The Best of February’s Reading

Cat and FiddleThe short month of February caught me by surprise hence the late timing of this post. After a panic when I realised that only one book in my January reads had been written by a woman, I redressed the balance in February. Eight out of the ten books I read were by female authors.

Like last month, I have a tie for my book of the month. In February it is between Belinda Bauer’s Rubbernecker and Liza Marklund’s Last Will. The books are poles apart – Bauer’s a standalone set in South Wales while Marklund’s is the latest in the series featuring reporter Annika Bengtzon. What unites them is excellent storytelling, which is the main reason we love crime novels isn’t it?

The nine books I read for crimepieces were:

1. Rock Creek Park by Simon Conway

2. Dead Scared by S J Bolton

3. Dead Man’s Land by Robert Ryan

4. Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths

5. Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer

6. The Golden Box by Frances Crane

7. Thirteen White Tulips by Frances Crane

8. Last Will by Liza Marklundpick of the month 2013

9. The Senior Moment by Eva Hudson

I read one book for Eurocrime, Lyndsey Davis’s excellent The Ides of April, the review of which will appear nearer the April publication date.

Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise is putting together a list of reviewers’ favourite books for February.

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Review: Belinda Bauer – Rubbernecker

RubberneckerThere have been a few five star reviews appearing for Belinda Bauer’s latest book, Rubbernecker, so I was intrigued to see what all the fuss was about. I’ve read a couple of Bauer’s earlier books, and although I enjoyed the style of writing, I felt let down by the endings. This book however, is my first five star read of the year and in my opinion deserving of every plaudit it has received. It’s an unusual and unsettling read, but like many great crime novels, stayed with me for a while afterwards.

The central character in the novel is Patrick, a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome. His father died when he was a child, knocked down in a hit and run accident, and ever since Patrick has been obsessed with what happens when things die. He enrols on an anatomy course at Cardiff University and tutors make it clear that he has only been accepted in order to meet their disability quota. However, Patrick becomes obsessed with the cause of death of the man he and other students are dissecting, and becomes convinced that a murder has taken place.

Although the narrative of Patrick plays an important role in the book, there are a number of scenes set on a neurological ward, where patients who are lying in deep comas are attended to with varying degrees of care. We see the world from the point of view of a patient in a coma and also two of the nurses caring for their charges. The connection between these scenes and the narrative of Patrick is at first confusing but gradually the strands are woven together. There is a strong sense of menace that pervades the ward, from the frustration and fear felt by the helpless patients to the casual neglect meted out by the self-centred nurse, Tracy.

Patrick is the star of the book. Unintentionally funny, he embarks on the journey to prove that the corpse he is studying was murdered, with a disregard for the niceties of convention. He is very well portrayed although perhaps his relationship with fellow students seems a little unreal. Aspeger’s Syndrome is a well recognised condition and I can’t see how both staff and students wouldn’t make more allowance for him as his behaviour becomes increasingly erratic. However it does allow the plot to become more and more surreal as Patrick tries desperate measures to prove to his fellow students, the victim’s family and the police that there is a murderer at large.

As I’ve come to expect from Bauer this was an engrossing read but I hadn’t anticipated how poignant the book would feel and the sense of completeness you get at the end of the novel. So many crime novels are let down by their endings, so it was a real treat to feel satisfied by the conclusion.

I received a copy of the book from Transworld. For more (also very positive) reviews try Notes on Life, Eurocrime  and The Little Reader Library.

Review: Belinda Bauer – Darkside

I picked up Belinda Bauer’s second book, Darksidewith high expectations. The setting of the thriller is the wonderfully atmospheric Exmoor and tells the tale of a local policeman whose career is threatened when a series of murders remain inexplicably impossible to solve. The central character is Jonas Holly, a village police constable whose career aspirations have been put on hold following his wife’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis. Now settled in Shipcott, the village of his childhood, his position of local law enforcer is undermined by the caustic Chief Inspector Marvel who is called in from Taunton to find the killer. Holly’s contamination of the first murder and his constant undermining by the Chief Inspector creates stresses that spill over into his home life. As the killer begins to taunt his inability to solve the case, Jonas Holly embarks on a mission to bring the murderer justice.

I always admire authors who are able to create the perfect amount of tension in their stories and Belinda Bauer is one such writer.  She provides beautiful descriptions of the Somerset landscape but at the same time the narrative cracks on at a pace, leaving the reader wanting more.  Her characterisation is excellent, particularly the nasty DI John Marvel who is on the right side of caricature. The story, chronicling the murders of people who could be considered a ‘drain’ on society was also quite moving and I liked the parallels to Jonas’ own situation. In addition, the chronicling of Lucy Holly’s MS was very well written and obviously thoroughly researched. The relationship between Holly and his wife was also particularly convincing.

It could have been an excellent book. But the major problem for me was the ending. I didn’t like it and I didn’t believe it. Without giving any spoilers, I’m all for writers surprising the reader. But credibility is key and I’m afraid I just didn’t believe in the killer’s unmasking, nor in the motive behind it. This is a real shame, and I ended-up feeling duped which is never a good feeling and is hardly likely to make me want to read the writer’s next book. I suppose the quality of the writing getting there was worth it, but the ending in my opinion changed the book from a classic detective novel to a psychological thriller. I would have preferred one or the other.

For other (largely positive) reviews see Eurocrime , Reactions to Reading and Savidge Reads.