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Make Me

makemeRegular readers of this blog will know that I’m a fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books. They’re a comfort read. I know what I’m getting and I know I’m going to like it. I don’t expect to be surprised.

In Make Me, Reacher arrives in a small town called Mother’s Rest. He’s there on a whim, just wanting to find out why it’s called that. He finds an Michelle Chang, and ex-FBI private investigator, waiting for him. Or, at least, someone who looks like him who’s missing. Of course, there are bad things afoot and Reacher and Chang set off on an trail that leads to Chicago, LA, San Antonio and San Francisco before the final reveal. Which I did not see coming. At all. The clues are all there, but so skillfully woven in that I didn’t put it together. I loved the surprise (well, not what it was, but the fact that I was surprised) and I enjoyed this book enormously.

I also got a writing tip from it. Reacher gets a concussion in this book. It’s about time. He should get hurt a lot more than he does. Make Me is written in first person, so how do you show the effect of concussion on a character that refuses to acknowledge that he’s been hurt? Child does it through the presence of a headache but also by giving Reacher some out-of-character thoughts and feelings. It’s clear something is going on, but not clear what. Maybe Reacher is going soft in his old age and wanting to settle down. Nearer to the point where the concussion becomes unignorable, Reacher gets clumsy. Again, out-of-character. Then he faints and is taken to hospital. It’s at this point that I put together all the odd behaviours and realised what Child was doing.

Loved it. Can’t wait for the next one.

 

The Book of You

 

bookofyou

The Book of You is Claire Kendal’s debut novel. I picked it up as an impulse buy in a newsagent in an airport, drawn by the title, and then by the blurb on the back.

Clarissa Bourn is being harassed at work. Rafe wants to be in her life and won’t take no for an answer. She tries to be polite and nice, like she was brought up to be, but he doesn’t seem to be getting the message. Then Clarissa gets called for jury service and thinks that she will have a break from Rafe, The trial is going to be seven weeks long. Having called 999 on a previous occasion, Clarissa is reluctant to go to the police. After all, what has he actually done? She has leaflets on stalking, yet can’t quite bring herself to acknowledge what is happening to her, can’t quite grasp that Rafe won’t respond like a normal person.

The trial is not the respite she hoped for. Rafe continues to follow her, contact her, harass her. And the trial is of five men accused of abducting and gang raping a drug addicted woman who has sold sex to pay for her drugs. What people say about the victim underlines and reinforces Clarissa’s own shame, yet she sticks to the advice in the leaflets, even when Rafe’s actions escalate.

This book is fantastic. Kendal captures the shame, self-blame, anxiety and bafflement felt by victims of sexual harassment and stalking. Clarissa can’t understand why this is happening and believes it must be something about her that has caused it. She’s ashamed of her behaviour and believes people will judge her. It takes a long time for her to grasp that this is about what’s wrong with Rafe. I particularly enjoyed the way Kendal has captured the effects of prolonged anxiety and stress on Clarissa’s body and mind, the way the constant alertness, feeling trapped, being suspicious of everyone and everything, grinds a person down. This is an exceptional study of what it’s like to be stalked. There’s a lot in the book about the way women are treated by society, especially how evidence of any sexual activity is used to diminish and punish victims, and how they’re expected to respond with politeness, but it is all conveyed by the story and there is no sense of lecturing by the author. It is very skilfully handled.

I don’t want to give away the ending, but I do want to say something about it. Initially, I found it somewhat unsatisfying. There’s an expectation that this kind of book will go a certain way, so anything that’s different from that is surprising. I guess it shows how deeply ingrained those expectations are. The ending is uplifting. That’s not how it’s supposed to go. And, on reflection, I find that I like that.

The Book of You is very, very good. It is absorbing, claustrophobic, scary and compelling. It’s so good I’ve broken my six month blogging hiatus to write about it (and I’ve read a few good books lately). I’ll be looking out for Claire Kendal’s next one.

The Leopard

leopardThe Leopard by Jo Nesbo is the sixth in the Oslo sequence featuring detective Harry Hole.

It starts with Harry on a massive bender in Hong Kong. He was going to Thailand but didn’t make it that far. He’s a mess, having rung up large gambling debts and indulging a heroin habit. Because that’s less of a problem for him than alcohol.

Back in Oslo, two women have been found dead with mysterious wounds to the face. The police are fighting a political battle for jurisdiction over murders with Kripos, who are responsible for tackling organized crime. Harry’s boss wants him back to solve the crime and to stick it to Kripos. He sends detective Kaja Solness to bring Harry back.

In turns out that there are more than two murders and the connection between them is not simple. Nesbo serves up several red herrings and twists and keeps the reader guessing right to the end. I loved this. The plot was gripping and expertly handled. There is treachery and intrigue amongst the police and the perpetrator was deliciously complicated. There are lots of threads and none of them are left loose at the end.

It’s in this book that it’s made most clear that Harry’s flawed character is the reason he’s an exceptional detective. Writers are urged to give their characters a flaw to make them human and enable the readers to identify with them. I think it’s true to say that most fictional detectives are flawed and that alcoholism is very popular as said flaw. In the previous books in the series, Harry’s alcoholism is treated in a fairly standard way. He’s an arse and he’s difficult to work with, he’s unreliable and unstable. But he’s a great detective by virtue of persistence and making connections others don’t, so his bad behaviour is excused in favour of his results.

In The Leopard, Nesbo shows how Harry’s flaw is the very thing that makes him great. His addiction is integral to his excellence. At the beginning of the book Harry is on a bender because of the impact his previous case had on him. He doesn’t want to chase serial killers again. He wants oblivion. Harry resigned from Oslo police but they bring him back. At first he resists but he finds he can’t help himself. He has to follow the threads, he has to work out what has happened and who did it. Harry is addicted to solving crimes.

For me, this is the best Harry Hole so far. I really enjoyed it.

Zoo City

zoocityZoo City by Lauren Beukes is set in a world where those who commit crimes gain animal companions and psychic powers. It’s not considered a good thing and those with animals sink to the bottom of the pile, making a living however they can.

Former music journalist, murderer and junkie, Zinzi December finds things that are lost, for a fee. After a job goes south, she’s offered an opportunity to make a lot of money finding a missing girl. It’s not what she normally does, but the money’s too good to pass up. Naturally, nothing is as simple as it seems, and when she finds the girl she uncovers a much bigger, nastier crime.

This is brilliant. It’s written in the first person present tense and Zinzi’s voice is compelling and funny. The plot is deep and tightly woven. It all makes sense at the end, and everything you need to know was always right there, masquerading as worldbuilding. I loved the concept of the animals and the powers and I loved the dystopian alternate world. I would highly recommend it.

Ritual

ritual-pbkHaving enjoyed Poppet so much I thought I would read all Mo Hayder’s Jack Caffrey thrillers. I like to do things in order.

I feel a bit mixed about Ritual. It was a good thriller. I enjoyed the plot and thought it was well handled, keeping the identity of the killer hidden until the very end. Caffrey has transferred from London to Bristol and his first case is a hand recovered from the harbor. The coroner confirms that the owner of the hand was alive when it was cut off and may still be alive. All the pieces are skillfully woven together so that you only see the whole, gruesome picture at the end.

Caffrey is working with Flea, the police diver, and the events that are between them in Poppet begin here. So, it was nice to start to piece that story together as well and I like the connecting thread between the books. There is also a little bit of follow up to the actions Caffrey took at the end of Birdman and the impact on him that has had. Rather than being a series of individual thrillers connected only by the central character, like the Reacher series, it has the feel of episodes in a series building up to something bigger.

There was one thing that bothered me though. The Jack Caffrey in this book didn’t seem like the same character as in Poppet, Birdman or The Treatment. Some of that was physical characterization. After reading those three books I had an image in my head of Caffrey as tall and blond. In Ritual, Hayder describes him as dark-haired. That might be inconsistent, or it might be me misremembering. The tall thing is more clear-cut though. In this book, Hayder repeatedly describes Caffrey as tall. Then she describes him through Flea’s eyes as being medium height. It really bothers me and I’m not sure why.

Overall, it was alright. I did enjoy it, but perhaps not as much as some of the others.

Headhunter

headhunterIn Headhunters by Jo Nesbo, Roger Brown is a top recruiter who finances his lifestyle by art theft. He arranges interviews for executives who own expensive art and steals it while they’re occupied. He’s a successful recruiter with a reputation for never failing to place his candidate, but it doesn’t make enough money to pay for the house and his wife’s art gallery.

Unfortunately for him, a psychotic ex-CEO of a defence company wants a job with another defence company and is willing to go to any lengths to get it. Through a series of misunderstandings and bad decisions, Brown ends up being hunted through Oslo.

I saw the film of this book a few years ago and it’s what prompted me to read Jo Nesbo’s books. I actually read quite a few of his Harry Hole series before I got onto Headhunters, and I enjoyed them a lot. This is even better. I think this is the best of his that I’ve read. It’s written in first person from the point of view of Roger Brown and the voice is engaging and compelling. The plot tension is handled well and a couple of key twists are held back to the very end. Pacing is fast but not breathless. At least half the book is spent on the set up and you’re completely caught up in Roger’s world. He’s not the nicest guy but he’s smart and ingenious and not above doing whatever he has to. I liked it a lot.

The Treatment

200px-ThetreatmentThe Treatment is the second in Mo Hayder’s Jack Caffrey series. Caffrey is still obsessed with the paedophile next door and the mystery of what happened to his brother all those years ago.

Caffrey gets a case that seems a little too close for comfort. A family is held prisoner in their own home for a weekend. No one notices because they were supposed to be going on holiday. Instead, the mother is restrained and locked in a cupboard, the father is restrained on the landing while the son is abused. Then the perpetrator takes the child out of the house and is seen by a passerby. The police sweep the area but can’t find anything.

Whilst investigating this case, Caffrey is also trying to work out what happened to his brother. The cases are linked and Caffrey gets information that takes him out to a remote farm in Suffolk. Some of his actions are ill-advised and Caffrey is risking his job to pursue his obsession.

An extra complication is that Caffrey is dating one of the women that was a victim in the last book, Birdman, and she’s dealing with her experiences in a very public way. His secrecy and obsession with his brother isn’t making things between them better.

The plot twists and turns and the killer is hidden in plain sight. There are a few plausible candidates and Hayder shows how easy it can be to miss what is really going on. I wasn’t keen on the heavy-handed use of dialect for the character of Caffrey’s boss but that was the only thing that spoilt my enjoyment of the book. The resolution of all the plot lines was brutal and I found it very affecting.