Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Psychological Thrillers - 3 Autumn Reviews

Now the nights are drawing in - time for some reviews of recent novels:

Do Me No Harm - Julie Corbin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When her teenage son Robbie's drink is spiked, Olivia Somers is devastated. She has spent her adult life trying to protect people and keep them safe - not only as a mother, but also in her chosen profession as a doctor. So she tries to put it down to a horrible accident, in spite of the evidence suggesting malicious intent, and simply hopes no-one tries to endanger those she loves again. But someone from the past is after revenge. Someone closer to her family than she could possibly realise. Someone who will stop at nothing until they get the vengeance they crave. And, as she and her family come under increasing threat, the oath that Olivia took when she first became a doctor - to do no harm to others - will be tested to its very limits.

I loved the ‘writing’ in this book – it feels like it’s in ‘full-colour’, lots of real-life detail so that you are actually there, rather than ‘reading about’ it. That’s lovely in a writer (although there are also times when I want to read the kind of book when I can be more aware of the writing style itself; the poetry, rhythm, imagery, originality etc).

I sailed through this book, although I didn’t feel the plot itself had me by the throat. It’s a familiar theme; a family drama about the way in which a mistake in the past creates a problem (revenge) in the present. It didn’t throw up many twists or shocking moments, but nevertheless, it felt real and involving. One issue, however, is that we know the identity of the culprit very early on and this leads to a bit of an anti-climax. I also found some aspects of the book rather unlikely - the main character jets off to Ireland leaving her two teenage children behind when they are clearly in danger - somewhat implausible given that she’s portrayed as a deeply caring mother. Otherwise, the main character is well-rounded and worth rooting for. I would certainly read more by this author.

The Good Girl - Mary Kubica
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been following her for the past few days. I know where she buys her groceries, where she has her dry cleaning done, where she works. I don't know the colour of her eyes or what they look like when they're scared. But I will.

Mia Dennett can't resist a one-night stand with the enigmatic stranger she meets in a bar. But going home with him might turn out to be the worst mistake of Mia's life... 

A lot of comparisons have been made between this novel and Gone Girl - perhaps partly because of the title and also because it's about a missing woman. I'm not sure any similarities go further than that - but it's a useful marketing ploy! I really enjoyed this book and it picked up as it went along. The story is about Mia Dennett, an art teacher, who goes to a bar to meet up with her on/off boyfriend. When he doesn’t show up, she takes off for a one-night stand with an enigmatic stranger. Mia thus walks into a trap, abducted as part of an extortion plot to deliver her to the perpetrator's employers. But things take an unexpected turn when he changes his plans on a whim and takes Mia to a remote cabin in the woods, steering clear of his menacing superiors as well as the police.

The story follows the ‘before’ and ‘after’ views from three of the main characters – Mia’s mother, the abductor and the detective. We know who has taken the daughter, so that’s not a mystery, but the unfolding of the story is what counts, with shifts in the key relationships and backstory that gradually reveal motives and new threads. In a slow-burn style, it forces the reader to re-examine the situation. And there's a neat twist at the end which turns everything on its head. An absorbing read.

Thursday's Children - Nicci French
 My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've always loved the novels by the duo that make up Nicci French and have read their books right from the first one, The Memory Game in 1997. After all, their books introduced me to the world of Psychological Thrillers! Sadly, however, I haven't taken to the latest series (using the days of the week, with psychotherapist, Frieda Klein). Estranged from her family, an insomniac, Frieda walks the streets of London at night in an attempt to tame her own demons, but she's too cool and clinical for me. In Thursday's Children, I found her character humourless, cheerless and nothing warmed me to her or the story. If a character is not particularly likeable, she has to be compelling in other ways - and I didn't find this either. Her dialogue is clipped and stilted, keeping the reader at a distance. It was hard to get involved when I wasn't particularly interested in the lead character.

The storyline isn't terribly fresh or exciting, either. Most of the novel is spent raking over sketchy memories of Frieda's contemporaries from the school in her old home town in Suffolk where Frieda left a 'painful memory' behind. In the present day, an old classmate appears in London seeking Frieda's help with her teenage daughter and 'long buried memories resurface.'

The quality of the writing (apart from some stilted dialogue - and presumably that's intentional) is good, solid and admirable 'French', but unfortunately, I didn't find myself rooting for Frieda.

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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

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