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).