Tag Archives: crime novel

Sentimental Sunday: Murder on the Orient Express

Agatha Christie is undoubtedly the Queen of Crime. She wrote 66 detective novels, 14 short story collections, wrote the world’s longest-running play, and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling novelist of all time. These are all monumental and incredibly significant achievements. And luckily for me, an Agatha Christie novel was my first introduction to the wonderful world of crime fiction.

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The Queen of Crime herself; Dame Agatha Christie

I remember when I was about 13 or 14 we were staying at my grandparents’ place down the South Coast of New South Wales. Every Saturday morning there is a market at Moruya, and like we did every time we were at my grandparents’ place, we visited the markets. Being a bookworm from a young age, I have always been drawn to the second-hand bookstalls at markets. This particular time, I remember my Mum picked up a thin, battered old book and showed it to me, saying that she had loved this author at my age. Seeing as the book was only $3, I bought it. That book was Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. I had never really read books that weren’t specifically written for kids before, nor had I read a crime novel.

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Hercule Poirot as portrayed by David Suchet

At that age, I have to admit it did take me a little while to get used to the language of the books and the very proper way the characters speak – I mean, it was originally written in the 1930s! With Poirot being Belgian – not French, if you please! – I found the occasional French words and French phrases frustrating, as I didn’t understand them. And the strange abbreviations I hadn’t come across before; Mlle, M, and Mme! What were these strange combinations of letters! I eventually figured it all out and adjusted to the language, and could finally focus myself on the story being told.

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Murder on the Orient Express and the odd little character of Hercule Poirot absolutely blew me away! The attention to detail and precision of all the facts was astounding. All the red herrings, the twists and when you finally find out who the murderer is… wow! My mind was blown! I didn’t know that books like this existed! It absolutely revolutionised reading for me, and began my love of a good crime novel. Since being introduced to the Queen of Crime and her most famous detective, I have devoured many Hercule Poirot novels and continue to scour second-hand bookstalls at markets for more of these golden oldies.

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Review: Hades by Candice Fox

 

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Have you ever read a book, recognised a location as one that you personally know, and gotten completely excited that you can accurately visualise it?

I know I have. Isn’t it the best feeling?

I think Australian readers often get the most excited when this happens.

Why?

Sadly, as readers, we do not often get to see locations we personally know in a book because not many authors, Australian or otherwise, set their stories in our wonderful country. So when I found out about a Sydney author who not only writes gritty crime, but also sets it in and around Sydney, I got a little excited. After all, as popular as psychological thrillers are at the moment, sometimes you just crave a good ol’ fashioned slice ‘em and dice ‘em crime novel.

Detective Frank Bennett has joined a new homicide unit and has been partnered with an intriguingly complex new partner. Eden Archer is a beautiful, cold mystery and between her and her brother Eric – also a member of the Sydney Metro police force – Frank Bennett is sure that there is more to the Archers than meets the eye.

At the centre of this character driven novel is, of course, a gruesome crime. A number of large steel boxes have been discovered on the bottom of Sydney Harbour with each one containing various human body parts. Naturally, Frank and Eden are put on the case. How does the title Hades fit into this, I hear you ask. It soon becomes apparent that the gruesome crime has some pretty grisly links to Eden and Eric’s unconventional childhood, and their adoptive ‘father’, Hades.

I loved this book.

I will admit, when you read a lot of crime novels, it all starts to look, feel and sound a bit similar after a while. With Hades, Candice Fox really does try to be a bit different and make her novel stand out from the crowd, an aim which I think she has successfully achieved.

Firstly, and most importantly, I loved the characters in this novel, as well as they way the author uses them. Let us take the character Hades, for example. The book is named after a character who is not only NOT the main character (in regards to the point of view the story is largely told from), but whose primary role seems to be to illustrate how the characters of Eden and Eric grew up into the kind of adults that they are. Genius.

Now, let’s take the character of Frank Bennett. The majority of the book is told from his perspective. Interestingly, despite the fact that it is through his eyes that we see the ‘current’ events unfolding, he is actually not the most interesting character in the novel. In fact, he seems to be merely the conduit through which we view the unfolding events and personalities of the more interesting characters. I have never come across this characterisation technique in a novel before, but it works!

Obviously, I also loved the use of settings and locations in this novel, but I especially loved the restraint Candice Fox showed in using them. I have found that authors quite often either focus too much on the locations, and thus lose the essence of the story they are telling, or they don’t use them enough, and you end up feeling like the story really could have taken place just about anywhere. Candice Fox manages to use her choice of locations in a way that adds to the story-taking place, but doesn’t define it. She has expertly balanced the story and the setting.

This novel is definitely one for anyone who enjoys a good, gritty crime novel, and for any fellow Aussies who would love to finally see a good storyline located in our very own sunburnt country.

Rating: 9/10

Review: Disclaimer by Renée Knight

 

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In the last year we have seen two exceptional psychological thrillers top the bestsellers lists; Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train. Having read and enjoyed both of these books, I was pretty keen to hear about a new offering in the subgenre being dubbed ‘domestic noir’. The tag line for debut author Renee Knight’s Disclaimer hooked me right in: Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental…

Catherine Ravenscroft, having just moved house with her husband Robert, comes across an intriguing book amongst their belongings – The Perfect Stranger. Thinking it might belong to Robert, or may have been a forgotten gift, she begins to read it. However, the more she reads, the more she begins to feel a sense of déjà vu.

Why?

Because she is the main character.

Having failed to initially notice the opening disclaimer of “any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental” with a big red line through it, Catherine soon begins to realise the implications of it having been crossed out. For this novel not only stars her as the main character, but it also brings to light her deepest, darkest secret.

The secret that she has never told her family.

The secret she thought no one knew.

As Catherine begins to investigate into the mysterious author and their motives, the guards she has put up against her haunting secret threaten to crumble. With the past catching up with her, Catherine begins to feel her whole world falling apart, as she is forced to revisit and confront her darkest hour.

I love the idea of books that have a seemingly simple premise, yet develop into much more complex emotional and psychological stories. The idea behind this one particularly grabbed me – what if you realised that the book you were reading was all about you? It is such a simple (and somewhat creepy) idea that does end up becoming about so much more. Brilliant. I am also a bit of a fan of the parallel, double point of view storyline techniques that are becoming more and more prevalent in crime fiction, and this book definitely delivers on that front.

Admittedly, the book took a little while to get going, and felt a little disjointed at the beginning. Most of the first few chapters left me thinking they were all a bit superfluous, and I wondered when the story would actually start. It took a while for me to actually warm to the story and feel that tug that makes me want to keep reading to know what happens next.

But for me the biggest thing I look for in a good crime novel is a twist I didn’t see coming. And this novel certainly does that. Just when you thought you had everything figured out, just when you thought you know what’s going to happen, what it’s all going to come down to, it suddenly takes a turn and you wonder how you didn’t see it all along. I honestly did think I had figured it all out about halfway through, but that was obviously the authors intention, because at the end everything I thought I knew was shifted to expose the authors true intentions.

I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who enjoyed Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.

Rating: 7/10

Review: The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

The hottest book at the moment is definitely The Girl On The Train. It has been in the top 10 selling books in my store for the past few weeks. People are constantly asking for it, and we are constantly selling out of it.

Touted as “the next Gone Girl”, I knew I just had to give this latest offering in the psychological thriller genre a go.

The Girl On The Train is told from three different points of view; Rachel, an alcoholic who is hung up on her ex-husband, Megan, an artistic woman behind whose seemingly perfect life lies a big secret, and Anna, a new mother and current wife of Rachel’s ex.

Despite the different points of view, Rachel is the central character in this novel. She rides the train into London CBD every day, and every morning it stops at the same rail signal that overlooks the same row of back gardens. Depressed with her own life, Rachel starts to take an interest in a young couple – ‘Jess and Jason’ – who live in one of the houses. From her perspective, Rachel observes that they are the perfect couple; they have the perfect house, the perfect marriage, the perfect life. They encapsulate everything her life should have been.

Then one day, while stopped at the same signal, Rachel sees something in that familiar row of back gardens that shocks her. It doesn’t last long, but it is enough to make Rachel think not everything is as it should be. From that moment on, things begin to change. Rachel is given the unique opportunity to be a part of those lives she has wistfully watched from afar. The more involved Rachel gets, the more she uncovers, the more she begins to realise that not everything she has been led to believe is always true.

Being a psychological thriller, The Girl On The Train is dark, gritty, and has a great twist at the end. However, it’s not as dark, nor as twisty as Gone Girl. At the start of the novel I kept wondering where everything was leading, especially all the smaller, seemingly insignificant details and incidents. Because when it comes to crime novels, almost everything that happens does so for a reason. I loved trying to guess why certain things were included and mentioned.

While Gone Girl surprised and shocked everyone with the complete 180 towards the end of the novel, by the time the revelations started happening in The Girl On The Train, I had pretty much figured out what was going on. It gave me a great sense of accomplishment, but I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more of a surprise in there for me.

One of the things I really did enjoyed most about this novel, was that none of the characters were perfect; each one had their own flaws and their own shortcomings. So, despite the extraordinary nature of the overarching storyline, it made the whole novel that much more relatable to the reader. After all, in real life, no one is without his or her imperfections.

Overall, I did really enjoy this book. It was suitable creepy and suspenseful, and the characters were really intriguing. I would recommend it to any one who enjoyed books such as Gone Girl and Before I Go To Sleep.

Rating: 8/10

Review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

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I have said it before, I do love a good crime/thriller novel, and in a genre that always seems flooded with authors and new books, it can be difficult to find a really good one.

When I read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, I knew I was on to a winner (read my review here). So, I thought I’d give one of Flynn’s other books a go to see if I would enjoy it just as much.

Libby Day is seven years old when her family is massacred. Her fifteen-year-old brother Ben is convicted of the crime, and it was Libby’s testimony that put him in gaol. Twenty-four years on and Libby has been drifting through life ever since that fateful day. She barely functions day to day, instead spending most of her time wallowing in self-pity and trying to fend of thoughts of that night – which she names the ‘Darkplace’.

With her trust fund money almost gone, and with no hope (or desire) of getting a job, Libby doesn’t know what she is going to do. So when Lyle Wirth contacts her, offering her money to come and be a guest speaker at his club’s convention, she says yes. The Kill Club fixate on unsolved and poorly handled crimes, and The Day Massacre is Lyle’s topic of expertise. However, the club believes that Ben Day is innocent and Libby is forced to confront not just her own memories of that night, but also one key question – did Ben really kill the rest of their family?

The Kill Club offer to pay Libby to investigate the massacre, and she agrees purely for the financial incentive. But as Libby begins to investigate, she comes to realise that there were a lot of events that took place that day in the lead up to the massacre – a lot of secrets that have been kept by a lot of people.

With Dark Places Flynn once again makes her mark with another psychological thriller. The overriding question of ‘who killed the Day family?’ gives the novel more of a ‘whodunit’ feel than that of Gone Girl. I also think Dark Places feels more like a crime novel, and therefore fits better into the crime genre than Gone Girl did. Also, much like Gone Girl, this book is also “spectacularly messed up”, as one of my customers put it.

Although the novel is interspersed with chapters showing Mumma Day’s and Ben Day’s points of view from the day of the massacre, Libby Day is the main female protagonist. I don’t know if it is just me, but I found the character of Libby instantly annoying. I know, I know, she suffered through a traumatic event as a child, but I seriously just wanted to shake her by the shoulders and yell at her to get her act together! Despite this, it is interesting to see how Libby justifies each of her actions and choices, and how, despite being a loner, she is able to read and understand people in a way that others cannot.

Interestingly, even though Dark Places was written and published before Gone Girl, many people aren’t aware that Flynn actually does have more novels. But they should be! Dark Places is just as creepy, intense and suspenseful as Gone Girl. One difference though, I actually thought Dark Places had a good ending! I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed Gone Girl, or anyone who likes a good psychological thriller.

Rating: 8/10

EDIT: Looks like Dark Places is going to be released as a movie sometime in 2015! Read more here.

Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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Being the only staff member in my book store to have not read one of the most hyped up book-to-movie adaptations of the year, I thought I had better jump on the bandwagon and give it a go.

I do love a good crime/thriller novel, and it had been a while since I had read a really good one, so I was more than ready to give this book a go.

“Who are you? What have we done to each other?”

The tag line for this book, Nick’s philosophising lamentation at both the start and the end of the novel, nicely sums up both the overt simplicity and underlying complexity of this story.

The story revolves around the two central characters of Nick and Amy Dunne, and how, on the day of their five-year wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing. As the police begin to investigate, evidence starts turning up which points the finger squarely at Nick being responsible. Told from two points of view, Nick’s first hand account and Amy’s diary entries, this story very soon becomes a case of trying to decipher who is telling the truth, who is lying, and which version of shared events between Amy and Nick is the more accurate account. This book keeps you guessing as to what is going on, what the bigger picture is, and what will happen next, right up until the final page.

As I got further and further into the book, I began to formulate two potential endings, both of which I thought would fit in with the psychological overtones of the novel. However, while I was ready to accept neither of my imagined endings taking place, I was not ready to accept the ending that Flynn decided upon. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I really disliked, and possibly even *gasp* hated, the ending of the book. I would just like to note though, that the ending has indeed divided all the staff in my book store – half of us hate the ending, while the other half think it was brilliant, so it really does come down to personal opinion and preferences.

This novel really is a page-turner because you desperately want to know what the hell is going on the whole way through, and as you get towards the end, you want to see whether certain characters get what they deserve. Aside from the clear-cut story and plot line of the book, this novel also deals with issues and topics on other levels as well. There is a definite psychological element to the book, and everything in the story ultimately comes down to the reader asking themselves, how well do you really know the other person you are sharing the rest of your life with?

I did actually really enjoy this book, despite feeling like the author’s choice of conclusion let the story down in the end. I would definitely recommend reading it before seeing the film (which was excellently done, by the way).

Rating: 7/10