Thursday, 27 June 2013

A Question of Identity by Susan Hill

A trial concludes. A jury gives a verdict. One person gets police protection, gets all help from police to get a new identity, gets help to retrain and start a new life. Another cowers in fear. Looks for help. Has nowhere to turn. Lives every moment of the life in mortal fear. The one who gets the police protection and help to start a new life is a killer who has killed at least three elderly women, who gets not guilty verdict as the defence convinces the witnesses that she cannot be sure about the identity of the person. The one who cowers in fear, is his wife that the prosecution convinces that she has no reason to fear and should speak out the truth, if necessary she would be given protection. Irony of justice!?

The story starts with the trial and then moves on to ten years after the event. The killer is retrained and leads a new life. When he sees an opportunity to let loose the inner demons he grabs it. A new settlement for elderly is ready for occupation, as the women move in our killer starts his rampage. 

The story was going fine and all of a sudden too many characters are introduced. Cat, Judith, Richard, Hannah, Sam, Simon and so on. It takes some time to understand the dynamics and relationship between the characters. Oh ya! Simon is the detective. I suppose these are regular characters with whom probably the readers of the series are already acquainted and need no introduction. Not reading any other book in the series it did take some time to understand who is who. While the new identity of the killer is not known, and Simon has to find out, we can guess who quite early. 

I read two horror novellas by Susan Hill and she creates quite an atmosphere, that is the reason I picked up this book, Susan Hill does create an atmosphere during the killing scenes. One of the elderly woman living alone in this settlement, contemplates in the night of starting a small library for the residents and thinks of authors to include the library P D James, Katie Fforde, Ruth Rendell, Denis Lehane, could be a bit raw for some, not Scandinavian Crime which is very violent and meets her end in a rather violent way. Thinking of crime books or reading crime fiction and then getting killed? We all love these thrills, don't we? 

If I Never See You Again by Niamh O'Connor

A woman is found murdered with her hand severed in an unoccupied apartment complex where our Detective Jo Birmingham is training for her promotion.  What does the severed hand refers to? Why does somebody go to such great lengths to sever the hand? How did somebody gain access to an unoccupied apartment used for training purposes by the police? Jo feels that this is not the murderers first killing and starts looking for other related cases and finds some. Somebody is using a paragraph from Bible to punish people. What did the murdered woman do to be avenged this way? Is a serial killer on the prowl in Dublin?

At the home-front, Jo is in the process of separating from her husband and her relationship with her husband is quite complex. And her husband is her boss and they got separated because Jo decided to have a second child sixteen years after the first child. Her husband didn't want the second child. After the separation he went on to have an affair with his secretary. Now after the birth of the child, he is very much there for the child but his affair has created a distance between them. Now he wants to be back. Jo sometimes feel the need for him but she cannot forgive him the affair, and has a nagging feeling that maybe he was seeing his secretary long before they got separated.  Jo's family dynamics with a one year old baby and Sixteen year old playing truancy and her complex relationship with her husband is interesting. 

In the initial crime scene, Jo picks up some money from the wallet of the dead woman. Can't help wondering what is happening here? It's all so matter of fact, I couldn't help wondering if Jo is one of the cops who has turned bad, more so because I read Simon Kernick's Ultimatum before reading this book, and there is a similar scene where the protagonist is tempted to take money from the Crime Scene. You know we live in hard times, everybody is short of money, take some from somewhere,  where nobody is going to miss kind of argument. Thankfully, our Jo ain't like that. Later it is explained why she picked up the money.

Niamh O'Connor presents an argument against recreational drug use as she points out that this fuels the drug trade which is linked to various other problems including prostitution. The story takes place in Dublin and takes a look into the gangland warfare and drugs- How the organised drug trade creates terror on citizens who want to fight it. There is the case of the journalists whose daughter is kidnapped and returned by the drug-lords as a warning not to publish news. The returned daughter is undergoing psychiatric treatment as she wouldn't talk about what happened to her.  Are these cases related? Like a whodunit the suspicion moves from one key character to another as the truth is finally revealed. I didn't guess the killer and it is a clever mystery all around.

Published in 2010 this is the first book featuring detective Jo Birmingham. A clever mystery!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

You Don't Want To Know by Lisa Jackson

Two years after her two-year old son Noah has gone missing, Ava still sees visions of her son and hears his voice calling her. After her son disappeared, Ava became suicidal and lost her mental balance leading to a stint at the asylum. Ava is still taking medicines under psychiatric care. Ava is super rich and owns an island, and lives with her husband and an assortment of relatives in her Island home. She doesn't trust anybody, including her husband. Is it the medicines or her condition that is causing this paranoia and hallucinations? Or is somebody setting her up, trying to push her off the edge? If it is somebody making her crazy, who is it? Is it her husband who is seeing the psychologist in the sly? Or is it her wheel-chair bound cousin Jewel-Anne, who considers her the reason for her condition? Or is it her young cousin Jacob, who would love a slice of her wealth? Who is doing this to her? Or has she just lost it? Is there anybody she can trust? Why is the new cowboy rancher Austin Dern following her everywhere?

There are other questions too. Did it all start with her son's dissaapperance or much before that at her brother's death? The Island also was the home of a high security mental institution housing criminals who had committed multiple murders. After one of the murderers managed to escape, the institution was closed. Was the murderer responsible for her son's disappearance? What happened to her son? Is it better not to know? Are some truths better not known?

The island location works very well. But I feel some passages repetitive. I read something turn the page the same thing is repeated often wondering if I am reading the same page over and over again. It happens quite a few times.  A minor quibble in an overall engaging read. There are quite a lot of twists and turns in the last few pages. What looks like a straightforward mystery becomes a complex one with lots of twists and turns, you think it is over the mystery is solved, and then there is something else, and then something else all in the last few pages. A bit too long but I love my twists and turns and surprises!

The Lady of Sorrows by Anne Zouroudi

In a remote Island  in Greece is a church that holds the icon of the Lady of Sorrows, who is known to do miracles and listen to the prayers of the faithful. Greek detective Hermes umm, Fat Man, that's how he is addressed throughout the book, visits the church, only to find that the Icon is a clever imitation. Leaving matters to his friend Kara, he decides to sail away on his holiday. Only in the meanwhile, the Icon painter is found poisoned. Who killed him and why? What happened to the Orginal Lady of Sorrows icon?

The story moves at a leisurely fashion, the Fat Man goes about enjoying his life, swimming with his friend Kara, sailing happily, going to Peach orchards to get the pick of the best Peaches, and also solving the case. He has no official standing, just gossips with people makes them talk and get the information. He asks seemingly random questions and finally solves the case with the answers to these seemingly random questions.  Almost like Sherlock Holmes, only we have no Dr.Watson here to ask the reasons for the seemingly random questions. Given the leisurely pace, the last few pages have lots of twists and turns. I couldn't quite fathom how the fat man guessed what had happened and how he solved the case. I couldn't guess who the killer is, but had a vague idea of the icon imitation. But it all kind of adds up in the end.

This book is very different in tone, setting and atmosphere from Zone Defence by Petros Markaris , the only other Greek Mystery I read and one of my favourite reads last year. But both the mysteries evoke the feel of the place. Zone Defence shows us the modern Athens with its traffic jams, pollution, corruption and deals with the death of a night-club owner, is a clever multi-layered Noir. The Lady of Sorrows takes us to a remote beautiful Island to a laid back leisurely life, to a place one would like to go on a holiday.  The other common factor in the books is the earthquake. The Lady of Sorrows published in 2010 is the fourth book featuring Greek Detective, Hermes Diaktoros. Enjoyable cozy mystery!

This counts for various challenges including Crime Fiction Alphabet

Monday, 10 June 2013

J is for The Jewels of Paradise by Donna Leon

This is my post for Letter J for Crime Fiction Alphabet 2013

Leisure by William Henry Davies

What is this life if, full of care,
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

Is it a good thing if a crime novel set in present times reminds you of this poem! Here is something that is not rushed or fast paced, where the protagonist looks at the statues of angels in her hometown, Venice, and muses how do angels get dressed without causing damage to their feathers. Here is somebody who loves to stand and stare and enjoy the small pleasures of life. Forget about the Twitter and Facebook obsessions travel back to a different time, holding the mundane correspondence of a great musician, wondering what 'treasure' lies hidden among his possessions. By all this I mean, it takes forever for the rambling stream to get to the hidden treasure. But all research is like that, isn't it? You find things in serendipity that you won't find in breaking your heads over it. Right! Now to the story!

When Caterina finds an offer for research work in her home town Venice, she decides to take the plunge without doing much research about this new work. Caterina is a musicologist specialising in baroque opera. Don't worry, I don't know anything about music too, nor am I familiar with the names the story tells me, but that did not get in the way of enjoying this book. Two chests containing the papers of Steffani a famous musician is discovered by his descendants referred to as the Cousins. Caterina's work involves reading the documents in the chests in various languages to see if Steffani has left a Will or any inclination to which of the Cousins he wants his estate to be given. There is also a vague mention of a treasure. What does Caterina discover? Caterina works involves reading the background of the famous musician to make sense of the documents. What will Caterina discover about this musician? Is there really a treasure?

I liked the interactions between Caterina and her sister Lina-Tina via email. There isn't much mystery, you actually know where this rambling stream is going, but it is a relaxing laid back journey.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Queenpin by Megan Abbot

Imagine Cora, the femme fatale, narrating the story of The Postman always rings twice! Telling us how she met Papadakis, what happened with Frank and why she did what she had to do! Don't worry,  this is not the reworking of the The Postman Always Rings Twice from Cora's angle. But the classic noir from the female angle.

Seeing the cover and the opening, I thought the narrator is a young man. Before long I knew, the narrator is a young woman who finds the job as an accountant at a betting centre who when her immediate bosses ask her to cook up the books, has no qualms about it. We are introduced to the powerful and enigmatic  femme fatale Gloria Fenton who takes our girl into her hands and shows her the ropes. Our girl becomes a regular at the Casinos, racing tracks and is a runner for smuggled cigarettes, booze and precious stones.

All's well until she meets the charmer and loser Vic who believes that luck will turn and he has cracked how the system works and it won't be long before the big day. We do know that Vic is going to be the fall of our girl. Here is an interesting role reversal from the classic noir where the man is set to fall because of his fatal attraction to the woman, here our girl knows what Vic is but is unable to stop herself and reason. Vic is in trouble with a gangster because of his debts and needs her help. What are they going to do and how are they going to do it? Has our little girl learned enough to fool Gloria to get away with a substantial amount? Can she beat the Queenpin in her own game?

At about 170 pages, Queenpin is a captivating read with twists and turns and casual double crossings, set in the mid-sixties with a narrative that hooks from the start. I didn't realise almost until the end that our girl has no name. Interesting take on the classic noir. 

Friday, 7 June 2013

Wicked Wildfire Read-A-Thon

It's been a while since I participated in any Read-A-Thon! I miss all the fun of Read-A-Thons, checking what others are reading, challenges and reading as much as possible. So I am signing up for the Wicked Wildfire Read-A-Thon hosted at Myshelfconfessions. 

I will be reading everyday, more in some days and very little in others. I am planning to read from the following  books: 

The Question of Identity by Susan Hill
The Golden Egg by Donna Leon
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham
Six Years by Harlan Coben
Why shoot a Butler? by Georgette Heyer
Siberian Red by Sam Eastland
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Liani Taylor
The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

Book Read: The Question of Identity by Susan Hill
No of pages: 200/354
Books Read: The Question of Identity by Susan Hill (Completed)
                     Six Years by Harlan Coben
No of pages: 154, 200/351 
Total pages: 354
Books Read: Six Years by Harlan Coben(Completed)
No of pages: 151
Books Read: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
No of Pages: 120/374
Books Read: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline(Complete)
No of Pages: 254
Books Read: The Golden Egg by Donna Leon
No of Pages: 83/276
Books Read: The Golden Egg by Donna Leon(Completed)
No of Pages: 193
Currently Reading: Kill-Devil and Water by Andrew Pepper
No of Pages: 10
Total: 203
Books Read: Dekok and the Dead Lovers by A c Baantjer
No of Pages: 84
Total no of pages read during Read-AThon : 1449

Challenges Participated

∞ Pabkins @ My Shelf Confessions Challenge: Jigsaw Puzzle

∞ April @ My Shelf Confessions Challenge: Title Scramble

∞ Laura @ Music Plus Books Challenge: Cover Lover 

∞ Bex @ My Shelf Confessions Challenge: Crossword