Friday, 16 April 2021

Book Review: STILL by Matt Nable


 

Title: STILL

Author:  Matt Nable

Publisher:  Hachette Australia

Read: April 2021

Expected publication: 26 May 2021

My Rating: 馃専馃専馃専馃専馃専 all the stars!

 


Book Description:

 

Darwin, Summer, 1963.

The humidity sat heavy and thick over the town as Senior Constable Ned Potter looked down at a body that had been dragged from the shallow marshland. He didn't need a coroner to tell him this was a bad death. He didn't know then that this was only the first. Or that he was about to risk everything looking for answers.

Late one night, Charlotte Clark drove the long way home, thinking about how stuck she felt, a 23-year-old housewife, married to a cowboy who wasn't who she thought he was. The days ahead felt suffocating, living in a town where she was supposed to keep herself nice and wait for her husband to get home from the pub. Charlotte stopped the car, stepped out to breathe in the night air and looked out over the water to the tangled mangroves. She never heard a sound before the hand was around her mouth.

Both Charlotte and Ned are about to learn that the world they live in is full of secrets and that it takes courage to fight for what is right. But there are people who will do anything to protect themselves and sometimes courage is not enough to keep you safe.



My musings:

 


If you have been looking for an atmospheric Australian mystery to read – congratulations, you have just found it!

 

Imagine Darwin in the 1960s. The Northern Territory is still very much one of Australia’s last frontiers. A place where crocodile hunters, buffalo shooters and cowboys gather at the local pub to escape the heat and humidity and get drunk. A place of fierce summer storms, of crocodiles lurking in waterways, of wilderness and isolation. But this is not the happy-go-lucky Territory of Crocodile Dundee, because beneath the surface of this tropical wonderland lies a dark underbelly that is the flip side of isolation. An outpost where outlaws can hide, where money speaks, where corruption is rife. A place where wealthy white men rule, but if you are black, or poor, or too honest, you’d best be keeping your head down and your mouth shut.

 

It is in this untamed land that we find ourselves in, watching in horror as Senior Constable Ned Potter discovers a badly decomposed body in shallow marshland. It is also here that we get to know Charlotte Clark, a young housewife who is contemplating her unhappy marriage and her bleak future. If you are wondering what these two characters can possibly have in common, don’t despair, because in the end all the threads will come together seamlessly. For now though, let’s just follow each one on their journey, living separate lives and yet being connected not only by the wild land they love but also by their own moral compass, because both Ned and Charlotte are not willing to turn a blind eye to injustice, and their actions on that fateful night will have far reaching consequences for both of them.

 

STILL may start with the slow languid pace of a tropical morning, but it soon picked up pace as the underlying sense of threat and danger to our two main protagonists mounted. I loved the way Nable conjured up the Northern Territory for me, from the beautiful and yet often hostile landscape to its rich cast of characters. A place so remote always attracts its share of misfits, and we find a few of them here, gathered around the bar of the Victoria Hotel or fishing on the banks of the river, talking to crocodiles. Or running for their lives through the swamp to escape a ruthless killer.

 

Rich in atmosphere and tension, the book slowly reeled me in but soon had me firmly in its grip. I loved both characters of Ned and Charlotte, as different and unconnected as they first seemed. I find that so often mysteries feature predictable stereotypes as lead roles, but Nable proves that his heroes can be ordinary and flawed and yet so richly drawn that they came alive on the pages. Nable writes with an honesty that was both terrifying as it was refreshing, and the book rolled out movie-like in front of my eyes. What an utter gem! I had not expected to find such depth and insight in a crime novel.

 

 


Summary:

 


All in all, without giving too much away, STILL is the type of gritty, atmospheric Australian crime novel that doesn’t come along very often. Set in the 1960’s in one of Australia’s last frontiers, it is both refreshing and terrifying as Nable is not afraid to expose the dark underbelly that lurks beneath the surface, only showing its ugly head as it is about to strike. With two enigmatic lead characters who are both complex and richly drawn, and a wild setting that appealed to my sense of adventure, the book soon reeled me in and held me firmly in its grip. A true gem of a novel I can highly recommend to all lovers of Australian crime novels. I look forward to reading a lot more from this author in future!

 

 

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Hachette Australia for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.










Book Review: THE RISING TIDE by Sam Lloyd

 




Title: THE RISING TIDE

Author:  Sam Lloyd

Publisher:  Bantam Press

Read: April 2021

Expected publication: 8 July 2021

My Rating: 馃専馃専馃専馃専馃専 all the stars!

 

Book Description:

 

Life can change in a heartbeat.

Lucy has everything she could wish for: a beautiful home high on the clifftops above the Devon coast, a devoted husband and two beloved children.

Then one morning, time stops. Their family yacht is recovered, abandoned far out at sea. Lucy's husband is nowhere to be found and as the seconds tick by, she begins to wonder - what if he was the one who took the boat? And if so, where is he now?

As a once-in-a-generation storm frustrates the rescue operation, Lucy pieces together what happened onboard. And then she makes a fresh discovery. One that plunges her into a nightmare more shocking than any she could ever have imagined . . .



My musings:

 


WOAH! Now that was intense! After that pulse pounding finale I’d better sit and catch my breath for a while, and collect my thoughts. Make sure to enter this thriller willing to leave all your preconceptions at the door, because they will be challenged in this dark, terrifying race against time.

 

But let’s start at the beginning, shall I? Lucy and Daniel Locke are a happy couple living with their two children in a small seaside community on the treacherous Cornish coast. Both are people of the sea – Daniel owns a marine business together with his old childhood mate, and Lucy has built up a successful food venue in a town that relies on both fishing as well as tourism. Their beautiful home overlooks the ocean that is an integral part of their existence, and their life seems idyllic to any stranger peering in through the windows. Until the day one of Lucy’s friends and employees comes running up to her house to inform her that their boat has been found drifting out to sea, abandoned. And Lucy’s world comes crashing down ....

 

Sam Lloyd is an author who is new to me, but it didn’t take me long to find out that he is an absolute master at creating a claustrophobic, atmospheric background on which he will paint his terrifying, pulse pounding thriller. Step 1: describe an idyllic seaside village that instantly makes everyone want to pack up on go there on holidays. Step 2: there is a monster storm brewing in the distance. Step 3: a missing husband, missing children and a race against all the forces of nature in the faint hope that you will see your loved ones alive again. This was not a story for the faint of heart! As the black storm clouds gathered on the horizon, the dark secrets also came out of the town’s cracks and crevices, putting absolutely everything you had come to believe under scrutiny. I read most of the story with my white knuckles shoved in my mouth, hardly daring to breathe as the drama unfolded.

 

A real psychological thriller is one that makes me constantly doubt everything and everyone, even my own perception of reality, and Sam Lloyd manages this seemingly effortlessly by making all his characters somewhat unreliable, even the setting, which unleashed a terrifying force of nature onto its hapless inhabitants. This, people, is how you create unbearable tension! As much as I loved Lucy and my heart bled for her, I also never fully trusted her. I had so many theories as the story unfolded, and yet found myself tapping in the dark for most of it. My only comfort is that it took seasoned detective DI Abraham Rose quite some time to get on the right trail as well, and even if he wasn’t the world’s most stable of characters himself, he was at least able to follow the clues much better than I could. 

 


Summary:

 


All in all, THE RISING TIDE will appeal to readers who love a claustrophobic, atmospheric setting but prefer an action packed story to a slow-burning mystery. If you are looking for fast-paced, then you have come to the right place, as this adrenaline-fuelled finale will leave you gasping for air.  My only advice is that you allow enough time to read this book in one sitting, as it’s impossible to put down once the dark clouds of impending doom start appearing on the horizon. This definitely made it onto my favourites list and I can’t wait to read more from this author in future!

 

 

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Bantam Press for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.










Thursday, 15 April 2021

Book Review: WHEN THE STARS GO DARK by Paula McLain


 


Title: WHEN THE STARS GO DARK

Author:  Paula McLain

Publisher:  Oneworld Publications

Read: April 2021

Expected publication: 13 May 2021

My Rating: 馃専馃専馃専.75

 

Book Description:

 

Anna Hart is a seasoned missing persons detective in San Francisco with far too much knowledge of the darkest side of human nature. When overwhelming tragedy strikes her personal life, Anna, desperate and numb, flees to the Northern California village of Mendocino to grieve. She lived there as a child with her beloved foster parents, and now she believes it might be the only place left for her. Yet the day she arrives, she learns a local teenage girl has gone missing. The crime feels frighteningly reminiscent of the most crucial time in Anna's childhood, when the unsolved murder of a young girl touched Mendocino and changed the community forever. As past and present collide, Anna realizes that she has been led to this moment. The most difficult lessons of her life have given her insight into how victims come into contact with violent predators. As Anna becomes obsessed with the missing girl, she must accept that true courage means getting out of her own way and learning to let others in.

Weaving together actual cases of missing persons, trauma theory, and a hint of the metaphysical, this propulsive and deeply affecting novel tells a story of fate, necessary redemption, and what it takes, when the worst happens, to reclaim our lives--and our faith in one another. 



What attracted me to this book:

 

I knew from the book’s description that WHEN THE STARS GO DARK would not be a light, fluffy type of story and that it would probably get under my skin, and yet I was immediately lured by the promise of a complex lead character and a mystery weaving real life crimes into its fabric. I was not disappointed!



My musings:

 


With the creation of Detective Anna Hart, author Paula McLain has taken the concept of the tortured detective to a new level. Hart is flawed, yes, but she has survived terrible trauma and has made it her life’s mission to rescue others from similar fates, which makes her a character to be respected, even though I did not always understand the dark places in her psyche that influenced her decisions.

 

We don’t yet know what terrible fate has befallen Anna when she sets out to revisit Mendocino, her old childhood home, but it was obviously bad enough to make her lose her family and take a break from her career. And yet Anna is immediately willing to help the town’s sheriff, who is also her childhood friend, when a local girl goes missing, putting her vast knowledge to good use despite still recovering from her personal losses. Soon Anna is up to her neck in the investigation, not afraid to uncover some of the town’s darkest secrets.

 

WHEN THE STARS GO DARK is not an easy read in places, and it packs a punch. Tackling dark themes such as loss, trauma, child sexual abuse and neglect, and the failings of the foster care system, it is often sad and confronting to read. And yet, through Anna’s resilience, a beacon of hope always remains. I especially loved the glimpses into Anna’s childhood, growing up with her wise and wonderful foster parents, who gave her a future to live for.

 

I love thrillers that are based on real life cases, and McLain adds extra depth to her story by incorporating the abduction of Polly Klaas in 1993, who was taken at knife point from her own home during a slumber party. It was interesting to read how Polly’s disappearance prompted a huge nationwide appeal for information, using the internet for the first time in a missing person’s case. McLain weaves truth and fiction together so seamlessly that the story was educational as well as entertaining, and I spent quite some time afterwards looking up the true-life crimes she refers to in her book. 

 


Summary:

 


All in all, WHEN THE STARS GO DARK was a tragic and yet beautifully written story exploring the lasting effects of childhood trauma whilst also offering a suspenseful mystery to solve. Told through the eyes of a scarred and brave protagonist, the book had a depth not often found in other detective stories. With complex and well rounded characters who each have their own tragic histories, it wasn’t always easy reading, but it touched my heart and ultimately gave me hope.

 

 

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Oneworld Publications for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.



Sunday, 4 April 2021

Book Review: WINTERKILL by Ragnar J贸nasson


 


Title: WINTERKILL

Author:  Ragnar J贸nasson

Publisher:  Orenda Publishing

Read: March 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: 馃専馃専馃専馃専

 

Book Description:

 

Easter weekend is approaching, and snow is gently falling in Siglufj枚r冒ur, the northernmost town in Iceland, as crowds of tourists arrive to visit the majestic ski slopes.

Ari Th贸r Arason is now a police inspector, but he’s separated from his girlfriend, who lives in Sweden with their three-year-old son. A family reunion is planned for the holiday, but a violent blizzard is threatening and there is an unsettling chill in the air.

Three days before Easter, a nineteen-year-old local girl falls to her death from the balcony of a house on the main street. A perplexing entry in her diary suggests that this may not be an accident, and when an old man in a local nursing home writes ‘She was murdered’ again and again on the wall of his room, there is every suggestion that something more sinister lies at the heart of her death…

As the extreme weather closes in, cutting the power and access to Siglufj枚r冒ur, Ari Th贸r must piece together the puzzle to reveal a horrible truth … one that will leave no one unscathed.

Chilling, claustrophobic and disturbing, Winterkill marks the startling conclusion to the million-copy bestselling Dark Iceland series and cements Ragnar J贸nasson as one of the most exciting authors in crime fiction.

What attracted me to this book:

 

I love Icelandic crime thrillers, and the Dark Iceland series has been a great joy to read right from the start. I was excited to get back to Siglufj枚r冒ur and read about Ari Th贸r Arason’s latest case, which involves the apparent suicide of a nineteen-year-old local girl who jumped to her death from a balcony.



My musings:

 


Ari Th贸r’s estranged partner and son are visiting over Easter, and again he struggles to find time for both family and his job, a battle that is only to real for police or emergency workers, especially in a place as remote as  Siglufj枚r冒ur. I really felt for Ari Th贸r, who is only too keen to write the girl’s death off as the suicide it appears to be and enjoy spending time with his son, and yet also hears his inner warning bells chime that all is not as it seems.

 

After travelling to Iceland two years ago, I can vividly picture the small remote town of Siglufj枚r冒ur, now made slightly more accessible by a new road and tunnel. Jonasson is a master at creating atmosphere and tension through his setting, and this latest instalment in the series is no exception. As the mystery slowly unravels and all its layers are being stripped to reveal the tragic truth, I was thoroughly hooked.

 

All in all, WINTERKILL is a slow-burning, character driven and highly atmospheric read from a master of Iceland noir. It contains all the elements that make this genre so irresistible for me, and I was hoping for many more books in the series, but found out that this may be the last one. I will miss visiting Siglufj枚r冒ur! Whilst WINTERKILL can be read as a standalone, I would recommend starting the series from book one, as Ari Th贸r’s backstory adds a lot of depth to the mystery. Highly recommend the whole series!

 

 


Thank you to Edelweiss and Orenda Books for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.



Book Review: WHAT'S DONE IN DARKNESS by Laura McHugh

 



Title: WHAT’S DONE IN DARKNESS

Author:  Laura McHugh

Publisher:  Random House

Read: March 2021

Expected publication:  22 June 2021

My Rating: 馃専馃専馃専1/2

 

Book Description:

 

Seventeen-year-old Sarabeth has become increasingly rebellious since her parents found God and moved their family to a remote Arkansas farmstead where she's forced to wear long dresses, follow strict rules, and grow her hair down to her waist. She's all but given up on escaping the farm when a masked man appears one stifling summer morning and snatches her out of the cornfield.

A week after her abduction, she's found alongside a highway in a bloodstained dress--alive--but her family treats her like she's tainted, and there's little hope of finding her captor, who kept Sarabeth blindfolded in the dark the entire time, never uttering a word. One good thing arises from the horrific ordeal: a chance to leave the Ozarks and start a new life.

Five years later, Sarabeth is struggling to keep her past buried when investigator Nick Farrow calls. Convinced that her case is connected to the strikingly similar disappearance of another young girl, Farrow wants Sarabeth's help, and he'll do whatever it takes to get it, even if that means dragging her back to the last place she wants to go--the hills and hollers of home, to face her estranged family and all her deepest fears.

In this riveting new novel from Laura McHugh, blood ties and buried secrets draw a young woman back into the nightmare of her past to save a missing girl, unaware of what awaits her in the darkness.



What attracted me to this book:

 

There is nothing quite like a segregated religious cult to create a tense, atmospheric setting, which immediately put this book on my radar. I am happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed!



My musings:

 


WHAT’S DONE IN DARKNESS tells the story of Sarabeth, a young girl growing up in an ultra religious family in the isolated Ozark mountains. Like her peers, she is expected to grow into a good wife and mother, married off in her teens to a man of her parents’ choosing and from there on bound to house and home with the expectation of meekness and servitude to her husband. But unlike her younger sister, Sarabeth remembers a life before her parents joined the church, and she longs for the freedom she has since lost.

 

McHugh does a brilliant job in creating a sense of claustrophobia as we see the word through Sarabeth’s eyes. Her only escape from her strict parents is to offer her help in the household of a neighbouring family, where she enjoys things like TV, books or music, all banned in her own home. Sarabeht knows that soon this small reprieve will come to an end, as her parents are planning to marry her off soon. She longs to escape, but how can she get away, when her every move is being monitored by her family and the church? Sarabeht’s escape will come about through an unlikely event – one day, when stocking the family’s farm stall with produce, she is abducted and held prisoner for a week.

 

Now an adult and estranged from her family, Sarah (as she is now known as), still bears the scars of her strange childhood. When another girl disappears and police ask her to help them with their investigation, Sarah will finally have to confront her past.

 

Rolling out in two different timelines – one in the present and one from the POV of a much younger Sarabeth – the reader soon gets drawn into the sinister world of a strict religious cult where you cannot trust anyone or take anything at face value. And when Sarah returns to her childhood home, she once again puts herself in terrible danger.

 

I loved the way McHugh created tension by letting a young Sarabeth narrate the story of her everyday family life. There is an undercurrent of menace here that really got under my skin and made me feel trapped like an animal in a cage, envisaging Sarabeth’s bleak future.

 

 


Summary:

 


In summary, WHAT’S DONE IN DARKNESS is part mystery, part a character study of a young woman coming to terms with her ultra-religious upbringing and the trauma of her abduction and captivity that has ultimately freed her from the confines of her controlling family. It is dark and claustrophobic and oozes tension, and kept me in its grip whilst also touching my heart. Noone quite captures the claustrophobic atmosphere of Ozark mountain villages like Laura McHugh, and if this type of setting appeals to you, I also highly recommend reading her earlier book THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD.

 

 

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.