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The Blurb:

We’ve all seen him: the man – the monster – staring from the front page of every newspaper, accused of a terrible crime. But what about her: the woman who grips his arm on the courtroom stairs – the wife who stands by him? Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming. Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil. But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms. Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows.

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My thoughts:

First, let me warn anyone who is thinking of reading this, that the blurb on the back cover – as above – is somewhat misleading. Second – I’m in two minds about this one. I definitely think Fiona Barton can write, and the characters were all well drawn and fleshed out.

There are two timelines – 2010, which for the purposes of this novel is the present day, and 2006, which is when the little girl that Glen Taylor was accused of abducting, disappeared. The vast majority of it actually takes place in 2006, with the 2010 storyline concentrating on a journalist called Kate who wants to get Jean’s story.

The chapters are told from separate points of view – ‘The Widow’ – Jean Taylor; ‘The Reporter’ – Kate; ‘The Detective’ – Bob Sparkes who was in charge of the original investigation and is still haunted by the matter years later; and ‘The Mother’ – Dawn, the mother of the abducted child. I liked Bob and I quite liked Kate, but Jean and Dawn both left me cold.

At times the book was very suspenseful, but at times it did drag slightly as there seemed to be a lot of back-and-forth, and did-he/didn’t-he, with the same ground being trodden over. But despite that, I did quite enjoy this book and would almost certainly read more by Fiona Barton. It doesn’t have the twists and turns of a book like Gone Girl, but for my money it’s better written than Gone Girl (and as with every other psychological thriller which has been released since that book, this one has been compared to it – ignore the comparisons, it’s totally different).

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Year of first publication: 2016

Genre: Psychological drama

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Year of first publication: 1996

Genre: Family drama

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Overview

When Beth Cappadora takes her three children to Chicago for her school reunion, every parent’s worst nightmare comes true as middle child – three year old Ben – goes missing. For nine years Beth and her husband Pat live in limbo, never knowing what happened to their son, or if he is still alive somewhere. Their older son Vincent is in severe danger of going off the rails completely. And then one day, a youngster knocks on her door and Beth is convinced that this is the missing Ben (no spoilers here; this is in the blurb on the back).

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My Thoughts

I remember watching the film that was based on this book many years ago. It stuck with me a lot, and I wanted to read the book for ages. Unfortunately I would have to say that this is a rare case of the film being better than the book. The premise itself was so interesting if also somewhat morbid; how does a family carry on when a child is missing? It’s not a spoiler to say that in the second half of the book the family and the reader does get to find out what happened, and the focus shifts from the mystery of what happened to Ben, to how everyone deals with the fallout.

The problem for me was not in the storyline itself; it was the fact that it just seemed to go on and on and on, and there was so much in there that didn’t really seem to add anything  – some heavy editing could have made such a difference.

I never really warmed to Beth, but it’s worth bearing in mind that we never really know her prior to her son disappearing, and that event affects her so much that she becomes remote and detached from her whole family – so what is an understandable reaction is actually what makes her difficult to like. Pat was marginally more likeable, but my favourite character was Vincent. After the initial story of the disappearance which is told in the third person, but largely from Beth’s point of view, Vincent himself is the focus of other chapters, and we see how Ben’s disappearance and the consequent family dynamic has affected him.

If you like family drama and drawn out storylines, maybe give this one a whirl. I’ll be honest and say that the last 150 or so pages did drag a bit for me and I was glad to finally finish, but even so, the storyline itself was enough to make me consider reading something else by this author.

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Slow Horses is the first in series of spy novels by author Mick Herron, all of which feature a team of misfits – MI5 Agents, who the service would love to get rid of but can’t for various reasons, so instead they send them to Slough House to finish out their time in the service doing menial and unimportant work. The leader of this group, who are disliked by MI5 and each other in equal measure, is Jackson Lamb, a lumbering, sometimes rude, but still sharp agent. At the start of the story, young agent Rivert Cartwright is sent to Slough House after a routine operation goes drastically wrong and River gets the blame.

However, the Slow Horses (Slough House/Slow Horses – get it?!) find themselves unexpectedly involved in a major news story when a young Muslim boy is kidnapped by a group of thuggish vigilantes, who threaten to behead him and stream it on the internet. Whatever orders they might get from above, there is no way the Slow Horses are going to sit back and let this atrocity happen, but things are way more complicated than they seem.

Okay, confession time. I don’t like spy novels. They just aren’t my thing and I’m not entirely sure what possessed me to buy this book – but nonetheless I thought I should give it a try…and I’m so glad that I did! Jackson, River and their various colleagues are all brought vividly to life, and if they aren’t always immediately likeable, they are certainly enjoyable to read about, and I couldn’t help rooting for them more or less from the off.

The plot itself is nice and twisty but stays on the right side of over-complicated – there were plenty of surprises along the way, but they never seemed too far fetched as to make the story seem ridiculous. The central theme – would the young kidnapping victim be saved? – trotted along well, and kept me gripped; I particularly liked that there were chapters told from Hassan’s point of view. There was also a lot of dry humour here too.

Overall, a great story with great characters, well told. I have bought the next available books in the series and look forward to reading them.

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This book is the second in the Phryne Fisher Mystery series, and revolves around not one, but two mysteries. The book opens with Phryne meeting a new client – a nervous lady who is convinced that her son is going to murder his father and she wants Phryne to intervene to stop this. When the father does indeed turn up dead shortly afterwards, Bill the son is naturally the main suspect.

The second mystery is the kidnapping of a young girl, whose parents engage Phryne to retrieve their daughter and return her to safety.

Naturally Phyrne, along with her friends Bert and Cec, and trusty maid Dot not only investigates the crimes, but investigates them with panache and cunning, and all while wearing a beautiful wardrobe and seducing a couple of rather gorgeous men!

I think I probably enjoyed this book marginally more than the first one (I gave the first one 3.5 out of 5, I’d give this one 4), which bodes well for the rest of the series. It is an undemanding read, sprinkled with humour and with enough twists to keep the reader interested. As ever, Phryne is loveable, exasperating and stubborn. Fans of the TV series should note that Jack Robinson hardly appears in this book (and in any event, he is entirely different in the show, not to mention still firmly married to his wife) and the main police officer in the story is Detective Inspector Benton.

Another enjoyable instalment from a series that I look forward to continuing to read.

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Barry and Cheryl are a young, desperately poor couple, who get picked to appear in a reality television series about poverty in Britain.  Initially, they are taken to the hearts of the public, but predictably the tide of opinion turns – fuelled by a ruthless tabloid press – and they find themselves reviled, hated and scared to show their faces in public.  And then their three children are kidnapped, and events take a truly monstrous turn.

This book sums up so much about why I hate reality television.  Such programmes can be exploitative and cruel, making heroes and villains out of ordinary, often vulnerable people.  Barry and Cheryl think that all their dreams will come true by appearing on this programme – and for a while it seems that they are right – but the media care little about them, and encourage the public to vent all their hatred on this young couple, determined to show them as irresponsible and greedy dole-scroungers (if this all sounds familiar, it’s probably because there are programmes that do EXACTLY this, although this book predates many of the current crop of such shows).  The venom with which they are treated – and it is mainly aimed at Cheryl, rather than Barry – is breathtaking and disgusting.

The twists and turns come thick and fast, and at times I was not sure who or what to believe.  As the public animosity takes its toll on Cheryl, her thoughts become confused and a sense of paranoia creeps in.  I found the story utterly compelling, although in many ways it was not at all enjoyable.  It was all too believable, and quite accurately reflected how people are worshipped or reviled as a result of their appearance on programmes like the fictional one in this book ‘The Dark End of the Street’ – yet they are not really prepared or equipped to deal with such strong feelings from a public who don’t really know anything of them, other than how the programme makers manipulate their appearances on television.

My only real criticism of the book would be the final two pages.  The story is completed by then, and these last couple of pages feel like a clumsily tacked-on, and unnecessary epilogue.  Other than that though, it’s a gripping thriller which can make for uncomfortable reading.

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This book – one of many to emerge out of the Scandinavian crime genre – is the first in a series featuring Detective Joona Linna.  Linna is investigating the brutal murder of a man, his wife and their daughter.  The family’s son, Josef,  has also been extremely badly injured, but the police need to speak with him to find out what happened, and possibly to prevent more bloodshed.  Josef however, is in no condition to talk, and Linna decides to bring in Erik Maria Bark, a former hypnotist who, ten years earlier, swore that he would never practice hypnosis again.  He reluctantly agrees to hypnotise Josef, but his decision leads to disaster, placing Erik and his family in danger.

I’m not really sure what to think about this book.  On the positive side, it was an easy read, with a sense of tension throughout.  I did find myself changing my mind about what had happened, and it was only towards the end when things finally came together.  I also really liked the Joona Linna character; he had a nice amount of heroism, balanced with a weariness brought on by the things he has witnessed in his career.

However, I was somewhat surprised when the perpetrator of the initial murder as mentioned above, was revealed early on, and it became apparent that that murder was not in fact the focus of the story, but more the catalyst for the events that followed.  There also seemed to be an unnecessary subplot, which muddied things slightly, and I felt that it could quite easily have been edited out, which might have tightened up the narrative somewhat.  The story is all a bit fantastical as well – I always think that the best thrillers and mysteries are the ones which you could actually imagine happening, whereas this one stretched the boundaries of credibility quite often.

I was quite surprised to find that the main character in the series was in fact Joona Linna, because for the most part of this book, he seemed a secondary character to Erik.  (I actually felt quite ambivalent towards Erik (and his wife Simone.)  However, maybe this explains why even though Erik featured more prominently than Joona, I didn’t feel as though his character was well developed.

All in all, something of a mixed bag.  I won’t be rushing out to buy the next book in the series, but because I liked the Linna character, I may well read further books at some point.

(Authors’ – Lars Kepler is actually a couple – website can be found here.)

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This 1955 film stars Clark Gable as Hank Lee, an American living in Hong Kong, who runs a successful smuggling business. Susan Hayward plays Jane Hoyt, a woman who comes to Hong Kong to search for her photographer husband, who has been kidnapped. The authorities can’t help her, but maybe Hank Lee can. However, the attraction between Jane and Hank complicates matters.

This is not one of Clark Gable’s better known films, which is a shame, because it’s really very good. Here, he is doing what he did best – being all sexy and bad-ass!!  Even as he got older, Gable still had that twinkle in his eye, and that quality of charming rascalliness (if that’s a word!). He is great here as Hank Lee – a man of dubious business dealings, but who certainly has some honour and integrity. He and Susan Hayward certainly have plenty of chemistry and the attraction between them was beautifully played – she reluctant to follow up on it, because after all, she is married and her husband may be in danger; he anxious to find her husband, because he feels that he can’t compete with a ghost. The relationship is real and believeable.

The story of Hank’s rescue attempt of Jane’s husband is also filled with tension, but for me the real enjoyment of this film came from the relationship between the two main characters. This was a film I had never heard of, but spotted it one day on television and decided to give it a try. I’m very glad I did, and this is certainly a film I would like to watch again.

Definitely recommended, especially for fans of Clark Gable.

Year of release: 1955

Director: Edward Dmytryk

Producer: Buddy Adler

Writer: Ernest K. Gann

Main cast: Clark Gable, Susan Hayward, Michael Rennie, Alex D’Arcy

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