Quick-Fire Reviews: Crime Fiction

I was planning longer reviews for each of these books, but the risk is that the longer I leave it, the less I’ll be in the mood for reviewing them, or the more I’ll have forgotten the first impressions.

So here are some quick-fire reviews of recently read crime novels. Two are by authors I’ve already read and admired, so I know what I’m getting. The remaining two are debut authors. And when I say ‘quick-fire’, it still has somehow added up to a very long post, so I apologise in advance.

BloodSaltDenise Mina: Blood, Salt, Water

A woman suspected by the police of major drug-smuggling and money laundering disappears. Has that got anything to do with the death of a woman, something confused criminal Iain Fraser is struggling with? And why is a middle-aged former Scout leader, Miss Grierson, back in town? Alex Morrow and her team struggle to make sense of all these disparate elements, as do the readers.

I’m a big Denise Mina fan – she always captures a particular Scottish setting impeccably. This time it’s a smaller town and a posh golf course gated environment, as well as the gritty streets of Glasgow. But this is perhaps not the most memorable one in the series: some of the motivations seem a little forced to me. Still, Mina’s ‘good/OK’ is a notch above most other writers, so I’d still recommend this book.There were some characters who had the potential to become interesting but were not given quite enough room to develop. I also missed hearing more about Alex Morrow’s family life  – while I don’t like it to overwhelm the plot, it was just noticeable in its complete absence.

OtherChildLucy Atkins: The Other Child

Tess, single mother to nine-year-old Joe, falls in love with American pediatric surgeon Greg and gets pregnant. When he is offered the job of a lifetime back on the East Coast of the US, they marry and relocate.  But life in an affluent American suburb proves anything but straightforward. Unsettling things keep happening in the large rented house, Joe is distressed, the next-door neighbours are in crisis, and Tess is sure that someone is watching her. Greg’s work is all-consuming and, as the baby’s birth looms, he grows more and more unreachable. Something is very wrong.

Confession: I read this one mostly because of the ‘moving to the US as a trailing spouse’ storyline. I just love those fish out of water suffering culture shock stories! I read this book very quickly, as it had plenty of mystery and some interesting characters to engage me. It does feel slightly déjà vu – the marriage that you jump in all too quickly, the man with secrets, the suspicions and gradual unravelling of relationships, the ‘who can be trusted, who’s telling the truth’ scenario are all well trodden ground. This book certainly won’t stay with me for a very long time. But the author has a fresh, engaging style, it’s got a nice sense of menace to it without getting too gory, it’s an entertaining beach read.

GranotierbookSylvie Granotier: Personne n’en saura rien (No One Will Know a Thing)

Isabelle is the latest in a series of kidnappings and rapes of young girls from the beaches of Normandy. Except that, unlike the other victims, she does not end up dead. Instead, she is taking her aggressor to court on the count of rape. The accused, Jean Chardin, certainly seems to fit the profile of a rapist, but, as we find out more about the background of each of the people involved, we begin to wonder just what revenge Isabelle is planning.

For those who don’t like serial killer tropes or graphic descriptions of women suffering, rest assured there is not much of that here. Instead, it’s a thrilling and psychologically subtle read. Effortlessly moving between points of view and timelines, the author makes us question ourselves about the nature of justice, the ways in which we justify our own behaviour, and the role of families. This hasn’t been translated into English yet, but Le French Book has translated one of Granotier’s other novels, The Paris Lawyer.

BitterChillSarah Ward: In Bitter Chill

The Peak District as winter approaches is a chilling place, especially when a thirty-year-old crime is reopened following a suicide apparently related to it. Back in 1978 two young schoolgirls were abducted by a woman driving a car. One of them, Rachel, made it back home later that day, but could remember little of what had happened. The other girl, Sophie, was never found. It’s Sophie’s mother who has committed suicide in a hotel in the area. But why now, so many years after the event? Another death soon after also seems to be linked to the tragic event in 1978. Rachel and the police are equally committed to finding out the truth about events both past and present, uncovering some very dark secrets in the process.

This is a very promising debut indeed and just the kind of police procedural I enjoy: satisfying, logical, with interesting characters throughout (I especially liked Rachel’s grandma). The writing is of a consistently high quality and very precise, and the location is so well described I felt as if I was there (although I’ve never visited the area myself). But all this does not come at the detriment of the plot. Yes, I guessed part of the solution, but by no means all of the ramifications. I’m really glad that, although Ward intended this to be a standalone crime novel, she will write another novel featuring these detectives, as I got quite attached to ambitious Connie, about-to-get-married Palmer and their boss Sadler.

I’ve also read Kati Hiekkapelto’s The Defenceless (which will be reviewed shortly on Crime Fiction Lover), the cracking follow-up to The Hummingbird, and Sophie Hannah’s quirky, unexpected standalone psychological thriller A Game for All the Family.

The remaining four reviews (I hope to have more time to spend on them this coming week, but I’m also trying to write another 20,000 words on my novel, so guess where my priorities lie?) are for:

Max Blecher: Scarred Hearts – a surprisingly modern feel, very candid, not for the squeamish, heartbreaking and yet full of an urgent love of life.
Emmanuel Carrère: L’Adversaire – a fascinating study of evil and the power of deception, including self-deception – whether we believe evil exists in all of us, or whether we see some people as being born evil. Particularly heart-wrenching and disturbing since I know the places and some of the people involved.

F. Scott Fitzgerald: Tender Is the Nightno longer quite the ultimate story of marital and individual breakdown that I believed it to be when I was 18 – Rosemary’s age – and fell in love with Dick Diver myself. Still an unsettling portrait of inner demons and dysfunctional families, but this time I particularly admired the locations and descriptions of the expat experience (yes, I have a one-track mind).

Valeria Luiselli: Faces in the Crowd –  unlike other ‘vignette’ type novels, I really liked this one, although I don’t think it could be sustained over a much longer book. I liked it because it really is experimental, not just pretending to be so, and there is a warm, funny, fearless and erudite imagination at work there, blending fantasy, philosophy, literature and everyday experiences so well together.

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25 thoughts on “Quick-Fire Reviews: Crime Fiction”

  1. I really hope the Granotier is translated into English soon. My Frnech is OK, but not good enough to really appreciate the novel, I think. And I’m not surprised that you liked In Bitter Chill. Sarah Ward is talented. Good to know, Marina Sofia, that you had good reads, rather than disappointments.

      1. I know what you mean – my fingers are sometimes faster than my thoughts…
        And yes, Granotier deserves to have a wider audience – she mixes a very French sensibility with good Anglo-Saxon puzzles and twists. This one is more ambiguous and unusual than some of her other ones.

  2. Thank you for introducing me to some new names in crime – I’m looking forward to hearing your views on Tender is the Night (it’s my favourite Fitzgerald, I actually prefer it to Gatsby)

      1. Gatsby is much more tightly written. Tender is the Night has more extraneous scenes or paragraphs. At its best, it’s certainly brilliant and so finely observed, but there’s some flab.

    1. I would start with the Garnethill trilogy – although they are her earliest novels, published in the 1990s and present an older Glasgow, they blew me away with their language and understanding of that world.

  3. I’ve got the first two to read, and also plan on getting to In Bitter Chill shortly! Same with the two Kati Hiakkapelto, and the Sophie Hannah. I haven’t read Tender Is The Night since I read it for English Lit A level in my teens. I loved it then; indeed preferred it to Gatsby at the time. I re-read Gatsby about three years ago, so I’d like to read this and see how it holds up, and compares. Dick and Nicole Diver – I really enjoyed it! So basically I’ve got lots of books you’ve read still to read…I’ve been reading a lot of crime fiction, all recent releases – reviews will appear, I promise!

    1. I too used to prefer Tender Is the Night – it was my favourite Fitzgerald novel. But I’m not quite so convinced now. Perhaps, after reading ‘Revolutionary Road’ by Yates and Ian McEwan’s ‘The Comfort of Strangers’, the self-destructive and destructive couple is no longer quite such a new trope to me…

      1. I loved Revolutionary Road, but I can’t remember reading The Comfort Of Strangers. I went through a big McEwan phase in my mid-late twenties; I can’t remember exactly what books I’ve read but I definitely haven’t read The Comfort Of Strangers (as I just looked it up and I’d definitely remember that book!) I’ve read five or so of his, and have another two newer ones to read too. After reading about it, it sounds intriguing! Atonement I’ve never read – slightly older ones, mostly. I need to read The Comfort Of Strangers. And Atonement, too, really. Loved the film. Loved the green dress. And James McAvoy….!

  4. Succinct but perfect summing up of Faces in the Crowd – certainly not one to rush; indeed I often found myself rereading sections for a ‘better foothold’ Looking forward to Luiselli’s Sidewalks for #WITMonth

    Love the sound of In Bitter Chill & got Tender is the Night on the TBR with plans to explore the Fitzgeralds more.

    1. Look forward to hearing what you think about Sidewalks. I have heard mixed reviews of ‘The Story of My Teeth’, although the premise does sound quite enjoyable, picaresque even.

  5. I love your description of Luiselli’s Faces in the Crowd, perfecto! There’s a lightness of touch to her writing – it’s quite delicate and engaging. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Sidewalks next?

    And I know your novel must take priority, but I’d love to hear more about your reread of Tender is the Night…

    1. I’ll certainly continue to explore Luiselli, but in the meantime she’s whetted my appetite for rereading Clarice Lispector. My first year as a student in London I was obsessed with Lispector – perhaps because our department was just above the Latin American Studies department, so it was easy to ‘pop in’ and borrow books.

  6. Interesting! I reviewed a Mina book too (my first), she’s so good. I am always looking for good crime recommendations.

  7. Interesting that you felt differently about Tender is the Night. I have it on my re-read list and was probably also around 18 or 20 when I first read it – I’m always worried about revisiting old loves. However I’m glad to hear you still enjoyed it even if the focus had shifted a bit…

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