As I am so woefully behind with my reviews, and am nervously aware of further reviewing commitments this month, I am going to unashamedly nick a fellow blogger’s idea for digested reads. Here then, for your reading pleasure, and in the curtailed style of internet reading, are five reads from recent weeks- the good and the bad…

dyJASON HEWITT- THE DYNAMITE ROOM: July 1940. Eleven-year-old Lydia walks through a village in rural Suffolk on a baking hot day. She is wearing a gas mask. The shops and houses are empty, windows boarded up and sandbags green with mildew, the village seemingly deserted. Leaving it behind, she strikes off down a country lane through the salt marshes to a large Edwardian house – the house she grew up in. Lydia finds it empty too, the windows covered in black-out blinds. Her family is gone. Late that night he comes, a soldier, gun in hand and heralding a full-blown German invasion. There are, he explains to her, certain rules she must now abide by. He won’t hurt Lydia, but she cannot leave the house. Is he telling the truth? What is he looking for? Why is he so familiar? And how does he already know Lydia’s name? 

Not strictly, strictly, a crime book I know, but contains more than enough thought-provoking psychological suspense to keep any reader satisfied. With the claustrophobic setting of two completely contrasting characters confined within a contained space for the majority of the book, Hewitt completely immerses us in the issues of morality and loyalty that come into play in times of conflict. By using the setting of Lydia’s home, but carefully interweaving details of the background of both characters, there is much mileage to be had in manipulating and changing the reader’s empathy as piece by piece certain details are revealed- particularly in the case of Heiden’s former experiences. In the characterisation of both, Hewitt more than demonstrates his authorial control, and the pace of this meditative and at times lyrically written plot, carries the reader along effortlessly. With his background in acting, there is a very visual quality to his description, and Lydia’s home in particular is tangible and real, taking on a character of its own. I have one small grievance. I wish that the book had been concluded at the end of the penultimate chapter which was mighty powerful and caused more than a sharp inhalation of breath, as I do have a personal aversion to ‘wrap-up’ final chapters. However, the prose style of the book, which I found very reminiscent of the Irish literary style ( a la Toibin, Trevor etc), the depth of research, and beautifully drawn characters, were completely satisfying. Excellent.

 

visitors1SIMON SYLVESTER- THE VISITORS: The island has always seemed such a safe place, such a friendly community. Now the possibility of a killer on Bancree is dangerously close to home.
Nobody moves to the remote Scottish island of Bancree, and few leave – but leaving is exactly what seventeen-year-old Flora intends to do. So when a mysterious man and his daughter move into isolated Dog Cottage, Flo is curious. What could have brought these strangers to the island? The man is seductively handsome but radiates menace; and there’s something about his daughter Ailsa that Flo can’t help but feel drawn towards. People aren’t only arriving on Bancree – they are disappearing too. Reports of missing islanders fill the press and unnerve the community. When a body washes ashore, suspicion turns to the strange newcomers on Dog Rock. Convinced of their innocence, Flo is fiercely determined to protect her friend Ailsa. Could the answer to the disappearances, and to the pull of her own heart, lie out there, beyond the waves? 

There’s something about crime fiction set in small town communities that is endlessly compelling, and if these communities are set on remote Scottish islands, so much the better! Again, another crime book that is much more allayed to the style of contemporary fiction, The Visitors  is an intriguing tale, steeped in myth, murder and a nifty reworking of the familiar locked room mystery, where there are only a finite group of suspects, but where the guilty party is well-concealed. This book is atmospheric, mysterious, and is imbued with a beautiful dream-like quality, incorporating as it does mythical tales from the tradition of oral storytelling. By fusing so completely the superstitions of the past, with an essentially modern murder mystery focussed around  two young female protagonists, Sylvester has really brought something quite different to the genre. Being fascinated personally by the Icelandic sagas and Norse myth, I thoroughly enjoyed the tales of the Shennachie but also how this was counterbalanced throughout by attention to the very particular problems of modern island existence in the contemporary age. Although I found the actual murder mystery a less satisfying aspect of the book, this was of little consequence when taking the character, atmosphere and the rendering of the mythical tales into account. Enjoyed and recommend.

 

tuesS. WILLIAMS- TUESDAY FALLING: You’ve never met anyone like Tuesday. She has suffered extreme cruelty at the hands of men, and so has taken it upon herself to seek vengeance. She wants to protect and help others like her, to ease their suffering. A force to be reckoned with, she lives beneath the streets of London in the hidden network of forgotten tunnels that honeycomb the city – and this is her preferred hunting ground. When Tuesday is connected to a series of brutal attacks on gang members, DI Loss takes on the investigation. A burned-out detective still suffering the devastating effects of the unsolved murder of his daughter three years earlier, the case starts to hit close to home. Because soon Loss will discover that Tuesday could hold the key to uncovering the truth about what happened to his daughter…

Fresh, unique and exciting would be just three of the words I would use to describe this wholly original debut crime thriller. Set underground, over-ground (not Womble-ing free) in London, this  thriller combines the technological savvy age and cut and thrust of the teeming life of the metropolis, whilst bringing to the reader’s attention the historical underbelly of this great city. I adored the delicious and surprising detail of the life below the city streets, that Peter Ackroyd, would be envious of, and the interesting and archaic weapons that Tuesday uses to accomplish her mission. The characterisation was also absolutely top-notch with Tuesday revealing herself as a glorious amalgamation of Lisbeth Salander and Katniss Everdene, with her outward appearance of strength undercut by a heart-rending sense of frailty. Likewise, D.I. Loss and his female police partner, D. S. Stone made for a terrific partnership with his damaged and world weary persona, working in absolute balance with her streetwise nouse and natural humour. The story was clever, full of tricks and totally engrossing. Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.

imagesQRS0CTBCM. O. WALSH- MY SUNSHINE AWAY: Welcome to Woodland Hills, Louisiana: a place of lush, sweltering summers, neighbourhood cookouts in every backyard and vats of chilled beer under the crepe myrtles. One day Lindy Simpson cycles home from school and straight into a trap: someone is lying in wait for her, a wire strung between lampposts blocking the path. She is raped just yards from her front door. No one sees a thing and the perpetrator is not caught. Her fourteen year old neighbour has cherished a crush on Lindy, the ultimate girl next door, since they were kids. After her assault he becomes determined to solve the crime, investigating each suspect in the neighbourhood. But before this long, hot summer is out, it will become clear that the friendly community of Woodland Hills has much to hide. Behind every white picket fence in suburbia lies a tangled web of darkness. In his zeal to solve the mystery, the teenage detective stumbles across a sinister world he doesn’t recognise, drawing ever closer to a terrifying denouement…

On paper, I should have absolutely loved this, as it appeared to tick the boxes of what I most enjoy reading, but it didn’t. This is always one of those tricky ones to review, as  I can appreciate what the author was aiming for, relocating the traditional rural backwoods setting of the Southern Gothic into a suburban setting, but it really didn’t gel for me. On the positive side, I liked the sultry and suffocating atmosphere of Louisiana, and being a native of the state, Walsh made a strong impact with the rendition of place. I was intrigued at the start by the premise of the crime, the infatuation of Lindy’s neighbour, and his angst-ridden musings as to the identity of the guilty party, both as child and adult,  but I soon got tired by the endless circles the plot seemed to go in as it slowly staggered to its conclusion. I just found it all a bit tedious and I was more than a little relieved to get to the end. Think I will remain loyal to my beloved Southern Gothic in its traditional setting. Disappointing.

catherine-hunt-someone-out-thereCATHERINE HUNT- SOMEONE OUT THERE: Laura Maxwell appears to have it all – perfect career, perfect husband, perfect life. But how well do you really know the people around you? All it takes is one tiny crack to shatter the whole façade. A series of accidents causes Laura to believe that someone out there is deliberately targeting her, trying to harm her. The fear starts to pervade every part of her life, affecting her work and her marriage. Increasingly, she feels that no one believes her story, and she must face down her attacker alone…

Another addition to the completely saturated domestic noir market and let’s roll it out again- “perfect for fans of Girl On The Train and Gone Girl”. Aaargh *runs away screaming*.  As a bookseller and a reader I am so over this genre, but in the spirit of being a dedicated reviewer I gave this one a look. Laura was your typical middle class – look at my lovely life- type of woman, destined for a fall (actually there’s a nasty episode with a horse that demonstrates this), and this book was so reminiscent of Sabine Durrant’s  Under Your Skin that my antenna of doom were twitching quite early.  I had my first whiff of a clue on page 9. Had it completely sussed by page 50. And was treading water from there on in. Okay- I skipped to the end. I was correct in my assumptions. Oh well. Lots and lots of people love this book as is testified by the Amazon reviews. Just not me. Sorry.

 

 

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