21 May 2015

Review: CROSS FINGERS, Paddy Richardson

  • this edition published by Hachette New Zealand 2013
  • 286 pages
  • ISBN 978-1-96971-307-2
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (Booktopia)

Television journalist Rebecca Thorne is working on a documentary project exposing a crooked ex-cop property developer. Much to her chagrin she is removed from the project to work on another documentary about the notorious 1981 South African rugby team's tour of New Zealand.

At the same, Rebecca breaks up with boyfriend Rolly. Strange things start to happen: is someone stalking her, breaking into her house and moving things? Or is she just being paranoid?

As she learns more about the '81 tour, Rebecca becomes fascinated by the Lambs, two anonymous protesters who mocked the police and entertained the crowds, and by the disappearance of one of them on the night of the Wellington test.

As sinister events in Rebecca's life increase, she gets closer and closer to finding out what happened to the Black Lamb...

My Take

As well as being a murder mystery, this story is a study of how the government of New Zealand became almost indistinguishable from a totalitarian regime as it saw to it that the Springbok tour of New Zealand went ahead. How a sport divided the people along political lines and brought confrontation to the streets of New Zealand cities where Springbok rugby matches were held.

Most of the novel takes the form of scripts of video interviews that Rebecca Thorne conducts with people from both sides, the rugby supporters and the police, and those protesting against the tour. Despite the violence perpetrated in the name of crowd control many of the police saw the protesters as dangerous and subversive, while the protesters saw the police as turning into faceless Gestapo-like troops. There are certainly political overtones running through the novel.

Thorne is seeking to give the television documentary, due to screen for the 30 year anniversary of the tour, a different twist to those that were produced for previous anniversaries. And she thinks she has found the slant she needs with the Lambs, two anonymous protesters disguised in woolly costumes,detested by the police and by some of the protesters too. On the night of the Wellington test one of them is murdered, and the other disappears.

But then Thorne becomes the target of heavy breathing on the phone, and she feels stalked, so convinced that someone has broken into her house that she has the locks changed.

A well constructed and engrossing story. And you will learn a lot about the Springbok Tour of 1981.

My rating:4.5

I've also reviewed
5.0, TRACES OF RED
5.0, SWIMMING IN THE DARK 

17 May 2015

Review: THOSE WE LEFT BEHIND, Stuart Neville

  • review copy from publisher Random House UK, Vintage Publishing, through NetGalley
  • publication date June 26, 2015
  • ISBN 9781448138517
Synopsis (NetGalley)

They’d used the same picture in the Sunday red top she’d read at the weekend. SCHOOLBOY KILLER TO BE RELEASED, the headline had screamed above a half-page story.'

DCI Serena Flanagan, newly returned to work after undergoing treatment for cancer, is forced to confront a troubling case from her past: the murder conviction of a 12-year-old-boy who has just been released back into the community.
When 12-year-old Ciaran Devine confessed to murdering his foster father it sent shock waves through the nation.

DCI Serena Flanagan, then an ambitious Detective Sergeant, took Ciaran's confession after days spent earning his trust. He hasn’t forgotten the kindness she showed him – in fact, she hasn't left his thoughts in the seven years he’s been locked away.

Probation officer Paula Cunningham, now tasked with helping Ciaran re-enter society, suspects there was more to this case than the police uncovered. Ciaran’s confession saved his brother Thomas from a far lengthier sentence, and Cunningham can see the unnatural hold Thomas still has over his vulnerable younger brother.

When she brings her fears to DCI Flanagan, the years of lies begin to unravel, setting a deadly chain of events in motion.


My Take

Set in Belfast, really a police procedural, this was a difficult plot structure to pull off successfully: three main strands and two time frames seven years apart. I think Neville has done it very well.

Life has moved on since 12 year old Ciaran Devine confessed to murdering his foster father. His brother Thomas has served five years for his role in the murder and has been "out" two years waiting for his younger brother's release. Ciaran is nearly twenty but in many ways still immature, a child who relies on his older brother for advice, and even for permission to speak. Flanagan is a mother of two, and recently returned to work after a bout of breast cancer and is a member of a breast cancer support group. . She remembers Ciaran Devine very well. Paula Cunningham too remembers Ciaran Devine and his older brother Thomas.

An excellent read.


My rating: 4.8


I've also reviewed THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST

About Stuart Neville's work: The Twelve won the prestigious LA Times Book Prize and was longlisted for the Theakston's Best Crime Book of the Year. Stolen Souls was shortlisted for the Theakstons Best Crime Book of the Year, Ratlines was shortlisted for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award and The Final Silence was longlisted for the Theakston's Best Crime Book of the Year.

13 May 2015

Review: THE LAUGHING MONSTERS, Denis Johnson

  • review copy provided by Random House UK, through NetGalley
  • ISBN 9781473520363
  • published in 2014.
Synopsis (NetGalley)

In Sierra Leone, suspicion has become the law. A contemporary spy thriller from the great American writer Denis Johnson, author of Train Dreams and Tree of Smoke
"In this land of chaos and despair, all I can do is wish for magic armour and the power to disappear."

Freetown, Sierra Leone. A city of heat and dirt, of guns and militia. Alone in its crowded streets, Captain Roland Nair has been given a single assignment. He must find Michael Adriko - maverick, warrior, and the man who has saved Nair's life three times and risked it many more.

The two men have schemed, fought and profited together in the most hostile regions of the world. But on this new level - espionage, state secrets, treason - their loyalties will be tested to the limit.

This is a brutal journey through a land abandoned by the future - a journey that will lead them to meet themselves not in a new light, but in a new darkness.

My Take

Perhaps this book was just too far out of my comfort zone, but I have to admit that I didn't finish it. According to my Kindle I got to 90%, but that's when I decided I couldn't go any further. I no longer knew what was going on. In fact, it was worse than that. I no longer cared.

I know others who would not bother to write about a DNF, but for a while there, I thought it had some good things going for it. I thought I knew what the central characters were trying to do, although I must admit to some confusing moments. I thought the description of the squalid state of things in Sierra Leone and the Congo rang true, but then I simply didn't recognise the protagonists as the book drew to the end.

I'm sorry.

My rating: 2.0

9 May 2015

Review: THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, Paula Hawkins - audio book

Synopsis  (Audible)

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She's even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. 'Jess and Jason', she calls them. Their life - as she sees it - is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

And then she sees something shocking. It's only a minute until the train moves on, but it's enough. Now everything's changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she's only watched from afar. Now they'll see; she's much more than just the girl on the train...

My Take:

This story is told by three narrators who identify themselves at the beginning of a chapter by just saying their name. The producer of the audio version has replicated these narrators by using three  readers with distinct voices. That means "reading" it as an audio novel is probably not the best strategy, particularly as the time frame zig zags, with some narrators playing "catch up", so the reader is really never sure when events occurred, in relation to each other. With an audio novel you don't have the opportunity that a hard copy gives you of being able to flip back a few pages to check on a date or who is speaking. I suspect that if I had been reading a hard copy I might even have been tempted to write dates down and group events around them.

Add to that the fact that the principal narrator, Rachel, who is the "girl on the train", is an alcoholic and is frequently drunk. The police sum it up when they say that her evidence is unreliable. Rachel herself is the first to admit this because there are great holes in her memory. She has flashbacks in the form of dreams, and she is never sure whether they are things she has actually seen or whether it is her imagination at work. However as she begins to "dry out" bits of her memory returns. All she has to do is work out which memories to trust.

Rachel has lost her job in London because she came back from lunch drunk, having insulted one of her firm's biggest clients. She has been keeping up the pretence of going to work on the train so her flatmate will not know that she has no income.  She desperately wants to be accepted by people, and to overcome her feelings of rejection by her ex-husband. At night when she is drunk she tends to ring him in the middle of the night and even turns up at his house, where she also used to live, and frightens his new wife by taking their baby out of the bassinet. Just coincidentally their house is just a few doors down from the house where "Jess and Jason" live.

And then she sees something from the train which changes all their lives forever.

So it is a novel that really makes the reader work alongside Rachel at solving the mystery.
A number of reviewers have remarked on what a remarkable accomplishment the novel is, and I tend to agree. I have to list it among my best reads for this year.

My rating: 4.9

About the author
Paula Hawkins worked as a journalist for fifteen years before turning her hand to fiction.
Born and brought up in Zimbabwe, Paula moved to London in 1989 and has lived there ever since. The Girl on the Train is her first thriller.

    Review: ODDFELLOWS, Nicholas Shakespeare - a novella

    Synopsis ( author website)

    On 1 January 1915, ramifications from the First World War, raging half a world away, were felt in Broken Hill, Australia, when in a guerrilla-style military operation, four citizens were killed and seven wounded. It was the annual picnic day in Broken Hill and a thousand citizens were dressed for fun when the only enemy attack to occur on Australian soil during World War I, took them by surprise. Nicholas Shakespeare has turned this little known piece of Australian history into a story for our time.

    My Take

    A riveting novella published on the centenary of the event in Broken Hill when two Afghan cameleers, long resident in Australia, decided to stand up for Turkey with whom Australia was soon to be at war, and attack the New Year's Day picnic. This is the author's fictionalised version of the event, in which he describes how "Australians" felt about the long standing Islamic camp that existed in their town, and surmises what pushed the perpetrators to such drastic action.

    It is a quick read that gives you a lot to think about.

    My rating: 4.4

    About the author: 
    Nicholas Shakespeare was born in 1957. The son of a diplomat, much of his youth was spent in the Far East and South America. His books have been translated into 20 languages. They include The Vision of Elena Silves (winner of the Somerset Maugham Award), Snowleg, The Dancer Upstairs, Secrets of the Sea, Inheritance and Priscilla. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He currently lives in Oxford.
    Author Lives In: Oxford, England
     
    See Wikipedia for factual details about the event.

    8 May 2015

    Review: THE DROWNED BOY, Karin Fossum

    • first published 2015, June 4
    • available for pre-order at Amazon
    • #11 in the Conrad Sejer series
    • review copy from Random House UK via NetGalley
    • translated by Kari Dickson
    • ISBN 9781448192311
    Synopsis (NetGalley)

    ‘He'd just learnt to walk,’ she said. ‘He was sitting playing on his blanket, then all of a sudden he was gone.’

    A 16-month-old boy is found drowned in a pond right by his home. Chief Inspector Sejer is called to the scene as there is something troubling about the mother’s story. As even her own family turns against her, Sejer is determined to get to the truth.

    My take

    Carmen and Nicolai are young parents but none of their family doubts that they are good parents. Their son Tommy is a sturdy and healthy toddler who has just learned to walk. One hot August day he apparently wanders from the house into the pond at the bottom of their garden and drowns. But there is something about the way Carmen relates what has happened that Conrad Sejer finds strange, particularly the way she accepts it all, despite the fact that she is constantly in tears. Her husband is distraught.

    When Sejer discovers that Tommy had Downs Syndrome he can't help wondering if the drowning really was an accident.

    This is a very readable story, where Fossum has taken a very plausible plot and explored the character of the mother in particular, but also the impact of the death of the little boy on the whole family.

    My rating: 5.0

    I've also reviewed
    BLACK SECONDS
    BROKEN
    THE WATER'S EDGE
    4.9, BAD INTENTIONS
    5.0, THE CALLER
    4.7, I CAN SEE IN THE DARK


    7 May 2015

    Review: THE JOURNEYING BOY, Michael Innes

    • format: Kindle (Amazon)
    • File Size: 1050 KB
    • Print Length: 336 pages
    • Publisher: House of Stratus (March 29, 2011)
      first published 1949
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B004UH7MQY
    Synopsis (Amazon)

    Humphrey Paxton, the son of one of Britain's leading atomic boffins, has taken to carrying a shotgun to 'shoot plotters and blackmailers and spies'. His new tutor, the plodding Mr Thewless, suggests that Humphrey might be overdoing it somewhat. But when a man is found shot dead at a cinema, Mr Thewless is plunged into a nightmare world of lies, kidnapping and murder - and grave matters of national security.

    My Take

    A rather intricate beginning in which two tutors are interviewed to accompany young Humphrey Paxton to Ireland. Mr Thewless is interviewed first and then informed in writing that he does not have the post. However the second successful interviewee notifies Sir Bernard that he is unable to accept the post after all. In the long run Mr Thewless meets his young charge for the first time on the railway station platform but his father fails to turn up to see him off, so during the train journey to catch the boat to Ireland Mr Thewless is beset by doubts about whether he has the right boy or not.

    Meanwhile back in London the successful applicant is shot dead in a cinema and it rather looks as if Humphrey Paxton (whose actual identity is unknown to the police) may know something about the murder. Inspector Cadover attempts to identify the body, just knowing that he had recently got a position as tutor to the son of an atomic scientist and that he was meant to be escorting the boy to Ireland.

    I don't think I have ever changed my mind so frequently about the merits of a story. I started off being rather frustrated by the style, but ended up enjoying it.

    At times the style is rather ponderous and long-winded, and the initial plot rather complicated. The writing is littered with quotations and rather academic in-jokes, which presumably meant something to someone at the time. But there is something rather akin to Boys Own about this book and after Mr Thewless and Humphrey have crossed the sea to Ireland, and face various perils on their way to Humphrey's distant relatives, the action ramps up and it becomes a rollicking good story. Some people are not who they seem and both Humphrey and Mr Thewless turn out to have interesting characters. In the end, they seem to have got into a very tight pickle and I really wanted to know how they got out of it.

    Not everybody's cup of tea but an interesting insight into what appealed to readers in the uncertain times that followed the detonation of the atomic bombs at the end of World War Two.

    My rating: 3.8

    I have read this for my participation (month of May) in Crime Fiction of the Year Challenge @ Past Offences

    My rating

    I've also read
    4.1, DEATH AT THE  PRESIDENT'S LODGING

    About the author
    Born in Edinburgh in 1906, the son of the city's Director of Education, John Innes Mackintosh Stewart wrote a highly successful series of mystery stories under the pseudonym Michael Innes. Innes was educated at Oriel College, Oxford, where he was presented with the Matthew Arnold Memorial Prize and named a Bishop Frazer's scholar. After graduation he went to Vienna, to study Freudian psychoanalysis for a year and following his first book, an edition of Florio's translation of Montaigne, was offered a lectureship at the University of Leeds. In 1932 he married Margaret Hardwick, a doctor, and they subsequently had five children including Angus, also a novelist. The year 1936 saw Innes as Professor of English at the University of Adelaide, during which tenure he wrote his first mystery story, 'Death at the President's Lodging'. With his second, 'Hamlet Revenge', Innes firmly established his reputation as a highly entertaining and cultivated writer. After the end of World War II, Innes returned to the UK and spent two years at Queen's University, Belfast where in 1949 he wrote the 'Journeying Boy', a novel notable for the richly comedic use of an Irish setting. He then settled down as a Reader in English Literature at Christ Church, Oxford, from which he retired in 1973. His most famous character is 'John Appleby', who inspired a penchant for donnish detective fiction that lasts to this day. Innes's other well-known character is 'Honeybath', the painter and rather reluctant detective, who first appeared in 1975 in 'The Mysterious Commission'. The last novel, 'Appleby and the Ospreys', was published in 1986, some eight years before his death in 1994.

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