Thursday, September 8, 2016

"Remember Me This Way" by Sabine Durrant

Lizzie Carter's husband Zack Hopkins died a year ago and she's still not over it. Boy, is she really not over it. On the anniversary of his death, she goes to put flowers at his grave, only to find a bunch of flowers already there, a note revealing that someone called Xenia left them for him. Lizzie has no idea who Xenia might be.

Shortly before Zack's death, Lizzie left him a letter at his apartment saying she was leaving him. When she finally works up the courage to visit the flat, she finds that the letter has been opened and read; she'd always assumed he'd died before getting a chance to read it. These two occurrences convince her that Zack faked his death, is still alive, and out to harm her.

This took me nearly two weeks to read. It was very difficult to get into. Most of this was due to the main character of Lizzie. I understand the book was being told from the point-of-view of a woman who had been in an abusive marriage, but Lizzie's unrelenting weakness really wore me out. This woman's complete inability to pull herself together and do one simple thing without falling apart was annoying to the extreme. Once again, I understand this is probably a highly accurate portrayal of a woman who has been controlled and abused by her husband, if only for a couple of years, but it was a joyless experience seeing life through her timid eyes.

It just made her look stupid. And it didn't make sense that the police didn't fully inform her about the circumstances of her husband's death. The book tries to chalk it up to the incompetence of the family liaison officer assigned to her, but I call bullshit. I never believed that Lizzie could have been left in the dark to such an extent that she would believe her husband would fake her death. She bitches endlessly about her friends and family not believing her, but come on, Lizzie! Grow a brain - and maybe a spine too - and see your pathetic ramblings for what they are! I was never once convinced throughout the duration of the book that Zack was still alive. I got that Lizzie was an unstable, over-emotional wreck with lousy decision-making skills, but not sold on anything else.

The chapters from Zack's point of view, in the past, were effective. It provided us with a much clearer picture of the abusive manner in which he treated Lizzie. (When we're in Lizzie's head, it's just constant fluttering about how perfect he was). It was a pretty good portrayal of a sociopath. He was a horrible person, of course, but he was far more believable and interesting than wet-rag Lizzie.

Note: if you're a dog-lover, beware. Although the dog doesn't die, he is horribly mistreated by the plethora of sociopaths populating the novel. My puppy Denny was on the bed beside me while I read and I had to keep putting the book down so I could go over and hug her. 

If you can get past the utterly tedious first 70 pages or so, this settles into a fairly standard psychological thriller, with some mild intrigue, but is largely predictable once all the major players are introduced and interacting with one another. It's main letdown is its frustrating main character. Yes, her personality makes sense, but it wasn't any fun to read about.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

"Think Of The Children" by Kerry Wilkinson

DS Jessica Daniel witnesses a car accident. When she gets to the scene, the driver is dead, and she discovers the dead body of a boy in the trunk. The driver had a map to a specific location. When Jessica and her team arrive there, they discover some old clothes. They eventually learn the clothes belong to a boy who disappeared without a trace fourteen years earlier. Another lead takes them to an allotment shed, where they find a list of boys' names. What could link the two crimes, and is the list an indication that more boys will become victims?

It's another British police procedural. That should tell you everything to need to know, really.

It avoids some cliches. Jessica thankfully doesn't come with a traumatic past, just some mild romantic angst. There wasn't an evil, conniving journalist waiting in the wings to try and character-assassinate Jessica. There wasn't any internal team conflicts with somebody out for Jessica's job. There was that, at least.

However, the rest of it wasn't much to write home about. I thought the various elements to the plot were interesting, and wanted to see how they would all link up. But it was pretty thin. This felt very padded out. As it typical of the genre, there are false leads and dead ends.

SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER When another boy goes missing, we get a few chapters from the point of view of Lloyd, the kidnapped boy, who refers to his kidnapper as "the person". It is then revealed his kidnapper is his grandmother, and has nothing to do with the case. Why the fuck was he referring to his grandmother as "the person" and not "grandmother"? It's cheap, lazy writing that treats the reader like an idiot. END SPOILER

I was about ready to throw the book across the room during an endless 17-page chapter in which Jessica makes dinner for her boyfriend and some friends. SEVENTEEN FUCKING PAGES. Why was that necessary? It doesn't add anything to the story or characterisation, as we're repeatedly told it's completely out of character for Jessica to do that! Grrrr.

Although Jessica approved somewhat towards the end, I had difficulty liking her character. She's a miserable bitch most of the time.

By the end I was skimming. I grew tired of the author's habit of telling us that Jessica had figured something out, but not actually letting us (the reader) in on it. This was particularly painful in the home stretch, where Jessica undertakes all manner of schemes to bring about a resolution to the case. I was so bored by then, I was mostly skimming, only to be rewarded with the revelation to be exactly what I expected it to be.

I won't be visiting any of Jessica's other adventures. She was annoying, the plot was slow and predictable, and the writer employed cheap, lazy tricks to try and obfuscate any plot surprises. There are too many good books out there to waste more time on a series that brings nothing new to a genre that I'm increasingly beginning to dislike.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

"Keep Your Friends Close" by Paula Daly

Natty Wainwright hurries to France when daughter Felicity is hospitalised after a burst appendix. She has husband Sean stay behind to look after the hotel they own and manage. Her friend from her teenage years, Eve Dalladay, is visiting and figures she will be able to provide some support. Oh boy, does she ever. In Natty's absence, Eve gives Sean a blow-job and in the space of just ten days he's decided he's in love with Eve and leaves Natty for her.

Natty is understandably quite shocked by this turn of events and has trouble coping with what has happened. She rams Eve's car in a fit of rage, and finds herself in trouble with the police, as Eve has sustained significant injuries and is pressing charges. As the days go on, she finds her life being slowly derailed by Eve's shenanigans, as she moves in on Natty's family. Then Natty receives a note saying Eve has done this before....

My biggest issue with Keep Your Friends Close was Natty Wainwright herself. She's a COMPLETE FUCKING MORON. The sequence in which she rams Eve's car seems to be the driving element that kickstarts the story. Natty claims to know that Eve is lying about her injuries, as she was wearing a seatbelt when Natty rammed the car. So? So what? That makes it okay? That means it wasn't a completely stupid immature thing to do? On top of that, it makes no sense. Did Eve somehow psychically know that Natty would do this sort of thing, setting her up with  the perfect opportunity to make Natty look mad and dangerous? As the story wears on, Natty can't seem to remember to bring her wallet to places with her, or do any of the things a normal, educated person would do. She at one stage lets Eve in on where she is and what she's doing. Smart move, Natty! Just give away your whole strategy! It was endlessly frustrating. Basically, many of the situations Natty finds herself in are of her own doing. She deserved what she got.

The other parts work a little better. Eve is definitely an insidious, conniving bitch, and watching her try to destroy Natty and steal her life was quite good on a Lifetime TV-movie level. I would have liked some more antagonism between Eve and Felicity, the daughter who knew she was evil and up to no good. That battle of wills was interesting. I dare say it would have been a far more interesting and suspenseful book if it had been from the viewpoint of Felicity, matching wits with the evil bitch who wants to take over her family.

The detective character of Joanne Aspinall barely needed to be there. That we had two entire chapters devoted to her struggles with her enormous breasts and attempts at a breast reduction were just beyond belief. What the fuck was up with that? Who cares. I remember Joanne also appeared in Just What Kind Of Mother Are You?, Daly's previous novel, but here her presence was superfluous. The deal with her breasts is barely referenced throughout the rest of the book, further rendering it stupid and redundant. What was the point? Urgh.

The wrap-up falls short of satisfaction. Throughout the book we are given glimpses into Eve's apparent previous crimes. This is never followed through. We never learn the full details of Eve's history of fleecing men. Why was Sean a target? Was he particularly rich? Why did she want him??? He's a moron with two bratty daughters - and Eve doesn't like children. It all remains maddeningly elusive. What did she hope to gain?

The very final couple of pages provided a little punch of satisfaction that capped off the story nicely, though.

There were some good parts. Most of it was, however, was reliant upon extreme contrivance, so a lot of it didn't really ring true. The face-slappingly stupid protagonist didn't help much either.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

"Pretty Baby" by Mary Kubica

Heidi Wood is a bit of a bleeding heart. She takes in stray cats, and works for a non-profit charity helping refugees and those who don't speak English as a first language. Her latest charity case is a teenage mother, Willow. She brings her into her home, much to the dismay of husband Chris and daughter Zoe.

So why is Heidi so intent on looking after Willow and baby Ruby? And what secrets could Willow be possibly hiding that would make Heidi's offer of a helping hand turn out to be a bad decision?


In the end, not a great deal.

I read this book in a day. I have to give it credit for that. It was obviously doing something right. But it really wasn't much of a thriller. Bit by bit, we learn about Willow's past. Bit by bit, we see how Heidi loses her grip on reality. But there are no real surprises. I guess my problem is I keep thinking up much more elaborate, exciting scenarios than what actually gets revealed. I need to stop doing that. "Pretty Baby" is much more psychological drama than it is psychological thriller. There was not enough peril for it to be classed as the latter. I just never quite got the sense that anybody was actually in any danger.

That's a major fail for what is being advertised as a THRILLER.

Seriously, Heidi's neurosis over not having the full family of six kids she wanted is hard to stomach. She has a daughter. Some people don't even have that. Instead, she just bangs on and on and on AND ON about baby Juliet, who had to be aborted, because Heidi had cervical cancer and wouldn't have survived long enough to bring Juliet to term.

Also, isn't it kind of sexist to suggest that women should feel worthless if they cannot give birth? If Heidi wanted a baby so desperately she was willing to take another woman's child, why the fuck couldn't she just adopt? Her husband Chris is shown throughout the book as unable/not willing to object to her do-gooding flights of fancy, so adoption seems like the far more easy, more legal avenue for Heidi to explore. I just find the continuing insinuation in today's society that being "barren" is bad as rather troublesome, a notion this book never attempts to debunk. Heidi is defined entirely by her desire to be a mother, and this is backed up by frequent referrals in the text to Heidi's abortion as "medical waste". Huh? Does Kubica have some sort of pro-life agenda going on here?

In the current boom of psychological thrillers, this is probably the worst I've read. I suspect that's more to do with it being labeled as a thriller, when it clearly never should have been.

"Close My Eyes" by Sophie McKenzie

Geniver Loxley endured a stillborn birth eight years ago, and has never really gotten over it. Her husband Art is eager for another child, so she reluctantly participates in fertility sessions to try and get pregnant again, as it doesn't seem to be working naturally.

Then one day, a woman - Lucy O'Donnell - shows up on her doorstep and reveals that her baby is actually alive. There was a conspiracy to fool Geniver into thinking her baby was stillborn, and her husband was apparently a major part of it. (Lucy's sister was a nurse in on the ruse, and spilled her guts on her deathbed).

Geniver grabs on to this shred of hope and refuses to let go. She obviously begins to wonder if she can trust her husband at all. A TV actor from her husband's past shows up, and he winds up being her support system as she searches for the truth.

It's been a few days since I read this, as I wanted to see how I felt about it after a little time had passed. With the benefit of that time for reflection, I have to say this one is worth reading. I've been sticking with psychological thrillers of late, because I have found the process of reading them enjoyable. While a police procedural has me wanting to throw the book/Kindle across the room because the exact same cliches keep popping up every time, this current trend of female-led psychological thrillers at least offer a bit of mystery. Sure, the final revelations are never as startling as you'd hope they'd be, but they do all suck me in.

My only real complaint with "Close My Eyes" is that I sometimes got fed up with the main character, Geniver. I couldn't possibly understand the trauma associated with having a stillborn baby, but Geniver's grief was just so self-indulgent. It often seemed as if she held on to her pain because she could, not because she should. She absolutely refused to move on with her life after EIGHT YEARS, and it was a bit too much. Why nobody in her life could find a way to gently tell her to process her grief and instead put up with her poor-me bullshit is beyond me.

Other than that, this really kept me gripped. I read it in a single day. It was all a bit outlandish, but I can forgive that, as it was never boring. The fact it had me hooked also helped to overlook some of the predictability. All in all, "Close My Eyes" is a good choice for those who, like me, are voraciously consuming this flurry of psychological thrillers. It hits far more than it misses (although I can't quite figure out the relevance of the title!)

Friday, August 12, 2016

"The Lies We Tell" by Meg Carter

Despite remembering with exact clarity every other moment of her life when she was 15, Katy Parker is hazy about that one day she saw best friend Jude Davies pulled into the bushes by an attacker. When she went to get help, she wound up in hospital (it's never fully explained exactly what happened to her). Jude moved away, and Katy never really found out what happened.

Twenty-four years later, Jude reappears in Katy's life - but is she friend or foe? Her arrival coincides with strange occurrences, such as a mysterious stranger in a downstairs apartment, vandalism of Katy's property, and the mugging of her mother. What exactly are Jude's intentions? And what exactly happened all that time ago?

Psychological thrillers are a dime a dozen these days, but I still get hooked in by them. They're certainly a more preferable choice than the police procedural, which now drive me crazy with their cliches. "The Lies We Tell" doesn't do much to stand out from the pack, but it's a diverting enough read.

My biggest beef is with the "unreliable narrator" element. I'm supposed to believe that Katy can't remember what actually happened one day twenty-four years ago when she can vividly remember every single other f***ing detail of her life, including one incident when she was two! Yes, two! It just suspends my disbelief that one bit too far. Seriously, she was two. Nobody can remember what they were doing when they were two. If Katy has this magical power, why can't she SPOILER AHEAD remember something mildly heroic like rescuing her best friend from someone she believed was a rapist by bonking him on the head with a branch? END SPOILER. It just doesn't make any sense.

The Lies We Tell is a slow-burn psychological thriller, but the suspense did get upped the closer it got to its climax. As is typical of the genre, the revelations aren't as exciting or dramatic as the characters make them out to be, so it's all a bit underwhelming.

The other big complaint here is description. Way too much of it. When Katy runs off in fear after she gets close to gathering an important clue (groan), we are then bombarded with descriptions of the roads and scenery she drives down, the beach she escapes to, and all the different people she sees on the beach.

It's not needed.

Seriously, why the fuck is it important for me to know the colour of the bathers somebody on a beach is wearing? This character has no name and no relevance to the plot. It's INFURIATING. The author particularly seems to engage in this when she wants to draw out the arrival of a major plot point. If she doesn't have enough plot for a full novel, she should consider a novella or short story.

The Lies We Tell wasn't completely exasperating, and it kept me involved, but doesn't deliver anything you haven't come across before in this genre.

Monday, August 8, 2016

"Black-Eyed Susans" by Julia Heaberlin

Tessa Cartwright is the only survivor of a serial killer who buried her in a makeshift grave, covered in black-eyed susans, with one dead girl, and the bones of two others. This happened when she was sixteen, and she participated in a trial that saw Terrell Darcy Goodwin put away for life.

Seventeen years later, she is now helping a team that wants to score Terrell a new trial. Part of the reason is that she has very little memory of what happened back then, and also the guilt she feels over the death of the caseworker who was working so hard on Terrell's freedom. However, there is also the small matter of the mysterious person who has been planting patches of black-eyed susans at whichever house Tessa has been staying in over the past seventeen years....

"Black-Eyed Susans" did its job in that it kept me gripped. I read the first half while I was at work, and the second half while I was at home. There was just enough being dangled before to keep me interested and captivated. It got suspenseful at times. But it all kind of got frittered away by the end.


When you call your book "Black-Eyed Susans," and have those flowers take up so much significance in your tale, and be part of the mystery that is seeking to be answered, DO NOT pass it off at the end as "well, I may never know". Are you for real??? Those flowers were the whole reason the fucking book existed in the first place! You're not going to say definitively who had been planting them? Fuck off!

Also, the way Tessa kept banging on and on and ON about her childhood friend Lydia Bell, it was kind of obvious she was going to play a part in the resolution. How could she not? I was thinking up all sorts of bizarre and exciting scenarios as to how Lydia would figure into the final explanation, but was highly underwhelmed by the lackluster revelation.

The ending just doesn't work at all. Tessa meets the adult Lydia, there's a bit of chatter - and then it's the epilogue! What the fuck? There's no climax! What is going on here? All that build-up is for nothing. Lydia insists she never planted the black-eyes susans. The first time it was the real killer, but all the other times, Tessa is just happy to figure she'll never know the truth.

Except those fucking black-eyed susans are the reason she told us this story in the first place, aren't they?

Sorry for the swearing. It royally pissed me off.

Otherwise, yeah, I did enjoy it.

"Forbidden: The Sheikh's Virgin" by Trish Morey

Rafiq Al'Ramiz returns to his home country of Qusay because his brother Kareef is about to become the King. He's been away for ten years, and he has since become a successful businessman in Australia. Upon his return, he is shocked to run into Sera (no surname is ever provided in the book). She was the love of his life over ten years ago, but decided to marry another man and told Rafiq she had never loved him. He still hates her for it.

When Rafiq's mother suggests he travel to Marresh to buy some fabrics for his Emporiums, he insists that Sera accompany him so that she can engage in the negotiations. This is his idea of punishing her, knowing how uncomfortable she will be spending several days with him.

Of course, during their time together, the trip is just as much a punishment for him, as he still wants her. As for Sera, she wants Rafiq too, but there are secrets from her marriage (her husband is now dead) that she feels she can never tell him, as it could ruin any chance at a future between them.

Romance novels are a funny thing. The "Sexy" line put out by Mills & Boon just defies understanding. For me, anyway. Every single one of them is essentially about a young woman, naive beyond belief, who becomes the obsession of a rich, arrogant jerk. His attempts at seducing her typically involve outrageous sexual blackmail. He's an asshole to her for most of the book, she decides she loves that, and they have sex, and live happily ever after. The rich alpha male is always a tycoon, aristocrat or - like this one - a sheikh.

I actually went on-line to try and find out what the fascination was with a sheikh, and why he was so prevalent in women's category romance fiction, particularly in a world that is becoming more fractured due to rising fear of muslims and Islam (however unfounded it might be). There was a lot of interesting reading to be done on the topic, but I gathered in the end that the sheikh is not that much different to the Greek or Italian tycoon in that the romance book is basically fetishizing the "exoticness" of these men and the fantasy of a white woman, an "other" in his world, being able to tame him.

The difference here is that it is strongly suggested Sera is an Arab woman herself. Her surname is never divulged, but it would appear she has never left Qusay, and her marriage to her husband was a result of her being bound by family and cultural traditions. I guess it lended a more believable aspect to the story, though I have not read enough "sheikh" romances to really provide a full, comprehensive comparison!

However, it is a fascinating thing to explore - more interesting than the book itself, in any case! Why do women want to read books in which the behaviour of the man before the happily ever after is generally the text-book definition of spousal abuse? Why do they enjoy shows like "The Bachelor" in which a man dates (and likely sleeps with) multiple women at once, when that is something they would otherwise loathe in a man? I'm a guy, so there are probably all sorts of questions you could ask about why I would read a Mills & Boon Sexy Romance.

Well, they're short, for one thing. Also, I was sick to death of British police procedurals (they keep advertising themselves as "serial killer thrillers" and I keep getting fooled), and this was about as far away a genre choice I could think of.

Finally, they are books that boil it all down to very simple elements. Two people with differing personalities, emotions and goals, how these conflict and contrast with one another, and how they are resolved. It's a great template for one's own writing.

And, I just like reading. The more I try to understand these books, the more I start enjoying them.

"No Name Lane" by Howard Linskey

Young girls are being abducted and murdered in the North East. The latest girl to disappear is Michelle Summers. A task force is created to locate her. One of the members of the task force is DC Ian Bradshaw, who is disliked by the force after an "incident" from his past. Of course. Because all leading characters in a cop drama have to have a fucking traumatic past. Arrrggghhh.

Tom Carney is a journalist who returns home after being suspended by the top tabloid rag in the country. (A lot of time is wasted on this subplot). Looking for a story that he can use to get himself back in the paper's good books, he hooks onto the case of the missing and murdered girls. He eventually convinces another journalist, Helen Norton, to team up with him. (Helen has taken over the job Tom had before he joined the tabloid).

When a body is found, it turns out to be fifty-to-sixty years old, so obviously has no connection to the girls being kidnapped and murdered. However, Ian, Tom and Helen, in their own capacity, seek to unravel the mystery of both cases.

I am not a fan of crime novels that have two disparate plot lines running parallel to one another, yet having nothing to do with each other. It simply narrows the focus, delivering two mediocre tales instead of one gripping tale. It never works - you need to be able to link your plots! The case of the dug-up old body here is virtually pointless. The characters mentioned as suspects are all dead, so there is zero urgency to the proceedings! The storyline is wrapped up in a rather arbitrary, distracted manner, further making you wonder why the author bothered.

The plot involving the missing and murdered girls works slightly better, but is still largely predictable.

There are flashbacks to the 1930s in regards to the cold-case mystery, and these are portrayed well, but once again, rendered fairly useless by the fact the cold case doesn't amount to much of anything, due to the lack of urgency. If the characters themselves are remarking that it doesn't make much difference if the case is solved or not, why are we to care?

I was very bored by the first 100 pages. After that, it began to pick up. I mostly enjoyed the process of reading it, but suspense was decidedly lacking. I appreciated the fact the journalists were actively pursuing leads in order to solve the cases. Usually, in British police procedurals, the journalist characters are simply out to assassinate the character of the lead detective. Here, their characters were well-developed and the relationship between them believably portrayed and progressed. I actually liked them. I liked Ian Bradshaw as well, despite the tiresome trope of having the "incident" in his past. He came across as a sensitive good guy.

If the author can link his disparate storylines, I would go for another outing with these characters.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

"The Screaming Room" by Thomas O'Callaghan

Lt. John Driscoll's wife has finally passed away after six years in a coma. He doesn't really get a chance to grieve, as tourists are turning up dead at popular tourist destinations, their bodies posed, and they have been scalped. The mayor himself wants Driscoll to catch this killer.

Enquiries eventually lead Driscoll and his team to learn that there are actually two killers - male and female identical twins. It's rare but apparently is does happen. The pair have horrible sexual abuse in their past, which provides the team with motive, but also acts as a trigger for team member Margaret Aligante's own sexual abuse history.

When one of the victims turns out to be the daughter of pharmaceutical giant Malcolm Shewster, Driscoll has another headache on his hands. Malcolm is inserting himself into the investigation and obstructing justice in his effort to both avenge his daughter's death and hide some secrets of his own.

All of this sounds a lot more interesting than it really is, as The Screaming Room was a real chore for me to get through. For the first 100 pages or so, it amounted to little more than characters who have no bearing on the plot discovering dead bodies. I've said in the past this is a pet hate of mine, so it drove me absolutely nuts that the first third was taken up by this trope. There is a lack of suspense in knowing from the get-go who the killers are, and the Malcolm Shewster subplot just gets in the way, sapping energy from the serial killer storyline.

Short chapters allow little time to get into the characters' heads. There are interminable chapters as detectives follow false leads. One in particular that took place at a circus had me ready to throw the book across the room. It just went on and on and on.

Later, we spend an inordinate amount of time with the detectives as the chase after some female witness who sold one of the killer's a laptop. Malcolm is also chasing after her, as he has offered a reward to anybody who can provide information to find his daughter's killer. It was a bizarre combination of the ludicrous and utter monotony. What the hell was the freaking point of it all?

This book drove me nuts. Because I have to finish anything I start, I really started to resent this book for the time it was taking away from me being able to read other books.

The back of the book has an excerpt for a follow up called "No One Will Hear You". A look at Amazon and Goodreads shows that it never actually made it into print. Judging by how awful The Screaming Room was, it doesn't come as much of a surprise.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

"Bite" by Nick Louth

Max Carver is an artist on his way to Amsterdam to support his girlfriend, Erica Stroud-Jones, who has an important paper to deliver at a conference in regards to new research about fighting malaria. However, the night before she is due to give her talk, she disappears.

When Max tries to investigate her disappearance, he is drawn into the dangerous underworld of pharmaceutical research and competitiveness. While he is led astray by the alluring thief who he witnessed steal Erica's laptop, various other people try to find a cure to a mysterious new strain of malaria that has seemingly affected people on a flight to Amsterdam (which Max was on as well). Intercut with all this are diary extracts from Erica about a trip to Africa several years earlier.

"The Most Gripping Thriller You Will Ever Read".

That's what is plastered across the front cover of this less-than-thrilling adventure tale.

Seriously, who thought that was an effective way to sell the book?

With so many good, thrilling books to choose from out there from multiple decades, it's just a stupid claim to make. I doubt many people will find this to be the most gripping thriller they've ever read, unless they've never read a book before. How about just saying: "A gripping thriller"? You're kind of setting yourself up for a fail with bold statements such as the one already on the cover.

This was far from the most gripping thriller I've read. It jumps between too many characters to ever develop any of them to any degree of satisfaction. Main character Max Carver transforms from a supposedly chubby ex-Coast Guard officer into a highly efficient Jason Bourne knock-off. It doesn't ring true.

It all reads like an immature boys-own adventure, complete with an alluring female thief whose clothes keep falling off and who gets horny whenever danger is afoot. It just made me roll my eyes.

The endless flashbacks in every other chapter were a major drawback for me, as well. They definitely could have been cut down. It points to the "bad guy" motivation, but could have been divulged far earlier than it actually was.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"When I Wasn't Watching" by Michelle Kelly

Lucy Wyatt has tried to move on in the eight years since the murder of her son Jack, but all the unpleasant memories resurface when his killer, Terry Prince, is released on parole. The community is up in arms over the move, and the fact his location is being kept a secret.

DI Matt Winston is required to notify Lucy of the developments, and an attraction begins between them. A possible conflict of interest arises when another boy goes missing, one who resembles Jack. Has Terry Prince struck again, or is there another explanation?

Along with the unreliable female narrator trend in fiction these days is the child-has-gone-missing plot. It crops up again here in a story that is more drama than suspense. For the first half, it is mostly just an examination of Lucy's feelings, her ex-husband Ethan Randall's feelings, and her surviving son Ricky's feelings. Or the developing relationship between Lucy and Matt, which descends into the sort of risible sex scenes you might expect in a $2 bodice-ripper. It's not particularly enthralling.

And what is it with English novels and odious reporters on a single-handed mission to assassinate another person's character? I really, really want to see less of this trope. I'm pretty sure it's not even allowed? There's this thing called ethics I've heard about....

The kidnapped-child subplot never generates the tension necessary to label this a psychological thriller, nor the mystery surrounding Terry Prince's release and new location. There are a couple of mild plot twists delivered towards the end, but getting there is a bit of a hard slog.

On a side note, my Kindle version was absolutely riddled with grammatical errors. Not a good look for a supposedly professional publisher.

"Family Reunion" by Carol Smith

The matriarch of the Annesley clan, who has practically been in hiding for decades, unexpectedly sends a letter to her many grandchildren in regards to her will. A group of the grandchildren, led by Clemency Cartwright, decide to visit her in France personally. They are seemingly unconcerned that various other family members across the globe have been murdered, or that the murderer might drop by for a visit as well....

Seriously, what was with all the incest in this book? It was crazy. It was gross. There is a romantic happily-ever-after for two characters who are second cousins.

I'll start with the character of Dominic Carlisle. He's the second cousin of the six grandchildren who visit their grandmother. Five of them are women. He's been hired by oldest grandchild Harry, for reasons that are never made explicitly clear, to spy on the women. He sleeps with one of them, hits on and kisses another two, and hits on yet another.

What the fuck is up with this guy? He knows he's related by blood to these women and actively pursues every single one of them! He's sick!

The women are no better. Although he treats them like dirt, they keep coming back for more. Even when they find out they're related to him, they keep coming back for more.

On top of that, the matriarch's own marriage was to her first cousin, so all these characters are the product of an incestuous relationship.

Gross, gross, gross.

By the end, it's not made properly clear why the killer was offing various members of the family, or why he should target those people in particular. (I'm still at a loss to understand why minor character Pandora was among the victims). As you might expect, the killer's motive and past included more incest.

It was a stupid, vague book and all the consensual incest just turned my stomach.

"Neighbors" by Maureen S. Pusti

Kristen Roberts moves to a new town with her husband Tom when he gets a job as a lecturer at the nearby university. They are almost immediately set upon by Eliza Noman, their new neighbour, who insinuates her way into their lives. Kristen doesn't like Eliza at all, but Tom seems captivated by her - and she with him.

We learn that Eliza and her female friends are some sort of cult of devil worshipers, and Tom just happens to resemble Eliza's long-dead husband. Kristen wonders if the rash of child disappearances have anything to do with Eliza's strange behaviour.

Ah, 90s horror pulp fiction. "Neighbours" won't blow you away and doesn't offer any real surprises, but it's an engaging horror story that rarely gets dull. I'm not sure why Kristen didn't just tell Tom to shove it and move back in with her family (his behaviour becomes revolting), but then we probably wouldn't have a book. Kristen isn't as much of a doormat as the heroines you usually find in horror, thriller or suspense novels - even now - so it was easy to get on side with her.

It doesn't look as if Maureen Pusti ever put out another book, and while you don't need to rush out and find this book, give it a chance if you come across it in an op shop (the way I did).

Friday, January 1, 2016

"Sliver" by Ira Levin - and the movie too!

Kay Norris moves into a high-rise apartment building known as a "sliver". She eventually starts a relationship with Pete Henderson, who is over a decade younger than her. First she discovers that he is actually the owner of the building. Then she discovers he has an elaborate video camera system installed in the building that lets him watch all the tenants' every move.

Several deaths have already occurred in the building, and Kay slowly suspects there is more to them than meets the eye, especially when she learns from tenant Sam Yale about Pete's mother Thea Marshall, who died years earlier under mysterious circumstances.

I'd already seen the Sharon Stone thriller "Sliver" long before I ever read this book. I actually went and re-watched the movie after reading the book to look at the similarities and differences. It was really interesting. You could tell that they initially wanted to follow the general direction of the book, only to go in a completely different direction about half-way through. Apparently the film shoot went through endless script changes and re-shoots. I imagine they were also sidetracked by including a lot of sex, as this was Stone's first big vehicle after "Basic Instinct" sent her star soaring. Although the book does contain sexual content, it's nowhere near the level found in the movie itself.

I liked the book better. I've read "The Stepford Wives" by Levin before this, and I enjoyed it. The novel "Sliver" is much more your standard woman-in-peril mystery thriller. It builds slowly but surely to a pretty nifty climax. You could probably make it into a movie again, and wind up with something completely different to what the 1993 film version turned out to be.

I admit to a fondness for the trashy 1993 movie, though. A confident, interesting first half (where it most strongly resembles the book) gives way to a confused, meandering second half. The killer's identity is ludicrously obvious, but the film seems to want us to think it's supposed to be a mystery. However, when you have Tom Berenger kneeling over the body of a dead woman and audibly saying "Are you happy now, Vida?" it kind of takes the mystery out of it. Apparently there were so many script changes and re-shoots that the identity of the killer actually changed, so that could possibly account for the lapses in logic! Also, I'm not sure why you'd pick Ira Levin's source material when you're wanting to make the next big Sharon Stone sex-thriller after "Basic Instinct". The book seems much more suited to a made-for-TV movie.

Still, I enjoyed the book, and I always find it really interesting to compare books and movies, especially when there are significant changes made to the source material, such as the case with this one.

"Night In The Lonesome October" by Richard Laymon

Ed Logan, heartbroken over being dumped by his girlfriend, decides to go for a night-time stroll to buy some donuts. This is his introduction to the strange night-time world that exists in his town. He becomes fascinated by a young girl he sees out at night, wandering what she is doing. Even though he is quickly developing a relationship with Eileen Danforth, one of his ex's friends, he keeps going out at night in the hope of seeing more of this young girl. Unfortunately, the night also contains many strange people, such as a "hag" on a bike, strange cannibalistic homeless men who live under the bridge, and a psycho called Randy who has evil designs on Eileen and Ed.

This long, interminable story is more a series of vignettes than an actual horror tale with a proper plot. Ed goes out each night, sees strange and scary things, tries to find the girl he has seen, and deliberates and second guesses his every move. Rinse and repeat. It soon got very tiresome and dull. After this on-going pattern, Laymon randomly wraps everything up by returning to the character of Randy and throwing in a gratuitous lashing of sex, violence and rape.

Laymon is no stranger to sexual violence in his novels, but here it is particularly loathsome due to the off-hand way into which it is inserted into the story. If he hadn't had Randy come in and abuse all the female characters, the story probably never would have ended, as the narrative had been so open-ended, with no clear idea as to who the real antagonist of the story was. Randy shows up briefly early in the story, but never reappears until the slimy climax. I felt like taking a shower after reading it. The homeless cannibals living under the bridge are never really defined enough to feel like the main antagonists either.

Characterisations aren't the best either. Ed is described as not being anything special, and even something of a literary nerd, but every single main character in the story - male or female - wants to have sex with him. I eventually grew to quite dislike him, as he spends most of his time thinking with his dick. That's when he's not endlessly questioning his every movement and decision. Seriously, it sometimes feels like just choosing between going left or going right is a huge life choice for this guy.

I've suspected in the past that Laymon is homophobic, and that really shines through here with the characters of Randy and Kirkus. Randy is a sick killer who likes to rape men and women indiscriminately, while Kirkus is portrayed as very fey and pompous, but ready to practically attack and molest Ed at any given moment. He gets punched for his efforts, which is pretty un-PC.

The sexual deviancy and rape that constitutes the climax is, admittedly, par for the course for this author, but is so random that it's just distasteful and queasy. It definitely feels like it was thrown in because that's what Laymon (or his publishers) believes his readers want to read, not that it suits the style of the story.

Laymon used to be one of my favourite authors. After reading "The Lake", "Come Out Tonight" and "No Sanctuary" in succession and not finding any of them particularly good, I'm beginning to wonder why I held him in such high esteem. Are my tastes changing as I get older? Do I enjoy different stuff now that I'm 36? Or will I be pleasantly surprised if I go back and tap older fare such as "Bite", "Body Rides" and "Flesh", novels of his I haven't read yet? I'm hoping for the latter.