Stepford Wives

As you may know I am currently off work recuperating from a  hysterectomy. Whilst unfortunately it does mean I’m never again allowed to clean, iron or unload the dishwasher (at least I’m sure that’s what the doctor told me) It does mean that at the moment I have a ridiculous amount of time on my hands. This has allowed for rather a lot of people watching out my front window and being on a relatively new street I’m still trying to figure out the dynamics.

Currently it seems to me that everyone is related to someone else on the street. There is Mr Emmerdale Extra from up the street who wanders around in welly boots, all he’s missing is the brace of pheasants over his arm. He is doing the garden for the couple over the road, who are an elderly couple I’ve rarely seen. I have however noticed a lot more activity over the road these past couple of weeks and even Mr Van Man has recently started visiting them which seems to be a new occurrence.

Despite not having been able to observe them up close from what I have seen the couple over the road are a bit strange. The number of parcels they get is what first alerted me to the suspicious behaviour. Originally we suspected them of being drug dealers, after all if I were a drug lord I think I’d recruit retired people to traffic for me, loads of time of their hands and no one would suspect them. A drugs empire would also explain the ridiculous amount of traffic that goes up and down the street at 3am as well as the large number of visitors they get during the day. However I am starting to think the whole thing is even more sinister and that actually our street is home to the new branch of Stepford Wives UK.

I have recently re-read the book the Stepford Wives by Ira Levin and it all fell into place. In case there are people who haven’t heard of this book before (or not watched the film which I think I may have done a while ago) it was written in 1972. The main character Joanna is a photographer who moves with her family to Stepford, a town where all the women seem to be the perfect housewife with their only role to keep house and keep their husbands happy. Joanna begins to think that there is something rather sinister going on and suspects the men of the town are swopping the women for robots in order to have complete obedience.

It all seems to fit with my observations and I have Mr Stepford over the road pegged as the ring leader who only brings out his wife as a marketing tool. You rarely see women on the street unless they are taking their grandchildren to school, or cleaning their windows. Mrs Van Man is never seen except when she opens the door to the daily tesco delivery. We assumed that both our neighbours Howard 1 and Howard 2 actually live on their own, yet Mr Stepford has recently visited both men, so maybe they do have wives inside and this week was their annual maintenance inspection.

Just as in the book everyone starts off being all friendly and innocent but the truth always comes out. If I suddenly spot Mr F getting pally with Mr Stepford I may start to worry. At least now my suspicions are aired if you suddenly find me cleaning windows you know it’s too late, especially as I’m not allowed to that ever again either!

 

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The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood – a review

This book is the first I’ve read by Alex Marwood, and was picked up on a whim when I was wandering around Waterstones a few months ago.

The story begins in 1986 with two young girls locked up for the murder of a younger child. 25 years later and after a change of identity for both girls their paths cross once again. Kirsty is now a reporter living with her husband and children who are unaware of her past crime. She is sent to investigate a series of brutal murders in a small seaside town. Here she comes face to face with her childhood friend, now called Amber. Amber is head cleaner at the funfair where the bodies are being left. The pair haven’t seen each other since they were both convicted of murder and one of the conditions of their new identities was that they were not to see each other again. However the shared history means they both find it hard to stay away, and in order to protect their secret they will have to work together.

Alongside the serial killer storyline that brings the two women back together there is a stalker on the loose who is changing who he has his sights on. In-between these two stories we also learn via flashbacks what happened on the day the girls first met and committed their crimes.

This book was a very good read. I thought that the way the author created the story and slowly revealed what had actually happened on the day the little girl was killed was done very cleverly. As an adult you can see what is about to happen, yet as young children the girls are not necessarily aware of the consequences of their actions. With this story there are of course obvious comparisons to other well known child murders, but putting that aside you start to feel sorry for the girls involved. It could be seen that what they do is purely a lack of judgement not actual desire to harm. The story shows how society often reacts to crimes they can’t comprehend and that things are not always as simple as a person simply being classed as ‘evil’

The serial killer plot was ok, although I’m not sure that the motives were particularly credible. I suspect that the serial killer was purely a vehicle to get the two girls to meet, but then I was mainly interested in how the girls story was panning out rather than anything the serial killer was doing.

I really enjoyed this, and thought it was a good story that makes you think about your perceptions of people, and how well you really know anyone. The twists within the story are based on how you change your ideas of the people involved rather than the usual ‘whodunnit’ stories but this made for an interesting read.

A very good debut novel and I’ll certainly be looking out for more of her work.

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Death Can’t Take a Joke by Anya Lipska – a review

Currently being stuck at home means the postman’s visit is always a very exciting prospect and amazon has become my best friend these past few weeks. There is nothing more exciting than receiving a parcel you don’t remember ordering. Except that is, if you then find out that not only is it a book, it’s an advanced copy of a book sent directly from the publisher by an author whose first novel you really liked. Winner winner chicken dinner as some would say (although I’m a vegetarian so chicken dinner isn’t something I’d be too pleased about!)

death Death Can’t Take a Joke is the second novel by Anya Lipska. I read her first novel ‘Where the devil can’t go’ as part of last year’s festival reading. Anya Lipska had been picked by Val McDermid to appear as part of the new blood panel during the crime festival.

Death Can’t Take a Joke begins with detective Natalie Kershaw about to start a new job with the Murder squad. Unfortunately on her way to work she comes across a potential suicide so her first task is to identify the body. This is not as straightforward as it sounds as the person has no identity and the only clue is a polish coin found at the scene.

As in the first novel, the other main character is Janusz Kiszka. He is a private investigator who is also well known within the Polish community as someone who can fix things. His best friend Jim is stabbed to death outside his front door, and Kiszka vows to track down who is responsible. He starts by following a woman who he sees leaving flowers at the scene, which is a trail that soon leads him into trouble, and to accompanying Kershaw to Poland where things finally begin to make sense.

Death Can’t Take a Joke was a great read, as evidenced by the fact I read it in a day. Initially as with all good books, it starts out as seemingly separate stories which slowly begin to wind together culminating in the final reveal. A couple of times during the book I had an ‘ah ha’ moment and thought I’d actually guessed what was going to happen. Each time I was wrong as more twists and turns were created.

I especially liked the fact that everything around the thriller aspect was neatly wrapped up at the end although not in a sickly isn’t it all wonderful way but realistically and relationships were still left damaged. The characters were very likeable and I felt they were less annoying this time than in her previous novel which could be a sign that I am just getting to know them better.

One of my favourite things about this novel, as with her previous book was the insight it gives into the Polish community and Eastern European history although I felt that this time there was less emphasis on the actual setting and more on the stories but that is often the case with a second book. Throughout the story you are aware that you are reading about a Polish man, and one of the subtle ways this is reinforced is through the fact the novel is interspersed with Polish words. They are placed in such a way that they don’t interrupt the flow of the story at all but are a great way of consistently reminding the reader of the different cultures.

I would definitely recommend this book and look forward to reading more from Anya Lipska. In the meantime it’s back to the internet for more online shopping!

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Human Remains by Elizabeth Haynes – a review

This was the first book I read on my recent trip to hospital and the third book I’ve read by the author who I met a couple of years ago at the crime festival.

Human Remains is a story told from the perspectives of two main characters. Firstly there is Annabel. She lives alone and has few friends, even her work colleagues see her as a bit of joke despite being good at her job as a police analyst. The other main character in the story is Colin. He works for the council and again is a very solitary person although this is more through choice than circumstance. He is highly intelligent and preys on the lonely and vulnerable. The story begins with Annabel going to look for her cat and finding the decomposing remains of her next door neighbour. This being so close to home makes her realise during the course of her work that there are alot of bodies found of people who seem to have simply starved to death. She starts to investigate further until her mother dies and she meets journalist Joe.

The story flicks between the view point of the two main characters and enables us to get a good understanding of their backgrounds. In addition interspersed throughout the novel are newspaper articles. These relate to dead bodies that have been found alongside chapters written in the dead people’s voices telling us what led them to do what they did.

I really enjoyed Human Remains (when not being distracted by nurses fussing around, or my neighbours watching day time tv) Whilst the story could not be described as fast paced I felt the relatively slow boil nature of it was perfect for giving the sense of loneliness and desperation that makes the characters within vulnerable to manipulation. The switching between the viewpoints works really well I think. It can often be a bit confusing when books are written like this but Annabel and Colin were portrayed clearly and gave a real insight into how their minds worked, this was especially true of Colin.

This is not a classic who-dunnit as it is obvious from the outset who is the perpetrator. However none of this made it any less of a page turner. The way the story unfolds makes you want to understand why the characters do what they do, and gives you a great feeling of the sadness lurking beneath their actions. I suspect that any single person in their mid thirties with knowledge of Bridget Jones and her alsatian fear will have some empathy with people in this novel.

Overall I would definitely recommend this book as a bit of winter reading, although half way through you may feel the need to stop and go and check on your neighbours if you haven’t seen them for a while!

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Under the knife

Well as the eagle eyed amongst you may have spotted there has been another break in the blogging and reviewing here at acrimereadersblog. Unfortunately this time it wasn’t due to anything exciting or involving sunshine. I can however say that I’ve found somewhere that provides even more opportunity to read than a delayed East Coast train, a hospital waiting room.

I’ve recently had the dubious pleasure of a hospital trip. Now obviously that’s never going to be seen as a good thing but looking on the plus side it does provide the gift of time due to the endless waiting around.

As everyone reading this knows I’m a huge book fan. I’ve always thought there is no situation that can’t be improved by ignoring it and reading instead. Well it turns out I was wrong. Despite the saying ‘lose yourself in a book’ no matter how good a story you are reading, it’s not possible to completely disregard the surroundings you are in. This was especially true of the hours I had to spend waiting around for my operation. As if sitting around in paper pants and a back to front gown wasn’t bad enough things went rapidly downhill when across the room came the cry of ‘Can we watch Jeremy Kyle?’ Sadly the nurses refused my request to knock me out then and there.

Unfortunately things didn’t improve much after the actual operation either. I’m sure I’d been cast as a silent extra in ‘Carry on nursing’ When the nurses weren’t discussing whose turn it was to make the tea, they were pushing people round the wards in beds seemingly trying to recreate the Olympics Opening Ceremony with little success. Hearing nurses wandering round in the middle of the night asking if anyone has seen patient x does not fill one with complete confidence. In fact at some point in the middle of the night when I was accused of stealing my own notes (technically even if I had moved them they were surely mine anyway) I was convinced that I was actually taking part in some brand new reality tv show and any minute now I was going to be asked to vote off whichever non-celebrity was pretending to be my nurse (Simon Cowell – if you are reading this and want to buy the rights to Nurse Factor then do get in touch)

Of course it wasn’t all bad. I should be grateful that the hospital stay coincided with the winter Olympics. At least I was saved from the slippery slope that is day time tv by a new found interest in housework on ice. Who knew that watching people sweeping the ice whilst their friends played marbles, or a woman hurtling down a slope on a rather small tea tray would be so fascinating. 

Luckily my stay in hospital was short lived and I’m now enjoying a few weeks of recuperation surrounded by piles of books to read and enough flowers to make Kew gardens jealous.  Fingers crossed therefore that normal service has now been resumed and I can use this unexpected spare time to catch up on my book reviews (although a trip somewhere sunny also wouldn’t go down badly!)

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Sweet Little Lies by Bianca Sloane – a review

I was very pleased to be sent a kindle copy of this book by Bianca after I’d read her first one ( a review of that is available here) and was looking forward to reading it. I was not disappointed.

Kelly and Mark seem to be the perfect couple. She is a model who now runs her own very successful cosmetics company, and he is a highly successful sports lawyer. Everything goes downhill when she comes home one day to find a condom in their bed and immediately assumes that her husband has been having an affair. Rather than sit down and talk it through she then stabs him before panicking and going on the run. Whilst trying to work out what to do next, she starts her own investigation into her husband and gets deeper into his secret life.

Overall I really enjoyed this book. The story was gripping and kept me hooked until the end. Certainly bits of it seemed a little far fetched but then its fiction and often in novels realism has to be balanced with ensuring the story moves along. It wouldn’t have been much of a story if the police had caught up with Kelly in the first hotel she went to. There were some little bits that annoyed me and I suspect the novel could potentially have done with firmer editing, for example in one of the scenes Mark walks into the bathroom and comes out before walking back in (of course potentially he could just have wanted to go into the bathroom twice rather than it being a continuity error)

However these minor issues did not detract from the story. The main character was likeable (apart from the minor issue of her murdering her husband) and you wanted her to win. The book switches viewpoints throughout which once I got used to I really enjoyed and gave a different dimension to the story. It was interesting to follow the story through and see how it all intertwines. The ending was a bit of a surprise although with hindsight its probably the only way to have tied up all the ends. I really enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading more from Bianca.

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Resolution

So just in case you missed it, last week saw the start of 2014. This year on New Year’s Eve I did something I haven’t done for about 10 years and headed to York Minster for midnight. We stood with a few hundred other people all looking slightly bemused as there was no countdown or fireworks or party to acknowledge the date change. There were of course chimes at midnight and it was a lovely evening nonetheless.

So 2014 begins and it’s time for everyone to start making their New Year resolutions. As those of you who were reading this blog last year will know, I’m not a fan of the New Year resolution (and for the rest of you if you want to know you can find it here) but that doesn’t seem to stop the rest of the human race. Once again people are vowing to lose weight, get fit, save money and start doing fun things.

Giving up chocolate seems to be a big one this year (well at least til February when people can then devour the hundreds of half price selection boxes they’ve bought in the sales, before announcing to everyone that they’ll be giving it up again for lent) Chocolate may have been the death of many in crime novels as Margot Kinberg eloquently puts here. Yet whilst I’d hope there are not too many poisoned chocolates floating around. I’m not sure the whole feast and famine approach is a particularly healthy way to go either.

Apparently the latest craze in resolutions is having a dry January. Now this is one I was all in favour of when someone told me about it. I hate getting wet, and rain really makes my hair go frizzy. However further investigation shows they apparently meant they were giving up alcohol for a month. That soon put a dampener (no pun intended) on that plan. We are in a recession you know and pubs rely on the likes of me to keep their businesses ticking over. Even more ridiculous is the idea that you can get sponsored for not drinking for a month in a dryathlon. Are people seriously trying to say that giving up their favourite beverage is on a par with running a marathon or hiking across the Himalayas? Maybe it would be if you were Harry Hole or Homer Simpson, but otherwise surely it’s not really much of an achievement.

Apparently coming in at number ten of the top ten resolutions people make is the wish to read more books. I read this on a website that had asked people to fill in a survey on what resolutions they were going to make. Well there’s one of the problems straight away, rather than filling in the survey people should just have picked up a book and read that instead. That way rather than have to make a resolution saying they are going to do something, they can actually do something.

I, of course, don’t need to make a resolution to read more, I just pick up one of the numerous books I have hanging around. I haven’t yet had a tally up of the number of books I read last year which I should do. I do know however, that I’ve read many more than I’ve had time to review. Therefore maybe my resolution should be to write more reviews. I’m not calling it a New Year one though, that’s just asking to fail.

Anyway Happy New Year All.

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