1st To Die–Book Review

Women’s Murder Club – 1

By James Patterson

After trying different genres I don’t usually read or enjoy, I caught hold of my favourite genre – detective. Rather, 2 of my favourite genres combined – detective and chick lit. Now, whether the combination worked well or not, I will talk about that a bit later.

Homicide Inspector Lindsay Boxer works with San Francisco Police Department. Even strong Boxer is unable to face the gruesome murders of brides and bridegrooms happening all over US. A mad serial killer is on the loose. He attacks couples on their wedding nights, kills them brutally, steals their wedding bands and leaves their murdered bodies in outrageous positions. The sexual sadist killer makes Boxer’s blood boil but however desperate she is to catch the killer, she is helpless at the hands of her own critical illness. 6 murders one after the other takes a toll on Boxer’s peace of mind and health. Then there is a major distraction by the name of Chris Raleigh. Soon, Lindsay is unable to ignore the growing chemistry between the two. Both divorcees; heartbroken & tough. How far do they go? What happens to their chemistry by the end of the book? Ah. The story of their relation is to be read on your own.

With the killer still on the run, Lindsay realizes she needs moral support more than skills. And that’s when she forms the Women’s Murder Club consisting of herself, Claire (a medical examiner), Cindy Thomas (a reporter with Chronicle) and Jill Bernhardt (assistant D.A.). They do all it takes to keep their guts and sanity together when suspicion falls on celebrity novelist, Nicholas Jenks.

Through rapid twists and turns, they nail down the killer.

I enjoyed reading a light crime story after ages (I must stick to such kinds and not venture into literature, like I try to, once in a while). Some may find the plot childish and the writing, amateur. I felt that too. At times, I wanted the characters to move fast, talk lesser hollow stuff and just get real.

Putting in a love story appeared interesting in the beginning (who doesn’t like some spice amidst any serious theme) but later on, ‘chick lit romance’ & girly drama (Boxer’s illness) just did not gel well with ‘hard-core murder detective’. Sometimes, the narration gave a feel of Mills & Boons. Creepy.

This book has also been made into a movie. I thought of watching it. But I remembered the detailed descriptions of murders in the book. Gross; cannot watch them on screen.

I was hooked on to this book, I confess. However immature a murder mystery may be, once suspense is created, you just have to finish it to know who the killer is. It was like that. Once I was mid-way (and mind you, the book isn’t very fast paced), I sneaked into the book during class, while travelling, while eating – I could not keep away from it. And the climax did throw me off track but many could guess it mid-way.

If you want to go in for a light, casual read, this is a good one.

I rate it 3 on 5.

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The Thirteenth Tale – Book Review

Author: Diane Setterfield

The Angelfield family is weird. First there were siblings Charlie and Isabelle and then Isabelle’s strange twins Emmeline and Adeline. The twins love violence. Pain is like candy for them. And they speak in a language no one else can understand. Their ignored, run down house is told to be haunted and no one likes approaching it. People die, things are vandalized and no one knows who does them. One of the twins? Or the ghost? Eventually, the mansion is burnt down to ashes and takes with it its secrets and the real story.

Fast forward to another part of the world at another time, Margaret Lea is a quiet book lover who helps her father run a book store. She receives a sudden letter from mysterious author Ms. Vida Winter to write her biography. Ms. Winter has hidden her past from the world and many journalists have failed to get her story. But one man in brown suit tempts Ms. Winter to tell the world her story with his statement – Tell me the truth.

Margaret travels to Ms. Winter’s secluded, secretive house and finally gets to meet the author face to face. The spine tingling story telling sessions happen in the grand library while Margaret spends rest of her time locked in her room. She is advised not to venture out in the rest of the house. But she does. When she hears humming from the maze of the garden. When she hears scraping sounds in the rain.

What is Ms. Winter’s story? How is she related to the Angelfield house? Who was the man in the brown suit? What happened to the twins? Is Ms. Winter’s story really the truth or is it another misleading yarn? How does Margaret come to terms with her own pain?

Diane Setterfield has woven a mildly gothic tale. The book is written in a very poetic manner, sometimes overly dramatic. All characters have an element of mystery, vagueness and anonymity. Even normal things seem peculiar.

This book is not just about thrill, it is also about love of books. Most of the narration happens in the book store or library. Margaret lovingly describes the book store that seems to be every book lover’s delight. Several analogies have been made for books, stories, authors and dead people who become biographies and stay alive. Every time there is a threat to books, the protagonist burns with regret and frustration. Those who love books and treat them like their most prized possessions will relate to this.

While I was reading the book, I visualized pale, white, cold faces of characters who stared at everyone with blank eyes. The mansion was grey and always wet. There was always a dark, depressing humming music in the background. This was the movie in my mind. For a person like me who cannot withstand horror, this much degree of suspense was just right.

The story picks up in the second half. Many may find the climax a bit let down but I was just relieved when the suspense was out!

Definitely a onetime read. I would rate it a 3 on 5.

Love on the Rocks

– Ismita Tandon Dhankher

My first thoughts on hearing the title of this book was categorizing it to the arena of sappy romantic stories. But surprise of surprises! It is an enthralling thriller with strong undercurrents of love. The first two pages of the book are enough to  make you get up and take notice of the plot line.

In a cargo ship sailing from Japan to America,the Sea Hyena, among with the 24 crew members, the chief officer, Aaron is newly wed and decides to bring along his wife, Sancha on board for the voyage. The husband and wife are blissfully in love but there is turmoil on the vessel. A murderer is on the loose and this in turn causes turmoil among the happy couple too. Everybody is under suspicion for theft and murder. Once the detective authority comes on board, it becomes a vicious cat and mouse game. With the thrill of murders there are also revelations of various key characters and they are not pretty. Sancha even doubts her own husband and doesn’t hesitate to voice these doubts. A gloomy masked presence looms over all this drama.

The narration of the book is unique. Every character explains the proceedings from their own perspectives in their respective chapters. This style may start out to be mildly confusing, but you soon get into the rhythm as you grasp the nuances of each character. There are several mysteries entangled in this story but the author deftly extracts each one and even succeeds in connecting them to each other to form a beautiful large picture at the end.

The mounting suspense predictably climaxes to the finding of the murderer without any twist. But it is then that the author brings out her trump card and reveals the identity of Manna, the mysterious journal writer with the violent past.

One flaw that I observed was the characterization was incomplete. There were some gaping holes in the character descriptions. All the characters have some kind of a past which could have been better illustrated in the soliloquy chapters.

Even through all of this and some mild confusion in the middle of the plot , the book turns out to be a delightful read. It is non pretentious, mature and manages to be practical and true to the characters at all time. An engaging thriller with great description of life on a cargo vessel. Kudos to Ismita!

Rating – 4*

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Black Seconds

…by Karin Fossum.

Nine year old Ida Joner goes for ride in her bicycle only not to return. Panic sets in and her mother, Helga, contacts every relative and friend of the little girl to see if anyone has seen her. As time passes by with the child nowhere to be found, call is made to the police and they start an investigation. Inspector Sejer and Inspector Skarre are assigned the case and they start with inquiring friends and family. Days pass without any clue leading to what might have happened to the girl.

What happened to Ida Joner between the time she left the house and the time she is found? Is she safe and happily reunited with the family or is she hurt? Does the police find and punish the culprit(s)? All this and more is answered in this story.

The storyline is interesting and that’s why I picked up the book. I was looking forward to reading a mystery novel after quite sometime. But from that angle, I was a bit disappointed because after getting a good grip of the story and its characters, I actually solved the crime.  That did not deter me from wanting to read further and here’s why – the characters involved had aspects of them that made me want to explore further as to how the inspectors went about solving the crime. And from that angle, I wasn’t let down a bit – the investigation, the questioning of witnesses and accused, the putting together the pieces of the puzzle – all this is sure to keep one engrossed.

Overall, this decent psychological thriller makes for a good read.

My rating: 3*.

*for the rating scale, click here.

The Well and the Mine

…by Gin Phillips.

Set in the 1930s Alabama, this story is about a family – father, a mine worker; mother, a housewife; and three children – Virgie, Tess and Jack. One evening, Tess witnesses a woman throw a baby into her family’s well. At first, everyone dismisses her claims, blaming her keen imagination. Things turn around though, as they discover a baby’s body the next day. The rest of the story is woven around showing the readers how the characters’ perspectives change with regard to everything happening around them.

What caught my attention enough to want to pick up this book was the storyline. I couldn’t imagine any good reason for having a baby thrown into a well and I wanted to know more.  And I must admit that, from that angle this book didn’t do any justice. The thing to remember before reading this book is to not expect this big incident that happens in the beginning to be the main focus of the novel. The book starts off with a bang with such a big episode, but if you keep your hopes high on that one thing carrying on throughout the book and ending it with a big revelation, then you are probably in for a disappointment. While it sets the scene for the rest of the story to take place, it is just one of the threads that weave this book together – and once you understand that and realign your expectations, then you are in for a great read.

The book sheds light on the family, its members, and the struggles of the times that they live in. The story is narrated in first person by each of the five main characters’ point of views…so readers get to understand what goes on in each one of their minds with respect to all that is happening around them. The times are not easy…the book is set in Depression. Even though the family not poverty struck as some of their neighbors are, they still have to try hard to make ends meet, especially when emergency strikes and they have not much savings to rely on. The parents do their best to provide a loving home for their children even during the hardest of times. And that love is something that comes out so beautifully throughout the story.

The writing is simple and beautiful. The characters are well-developed. And the flow is well paced. The imagery the author puts forward is so vivid and powerful – that is the one thing that kept me hooked to the book and that’s what I missed once I finished reading it.

Overall, this book, driven by its characters, the time that it was set in more so than the story itself, is a poignant read.

My rating: 4*.

*for the rating scale, click here.

Atticus

…by Ron Hansen.

Atticus Cody, a 67 year old a rancher, lives in Colorado. He has two sons – Frank, the eldest and Scott. A little time passes after the family’s Christmas get together when Atticus and the others learn that Scott has committed suicide. Atticus travels to Resurreccion, Mexico to retrieve his son’s body. As he gets to talk to Scott’s friends and acquaintances in Mexico and explore the crime scene and Scott’s belongings, Atticus feels that his son might not have committed suicide, rather that he might have been murdered.

What does Atticus find that leads him to such a conclusion? What does he do with his discovery? What really happened to Scott? – one truth after another is revealed to uncover the mystery.

When I started reading the book, I thought I was in for a treat. As the tale progressed, I somehow lost interest. There were way too many unwanted details every now and then, I felt, which aided to distracting from the plot line. The author’s vivid descriptions of people and places made for a good read. But then, that same thing was overdone at many points, which made the novel somewhat slow and boring for my taste. As much as I enjoyed the vibrant images that the author’s words created, I would have liked it more if a little more emphasis was given to the emotional disturbance that the father (and the family) goes through upon hearing the news of his son’s demise. Also, compared to the pace of the beginning, the end came a little abruptly. So, this book, although it had a promising story, did not work for me.

Overall, an ok murder mystery, if you are looking for one.

My rating: 2*.

*for the rating scale, click here.

The Woman with the Bouquet

…by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt.

This book is a collection of the following 5 stories –

  1. The Dreamer from Ostend: The narrator of this story, a writer by profession, goes to Ostend to mend his broken heart. In Ostend, he lives in the house of an old woman, Emma Van A., whom he sees confined to the literary collection that her father left behind. As he gets to spend more and more time with his host, he learns that she has a secret that she comes forward to share with him. The more he discovers about her past, the more doubtful of her he becomes.Does he tell her that he doubts her? How does she react? Was she or wasn’t she being truthful about her past? – all this and more makes up this engrossing story where Emma Van A. recalls her past filled with love and pain.My rating for this story – 5.
  2. Perfect Crime:A couple, who’ve been married for decades, go hiking – the wife with intentions of pushing her husband down the cliff; the husband with no knowledge of his wife’s plan. The wife, after making sure there’s no one around to witness her crime, pushes him off the cliff. Unfortunately, for her, a shepherd witnesses the crime and hence, the wife gets detained in prison.What pushed this loving wife, who’s been together with her husband for decades, to go to this extreme? Are her reasons to doing such a heinous crime compelling enough? Does she reevaluate her actions as she hears testimonies of family and friends about how loving a couple they were or after she discovers something that her husband has kept hidden for years? Is she convicted? – all this and more is answered in this tale of passion and crime.Although I liked how the story progressed and ended, I did not quite find the reasoning behind the crime convincing enough.My rating for this story – 4.
  3. Getting Better:This tells the story about a nurse who is self-conscious about her appearance. The nurse is elated when one of her patients, a blind man, remarks how lucky he is to have such a “pretty woman” looking after him. Talking to him on a daily basis builds her self-esteem, she discovers herself through him and she goes on to make changes to her wardrobe and her views towards her looks. As time passes, she falls for this man.What happens next? Does she take further steps to make her attachment / attraction towards him known?My rating for this story – 3.
  4. Trashy Reading:Maurice is a professor with no private life. One thing about him that stands out is the fact that he doesn’t like to read fiction. According to him, the time spent reading fiction can be put to better use; he thinks that novels are for idle women who have nothing better to do. During one of his yearly vacations with his cousin, he sees her buying a novel – The Chamber of Dark Secrets. The title intrigues him, the summary on the back cover draws his attention…so he starts reading that book at night, in secrecy, so that his cousin wouldn’t find out. The more he gets into the novel, the more it entices him. But with what he reads in this book makes him see danger all around him, leading to the unfortunate end of the story.This story I liked in particular because it gets into the mind of a man who doesn’t like reading to explore reasons that put him off reading; how reading a few pages of the novel that his cousin bought draws him into the world of fiction; how what he reads in that book plays games in his mind.My rating for this story – 5.
  5. The Woman with the Bouquet:An elderly woman goes to the train station everyday with a bouquet of flowers, as if to wait for someone…someone who hasn’t arrived in years. A group of people who have observed the woman for a long time wonder whom she could be possibly waiting for, so patiently, all these years. As the get eager to find the story behind her wait, they get talking and that sheds light on their respective lives. My rating for this story – 5.

More than the stories themselves, what kept me engrossed in this book was the wonderful writing. I got lost in the world of words that the author presented me with. Romance, love, passion, tragedy, crime, insecurity – it’s all in there.

Overall, an assortment of tales, comes highly recommended.

My rating: 5*.

*for the rating scale, click here.