Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Review: The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins

This is another book I was attracted to because of the pretty and unusual cover (hardback version: scarab beetle). The other thing that caught my attention was the mention of a Victorian diary - I'm a sucker for stories with old diary entries. Although, as it turned out, there were no historical flashbacks in this one!

The Night Visitor is about Olivia, a TV historian, who is finding it impossible to juggle family commitments with her high-flying career. When she comes across the Victorian diary of one of the first female doctors she knows it will make a brilliant book, but she can't spare the time to do the research. So she hires Vivian to do the work for her. Vivian takes care of the dilapidated gothic house where the diary was found and was apparently once a university professor - the perfect research assistant. Except Vivian sees herself more as Olivia's co-writer and friend, and she has ideas for lots more books that they can write together. Oh, and she believes that every night she's visited by a 'ghost' who wants to kill her...

The Night Visitor is particularly clever in that I felt sympathy for the character whose viewpoint I was reading, but as soon as the viewpoint changed so did my allegiance! I don't think I would have liked to have been friends with either of these women in real life but they were incredibly compelling to read about. Creepy and deliciously twisty, I couldn't put this one down. Some of the twists I guessed, some took me completely by surprise. And although I never thought I'd say this, I found all the stuff about the beetles completely fascinating! Particularly clever is the way the author links the different types of beetles and their traits to the behaviour of the humans.

Brilliant stuff, and thoroughly recommended for anyone who loves psychological suspense and character-driven mysteries. Another of my favourite reads this year.

Thank you to Lucy Atkins, Quercus, and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Review: Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin

I was attracted to this book because of the pretty cover (yes, I truly am that shallow). I thought the premise was clever: the sister of a serial killer's victim kidnaps him, hoping to coerce him into telling her where he buried her sister.

Like the main character in Rebecca, our heroine doesn't have a name. Carl, the man she believes murdered her sister, was once a famous photographer but is now in a care home supposedly suffering from dementia. She begins to visit him, pretending to be his daughter, before taking him out on 'holiday'. In reality she's planned a road trip around Texas, visiting all the locations in his photography book - the last places his victims were seen alive.

The relationship between Carl and his 'daughter' reminded me of Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling, and the story itself a kind of cross between Silence of the Lambs and As Good As It Gets - even though no one falls in love, or gets eaten! I particularly loved Carl's dark sense of humour, and how the heroine's meticulously thought-out plan quickly unravels. They also meet a host of eccentric characters along the way - my favourite was Trudy, the gun-toting estate agent! 

Although the subject matter is dark, there are no scenes of graphic or gratuitous violence. The story is mostly about the mystery of the missing girls and the relationship between Carl and his 'daughter'. The places mentioned are real and the book contains 'Carl's' photographs amongst the text, which add an eerie note. Towards the end there are perhaps a couple too many coincidences, but Paper Ghosts is one of my favourite books this year - possibly ever!

Thank you to Julia Heaberlin, Michael Joseph (Penguin), and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Review: Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey

I was first attracted to this book by the unusual cover, and then I realised Emma Healey is the author of Elizabeth is Missing, which I already own but haven't got around to reading yet (I think I should have that written on my tombstone).

How do you rescue someone who has already been found?

Whistle in the Dark is a mystery/family drama, and unusual in that the story starts at the moment fifteen-year-old Lana is found safe and well after being missing for four days in the Peak District. Lana and her mother Jen had been on a mother-daughter bonding holiday at an artists' retreat. Lana, depressed and self-harming, hides behind her sulky teenager persona, whereas Jen tries (and fails) not to be a helicopter parent. While overjoyed to have Lana back home, Jen becomes increasingly obsessed with finding out exactly what happened to her daughter during those four missing days - because Lana is saying nothing.

Any parent of teenagers will identify with Jen; desperate to do the best for her daughter and yet infuriated by Lana's unwillingness to open up and confide in her (typical teenager, basically). I loved the characters, especially Jen's husband (and Lana's father) Hugh, reassuringly pragmatic and easy-going, and happy just to have his daughter back. 

Whistle in the Dark is mainly about family relationships and the unravelling of Jen's sanity as she worries about her daughter. (I loved the imaginary cat!) The mystery about what happened to Lana almost takes second place, but it kept me guessing and I only managed to work out part of it before the end. There is a nail-biting ending, but anyone expecting a fast-paced, psychological/thriller type story with a lot of twists might be disappointed. I think it would appeal best to fans of authors such as Joanna Cannon. But I found it very well-written, with brilliant characters I could really identify with, and I absolutely loved it. One of my favourite reads this year.

I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of this book, which will be published in the UK on the 3rd May 2018.

Thank you to Emma Healey, Viking, and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Review: The Text by Claire Douglas

This clever little short story is currently free to download, and perfect to read on a phone while in a waiting room or stuck in a queue.

Emily Latimer has booked a trip to Edinburgh with her friends but now her new boss wants her to work instead. Furious, she sends a text to her boyfriend telling him the news, adding that she hopes her boss dies - but accidentally includes her entire office group. The next day the police turn up on her doorstep. Her boss has died and she is high on their list of suspects - but what if the murderer is one of her friends?

The Text is listed as having 40 pages, but the story ends at about 65% and the rest is an extract from one of the author's novels, Last Seen Alive. But it is a little gem of a murder mystery, packed with twists. I felt as though it ended a bit abruptly, but I think that is because I was enjoying it so much - I just wanted it to carry on! Recommended!

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Review: The Body in the Boat (Hardcastle and Chaytor Mysteries #3) by A.J. MacKenzie

I downloaded this book because I was attracted by the cover and I love historical mysteries. I then realised it was actually #3 in a series, so I had to quickly read the other books first!

The Body in the Boat probably has one of the best openings I've read for a long time. One foggy night, the local constable and sometime smuggler Joshua Stemp catches his rival with a coffin in his boat. Is he up to no good? Undoubtedly. But the other man has a large dog and an equally large knife, and so Joshua is forced to make a tactical retreat. A few days later a local banker is found washed up in another boat, extremely dead, along with one bloodstained gold coin. Are the two events connected? It's up to the Reverend Marcus Hardcastle and his friend Amelia Chaytor to find out.

These books are usually centred around a historical event, and in this case it is the introduction of paper money, and the effect it had on the banks. All the lovably eccentric characters from the earlier books are here: wily smugglers, sneaky French spies, feisty widows, and a Wicked Lady-ish debutante turned smuggler. Although the plots are suitably twisty, it is definitely the characters that make this series for me, along with the flashes of dry humour. While this particular story started a bit slowly, the end was as nail-bitingly thrilling as its predecessors.

The only negative for me was that Rev Hardcastle spent a large chunk of the story questioning each suspect in turn, and I'd rather he had become directly involved with the action like the earlier books. And in this one Amelia doesn't have a lot to do. But I love this series and hope I won't have too long to wait for the next one! Recommended! 

Thank you to A.J. MacKenzie, Bonnier Zaffre, and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Related Posts:

Review: The Body on the Doorstep by A.J. MacKenzie (Hardcastle and Chaytor Mysteries #1)
Review: The Body in the Ice by A.J. MacKenzie (Hardcastle and Chaytor Mysteries #2)