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.