Category Archives: Thriller

The Housekeeper by Suellen Dainty

“I am the housekeeper, the hired help with a messy past who cleans up other people’s messy lives, the one who protects their messy little secrets.”

When Anne Morgan’s restaurateur boyfriend and boss begins an affair with an investor’s daughter, Anne becomes obsessed with lifestyle guru Emma Helmsley whose Marie Kondo-style lifestyle tips promise to bring order to her newly chaotic existence. And it isn’t too long before she sends a speculative application to be Emma’s housekeeper, so that she can be closer to the lives of Emma and her perfect family.

I’m normally not a fan of books without likeable characters to get behind, but in this single white female with a twist novel, Suellen Dainty has gotten it to work to make The Housekeeper an entertaining story of memory, abuse and betrayal.


A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh

iconI mentioned recently that I’d been having a tough time, and for what it’s worth escapism helped get me through it a little bit by taking me completely out of myself to elsewhere. Admittedly, that involved zoning out to more episodes of Pretty Little Liars on Netflix than any self-respecting 29-year-old should admit to, but occasionally, when I felt up to it, it took the form of books as well.

Louise Welsh’s A Lovely Way to Burn was probably the most compelling of these. Any book which opens with a Tory MP taking out six members of the public while sat on his apartment balcony in London can’t fail to get your attention. It was an outrageous yet credible start to a novel- almost daring the reader to disbelieve before setting up the main body of the novel which follows the only survivor of a deadly virus as she hunts for answers about her lover’s death as all the while society breaks down around her.

Coming hot on the heels of the horrific Ebola outbreaks, the novel is highly topical and innovative in exploring the way in which a disease which is contagious as the victim shows no obvious symptoms might spread and cause utter devastation in the first world. Named only the sweats, perhaps as a nod to the sweating sickness which was similarly virulent in Medieval England, Welsh’s imaginary virus is all the more terrifying for being unidentifiable and uncategorisable by the medical profession.

While the novel was incredibly strong throughout, I thought the very ending tended towards an almost cinematic melodrama which had me questioning whether Stevie, the ultimate survivor, would actually have continued to act in the way that she does. Having said that, I’m looking forward to reading Death is a Welcome Guest which will be the second novel in Louise Welsh’s Plague Times trilogy.

We Are Here by Michael Marshall

we are here michael marshall“Love is not a charm that pops into the world from a better place to bless two individuals before flitting back home, leaving the couple broken back in two parts and forlorn but fundamentally unchanged. Love is a fire that burns in the soul, sometimes for good, sometimes just for now, sometimes hot enough to scorch and sometimes with a low and sustainable glow. Either way, it leaves the original constituents permanently altered. After the fact everything is different—not just the relationship, but the people involved.”

We Are Here, Michael Marshall

David is about to leave New York after a meeting with his publisher about his debut novel when a strange man instructs him to remember him. John and Kristina’s friend thinks that she is being stalked, and when they look into it they find that the truth is stranger than she might believe. Their worlds collide in this grown up urban fantasy which sees magic realism explode over a familiar city, melting not only the ley lines between genres but the borders between the real and the imaginary.

Bold, vicious and clever, this is a must read for daydreamers, the imaginative and anyone who has ever wondered just who else might be in the room with them.

The Rapture by Liz Jensen

the rapture liz jensenI saw that the statue of Christ The Redeemer is being repaired because it was hit by lightning last week and it made me think of a book I read before Christmas, The Rapture by Liz Jensen.

Gabrielle Fox, a psychotherapist, returns to work following an accident which has left her wheelchair bound and finds that one of her charges will be Bethany Krall, infamous following the brutal murder of her mother whose previous psychotherapist left under something of a cloud when she began to believe that Bethany was responsible for a string of natural disasters. However, Gabrielle begins to suspect that there is more to Bethany than meets the eye as she successfully predicts the dates of a superstorm which hits Rio de Janerio and an earthquake which reduces Istanbul to rubble.

On the whole I really enjoyed this book as a thriller, which aims barbs at climate change deniers, megacorporations and religious fundamentalists in a manner reminiscent of Margaret Atwood. The characters of Bethany and Gabrielle were both in turns an engaging mix of vulnerability and aggression, lashing out at the world in the few ways left to them.

Something which troubled me about the book were the ways in which Gabrielle referred to herself as no longer being a woman, having lost her unborn child and feeling below the waist in a car accident (and there are a few heavy-handed Frida Kahlo allusions to reinforce this, lest you should forget…). I get that it’s an element of characterisation and doesn’t represent the author’s views and all that, but I found this a troubling way of expressing the characters loss of identity, as though genitals, reproductive ability or sensation in the nether regions are what code you as a woman… especially odd with the way the novel plays out, but this might just be me struggling with this.

It took me a little while to get into the language which for some reason felt very American, which isn’t a criticism of American English, just a surreal feeling when you’re trying to get into a book set in the UK. Ultimately though this transatlantic vibe worked quite well, and allowed the audience to find the spread of Evangelicalism and Evangelical celebrity across the pond all the more convincing.

If iceaggedon and the UK floods have put you in the mood for a novel which is a hybrid of psychological thriller and natural disaster prophecy, then this is a great book for you.

Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson

BeforeIGoToSleepI bought Before I Go To Sleep on the recommendation of friend who read it for our workplace reading group. I haven’t joined the reading group (I go to the knitting/crochet/sewing group and prefer to select my books according to my mood) but I’ve had some good recommendations from them and this has to be the best so far.

If you one of the few people left in the world who hasn’t read this book do. Christine wakes up in a strange man’s bed and thinks she must have had a drunken one night stand. Mortified, she goes to the bathroom and sees a stranger’s face staring back at her. Christine learns that she has a very specific form of amnesia following an accident. Whenever she falls asleep, her memory resets itself. But if she can’t remember the people she loves, how can she know who to trust?

This brilliantly written book is a must for anyone who enjoys a thriller. The author’s debut novel it won The Crime Writer’s Association for Best Debut Novel and The Galaxy National Book Award for Crime Thriller of the Year. Apparently a film is in the works with such names as Nicole Kidman, Mark Strong and Anne-Marie Duff but I really recommend you read the book first. You will not be disappointed- I was squeaking in horror and anxiety at times.

Season of The Witch- Natasha Mostert

Season of The Witch tells the story of Gabriel Blackstone, a professional computer hacker who is secretly able to connect to other people’s minds. When he is agrees to investigate the disappearance of his ex-lover’s step son, he soon realises the boy has been murdered, and traces this to the mysterious and beautiful Monk sisters. As he delves further into the sisters’ world, he finds himself falling in love with both women, at the same time knowing that one of them must be the murderer.

This book has been loitering on my shelf for months now, and I only got around to reading it because I saw a film of the same name advertised on TV and I didn’t want the story being given away. I needn’t have worried because this is a different book, but I am glad that I got around to reading it.

Natasha Mostert has created an intelligent though untaxing thriller, which explores the capacity and potential of the human mind, in thrilling and terrifying ways. The concept of remote viewing is subtle and serves as a compliment to the story, rather than being the crux of it. The action is well paced and consistently engaging, though if you are a native of the UK you may find the dialogue a little unnatural. This was a bit of a nagging issue, but became less noticeable as the action of the book gained momentum.

Sexy, dark and dangerous; I would recommend this to anyone looking for a grown up and credible supernatural novel.

The Winter Ghosts- Kate Mosse

The Winter Ghosts is Kate Mosse’s seventh book, her previous forays into novel writing having included Labyrinth and Sepulchre. Once again Mosse revisits the landscape of the Pyrenees, constructing a novel which weaves the regions tragic past into a ghost story, tinged with sad romance.

Set in 1928, The Winter Ghosts follows Fredrick Watson as he wanders alone in France, still struggling to reconcile himself with the loss of his beloved brother George. While there, he meets the beautiful and mysterious Fabrissa, who eases his grief before plunging him into further turmoil with her sudden disappearance.

The novel is fundamentally simpler than Labyrinth and Sepulchre, extending a Quick Reads Novella aimed at emerging adult readers into a full length novel. The plot is very linear, and is in effect a simple ghost story embellished with careful prose and details of the landscape, encased in a frame which aims to add interest. It’s by no means ground breaking, but I did find it very enjoyable, and infinitely superior to Sepulchre which actually put me off Mosse for so long that I’ve only recently purchased The Winter Ghosts.

If you enjoy a neat little ghost story, or enjoyed Labyrinth then I would recommend this book. I think it would be especially good for teen readers who are sick of Young Adult themes.

The Angel’s Game- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Few people who have read The Shadow of The Wind would question any suggestion that Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a modern day master of elegant lyrical prose.  Translated from Spanish in 2004, The Shadow of the Wind has been a worldwide best seller, selling well in excess of a million books in the United Kingdom alone. Understandably his follow up novel, The Angel’s Game was hotly anticipated, and perhaps these great expectations played on the author’s mind.

The Angel’s Game has been classed by many as a prequel to The Shadow of The Wind, but I would dispute this terminology. It is set in the same world, which is to say we see The Cemetery of Lost Books and there is some small overlap between characters, but the events to not link together insofar as I can see, so I don’t think of it as a prequel. This is just a convenient term for the unimaginative.

The Angel’s Game tells the tale of David Martin, who rapidly rises from an office boy at a Barcelona newspaper to become the celebrated author of many successful penny dreadfuls. His success upsets his colleagues and he is thrown out of the relative safety of the newspaper’s offices to fend for himself on the dark mean streets of Barcelona; writing for a pair of unscrupulous brothers and living in the foreboding shell of an abandoned tower house. We sit with baited breath as a series of cleverly wrought plot twists draw us deeper into the secret web the house has spun for him, and tear him away from his one true love… or so Zafon would wish to think.

The language of the novel is undeniably brilliant. I was breathless with anticipation upon reading the first page of the book, which said something profound about a writer always remembering the first time he manages to sell his writing, because from that moment onwards his soul has a price. It seemed to me that this would be a fitting follow up to The Shadow of The Wind, and at first it seemed to be,

Zafon’s love of Barcelona was a s clear as ever. His descriptions of the city were masterful and were enough to inspire envy in any would be writer. The dark and heady style was there; a pastiche of the Gothic novel and Penny Dreadful, shot through with poetry.

Despite this, I felt there was something lacking. It’s hard to put my finger on any one thing exactly, but if pushed I would have to say it’s the plot. The plot is missing, or so poorly constructed as to seem invisible.  For me the novel lacked any conviction, and I had to force my way through it. Perhaps I was being especially dense, but Zafon seemed to have Martin dart about trying to solve problems which were never even present, and if they were? Well I certainly didn’t care about them. There was nothing sufficiently gripping about the plot to make me care what happened to anyone.

Minor characters are afforded great importance by the writer but totally fail to add anything to the momentum of the narrative, or, I would argue, the plot of the novel. They succeed only in destroying any glimmering sense of intruge which might have been built by diverting the reader’s attention away from one plotline, which wasn’t really going anywhere, to some pointless subplot which definitely isn’t going anywhere.

A clear example of Zafon’s adulation of secondary characters would be the, the Sempere family. They have several small cameo appearances in the novel, which is the only real reason this is called a prequel. The only real reason for using these characters was to allow the protagonist to be introduced to the Cemetery of Lost Books, but this too only added further confusion to the plot. To me there was an element of vainglorious allusion to the author’s previous successes and it dragged the plot deeper into the chaos of poor construction which plagued it.

I found the obvious literary pretentions of the novel really irksome. The first time the boss was described as being as still as a spider was effective, the fifth time was just fricking irritating. This irritation was further compounded by the frequent allusions to Great Expectations, a text Sempere gave the protagonist, who was cruelly deprived of books by his illiterate father. But what do these allusions add to, beyond my growing suspicion that the Zafon is capable of being a tad pretentious? Little. The boss is meant to be a criminal, who gives gifts which destroy the protagonists integrity… fine, a bit heavy handed, since I’d already twigged that, but fine. Cristina is clearly meant to be Estella, but lacks any of the original character’s verve…  and don’t get me started on the intended parallels between Vidal and Miss Havisham. The whole book was filled with poor, unfitting allusions and irritating literary pretentions.

I should be generous and point out that the book is a translation from the Spanish, and we might lay some blame at the translator’s door. However, the language was really the only redeeming feature. The author must take credit, if I can call it that, for the insipid plot, full of hopeless leads to nowhere beyond a truly anticlimactic end. I know it’s a work of fiction, but I can’t help myself adding an “its unrealistic” barb here. Who on Earth would spot that they have a secret room hidden inside their house and then not explore it for half a novel? I wouldn’t. Maybe he should write a book about me.

This book is passable. And probably no worse than much of the slush that gets published these days. But if, like me, you were a fan of The Shadow of The Wind and picked this up hoping for more of the same, I would strongly recommend forgoing biscuits and eating something like, raw garlic, a habanera chilli… maybe wash it down with a bottle of Tabasco sauce. Whatever you choose you’ll want to wash the bitter taste from your mouth.