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.

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*

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*

The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen Wilkinson

Poisoned Pen Press|4 December 2018 |227 pages|e-book |Review copy|5*

This edition, published in association with the British Library, has a preface by Rachel Reeves, Member of Parliament for Leeds West and an introduction by Martin Edwards. It was first published in 1932 by George G Harrap & Co.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Division Bell Mystery – it’s entertaining on several levels both from the mystery ‘locked room’ aspect and historically, socially and culturally with its insight into how Parliament worked in the 1930s and the status of women in Parliament in the inter-war years. In fact political commentary runs throughout the novel. It was a period of great social injustice, people were still struggling in the aftermath of the Great War – a period of mass unemployment with demands for both political and social change.

Ellen Wilkinson was one of the first women Labour MPs. I’ve come across her before as a fiery politician, known as ‘Red Ellen’ both for her red hair and her left-wing politics. She supported the men from Jarrow in Tyneside in 1936 as they marched from their home town to London to present a petition against the mass unemployment and extreme poverty in the north-east of England. She marched with them for part of the way and handed in their petition to the House of Commons.

She was a keen murder mystery fan and The Division Bell Mystery is her one entry into the Golden Age Detective fiction. The classic mystery was popular in the interwar years as people entertained themselves with puzzles such as the ‘locked room’ mysteries as in this book.

The main character is the Home Secretary’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, young Robert West. As a Parliamentary Private Secretary herself, Ellen Wilkinson portrays his role and political intrigue with convincing detail. There’s a financial crisis and the Home Secretary is negotiating with the American financier Georges Oissel for a loan. The Division Bell rings – a signal to MPs to cast their votes – and West is shocked to hear a gunshot as he is making his way down the corridor leading to Room J, where the Home Secretary and Oissel had been dining. On entering the room he finds the Home Secretary has left to vote and Oissel is slumped on the floor, his shirt front stained with blood and a revolver lying beside him. No one else was in the room, no one had been seen entering or leaving the room and there is no evidence of who had killed him. It falls to West to work with the police investigating his death.

It is a nicely complicated mystery but for me it is the setting and the characters that makes this book so interesting. West is the main character but I particularly liked Grace Richards, a young female MP, based on Ellen Wilkinson herself – in her preface Rachel Reeves points out the similarities between Ellen and Grace. Once I started to read The Division Bell Mystery I didn’t want to put it down – definitely a 5* read for me!

My thanks to the publishers, Poisoned Pen Press, for my review copy via NetGalley.

The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz

5*

Random House UK Cornerstone|1 November 2018|384 pages|Review copy

Last year when I read The Word is Murder I thought it was a very clever and different type of murder mystery. It features Daniel Hawthorne, an ex-policeman, now a private investigator, who the police call in to help when they have a case they call a ‘sticker’. What I found particularly interesting was the way that Anthony Horowitz inserted himself into the fiction, recruited by Hawthorne to write a book about him and the cases he investigates.

In The Sentence is Death, Anthony appears again as a character, reluctantly, as he had agreed to a three-book contract with Hawthorne. At the start of the book Anthony, who wrote the script for the TV series of Foyles War, is on the set as the opening scenes in the seventh series were being shot. The rehearsal was disastrous, but it came to an abrupt end when Hawthorne interrupted the scenes by driving straight into the middle of the set to tell Anthony there had been another murder and that the police had asked for his help.

Divorce lawyer Richard Pryce was found dead in his home, having been hit on the head by a wine bottle, a 1982 Chateau Lafite worth £3,000, and then stabbed to death with the broken bottle. There are several clues – there’s the number 182 written in green paint on the wall, the incredibly expensive bottle of wine when Pryce was a teetotaller, a public threat from a well known feminist writer, an unknown visitor the evening he was killed and plenty of other enemies as suspects.  There’s no doubt that Daniel is a brilliant detective, but Anthony finds him trying as he’s uncommunicative, keeping Anthony in the dark most of the time, he swears and he calls him ‘Tony’.

I found it all most entertaining and perplexing, completely foxed by all the red herrings and twists and turns in the plot. But, mainly because I’d read the first book, I loved the interaction between Anthony and Daniel and had no difficulty with the mix of fact and fiction, enjoying the details about Anthony’s life as a scriptwriter as much as the mystery about the murder. I don’t think, however that you need to read The Word is Murder first because as a murder mystery The Sentence is Death works well as a standalone. But to  see how their relationship began and develops it would help to read the books in order.

I loved this book as much or maybe even more than the first one and am delighted that I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.

Books Read in November 2018

This month I read seven books, made up of one review copy that came to me via  NetGalley, two library books and four of my own books (two of these on Kindle). Two of the seven books are non-fiction and the rest are fiction. My ratings range from 5 to 2.5 stars and are based solely on my reactions to the books.

I’ve written about three of these books (click on the links to read my reviews):

Jacob's Room is Full of Books: A Year of ReadingAbsolute ProofIn a Dark, Dark Wood

  1. Jacob’s Room is Full of Books by Susan Hill 5*  – in which Susan Hill describes a year of her reading.
  2. Absolute Proof by Peter James 3.5* –  a standalone thriller that is very different from his Roy Grace books. It has similarities to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, as the search is on for proof of  God’s existence.
  3. In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware 2.5* – I was disappointed as this book promised to be a psychological thriller but it neither thrilled nor scared me, although it is a page-tuner. Leonora and Clare haven’t seen  or even spoken to each other since they were 16, ten years ago. So why has Clare invited Leonora to her hen party held in a glass house in the middle of a wood?

Here are some brief notes about the remaining four books:

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With DeathThe ReckoningThe New Mrs CliftonTombland (Matthew Shardlake, #7)

I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell 5* – I wrote this Friday post about this book, with two quotations and a summary of the book. It’s a memoir with a difference: seventeen encounters of near-death experiences, with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, revealing a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. It’s a beautifully written book that I loved.

The Reckoning by John Grisham 5*, about Pete Banning, Clanton’s favourite son, a returning war hero, the patriarch of a prominent family, a farmer, father, neighbour, and a faithful member of the Methodist Church. Why did he shoot and kill the Reverend Dexter Bell? And then refuse to say why he killed him? I was intrigued and fascinated by the whole book that went back into Pete’s wartime experiences during world War Two during the Bataan Death March in the Philippines.

The New Mrs Clifton by Elizabeth Buchan 4* this begins in 1974 with the discovery of a skeleton, the remains of a woman, between twenty-five and thirty, buried beneath a tree in the garden of house in Clapham, facing the Common. Her identity and why and how she was killed is not revealed until very nearly the end of the book.

It then moves back in time to 1945 when Intelligence Officer Gus Clifton returns to London with Krista, the German wife he married secretly in Berlin. For his sisters, Julia and Tilly, this broken woman is nothing more than the enemy. For Nella, Gus’s loyal fiancée, it is a terrible betrayal. Elizabeth Buchan paints a convincing and moving picture of life in both London and Berlin post-war, highlighting the devastation of the bombing and showing how people have to come to terms with the changes in their lives. All the way through the book I wondered who the killer was and which woman had been murdered.

Tombland by C J Sansom 5* – I wrote this Friday post this book, giving two quotations and a summary of the book. Set in 1549 this is a remarkable and detailed book about the situation as Edward VI is on the throne following the death of his father Henry VIII and his uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, rules as Protector.

Matthew Shardlake has been working as a lawyer in the service of Edward’s sister, the Lady Elizabeth. He is employed to investigate the gruesome murder of Edith Boleyn, the wife of John Boleyn – a distant Norfolk relation of Elizabeth’s mother. But the main part of the book is about Kett’s Rebellion – as thousands of peasants, in protest about the enclosures of common land, gather together on Mousehold Heath outside Norwich and battle ensues.

It’s an enormous book and I’m planning to write a longer post about it.

 

 

 

 

Absolute Proof by Peter James

3.5*

Pan Macmillan|4 October 2018|570 pages|Review copy

Investigative reporter Ross Hunter nearly didn’t answer the phone call that would change his life – and possibly the world – for ever. ‘I’d just like to assure you I’m not a nutcase, Mr Hunter. My name is Dr Harry F. Cook. I know this is going to sound strange, but I’ve recently been given absolute proof of God’s existence – and I’ve been advised there is a writer, a respected journalist called Ross Hunter, who could help me to get taken seriously.’

What would it take to prove the existence of God? And what would be the consequences?

This question and its answer lie at the heart of Absolute Proof, an international thriller from bestselling author Peter James.

The false faith of a billionaire evangelist, the life’s work of a famous atheist, and the credibility of each of the world’s major religions are all under threat. If Ross Hunter can survive long enough to present the evidence . . .

Absolute Proof is a long book and at times I struggled to carry on reading as, although for the most part it is fast-paced, it is slow going in parts. And it certainly tested my ability to suspend my disbelief several times. I’ve only read two of Peter James’ books previously, both crime fiction set in Brighton featuring Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. Absolute Proof is a standalone thriller and is very different from the Roy Grace books. It has similarities to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, as the search is on for proof of  God’s existence.

Ross Hunter is married to Imogen and they are expecting their first child – however he has serious doubts about his marriage and suspects Imogen of cheating on him. The story of their marriage unfolds, underlying the main plotline.  Dr Harry  F Cook, a former RAF officer and  retired history of art professor, contacts Ross and drip feeds him information that Cook claims proves that God exists.

The grid references Cook gives Hunter takes him to various places including Glastonbury, where he visits the Chalice Well in search of the Holy Grail, and Egypt in search of Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple. All the time he is in danger of death as he is pursued by those who do not want Cook’s claims to be made public. It’s a dramatic and hair-raising story that made me want to know what happened next at the same time as it made me question its credibility. It is certainly thought provoking and entertaining.

One of the things that intrigued me was that in his Acknowledgements Peter James explains that the book began with a phone call he received in 1989 from someone who did indeed claim that he had been given absolute proof of God’s existence and that he had been given Peter James’s name as an author who would help him to get taken seriously. This started James’s ‘journey of exploration into what might be considered absolute proof – and just what the consequences might be.’ During the intervening years he has talked to many people from different faiths and had discussions with scientists, academics, theologians and clerics. He has certainly done his research and gives a long list of the people who have helped him, plus a list of his sources of reference, giving me yet more details of books I’d like to read.

Thanks to Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for provided a review copy of this book.