The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer – a review

I was recently given a copy of this via netgalley and had saved it to read on a train journey to Birmingham. I was very glad I did, as I don’t think it is often that a book gets you thinking long after you finish it. Whilst there are plenty of books I read and thoroughly enjoy most of the time I’m just straight onto the next one. However this story really did pull me up at the end and the morning after I was still thinking about it.

The book starts with the disappearance of Daniel. His Dad worked in the garage over the road and Daniel had run out of the open door across to the garage before disappearing. All that remains is his footprints left behind in the wet concrete. His mother Amy spends her day sitting by these footprints polishing them and trying to protect them from the elements. DI Marvel wants to investigate the missing boy, but after having failed to find another missing girl called Evie he is instead assigned to a different case that he feels is rather beneath him. Amy rarely leaves the house but when she gets a flyer through her door advertising a local physic event (the shut eye of the title) she is so desperate she’ll grasp at any straw she can to find her son. The psychic Latham was previously involved in Evie’s disappearance and it is through him that the differing strands of the stories merge.

The Shut Eye is a very difficult book to review without giving away too much. There is an element of the mystic around it. Yet this is dealt with well and I didn’t get to the end feeling cheated which I usually do when a supernatural element is included.

The writing itself was seamless and I was utterly gripped from start to finish. The story is seen from not only the perspective of the detective but also Amy and Jack the parents of missing Daniel, as well as including the Chief’s wife and an insight into what happened to Evie. Throughout Shut Eye I felt in turn both sorry for and angry at the characters. The sense of isolation, and desperation that came through the pages made me really sorry for some at points, but just as forcefully their actions and stupidity made me want to strangle them.

One of the things that I felt made a refreshing change was that this (although I may be wrong of course) didn’t strike me as a book that was being written to start a series. Often and understandably people write books in order to have their detective at the forefront. However this felt like it was a completely stand along book being written because there was a great idea for a story rather than a great idea for a detective.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story and think that any book which is both thought provoking and enjoyable is definitely worth a read. It even made having to go to Birmingham a more pleasant experience.

 

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The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton – a review

miniaturistThis is one of those books that I kept seeing everywhere. It has seemingly been on display in every bookshop window I’ve been past recently tempting me with the lovely looking cover. I was therefore strangely drawn to this book despite not being my usual crime fiction. After picking it up and putting it down many times I decided to take the plunge but rather than buy the physical printed version I downloaded it as an Audible book to hopefully keep me entertained during my walk to work.
Set in 17th Century Amsterdam, the story centres around 18 year old Nella. She travels from her home in the country to the city where she marries merchant Johannes. Nella then moves in with him and his sister Marin, as well as maid Cornelia and servant Otto. Shortly after their wedding Johannes presents Nella with a dolls house sized perfect replica of their own home. Nella then contacts the Miniaturist to help her furnish it. She writes requesting some items, but soon things start appearing that seem to suggest the miniaturist knows a lot more about the secrets within the house than people outside should know.
I’m in two minds about this book. I realise that listening to a book is not the same as reading it, and I find that a book has to be even more engaging to be able to listen to it properly. This book did keep me interested so on that side it did the job. I really enjoyed parts of the writing, especially the descriptions of the city and its workings. The interaction between characters gave a good insight into how I imagine daily life would have been during this time where money was the most important thing around.
However despite all the hype, and the cover that I’d found so intriguing, overall I don’t think this was a great book. The Miniaturist element almost seemed to be redundant and from my listening it wasn’t really necessary. I had assumed there would be some kind of supernatural element to the story but unless I misheard there didn’t seem to be and nothing was really explained. I’m not sure of the timescale the book was set over, but everything felt to be a bit too quick. The change in characters actions and the interaction between the main players was all a little too forced to be real and so I didn’t end up particularly caring about their fates, and the constant talk of sugar was a bit dull.
The ending seemed quite abrupt and it felt like nothing was really finished. There were lots of storylines but I struggled to see what the books main story was meant to be. Saying that, it could be because the crime element was very small so it wasn’t my usual type of book plus it is easy to get distracted and miss things when listening rather than reading.
Overall I think this book was just a little bit disappointing, mainly down to the lack of Miniaturist interaction. I had picked it up so many times in bookshops, and had read so many good things about it that I had expected it to be great, whereas it was just ok. It just goes to show you can’t always judge a book by its cover.

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The black box

As anyone who has ever switched on a tv, or read a magazine in the UK will know, this week has been a monumental one for the cheery London based soap that is Eastenders. As well as characters returning from the dead, characters who had returned from the dead actually being dead, characters we’d never seen before walking around carrying bunches of flowers, and characters forgetting they were characters and using the wrong names, there was the all important reveal of the killer of Lucy Beale.

Now I have to confess to feeling incredibly smug at this point as I guessed correctly. No not after the final scene but before it was even aired. I even have witnesses in my office that can testify to the fact I guessed before the perpetrator was revealed. I like to put this clever bit of guess work down to the fact I read an awful lot of crime books. I imagine there are lots of crime readers out there who came to the same conclusion, and for the same reasons no matter how far fetched it might actually seem. Of course the furore surrounding the live Eastenders hasn’t just been about Lucy’s killer. Comments sections online are full of complaints about how unrealistic it has all been. Surely the killer wouldn’t be able to manage it, surely someone would know the dead person wasn’t dead, surely there is no one in the world who actually finds Phil Mitchell scary.

It’s not just Eastenders that have the monopoly on being unrealistic. Broadchurch has been slated for its apparent lack of realism, people wearing the wrong wigs, pacemakers being fitted and ten minutes later the recipient being down the pub, people getting table service in a Nandos. All these things are apparently ruining the enjoyment of many viewers.  Hmmm – those people may have missed one vital point here – it’s not real.

If the rather wooden acting isn’t enough to give it away, you’d think the fact that all the people are really small and seemingly living it a little black box in the corner of the lounge would help.

It’s the same with books, I seem to see loads of reviews recently that have bemoaned the fact that stories are not realistic. In fact I have done it myself, picking up authors on points that in my head seem to be completely unrealistic and just wouldn’t happen. Well fair enough if suddenly the murderer is caught by a pink elephant in a tutu singing a Phil Collin’s track then this may be pushing the boundaries too far, but otherwise does it really matter?

I read books and watch television for entertainment, and on the whole I read and watch fiction. Crime fiction, soap opera fiction the clue is in the word fiction, its not real life.

On the most part I am very glad of that fact. I’d hate to live in an Eastenders reality, I’d be unemployed for a start as I work in an office which no one on the tv show seems to do, I have a washing machine so would never go to the laundrette, and as much as I like him I wouldn’t want to have an affair with Mr F Senior. Let’s be honest, if fiction actually mirrored reality it would be incredibly dull, I’m sure most people are just like me, and spend the evenings cooking, reading, going to the pub having a quiet drink and watching tv. I’m pretty certain that would make a pretty dull episode of any soap, and certainly not one that would stand to gain national news headlines, for which I’m very grateful.

 

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A Killing Winter by Tom Callaghan – a review

This was another of the exciting freebies that I picked up at the festival last year. I have to confess that it is not my usual choice. I’m not keen on political thrillers and by the look of this, that’s exactly what it seemed to be. However I was on my way to bed, it was freezing cold and so I just grabbed the first book to hand. Well it just goes to show that preconceptions can be wrong, as I thoroughly enjoyed this.

A Killing Winter is set in Kyrgyzstan, which is centrally located in Asia and was under Russian control under 1991 (Don’t you just love Wikipedia!) The central character of the book is Inspector Akyl Borubaev of the Bishkek Murder Squad. He is called to investigate when a body of a young women is found. The victim turns out to be the daughter of a high profile politician, which makes the investigation even harder especially when more bodies turn up. Having recently lost his wife Borubaev throws himself into an investigation that covers not only murder, but mafia style gangs, prostitution, corruption, and a gruesome sounding drug that rots flesh. This story depicts a society so corrupt that you sincerely hope it is just the product of a good imagination not a depiction of how life really is.

Yet despite the grimness described above, I really enjoyed this book. It’s certainly not one for fans of a nice cozy fireside crime. The violence that runs throughout is incredibly harsh but it doesn’t come across as gratuitous. It simply added to the overall atmosphere of the story which can only be described as bleak. One of the best bits of A Killing Winter is the descriptions of the landscape. The landscape is a bleak as the storyline, with a climate that even a polar bear would find too cold.

The main character on the surface is someone who you want to feel sorry. He has obviously been devastated by his wife’s death yet he also has a violent hard nosed side that makes him hard to like. However when up against the rest of the cast he probably is the only redeeming person in it.

The twists and turns of the story kept me gripped and I would definitely recommend A Killing Winter. Sometimes you read a book that is not something you’d usually choose, for the only reason that its nearest on the shelf. This was one of those books, but I’m very glad I did.

 

 

 

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The black ice

The ice is out in full force at the moment which means my walk to work takes on a whole new challenge, where just staying on your feet becomes a task equivalent to reading war and peace. This takes on an added dimension when the ice is combined with the fun that is recycling day, where it is not only the invisible black icy patches that have to be avoided.

This being York, nearly everyone recycles. Down our street where the average age is about 152 the recycling boxes are mainly just newspapers, with the odd plastic container that probably contained Horlicks thrown in. We obviously have a few more glass items in ours, although this week I was incredibly embarrassed putting out the bottles. There was only 4 in there, what must people have thought. I promise I’ll try harder this fortnight.

Obviously down the main street there is a much wider variety of recycling coming out of the big houses. Despite the obvious dangers of tripping over escaped caviar pots or rolling champagne bottles I must admit I find the chance to see what people are buying fascinating. Before recycling became popular the only way to know what complete strangers had for tea was to go through their dustbins which is borderline stalking apparently. However now just walking down the street allows those of us with a keen interest in the human race (some people call it nosy, I just like to think I am interested in my surroundings) access behind closed doors.

Of course the problem with that is you don’t get the full picture. It’s easy to see what people had for tea with the abundance of organic M&S ready meal wrappers. There is one house that I swear must buy the same ready meals from waitrose every week. It’s good to have a routine I suppose although personally I prefer a bit more variety in my food.

The ones that really frustrate me are the abundance of amazon parcels, especially the book shaped ones. Short of actually picking them up and hoping the delivery notes have been left inside (which I would do if I thought I’d get away without being seen) there are no clues from the outside as to what was inside. I’d love to be able to see into people’s houses and look through their books. There should be a website where people could post up pictures of their bookshelves for me to peruse. It would be like Waterstones but without the impossible to resist temptation of actually buying books.

Unfortunately until then I’ll just have to continue trying to spot peoples bookshelves through their windows and trying to guess what the latest purchase is. At least once the ice has gone it’ll make the walk a bit safer and I can concentrate on looking at the recycling rather than trying to spot patches of ice.

 

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Follow the Leader by Mel Sherratt – a review

I was given a copy of this via netgalley.

Mel Sherratt has written a number of novels and was at last year’s festival. This is the second in her series starring DS Allie Shenton. As Allie and her husband return to work after their Christmas break a body is found with a magnetic letter on it. Soon a second body this time female is found, again with a letter. This starts a hunt for a serial killer where the clues seem few and far between. Alongside this investigation we are introduced to Patrick both his thoughts in the current day, and with flashbacks to his childhood at school.

This was an unusual book in that right from the start the reader knew who the killer was and why he was doing the murders. Yet this didn’t distract from the story at all. I didn’t feel it was the most original storyline, but was written in an unusual style which made up for that. We are all profoundly affected by our school experience and it is a fine line as to whether we become better people for it or it ruins us. This is a story of what happens when it goes wrong.

There were some bits I thought were a bit odd, for example people hear something on the radio about someone being killed. In order to find out who the victim is they wait until the next news bulletin rather than just look it up on their phone like most people do now. However as I always say, books are fiction, and the use of poetic license to move a story on is never a problem.

Putting my slight reservations aside I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was an interesting style in that there would be a chapter of flashback that told what happened to Patrick in the 80’s and then the main culprit in that chapter would be re-met in present day. This added a different dimension to the usual serial killer books I read and made it a real page turner.

Although this is the second in the series it works as a stand alone novel as well. There is some element of back story references but Follow the Leader can still be enjoyed with no knowledge of them. The characters within the story all seem very believable and the strand with Allie and her sister was incredibly sad.

This novel ended on a cliffhanger that means I can’t wait to hear what happens next and am looking forward to the third in the series from Mel.

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The 50/50 killer by Steve Mosby – a review

As I’ve said previously, I’ve a bit of a soft spot for Steve Mosby as he always seems like a nice chap. So I bought a copy of this book at the festival last year just so I would have something for him to sign. Not in a weird stalker way I hasten to add, just because I always feel sorry for the authors at the festival who don’t have a new book out at the time. They always seem to get less people asking for their signature which makes me feel sad (yes I know they are probably actually just grateful to get a break from being pestered by fans). Therefore I bought this book from the book tent. At the time I thought I’d already read it, but once again I was wrong. I’m glad I have read it now though.

The book starts with a man having been burned in his own home. Then another man turns up at the police station with a story about him and his girlfriend having been abducted and him managing to escape. Mark Nelson is a young policeman assigned to the team of the infamous detective John Mercer. All the evidence points to the perpetrator being the 50/50 killer who abducts couples and then makes them decide which one will live and which one will die.

This was a truly gripping read and in parts quite terrifying. I really hate masks, and have a fear of people hiding in the loft watching me (luckily my old house didn’t have a loft and this one has got so much stuff shoved up it no one could get the hatch open let alone live up there) and this book had both. The story of the killer and the danger that the couples are in was scary.

The main character of Mark Nelson was a bit annoying, turning up late on his first day instantly annoyed me, however he gets better and I enjoyed the pairing of him and the seasoned detective Mercer.

The story is told from varying viewpoints, and over a period of a couple days which gives the book an almost dizzy feel it is so fast. It did take me a little while to click my brain into the style of this time line but once there it was a great way of telling a story.

I would definitely recommend this book, which I think is the first of Steve Mosby’s crime novels, and from what I can see each one just gets better. I look forward to reading more, and now I know that I have definitely got and read all of his current ones I’ll just have to wait for his new one, hopefully its not too long.

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