Book Review of The Outsider

outsiderWhen it’s a good one, reading a Stephen King book is a special kind of pleasure.  One I had saved in fact, for these school holidays and a work trip to the Gold Coast.  And The Outsider is just what you would hope it to be – engaging, suspenseful and in touch with that dark world just outside ours that Stephen King seems to have a direct line with.

The story begins with two interesting premises – the first is the arrest of a local baseball coach for the particularly brutal murder of one of the local boys he coached.  This alone peaks interest – how does the local hero hide the kind of dark side that could commit the crime described by police in the first pages. But there were witnesses to him picking up the boy in a van, and DNA

Then irrefutable DNA and eye-witness evidence emerges placing him at a literary convention in another city that day.  So what is the answer?  How can one person be in two places at the same time?

The mystery here will appeal to fans of King’s recent Bill Hodges series (and there is a nice connection to this later in the narrative), but don’t be fooled – there is more to this than meets the eye.  When all possible explanations are removed, only that which is impossible is left.  And that is exactly where they need to look for the answers to this crime.

The whole novel is a great read, but particularly the chilling first half where everyone – the reader and the characters – are trying to determine the truth.  King has a spellbinding ability to create that sense of the ominous – of something dark and dangerous just outside our reach.  You wont be disappointed by The Outsider.  It’s a great read.


Book Review of The Good Girl

thegoodgirl.jpgNothing is quite as it appears in Mary Kubica’s The Good Girl – and this is probably why I found it on a list of unexpected mysteries.  I’ve read a lot of mixed reviews since, but I thought this was a really interesting, light but entertaining read.

The story moves between the kidnapping of a young woman and the aftermath of her  return.  Mia Dennett is the privileged but disgruntled daughter of a prominent lawyer.  But instead of following in her father and sister’s footsteps, she becomes an art teacher.  But somehow – she is also a target.  Down on his luck Colin stalks and kidnaps her for a mere $5000 payment.  But the two form a connection, and Colin finds he cannot hand her over to the dark characters who want her – but nor can he let her go.  And as months pass and the two hide in a remote and cold cabin, something strange begins to happen.  The girl who returns home is not the girl who left.

Interesting characters with complex backstories make this better than average – although it is firmly in that pile of fiction that you read lightning-fast on your holidays.  I listened to it on audio, and found myself looking for excuses to put it on.  My house got cleaned extra this week!

Review of Up and Vanished Podcast

up and vanished.jpgAs a lover of the podcast Serial, this was recommended to me by a friend who had continued the journey of true crime podcasting. And in fact, the host Payne Lindsey is clear that Serial was a great inspiration for him in looking for an unsolved mystery to explore in his own podcast.  Eventually he settled on a missing person’s case in the small town of Osilla in Georgia.   Tara Grinstead was a local teacher and beauty queen who went missing more than 10 years ago.  The case was cold… there had never been an arrest and the trail has simply dwindled away.

Lindsey begins exploring the facts, the “white rabbits” and possibly red herrings and the major players in the initial theories.  He affirms the little known fact that most crimes – including murders – are committed by people known to the victim.  So this is exactly where he begins, and he soon touches base with many still with a deep passion to know what happened to Tara.

After several weeks of good storytelling (although not as good as Serial, where Sarah Koenig did a lot of on-the-ground legwork where she physically tested the theory of the prosecutors), something extraordinary happens.  There is a break in the case and an arrest is made.  Lindsey is credited with bringing attention back to the case that finally breaks it.

There’s just one thing – Lindsey doesn’t buy it.  He continues to investigate and interview on the ground, and no-one in town believes it either…

There’s a lot of good stuff here – but I mean a lot. More than 20 episodes plus at least one, sometimes two in between with various legal and psychological experts.  I couldn’t keep up with it all. Really worth a look, but I would encourage you to be selective.

Book Review of The Accident in the A35

A35.jpgI really enjoyed Graeme McRae Burnett’s His Bloody Project, a novel I found in my habit of picking up a few of the Booker-nominated novels each year. So I was pretty interested in his new one – despite the very different nature of the stories.

The Accident on the A35 was one of those books that you look forward to curling up with of an evening.

This is an odd little story as it is not quite a murder mystery – but I suppose it is a crime.

Bertrand Barthelme is killed in an accident on the A35 outside a fairly provincial French town, leaving behind a cool but beautiful younger wife and a son on the cusp on manhood – and all that this entails.

And while this is an open and shut case with no sense of foul play for local Detective Gorski, the beauty of the young wife compels him to investigate the circumstances – after all, Barthelme was not where he promised he would be that night.

So begins a series of misadventures and possibilities for the inspector as he dares to ask questions about some of the most powerful men in town – but also too for Raymond the rebellious son, who explores the implications of paperwork in his father’s study, which leads him to a beautiful and intriguing young girl.

This novel ends abruptly although not really unsatisfactorily. We find out all there is to know. But there is also that tiny part of regret that we couldn’t see more. But some stories, can only be told by the deceased.

I’ve seen this described as ‘unflashy but highly accomplished’ by reviewers and I would have to agree. This is subtle and more deeply involved in the complex emotions of the two focal characters (Gorski and Raymond) than on the mystery. But personally, that’s how I like it.

Book Review of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

roger ackroydPretty sure this is my first Agatha Christie – and a pretty enjoyable read. Except for one thing – I picked the murderer at the start.

Now I couldn’t say why or how, but I knew. There were hints in the way the story unravelled.  Roger Ackroyd is a local figure with wealth – and plenty of people who want it. So his murder leaves a few key suspects who stand to benefit from his death.  But as legendary detective Hercule Poirot says (he just happens to be a neighbour in retirement here)  – everybody in this case has a secret.

Something in Christie’s weaving of the plot – one that is touted as one of her best, left this too open.  But with this said, there were still enjoyable elements here.  There some interesting choices made in regards to narration, and Poirot himself – a figure of some interest after the recent film adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, is an intriguing detective.

Classic crime storytelling – formulaic but educational in this.

Book Review of The Girl Before

thegirlbefore.jpgThis is the kind of book you know is going to have legions of female fans – and no doubt will be made into a movie as well.  It’s very much in the style of The Girl on the Train – an entertaining mystery, cleverly told and deep in fiction’s mainstream.

In two different narratives separated by a handful of years, two women move into an architectural experiment, a home so minimalist that it actually trains the tenant to change and let go of unnecessary thoughts, feelings and possessions.  Each woman is running away from a tragedy, and the house seems like a safe haven – and the architect an irresistible bonus.

But nothing is quite as it seems and the reader becomes increasingly alarmed as the house takes on a slightly sinister role for both, and both engage in highly controlled relationships with its designer.  But then both women learn the woman who lived there before them died in mysterious circumstances….

This will keep you guessing and entertained right towards the end.  A good choice for holidays any teacher friends.

Book Review of Into the Water

into-the-water-672x1024Many authors stumble when it comes time to follow up a phenomenally successful first novel – but instead, Paula Hawkins has no doubt given her legions of fans more of what they are looking for in the intriguing, if lightweight, Into the Water.

Into the Water is set in the fictional town of Bickford in the gloomy north of England, famous only for it’s drowning pool and the dark history of troublesome women finding their end in it.  Years ago, it was accused witches but more recently, a young mother and in just the past few weeks, a young local girl and the mother of her friend.  It is the death of this final woman, Nel Abbott – a writer and photographer fascinated by the history of the drowning pool – that sparks this story. Although Nel’s death and the one that proceeded it, have all the earmarks of a suicide, the motives for such actions are a mystery to those closest to them.

The story eventually unravels through multiple narrators, and it has the same feminist bent of The Girl on the Train, where poor women are suffering for the choices of violent and disturbed men.

Behind all of this though, is the story of two sisters.  Estranged for years, as one uncovers the reasons for her sister’s death a tremendous family misunderstanding is revealed, leading to a period of renewal amongst the grief.

There’s a lot to like here and Into the Water won’t fail to engage Hawkins’ legion of fans. The same dark sense of mystery and foreboding accompanies this tale.  It might even pick her up a few more.