After the Fire by Henning Mankell

Publication: Random House UK, Vintage Publishing, Harvill Secker, 5 October 2017

Source: review copy via NetGalley

My rating: 5*

Description:

Fredrik Welin is a seventy-year-old retired doctor. Years ago he retreated to the Swedish archipelago, where he lives alone on an island. He swims in the sea every day, cutting a hole in the ice if necessary. He lives a quiet life. Until he wakes up one night to find his house on fire.

Fredrik escapes just in time, wearing two left-footed wellies, as neighbouring islanders arrive to help douse the flames. All that remains in the morning is a stinking ruin and evidence of arson. The house that has been in his family for generations and all his worldly belongings are gone. He cannot think who would do such a thing, or why. Without a suspect, the police begin to think he started the fire himself.

Tackling love, loss and loneliness, After the Fire is Henning Mankell’s compelling last novel.

My thoughts:

After the Fire by Henning Mankell, translated by Marlaine Delargy, is not standard crime fiction and although there are crimes committed they are not the main focus of the book.  Living alone on an isolated island in the Swedish archipelago, Fredrik, a retired doctor, is devastated by the fire which destroyed the house he had inherited from his grandparents. He has nothing left apart from a boathouse, where he had set up an improvised surgery, a caravan (belonging to his daughter, Louise), and a boat. Suspected by the police of starting the fire, he tries to discover the culprit.

But the main emphasis of the book is on his reflections on life, death, ageing, and loneliness.  I found it absolutely fascinating as Fredrik looks back over his life.  His relationship with his daughter, Louise, who he hadn’t known about until she was an adult, is difficult – he knows almost nothing about her. However this changes when she comes to the island to decide what to do next and he gets more involved in her life.

Told in the first person by Fredrik it goes into detail about his fears of dying and the difficulties of understanding other people and both beginning and maintaining relationships. He has no real friends and only knows a handful of people living on the islands.  There is Jansson, a hypochondriac, the former postman, a snooper who read all the postcards he delivered, Oslovski, who he describes as a strange woman his contact with her is only to the extent of checking her blood pressure from time to time and parking his car outside her house on the mainland. Then there is Lisa, a journalist who writes for the local paper, a new acquaintance who interviews him about the fire and Nordin who owns the chandlery.

It’s beautifully written and I was entranced. I found it all very real, the people, the places and the mystery. It is both a character study  and a meditation on the complexities of life and death. Once I began reading I just didn’t want it to end.

The Betrayals by Fiona Neill

Publication date: August 217, Penguin – Michael Joseph

Source: Review copy via NetGalley

My rating: 4*

Blurb (Amazon)

None of them would forget that week on the wild Norfolk coast.

Best friends Rosie and Lisa’s families had always been inseparable.

But that summer, Lisa had an affair with Rosie’s husband Nick.

And now, after years of silence, she sends Rosie a letter begging for help. A letter which exposes dark secrets.

Daughter Daisy’s fragile hold on reality begins to unravel.

Teenage son Max blames himself for everything that happened that long hot summer.

And Nick must confront his own version of events.

There are four sides to this story. Who will you believe?

My thoughts:

An excellent book about families, relationships, and the consequences of an affair! It looks at what happens when an affair becomes known, a marriage is over and the families’ friendship is destroyed.

It grabbed my attention right from the start with Daisy’s opening words:

Three is a good and safe number. I close my eyes and whisper the words three times so no one can hear. The sound like a sweet sigh. If Mum notices she might worry and the days of worry are over. I say this three times too, just to make triple sure, remembering how the words have to be spoken on the out breath.

Whatever Daisy says her days of worry are not over and her OCD goes into overdrive when she opens Lisa’s letter to Rosie. The novel is narrated in the present tense, often a bit of a stumbling block for me, but not so in this book, told from four different viewpoints – those of Daisy, her mother Rosie, father Nick and brother Max. Each one casts a different light on events and shows how easy it can be to interpret what happens in differing and often mistaken ways.

As I read the book I often couldn’t decide whose version to believe, especially when they were so contradictory. It explores the reliability of memory, the nature of mental illness and the devastation of friendships and family relationships through deceit and betrayal. What stood out for me was the portrayal of what it’s like to struggle with OCD and cancer. The book as a whole is an in-depth study of character and the terrible effects of suppressed memories and secrets. I loved it.

My thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for a review copy.

Malice in Wonderland by Nicholas Blake

A Golden Age Mystery

Published: 2017, Ipso Books. First published in 1940, Collins UK (The Crime Club)

Source: Review copy via NetGalley

My rating: 4*

I really enjoyed Malice in Wonderland by Nicholas Blake*. It’s a Golden Age mystery first published in the UK in 1940; in the US as The Summer Camp Mystery, later in 1971 as Malice with Murder; and in 1987, as Murder with Malice.

There are several allusions to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The train to Wonderland plunges into a tunnel, just as Alice enters Wonderland through a rabbit hole. But in this case Wonderland is a holiday camp, set on a cliff top overlooking the sea. And all is not well in Wonderland as there is a prankster in the camp , the self-styled ‘Mad Hatter’, who is playing nasty and cruel practical jokes on the holiday makers. Swimmers are ducked in the sea and held down, tennis balls are coated in treacle, left with a note that refers to a part of dormouse’s story in Alice in Wonderland. Then the jokes get more dangerous. The camp’s owners are concerned not just for the guests but also for their business as they fear a rival firm with a grudge against the company is trying to ruin them.

There are hundreds of visitors at Wonderland, but the action revolves around a few characters including Paul Perry, a young man who calls himself a scientist, but who is there taking notes for the Mass Observation project, Mr and Mrs Thistlethwaite and their teenage daughter, Sally, Albert Morley, a timid little man, brothers Mortimer and Teddy Wise, the camp’s managers, their secretary Esmeralda Jones and Nigel Strangeways, a private detective.

Like other Golden Age mysteries, Malice in Wonderland presents a puzzle, plenty of suspects, clues planted along the way and a detective who solves the puzzle. It also presents a picture of life just before the Second World War, the social attitudes and in particular the beginnings of the holiday camps. By the 1930s there were several camps, including Warners and Butlins, at seaside locations. Wonderland has dining-halls presenting food cooked by London chefs, a ballroom, bars, an indoor swimming-bath, a concert hall, a gymnasium and numerous playrooms, plus a programme of entertainment with professional hosts and hostesses. It’s described as ‘the biggest, brightest and most ambitious of all the holiday camps that had sprung up over England during the last year or two.’

I loved the setting, the interesting characters, and the fiendishly difficult mystery to solve (I only solved it just before the denouement). And it’s well written with humour and style.

*Nicholas Blake was the pseudonym of Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis (1904 – 1972), one of the leading British poets of the 1930s. He published his first Nigel Strangeways detective novel, A Question of Proof in 1935. Malice in Wonderland is the 6th in the series.

My thanks to the publisher for a digital ARC via NetGalley.

Amazon UK

Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben

Publication Date: 26 September 2017, Random House UK, Cornerstone

Source: Review copy via NetGalley

My rating: 4*

Blurb:

The brilliant new novel from the international bestselling author of Home and Fool Me Once. Mistaken identities, dark family secrets and mysterious conspiracies lie at the heart of this gripping new thriller.

Fifteen years ago in small-town New Jersey, a teenage boy and girl were found dead.

Most people concluded it was a tragic suicide pact. The dead boy’s brother, Nap Dumas, did not. Now Nap is a cop – but he’s a cop who plays by his own rules, and who has never made peace with his past.

And when the past comes back to haunt him, Nap discovers secrets can kill…

My view:

I enjoyed Don’t Let Go very much. It’s a fast-paced mystery that moves between the past and the present with ease, good characterisation and a plot that kept me guessing to the end.

Two stories relating to Coben’s hometown of New Jersey inspired him to write this story. One was about a mafia leader and a make-shift crematorium and the other about a Nike missile control centre behind barbed-wire fencing near the mafia leader’s house and the elementary school. The stories turned out to be true, but Don’t Let Go is Coben’s own version.

Nap has never got over his twin brother, Leo’s death and fifteen years later he is still constantly in his thoughts. Leo and his girlfriend, Diana had been found by a railway line and it looked as though they had committed suicide, but Nap can’t accept that. And he is still obsessed by his girlfriend, Maura, who had disappeared the same night that Leo died. So when another cop, Rex Canton is found dead with Maura’s fingerprints at the scene of the crime, Nap is determined to get to the truth of what exactly had happened and to find Maura.

This is a book that I just had to read quickly, trying to follow the twists and turns as Nap and Ellie, also a friend from their schooldays, uncovered the secrets and lies that had been told over the years.

I enjoyed Don’t Let Go, but it did remind me of the only other book by Coben that I’ve read – The Woods, also about the murder of two teenagers twenty years earlier. Two other teenagers had disappeared and were presumed dead. Paul Copeland, now a County Prosecutor, is asked to identify a dead body, who turns out to be one of the missing teenagers. His sister was the other missing person and she is still missing. Same story in principle but different details and I’m wondering if this is typical of Coben’s books? Are they formulaic?

My thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Cornerstone, the publishers for a review copy.

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

Publication date: 24 August 2017, Century

Source: Review copy via NetGalley

My rating: 5*

Blurb:

A wealthy woman strangled six hours after she’s arranged her own funeral.
A very private detective uncovering secrets but hiding his own.
A reluctant author drawn into a story he can’t control.
What do they have in common?

Unexpected death, an unsolved mystery and a trail of bloody clues lie at the heart of Anthony Horowitz’s page-turning new thriller.

SPREAD THE WORD. THE WORD IS MURDER.

My thoughts:

The Word is Murder is a very clever and different type of murder mystery. I don’t think I’ve read anything like it before, one in which the author himself plays a major role.

Diana Cowper was killed later the same day after making the arrangements for her funeral. She was strangled in her own home. The police at first thought she’d been killed during a burglary, but there were no fingerprints or indeed any other clues to help find her killer.

The novel goes into a different realm with the introduction of ex-policeman, Daniel Hawthorne, who had been an adviser for Horowitz’s Foyle’s War series. The police call on Hawthorne as a consultant on out-of-the ordinary cases and he is working on the Diana Cowper murder. He proposes that Horowitz writes a book about him and his investigations into the case. However, they disagree about what Horowitz should write, which highlights the difference between writing crime fiction and true life crime books – and Horowitz gets dragged into the investigations.

At first I was slightly confused – were the details about Horowitz fact or fiction (a lot of it is true), was Hawthorne a real person or a fictional character, what was fact and what was fiction? It really is one of the most complicated and bemusing books I’ve read, full of realistic characters acting in a mystery full of red herrings and multiple twists and turns. I was soon totally immersed in this fascinating novel. I loved Magpie Murders, and I think Horowitz The Word is Murder is equally as amazing and maybe even better! I was totally unable to solve the mystery, the clues were all there, but I was so involved in sorting out what was real and what wasn’t and enjoying the puzzle that I completely missed them.

I am so delighted that I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.

The Break by Marian Keyes

The Break

Publication date 7 September 2017, Michael Joseph

Source: review copy via NetGalley

Blurb:

Amy’s husband Hugh isn’t really leaving her.

At least, that’s what he promises. He is just taking a break – from their marriage, their children and, most of all, from their life together. For six-months Hugh will lose himself in south-east Asia, and there is nothing Amy can say or do about it.

Yes, it’s a mid-life crisis, but let’s be clear: a break isn’t a break up – yet

It’s been a long time since Amy held a briefcase in one hand and a baby in the other. She never believed she’d have to go it alone again. She just has to hold the family together until Hugh comes back.

But a lot can happen in six-months. When Hugh returns, if he returns, will he be the same man she married? And will Amy be the same woman?

Because falling in love is easy. The hard part – the painful, joyous, maddening, beautiful part – is staying in love.

My view:

I think it was a mistake requesting this book from NetGalley! Years ago I read Under the Duvet, which I remember as amusing and entertaining, and I enjoy seeing Marian Keyes when she’s on programmes such as It Takes Two talking about Strictly Come Dancing – she’s very funny. The Break  is not the sort of book I usually read, but I’d thought it would be a change from my usual fiction.

But, I’m sorry to say I didn’t enjoy it. There are many characters, but I didn’t warm to any of them, particularly the main ones, Amy and Hugh. There’s lots of dialogue, which is OK but also lots of description of clothes – too much description of clothes.

It’s written in a chatty, gossipy style that gets very wearing after a while and although it’s easy reading it didn’t grip me and I struggled to finish it. So much so that each time I put it down I didn’t really want to carry on with it. I think my problem with it is that is very slow-paced and I thought it was over-long and drawn out. I did want to know what happened to Amy and Hugh, but it was all too predictable – not my cup of tea!

There are many 5* and 4* ratings on Goodreads, so I expect that if you’re a fan of her books you’ll love it.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1049 KB
  • Print Length: 570 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0718179730
  • Publisher: Penguin (7 Sept. 2017)
  • My rating: 2*

Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah

Publication date: 24 August 2017, Hodder & Stoughton

Source: review copy via NetGalley

I was attracted to read Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah by this description on NetGalley:

She’s the most famous murder victim in the country.

What if she’s not dead?

Did You See Melody? is a different kind of Sophie Hannah novel.

It is a stand alone.

It is pure psychological suspense, with a chilling hook and a killer central mystery.

It combines Sophie’s critically acclaimed writing with a pacy and twisty plot.

So, I was expecting it to be a gripping, tense and intriguing mystery. But I became increasingly disappointed as I read pages and pages of description of the five-star Swallowtail Resort and Spa in the foothills of Camelback Mountain, Arizona at the beginning of the book. I like description but this was far too much even for me. It’s like reading a promotional article for the resort. It picked up pace a bit when the subject of Melody was introduced. She was seven when she disappeared and although her body had not been discovered her parents were tried and found guilty of murdering her.

Cara has left her husband and two children at home in Hertford in England without telling them where she was going, but leaving them a note saying she’d be back on 24 October. She’d booked herself into the Swallowtail and arrives, exhausted from her journey only to find that her room is already occupied by a man and a young teenage girl. However, the receptionist is extremely apologetic and settles her into a casita with her own private infinity pool at no extra charge.

The first hint about what had happened to Melody comes the next morning when one of the guests announces that she’s seen Melody and eventually Cara’s curiosity is aroused and she discovers the tragic story of Melody’s murder. Cara wonders if the girl she’d seen the previous night was Melody. At first Cara’s reason for leaving home as she did is not explained and when it was I was less than impressed and I didn’t really warm to her character.

From that point my own interest in the story picked up as the details of what had happened to Melody are gradually revealed as Cara talks to Tarin, a fellow guest, reads accounts on the internet and excerpts from the TV talk show, Justice With Bonnie, hosted by the truly terrible Bonnie Juno. Bonnie is described as a legal commentator and I really disliked her and her interference in the case.

There is quite a lot of hyperbole and contrasting depictions of both the American and British characters, which made me wonder if this is a spoof, as really, most of the story just beggars belief. It’s far-fetched, contrived and over complicated. But once I’d got past the lengthy opening section I did want to know what happened next and it is in the last few pages of the book that I found something that really did send a little shiver down my spine – and left me wondering just what had really happened to Melody, and what would happen next.

My thanks to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton, the publishers for a review copy.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2826 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (24 Aug. 2017)
  • My rating: 3*