Category Archives: Crime

Book review: Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

I grabbed this book from netgalley for a review, y’all can read it in a week or so when it comes out.

 

This is a shocking book. The crime it’s based on will make you suck your breath in and clench your fists. It’s brutal and cruel and tragic.

But what is most shocking is the beautiful, eloquent, quiet way the story around the crime is rendered. This book is soft-paced, it builds (rising and falling like breath), it wrenches at your heart and it fills you with a longing that you can’t quite explain.

It’s the story of May and June, sisters born 3 years apart.

It’s the story of Ann who teaches piano, loves her husband, and can never quite escape the question of blame.

It’s the story of Jenny and Elizabeth, who find an awkward but enduring friendship in an ugly place.

This is a book about women, and about those people who women love. It starts on a mountain, with Wade felling trees to allow a helicopter to reach a pregnant Jenny if need be. Years later, another winter, Wade and Jenny drive their girls to the next mountain to collect firewood and it is here the unspeakable happens (literally – Ruskovich NEVER actually replays the moment itself, just those leading up to it and immediately after. It’s as if the act itself cannot be written because¬†it’s too horrendous). Again, years pass, and Ann finds herself in the same truck, trying to uncover the truth of her husband’s past in order to save his future.

The story jumps between years and decades, going all the way to 2025, where Ann and Jenny – now old women, almost unrecognizable even to themselves – leave the mountain at last. The nonlinear narrative form adds to the story¬†and also helps build a sense of Wade’s increasing dementia – even as the years are announced, it’s uncertain what will be uncovered, a fight between May and June over dolls, a man lost in the snow, Jenny adding to Elizabeth’s mural – these tiny acts add to a life (or to the loss of one) and slowly uncover the overall story, which spans three generations on the prairie and the mountain. There’s a sense of menace which is slightly offset by the gorgeous, ripe prose. This is an author who understands deeply what it is to be a woman, to love and be loved in return, to despair and be despaired of. Ruskovich’s grasp of family devotion is essential to the story. Her knowledge of the landscape shines (she was raised in northern Idaho), and she graciously allows us moments of pure grace amongst the horror (“May feels tired. Happy, and tired…She begins to do what she often does just before her eyes close. She decides to forget things”).

There are a few detours I didn’t like – I felt like the one legged boy’s story was a little out of place, and the bloodhound, and Adam. Not that they don’t belong there, and they add to the narrative, but it’s strange to jump to a male perspective for those particular chapters. I would have preferred the dog to be female, Eliot’s story to be told by Ivy (or Julia). Adam’s story….well, I guess that had to be told by Adam himself, but it’s strange and jarring to have male voices in a mostly-female narrative. And not in an interesting/good way.

But all in all, probably the second best novel I’ve read all year and just stunning. It’s one that will stay with me for a long time.

4.5/5

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Filed under Author Love, Crime, Fiction

Book Review: Two Days Gone by Randall Silvis

Please excuse my super long hiatus – I have been reading a lot, but just fell out the habit of reviewing, which is terrible because the fewer books I review, the less I get given to read!

I don’t read a lot of crime (except for J D Robb books, because I’m seriously addicted) because I find so much of it is obvious and poorly written – either too gory, or too subtle. But Two Days Gone came highly recommended and when I gave it a go I found I couldn’t put it down.

It’s the story of Prof. Thomas Huston, who is currently wandering in the wilderness in bare feet and shock after his family have all been brutally slaughtered. Sergeant Ryan DeMarco, still dealing with the breakdown of his own family, is called in to investigate and has trouble reconciling the brutality with the calm, clever professor he knows.

As the story progresses, Huston gets deeper into the woods and DeMarco gets deeper into his life. It becomes impossible to tell what elements of Huston are real and which are research for his latest novel. Every new lead dissolves as more and more characters are introduced until the reader is as confused and lost as both Huston and DeMarco are.

The end of the book comes crashing down with unexpected endings (of stories, families, and lives) all round. It keeps you on your toes until the very last few pages and leaves a restless unease over the impermanence of life and love.

The book, Silvis’ thirteenth novel, is due out in January next year and all in all is a masterful effort at bringing together literature and suspense. DeMarcos backstory is beautifully rendered and demonstrates the range of reactions that occur with the death of a child. Huston’s dissociation is written with grace, believable and tragic and perfect for the story. You will not see the end coming, and the story builds and builds, making this book one you will not put down until it is over.

PS: A bit of a warning, though – it’s really dark in some places and quite graphic, so trigger warning for the gruesome deaths of small children described in intimate detail.

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Book review: The Girls by Emma Cline

This is one of those books that comes out of the blue and sucker punches you in the gut. Cline writes bravely, about things that are more often than not left out of ‘coming of age’ novels. Not that this is a book about coming of age. It’s so much more than that.

Evie Boyd is a bored, wiser than her years teen at the close of the 1960s, living with her newly divorced (and very lost) mother in a house built and paid for by her famous grandmother. She’s expected to do what every other girl does that summer – smoke cigarettes, talk about boys, swim with her girlfriends and be generally aimless. Instead, a chance encounter with an enigmatic older girl makes Evie question her place in the world. Drawn into a cult based on the Manson Family, Evie tries to build her loyalties in a world that simultaneously draws her in and rejects her.

Years later, Evie is single, house-sitting a friend’s house when she is unexpectedly joined by the friend’s son and his girlfriend, a young girl Evie sees simultaneously as a past version of herself and someone that past version would have loved. The story is told in flashbacks by middle-aged Evie and the presence of the young girl really adds to the menace of the story.

And it’s very menacing. You know from the outset that this is not a nice story. It’s bleak in places, and confronting, and ugly and boring and totally, totally engrossing – I could not put it down. The relationship – part worship, part covetousness – between Evie and Suzanne is beautifully rendered and leaves you wanting concrete answers. None are forthcoming and as someone who spent that period of my life constantly negotiating the boundaries between close friendships between women and sexual relationships, the lack of a definitive ‘are they are aren’t they’ add loads to the novel.

And it doesn’t even need it. The prose is lovely, the scenes place you smack bang in the middle, then jolt you straight out to somewhere else. Cline has a method of entrapping you in a story that is deserved of a much more experienced writer – I can’t wait to read more of her work and watch her style develop to the same level as her writing skill.

This book will make you uncomfortable. It will finish too soon and without answers. It will make you google the Manson Family Murders and cringe at the horror that is human nature. It will make Emma Cline a LOT of money. It will make you hope she writes quickly and prolifically.

4.5/5 stars.

 

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Filed under Crime, Fiction, Warning: Violence

Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I’m not sure how big this book is because I got it electronically, with the idea of teaching myself how to read on this damn tablet. Between this and the Long Earth, I’ve think I’ve got it, but I have to fight Ava who constantly wants the tablet to watch pepper pig…

Anyway, the problem is the epub reader I use tells you what page if the chapter you are on, not which page of the book. Or how many chapters the book has. And you don’t have the weight in your hand or the option of sticking your thumb where you’re up to and closing the book to see if you’ve come farther than you’ve got to go. As a result, its now past 1am and I’m still awake.

The Night Circus is like a dream. Its beautiful and haunting and eerie and discombobulated and you get lost in it quite happily. Its the tale of two enchanters and the challenge they set for their proteges-outlast the other. But this challenge is unlike any other and its stage is a travelling circus where no fantasy is unobtainable. But the stakes quickly become too high for Marco and Celia-Its not longer only one or the other of them who faces death, but all those who have become enmeshed in the cirque de review, whether willingly or not.

There are so many stories woven up into this book and Morgenstern weaves them deftly, teasing out each strand so you can’t tell what the pattern is until the final thrilling end. The characters are vivacious and tragic, from the enigmatic Tsukiko, to the forlorn Isobel and solid, wonder-struck Bailey who is the most unlikely and perfect hero a book has ever had.

The only part I didn’t like is the jump into second person point of view in the interludes. While I understand its intent to draw the reader deeper into the experience, I found the change in tense a lot more jarring than the changes in timeline or main character perspective, jarring enough that it forced me out of the story and by the third one I’d stopped reading them just to be able to stick with the narrative. The rest of the book is easy to read, sophisticated and elegant (I thought of the opulence of Anne Rice) and very engaging. The biggest benefit of the tablet is you can prop it up so your wrists don’t get sore (a problem when you read the 700+ page fantasy novels I lean towards), so while I can’t legitimately say I never put the book down, I read it from beginning to end starting about 4 hours ago.

I’ll write the review for the Long Earth tomorrow (read it, its fantastic. Then read this,) but in the meanwhile I’m off to dream of crows and kittens and clocks and ice and fire….

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Filed under Crime, Fantasy

Book Review: Creepers by David Morrell

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of urban exploration. I think because I am a photographer and a history/anthropology student and these things culminate in wanting to find places where time has stood still and document them. I’m told the urban exploration scene in Perth is quite active, but I doubt I’ll ever be involved as it’s too hard to find a babysitter and too dangerous to risk not coming back to pick up my kids. Urban exploration will always be just a dream at the back of my mind, a dream I satiate with books like this.

I read Creepers last night. From cover to cover. It’s such an easy read, despite it’s gruesome bits (think razor wire and beheading). It starts off with a history professor and his three ex-students who invite a journalist on their annual exploration, this time heading through storm drains into an abandoned hotel with a strange history. The night seems easy enough, even with malformed albino cats and blind rats dogging them in the tunnels and the smell of decaying wood everywhere, but the group climb higher and higher up the stairs they find macabre remnants of the guests that used to occupy the hotel. A dead monkey. A room full of booze. A mysterious safe filled with gold coins. Perhaps the professor hasn’t told them everything about this hotel.

After an accident renders the professor helpless, the group discover they are not alone in the hotel. There are other who want the gold and will stop at nothing to get it. But then the safe is opened there is a woman amongst the gold, and the thieves are not the only ones with violent intentions – someone never left the hotel.

It’s an edge of your seat story which descends into a hell of gore and insanity and explosions and swirling floodwater. Who is the psychopathic Ronnie and what is his connection to the hotel? Is it just coincidence that Balenger took this story on this particular night or is he looking for something? Or someone? Every truth uncovered reveals another dozen questions and Morrell keeps a reader enthralled right to the very last page. While I’m not fond of gore, this book is fairly matter of fact about it, neither dwelling on it too long or skipping over it completely. The characters are realistic enough – jealousy, attraction, greed, cowardice and stupidity all appear, even in the ‘good’ characters which makes everyone seem more human. Sometimes the conversation is a little wordy and the timeline a little disjointed, but for the man part this book consists of good, solid writing, an amazing plot with unguessable twists and characters who you root for even when their failings are more than apparent.

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Review: I’m watching you by Karen Rose

I have a confession to make. I love trashy crime novels. Something about the combination of lurid sex scenes, gore and suspense just totally does it for me. Especially if it involves a sassy-yet-secretly-damaged female lead and a gorgeous-strong-and-silent-type male. Especially if there is sexual tension for half the book and constant smooching for the rest.

It’s bad fiction. It’s an anathema to literature. And I can’t get enough.

I know that Karen Rose’s books do have a reading order, but it’s fairly loose. The books of hers that I have read have linked together in a way which makes them perfect as stand alones or in sequence – this particular novel is linked to You Can’t Hide (Aidan Reagan, Abe’s Brother) and Nothing to Fear (Dana Dupinsky, Mia Mitchell’s friend) and probably others that I haven’t read. I love the idea of coming back to characters I’ve met before, while being introduced to new ones. This technique means Rose’s books are new and fresh, but with some familiar faces and stomping grounds.

I’m watching you is the story of Kirsten Mayhew, a prosecutor who feels each loss in the courtroom keenly as she pours her whole life into her job. Abe Reagan is also a man living for his work, after the murder of his wife Debra left him hollow and angry. When a serial killers starts targeting criminals who escaped justice ay Kirsten’s hands, Abe and his new partner Mia Mitchell are put on the case. Soon Kirsten and Abe fall in love despite their best intentions, but can he protect her against the growing number of criminals crying for her blood, a vindictive reporter who will stop at nothing to get her scoop and a vigilante killer who dedicates each kill to Kirsten?

Of course he can, but you already knew that. Karen Rose’s novels do have happy endings. The characters always realize that they were meant for each other. The bad guys always end up dead or in jail. And if a few bystanders get shot or maimed along the way, well then you’ll know they wont appear in the next book. It’s crime lite and while there is gore aplenty and enough suspense to make me stay up past my bedtime in order to finish, these books do focus heavily on the romance and s-e-x. Don’t worry – the sex scenes are juicy, realistic and not overly corny. No turgid members here! This attention to detail is also put to good use in character development – Rose’s novels are filled with single mums, single dads, grandparents raising children, dedicated professional types who work long hours and mobsters who just have their families best interests at heart. The main characters and their occupations are documented faithfully, their neurosis are well researched and believable and if everything wraps up a little too neatly at the end, rather than giving up on the series, I’m more inclined to sigh and think “god I wish my life was like that. Maybe I should become a lawyer..”

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Filed under Crime, Fiction