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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A land more kind than home by Wiley Cash – a review

I had a bit of a book download frenzy before my trip to Canada, which of course was pre-TOPCWF2015 therefore it meant going through the festival programme and seeing who I hadn’t yet read. The problem when on the move is that I forget what the books I’ve downloaded are actually about and so have to come into reading them blind.
Wiley Cash was not only an author I hadn’t read, but he was one I hadn’t even heard of previously. This was his debut novel. The fact that his name sounds like a country and western singer was a little off putting but I tried to push past that.
The story is set in a small town in the American Deep South. The old time villagers grow tobacco, farm the land and fear the church which is the dominating influence on the community. Although this is a fire and brimstone type of church that uses live snakes to get people to prove their faith, with a pastor who is more reminiscent of a cult leader than a vicar.
This book is told from three viewpoints. There is Jess who has an older brother nicknamed Stump who doesn’t speak, meaning Jess has to act as the protector. There is Clem the local sheriff who has lived in the town his whole life. He is wary of the church but just keeps them at arms length as long as nothing illegal happens. Finally there is Adelaide the old woman who runs the Sunday school. She witnessed a horrific event when she was younger that has led her to avoid the church. However she runs the Sunday school as she believes this will be safer for the children than having them actually attend the church. Stump’s mother is a devout church goer, and one day she takes Stump along to a service in the hope that he can be healed. However he ends up dying at the hands of the congregation.
I really enjoyed this book. The story is not a fast paced murder mystery, but it is definitely a thriller. It starts slowly but each voice has their own story to tell. I liked the use of the colloquial language, and I felt that the descriptions of the area and the actions of the characters really drew you in.
Throughout the story different aspects of the characters are revealed and the flashbacks give a good idea of the history that brings the characters to the final chapter.
The ending was a bit of a shock, and was one of those scenes that leave you thinking about it for a long time afterwards. This was certainly worth the kindle space and I will definitely be reading more from Wiley Cash.

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If she did it by Jessica Treadway – a review

As I have mentioned many times before, one of the best things about the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is the abundance of new books and writers that are around. The goodie bag this year was a thing of beauty, sturdy, black and full of books. Of course it does always lead to a bit of sibling rivalry as it seems the contents of no two book bags are the same, and this year it did look that my sister got the better haul.
However disappointment never hangs around long in Harrogate and I soon found a spare copy of one I had my eye on – If She Did It by Jessica Treadwell. An intriguing black cover with the strapline ‘The only thriller you need to take home from Harrogate this year’ it was impossible not to pick up.
If She Did It begins when Hanna finds out that the man who is in prison for murdering her husband Joe is being granted an appeal. The man, Rud Petty, was their daughter Dawn’s boyfriend. Hanna and her husband were attacked by Rud in their bedroom. Many people think that Dawn was involved but Hanna can’t remember what happened and refuses to believe her daughter could be so terrifying.
If She Did It was termed a ‘domestic noir’ which I think is a great term and a category that I personally really enjoy. This book was no exception. The story is told from Hanna’s point of view, both present day as her daughter Dawn returns home and flashbacks to the time prior to that attack. The story is not exactly fast moving and it is all told from one point of view so can feel a bit stifling but that was what made it so gripping. Not only did I want to find out who had actually killed Joe it was intriguing to see how the relationships between mother, daughter and sister Iris would pan out.
As is often the case with these kind of books, the heroines are by no means perfect, in fact they are often downright annoying. There was a part of me that just wanted to shake Hanna and make her realise what was in front of her. Especially during the flashbacks to Dawn’s childhood and the elements where you were hard pushed to believe that she didn’t realise that there was something wrong. However equally the idea of having to admit that the child you love might have problems and even be capable of such a horrific act must be terrible. Clearly love can be blind which is really the theme of this book, and the ending gave it a nice feeling of completion.
This was a really enjoyable book which whilst not perfect makes you think. It was another great pick up from the festival, and I will be looking forward to reading more from this author.

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In a dark, dark wood by Ruth Ware – a review

As I’ve mentioned many many times, one of the most exciting things about the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is that you not only get lots of free books, but often you are also lucky enough to get proof copies of some novels before they go on general sale. Although this isn’t always straightforward, and the fabulous people at Dead Good Books made us work for a copy of In a dark, dark wood by dressing up in feather boas with a very large hat in order to recreate a murderous hen do. In return I received a copy of the book, which was completely worth the embarrassment.
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In a dark, dark wood is Ruth Ware’s debut novel. It centres on crime writer Nora who is suddenly invited to the hen do of her child hood friend Claire despite not having seen her for 10 years. She decides to go along in the hope of putting the past behind her, but things go wrong and Nora ends up in hospital with no memory of how she got there or what happened.

This was a thoroughly good read. Whilst I don’t think it was a particularly suspenseful or dramatic book, I really enjoyed it and it was one of those books that kept me wanting to read just one more chapter before sleep. The story itself is reasonably predictable and there are few twists, yet the writing is good and it was a fun quick read. The story keeps you interested although it isn’t especially scary, however having spent the past few weeks reading altogether darker crime novels this actually felt like it was a great change of direction for me. There is a very limited number of characters which works really well and gives the story a claustrophobic air that’s adds to the tension.

In a dark, dark wood is definitely worth a read, and if you’ve ever been on a hen do and wondered why on earth we go through it, you’ll love this book.

 

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