go down very well with Morgan's wife, Rachel.

The strength of this novel lies in the superb management of various lines of narrative tension alongside a painfully clear portrait of Germany in defeat, springing several surprises as it shows how politics and history infiltrate even the most intimate moments of its characters emotional lives.

I enjoyed this book immensely and on many levels and would recommend it as an insight into the effects of and the aftermath of war particularly on the defeated. I founds the characters well drawn even if a couple did come across as rather stereotypical, yet I was caught up in their lives and empathised with their struggles and conflicting emotions.

If this novel did nothing else but bring home to me, to some extent, the appalling devastation suffered by German cities in the final years of the Second World War, then it was more than worth reading.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 19, 2014 3:36 PM GMT

The Edge of Normal
The Edge of Normal
by Carla Norton
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.19

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Survival., 6 Oct. 2014
Reeve LeClaire was kidnapped by a sexual predator when she was 12 years-old and held captive for almost four years. She is now 22 and still struggling to live a normal life in the aftermath of her terrible ordeal. She relies for support on her therapist, Dr. Ezra Lerner and when a 13 year old girl is found a year after being kidnapped and having suffered a similar fate, Dr.Lerner requests Reeve's help in rehabilitating the latest victim, Tilly Cavanaugh. Reeve is initially reluctant to become involved as she feels she is barely managing to keep her own life on track but her desire to help the young victim leads her to befriend Tilly.

This is but the briefest outline of the plot of Carla Norton's first foray into fiction and she is probably better known for her true crime story Perfect Victim about a young woman who was kidnapped and held as a sex slave, for seven years. Reeve's story is a quite gripping portrayal, not just of the traumatic effect that such kidnap and incarceration has on the victims, but also how these poor victims have to relive their ordeal over and over again in the media.

Despite readers being aware of the identity of the perpetrator, a corrupt cop, from the beginning of the novel, Norton nevertheless manages to keep the suspense alive and there are a few surprises along the way. The tale is well written and unfolds in short chapters which helps to maintain interest throughout although at times one's credibility is stretched. The lead up to the ending was far-fetched but the ending itself was just right and benefited from being not too pat.

Ultimately, this is a fast paced story of survival and recommended as a good holiday read.

The Girl With A Clock For A Heart
The Girl With A Clock For A Heart
by Peter Swanson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.75

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Femme Fatale., 19 Sept. 2014
The plot is sufficiently gripping and fragmented to hook the reader but I alternated between frustraion with and dislike of both the main characters.

Briefly George and Audrey were college sweethearts for one semester when both returned home for the Christmas break - he to Massachusetts and she to Florida. On his return to college George learns that Audrey has committed suicide at her parents home during the break. Devastated he travels to Florida to pay his respects only to discover the girl he knew as Audrey is someone else.

George is now 40 and living a rather staid life working for a literary magazine and for the past six years has been enjoying a tepid romance with Irene. His life changes completely when one night, as he sits in a bar waiting for Irene to join him, he spots his old college sweetheart across the bar. He is completely thrown and even though twenty years have elapsed he remains as much in the thrall of Audrey who now calls herself Liana as ever. Liana manages to cajole him into acting as her go-between in returning a large sum of stolen money to a wealthy and shady man with whom she has been involved.

The writing flows quite smoothly and the plot is fast-paced if extremely far-fetched but George comes across as gormless and weak-willed. I imagine the fervour of George's first love is meant to explain his recklessness and downright stupidity in allowing himself to become Liana's pawn and it is worth remembering that she was already been implicated in murder when she disappeared twenty years ago. Liana on the other hand is a rather stereotypical femme fatale , manipulative and intelligent she uses men and then tosses them aside. The superficial characterization is my main problem with the novel as the plot is genuinely suspenseful.

The story has overtones of Hitchcock particularly Vertigo but never manages to scale the heights of that particular masterpiece. This is a promising debut novel and I would be interested in reading Peter Swanson's next effort since The Girl with a Clock for a Heart did hold my interest.

The Night Guest
The Night Guest
by Fiona McFarlane
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Memorable., 17 Sept. 2014
This review is from: The Night Guest (Paperback)
Ruth is quite elderly and living alone in her isolated house at the seaside in New South Wales; her husband Harry died 5 years previously. She wakes one morning thinking she has heard a tiger in her home during the night. Later that same day, a larger than life lady, Frida, appears on her doorstep and announces she has been sent by the government to help Ruth with the cleaning, cooking, and to cope generally with living alone.

Over the course of Frida's daily visits Ruth reminisces about her childhood in Fiji where she was raised by missionary parents. She also dwells on her first love, Richard a young doctor, and with Frida's cooperation invites him to visit her even though 50 years have elapsed since they last saw each other. Their encounter is one of the most moving parts of this wonderful novel. Ruth has lately become quite nostalgic about her past and finds herself remembering her sons Jeffrey and Phil when they were babies.

As we come to know a bit about Frida through Ruth's narrative, it is difficult to judge just how untrustworthy the helper is as while she obviously comes across as less than honest and a bit of a predator, at other times she appears to show feelings of great tenderness towards Ruth. I was filled with foreboding as I progressed through the story and this, coupled with a pervading atmosphere of impending death and Ruth's memory lapses, left me very unsure as to what, or even who, was real. In fact, at various points in the book I questioned the reality of everything and wondered how much of the narrative was a figment of Ruth's increasingly fragmented mind.

I feel I should not go any deeper into the various plot developments in case I include spoilers but this is an unusual and highly unpredictable novel and I was thoroughly engrossed from start to finish. The writing is of a very high calibre and, in Ruth and Frida, McFarlane has created two wonderfully complex characters; Ruth whose increasingly frequent memory lapses only serve to cause the reader to doubt the narrative almost as much as Ruth questions it herself and Frida who manages to dilute the reader's suspicions of her motives by her apparent warmth and genuine affection for Ruth.

It is true that one would imagine that Ruth's sons, who appear to be more or less dutiful, might have shown more interest or even concern at Frida turning up on their mother's doorstep out of the blue - quite literally! But this is a story of a woman's descent into dementia and her gradual withdrawal from the world and it is so beautifully told that one can afford to suspend disbelief at certain points.

A gripping, beautifully written novel that is as suspenseful as it is surreal!

The Children Act
The Children Act
by Ian McEwan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ethical Dilemma., 3 Sept. 2014
This review is from: The Children Act (Hardcover)
Fiona Maye is a High Court judge dealing with family court cases and is highly intelligent and well respected but also compassionate. She is an expert in her field and makes every effort to take into account religious and cultural considerations when handing down her verdicts. However, her personal life is not so cut and dried and she is, at the moment, far from happy in her marriage. She and her husband Jack, a history professor, are childless and with their sixtieth birthdays fast approaching, Jack is anxious to have a passionate affair before it is too late. He storms out of their apartment following an argument. In her professional life, Fiona is confronted on a daily basis with the disintegration, sometimes very acrimonious, of once promising unions but she has also dealt with high-profile controversial issues such as the case of conjoined twins whose devout Catholic parents refused to sacrifice the doomed twin in order to save the viable child.

Even when their marriage gets back on track, Fiona feels an emptiness as she contemplates her childlessness. She feels she has not fulfilled her destiny and that nieces and nephews do not fill the void.

While Fiona is dealing with the crisis in her marriage she is also presiding over an extremely difficult case where Adam, a teenage Jehovah's Witness, has refused the blood transfusions that might just cure his leukaemia and save his life. Eventually Fiona visits Adam in hospital and the encounter is deeply significant; when Fiona delivers her verdict it has profound consequences.

These are very briefly the basic plot lines of Ian McEwan's latest novel, The Children's Act the title of which refers to the 1989 legislation concerning the welfare of minors.

This is at times quite a dark tale dealing with the ageing process, long-term relationships, love in all its guises but the overriding issue at the heart of this novel is the ethical question which is so topical and so difficult to resolve.

I enjoyed this book as it is well written and, in Fiona, McEwan has created a wonderful, intriguing and complex character. In addition, and although it is necessary to suspend disbelief at some plot developments, the story held my unflagging interest throughout - not an easy feat.

I would have no hesitation in recommending this book to one and all!
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 7, 2014 11:46 PM BST

The Good Girl
The Good Girl
by Mary Kubica
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Competent Thriller., 2 Sept. 2014
This review is from: The Good Girl (Paperback)
The daughter of a prominent Chicago judge, Mia comes from an extremely wealthy background but is a huge disappointment to her father who despises her artistic nature and the fact that she works as an art teacher - unlike her sister Grace, who followed in his footsteps and for whom a promising career in law now beckons. One night Mia arranges to meet her boyfriend in a bar and when he fails to turn up allows herself to be chatted up by a stranger who abducts her after she foolishly leaves the bar with him. This is the bare bones of what turns out to be a rather convoluted thriller.

The story is told from the perspective of Mia's Mother Eve, the detective assigned to the case, Gabe and Colin the abductor and alternates between before and after the abduction. This allows readers to get an idea of what makes Colin tick as well as getting to know Eve and Gabe and through their accounts, Mia's father.

This novel has been compared to Gone Girl but I enjoyed this book far more - probably due in no small part to the fact that the characters are more engaging and sympathetic than in Gillian Flynn's book. The writing is tight and moves the story along although I felt the pace palled slightly at times. Kubica conveys the desolation and extremely harsh conditions in the Minnesota woods and insofar as possible manages to lend credibility to the growing bond between Mia and Colin à la Stockholm Syndrome!

There are many strands to this story and the growing attraction between Gabe and Eve is heart-warming and I would be very surprised if other readers did not find some shred of sympathy for Colin on learning the circumstances of his childhood and young adulthood.

My one real criticism of the book is probably what will make it most appealing to some readers as, while much is made of the twists and the shock ending, I would have preferred just one really subtle yet no less shocking twist rather than what I felt was an overly convoluted and far fetched finale.

Yet the story held my interest and the novel should appeal to fans of the genre.

Summer House with Swimming Pool
Summer House with Swimming Pool
by Herman Koch
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.39

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Summer Madness!, 5 Aug. 2014
Having previously purchased The Dinner this is the second novel I have read by Herman Koch. In this book the narrator is Dr. Marc Schlosser a Dutch physician to celebrities and stars who despises his clients and finds them repulsive. On the other hand he is an apparently loving family man, happily married with two young daughters. The story opens dramatically with the widow of movie star Ralph Meier, accusing Schlosser of malpractice and rather than denying the accusation out of hand Schlosser takes the reader back to the previous summer to a holiday he and his family took with the Meiers. From the outset the holiday has an air of impending disaster and sexual tension abounds.

Marc Schlosser comes across as an extremely sordid character and his squalid thoughts are not for the faint-hearted and in the early chapters we wonder whether his death and pain fantasies are just fantasies or are they real! Ralph Meier is equally unappealing being overtly lecherous and rather too boisterous in the swimming pool with Marc's daughters. It is very difficult to empathize with any of the characters in the book and this was something I also felt while reading The Dinner.

As with Paul in The Dinner, it is not clear just how reliable Marc is as a narrator and it also struck me that, unusually in the case of a narrator, neither Marc nor Paul (The Dinner) come across as likeable. In The Dinner Koch uses a mysterious genetic mental illness that affects Paul to explain his sometimes violent outbursts and which he may have passed on to his son; in this novel he uses a similar ploy i.e. a hypothetical outcome of taking a biopsy which would have enabled rogue cancerous cells to invade Ralph's bloodstream.

I could not put this book down as it is terribly thrilling and psychologically insightful also I was carried along by a strange compulsion to see how it ended; Koch does manage to make fun of the film crowd, novelists, et al and indeed this is probably one of the most entertaining aspects of the story. Having said that, I will not be rushing out to buy another of Herman Koch's offerings as they are more than a bit too dark for my taste.

If you are looking for an light holiday read with sympathetic characters this is not the book for you but, if on the other hand, you like to be chilled to the bone then I would strongly recommend it for your summer holiday!

True Detective - Season 1 [DVD] [2014]
True Detective - Season 1 [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ Woody Harrelson
Price: £18.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True Gold, 21 July 2014
I bought this boxset on foot of the hype and rave reviews that preceded its release and I was not disappointed to put it mildly. Set in Louisiana, True Detective opens with the discovery of a woman's body in a field; she is wearing a crown of deer antlers and a symbol has been painted on her back. This is the first of many disturbing events in this beautifully judged and tightly-written series.

Matthew McConaughy and Woody Harrelson play Louisiana police detectives Rust Cohle and Marty Hart who set about tracking down the serial killer responsible for this ritualistic murder. We watch them working on the case in 1995 and the powerful effect such a case had on both men, taking not only a professional but also an even heavier personal toll and which continues to affect them years later. The plot centres on two crimes separated by 17 years.

In 2012 Cohle and Hart are taken in for questioning about the events of 1995 as another two detectives are now investigating a fresh murder with chilling similarities to the original crime. It becomes quickly apparent to viewers that the new detectives are just as interested in the relationship between Hart and Cohle and why things fell apart between them as in the earlier crime; it is obvious that both men have been badly affected by the 1995 case.

Hart and Cohle are extremely reluctant to cooperate with the new investigation and when we get some insight into their personal demons and complicated personalities we come to believe that these men are almost certainly not the most reliable of narrators.

Of the pair, Hart comes across initially as easier to pigeonhole being the archetypal hard-drinking, womanising cop who expects to keep his beautiful wife and young daughters in a separate compartment to his numerous affairs and portrays himself as a regular family guy. Cohle appers to be the more moral of the pair but is a mass of contradictions with a history of drug abuse and a terrible tragedy in his past.

The script is perfectly judged and lends the series its chilling and brooding atmosphere while the dialogue is just wonderful and contains many marvellous gems. I can only use superlatives to describe McConaughy and Harrleson's performances. They both outdo themselves and McConaughy succeeds in making a character who is essentially a weirdo, captivating and convincing.

The soundtrack is pitch perfect and complements the storyline and if ever a theme tune mirrored a TV series Far from Any Road by The Handsome Family must be it! Yet it is the relationship between Hart and Cohle that lift this quality production way above the ordinary. Neither McConaughy nor Harrleson were willing to continue into the second series and, while I appreciate there would be many reasons for their decision, I cannot envisage another duo doing the same justice to True Detective, albeit with fresh identities, etc.

The Corpse Bridge (Cooper and Fry)
The Corpse Bridge (Cooper and Fry)
by Stephen Booth
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Revived Storyline., 16 July 2014
Stephen Booth's crime novels featuring detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry are very well crafted with, for the most part, gripping plots. The Corpse Bridge is the 14th outing for the detective duo and continues the thread of the previous 2 novels i.e. Ben Cooper is still trying to come to terms with the horrific events which took place in Dead and Buried and continued to affect him in Already Dead.

The Bridge of the title is part of an ancient route taken by mourners from outlying villages in the Peak District to a burial ground on the other side of the river Dove. This cemetery is now part of Earl Manby's estate and he plans to de-consecrate the burial ground in order to build a car park in its place but then bodies begin to appear...

While the plot moves quite slowly, Booth's love and knowledge of the Peak District is what sets his novels apart from many contemporary writers of detective fiction. This is probably the main the reason I am always so eager to buy his books as they appear in print; another reason is that Booth has created two very complex, difficult, prickly and intriguing characters in Cooper and Fry and it is this evolving relationship, more than the plots of the individual novels, that drive the series forward and this is why I am awarding The corpse Bridge 4 stars.

Just when Fry and Cooper's collaboration appears to be at an impasse Booth cleverly turns everything on its head and having become quite frustrated with both both characters and their interaction or lack thereof, my interest was suddenly piqued yet again.

All in all this is a most enjoyable read with the Peak District, quite rightly, taking centre stage and forming a perfect setting for the Cooper and Fry adventures!

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