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.