Tuesday, 5 October 2021

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

 


Thursday Murder Club Mystery #2

423 pages

Publisher: Penguin Random House

 

Blurb

It's the following Thursday.

Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He's made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life.

As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn't that be a bonus?

But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn't bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can The Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them?

 

Review

WOW

As soon as I finished The Thursday Murder Club—a book I didn’t write a detailed review for, for some unknown reason— I wanted to pick up this sequel. Unfortunately for me I had to wait about nine months but, now that I’ve finished The Man Who Died Twice I can say it was well worth the wait.

Here is the little I did write about The Thursday Murder Club:

This book was a revelation. I'm not sure what I expected, besides a mystery, but it wasn't this complex, charming, funny, touching, and enthralling story.

To be honest, I could simply repeat those two sentences and leave it there. The first book was indeed a revelation and I have to admit I was concerned that maybe the sequel wouldn’t live up to expectations. Fortunately, I worried about nothing. The Man Who Died Twice is at least as complex, charming, funny, touching, and enthralling as The Thursday Murder Club was.

Of course, at first glance, neither of these stories should work. For starters, it is impossible to classify these books precisely. Part cosy mystery, part crime caper, part suspense, and featuring spies, it is remarkable that not only do these stories work, they do so exceptionally well.

Of course, there are far more explanations as to why they do work so brilliantly, such as the fantastic cast of characters. It would be hard to find four people as unlike each other as Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron but it is exactly the differences between them that make them so good together. The host of secondary characters, both those who return and those only present in one of the stories, are as distinctive, original, and yet very recognisable as the four protagonists. The mysteries, while very well and cleverly plotted, lean toward being over the top but somehow manage to stay both believable and fascinating.

Away from the mystery and all the mayhem resulting from it, there is this deep and warm humanity to these stories. As much as they are mysteries, they are also stories about friendship and tolerance. Without ever getting sentimental, they show the fragility that comes with getting older. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron are all matter of fact about where they are in their lives. They're getting on with it. But between the lines and without ever getting sloppy you can read the fear, the insecurities, the loneliness, and the frustration.

I can’t help feeling that Richard Osman must like people and not only observes those around him but also really sees and understands them.

I can’t imagine anybody reading these books and not getting drawn in. As much as I want to avoid ever having to live in a retirement home or village, these stories almost managed to convince me it might be fun. And, if my accommodation came with the promise of mysteries and a group of friends like the foursome in these books to help me solve them, I might yet be persuaded. 😊

Finally, I want to say something about the title. But I can’t. So I’ll restrict myself to two words: utter genius.

Tuesday, 17 August 2021

Seb’s Summer by K.C. Wells

 


Main Men #3

282 pages

Buy links: Amazon US | Amazon UK

Also available with Kindle Unlimited

 

Blurb

Steamy summer nights with a hot older man aren’t the smooth sailing Seb expects.

A mysterious older guy

Seb Williams has one plan for the hot, sultry nights of his summer vacation—to get laid. What isn’t on the agenda? Running his uncle’s fishing business. Seb has no choice but to help his family. So it’s goodbye, Ogunquit’s gay bars and hook-ups.
And it’s hello, Cape Porpoise, a quaint, quiet fishing harbor. A small town that promises to be boring AF until he meets Marcus Gilbert. His summer prospects start to look promising. Silver fox—hell yeah. Hot bod? Check. Slow sultry gaze? Oh yes!

Only one problem. Marcus Gilbert plays hard to get.

A hot distraction

Cape Porpoise is exactly how Marcus remembers it from long-past childhood, and just what he needs. A sabbatical to get his life back on track, and work on his book. Peaceful surroundings. The calm of the ocean.

Perfect—until Marcus’s boat is well and truly rocked by a hot, younger guy.

Marcus can’t ignore the lure of Seb’s lean frame and gorgeous eyes. One night can’t hurt, right?

Except one night leads to another, and another.

It’s just a summer fling—until it isn’t, and the pair are suddenly in uncharted waters.

Because now, Marcus’s past threatens to tear apart their future.

 

Review

The Main Men series has so far given me three delightful stories. While they’re all interconnected and have some similarities, each story comes with a new and fully fleshed-out dilemma. In Finn’s Fantasy, the issue was coming out at a later age, and in Ben’s Boss K.C. Wells dealt with bullying. Seb’s Summer has another, equally hefty, topic at its core. I won’t tell you what it is though. Spoilers should always be avoided and in this case even more so.

This third book in K.C. Well’s Maine Men series is as captivating and sexy as the two prequels. If I take my queue from the official blurb, my summary of the story looks something like this:

Hot men

Age-Gap Romance

Hot and Sexy

Memorable characters

Realistic

But I won’t leave my review there. It won’t surprise anybody when I say I’m a huge fan of K.C. Well’s books. While there hasn’t been a single story I didn’t like, I do have my favourites, of course. Seb’s Summer has found its place among those favourites.

There’s a lot to love in this book. Seb is a wonderful MC. At first glance, he may seem a little selfish and somewhat obsessed with hook-ups, but it soon becomes very clear that he has a heart of gold and tends to put others ahead of himself. All of which doesn’t mean that he’s happy about having to spend the summer he had huge plans for in a small fishing village working on his uncle’s boat. There go all his dreams of gay clubs and steamy nights…or so he thinks.

Enter Marcus. While Seb resents having to spend his summer in Cape Porpoise, for Marcus the tiny town is a refuge, allowing him to put distance between himself and issues he has been dealing with. Seb may be looking for fun and sex, Marcus very much isn’t. He just wants to be left alone so he can sort himself out. Except that Marcus can’t deny that Seb is both attractive and next to impossible to resist, no matter how hard he tries to keep his distance.

What starts out as a summer fling for both men, soon turns into something more…something neither of them expected…something that may not have a future considering where they both normally live…and something that turns out to be all too fragile once Marcus’s secret is revealed.

I’m not going to tell you what that secret is, or how it gets resolved. What I will say is that it is a tricky and sensitive issue, and that K.C. Wells deals with it in a responsible and empathetic manner without allowing it to take over the story, turn it into a heavy read, or get in the way of the romance.

Yep. Seb’s Summer is yet another winner for anybody who loves a well-plotted romance with a powerful back story, imaginative and hot scenes, and a lot of heart. How long until we can get our hands on book four?

 

 

Win by Harlan Coben

 


Windsor Horne Lockwood III (Win) #1

Publisher: Century

274 pages

 

Blurb

From the #1 bestselling author and creator of the hit Netflix series 'The Stranger' comes a riveting new thriller, starring the new hero Windsor Horne Lockwood III – or Win, as he is known to his (few) friends …

Over twenty years ago, heiress Patricia Lockwood was abducted during a robbery of her family's estate, then locked inside an isolated cabin for months. Patricia escaped, but so did her captors, and the items stolen from her family were never recovered.

Until now.

On New York's Upper West Side, a recluse is found murdered in his penthouse apartment, alongside two objects of note: a stolen Vermeer painting and a leather suitcase bearing the initials WHL3. For the first time in years, the authorities have a lead not only on Patricia's kidnapping but also on another FBI cold case - with the suitcase and painting both pointing them towards one man.

Windsor Horne Lockwood III - or Win as his few friends call him - doesn't know how his suitcase and his family's stolen painting ended up in this dead man's apartment. But he's interested - especially when the FBI tell him that the man who kidnapped his cousin was also behind an act of domestic terrorism, and that he may still be at large.

The two cases have baffled the FBI for decades. But Win has three things the FBI does not:: a personal connection to the case, a large fortune, and his own unique brand of justice ...

 

Review

Almost a decade has passed since I last read a book by Harlan Coben. I’m not sure why, since I remember thoroughly enjoying every story of his I’ve read. More than anything, I was a huge Myron Bolitar fan (and I’m kinda horrified to discover that I never read the last book in that series). What’s more, Myron’s sidekick, Winston Horne Lockwood III, has always intrigued me. So, when I spotted a book titled Win on the library’s shelves and I realised who the title referred to, I brought it home instantly.

I didn’t regret that decision for even a moment. Win has been the first book in far too long that I read in less than twenty-four hours. I’m not going to say anything about the story itself since the blurb tells you everything you need to know; anything more would mean spoilers. Suffice to say that this is one action-packed, often violent, frequently funny, and occasionally surprisingly touching story.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the break-neck speed at which events unfold, my favourite aspect of this book was how it allowed me to get to know Win better. In my (rather vague) memories he was a not particularly social, violent, and no-bullshit sorta guy who also happened to be filthy rich and happy to use his wealth to achieve what he perceived as justice. My memories weren’t wrong. They weren’t entirely right either. While he was certainly as entertaining a character as I recalled, Win had far more dimensions and depth to his personality than I remembered from the earlier Myron Bolitar stories.

Win’s musings often hold uncomfortable truths. Uncomfortable for the reader that is, Win himself is very comfortable with these thoughts most of the time. He’s very self-aware and makes no excuses for what some might consider his darker side. And I guess that’s part of his (secret) charm. Because he doesn’t try to make himself (look) better than he is, I’m inclined to look for the good in him. Win may claim that his actions stem from self-interest, but if you read between his words and pay attention it’s hard not to recognise that while his methods may be brutal, his reason for taking action are often at the very least understandable.

I don’t need to tell you that Harlan Coben is a master and in a class of his own when it comes to thrillers. Win confirmed that status with a well-plotted mystery, a fast-paced story, fascinating characters, and more than enough twists and turns to keep me guessing.

I’m looking forward to more Windsor Horne Lockwood III books and will make sure to get my hands on that last Myron Bolitar title (Home) in the not too distant future.

Monday, 16 August 2021

Resistance by Val McDermid

 


Art by Kathryn Briggs

Publisher: Profile books

Title in the Wellcome Collection

Graphic Novel

160 pages

 

Blurb

It's the summer solstice weekend, and 150,000 people descend on a farm in the northeast of England for an open-air music festival. At first, a spot of rain seems to be the only thing dampening the fun - until a mystery bug appears. Before long, the illness is spreading at an electrifying speed and seems resistant to all antibiotics. Can journalist Zoe Meadows track the outbreak to its source, and will a cure be found before the disease becomes a pandemic?

A heart-racing thriller, Resistance imagines a nightmare pandemic that seems only too credible in the wake of COVID-19. Number one bestseller and queen of crime Val McDermid has teamed up with illustrator Kathryn Briggs to create a masterful graphic novel.

 

Review

You might wonder what possessed me to read a book about a pandemic while living through a pandemic. Good question. I mean, if I want to know how the world reacts to a deadly disease, I just need to turn to my Twitter feed. It is almost as if my curiosity is rather morbid.

Morbid or not, I can’t deny I was curious how a writer like Val McDermid might approach the pandemic. But that was before I discovered that this story was written and performed as a radio play a few years before I first heard the word ‘Covid’. That knowledge was rather disturbing. So much in this story reminded me of everything we’ve been through over the past eighteen months. Especially the early denial of anything really serious happening and governments dithering before taking decisive action was all too familiar. After reading this book I guess we can only be grateful Covid isn’t quite as nasty as the bacterium in Resistance. Because the reason we’re still more or less functioning as a world and haven’t faced larger loss of life has little to do with our leaders being on the ball. While Covid has been devastating, it (so far) isn’t horrific enough to produce the scale of death and destruction as described in this book. Unfortunately, that doesn’t fill me with confidence that should things get worse, or should we face a similar but more aggressive epidemic, we will be able to handle it.

I’m not usually a graphic novel reader and I’m not sure if that is going to change. But, for a story as horrific as this the fact that words tend to hit me harder than images meant that graphic was the right way to go. Not that the fear, devastation, and despair are in any way subdued, far from it. But it would have been more difficult (if not impossible) to make my way to the end of this story if everything had been detailed in words.

This cautionary tale is, as I said before, all too realistic, and as such not particularly hopeful. Given everything the world is facing right now, it is a timely tale too. While it is all to tempting to stick our heads in the sand, get on with our lives, and hope that the various disasters approaching us won’t hit during our lives, the time for such an attitude (if it ever existed) is well and truly over. So maybe, while they may be hard to read, we need more, not fewer books like this one. Because we are in dire need of anything that might make more of us think about what we’re doing to our planet and each other. Think first and then, very rapidly, change our ways.

A girl can hope.



 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Crime and Punctuation by Kaitlyn Dunnett

 


Deadly Edits Mystery #1

280 pages

Publisher: Kensington

 

Blurb

After splurging to buy her childhood home in the Catskills, recently widowed Mikki Lincoln emerges from retirement as a freelance editor. With her ability to spot details that others fail to see, it's not long before Mikki earns clients--and realizes that the village of Lenape Hollow isn't the thriving tourist destination it was decades ago. Not with a murderer on the loose . . .

When perky novice writer Tiffany Scott knocks at her door holding a towering manuscript, Mikki expects another debut novel plagued by typos and sloppy prose. Instead, she finds a murder mystery ripped from the headlines of Lenape Hollow's not-too-distant past. The opening scene is a graphic page-turner, but it sends a real chill down Mikki's spine after the young author turns up dead just like the victim in her story . . .

Mikki refuses to believe that Tiffany's death was accidental, and suspicions of foul play solidify as she uncovers a strange inconsistency in the manuscript and a possible motive in the notes. Then there's Tiffany's grandmother and husband, who aren't exactly on friendly terms over the local area's planned rejuvenation efforts . . .

Unable to convince police that they are focused on the wrong suspect, Mikki must rely on her keen eyes to catch the truth hidden in Lenape Hollow. As she gets closer to cracking the case, only one person takes Mikki's investigation seriously--the cunning killer who will do anything to make this chapter of her life come to a very abrupt ending . . .

 

Review

This was my first cosy mystery in ages. I used to read them all the time and enjoyed them thoroughly. As my 3-star (3.5 really, but that option's not available) rating indicates, I wasn't overly impressed with this story. I'm not sure if that is because this simply isn't a very good cosy or because I've outgrown the genre. Only time (and more cosy mysteries) will tell, I guess.

Without going into the details of this mystery I blame my reservations about this story on the following. Descriptions were too frequent, detailed, and, as far as I could tell, mostly irrelevant. The identity of the killer didn't come as a (huge) surprise. It felt like a lot of information was repeated time and again. And I didn't really warm to Mikki Lincoln and didn't quite buy her motivation for investigating the mysterious death either.

While I like the idea of a punctuation rule being the primary clue in this mystery, it wasn't enough to carry the whole story for me especially since a lot was made of the manuscript in question only for it to reveal little to nothing. In fact, a lot of questions posed by that document remained unanswered by the end of the story.

I’m fairly sure I’ll read more cosy mysteries in the future. Whether I’ll read more stories in this series or other books by Kaitlyn Dunnett remains to be seen.

Monday, 2 August 2021

Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession


240 pages

Publisher: Blue Moose Books

Blurb

Leonard and Hungry Paul are two friends who see the world differently. They use humour, board games and silence to steer their way through the maelstrom that is the 21st century.

"The figure in Munch’s painting isn’t actually screaming!’ Hungry Paul said. ‘Really, are you sure?’ Replied Leonard. ‘Absolutely. That’s the whole thing. The figure is actually closing his ears to block out a scream. Isn’t that amazing? A painting can be so misunderstood and still become so famous.’

LEONARD AND HUNGRY PAUL is the story of two quiet friends trying to find their place in the world. It is about those uncelebrated people who have the ability to change the world, not by effort or force, but through their appreciation of all that is special and overlooked in life.

 

Review

This is one of those books I find almost impossible to review. The problem is not that I can’t work out whether or not I enjoyed the read. The answer to that question is easy: I adored this story. The ‘issue’ is that I’m having a hard time pinpointing, never mind putting into words, why this book captured me the way it did.

On the surface, very little happens in this story. The tone and pace are quiet and gentle, as are the two main characters. Nobody makes grand gestures or reinvents themselves. There are no major revelations or shocking developments. And maybe that is one of the reasons this book spoke to me. In a world where more and more people want to be heard and seen, where how loud, funny, or controversial someone is seems to determine their status, it was wonderful to read about characters who have no such ambitions, who ‘just’ want to live their lives to the best of their abilities without agonising about qualities they may not possess.

On the other hand, it’s not quite true that nothing happens in this story. Maybe I should have said that nothing shocking or huge occurs. Because both Leonard and Hungry Paul’s lives change between the first and the last paragraph. Those changes are gradual though and anything but earth-shattering. What’s more, they grow without the essence of who they are changing.

This story is as gentle as its two main characters. It’s filled with observations to make you think and/or smile. It portrays the charm in everyday life, the beauty in small moments we all too often fail to recognise. It turns what appears to be a lack of ambition into a victory of appreciating what is. Leonard and Hungry Paul is the ultimate feel-good story in that it shows us how much we have to be grateful for in what appear to be unexceptional lives.

I’m not sure why Paul is labelled ‘hungry’. If hungry can be defined as needing wanting, yearning for something (food, success, popularity, power), then Paul is the exact opposite of hungry. He is contentment personified. And while his lack of ambition at times worries his family, Paul himself is unconcerned. What’s more, the way the story ends implies that his laissez-faire attitude to life is anything but a dead-end street.

I loved the alternative sign-off for emails Hungry Paul came up with:

 “You may wish to note the above.”

Goodness knows that would be great advice to end almost any email with. 😊

In fact, the whole book is a parade of quotable scenes, thoughts, and statements. I stopped myself from marking all of them, but the following idea is too close to my heart and beliefs for me to not share it.

 “The kids’ lives are their own. From day one you are handing it back to them bit by bit, until they move on.”

Long (and confusing) review short: Leonard and Hungry Paul is a quiet read…sweet, uplifting, and all the more thought-provoking for it. 

Faithless in Death by J.D. Robb

 


In Death #52

390 pages

 

Blurb

It's a beautiful Spring day in NYC when Lt. Eve Dallas gets an early morning murder call. A talented young sculptor hasn't had such a perfect day in May. Killed by her own hammer, at first it looks like an argument with a jealous partner but it soon becomes clear that there is much more to this case than a lovers' quarrel turned fatal.

Eve finds herself drawn into the dark and dangerous world of a secret order. A world in which white supremacy, misogyny and religious fanaticism are everyday activities. Eve has dealt with some tough cases before but is it too much even for her to take on a wealthy, influential organisation with friends in very high places.....?

 

Review

After 52 books I'm running out of things to say about the In Death books. Not because I'm loving them any less but because there are so many ways to gush about books and I think I've repeated myself often enough.

This instalment was especially harrowing because the premise felt all too likely in these days with right-wing and religious voices getting ever louder and more extreme. Sure, the theme was somewhat reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale but given how scary and realistic that particular plot is, that is not a complaint. Quite the opposite in fact. Fiction is (one of) the most accessible ways of getting a message across or making people think, and that can only be a good thing.

While the mystery in this story was captivating, the suspense is only one of my reasons for reading this series and awaiting each new release with bated breath. I remain hooked on the In Death books because of Eve and Rourke and the fascinating cast of secondary characters and colleagues. Yes, the crimes are imaginative and the investigations thrilling, but I live for those moments when Eve gets frustrated about the English language and the updates on the personal lives of her friends. As per usual, this book didn’t disappoint on any of those aspects.

High praise again for J.D. Robb, the only author who has not only managed to keep my attention for this number of books, but also provides me with a 5-star read (almost) every single time.

When is the next In Death title landing?