Tag Archives: #topcrime2015

Normal by Graeme Cameron – a review

Normal is another of the many books I picked up at the festival last year. The cover of this book is pretty unremarkable, a picture of a few dark trees. However this belies a rather disturbing little tale. Normal is about a normal man who goes about the day to day business of life, maintaining his garden, shopping for food. The only difference is that he is a serial killer.  He kidnaps women, keeps them in a cage in his basement and then kills them. This all works out fine for him, until he kidnaps Erica who he quickly realises is slightly more challenging than others.

I enjoyed this book, despite the rather grim subject matter. It’s a novel that is clearly going to have comparisons with the Dexter novels by Jeff Lindsay that I am a big fan of, yet there is something different. In this although we see the crimes through the perpetrator’s eyes we don’t actually get to know his name. This gives the book a very intimate feel as you are almost living it with him.

It would be wrong to say this is a comedy as the story itself is so disturbing it’s not going to be for everyone but I must confess it certainly made me chuckle. I thoroughly enjoyed the humour within it, and felt that actually some of the female characters were strongly developed enough to make this less one sided than is often the case in books written from a killers point of view.

I did find certain aspects of this book a bit frustrating, for example the killer doesn’t seem to go to work. This is almost a lost opportunity as it would have added to the feeling of this being a normal man with a weird hobby. You also don’t seem to find out the motives behind the crimes which I imagine will annoy some readers.

However I genuinely couldn’t stop reading this book once I started and luckily it was over the holiday’s so work didn’t get in the way for once. I would throughly recommend this if you are looking for something that is most definitely not normal.


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The hand that feeds you by AJ Rich – a review

This was one of the books I picked up at the festival earlier in the year and last week made it to the top of the TBR pile.
The story begins with a rather gruesome discovery by main character Morgan. She arrives home to find her fiancé Bennett has been ripped to pieces by her dogs. Morgan is writing her master’s thesis in forensic psychology and met Bennett via her online research into victims. After his death Morgan attempts to get in touch with her fiance’s family but soon finds out that Bennett has been weaving a pack of lies. She starts to try and find out who the man she thought she loved really was and soon finds out that it is not only her life that is in danger.
This book is proving tricky to review. On the one hand whilst reading it I couldn’t put it down. I was hooked from the beginning and really wanted to know what had happened. However once I’d finished and started thinking about the review I realised that it was actually a bit of a ridiculous story. The main character Megan was just annoying. We are supposed to believe she is an educated women working as a psychologist, yet she falls for Bennett within what is seemingly a matter of minutes, when any normal person would have realised from the start he was odd. We are given an in depth description of a traumatic incident that happened to her when young, yet seemingly this hasn’t had any long term effect on her at all and she trusts everyone she meets.
Having dogs as the main suspect in a murder was an unusual idea, although it’s pretty obvious that it wasn’t going to be that cut and dried. For some reason though again with hindsight I am just not sure that I actually cared about the dogs or their fate – and I usually prefer animals to people. I am not sure that Megan really cared either, despite us being told numerous times how she loved dogs and had two rescue dogs.
As I said it’s a difficult book to review, I did enjoy reading it and wanted to know the outcome for Megan. However I’m struggling to think why I enjoyed it. I would say that ‘The hand that feeds you’ is worth picking up if you are looking for a nice easy holiday read but its not necessarily an outstanding psychological thriller.

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An advancement of learning

This year at the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writers Festival Eddie Izzard was special guest. Whilst his link to crime writing might have been tenuous (he is friends with Mark Billingham and appears in the TV version of Hannibal) he turned out to be really interesting and quite inspiring. One of the things that he says is that he tries to learn a new skill every year which I think is something to aspire to. His examples included running 43 marathons in 43 days and learning Arabic so he can give his stand up routine in the language.

Last year I started horse riding again after a gap of approximately 20 (and a bit!) years. As a child I spent most of my time mucking out and going out hacking round the fields rather than actually learning properly. This time round it is all a bit more serious and I’m actually learning how to ride properly. The past couple of weeks have been very exciting as I’ve been learning to jump. Admittedly I suspect people would say I was just staying on top of a horse rather than actually jumping but the thing is I don’t care because I love it. I have probably lost my chance at riding in the Olympics therefore it doesn’t matter that I’m not very good because it’s all just for fun.

I think a lot of the reason people don’t learn new things is fear of failure or embarrassment. As a child we are constantly learning and it’s seen as the norm. Clearly as a child we are expected to not know most stuff therefore we can accept that we have to learn. As an adult we spend so much of our time at work pretending that we know everything about our jobs (or is that just me?) that I think people forget that they don’t know things and it’s ok to learn.

I’ve always enjoyed learning new things, and am happy to admit that I don’t know a lot of stuff. I think it is helped partly by the fact I have very little in the way of competitive spirit. Even as a child I had no interest in competitive sports – when I was in nursery (or primary clearly I can’t remember that far back) apparently during a race in school sports day I was in the lead but stopped to wait for my friend ultimately losing. It’s probably a good job I haven’t got pushy parents who forced me into sports I would have been such a disappointment.

I think that all adults would be happier if they accepted the point of learning something new is that you are not supposed to be any good at it to start with. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve not done something because I might not be any good or might be embarrassed. Running is a great example that I put off for ages in case everyone laughed at me as I jogged (or walked) round our local park. It took me a good while to realise that no one is looking. The only people who look at other people trying to run are those that are runners and without fail are remembering a time they started out and were not any good. Therefore I think it’s time to all embrace our inner Eddie Izzard and learn something new and not care if we are no good at it. As long as we enjoy it. I may give learning Arabic a miss though.

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Black eyed susan’s by Julia Heaberlin – a review

As a seasoned Theakstons Old Peculier festival goer me and the sister are well practised in the art of keeping an eye out for any good books that might be floating around. This was one I’d had my eye on previously due to the excellent cover with the mini sunflowers (yes I know they are really black eyed susan’s) so when this appeared in a goodie bag in one of the final sessions I was quite excited.

Black-Eyed Susan’s is told from the viewpoint of Tessa. At the age of 16 she was taken by a serial killer, and was the only surviving one of his victims. She was found in a grave with three bodies with black eyed susans flowering around. When we meet Tessa she is grown up with a daughter of her own, but can’t put the past behind her, especially as she finds some black eyed susans planted in her back garden. Interspersed with this we hear from Tessa aged 16 having just been found and her subsequent struggle to put her life back together with the help of her best friend Lydia.

This book was really good although I found it took a little while to get into. The switching between Tessa/Tessie viewpoints was quite clever and once you got into the swing of it was not disjointed as can sometimes be the case. This was definitely a character driven novel rather than a procedural, but I really enjoyed that. It was an interesting way to tell a crime story, and the victim was the main focus of the story rather than the killer. Equally the fact that grown up Tessa had a young daughter gave a different dimension as we are given a preview of what it must be like for victims of crime trying to leave the past behind them and live a normal life with the knowledge of what might happen to someone.

My only slight criticism is that the ending was a bit of a let down. To me it felt a little bit like the book just fizzled out a bit and the twist at the end wasn’t particularly shocking. However this didn’t detract from the fact that the majority of the book was really good and kept you interested.

This was definitely a book that lived up to the very stylish cover and it an interesting take on the serial killer theme.

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