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memory

A. A. Dhand- Girl Zero/ Felicia Yap-Yesterday

There are some surprises that no-one should ever have to experience. Standing over the body of your beloved – and murdered – niece is one of them. For Detective Inspector Harry Virdee, a man perilously close to the edge, it feels like the beginning of the end.

His boss may be telling him he’s too close to work the case, but this isn’t something that Harry can just let lie. He needs to dive into the murky depths of the Bradford underworld and find the monster that lurks there who killed his flesh and blood.

But before he can, he must tell his brother, Ron, the terrible news. And there is no predicting how he will react. Impulsive, dangerous and alarmingly well connected, Ron will act first and think later. Harry may have a murderer to find but if he isn’t careful, he may also have a murder to prevent…

And so we return to the seedy underbelly of Bradford in Girl Zero, the striking follow up to the excellent debut Streets of Darkness, that introduced us to D.I. Harry Virdee. Following the brutal murder of his niece, and the pressure this puts on Virdee in terms of his family loyalty, and the boundaries of his professional status as a police officer, Dhand is given ample opportunity to explore the issue of morality. For me, this was the absolute crux of the book, as Virdee has to navigate this intensely personal investigation, whilst balancing the demands of his brother Ron, a lynchpin in Bradford’s criminal community. Throughout the book, I kept drawing on the analogy of angels and demons, as Harry in particular, repeatedly seemed to be in conflict between these two forces. Dhand captures the tension and frustrations that exist between the brothers perfectly throughout, and as Harry’s professional loyalties are stretched and bent to the limit, their relationship and quest for justice lies at the very heart of the book.

With the estrangement from his parents because of marrying outside of his own religion, but obviously by necessity being drawn back into these familial conflicts, this added an extra frisson to the plot as the whole. As in the first book, Dhand explores the painful truths that exist in many Asian families when love overrides religious boundaries, and the exile that often occurs when individual are seen to be turning their back on their faith, and going against the wishes of their family. He handles this sensitively and clearsightedly throughout, with this storyline injecting an intensely human feel to what could have been a linear police procedural. Likewise, Dhand portrays the city of Bradford with an unflinching realism, unafraid to expose the social ills of this city, but with an underlying affection that the reader can easily discern.

I enjoyed Girl Zero very much, perhaps more so than the first book where I did criticise one aspect of it. It not only works as an effective and readable thriller, but is underscored by the some very real human dilemmas that heightened my enjoyment even more. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to PenguinRandomHouse for the ARC)

There are two types of people in the world: those who can only remember yesterday, and those who can also recall the day before. You have just one lifeline to the past: your diary. Each night, you write down the things that matter. Each morning, your diary tells you where you were, who you loved and what you did. Today, the police are at your door. They say that the body of your husband’s mistress has been found in the River Cam. They think your husband killed her two days ago.

Can you trust the police?
Can you trust your husband?
Can you trust yourself?

As the intriguing tagline of debut thriller, Yesterday, reads, “How do you solve a murder when you can only remember yesterday?” , my interest was thoroughly piqued by the seemingly unique premise of a thriller that would explore memory,  and the unreliability of our recollection of past experiences.

Undoubtedly, this is a clever premise, and for the most part I was ready to be convinced by the unique difficulties this societal structure of Monos and Duos would present in the course of a murder investigation. I’m afraid to say though, that I, in common with quite a few reviewers, was not entirely convinced by the way the theme of memory played out within the book, with some serious flaws in the way that certain memories would come to the surface within the structured remit of having either 24 or 48 hour recollections. I was intrigued by the way that memories were recorded, and the fallibility of this, using electronic diaries, but I think the mechanics of this were stretched in credibility. I also had an overriding feeling that too many elements of the crime genre were mixed into the central plot, as well as a huge imitation, and not entirely successful endeavour, to draw on the field of dystopian fiction. Also, the book is punctuated by quotes and the factual presentation of research material, that inhibits the flow of the story, and at times reads like an undergraduate’s dissertation.

I wanted to like the characters, and care about Yap’s startling portrayal of a woman’s descent into mental instability, and a marriage in crisis, but aside from the central police protagonist, Detective Hans Richardson, there was little to endear me to their plight. They seemed very closed off on an emotional level, and normally this reader would begin to form some alliance with a certain character on an empathetic level, but I just found them intensely dislikeable and weak. I also had a problem with the closing section of the book, but in the spirit of non-spoilers, I will not identify the problem. Truthfully, I was much more drawn to the intelligence and trials of Richardson, with Yap’s portrayal of him working much more favourably, and in tune with her presentation of the book as a crime thriller. I found myself itching to get back to the segments featuring this character, and enjoyed the air of subterfuge that colours him,  the pressure this puts on him within the remit of his position as a detective, and how this comes to the fore within the progress of this somewhat turgid investigation.

Obviously, this is my personal opinion, and as Yesterday has already garnered much praise throughout the media, I am probably only one of a few that couldn’t quite be convinced by it. I have no reticence in praising Yap’s attempt to use an interesting premise to play with the boundaries of the crime genre, but I did rather feel that too much had been thrown at it to produce a coherent whole. Maybe just a little too clever for its own good…

(With thanks to Wildfire for the ARC)

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Kate McQuaile- What She Never Told Me- Reading Ireland Month 2016 #begorrathon16 #readIreland16

readingMarch always heralds the arrival of the brilliant Reading Ireland Month- celebrating all that is good about Irish books and culture- hosted by Cathy at   746books  and Niall at The Fluff Is Raging  Eager to join in the fun, here is my small contribution to the #begorrathon16, reviewing debut author Kate McQuaile.

41UrW7G50YL__SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Louise Redmond left Ireland for London before she was twenty. Now, more than two decades later, her heart already breaking from a failing marriage, she is summoned home. Her mother is on her deathbed, and it is Louise’s last chance to learn the whereabouts of a father she never knew. Stubborn to the end, Marjorie refuses to fill in the pieces of her daughter’s fragmented past. Then Louise unexpectedly finds a lead. A man called David Prescott, but is he really the father she’s been trying to find? And who is the mysterious little girl who appears so often in her dreams? As each new piece of the puzzle leads to another question, Louise begins to suspect that the memories she most treasures could be a delicate web of lies…

Despite my steadfast resolution to avoid crime fiction of the more domestic variety, I was hearing good things about this one, and so am happy to break my self-imposed resolution. In the spirit of honesty, which I appear to be known for, I did have some issues with this one, but here are my thoughts…

What I really liked about this book was the central premise of the story itself revolving around familial bonds and how memory can be such a deceptive but powerful driving force in how our sense of self is formed. I thought McQuaile captured perfectly the mother/daughter bond between Louise and Marjorie, and the inherent differences in their character which are slowly revealed as the book progresses. As Louise seeks to fill in the gaps in her family background, with her unknown father, and a mother singularly reticent to answer her questions, even as her own mortality catches up with her, I found their relationship totally believable, and striking a few emotional chords with my own background. I thought the gradual unfurling of the truth behind Louise’s identity was perfectly weighted throughout, with a denouement that was both plausible and clever, forcing Louise to completely reassess who she was. Another interesting conundrum McQuaile examines is how easy it is to do the wrong thing, but with the overriding sense that it is for the right reasons, however twisted the logic is behind these actions, and this was painfully brought to the fore when the truth about Marjorie is exposed. Also McQuaile manipulates the truthfulness of memory, and how half-remembered incidents, sensual indicators, and locations impact so strongly on our perception of past events, and the emotions these produce in us.

Less successful for my enjoyment of the book was the personal life of Louise, the relationship with her husband Sandy, an ill thought out dalliance, and a verging on Fatal Attraction storyline that to me seemed slightly unnecessary in the wake of such a strong central storyline. Obviously, to avoid spoilers I can’t go into too much detail, but I felt that aside from Louise’s regret and reasons for not having her own family, the marital woes she experiences would have been easily remedied without the amount of naval gazing, and emotional to and fro that afflict her as the book progresses. As I was enjoying the spirit of detection she exhibits in tracking down her father, I found myself side-tracked by the marital shenanigans, and was champing at the bit to see where her next line of enquiry would take her. Although I did like Louise as a character, her sometimes swift descent into extreme wooliness was slightly frustrating.

To bring this back to the initially positive vibe, there was a strong location of place throughout the book, and I enjoyed the way that McQuaile gave us snapshots of the way that the locations of Ireland and London seemed to surreptitiously shape the behaviour of Louise herself. There was a good contrast between both the city and rural locations as the book progressed, and an intervention of the authorial voice to bring a real sense of colour and life to each location. We clearly see how Louise perceives her former life in Ireland, set against her current residence in London, the sharp differences between the two, and how they subtly impact on her emotions and actions.

All in all I’m rather glad to have put my head above the parapet and broken my domestic noir resolution, as I found this debut by and large both intriguing and enjoyable. Recommended.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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