January Is Good for Thrillers

When the nights are long and cold, what could be better than to snuggle up with very dark, unsettling thrillers?  No? Maybe it’s just me then… And I don’t even feel the compulsion to check that all windows and doors are locked afterwards.  Well, not more than two or three times, anyway!

I will spend more time reviewing the Marseille Trilogy (which is part of my Global Reading Challenge) in a later post, but here are some other suspenseful thrillers I read this month.  My scoring system is perhaps overly strict: 5 star is something that only a handful of books ever, ever get; 4 star means I think you should really, really get your hands on it; 3 stars means it’s a good, solid, enjoyable book; and 2 is OK, average, nothing out of the ordinary.  At least you know you won’t get a waterfall of meaningless 5 stars here! 

1) Chris Ewan: Safe House

The only book I have come across so far set on the Isle of Man, it makes good use of its location (the isolation, the village gossip).  It starts with a simple puzzle, which then develops into a very convoluted plot. Plumber and part-time motor racing champion Rob Hale has a bad motorcycle accident.  He is concerned about the fate of his beautiful blonde co-rider, Lena, whom he had just recently met on an emergency boiler repair job in a remote cottage in the forest. However, the paramedics and police assure him that he was the only person found at the scene of the accident.  He is convinced he did not imagine the girl and uncovers a very complex tale of conspiracy.  The twists and turns keep on coming – some of them I guessed fairly early on (I have a bit of a phobia of secret services and can spot them coming from miles away), others did catch me by surprise.  The story does have rather brutal scenes, and the author seems to enjoy giving blow-by-blow accounts of horrific events.  Cleverly done, exciting to read, but a bit too vivid for my squeamishness.  My favourite bits were the more domestic scenes with Rob’s Granddad and dog. 3 stars.

2) Quentin Bates: Cold Comfort

This is the second rather than the first book in the series set in Iceland, featuring Sergeant Gunnhildur (a.k.a. Gunna). But that doesn’t matter at all: it’s all about atmosphere and characters in this series.  Gunna is tasked with two cases simultaneously: the manhunt for an escaped convict, and the murder of a gorgeous TV presenter.  She soon begins to suspect that the two events may be related.  Set against a backdrop of the near-total collapse of a country, together with its banking system, the story is a fast-paced, enjoyable read. This is not Scandinavian noir, but has a very tongue-in-cheek English humour about it (the author is English, although he lived for many years in Iceland).  Gunna is a delightful, down-to-earth character, a refreshing change from all the tormented detectives and heavy drinkers populating the northern hemisphere.  The many complicated (and similar-sounding) Icelandic names may pose a bit of a memory challenge, but it was a fun, easy read for an afternoon of similar meteorological conditions to Icelandic winters. 3 stars.

3) Pascal Garnier: The A26

You may remember that Pascal Garnier was one of my major discoveries for 2012.  I completely fell in love with two of his novels translated and published by Gallic Books: ‘The Panda Theory’ and ‘How’s the Pain?’  So I was very much looking forward to the third book that Gallic are just about to launch: they kindly sent me an advance copy. However, this one was a bit of a disappointment.  Although it is still impeccably translated and beautifully presented by the publisher, the story itself did not captivate me as much as the previous two.  Yet, to all intents and purposes, this one fits more neatly into the ‘thriller’ category.  There are more bodies, there are strange characters, there is suspense…  But there is less humour than in his other books and I found myself unable to care deeply for the two main characters, the agoraphobic Yolande and her long-suffering brother Bernard.  Perhaps if I had read this one first, I might have enjoyed it more: it certainly has all of the other Garnier characteristics I enjoy: the noir feel, the effortless and fluid style.  But I suppose my expectations were so high, that this one just could not live up to them. 3 stars.

4) Elizabeth Haynes: Into the Darkest Corner

This was the scariest of the thrillers I read this month.  It proves that scary can be done in a much more subtle and chilling way, because the atmosphere turns darker gradually, much like Cathy’s relationship with Lee.  The descriptions of domestic abuse and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder are so realistic, so gruelling, yet they never feel gratuitous.  Certainly not a book to read when you are alone in the house!  The multiple  time frames and similarity of set-ups did puzzle me a little at first, but you soon get into the rhythm of things.  A psychological mind-twister and page-turner, I was hooked, even though I kept thinking I knew what would happen next.  It also shows just how complicated abusive relationships can be, and makes us question how we would react ourselves in a similar situation.  Hard to believe this is a debut novel, as it feels very accomplished and self-assured. 4 stars.

21 thoughts on “January Is Good for Thrillers”

  1. LOL, I know what you mean (even though they nights are getting lighter and shorter, technically, right now… ). I do like a good thriller. I remember reading a crime thriller in Oxford once where the perpetrator used ladders to climb up first floor windows and violently strangled women. I couldn’t sleep for days.

    1. Reading thrillers on the beach is nice, but not quite the same, is it? There must be something in our collective unconscious about the dark cave and encountering anything (or anyone) strange in there…

  2. Marina Sofia – I’m so glad you found some great thrillers to love this month. And you know, I don’t mind it at all that you have a strict rating system. Not every book can be a once-in-a-lifetime read.

  3. I LOVED Into The Darkest Corner, but, I could be accused of being biased as Elizabeth is my friend….Her 2nd one, Revenge of the Tide is so different, but IMO very good. The next one, Human Remains which is out on Valentines Day is shaping up pretty well 😉

    Glad you liked it 🙂


    1. Valentine’s Day? Well, I hope the subject matter is different than in this one, as Into the Darkest Corner would probably qualify for the least suitable read on that day. Or ‘Gone Girl’, I suppose.

  4. Thanks for visiting my blog (I’m a thriller writer at the moment, but still feeling my way, finding my voice). I’m glad to know someone else has a rating system like mine. 5-star books should be few and far between, like you say. Just like A’s in school. Only 5-10% of students should get A’s. Only 5-10% of books should get A’s (5 stars).

    Glad that you consider 3-star books to be worth reading. They should be! An average book that is in print had to be pretty damn good to get past the gatekeepers (agents, editors, and publishers), right?

    1. Two star is average and bland; three star is a good read for me, but just not quite that exciting that I want to shout it from the rooftops. Five star is something I want to read again and again, and force everyone else to read as well!

  5. I’m intrigued by the books you reviewed. I love thrillers any time of the year but now that Lent is around the corner and I’m giving up movies AND t.v., I’ll be looking for some great books to entertain me for the next almost 6 weeks.

    1. There is something about this time of year and darker books, isn’t there? Hope you find those entertaining reads (would recommend any of the above, really, plus so many others) and let me know what you think of them.

  6. Absolutely! Although I’m pretty knee deep in Yoga books for my teacher training, and 1950s research for my next book. Most of my beloved fiction is being put aside.

    I just added “The Panda Theory” on my Goodreads list, then I realized we weren’t friends on there! I sent you a request. : )

  7. Ooooh! Interesting choices as ever. I agree with you about the Elizabeth Haynes – that book is heartbreaking, yet so compulsive and feels “real”. Claustrophobic. I don’t want to give anything away to anyone reading this, but I was also impressed with the bit near the end where she makes such creative use of a deodorant bottle!

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