Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Book Review: NOAH'S RAINY DAY by Sandra Brannan

Noah's Rainy Day (A Liv Bergen Mystery #4)

Title: Noah's Rainy Day
Author: Sandra Brennan
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group
Read: August 04 - 12, 2013
Read an excerpt

Synopsis (Goodreads):

From birth, Noah Hogarty has lived with severe cerebral palsy. He is nearly blind, unable to speak, and cannot run, walk, or crawl. Yet his mind works just as well as any other twelve-year-old’s—maybe even better. And Noah holds a secret dream: to become a great spy, following in the footsteps of his aunt, Liv “Boots” Bergen.

Now, freshly returned from training at Quantico, FBI agent Liv Bergen is thrown into her first professional case. Working side by side with veteran agent Streeter Pierce, enigmatic agent and lover Jack Linwood, and her bloodhound Beulah, Liv must race to find five-year-old Max—last seen at the Denver International Airport—before this Christmastime abduction turns deadly. Meanwhile Noah, housebound, becomes wrapped up in identifying the young face he sees watching him from his neighbor’s bedroom window, but he can neither describe nor inscribe what he knows.

And his investigation may lead to Noah paying the ultimate price in fulfilling his dream.

Noah’s Rainy Day (the fourth novel in Brannan’s mystery series) combines classic Liv Bergen irreverence and brainpower with an unflinching look at the darkest of human motivations, all while a whirlpool of increasingly terrifying events threatens to engulf Liv and Noah both in one final rainy day.

My thoughts:

Noah Hogarty is no ordinary 12-year-old – from birth he has lived with severe cerebral palsy and is unable to walk, talk or play like other children. Highly intelligent, his inquisitive mind is trapped in his body, with only his sister Emma able to communicate with him through an ingenious but slow system of sign language they has developed. But Noah is not easily defeated - inspired by his aunt Liv Bergen, an FBI agent recently graduated from Quantico, Noah’s dream is to become a great spy. Noah thinks he has one advantage over others, which will help him reach this goal – being physically disabled he often feels invisible, as many people assume that his mind must surely be as damaged as his body, and freely say things in front of him which they wouldn’t dare voice in front of others.

When a five year old boy is abducted from Denver International Airport on Christmas Eve, Liv and her fellow FBI agents are at a loss of any useful leads, and time is fast running out. With the media being their best option at the moment, young Max’s face is being branded across all news channels, with his parents pleading for his safe return. Noah, who watches the world go by from his upstairs window, feels like he has seen that face before – but how will he be able to communicate his suspicions to the adults around him, and who will believe him?

Brannan’s very unusual hero Noah, a bright mind trapped in a damaged body, reminded me of Hitchcock’s Rear Window meeting a young Lincoln Rhyme. After witnessing a potential crime from his window, young Noah must overcome serious communication barriers to be able to voice his suspicions. Noah’s daily battles to communicate even his most basic needs were beautifully described, and show Brannan’s familiarity with CP and her heartfelt understanding of the challenges it presents for its sufferers and their families. The author also explores the stigma of physical disability, which often renders sufferers “invisible” in society, often due to others feeling uncomfortable around a person with a disability.  Being able to see the world through Noah’s eyes was very humbling in many ways, especially when Noah worries about being a burden on his parents and what the future will hold for him.

I also found Liv Bergen to be a likeable protagonist who brought her own dynamics into the story, and the details of certain aspects of the investigation (eg the search through the airport’s garbage using a grid system) were very interesting. The importance of family relationships in Brannan’s novel was refreshing, considering that a lot of protagonists of modern crime novel are loners with dark secrets in their past, condemning them to lonely lives with unfulfilled longing for love and acceptance.

The low points of the novel for me were the heavy reliance on coincidence for most of the plot and the loss of pace in the last third of the book, which could have been avoided by an unexpected development in the storyline. Giving the abductor a voice took much of the mystery away and made the outcome very predictable for me – I waited for a twist or surprise in the end, which never came.

All in all, Noah’s Rainy Day offered a refreshing new perspective and a likeable pair of protagonists, and made for an enjoyable read, even if it lacked a bit in the thrill department.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Please note that the final published copy may vary from the one I reviewed.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Book Review: GOOD AS GONE by Douglas Corleone

Good As Gone

Title: Good as Gone 
Author: Douglas Corleone
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Read: July 30 - August 02, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Former U.S. Marshal Simon Fisk works as a private contractor, tracking down and recovering children who were kidnapped by their own estranged parents. He only has one rule: he won’t touch stranger abduction cases. He’s still haunted by the disappearance of his own daughter when she was just a child, still unsolved, and stranger kidnappings hit too close to home.

Until, that is, six-year-old Lindsay Sorkin disappears from her parents’ hotel room in Paris, and the French police deliver Simon an ultimatum: he can spend years in a French jail, or he can take the case and recover the missing girl. Simon sets out in pursuit of Lindsay and the truth behind her disappearance. But Lindsay’s captors did not leave an easy trail, and following it will take Simon across the continent, through the ritziest nightclubs and the seediest back alleys, into a terrifying world of international intrigue and dark corners of his past he’d rather leave well alone.

My thoughts:

Ten years ago, Simon Fisk’s six-year-old daughter Hailey was abducted from the family home, never to be seen again. Devastated by grief and guilt, his wife Tasha committed suicide a short while later. For the last ten years, Simon has tried to outrun his demons by tracking down children unlawfully abducted by non-custodial parents, wanting to spare others the grief of losing a child Simon had to experience himself. However, he has never had to deal with abduction by strangers, so when he is approached by French authorities to help locate a six-year-old American girl taken from her parents’ hotel room in Paris, he has serious misgivings about getting involved. To rescue little Lindsay Sarkin, and save her parents the unspeakable pain Simon has had to live with for the last ten years, Simon must risk his own life to discover why Lindsay was taken, and who is behind the abduction – and time is fast running out. In a desperate man-hunt which will take Simon across several European and Eastern-block countries, he tries to outwit ruthless killers who will stop at nothing to get what they want.

Good as Gone is a fast-paced, action packed thriller which gripped me from the very first page and kept me entertained until the very end. Simon Fisk, the solitary vigilante fighting for justice was both an intriguing as well as an enigmatic protagonist, and I found myself wanting to know more about him. Fisk, with his US Marshall background and a painful past, which reads like a parent’s worst nightmare, is a moralistic  character in the vein of Jack Reacher – a man who will stop at nothing to get justice and who is not afraid to risk his own life for it, perhaps because he has nothing to lose. In Good as Gone, his mission takes on a new perspective when a woman he feels attracted to joins him in his mission, and Simon faces the moral dilemma of putting her in the path of danger. The small element of romance hinting at the possibility for Fisk to move on and find love again took some of the edge off the sadness prevailing in his life, and introduced a touch of hope and warmth in an otherwise grim situation.

Good as Gone is entirely propelled by fast paced action and suspense. As the body count mounts on the side of the “baddies”, whose untimely demise is always justified by being rightly deserved, Fisk narrowly escapes being one of the casualties himself despite a few flesh-wounds along the way. Although well-plotted, a few crucial developments in the novel hinge on some convenient coincidences which necessitate the reader to suspend disbelief for the sake of reading pleasure and entertainment. Normally a bit anal about such matters, I usually roll my eyes and mutter “yeah right” under my breath, but the fast pace of the novel and Fisk’s mission were enough to get me so caught up in the storyline that I managed to overlook these flaws in an otherwise very compelling story.

From child-pornography to sex-trafficking, from drug-dealing to arms-secrets, from underworld criminals to political corruption – all these issues and more feature strongly in Corleone’s latest thriller. And whilst one easily gets swept up in the action, the novel also raises some very topical issues and gives food for thought. For example, the poverty in Eastern block countries giving rise to exploitation of women and children in a perverted sex-trade, even involving whole families. Or the fate of residents of the Belarus region, who still suffer from the after effects of the Chernobyl disaster and have to watch their children die from horrific birth-defects or thyroid cancer. Even Fisk’s missions always have a shadow-side, as a previous case leading to the death of a girl he tracked down in Germany for her custodial parent shows. The ending of the novel, too, throws into question the black-or-white, right-or-wrong aspects of situations, and the final twist came totally unexpected.

Good as Gone is an action-packed adventure thriller which should appeal to both genders and to readers across many age-groups, providing readers can suspend disbelief for the sake of entertainment value. Especially parents will be able to relate to Fisk’s driven nature on account of his traumatic background, and find his latest mission very compelling.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Please note that the final published copy may vary from the one I reviewed.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Book Review: SAY YOU'RE SORRY by Michael Robotham

Say You're Sorry. Michael Robotham

Title: Say You're Sorry
Author: Michael Robotham
Publisher: Hachette Book Group
Read: July 28 - 29, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):


When pretty and popular teenagers Piper Hadley and Tash McBain disappear one Sunday morning, the investigation captivates a nation but the girls are never found.

Three years later, during the worst blizzard in a century, a husband and wife are brutally killed in the farmhouse where Tash McBain once lived. A suspect is in custody, a troubled young man who can hear voices and claims that he saw a girl that night being chased by a snowman.

Convinced that Piper or Tash might still be alive, clinical psychologist Joe O'Loughlin and ex-cop Vincent Ruiz, persuade the police to re-open the investigation. But they are racing against time to save the girls from someone with an evil, calculating and twisted mind...

My thoughts:

England is blanketed by a layer of snow from a recent blizzard, whilst Joseph O’Loughlin, the Parkinson’s inflicted psychologist we got to know in Robotham’s earlier novels, is looking forward to spending a few days with his teenage daughter Charlie in Oxford. His plans are rudely interrupted, however, when he is asked by local police to assist with the investigation into the brutal slaying of a middle-aged couple in a nearby farmhouse overnight. Joe quickly makes the connection between the murder and a crime-scene Charlie spotted from the window of their train on the trip to Oxford, that of a young girl found frozen in the thick ice of a nearby lake. Bur who is the girl and what is her connection to the murdered couple? When Joe digs deeper, he discovers that the daughter of the farmhouse’s previous tenants was abducted several years earlier together with a friend from school, never to be seen again. Sensing a connection between the “Bingham girls” and some clues found at the crime scene, Joe must try to convince police to re-open the investigation into the girls’ abduction. And if the dead girl was indeed on of the Bingham girls, is there a chance that her friend could still be alive?

With Say You’re Sorry, Robotham has once again delivered a well-plotted suspenseful murder-mystery in the style which has firmly cemented him on my list of favourite crime writers. From Robotham’s first O’Loughlin novel Suspect I have been intrigued by psychologist Joseph O’Loughlin, a family man who not only has to fight against the obstacles brought upon him by the cruel disease Parkinson’s, but who also brings a unique new perspective into the police investigations he is involved in. Following a growing trend of crime writers using protagonists from professions outside the police force to solve murder cases, Robotham uses his knowledge of psychology to pepper his novels with unique insights into the human psyche, which allow his character O’Loughlin to make headway in investigations where police efforts have failed. Although sometimes there is a danger of stereotyping human behaviour, I really enjoy O’Loughlin’s characterisations of both the victims and the perpetrators in this case.

Part of the story of Say You’re Sorry is being told in the first person by Piper, one of the Bingham girls, an ordinary everyday teenage girl who has fallen victim to the twisted mind of a sadistical child abductor and murderer.

My name is Piper Hadley and I went missing three years ago on the last Saturday of the summer holidays. Today I came home.

The topic of abduction and keeping young girls prisoner for years in dank basements seems to have grown in popularity amongst crime writers and their audiences, undoubtedly fuelled by real-life events covered in the news in recent years. It is hard not to be deeply affected by events like the Natascha Kampusch imprisonment, for example, especially the fact that an unspeakable crime against human rights can happen right under our noses without anyone suspecting anything (or acting on their suspicions). Robotham not only delves into the dynamics of the crime and the mind of the perpetrator, but also its effects on the victims’ families, friends and communities.

There are enough red herrings amongst the investigations’ clues to throw the reader off track, and I admit that the ending of the novel came as a complete surprise to me. And although the subject matter is as dark and chilly as Robotham’s atmospheric description of the English winter, the author spares the reader some of the more unnecessarily gruesome and graphic scenes found in other novels with similar themes.

As with Robotham’s previous books in the series, I thoroughly enjoyed Say You’re Sorry and highly recommend it to all lovers of contemporary crime fiction – especially those looking for a different kind of protagonist. Robotham’s attention to detail and his well-plotted storylines where nothing is left to chance or coincidence make him one of the top English crime writers of our time. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next instalment in the Joseph O’Loughlin series!