The Devotion of Suspect X (Detective Galileo #1) by Keigo Higashino

The Devotion of Suspect X is an unusual detective novel. By the end of the first chapter readers witness the murder that is at the centre of this novel. We know the identity and motivations of the perpetrator. What follows is a compulsive game of cat-and-mouse between ‘detective Galileo’ and Suspect X. At times this felt like a chess game, in which two highly intelligent individuals try to outmanoeuvre each other.
The final chapters of this novel took me by surprise and answered some of my niggling questions regarding the actions of a certain character. Still, [SPOILERS] I’m not quite certain why he just didn’t leave the ex-husband in the river or whatever it was…why let the police find a body in the first place? The ex-wife would have been questioned but if they had no proof of the guy being dead, surely they would have soon moved to more urgent cases…especially considering that this guy wasn’t exactly a model citizen and his disappearance could have been chalked up to loansharks or something…but then we wouldn’t have a novel so…[END SPOILERS].
I think this is a novel that to best appreciated this novel one should know very little about its plot and characters before picking it up. If you like tales of suspense, police procedural, and clever mysteries, you should definitely give The Devotion of Suspect X.
The only thing that kept me from giving this book a higher rating were the characters themselves. I found some of them to be a bit wooden, and I also wasn’t particularly keen on that ending.

My rating: 3 ¼ stars

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The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup — review

In spite of its promising beginning The Chestnut Man implements far too many cliches for my liking (a few of which are listed on CrimeReads).41154336.jpg
This book centres on a series of gruesome killings in Copenhagen. On each crime scene the killer leaves behind a chestnut doll.
Although the writing is detached it does pay attention to the visual aspect of its scenes, pointing out something in the environment where the characters are, and emphasising some of their gestures and or habits. In this it had an almost cinematic feeling to it, and perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising given that the novel’s author is also a screenwriter (of the successful The Killing, and the not quite as well received The Snowman).
While I initially thought the novel unsentimental tone worked in its favour, making most scenes much more chilling, but I soon noticed that it wasn’t as impartial as it seemed. Even when the narrative follows other characters, it clearly favours its two ‘protagonists’. The narrative’s voice seemed to treat characters other than Hess and Thulin with dislike, or it addressed them by their nationality (the narrative calls Hess’ former colleague François the Frenchman…even after we already have been informed that yes, François is French), vices, or the role they play in the story. For example, when the narratives follows the two ‘bad’ detectives that work against our two main leads, it is quick to present them as stupid, since it has to emphasise that they are CORRUPT and STUPID.
While the chapters’ shortness occasionally did create a sense of suspense, they often seemed to end on rather silly note, and it seemed that the author was make even the most boring or ordinary scenes abruptly end witha sort of ‘cliff-hanger’.
Here are a lists of the clichés that I could have personally done without :

The Brooding Male Lead With A Past
In spite of his intelligence, this temperamental guy often behaves in a way that makes his superiors see him as insubordinate. Yet, he is the only who notices the chestnut men, and he is the main drive behind the investigation’s process.
I really disliked Hesse. I thought he was arrogant and difficult for no reason (yes, he has been ‘relocated’, but would he really act like such a sulk? ). He made no attempt to form a work-relationship with his colleagues, so I’m not sure why I should feel bad that they regard him with hostility (very tit for tat if you ask me).

The Hot Female Detective Who Is Good At Her Job But Not The Greatest Mother
She takes no shit from her male colleagues, who often try it on with her. While I’m sure that there are cases where male detectives try to sexually harass their female colleagues, I’m getting kind of tired of reading of the same scenes, especially if they are included just to make her seem more ‘badass’. Allegedly Thulin is smart, but her expertise lies in certain computer programs (she wants to join the department for cyber crime) so she is surprisingly useless for most of the investigation. In addition to her supposedly intelligence, she also has a banger of a body. I get that being strong or fit is an advantage in her line of work but it’s one thing to have a muscular body, it’s another to have the perfect body (much is made of “her slender waist and shapely backside”). When questioning a doctor she ‘uses’ her looks and acts “coquettishly” to trip this guy up. Couldn’t she have been able to question him effectively without having to rely on her physical appearance ? What about her brains? Not enough?
And because the story has to stress that she is not like other women, in that she is focused on her career, she also has to have an active sexual life. And no, she doesn’t do ‘romance’. Nor does she have time for her child (which is perfectly reasonable given the type of job that she does, yet she is made to seem like a careless mother). Anyway, she is too busy and badass for any of that sentimental stuff.

Corruption Ahoy
We have these two detectives who are clearly there just to make our leads look good. They are racist, sexist, stupid, amoral, and incompetent. Yep. Because they are jealous of our main leads they try to make their life harder. The narrative makes it clear that these are BAD detectives. In fact, most of the police personnel seems unfit to work.

The Detective’s ‘Crazy Wall’
You know the wall that appears in shows like The Wire and True Detective. It’s full of strings, scribbles, articles, and all of that sort of stuff. Well Hess happens to have one of his own, and the narrative reveals this in such a dramatic way, as if it’s a huge reveal or something when it is anything but.

Consulting a Convicted Killer
This whole interaction was laughable and full of poorly veiled allusions.

The Twist
Knowing the killer’s identity doesn’t always detract from my overall reading experience. Here however I found the killer’s character and motivations too be rather overdone.

This was a very bland thriller. I disliked both the narrative’s judg-y tone and its shallow characters. The plot went on and on, but I wasn’t all that interested.

My rating: ★★✰✰✰ 2.5 stars

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The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

At first I was intrigued by the prologue featuring young Garda Cormac Reilly who—after answering a call out—is faced with his first dead body and two neglected children. The rest of the book, which is set years later and follows a newly transferred to Galway Reilly, was markedly less engaging. Maybe readers who haven’t read a lot of crime fiction might be able to enjoy this one more than I did.

Reilly’s new department and colleagues do not provide the warmest of welcomes, and he finds himself being mostly assigned to cold cases (would a department really waste such a high-flying detective?). By ‘chance’ he has to look back into his own case (the one featuring at the beginning of this book) which happens to be connected to the death of Aisling Conroy’s boyfriend Jack. Although McTiernan emphasises how good Reilly is at his job, as the story progresses, I had the impression that he makes a really bad detective. In spite of his years of service he lets himself be intimidated by some of his greener colleagues (who are the typical chauvinist, possibly crook, police bullies), and repeatedly fails to pick up on the odd behaviour of another character.
The story also follows Aisling, as she tries to reconcile herself with the possibility that Jack was not as happy as he seemed, and her full-on job as a surgical resident. When Jack’s estranged sister appears out of the blue, Aisling begins to question wherever Jack’s death was a suicide.

The book tries to include many different topics and themes, but it does so in such a rushed manner that not one of them felt particularly well explored.
The storyline lacked interesting suspects or suspense, consisting instead in a monotone narrative featuring a bland, apparently good-at-his-job protagonist, his chauvinistic, lazy, possibly sadistic male colleagues, his no-nonsense ambitious young female colleagues (who I found incredibly unsympathetic), and conveniently evil characters…
Maybe if the plot had provided me with some more engaging material I could have looked past the thin-as-paper characters…towards the end there are two plot points which really annoyed me: one which seemed a cheap solution to what had until then been a genuine portrayal of the difficult reality of abortion in Ireland; the other was the classic—and obvious—reveal (view spoiler).
Rather than Tana French, this reminded me ofClose to Home : the type of detective stories that provide little insight in the human psyche, presenting us instead with a narrative chock full of unlikely—and unbelievable—coincides, a dichotomous depiction of good and bad, and a series of poorly explored discussions (on child abuse, abortion, pedophilia, extenuating working conditions for residents and social workers, police corruption, alcoholism, biological family vs. adoption, and the list goes on and on).
Cormac Reilly could have been an interesting character but he was forgettable and incompetent…which is why I won’t be picking up the next instalment of this series.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3 just-about-stars

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Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham — book review

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This was an unexpectedly silly thriller.
While the story’s premise was compelling enough, the characters and various plot-lines are tawdry rehashes of other novels in this genre…

The plot seems to focus on uninteresting encounters and two unrelated ‘mysteries’, one around Evie Cormac’s identity and past, and the other one is the case forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven is working on. Cyrus ends up fostering Evie and the two have a hard time adapting to their new circumstances. Evie has the ability to detect from someone’s face wherever that person is lying or not. Deeply alienated from her society, she seems both unable and unwilling to act in accordance to social norms. Yet, behind her unbrazen front, Evie is deeply insecure and prone to self-loathing. Sadly, her character was often reduced to a silly caricature of the ‘broken’ girl.
Cyrus is a less compelling protagonist. His voice often sounded far too similar to Evie’s…which wasn’t ideal given that the two have radically different upbringings…he is as interesting as a piece of sidewalk…in other words, not at all. His role in the investigation isn’t very clear cut and it is extremely unlikely that they would let him foster Evie…(conflict of interest anyone?)
Anyhow, the story isn’t all that interested in creating a layered or realistic murder investigation but rather it focuses on how ‘different‘ Evie is. At times it seemed that she was either being sexualized unnecessarily or with the intent of making her appear ‘edgy. She said a lot of stock angsty-teen phrases…she wasn’t likeable nor believable. Her involvement in Cyrus’ case is due to a series of extremely unlikely coincidences which came across as lazy shortcuts to have her help him out.
With the exception of Cyrus all the men in this novel were lacking in intelligence, completely misogynistic, and with no self-control, either shouting or grumbling poorly articulated comments at our two MCs or making sleazy passes at Evie. The women were either ‘promiscuous’, ‘aggressive’, or ‘wet blankets’….
Overall, I found this novel to be a bit of a cheap read…the writing was flat, the characters were stereotypes, and the plot never truly seemed to pick up speed.

My rating: ★★✰✰✰ 2.5 stars

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The Divinities: A Crane and Drake Novel by Parker Bilal — book review

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The Divinities: A Crane and Drake Novel is the promising start to the ‘Crane ad Drake’ series. This events recounted by the narrative take place over the course of a few days which adds a sense of urgency and suspense to the storyline.
We follow two somewhat disgraced figures, the recently demoted Detective Sergeant Calil Drake and forensic psychologist Dr Rayhana Crane. Both have involved with ‘scandals’ of sorts which made them all the more keen to prove themselves (although they might claim otherwise…). Most of the action takes place in a hectic London which thanks to Bilal’s writing buzzes with a barely contained chaotic energy. Be it day or night, we see many of London’s faces…
Against this urban and shifting backdrop Drake—and later on Crane—attempt, in a fight against time, to catch the person responsible for a brutal murder. Drake possesses many of the qualities of the usual noir protagonist: poor lifestyle, works too much, drinks too much, not very social. He reminded me a bit of Strike from The Cuckoo’s Calling. He is the type who does things his own way regardless of what his superiors or the public might think. I was soon fond of him as we see many of the reasons and causes that have lead him to become the person he is now, navigating a city and a country which keeps reminding him that he will never quite belong. Many of the people he encounters in his investigations will tell him to ‘switch’ sides, or downright accuse him as a traitor (since for a period of time he was a devoted Muslim). Crane too has acquired a status of outsider given that within her profession she is considered a ‘rarity’ (as she is a) a woman 2) born in Tehran). So it isn’t surprising that the two become allies of sorts..
It was interesting to see differentiating perspective on the same topics, in a way that never demonises or condemns those who hold that view. There were discussion on terrorism, xenophobia, gentrification, class divide, war, PTSD…in many ways this novel taps into many topical issues but it does so in a realistic and matter-of-fact way.
The storyline closely follows Drake’s investigation, and we follow each step of the operation. Milo and Kelly provided some welcome diversion and gave Drake the opportunity to showcase some ‘warmer’ emotions. The investigations sees Drake and his ‘team’ following different leads, hunches, and testimonies…The ending act was a tad overdone (view spoiler).
Still, I was hooked by the very first page where we are introduced to Drake…who is taking a piss after a drink too many. If you like noir, or gritty crime novels, The Divinities might be the right read for you.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3.5 stars

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Close to Home (DI Adam Fawley #1) : Book Review

Close to Home by Cara Hunter

★★★✰✰ 3.5 stars

Close to Home might seem like yet another missing-child crime novel but Hunter manages to make give a fresh take to this scenario.The narrative switches from 1st pov to 3rd, and includes tweets and newspaper articles. We can follow the crime through a wide range of individuals (those who are investigating the disappearance, as well as the family, neighbours and teachers of the missing eight-year-old, Daisy Mason, and the public) who offer differentiating views on the crime.
There is a thought-provoking discussion on class that underlines the story as well as a critique on the ways media likes to play judge, jury and executioner. The investigation is fast-paced and full of small yet engrossing revelations. I thought that the characters all sounded very credible (in their mannerisms and ways of speaking) however the children did not sound like children at all. There are a few scenes where there are no adults and they were rather awkward. Still, given that everything else about this story was very realistic, it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment.
The sense of urgency given by Daisy’s disappearance and the fast-paced investigation where incredibly compulsive.
Sadly, the epilogue ruined things for me. It made a few portions of the narrative needlessly manipulative (view spoiler), it made DI Adam Fawley not great at his job, and it sort of seemed to excuse (view spoiler), and finally (view spoiler)

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AS LONG AS WE BOTH SHALL LIVE: BOOK REVIEW

As Long as We Both Shall Live by JoAnn Chaney
★★✰✰✰ 2 of 5 stars

So here’s the thing: if you want to kill your wife, don’t. Don’t kill her, don0t touch her. Ditch the bitch if you have to, get on with your life. Or make it work. But kill her? Nope.

As Long as We Both Shall Live has one of the most captivating prologues I have ever read….sadly the rest novel doesn’t live up to it.

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This novel tries too hard to come across as a hard-boiled detective story. With plenty of weird and unpleasant metaphors (ie. a man’s ‘thin’ lips are like ‘tuna’ ? w-h-a-t!) and an abundance of ass&balls jokes it just felt like being inside the head of an eight-year-old boy who has just learned ‘naughty’ words. These odd descriptions, unfunny quips, and the ‘trying-too-hard-to-be-hard’ dialogues pulled me right away from the story. Bit of pity since I wanted to like Chaney’s wicked humour.

There is this Detective Loren (the typical vulgar bully with a heart of gold) who is completely unprofessional. He is insubordinate and threatens witnesses and suspects alike. Really? Am I to believe that the secretary he cornered hasn’t put a complaint with his name stamped on it?

“Your boss-man, is he porking anyone in the office?”
Loren asked, a grin slowly blooming on his face.
“Pardon?”
“Oh, you heard me, Jilly. Is there some hot little piece of ass in the mailroom that might be riding his baloney pony during lunch hours?”

First of all, who even talks like that? Secondly, why does the narrative try to make this guy, Loren, seem like the typical ‘bear with the heart of gold’?!
His backstory served little purpose and only slowed the main narrative. Moreover, by giving this Loren-character the stage, the female detective, Spengler, is cast off to the sidelines. I would have rather had more of her personal life than Loren’s. Spengler is presented to us as the typical ‘attractive woman in an all men’s club’. Her colleagues – all men – make vulgar remarks about her and find her to be a ‘cold bitch’. This is such a bloody cliché. A) Why does she have to be uber beautiful? B) Why are all men depicted as dogs-in-heat?

Now, the biggest problem with this novel is that it was trying to ‘outdo’ (view spoiler) and the narrative perfectly acknowledges this: view spoiler
Now, I’m not suggesting that this type of ‘borrowing‘ doesn’t work. Barbara Vine (who wrote a number a brilliant psychological mysteries) uses a similar technique,(view spoiler). Here however this comes across as little more than a cheap trick.
For a long portion of the novel Matt and his relationship to his now dead wife, Marie, get very little page-time. They seem so barely sketched out that I never started to care about who did what. Their motivations and actions are incredibly unbelievable and melodramatic. The wife vs. husband jokes got old fast. (view spoiler)

You could call it Stockholm Syndrome, or you could call it marriage. Tomayto, tomahto.

Their daughters, and Marie’s friends make one-time only appearances that are completely laughable.
Lastly, I did not like the way in which the novel portrays men. They are all crass and or stupid. And the story wants to make it seem like Loren, the worst of them all, is actually the best of the lot? Nah.
And why is a woman breaking the law any better than a man breaking the law? Spengler is so unprofessional in that she seems (view spoiler).

It was unfortunate, but sometimes a woman had to take extreme measure to teach a man a lesson.

Disappointing, unbelievable, and with an incredibly over the top finale that is 100% soap opera, the only good thing about this novel is its prologue.

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The Burning by Jane Casey

An absorbing investigation lead by a determined and engaging protagonist.
DC Maeve Kerrigan is tasked with questioning the relatives and friends of the latest victim of a serial killer known as The Burning Man…expect that Rebecca Haworth’s murder may be the work of a copy-cat…
A fast-paced plot-line that switches between Maeve and Louise, Rebecca’s best friend. Louise is hiding something from us, and the way in which Casey switches from one woman to the other, creates further tension. Maeve’s investigation leads her to interrogate and question a lot of different people. Regardless of their age and of their relation to Rebecca, these scenes were vividly rendered. The dialogues and the actions of the various characters rang through to life. Casey creates incredibly believable conversations, so much so that even characters who make only brief appearances are as fleshed out as the novel’s main protagonists.
Maeve is an energetic and ambitious DC. She is driven to do a good job: while she might not be too self-assured, she believes in her abilities, and in her own judgement. It was refreshing to read of a female detective who isn’t merely ‘strong’ but who is very nuanced. She could easily amuse readers but she could also reveal very affective fears. The treatment she is subjected to, due to her ‘Irish-ness’ and her gender help us understand her.
The only ‘fault’ I can pinpoint is in the character of Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend. He was not very believable, and his motivations and personality were inconsistent.
Overall, this novel packs a suspenseful exploration of a troubled woman’s life. I deeply appreciated how cleverly Casey presents Rebecca to us: the various characters Maeve questions give very conflicting impressions of Rebecca.

My rating: 3 stars

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The Likeness by Tana French

A brilliantly executed novel that depicts the complex and passionate relationship between a close group of friends. In many ways, it reminded me of The Secret History.
Gripping and full of suspense, The Likeness is so much more than your usual crime novel. French pays incredible attention when portraying her characters and their relationships with one another.
The growing tension between this tight group of friends is rendered in a vividly convincing manner.
Cassie herself is a complicated person. She narrates things in a way that makes us – the readers – her confidants. This technique made all the more relatable. The mistakes she makes along the way carry a sense of inevitability that often made me excuse her behaviour. I understood her for her longings and doubts, and I loved her for her determination.
The focus on this group of friends showcases an array of different emotions, with a certain emphasis on love and hatred. Idyllic and tranquil moments give way to scenes dominated by a mounting sense of unrest. Like Cassie, we never have a clear-cut view on the group’s dynamics.
I too, alongside Cassie, was drawn to Lexie’s friends.
I believe that one of the book’s main themes is that of ‘belonging’. Cassie is somewhat adrift after the events of In the Woods, and perhaps it is what makes her feel connected to Lexie’s friends.
With a growing sense of foreboding, I was in equal parts eager and worried throughout my reading of this book.
French’s writing is enveloping. Her descriptions were a pleasure to read, both vivid and accurate.
Atmospheric and unsettling, I was completely absorbed by The Likeness.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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In the Woods by Tana French

What I am telling you, before you begin my story, is this – two things: I crave the truth. And I lie.

An incredibly intense and absorbing read. In the Woods is so much more than a ‘crime’ novel. French creates incredibly vivid characters. She also has a knack for dialogue: that is to say that the conversations, arguments and discussions had by her characters felt incredibly real to me. The way in which she narrates this mystery is completely encompassing. I eagerly read chapter after chapter, my head filled by the main character’s meanderings: despite acting like a right ol’ dick, I still loved being in Rob’s head. He was so…believable. His fear, uncertainties and desires. All of it. I was taken in by his story, unable – and not wanting – to leave.
In short, I was really taken by In the Woods.
I don’t think I can do this novel justice… just go and see for yourself.
A few quotes:

I am not good at noticing when I’m happy, except in retrospect. My gift, or fatal flaw, is for nostalgia. I have sometimes been accused of demanding perfection, of rejecting heart’s desires as soon as I get close enough that the mysterious impressionistic gloss disperses into plain solid dots, but the truth is less simplistic than that. I know very well that perfection is made up of frayed, off-struck mundanities. I suppose you could say my real weakness is a kind of longsightedness: usually it is only at a distance, and much too late, that I can see the pattern.

In all my career I had never felt the presence of evil as I felt it then: strong and rancid-sweet in the air, curling invisible tendrils up table-legs, nosing with obscene delicacy at sleeves and throats.

Human beings, as I know better than most, can get used to anything. Over time, even the unthinkable gradually wears a little niche for itself in your mind and becomes just something that happened.

 

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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