Cannonball Read 7, Book 5: The Point of Rescue by Sophie Hannah

2980614Normally, when I post a review of Hannah’s books on here and tweet the link, I’ll include her twitter handle. She gives good chat on there and also reads the reviews (she commented on something specific in one of mine, so it’s not like she was just all “oh thanks” about it). I won’t be doing it on this one, because holy fucking shit I thought this book was absolutely terrible.

Admittedly, I’ve read the books out of sequence, which doesn’t help matters. I started with book 5 in the series, went back and read books 1 and 2, jumped ahead and read books 7 and 8 and now am back here at book number 3. It’s very clear, given how much more I enjoyed the later books, that Hannah has, improved greatly as a writer. It also doesn’t help that I watched the TV adaptation of this a few years back and the TV writers really smoothed over a hell of a lot of cracks in the book.

The premise is a bloody good one though. Sally Thorne is a mother of two with a high stress job. She uses a cancelled work conference as an excuse to escape for a week from her life. She pretends to her husband it’s not cancelled and has a week in a spa hotel, where she ends up having a shagtastic time with a bloke called Mark Bretherick. The next time she hears that name is when his wife and daughter are found dead at home. Only, the Mark Bretherick on the news is not the man Sally Thorne spent her dirty week with…..

From there, the book goes somewhat off a cliff. Firstly, the characters are mostly ridiculous. I know a few mums, all of whom are juggling work and home life, none of whom seem to find it as impossibly difficult as Sally Thorne does. Her hysterically over the top reactions to pretty much everything to do with her job and her home life become very tiresome very quickly. There are too many police characters and expert witnesses, all of whom are a parade of stereotypes and caricatures. The only ones in any kind of focus are the main pair, Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer. And their relationship is maddening, nonsensical.

The reveal of whodunnit and why is protracted, repetitive, tiresome and wholly unconvincing. Having spent a VERY LONG TIME waffling on about all kinds of boring twaddle, a race to find a missing witness is rushed and fumbled. All in all, this book is an unholy mess and you’re well advised to skip it if you’ve started reading the series. Nothing happens to any recurring characters that is of any import. Life is too short.

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Cannonball Read 7, Book 4: In the Morning, I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty

17187220I may have mentioned before that McKinty was something of a wild card discovery. I read the first in the Sean Duffy series, The Cold Cold Ground, purely as there was a gay element to it (shallow, moi?) and very much enjoyed it. So here we are at the third entry into the series, which sees McKinty essentially using the framework of the IRA bombing of the Brighton Tory Party Conference in 1984 to write about something that he is clearly more fascinated with: a locked room mystery.

Dermott McCann has escaped from the Maze prison. Duffy was friends with him in school, so is brought back from his disgraced exile he gets himself into in the opening pages to track him down. He hits brick wall after brick wall until McCann’s former mother-in-law contacts him and offers him a trade. Her youngest daughter, Lizzie, died a few years back and the death was ruled accidental. Mary Fitzgerald is convinced otherwise and tells Duffy that she knows where McCann is and if he can prove Lizzie was murdered and hand over the killer, she’ll reveal McCann’s location to him.

And so here we are at the real meat of the story, the locked room. Lizzie died in a pub locked from the inside and nobody else was there. Duffy takes his time to be convinced that Mary has any basis for her theory other than grief, but keeps plugging away as it’s his only lead to find McCann. That Lizzie was indeed murdered is not a spoiler (it would be a massive cheaty load of nonsense if she really DID die in an accident) and McKinty’s freewheeling storytelling style draws you in to the mystery very well. The machinations of living in 80’s Ireland are also fascinating, but some of them are mentioned far too often. I got to the point where I REALLY didn’t need to be told Duffy was checking under his car for bombs.

The end section, dealing with the tracking down of McCann and the realisation of where the bomb has been placed makes for some very gripping and occasionally unpleasant reading too. And while the epilogue may overegg the pudding a touch, it’s still good to know that plans to make this a trilogy were abandoned and a forth Duffy instalment was published earlier this year.

Cannonball 7, Book 3: Dying Light by Stuart MacBride

12735048Year of Crime, Book 3

This is the 2nd book in the DS Logan McRae series. The first one I read prior to being a Cannonball Reader, but to summarise, it’s a grim, bleak and cold book set in Aberdeen and dealing with the gruesome murder of children. Fun times. The rest of the series ended up as a Kindle Daily Deal and so here we are. The second book opens with McRae disgraced by a botched operation which ended with a policeman on life support. Assigned to the “Screw Up Squad”, McRae has to work his way back out.

The cases which McRae sees as his opportunity to return back to his former glory start with the murder of prostitutes and later a serial arson case. Also thrown in is a missing persons case which of course ends up being not all that it seems. Or more than it seems…..

MacBride really doesn’t shy away from unpleasant scenes. If you’re tender of heart and stomach, he is not the writer for you. A journalist, poor Colin Miller, finds himself on the wrong end of some truly gruesome torture that made even my cast iron stomach lurch. And they’re all the more difficult to read because the characters are so well drawn and relatable and poor Colin seems like such a nice chap. Some characters aren’t quite so finely tuned and the broad caricature of McRae’s inept boss is a little hard to swallow.

The tying up of all the plot strands is also very well done. But unless I missed it, there is one arson murder which didn’t fit with the end explanation and the book seems to just stop rather than properly end. It’ll be interesting to see if that is picked back up in the next book or not. Certainly, the gruff and likeable McRae is an interesting enough guy to keep me reading, so watch this space.

Cannonball Read 7, Book 2: Agatha Raisin & The Deadly Dance by M.C. Beaton

9781849011488Year of Crime Book 2

So, here we are. 2015 will be the year I finally burn through the rest of the Agatha Raisin books, which have been sitting on my Kindle for a year. The self-imposed Year of Crime (Reading) should sort that right out. And following the entertaining but hugely miscast TV adaptation of the first book, my interest in all things Raisin has been very much renewed.

So, after several years of having her retirement disrupted by dead bodies popping up and then solving the murder, Agatha has finally decided to come out of retirement and open her own private detective agency. And even more refreshing, Agatha’s new neighbour is a retired lady, not some silver fox for her to coo over and fall in love with. And when Agatha hires her as her secretary, all hell eventually breaks loose.

See, the dance of the title, and the central murder story, are FAR less interesting than the sub plot involving Secretary Emma and her increasingly psycho fixations and mental behaviour. Which isn’t to say the central story is bad, it isn’t. In fact, it’s probably one of the more satisfying ones Beaton has come up with in a long while. It is just overshadowed by Mental Emma.

The decision to give Raisin her own agency has given the series a new lease of life and come as a welcome change. It was the best thing Beaton could have done. It’s just a shame it’s taken fifteen books to get there, when really it could have been done in five. If you’re intrigued enough to start reading Raisin, but the thought of the series being SO long makes you break out in hives, then start here. You’ll pick it all up just fine.

Cannonball Read 7, Book 1: A Tap at the Window by Linwood Barclay

18681902Year of Crime Book 1

As we all know, Linwood and I, we go back a bit. Lately, things have been a  little rocky between us, with a duff novel followed up by an absolute rip roaring one. So when it came to this one, I was all “which camp will it fall into?” As it turns out, it fell smack dab between those two stools.

Our protagonist hero is Cal Weaver, a private investigator whose life is looking pretty bleak. His marriage is failing following the drug related accidental death of his teenage son. One night, he picks up a school friend of his dead son’s outside a bar and that seemingly innocuous event ends up sending his life into even more disarray. He is pulled into a murky plot involving police corruption and murder.

It’s an intriguing, interesting and fairly layered plot and Cal is a sympathetic protagonist that a reader can really get behind. His obsession with finding out who supplied the drugs which ended up in his son’s system the night he died is an understandable one, and it’s not a spoiler to say that said plot strand will end up intertwining with all the rest. A big issue I had with the book though is that the rest of the strands are all so broadly drawn and full of caricatures that I found them a little hard to swallow.

Clunky elements or not, Barclay is still a writer worth reading and while I’d put a huge majority of the endgame together before we got there, there were some stings in the tail I didn’t see coming. All in all, this is by no means a failure, but I have enjoyed other books of his a lot more.

2015: The Year of Crime

fletcherAs I mentioned in my review there, 2015 is going to be very crime focussed because I have so many books on my Kindle waiting to be read which fall into that genre. And here they are:

A Tap On The Window by Linwood Barclay (currently reading, will be review 1 in Cannonball Read 7)

Agatha Raisin: There Goes The Bride by M.C.Beaton

Agatha Raisin: As The Pig Turns by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin & The Busy Body by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin; Hiss & Hers by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin: Kissing Christmas Goodbye by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin & The Deadly Dance by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin & The Perfect Paragon by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin: Love, Lies & Liquor by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin: A Spoonful of Poison by M.C. Beaton

In my defence there, all the Raisin books were on offer for 85p each 🙂

Good As Dead by Mark Billingham

Faithful Place by Tana French

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

The White Lie by Andrea Gillies

The Point of Rescue by Sophie Hannah

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Blind Eye by Stuart MacBride

Dark Blood by Stuart MacBride

Close To The Bone by Stuart MacBride

Birthdays for the Dead by Stuart MacBride

Dying Light by Stuart MacBride

Flesh House by Stuart MacBride

Broken Skin by Stuart MacBride

Shatter The Bones by Stuart MacBride

Again, all those MacBride books were a Kindle Advent offer last December (!) and were all 99p.  I couldn’t resist

In The Morning I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty

Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

Derby Day by D.J. Taylor

 

Cannonball Read 6, Book 58: Agatha Raisin & The Haunted House by MC Beaton

9781849011471The other day, I looked at my “Already on the Kindle” shelf over on Goodreads and I thought to myself “you know, I have a LOT of crime books here. Like a LOT”. So I decided, there and then, to make 2015 my Year of Crime. While I’m not going to devote myself solely to reading crime novels, they will make up the majority of my Cannonball 7 input. The plan originally was to end Cannonball 6 with Station Eleven, but it was so good I burned through it in record time and was left with a bit more time than I thought. So I am kickstarting the Year of Crime a bit early with the 14th (yes really) entry into the tireless Agatha Raisin series.

So here we are again. Back on familiar territory with our Agatha. They have made a TV movie out of the first book in the series, which aired here on Boxing Day. I have been wondering why on earth they didn’t make a Midsomer Murders style show out of the books years ago, and finally, my wishes have possibly been answered. That Raisin, a stout but sexy mid-fifties headstrong woman with a cut glass accent to hide her Birmingham upbringing is being played by someone ten years too young and 100% too Scottish is vexing, but hey ho. In my mind, she’s always been Frances Barber, and that is how she will stay. If they make more and don’t cast Tom Hollander as Charles Fraith, then I give up.

Anyway, I digress. So Agatha is once again bored and once again fawning over her handsome new neighbour and once again getting herself caught up in a murder mystery. There is not one single millimetre of new territory being explored here, but then you don’t read these books for them to re-invent the wheel. Amusing pop culture references to Oprah Winfrey and Lolita aside, Beaton is still setting feminism back decades while seemingly thinking she’s advancing it. Her only true friend Bill Wong notes that she’s of a generation who can’t help but fall in love with every handsome man they meet, or something along those lines. First of all, bullshit. Second of all, it does NOT stack up, and never has that someone as forthright and brittle as Agatha would turn into some awful mewling fool every time someone vaguely handsome walks within 100 yards of her and has always been my biggest bugbear of the books.

The identity of the murderer won’t tax your brain, and the whole thing with the haunted house is very silly. It also gets bogged down with some heavy plodding work about Roundheads and Cavaliers and some comedy amateur dramatics. All in all, this is a perfectly acceptable entry into the series, and if you’ve read the previous thirteen books, there’s nothing new I (or indeed MC Beaton) can tell you. However, my other bugbear has at last been addressed. The book ends with Agatha turning down an offer of work from her ex-colleague because she’s going to open her own detective agency. Thank heavens for that.

And that’s it for Cannonball Read 6 and 2014. Cannonball Read 7 is on the horizon so stay tuned. And in the meantime, check out everyone else on Cannonball Read. Use the links to buy any books you fancy and consider joining in next year too, why not? All the money the site raises goes to cancer charities, so it’s a win/win.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 53: The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

21840310This should have been my Cannonball. One of the joys of becoming a Cannonball Reader and starting this blog has been occasionally managing to get my hands on an advance reading copy of an upcoming novel. And this one, which is published mid January 2015, is a real treat. It’s being touted as the next Gone Girl and the first must read book of 2015. SJ Watson, who made a huge splash with his own debut novel a few years back, is quoted on the cover. And for once, the book lives up to the hype.

 

To everyone else in this carriage I must look normal; I’m doing exactly what they do: commuting to work, making appointments, ticking things off lists.

Just goes to show.”

Rachel takes the same train to work every day. And every day, the train stops at a red signal where Rachel can see into the house of a seemingly perfect couple. She observes them doing nauseating Perfect Couple things and she creates names and narratives for them in her mind. Then one day, Rachel sees something she shouldn’t and when one half of said Perfect Couple is then reported missing, Rachel is pulled into a mystery, one that becomes more dangerous with every turn. And Rachel has secrets of her own….

Hawkins clearly owes a debt to Hitchcock and to Christie with the set up of her debut. And with a central character who can’t recall a pivotal event along with a shady member of the medical profession who may or may not be involved, it also owes a slight debt to SJ Watson. And I was reminded of the long forgotten 80s Jane Fonda film, The Morning After. So that’s a lot of influences and homages, but Hawkins uses all of that as a framework to hang a very identifiable character on. Rachel is wholly three dimensional, deeply flawed, hugely frustrating, but you want her to succeed in finding out what happened to her Perfect Couple as much as you want to smack her upside the head and shout “GET A GRIP, LADY”.

Hawkins has written what can only really be described as an accomplished debut. It pulls you in right from the start and she handles the shift in narrative voices very well. They’re all easily distinguished (and if any reader doesn’t want to knife the awful smug new mother who pops up, then more power to you) and well crafted. I couldn’t put it down and burned through it in a matter of days. I had a couple of issues with the ending. Having set everything up so meticulously, Hawkins does make a bit of a mess when she knocks it all down. But the mess isn’t so awful that you can’t forgive it. It’s more a new puppy peeing on the rug than your awful ex spilling a glass of red wine on your cream carpet.

Essentially, it’s a great book and if you love twisty little thrillers, then 2015 is going to start very well for you.

 

Cannonball Read 6, Book 50: Just What Kind Of Mother Are You? by Paula Daly

18104711I love a good thriller. Anyone who’s been reading my reviews since I started Cannonballing will have noticed that I’m a bit partial to a Sophie Hannah here, a Val McDermid there. So this much talked about debut from Paula Daly, with its intriguing tagline of “Your friend’s child is missing. It’s your fault” seemed right up my street. So it’s a shame it ended up leaving me flat.

Our put upon heroine is Lisa Kallisto. Living in the quiet Lake District, she’s a working mother of three kids, so she’s a bit pushed busywise, is Lisa. Her best friend is posh Kate, who’s married to well to do Guy. Their children are besties with Lisa’s children. When Lisa takes her eye off the ball over a planned sleepover at her house with her teenage daughter Sally and Kate’s daughter Lucinda, then Lucinda vanishes, leaving Lisa held responsible, wracked with guilt and determined to get to the bottom of what’s happened. Lucinda isn’t the first girl in the area to go missing though, and when the first girl turns up stripped naked and shellshocked by her ordeal, Lisa goes into a desperate tailspin as she races against the clock to find Lucinda.

See how that should be quite gripping? But Daly is so hellbent on trying to show us how Lisa’s life is beset with domestic normality and working class drudgery, that whole swathes of the book are devoted to banging on about her busy life and are not that interesting. Once we get into the investigation, alternate chapters go to DC Joanna Aspinall, told in the 3rd  person and again, tons of time given over to her awkward living arrangements and her pursuit of a breast reduction. It makes for fully rounded characters, yes. It also makes for some dull reading in what is supposed to be a thriller.

I would forgive that amount of extraneous faffery if the story being told was a cracking one, but this ended up falling short. All the clues as to what’s happened to Lucinda are uncovered by chance and coincidence. The mystery behind the other girls who are disappearing and then showing back up naked and abused is resolved by a tip off from the public. And when the full unpleasant truth as to where Lucinda went and why is unravelled, it’s both so lame and far-fetched as to cause much rolling of eyes and comments of “bitch, please” from the reader. Disappointing. But enough glimmers of talent shone through that I’d be willing to give her next book a try. Let’s see how it goes.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 46: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

18925235Now, as the blog title tells you, I really do read a lot. But it’s an odd gap in my book life that I haven’t read very many Agatha Christie novels. Those I have read, I read when I was in my teens and don’t really remember them anyway. So I decided to address this and read all the Poirot and Marple books, as well as her most famous stand alone novels like And Then There Were None. So what better place to start than at the beginning of the Poirots, with his introduction in The Mysterious Affair at Styles?

Well, like all beginnings of a series, it’s a slight little thing. Narrated by Captain Hastings, who has encountered Poirot in a professional capacity prior to the start of the novel. He’s staying at Styles and one night, the lady of the house, Emily Inglethorpe, is fatally poisoned. Handily enough, Poirot is staying in the village and knows the Inglethorpes well. Hastings asks him to investigate and naturally he agrees.

This is a book which can be enjoyed on many levels. There are many occasions where you can snigger behind your hand at the unintentional double entendre (people “ejaculate in surprise” more than once, for example). You can read it as an unrequited love story between Hastings and Poirot to rival that of Smithers and Mr Burns. You can read it as the first instalment of a sociopathic Belgian who goes around killing people and then getting away with it by framing someone else and blinding everyone else with the science of his “little grey cells”. Or you can read it as a straightforward mystery. Sadly, it’s that last one which is probably the least satisfying.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s by no means terrible. But it’s just a little but silly, protracted and then when the killer is finally revealed, oddly unsatisfactory. It’s not difficult to work out where it’s going, despite the amount of red herrings Christie litters about the place. I am not discouraged from carrying on with the series, not by a long stretch, as I am sure there are many delights in store. But as introductions go, this is a very inauspicious one.