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Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl

gonegirlGillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is a breakout success, so much so that she is apparently writing a screen version of it at the moment. I have read her debut novel, Sharp Objects, and found it a cynical and bleak thriller about broken people who break others (that is not a complaint, by the way!). I am reading Dark Places at the moment and enjoying it. But Gone Girl is the one; the one that all the book groups are reading, the one that is on the shelves in the supermarket, the one that people ask you about as soon as they clock you reading it (“Ooh, what do you think of it?”).

The question is, does Gone Girl deserve the hype? On the whole, I’d say the answer is yes. The ending is not as strong as I’d like, but the first part of the book is an engaging mystery; the second part of the book hits you hard with a twist and then speeds off, leaving you breathless and desperately trying to keep up as it gallops towards the ending. I was absolutely desperate to know what happened and literally could not put it down, reading far later into the night than I should have just to find out more. This is a stylish, brutal, well-written book that catches you and toys with you throughout.

Gone Girl has an intriguing format that draws you in from the start, opening on the day that Amy Elliot Dunne disappears from the house she shares with her husband, Nick. Nick’s chapters, dating from the day Amy vanishes and going forward, are interleaved with Amy’s diary entries recounting the story of their relationship from the day they met up to the day she vanishes.¬†Amy is the inspiration for a set of children’s books, the Amazing Amy series, written by her parents, and the Amazing Amy style and the magazine quizzes she now writes for women’s mags inform the way in which her diaries are written. Both protagonists write in the first person, so you come to know both Nick and Amy very well.

As an aside, I love the way that Flynn’s books have been packaged. The matt black covers with neon text and images (pink, green and, in the case of Gone Girl, orange) are smart, stylish and fresh-looking.

This is a great thriller that keeps you hooked up to the final pages. Although I found the ending slightly disappointing compared to the rest of the book, it’s only because the rest of the book was of such a high standard that the it was always going to be difficult for the ending to live up to my expectations.

Rating: A

SERIOUS SPOILERS AFTER THE JUMP
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A Captain Awkward glossary

Captain Awkward is my favourite blog right now, and it’s reaching heights of internet popularity that are awesome (because more people get to read the Captain and co-bloggers’ fantastic advice) but also mean that there’s a lot of newcomers to the blog who are wondering about Jedi hugs, evil bees and FEELINGSART. So here’s a first attempt at a Captain Awkward glossary for the uninitiated, in no particular order:

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TV: Old World attitudes in the New (Old) World: Terra Nova

I had far too much to say about Terra Nova to fit into 140 characters, so I’ve resurrected this blog for a one-off TV review.

It’s fair to say that I like dinosaurs. I like the BBC’s Walking With… series, I like all three of the Jurassic Park films (yes, even the third one – the script was by Alexander Payne who wrote Election, and William H. Macy and Tea Leoni’s bickering is worth the price of entry alone), I even like those seemingly endless documentaries on the higher reaches of the V+ box purporting to prove whether T Rex was a scavenger or a ruthless killer that feature “Dinosaur George” Blasing (yes, he really does exist). I’m even gritting my teeth and continuing with the BBC’s “unconvincing CGI palaeontology for five year olds” primetime series Planet Dinosaur. So you can see that I’m pretty much the target audience for this sort of thing. Continue Reading »

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Jonathan Kellerman – Evidence

Jonathan Kellerman - Evidence (book cover)It seems unfair that the first Jonathan Kellerman book I review should be Evidence, as I am a huge fan of Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series and this is not one of his best. I have been reading his books since I was a teenager, which goes to show you how long they have been around. Kellerman’s strengths are his intricate plotting and evocation of the darkness which lies beneath California’s glittering surface.

In Evidence, Detective Milo Sturgis calls Alex to a murder in a half-finished mansion. A couple have been killed, seemingly in flagrante delicto. The man’s ID shows him to be an architect, but the woman has no identification on her at all. From this opening, Milo and Alex find that the murdered man was sleeping with a large number of women, including the women at the now-closed architectural firm at which he worked. As Milo and Alex investigate, they discover a possible connection to far eastern royalty and an unexpected link to environmental terrorism that changes the direction of their investigation…

My family think that Alex Delaware is boring as a character, and I have to agree with them to some extent. When I was in my teens, Alex seemed impossibly grown-up and sophisticated, with his home in one of the canyons round LA, his koi pond, beautiful guitar-making girlfriend, love of jazz, and endless dinners in fancy LA restaurants. Now I am 35 and he still seems impossibly sophisticated – but that impossibility is what makes me like him less as a character. Alex and his girlfriend Robin must now be in their 40s or 50s, but the fact that child-psychologist Alex has never had children is never discussed (previously Robin got pregnant by someone else and had an abortion, which did precipitate a crisis for both of them); Alex’s feelings about not having children are, like so much else about Alex, a closed book to the reader. And while it’s unlikely that Mil0 Sturgis, the gay LAPD detective, would still be an outsider in the department in a much more gay-friendly climate, Milo’s characterisation has suffered – with nothing to fight against, he is somehow less interesting than he used to be.

But I can forgive all that most of the time, because on a good day, Kellerman’s labyrinthine plots more than make up for it. Unlike Jeffrey Deaver (also great at thinking up intricate plots), Kellerman usually keeps me guessing right up to the end. (I’m a big fan of Deaver, by the way, but lately – possibly because I’ve read too many of his books – I’ve been able to spot the plot twists. He needs to go back to putting people in real jeopardy. In his latest Katherine Dance novel, I knew every time when someone was really going to die and when he was simply using cliffhanger chapter endings to make me think a sympathetic character was about to be murdered. Less of the smoke and mirrors, please, Mr Deaver – go back to the days of The Bone Collector, when you weren’t afraid to have a nice woman die a horrible death involving a steampipe!) Anyway, digression aside, Jonathan Kellerman is a real master of plotting – the story weaves, changes, evolves as new evidence is unearthed. He doesn’t go in for shock twists; just real, solid plots rooted in the start of the story, but ones that you simply can’t predict from the opening. For me, the disappointing thing about Evidence was that the story was all over pretty much as soon as Milo picks up the case – there is no sense of jeopardy, no race to solve the crime before something awful happens. Instead Alex and Milo just uncover what happened.

As usual, Alex makes leaps of deduction that turn out, almost without exception, to be right, despite the fact that they are largely unsupported by evidence – I’d expect even someone with his intuition to be wrong occasionally, but yet again in this book Alex comes up with a theory and they pursue it to the exclusion of all other leads despite the lack of evidence. And Milo seems to be spending his time driving around talking to Alex or being grumpy in the local Indian restaurant which functions as his second office. Rick, Milo’s surgeon boyfriend, has become almost as perfect and dull as Robin.

Evidence is not one of Kellerman’s greats but I really do urge you to read his earlier books – When The Bough Breaks, his first Alex Delaware novel, is absolutely engrossing, tightly plotted, and a truly great crime novel. When he’s good, Kellerman is superb – and I’m sure he’ll be back on form shortly.

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Tess Gerritsen – The Apprentice

Tess Gerritsen - The Apprentice (cover)

Tess Gerritsen - The Apprentice (cover)

The Apprentice is the second in Tess Gerritsen’s sequence of crime novels which started with The Surgeon. If you haven’t yet read The Surgeon, put The Apprentice down and go away and read it first. Then come back and read this review.

Spoilers for The Surgeon below… proceed at your own risk!

The Apprentice begins the year after the events described in The Surgeon. Instead of following Detective Thomas Moore, who is now married to Catherine Corday and holidaying in London, we now see things through the eyes of his former partner, Jane Rizzoli.

(Incidentally, I find it interesting how Gerritsen has moved the main viewpoint from person to person throughout the series, from Moore to Rizzoli and finally to Dr Maura Isles, whose viewpoint she has used in The Sinner, Body Double, Vanish and The Mephisto Club. She does seem truly comfortable with Isles’s voice and I suspect this is the viewpoint she will continue to use.)

Rizzoli is still recovering from the capture of the Surgeon the previous year, during which she was attacked and injured by him. But when she is called to a crime scene that bears eerie similarities to the Surgeon’s work, she cannot help but go, only to find that she is hunting yet another monster, one who may be in touch with the Surgeon himself. When the Surgeon escapes not long afterwards, Rizzoli finds herself the unwilling focus of his attention. Not only that, but the FBI has taken an interest in the case, but won’t give her any information as to why – and Agent Gabriel Dean has an unsettling effect on the normally reserved Rizzoli…

Gerritsen is one of the most interesting straight-up crime writers around at the moment. Her medical background adds a note of authenticity to the stories, without overwhelming the plot. She follows Cornwell, Reichs and Slaughter in the think-of-the-most-horrific-thing-you-can-imagine-and-then-double-it level of violence and horror, but her characters are believable and likeable – not as damaged as those of Slaughter and Cornwell, whose characters have become so messed up in the course of the series that you end up reading through your fingers, desperately hoping for a glimmer of light in the darkness, only to be disappointed; more believably affected by their experiences than Reichs’ Tempe Brennan, who seems to be hit over the head every book but never suffers any trauma or permanent damage (hell, I still love her!).

I prefer The Apprentice to The Surgeon – perhaps because, like Rizzoli herself, I didn’t much like Catherine Corday, whereas I definitely have a soft spot for Rizzoli, her difficult family life and her prickly professionalism. Although I think that later Gerritsen books are probably more satisfyingly plotted (Body Double, for example), The Apprentice has a power to it which keeps you gripped. I recommend Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli/Isles series to all fans of the “hunting a serial killer” genre.

Rating: A

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Sophie Hannah – Little Face

Sophie Hannah - Little Face (cover)Sophie Hannah is best known to me as a poet, but she is also a fine writer of psychological thrillers, if Little Face is anything to go by.

Alice leaves her two-week-old baby daughter, Florence, with her husband David while she goes to the health club her strong-willed mother-in-law has made her join. She misses her child terribly and rushes home – but when she gets back, the baby in the cot is not Florence. The police are called, but no one will believe that the baby is not her daughter. However, when both Alice and the baby disappear a week later, the police are back and looking again at the case, including the murder of David’s first wife years before. Is Alice suffering from post-natal depression? Has her child been taken? And where have she and the baby gone?

Alice’s confrontations with her spineless, cruel, bullying husband are what stand out the most for me, horrifying, claustrophobic and believable. The writing is precise and exquisite and the atmosphere of dread and suspicion is evoked perfectly.

The ending was a little disappointing, after such a brilliantly executed build-up, but this is such thoroughly satisfying psychological thriller that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

Rating: A-
Major spoilers after the break, as I want to talk about the ending

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Alex Barclay – Blood Runs Cold

Alex Barclay - Blood Runs Cold (cover)

Alex Barclay - Blood Runs Cold (cover)

This isn’t the book I’d choose to review to begin this blog. It’s simply the most recent book I’ve read (not counting the brilliant The Secret Scripture, which I am reading right now).

I read Alex Barclay’s first book, Darkhouse, and found it disappointing. If I did read The Caller, her second novel, it didn’t leave much of an impression – even checking the summary on Amazon doesn’t help to jog my memory. I didn’t have high hopes for Blood Runs Cold.

Special Agent Ren Bryce is seconded away from the Safe Streets team to the investigation into the death of FBI agent Jean Transom on a mountain peak near the small Colorado town of Breckenridge. After an avalanche sweeps away the body and kills one of the search team, Ren finds her investigation stalling, with no one in Breckenridge willing or able to help her.

There are some things to like about this novel – Barclay is particularly good on office banter between the FBI agents and the cops. The affectionate ribbing between the agents and cops who know each other well is almost as good as P. J. Tracy’s (and that is high praise). Ren herself is an intriguing and likable protagonist – a beautiful, emotionally-walled-off mess who is as competent in the field as she is chaotic in her private life. Who could fail to be intrigued by a heroine who you first glimpse waking up on the bathroom floor, having spent the night throwing up after getting blind drunk?

However, I spent the first part of the book desperately trying to differentiate between the other characters – I could barely remember who was on the Safe Streets team and who was investigating Jean Transom’s death. The male cops and agents who surround Ren are thinly drawn and hard to tell apart. Eventually it became clear, but not until a long way into the story.

Ah, the story. It’s all over the place. Two-thirds of the way through the book, Ren is suddenly seconded to another unit and, having got used to the wintry backdrop, you find yourself in the middle of summer, far from the town and the investigation that you have just managed to get straight in your head. When things finally do start to happen, things are wrapped up in a satisfactory manner, but it is far too late. It’s rather unsatisfying after you’ve slogged through 400 pages of narrative in which not much happens to find everything wrapped up in less than a quarter of that (and only a part of that deals with who killed Jean Transom). I want a story to keep me interested throughout, not meander aimlessly through most of the book, then provide a high-speed resolution in the very final pages.

Barclay clearly has talent, but she hasn’t yet found the right story. If she can get the balance right in the future, she could be one to watch.

Rating: C

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