The Guardians by John Grisham

The guardians

From the inside flap:

He was framed for murder.
Now he needs a miracle.

22 years ago Quincy Miller was sentenced to life without parole. He was accused of killing Keith Russo, a lawyer in a small Florida town. But there were no reliable witnesses and little motive. Just the fact that Russo had botched Quincy’s divorce case, that Quincy was black in a largely all-white town and that a blood-splattered torch was found in the boot of Quincy’s car. A torch he swore was planted. A torch that was conveniently destroyed in a fire just before his trial.

The lack of evidence made no difference to judge or jury. In the eyes of the law Quincy was guilty and, no matter how often he protested his innocence, his punishment was life in prison.

Finally, after 22 years, comes Quincy’s one and only chance of freedom. An innocence lawyer and minister, Cullen Post, takes on his case. Post has exonerated eight men in the last ten years. He intends to make Quincy the next.

But there were powerful and ruthless people behind Russo’s murder. They prefer that an innocent man dies in jail rather than one of them. There’s one way to guarantee that. They killed one lawyer 22 years ago, and they’ll kill another without a second thought.

My thoughts:

Years ago I read as many John Grisham books that I could find – I loved them. So I was delighted to find that The Guardians, his latest book is really good too, even though it is written in the present tense. I often find that style irritating but in this case I was gripped by the story and the tense didn’t trouble me in the slightest.

The book is based on a real story and a real person, which gives it a really authentic feel. Guardian Ministries is based Centurion Ministries founded by James McCluskey, working to prove the innocence of convicted criminals, convinced of their innocence. The narrator, Cullen Post, a lawyer who is also a priest, is working on behalf of several prisoners. The book opens dramatically as Duke Russell is having his last meal before being executed. But the main part of the story is centred on Quincy Miller who maintains he was framed for the murder of lawyer Keith Russo and has been in prison for 22 years.

The only small criticism I have is that at first several minor characters are introduced which muddied the waters a little but once I got further into the book it became clear that there were major miscarriages of justice that Post was investigating, as he concentrates on Quincy’s case. It’s an easy read but packed with detail, a lot of it quite shocking. I enjoyed it immensely, especially learning about the US legal system.

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton; 01 edition (15 Oct. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1473684439
  • ISBN-13: 978-1473684430
  • Source: I bought the book

My rating: 4*

 

Looking Good Dead by Peter James

looking good dead

I’ve read a few books by Peter James, but only three of his Roy Grace books, Simply Dead, the first book in the series, Not Dead Enough, the third one and now Looking Good Dead, the second book (and one of my TBRs).

Synopsis from Fantastic Fiction

Tom Bryce did what any decent person would do. But within hours of picking up the CD that had been left behind on the train seat next him, and attempting to return it to its owner, he is the sole witness to a vicious murder. Then his young family are threatened with their lives if he goes to the police. But supported by his wife, Kellie, he bravely makes a statement, to the murder enquiry team headed by Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, a man with demons of his own – including his missing wife – to contend with. And from that moment, the killing of the Bryce family becomes a mere formality – and a grisly attraction. Kellie and Tom’s deaths have already been posted on the internet. You can log on and see them on a website. They are looking good dead. ‘Destined for the bestsellers’ – “Independent on Sunday”. ‘A terrific tale of greed, seduction and betrayal’ – “Daily Telegraph”.

My thoughts:

It really is necessary to read these books in order because although each one is a complete murder mystery, they tell the continuing story of Roy Grace’s personal life and the mystery of his missing wife, Sandy. She had disappeared eight years earlier than the events described in the first book and had never been found. When all the usual sources had failed to find her he had turned to psychics and mediums for help, which he does again in this case.

As I wrote in my WWW Wednesday this book is set in Brighton and Peter James describes the setting in detail which slows the action down somewhat, but apart from that it’s fast paced. Tom is on a disastrous course as soon as he puts the CD into into his computer in an attempt to identify the man who left it on the train. The CD directs him to a site where he witnesses a murder and then he and his family also become targets for the killer and the tension immediately rises and culminates in the most terrifying scenes by the end of the book. I raced through it, trying not to visualise the gruesome details and impatient whenever the action moved away from the murder mystery, keen to find out whether Tom and his family would survive.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2117 KB
  • Print Length: 428 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; New Edit/Cover edition (4 Sept. 2008)
  • My Rating: 3.5*
  • Source: I bought it

The 16th book in this series, Find Them Dead will be published in July.

Catching Up

I’ve found that this lockdown period has affected my blogging as I haven’t been writing about the books I’ve read recently. I’ve been doing posts that don’t really need much concentration – lists of books, book beginnings and so on. So now I have a few books that I’ve read but not reviewed. Here’s what I thought about two of them. These are just brief reviews – more like notes really.

Queen Lucia

Queen Lucia has been on my radar for years ever since I began blogging and I bought a copy several years ago. When I saw that Simon and Karen were hosting the 1920 Club I realised it would be ideal as it was first published in 1920. However, time got the better of me and I finished reading it too late to add it the 1920 Book Club – but better late than never. 

I know other bloggers love E F Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books, but they have never really appealed to me. I don’t read many comic novels. But I did enjoy it more than I thought I would, although I think his style of writing is an acquired taste, using satire, irony, exaggerations and ridicule to expose people’s stupidities or vices – not my usual genre of books.  However, it is easy reading and it took my mind off the horrors of the coronavirus whilst I was reading. It is a book of its time and definitely not PC by today’s standards.

Queen Lucia is actually Mrs Emmeline Lucas, who presides over the residents of the village of Riseholme as its self-appointed queen. She is a most unlikeable character, totally self-centred and manipulative, aided by her friend, George Pillson who worships her. But as the events described in the novel unfold he rebels and works to undermine her. I disliked her pretentious tastes and her lust for power. She irritated me immensely with her baby talk, her pretence that she can speak Italian and her methods of riding roughshod over everyone. A rather more sympathetic character is Daisy Quantock, who introduces a mysterious Indian guru to the village before Lucia managed to present him as her protege.

The whole book has an artificial and silly feel about it but about half way through I found I was just going with the flow as I really  wanted to know what happened next. There are five more Mapp and Lucia novels, and as I’ve found an e-book containing all six for just 49p – Make Way for Lucia, I shall probably read more of them sometime.

The Dutch House

I decided to read The Dutch House by Ann Patchett as so many other bloggers have written glowing reviews, but I wasn’t as keen on it as others. Its about a dysfunctional family.  The Conroys, Danny, Maeve and their mother, Elna and father, Cyril  who lived in the Dutch House, but when Danny was just three his mother left home.  Cyril remarried, and his second wife, Andrea, the mother of two young girls, was the epitome of the  wicked stepmother. When their father dies he leaves the Dutch House, to Andrea.  She shows her true  colours and insists Danny and Maeve have to move out of their home. The house itself is described in detail. It was built by a Dutch couple called VanHoebeek in 1922 when it was in the open country just outside Philadelphia and their presence is still a strong influence on  the Conroy family.

The novel moves backwards and forwards in time, from 1946 to the present, and at times I was not sure what happened when (probably my lack of concentration caused my confusion). Danny and Maeve are both obsessed with the house, to the detriment of their own lives. Their mother, Elna meanwhile had a totally different reaction to the house, never liking it and I was intrigued about her – what made her leave her children – and I was suspicious about that had happened to her and even if she was she still alive. The pain her children felt when she left to be replaced by a wicked stepmother is immense. But it is the loss of their inheritance rather than the loss of their mother, that has left them with bitterness, and anger.

I thought the book began well, but somewhere in the middle and definitely towards the end I did get rather bored with the story, so much so that I was relieved to finish it. It was not just such a good choice of book for me – or maybe it was the wrong time for me to read it.

Becoming Mrs Lewis by Patti Callahan

Becoming Mrs Lewis

3*

Blurb:

Poet, atheist and communist, New Yorker Joy Davidman is an unconventional woman – and an unlikely partner for an English academic and theologian.

And when she starts a correspondence with Narnia author C. S. Lewis, she isn’t looking for love. Her own marriage crumbling, she seeks refuge in her work, and guidance from a writer she admires.

But in Joy’s letters Lewis discovers a kindred spirit, and an intellect to equal his own. Bonding over a shared love of literature and ideas, a deep connection is forged between the two.

Embarking on the adventure of a lifetime, Joy travels from America to England and back again. Facing heartbreak and poverty, discovering friendship and faith, against all the odds, the couple struggle to secure a love that will endure forever.

My thoughts:

I was keen to read Becoming Mrs Lewis by Patti Callahan as I have read many of C S Lewis’ books and was enthralled watching Anthony Hopkins, Debra Winger, and Julian Fellowes in Shadowlands (not a dry eye in the cinema) some years ago. Shadowlands is  about his meeting with Helen Joy Davidman and about the events that led to their marriage. I think the blurb (see above) summarises the events that led to Jack and Joy’s marriage very well and it was what made me want to read the book. 

When I’d read part of the book I discovered that Patti Callahan was giving an online blog tour.  It was very helpful, as I had been wondering whether the correspondence between Jack (as C S Lewis was known to his family and friends) and Joy that she quoted in the book was taken from their actual letters. She clarified that their letters had been lost – Jack had destroyed Joy’s letters to him because they were personal, whilst Joy had kept his letters to her in a trunk, but later it was vandalised and all the letters had gone. So, she had read the letters they had written to other people and used those as a basis for the letters in her book. In other words the letters in the book are imagined but inspired by those letters. She also said that the bones of her book are based on the facts – the dates and times are correct the rest is fiction.

However when I went back to the book I became disappointed. Written as though Joy herself is telling their story it is intense, passionate and very personal and I felt very uncomfortable reading it – as though I was eavesdropping on the characters. If I had been reading romantic fiction I wouldn’t have felt that way – but then I probably wouldn’t have read it at all.

Joy’s marriage was portrayed as a nightmare, her boys were in fear of their father and what he wanted from Joy was not the independent woman she was, but the little wife at home, submissive and obedient to him. He was abusive, an alcoholic and subject to rages. She found acceptance and understanding from Jack both in his letters and in person when she met him in England. What I found difficult to read is the personal thoughts and feelings ascribed to Joy and her desire for a physical relationship with Jack. I couldn’t warm to her, which is a shame as Patti Callahan’s admiration of her came over very strongly in her talk and she said that she had written the book so that people would care about her. It appeared to me from this book that she was almost stalking Jack. I was surprised that she felt able to spend so much time in England, despite missing her sons. She had left them at home with her husband and her cousin who was so obviously the kind of woman her husband desired.  

I was in two minds several times about finishing the book, but I’m glad I persevered to the end as overall I did enjoy it even though I think it went into too much detail. It has inspired me to look back at the books I have by and about C S Lewis and  to find out more about Joy Davidman.

My thanks to Harper Collins Inspire for a review copy via NetGalley.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

A terrible secret lies buried at the heart of this house

Animals at Lockwood Manor

Mantle| 5 March 2020| 352 pages| e-book| review copy via NetGalley| 3*

I enjoyed The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey although I think is too long with some repetitions and so in places I felt it dragged a bit. It is historical fiction, part a love story and part a mystery, beginning in 1939 at the outbreak of World War Two. A taxidermy collection of mainly mammals is being evacuated from a natural history museum in London to Lockwood Manor in the countryside to save them from the threat of bombs. Owned by Major Lord Lockwood, the Lockwood estate is ancient, although most of the house had been built in the Jacobean style in the nineteenth century, with two round turrets and a pierce parapet with pinnacles. Most of its many rooms are empty as the only residents are the Major and his daughter, Lucy along with the servants, whose numbers are down as they enlist.

In charge of the collection is Hetty Cartwright, a young woman, who soon realises she had taken on more than she expected. And it’s not long before, one after another, some of the animals go missing or are mysteriously moved from their positions in the long gallery. The book begins well as the scene is set, and I could feel the tension and mystery surrounding the house and in particular surrounding Lucy and her mother, Heloise. Heloise died in a car crash not long before the book begins, but we see her in Lucy’s journal in which she writes down her nightmares, thoughts and memories.

The narration alternates between Lucy’s journal and the events as experienced by Hetty. The characters of Hetty and Lucy are well drawn as their relationship develops, and the house and the museum animals too are vividly described. I loved the details of the museum collection, and how the conditions at Lockwood affected their condition as insects invaded the stuffed creatures. 

After a good start the pace then slows down and not a lot really happens until the final dramatic ending. Some of the characters are caricatured – for example the Major who is portrayed as an overbearing lecherous man, a pantomime villain. There is a more than a touch of the supernatural in the book, and a lot in it that reminded me of Jane Eyre and The Woman in White, as Hetty fears she is descending into madness. It’s the type of story that would make an excellent film or TV drama and, this is not something I usually think, would probably be better than the book.

Many thanks to Mantle for a review copy via NetGalley.

Reading Challenges: Mount TBR Challenge, Calendar of Crime, Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Stone Cold Heart by Caz Frear

Stone Cold Heart

2*

Stone Cold Heart is Caz Frear’s second novel and I’m sorry to say that I didn’t get on with it very well. However, I’m in the minority as there are lots of 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. My copy is a NetGalley copy that I’ve had far too long – I did start reading it when I first downloaded it but soon realised that it would be better if I read her debut novel, Sweet Little Lies first. These are police procedurals written in the first person present tense narrated by DC Cat Kinsella who is part of the Murder Investigation Team 4, and her personal life is a major part of both books.

Naomi Lockhart, a young Australian woman was murdered and at first it looked as though her flatmate had killed her. The night before she was murdered Naomi had been at a party held by her employer, Kirstie Connor and her husband, Marcus. Also at the party were Joseph Madden and his meek wife, Rachel, Marcus’ sister. Joseph is an emotionally abusive narcissist, who manages the local coffee shop and when suspicion then falls on him and he is arrested he claims that Rachel is setting him up. And so begins a most convoluted and tangled tale about Joseph and the rest of his family, filled with secrets and lies, most of which are complete red herrings.  

Alongside the murder mystery, the book follows the story of DC Cat Kinsella’s family and the mystery surrounding Maryanne Doyle that was told in Sweet Little Lies – you really do need to read that book first to understand what is going on in her family life in this book. Cat is a conflicted character to say the least and although other readers have found her a warm and likeable character I found her one of the most irritating fictional detectives in crime fiction. She is full of guilt and angst about her family, in particular about her father and her brother. She is keeping the identity of her boyfriend a secret from everybody – if you’ve read Sweet Little Lies you’ll know why, otherwise you’ll be as mystified as her family and police colleagues are.

I found the secrets surrounding Cat’s family the most interesting part of the book, more so than the investigation into Naomi’s murder. The Murder Investigation Team all get on well together, but their continuing team meetings in which they endlessly consider all the possible theories about the murder and what happened, although interesting at first soon became tedious – far too much hypothesising. The book just dragged on and on. And then there is the ending – except it’s just the murder mystery that ends as it looks as though there is still more to come about Cat Kinsella. If you like long detective stories, full of twists and turns, lots of red herrings and dubious and unreliable characters who withhold evidence you may like it more than I did.

Amazon UK link
Amazon US link

My thanks to the publishers, Zaffre, for a review copy via NetGalley.

Reading challenges: Mount TBR challenge and Calendar of Crime – the main action takes place in November.

Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear

 

Sweet Little Lies

3*

Sweet Little Lies is one of my TBRs. When it was first published nearly three years ago I kept seeing rave reviews of Caz Frear’s debut novel and wondered whether I would like it. It begins very slowly and I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to bother finishing it. It was only at about the halfway mark that it picked up pace. What I didn’t like about it is that it’s written in the first person present tense and apart from that I didn’t like the style of writing – very wordy, with much that adds very little to the plot. Once it finally got going this is mainly a police procedural set in the present day in London with flashbacks to Ireland in 1998. Whilst I found the plot a  touch over complicated and relying too much on coincidence I think the characters are well defined, and the dialogue is convincing.

When DC Cat Kinsella was a child of eight, visiting family in Ireland, teenager Maryanne Doyle went missing and Cat suspected her father had something to do with Maryanne’s disappearance because of something she had seen. But she kept it to herself and that had affected her relationship with her father ever since. So she is a complex and conflicted character who has changed her name, from McBride, distancing herself from her family and in particular from her father, whom she both loves and hates.  Her secret means that when the body of a woman, who turns out to be Maryanne Doyle, has been found strangled, not far from the pub that Cat’s father runs in Islington she is in a quandary – should she tell her boss that she had known Maryanne in the past?  But she is desperate to know the truth – and that is what kept me turning the pages to the end of the book.

Amazon UK link
Amazon US link

Reading challenges: Mount TBR challenge and Calendar of Crime – the main action takes place in December.