I badly need to catch up with writing reviews, but don’t really have the inclination to write long and individual reviews for books that were mostly ‘meh’. I sometimes pick up thrillers when I need a break from fantasy, and this review covers several that I’ve read since the early summer, in order that I read them. In some cases I have to cast my mind back rather a long way–and some definitely made an impression more than others. Most of these I read pretty quickly and moved on just as quickly. I’ve refreshed my memory when needed with Wikipedia and Goodreads (mostly for character names), but tried not to be influenced too much by what others have written.
N.B. The title of each is the link to the Amazon page.
Into the Water, Paula Hawkins: General consensus seems to be that Into the Water wasn’t as good as Hawkins’ Girl on the Train. It wasn’t, but I don’t think it was bad. The plot centres around the mysterious drowning of Nel Abbott–only the latest of many drownings to plague her sleepy English country village over the centuries. And those drownings always seemed to happen to women who caused trouble, who spoke out, who stirred the pot… just like Nel, who was writing a history of the ‘Drowning Pool’ before her death.
The story is told from the perspectives of many around the town as well as some passages from the book Nel was writing. The most effective of these POVs are those closest to the tragedy: Nel’s sixteen-year-old daughter Lena and her estranged sister Jules. Jules is forced to come home to a place she wanted to forget, to deal with her angry niece, and to face plenty of people she never wanted to see again. The question around Nel’s death is whether it was a suicide or a murder. But her death brings a lot of tension to the surface, especially when it dredges up the still-raw wounds some in the village feel about the drowning a few months before of Lena’s best friend, Katie.
The plot twists in a lot of different ways, blending multiple storylines together. In some ways it’s not a linear plot; it’s not as simple as ‘What happened to Nel?’ Several women have drowned in the pool, but not for the same reasons. Rather than being a thriller in the whodunnit sense, the book evokes a sense of creepiness and a little discomfort. It pries into long-dead secrets, into shameful memories, into people’s failures. As I was writing this summary, I began to remember it more fondly–not sure if it’s enough to quite bump it up to 4 stars, but I’d say it’s worth a read! Rating: Somewhere between 3.5 and 4 stars.
The Lying Game, Ruth Ware: Another book where water features prominently, but this one is set on the English coastline. Tonally, this book was pretty similar to Ruth Ware’s other thrillers like The Woman in Cabin 10 and In a Dark, Dark Wood, but although the central premise of this one wasn’t as interesting, benefits from its cast of characters. In a Dark Dark Wood was a bachelorette party with a murder, but only a couple people in the party were actually interesting. The Woman in Cabin 10 featured a cast aboard a small yacht but for much of it was more about what was going on in the main character’s head.
The Lying Game centres around a group of four friends (Kate, Thea, Fatima, and the main character ‘Isa’), who met at boarding school–but were expelled after a year together under a cloud of hushed-up disgrace. It was at school where they began the titular game of trying to get away with telling lies to those around them. But their game takes on higher stakes when the body of Ambrose, Kate’s father, is found buried on the beach, years after his disappearance. Kate summons her friends back to town, and it becomes clear that these women know more about Ambrose’s disappearance and death than they let on.
Isa is pretty wishy-washy, to be honest, even more than Ware’s other protagonists; she has just had a baby but her loyalty to her friends complicates things with her boyfriend/partner. Kate is clearly breaking up from the stress of the situation, and Thea doesn’t seem like she’s ever been okay. Fatima is the only one who has her head screwed on clearly, but her friends drag her down almost to their level. And then there’s Luc, Kate’s sort-of-adopted-brother, whom Ambrose took care of to protect him from an abusive situation back home but who has grown into an angry and bitter man.
There’s not really any twists you don’t see coming, but it’s compelling enough and a decent suspense, even if most of the characters just made me roll my eyes and want to slap them. (Not you, Fatima, you’re boss.) 3 stars.
The Good Daughter, Karin Slaughter: This is probably the one I remember least about, although I did like it pretty well. The story revolves around two crimes, one in the past and one in the present. The one in the past is the death of ‘Gamma’ Quinn that the two Quinn daughters, Sam and Charlie, barely managed to survive. In the present, Charlie Quinn, now a defense lawyer like her father, Rusty, is accidentally embroiled in a school shooting incident. She takes the case on, but her involvement keeps bringing back the past that they–and the town they live in–can never forget.
This is a solid read, for the mysteries but also for the relationships between the Quinns. I also remember it being pretty well-written (which is not always a given with thrillers!) I think the ending tied everything together a little too neatly for my taste, but others might dislike a messy ending. 3.5 stars.
After Anna, Alex Lake: I probably have the least to say about this one. A five-year old girl goes missing when her mother is half an hour late to pick her up from school. The investigation goes on, a marriage falls apart, and then… the girl is given back, healthy and well, just without any knowledge of where she was or who had kept her. Told from the perspective of the mother–who blames herself and lashes out at her estranged husband, with whom she’d been having difficulties even before their daughter’s disappearance.
There aren’t really any surprises, and the culprit–whose POVs are told from 2nd person perspective to avoid giving too much away–is pretty easy to figure out anyway. 2 stars.
Then She Was Gone, Lisa Jewell: This one was… fine. It tells the story of Laurel, who can’t seem to get over the disappearance of her teenage daughter Ellie ten years before. When Ellie’s body is finally found, it seems like closure. But then Laurel meets a new man and his nine-year old daughter, Poppy–who bears an unnervingly similar likeness to the dead Ellie. There isn’t really anything that surprises in this one, but the plot itself is rather delightfully disturbing. Laurel’s story is more about a woman getting over her deep grief than a detective–the solution seems to fall into her lap more than anything. But there are additional POVs from Ellie (ten years before) and from the person responsible. The last POV is, in some ways, unnecessary, but in others is completely necessary for the full creep factor. The more said about the plot means that there’s nothing to enjoy in the actual reading, so I’ll stop here. It’s a quick, serviceable read if you like your thrillers less about unreliable narrators and more about the everyday sociopaths you might meet on the street. 2.5 stars.
Dark Places, Gillian Flynn: This is the only audiobook on the list, read by Rebecca Lowman. This was definitely the most interesting on the list. It was actually the first Flynn I’ve read (I’ve seen Gone Girl, but not read it or any of her others). Dark Places tells the story of Libby Day, who survived the massacre of her mother and sisters that her brother Ben is imprisoned for–and it was Libby’s testimony that sealed the verdict. Libby has been living off the donations of kind people for twenty years, although she has never really moved on from the night it happened: she has no job, no friends, and can barely keep her cat alive. But when the money dries up, she takes a commission from a group of people to delve deeper into the murder. They are convinced that Ben is innocent, and they want Libby to interview people close to the case and try to dig to the bottom of it. The more Libby finds out, the more desperate she becomes to find out the truth behind that night.
Libby is not a nice person; she’s intensely selfish and dismissive and immature and has been pretty much in a depressed fugue state since childhood. But we understand why, even if we might not want to spend much time with her–Flynn does a fantastic job with this, as well as with Libby’s slow awakening, stemmed by the hope that maybe Ben is actually innocent. This one is also told from the perspectives of Ben and of Patty, Libby’s mother, on the day in 1985 when the massacres happened. Flynn fills in the backstory as Libby learns more in the present day. It works quite well and the information is doled out in a way that keeps the tension high. I did think that the ending fell flat, a little bit of a deus ex machina, but it was a really gripping story until I got there. 4 stars.