I See You by Clare Mackintosh

Psychological thrillers have been really popular lately, and with books like I See You it’s easy to understand why so many people are reading them. They’re full of twists and turns, lots of drama, but also contain complex heroes and villains.

The story of I See You begins with Zoe Walker, who on her regular commute from work spots her picture in the classified ads, amongst a range of adverts for chat lines and escort agencies. It contains no information: only a phone number and a website, neither of which are accessible when she tries them. Zoe’s family convince her it can’t possibly be her, and the next day it’s another woman’s face, then another’s. Her worries escalate when one of the women advertised is murdered, and another is a victim of theft, and Zoe becomes determined to discover the truth behind the mysterious adverts.

This is a very tense thriller, dramatic but also highly creepy. The characters are well developed and you really find yourself drawn into the plot of this novel. There are lots of twists and turns, and the reader is kept on their toes from beginning to end. One to read in a couple of sittings, the only problem is that once you start reading, you won’t want to stop!

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‘The Lie Tree’ – well deserved award winner

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Faith’s family move to the island of Vane, where her father’s unusually secretive pursuit of natural science lead to his death in highly suspicious circumstances. In order to discover the truth, Faith places her trust in the Lie Tree, feeding it with a growing range of dangerous untruths. She soon discovers that both lies and truth contain hidden dangers for everyone…

The Lie Tree is a brilliant story: a supernatural historical adventure would probably be the best way to describe it. I enjoyed it from the first to the last page and am now keen to read some of Hardinge’s other stories. I completely forgot that this was written for young adults; it’s a plot that is engaging for everyone.

I particularly enjoyed the fact that the story had a strong female protagonist; Faith rebels against all the rules that society sets into place for her, and makes her own decisions.

I’d highly recommend this book. It’s well written, exciting and thought – provoking from cover to cover!

‘Zoo’ by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge

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I’ve never read anything by James Patterson before, but having watched the TV series of Zoo last year I decided to give this a go (to be honest, I was in search of a more satisfying ending).

Now, when you look up James Patterson online there is some controversy surrounding his ‘bestselling writer’ status as he co-writes a large number of his books. The cynic within me wonders to what extent ‘James Patterson’ is a brand, designed to sell books by less well known authors.

That aside, this was a definite page – turner. The plot was fast – paced and as a thriller it generally worked: I read it quicker and quicker, keen to find out what would happen next. However (and I almost can’t believe I’m about to write this) the TV series was actually better than the book.

Writing style aside (which was ok; this was never going to be literary!), I think I found it difficult to warm to the main character of Jackson Oz, who fit his own definition of himself as a crazy end-of-the-world blogger. Chloe, I felt, was fairly 2 dimensional, and there were no other characters within the story who the reader could form a particular connection with.

And was the ending any more satisfying? I hope I won’t spoil it for anyone when I say, not really.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

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As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I have been an Agatha Christie fan (specifically her Poirot stories) for a long time now. I’ve spent many evenings reading her crime novels, trying my best to work out ‘whodunnit’ before the true culprit is revealed at the end.

There is something about Christie’s novels that gives them an enduring appeal to readers, even in a world so far removed from the world in which they are set. Perhaps it is exactly because they are so far removed from reality that makes them so enjoyable. Like a fantasy or sci-fi novel, to most modern readers the world of wealthy country houses, dressing for dinner,  and old-fashioned etiquette is something we have never experienced nor are ever likely to. This means that the murder mysteries become fun; we don’t worry about the grief caused or feel morally outraged. We just want to explore the hidden motives and secrets that are inevitably held by the suspects.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles was Christie’s first novel, the first time we meet the Belgian detective and contains so many of the elements that I personally love in her books: the country house setting; a range of deceptions from almost every member of the family and friends; red herrings, and, most – importantly, the drawing room exposition and revelation of the guilty party at the climax of the novel.

The story is narrated by Captain Hastings, and tells of the events when he is staying with the Cavendish/Inglethorp family at Styles. One night Mrs Inglethorp dies in dramatic circumstances and the suspicion of murder by strychnine poisoning is soon established. Luckily for the family and Captain Hastings, retired Belgian detective Poirot is staying in the village, a refugee of World War 1, and he is happy to put his mind to use in trying to solve the case. After many twists and turns, he finally reveals the true killer.

This really is a fantastic novel. At times some elements seemed almost cliché but then I had to remind myself that this novel was where it all started – this is where Christie established some of the patterns that she would use in her future books. It is storytelling at its best and (as I have said before about Christie’s novels) she keeps it short enough to be enjoyed in one or two sittings. She establishes the characters so well – Poirot’s infuriating intelligence and ability to see what the other characters (and the reader) can’t within the evidence; Captain Hasting’s inability to recognise his own stupidity and blind trusting nature (and his soft spot for young pretty women – I love his impetuous proposal to Cecilia – which has become a running joke within my family whenever we watch the ITV series of adaptations!).

A brilliant introduction to the characters for anyone who hasn’t read any of Christie’s Poirot novels, but also a wonderful reminder of why she is so brilliant for those who have read and enjoyed her other books. Definitely a must-read.

Agatha Christie – ‘The Secret Adversary’

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“To all those who lead monotonous lives in the hope that they may experience at second – hand the delights and dangers of adventure. Agatha Christie.”

This is the dedication inside Agatha Christie’s 1920s spy adventure, featuring Tommy and Tuppence. Personally I can’t think of any better summary of why anyone would want to read an adventure or thriller.

I have long been a fan of Christie’s Poirot novels (not Marple though – can’t quite put my finger on why!) so decided to give one of her very different stories a try.

‘The Secret Adversary’ tells the story of childhood friends Tommy and Tuppence who find themselves out of work and ‘flat broke’ in the early 1920s. They decide to set up a business where they can earn money and experience adventure and by an amazing act of coincidence end up embroiled in the mysterious case of Jane Finn. Jane has been missing for over 5 years and, along with her, have disappeared important political papers that would cause all sorts of difficulties if they got into the wrong hands. Tommy and Tuppence not only manage to track down the elusive Jane Finn but also uncover a criminal mastermind while they are at it.

Let’s be honest here, the story hasn’t aged well. The dialogue along with the references to Bolsheviks and dangerous socialists are pretty dated. Also, you really have to stretch your disbelief. Tommy and Tuppence are at best very lucky to end up with the few leads that they do have and it is impossible to believe Mr Carter (their link to the authorities) would actually put any kind of trust into two people with no experience and nothing to recommend them.

But (and this is what I love about Agatha Christie) I didn’t care! The story at times was completely absurd and we soon left any sense of realism behind. However, I turned the pages faster and faster, racing towards the end of the novel, eager to discover how it ended. This is the real joy of Christie’s writing – she draws you in so subtly that before you know it you’re hooked.

As a child I was a huge fan of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories; they really drew me into reading and I spent many summer holidays reading and re-reading the tales of children solving mysteries and having adventures. ‘The Secret Adversary’ is like the Famous Five for grown – ups. Equally as unrealistic and dated but equally as charming and engrossing. That comparison, coming from me, is the highest form of compliment.

The brand new Hercule Poirot mystery… mostly made me long for the good old Poirot mysteries

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The release of any book based on another author’s work is always tricky business. Will it live up to the original? Will the characters meet our expectations?

This is not a terrible book; it’s mostly well – written (although I dislike the fact that the 1st person narrator seems able to have an omniscient knowledge of everything that happens when he is not there), it tells a fairly interesting story and the character of Poirot is recognisable.

However, it’s just not Agatha Christie. It doesn’t match up to the originals and at times is overly convoluted. It’s also too long. One of the joys of Christie’s Poirot novels is that they are easily accessed and can be read in a day or two – before you start losing track of who exactly the suspects are. I also have to say that I did not find the narrator particularly likeable; which isn’t always necessary, but in this case I found him to be distinctly annoying.

It is however successful in one very big way – it has made me want to turn back to Christie’s original Poirot stories.

Lauren Beukes ‘Broken Monsters’: gruesome, thrilling, and even better than ‘The Shining Girls’

Last year, I picked up a copy of ‘The Shining Girls’ by Lauren Beukes and instantly loved the twisted tale of a supernatural serial – killer.  When I saw that she had written another book, I knew I definitely wanted to give it a read.

The story begins with the grisly discovery of mutilated human remains: a boy has been killed, cut in half and attached to a deer. Detective Gabi Versado picks up the case and we follow her search for the individual responsible. As the story progresses, the murders and mutilation escalate, leading to a tense climax, where nothing is quite as it seems and even what you see can’t be trusted.

I absolutely loved this book – it was highly disturbing and unsettling but in a good way! At first I found the sub – plots and characters a little distracting, but they actually turned out to be one of my favourite elements of the story; particularly the parts following Versado’s daughter, Layla. The author has also cleverly left the book wide open for a sequel.

Definitely a book that I would recommend to anyone interested in supernatural thrillers.