Dirty Little Secrets by Jo Spain

Six neighbours, six secrets, six reasons to want Olive Collins dead.

 

Quercus Books|7 February 2019 |416 pages|e-book |Review copy|4.5*

I first came across Jo Spain’s books last year when I read The Confession, a standalone novel and then The Darkest Place, her 4th Inspector Tom Reynolds Mystery book, both very good books. So I was keen to read her latest book, a psychological thriller, Dirty Little Secrets, another standalone book. I really enjoyed this very readable page-turner, keen to discover all the secrets.

It’s set in Withered Vale, a small, gated community of just seven houses, outside the small village of Marwood in Wicklow in Ireland. On the surface it is a perfect place where the wealthy live their  privileged lives and keep themselves to themselves – until a cloud of bluebottles stream out of the chimney of number 4 and Olive Collins’ dead and disintegrating body is discovered inside. She had been dead for three months and none of the neighbours had bothered to find out why she hadn’t been seen all that time. But someone must have known what had happened to her – the question being who?

When DI Frank Brazil, near to his retirement, and his partner young Emma Child arrive it’s not clear whether Olive’s death was accidental death or suicide. But they quickly establish that the boiler had been pumping out carbon monoxide and the vents and the letter box had been taped up.  It was then obvious that her death was either suicide or murder. There is plenty of DNA in the house, as it turns out that all the neighbours had visited Olive. She had tried to interfere in each of their lives and each one of them had something to hide, from past crimes, past relationships, addictions, and blackmail. They’re all suspects as each one had a motive for killing Olive.

I liked the way Jo Spain has structured her book – each character is introduced and gradually more and more facts about their lives and personalities are revealed. And Olive’s dead voice is interspersed among these people, revealing her personality, thoughts and relationships with the others, and showing just went on behind all the closed doors. I was fascinated and went from one person to the next wondering who was guilty, changing my mind as the book progressed. The characters are convincing and so it was easy to work out who was who and how they all interacted. The ending surprised me as although I had suspected what had taken place I hadn’t foreseen the whole picture.

I was hooked from the beginning to the end. Withered Vale went from being a place where the neighbours lived their lives in isolation to a much more united community as together they faced the enormity of what had happened.

My thanks to the publishers, Quercus, for my review copy via NetGalley.

Note: this book is one of my TBRs, so qualifying for Bev’s Mount TBR challenge and as it will be published in February it also qualifies for Bev’s Calendar of Crime challenge in the category of a February publication.

My Friday Post: Where My Heart Used To Beat by Sebastian Faulks

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.

On Thursday I went to Barter Books in Alnwick and brought home a pile of books – more about that later on. One of those books is Where My Heart Used to Beat by Sebastian Faulks:

With its free peanuts and anonymity, the airline lounge is somewhere I can usually feel at home; but on this occasion I was in too much of a panic to enjoy its self-importance.

I can’t say I have ever felt at home in an airport lounge! I’m wondering what the narrator is panicking about.

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.

Pages 55- 56:

My lodging was on the top floor – of course – with windows on both sides. The study was at the front, but the bedroom overlooked a willow and a stream, on which two young men were inexpertly rowing. Some lines from Tennyson – ‘By the margin, willow-veil’d …’ swam in and out of my mind.

~~~

Blurb

On a small island off the south coast of France, Robert Hendricks – an English doctor who has seen the best and the worst the twentieth century had to offer – is forced to confront the events that made up his life. His host is Alexander Pereira, a man who seems to know more about his guest than Hendricks himself does.
The search for the past takes us through the war in Italy in 1944, a passionate love that seems to hold out hope, the great days of idealistic work in the 1960s and finally – unforgettably – back into the trenches of the Western Front.

This moving novel casts a long, baleful light over the century we have left behind but may never fully understand. Daring, ambitious and in the end profoundly moving, this is Faulks’s most remarkable book yet.

~~~

What about you? Does it tempt you or would you stop reading? 

New-To-Me Books

These are some books that I’ve recently added to my shelves, all Christmas presents:

bks xmas 2018

From top to bottom they are:

The Pocket Detective: (British Library Crime Classics) compiled by Kate Jackson –  including word searches, anagrams, snapshot covers, and crosswords based on the series of British Library Crime Classics and Golden Age Detection authors. I love word puzzles of all sorts, so this is just right for me.

The Inner Life of Animals: Surprising Observations of a Hidden World by Peter Wohllenben. This book looks fascinating as it is about what goes on aside animals’ heads with insights into their behaviour, emotions and instincts. In his Introduction Wohllenben says that the more he closely paid attention the more he noticed ‘our pets and their woodland relatives displaying what are supposed to be exclusively human emotions.’

The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places by Neil Oliver – described on the book jacket inside cover as ‘a broad sweep of British history and landscape’. I’ve enjoyed watching Neil Oliver’s TV documentaries and his book looks just as informative, encompassing our earliest history, via Romans and Vikings, civil war, industrial revolution and two world wars, looking at the places that he considers to be the most characteristic of our history, with many colour photographs.

Sea Change: The Summer Voyage from East to West Scotland by Mairi Hedderwick. This is a beautiful book with watercolours and pen and ink illustrations. It describes Marie Hedderwick’s journey in an antiquated 26-foot long yacht through the Caledonian Canal to the fjords of the west: Lochs Linnhe, Etive, Ailort, Moidart, Nevis and Leven.

Leonardo Da Vinci: the Biography by Walter Isaacson – A biography that brings Leonardo Da Vinci to life, a man of science and engineering, just as much as an artist and a man of endless curiosity about a vast range of subjects. I think this book could take me most of the year to read.

And finally a novel:

Love is Blind by William Boyd, set at the end of the nineteenth century about a Scottish musician, who leaves Edinburgh and his tyrannical father when he is offered a job in Paris. ‘A tale of dizzying passion and brutal revenge; of artistic endeavour and the illusions it creates; of all the possibilities that life can offer, and how cruelly they can be snatched away’.

Do any of any these books tempt you too?

The Good Son by You-Jeong Jeong

Blurb

When Yu-jin wakes up covered in blood, and finds the body of his mother downstairs, he decides to hide the evidence and pursue the killer himself. 

Then young women start disappearing in his South Korean town. Who is he hunting? And why does the answer take him back to his brother and father who lost their lives many years ago.

The Good Son by You-jeong Jeong, translated by Chi-Young Kim, is the first of her books to be translated into English. You-jeong Jeong is a South Korean writer of psychological crime and thriller fiction. She is the author of four novels including Seven Years of Darkness, which was named one of the top ten crime novels of 2015 by the German newspaper Die Zeit.

My thoughts:

I thought that maybe I’d made a mistake in requesting The Good Son from NetGalley when I started reading it. And at 23% I was ready to abandon it – I was tired of reading about Yu-jin trying to get rid of all the blood in the apartment and on himself after he discovered his mother lying in a pool of blood – it was so repetitive and slow going. So I did something that I very rarely do and went to the end of the book to see if it was like that all the way through – and as it looked as though it wasn’t, I carried on reading.

This is a dark book, but although there is a lot of blood around at the start it isn’t actually a gory, blood and guts story. It’s a psychological did-he-do-it murder mystery. It’s tense and puzzling as Yu-jin tries to uncover what happened, at first unable to remember the events of the night before the murder. It’s written totally from Yu-jin’s perspective, so for most of the book it was as though I was reading his mind – and it’s a very strange, mixed up mind. He has difficulty with honesty and admits that he tells more lies than other people, which means that he can tell any kind of story in a believable way, and for a large part of this book I was willing to believe him, or to think the murder was all in his mind and that his mother wasn’t dead.

For years he had been taking pills which his mother told him were to control his epilepsy but he didn’t like the side effects so he had stopped taking them without telling his mother. Now he’s worried about having seizures and the blank spots in his memory are confusing him.  As more of his past life is revealed in flashbacks I began to revise my opinion of him and wondered if he could have killed his mother. When he was nine his father and older brother had died in tragic circumstances that are only revealed later on in the book and even then there are different versions of what actually happened. It’s an intricate plot and just as soon as I thought I could see where it was going I realised that I’d been hoodwinked.

The book is set in South Korea, mainly in Incheon, a city south of Seoul but the main focus is on this dysfunctional family and their relationships. I’m glad I didn’t give up on the book at 23% as after that point the story picked up pace and it held my interest to the end. But it is certainly a dark and unsettling character study of a psychopath.

My thanks to the publishers, Little, Brown Book Group, for my review copy via NetGalley.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1126 KB
  • Print Length: 322 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group (3 May 2018)
  • Source: Review copy
  • My Rating: 3*

Six Degrees of Separation: from The French Lieutenant’s Woman to The Lieutenant

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins with The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles, a book I read and loved years ago but now I’ve forgotten most of the details – I’ve been meaning to re-read it for years.

The French Lieutenant's Woman

But what I do remember is that it is a book with an alternative ending and what I first thought of for my first link is a book with no ending – The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. It begins with a scene in an opium den where Jasper lies under the influence of several pipes of opium, trembling and almost incoherent from the visions that came to him.

Drood

Drood by Dan Simmons is also full of opium induced nightmares. In this book Drood is horrific, a half-Egyptian fiend who takes laudanum by the jugful. I didn’t enjoy this book – it’s too long, too wordy and full of unlikeable characters, but it does contain some vivid descriptions – the slums of London, the train accident at Staplehurst and the fantastical “Undertown” with its miles of tunnels, catacombs, caverns and sewers.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning: a biography by Margaret Forster reveals that from an early age Elizabeth took a tincture of opium (laudanum) prescribed to her for various illnesses, including ‘nervous hysteria‘. Elizabeth had a beloved spaniel, Flush, who shares her sickroom.

Dumb Witness (Hercule Poirot, #16)

Agatha Christie also had a much loved dog and dedicated Dumb Witness to him. Poirot investigates the death of Miss Emily Arundell. The ‘dumb witness’ of the title is Bob, Emily’s wire-haired terrier. After Emily fell down the stairs, tripping over Bob’s ball, she was convinced her relatives were trying to kill her.

TNow We Shall Be Entirely Freehis brings me to Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller in which the main character, Captain John Lacroix, also takes opium and meets an Emily – Emily Frend, who is losing her sight. Lacroix, unable to face the memories of the horrors he experienced at the battle of Corunna is being tracked by Corporal Calley and a Spaniard, Lieutenant Medina, who have been ordered to kill him for his part in the battle.

The LieutenantMy final link is to another book about a lieutenant and also linking back to the start of the chain. It’s The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville, based on real events and set in 1788, about Daniel Rooke, a lieutenant and an astronomer with the First Fleet when it lands on the shores of New South Wales. Rooke gets to know the local Aboriginal people, and forges a remarkable connection with one child, which will change his life in ways he never imagined.

I like the circularity of this chain beginning and ending with books about lieutenants and containing a third book about yet another lieutenant. The chain passes through time and place from England in the 19th century to Australia in the 18th century, connected by the endings of books, opium addicts, a love of dogs and characters called Emily. I have read all the books except for The Lieutenant, which is one of my TBR books.

Next month (February 2, 2019), the chain begins with Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.

The Accordionist by Fred Vargas

The Accordionist (Three Evangelists 3)

The Accordionist by Fred Vargas and translated by SianReynolds is the third book in the Three Evangelists series and it’s probably the most puzzling of the three. They are quirky crime fiction novels, with eccentric characters and intricate plots. The three ‘Evangelists’ are thirty-something historians, Mathias, Marc and Lucien, all specialists in three different periods of history, who live in a rambling house in Paris. Together with ex-special investigator Louis Kehlweiler, retired from the Ministry of the Interior, they find themselves involved in murder mysteries, mainly because Louis just can’t resist trying to solve particularly difficult crimes.

In this third book a simple-minded young man, Clément Vauquer, who plays the accordion, is the prime suspect for the murders of two Parisian women as he was seen watching both of their apartments before their murders. Desperate to prove his innocence he appeals to Marthe, who had looked after him as a child, for help.

Louis is supposed to be translating a biography of Bismark, but the newspaper reports of the two murdered women have distracted him so when his old friend Marthe tells him that Clément, who is like a son to her, is innocent and being used as a scapegoat he agrees to investigate and find the real culprit. He in turn, enlists the help of the three evangelists and Marc’s uncle, a retired policeman and they take Clément into their house to protect him whilst they dig deeper into the mystery.

I found this book the most baffling of the trilogy and really had no idea of how they managed to unravel all the strands of this murder mystery which has its roots in the past. They worked on instincts and by deciphering Clément’s muddled thoughts and memories, and with the help of a poem by the nineteenth century poet, Gerard de Nerval, finally uncover the killer’s identity. It’s the eccentric characters and the complicated plots that make Fred Vargas’ books stand out for me.

Fred Vargas is the pseudonym of of the French historian, archaeologist and writer Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau. She has won three International Dagger Awards from the Crime Writers Association, for three successive novels: in 2006, 2008 and 2009. I’ve also enjoyed her Commissaire Adamsberg books, probably more even than the Three Evangelists, and I still have a few of that series left to read including the tenth and latest book in the series, This Poison will Remain, due to be published in August this year.

  • Format: Paperback
  • File Size: 783 KB
  • Print Length: 370 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0099548364
  • Source: Library book
  • My Rating: 4*

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

An intriguing and mystifying book by Diane Setterfield – Once Upon a River – without doubt one of the best books I read last year – I was entranced from the beginning to the end. It’s a mystery beginning in the Swan Inn at Radcot, an ancient inn, well-known for its storytelling, on the banks of the Thames. A badly injured stranger enters carrying the drowned corpse of a little girl. It’s mystifying as hours later the dead child, miraculously it seems, takes a breath, and returns to life. The mystery is enhanced by folklore, by science that appears to be magic, and by romance and superstition.

The story has a timeless feel to it but it is set somewhere towards the end of the nineteenth century. There are numerous strands and characters to the story and Diane Setterfield drew me slowly into the book with a leisurely description of the characters and their situations. Just as the river, a character in its own right, takes many twists and turns and has many tributaries, it becomes apparent that the little girl could belong to a number of different families all with links to the river. As the story progresses these individual families each claim the child as theirs and I was never really certain which of them – if any – were telling the truth. Much is hidden and much eventually is revealed.

It’s a multi-layered book that you need time to digest, richly atmospheric and told from multiple viewpoints. I loved all the detail – about the river itself, about photography as Henry Daunt (based on Henry Taunt, the real-life photographer of the Thames and surrounding areas) travelled along the river in a houseboat with its own darkroom, about the body’s metabolism and the treatment of injuries and diseases of the late Victorian period and about belief in the afterlife. Various people refer to Quietly, the ferryman who featured in the stories people told – he appeared when you were in trouble on the water, gliding in his punt, either guiding you to the safety of the bank, or if it is your time he takes you to another shore ‘on the other side of the river.

Once Upon a River is a beautifully and lyrically told story, and cleverly plotted so that I was not completely sure at times what it was that I was reading. It’s historical fiction with a touch of magic that completely beguiled me with its mysteries and fascinating characters. I enjoyed reading her first book, The Thirteenth Tale, years ago before I began my blog, but I loved this one so much more!

My thanks to the publishers, Transworld Digital, for my review copy via NetGalley.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2336 KB
  • Print Length: 419 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0857525662
  • Publisher: Transworld Digital (4 Dec. 2018)
  • Source: Review copy
  • My Rating: 5*