Then She Vanishes by Claire Douglas

Then She Vanishes

Penguin UK – Michael Joseph|27 June 2019|403 pages|Review e-book copy|5*

I loved the other books by Claire Douglas that I’ve read – her third and fourth books, Last Seen Alive and Do Not Disturb, so I had high expectations for her latest book, Then She Vanishes. I was not disappointed – it is brilliant. It gripped me from the start and never let me go. It has twist upon twist upon twist, until I began to doubt everything I’d thought about what I’d read – I was guessing right up to the end when all is revealed. And even then the final twist took me by surprise. So good!

What more can I say? The opening is dramatic as a killer calmly and coolly considers which house harbours the victim and then enters and shoots first a man and then an older woman. Who are they and why were they killed in cold blood?

Enter Jess, a journalist reporting on the murders in the seaside Somerset town of Tilby for the local newspaper, The Bristol and Somerset Herald. She has recently returned to Tilby, her home town, after working in London and is keen to make a name for herself. But it’s not going to be easy, for it turns out that the murderer is Heather, her best friend from school. Heather is unconscious in hospital having tried to take her own life.

Jess can’t believe that her kind, generous friend Heather is capable of killing anyone. So, Jess is torn – how can she report objectively on the case and how will Heather and Margot, Heather’s mother, react when they realise she is a journalist? Their friendship had ended after Heather’s older sister Flora had disappeared, and both girls had withheld what they knew about Flora – Jess still feels guilty about what she did that summer of 1994. The story alternates between events in the present day, and in 1994 when Flora was last seen, told from Margot’s perspective. As Jess investigates she discovers things about Heather and her family she had not known as a young teenager.

Needless to say, but this is a book in which many family secrets are eventually uncovered. It delves into the nature of mother/daughter/sister relationships and of friendship and guilt. To write too much about the plot would only spoil it – you have to experience it as you read to get the full impact. At first it seems quite simple and straight forward, but of course, it isn’t.

Now, I want to read her first two books, The Sisters and Local Girl Missing.

Many thanks to the publishers, Penguin UK – Michael Joseph, for my review copy via NetGalley.

My Friday Post: The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

I’m currently reading The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths.

The Stranger Diaries

‘If you’ll permit me,’ said the Stranger, ‘I’d like to tell you a story.’

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 54 and page 56:

Ty could be drunk or on drugs for all I know. high on something, the modern equivalent of opium, like Wilkie Collins.

Blurb:

A dark story has been brought to terrifying life. Can the ending be rewritten in time?

Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. As a literature teacher specialising in the Gothic writer RM Holland, she teaches a short course on it every year. Then Clare’s life and work collide tragically when one of her colleagues is found dead, a line from an RM Holland story by her body. The investigating police detective is convinced the writer’s works somehow hold the key to the case.

Not knowing who to trust, and afraid that the killer is someone she knows, Clare confides her darkest suspicions and fears about the case to her journal. Then one day she notices some other writing in the diary. Writing that isn’t hers…

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck

Sweet thursdayI read John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row five years ago. At the time I didn’t know he’d written a sequel – Sweet Thursday. So when I discovered it, as I’d loved Cannery Row I wanted to read it. Written in 1954, I think it’s just as good, set in Monterey on the California coast the 1950s after the Second World War when the cannery had closed down.

Sweet Thursday’ is what they call the day after Lousy Wednesday – one of those days that’s just bad from the start. But ‘Sweet Thursday’ is sunny and clear, a day when anything can happen.

I was delighted to find that there is just as much humour and generosity within its pages. Some of the same characters are still there, Mack, Hazel and friends who live in the Palace Flop-house (a dosshouse) and Doc too. There are some new characters, notably Suzy at the house called the Bear Flag, the local brothel. Dora who ran the Bear Flag had died and it has been taken over by her sister Fauna (previously known as Flora). Lee Chong had sold the grocery and it is now owned by a Mexican called Joseph and Mary Rivas.

I loved the opening of the Prologue:

One night Mack lay back on his bed in the Palace flop-house and he said, “I ain’t never been satisfied with that book Cannery Row, I would have went about it different.”

And after a while he rolled over and raised his head on his hand and he said, “I guess I’m just a critic. But if I ever come across the guy that wrote that book I could tell him a few things.”

Doc returned from the war to his laboratory, Western Biological Laboratories, now run down, covered in dust and mildew. He’d left Old Jingleballicks, in charge and he’d neglected it. But his heart is now longer in his work and the ‘worm of discontent‘ is gnawing at him – he feels a failure.

Whisky lost its sharp delight and the first long pull of beer from a frosty glass was not the joy it had been. He stopped listening in the middle of an extended story. He was not genuinely glad to see a friend …

What am I thinking? What do I want? Where do I want to go? There would be wonder in him, and a little impatience, as though he stood outside and looked in on himself through a glass shell …

Doc thought he was alone in his discontent, but he was not. Everyone on the Row observed him and worried about him. Mack and the boys worried about him. And Mack said to Fauna, “Doc acts like a guy that needs a dame.”

So they decide that Suzy is the answer. But Suzy, an independent spirit who isn’t much good as a hustler, doesn’t think she’s good enough for Doc. The schemes for getting the two of them together seem doomed from the start, ending in a disastrous party, when all Mack and Fauna’s good intentions seem to backfire. But this is not a tragedy, although at times it has touches of melancholy. Hazel, one of my favourite characters in the book, takes matters into his own hands. Although he appears to be slow and stupid, his problem is not that he lacks intelligence, but is that of inattention, as he just watches life go by. After the party he put his mind to thinking about what had gone wrong. And then he goes on a Quest …

Mack, in the Prologue, sums up for me what I like in a book. After saying that he likes to have a couple of words at the top of each chapter that tells what the chapter is about he says:

‘Well, I like a lot of talk in a book, and I don’t like nobody to tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. and another thing – I kind of like to figure out what the guy’s thinking by what he says. I like some description too,’ he went on. ‘I like to know what colour a thing is, how it smells and how it looks, and maybe how a guy feels about it – but not too much of that.’

This is what you get in Sweet Thursday, great dialogue, great sense of location, eccentric and funny characters, wit, humour, irony and a touch of farce and surrealism, along with plenty of philosophy. I loved it.

This was my Classics Club Spin book for May, but I was late finishing it! It’s also one of my TBRs and a book that qualifies for the What’s In a Name challenge.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Releases of the Second Half of 2019

top-ten-tuesday-new

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

This week’s topic: Most Anticipated Releases of the Second Half of 2019. 

Beneath the Surface by Fiona Neill – 11 July

After a chaotic childhood, Grace Vermuyden is determined her own daughters will fulfil the dreams denied to her. Lilly is everyone’s golden girl, the popular, clever daughter she never had to worry about. So when she mysteriously collapses in class, Grace’s carefully ordered world begins to unravel.

The Bear Pit by S G MacLean – 11 July

The 4th book in the Seeker series, set in London in 1656, Captain Seeker is back in the city, on the trail of an assassin preparing to strike at the heart of Oliver Cromwell’s Republic.

The Sleepwalker by Joseph Knox – 11 July

The third book in the DC Aidan Waits series, set in Manchester. As a series of rolling blackouts plunge the city into darkness, Waits sits on an abandoned hospital ward, watching a mass murderer slowly die. Transferred from his usual night shift duties and onto protective custody, he has just one job … to extract the location of Martin Wick’s final victim before the notorious mass murderer passes away.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane – 8 August

A gripping and compassionate family drama set between neighbours in suburban New York – Gillam, upstate New York: a town of ordinary, big-lawned suburban houses. The Gleesons have recently moved there and soon welcome the Stanhopes as their new neighbours. Lonely Lena Gleeson wants a friend but Anne Stanhope – cold, elegant, unstable – wants to be left alone.

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell – 8 August

In a large house in London’s fashionable Chelsea, a baby is awake in her cot. Well-fed and cared for, she is happily waiting for someone to pick her up. In the kitchen lie three decomposing corpses. Close to them is a hastily scrawled note. They’ve been dead for several days. Who has been looking after the baby? And where did they go?

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory – 20 August

Midsummer’s Eve, 1648, and England is in the grip of civil war between renegade King and rebellious Parliament.  The struggle reaches every corner of the kingdom, even to the remote Tidelands – the marshy landscape of the south coast.

Alinor, a descendant of wise women, crushed by poverty and superstition, waits in the graveyard under the full moon for a ghost who will declare her free from her abusive husband.  Instead she meets James, a young man on the run, and shows him the secret ways across the treacherous marsh, not knowing that she is leading disaster into the heart of her life.

This Poison Will Remain by Fred Vargas – 20 August

This is the 9th in the Commissaire Adamsberg seriesWhen three elderly men are poisoned by spider venom, everyone assumes that the deaths are tragic accidents. But at police headquarters in Paris, Inspector Adamsberg begins to suspect that the case is far more complex than first appears.

The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry – 29 August

Edinburgh, 1850. Despite being at the forefront of modern medicine, hordes of patients are dying all across the city, with doctors finding their remedies powerless. But it is not just the deaths that dismay the esteemed Dr James Simpson – a whispering campaign seeks to blame him for the death of a patient in suspicious circumstances.

The Second Sleep by Robert Harris – 5 September

1468. A young priest, Christopher Fairfax, arrives in a remote Exmoor village to conduct the funeral of his predecessor. The land around is strewn with ancient artefacts – coins, fragments of glass, human bones – which the old parson used to collect. Did his obsession with the past lead to his death?

The Institute by Stephen King – 10 September

Deep in the woods of Maine, there is a dark state facility where kids, abducted from across the United States, are incarcerated. In the Institute they are subjected to a series of tests and procedures meant to combine their exceptional gifts – telepathy, telekinesis – for concentrated effect.

Luke Ellis is the latest recruit. He’s just a regular 12-year-old, except he’s not just smart, he’s super-smart. And he has another gift which the Institute wants to use…

Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop

Those who are loved

Headline Review|30 May 2019|496 pages|Review e-book copy|4.5*

Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop is one of the most moving novels I’ve read for a long time. But it begins slowly and it was only at about the halfway stage that it really took off for me. And now I’ve come to write about it I’m finding it difficult to put into words just how exceptional I think it is. Whatever I write will not do it justice – it really is ‘an epic tale of an ordinary woman compelled to live an extraordinary life‘.

It is historical fiction ‘set against the backdrop of the German occupation of Greece, the subsequent civil war and a military dictatorship, all of which left deep scars.’

The main character is Themis Koralis/Stravidis (in Greek mythology Themis is the personification of fairness and natural law). In 2016 she is a great grandmother and realising that her grandchildren knew very little about Greek history she decided to tell them her life story, beginning from when she was a small child in the 1930s, through the German occupation of Greece during the Second World War, the civil war that followed, then the oppressive rule of the military junta and the abolition of the Greek monarchy, up to the present day.

As she grew up she and her brothers and sister had many disagreements, holding differing political opinions, which came to a head when the Germans invaded Athens in 1941.  Themis and her brother Panos joined the communist party in their fight against the Germans, whilst her other brother Thanasis and her sister Margarita opposed them, hating the communists’ views and believing that Germany was a friend of Greece, not a foe.

During the civil war Themis was imprisoned on the islands of exile, Makronisos and then Trikeri. Her experiences were horrific, but only strengthened her determination to survive. On Makronisos she met Aliki, also a member of the communist party, and when Aliki is condemned to death, Themis promises to find and raise Aliki’s son, Nikos as her own.

During the early part of the book I felt it was rather like reading a history book. But then, the book sprang to life, the pace increased, and I was totally gripped and moved as history and fiction came together dramatically in glorious technicolor, telling the story of the characters personal lives and their parts in the action.

I have only skimmed the surface of this book – there is so much more to the story than I can mention here. But after the slow start I loved it, even though it is not a book I can say I ‘enjoyed’. It is a powerful and shocking story of remarkable characters faced with brutal and traumatic events. It has a completely convincing and vivid sense of location. I knew next to nothing about this period in Greek history before and I was astounded by what I learnt. 

On a personal note, the earthquake in Athens on 7 September 1999 plays a part in the story. We were there then on holiday. We had been out at sea on that day and travelled back to our hotel through Athens, seeing some of the destruction and terror it caused. The earthquake had been felt at our hotel in Marathon – people had been thrown out of the swimming pool and later that evening we could still feel the aftershocks.

Many thanks to the publishers, Headline Review, for my review copy via NetGalley.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

‘a story of two ordinary people, living in an extraordinary time, deprived not only of their freedom but their dignity, their names and their identities.’

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Zaffre|4 Oct. 2018|320 pages|Paperback|3*

Yesterday when I finished reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz, I didn’t want to write about it, but I kept thinking about it and in the end I decided I needed to record a few of my thoughts about it. It is not a book I can say that I ‘enjoyed’, because I didn’t – the subject matter is too painful, how can you enjoy a book that describes the horrors of one person’s experience of his time in the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau*!

It is ‘based on the true story of Lale Sokolov’.  He was born Ludwig Eisenberg on 28 October 1916 in Krompachy, Slovakia and transported to Auschwitz on 23 April 1942. He was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival. He met and fell in love with Gita, a fellow prisoner and he was determined that they would be survivors. The story Heather Morris tells is simply devastating and I could hardly bear to read the horrors of life in the concentration camps; it is appalling as it reveals the brutality, hatred and evil side of human nature. But is also about love, determination, compassion, and the strength of human nature. 

It is simply told in a straight forward, childlike style and in the present tense. It is certainly a most unsettling and depressing book, despite the fact that I knew that Lale and Gita would survive their horrific experience.

Heather Morris wrote the book after meeting Lale and hearing his story. In her Author’s Note she tells how she spent three years listening to him as

he told his story piecemeal, sometimes slowly, sometimes at bullet-pace and without clear connections between the many, many episodes. … Lale’s memories were on the whole, remarkably clear and precise.

The epilogue describes what happened to Lale and Gita after the end of the war. They married, moved to Bratislava, and, after travelling to Paris, eventually moved to Melbourne. There are photos at the end of the book of Lale and Gita in Australia with Gary their son and an Afterword by Gary about their family life and how their years in the camp affected them both.

But the line between fiction and fact can be blurred in a novel and there are claims that ‘the book contains numerous errors and information inconsistent with the facts, as well as exaggerations, misinterpretations and understatements‘. I have read the article pointing out the errors etc. It concludes that the book should be seen as an ‘impression devoid of documentary value on the topic of Auschwitz, only inspired by authentic events … Given the number of factual errors, therefore, this book cannot be recommended as a valuable title for persons who want to explore and understand the history of KL Auschwitz.’

It seems to me that it is a novel that clearly conveys what Lale experienced during the three years he spent in Auschwitz, as he remembered it many years later. Despite the errors that have been pointed out, I think it is a story of man’s inhumanity to man and a tribute to the strength of the human spirit for survival.

KL Auschwitz-Birkenau 

The first and oldest was the so-called “main camp,” later also known as “Auschwitz I” (the number of prisoners fluctuated around 15,000, sometimes rising above 20,000), which was established on the grounds and in the buildings of prewar Polish barracks;

The second part was the Birkenau camp (which held over 90,000 prisoners in 1944), also known as “Auschwitz II” This was the largest part of the Auschwitz complex. The Nazis began building it in 1941 on the site of the village of Brzezinka, three kilometers from Oswiecim. The Polish civilian population was evicted and their houses confiscated and demolished. The greater part of the apparatus of mass extermination was built in Birkenau and the majority of the victims were murdered here;’ (extract from the history page of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum)

The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

In Irish, Rúin means something hidden, a mystery, or a secret, but the word also has a long history as a term of endearment

Ruin

I liked The Rúin by Dervla McTiernan, the first in the detective Cormac Reilly series set in Ireland. It has a powerful opening in 1993 in Galway when Garda Cormac Reilly, new to the job, finds 15-year-old Maude and her little brother, Jack, who’s only five, alone in an old, decaying Georgian house, whilst their mother Hilaria Blake lies dead of an overdose.

Move forward twenty years and Cormac is now a DI. He has left an elite squad responsible for counter-terrorism and armed responses to serious incidents in Dublin and moved back to Galway, where Emma, his partner, has just started a new job. Although Galway is his home town he feels an outsider in the police department, largely shunned by the other officers, apart from Danny who had trained with him.  Despite his experience of running complex and high-profile cases he is assigned mainly to cold cases, which he thinks is an inappropriate use of his time. And he suspects the squad of corruption.

When Jack’s body is found in the River Corrib the police tell his girlfriend, Aisling Conroy, that he committed suicide. But when his sister, Maude arrives on the scene, having spent the last twenty years in Australia, she persuades Aisling to work with her to prove Jack’s death was murder. However, the police refuse to believe her and instead arrest her for the murder of her mother twenty years earlier. Meanwhile Cormac  realising there is a link between the deaths of Hilaria and Jack works to uncover the truth about both cases, despite the obstacles his fellow officers put in his way.

I found it rather confusing at first working out who was who and their relationships. There are quite a lot of minor characters who muddied the waters for me and I think the plot is over-complicated, needing the final chapters to explain the details. But I thought the main characters were convincing, in particular Cormac, and I was impressed by the description of Aisling grappling with her grief. There is also a strong sense of place. I was keen to find out the truth and once I had the characters clear in my head I just didn’t want to put it down until I finished it – it’s a real page-turner. I enjoyed it so much that I immediately reserved the next one in the series, The Scholar, at the library. I collected it on Thursday and will be reading it very soon.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1053 KB
  • Print Length: 402 pages
  • Publisher: Sphere (8 Mar. 2018)
  • Source: I bought it
  • My rating: 4*