‘The Girl Who Played With Fire’

Wow! Another fantastic book by Stieg Larsson that kept me in suspense until the very end!

I absolutely love the pairing of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander! I was desperate for them to work together again, though I was pleased that Lisbeth remained true to herself at the end of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and for most of The Girl Who Played With Fire. After using her computer skills to steal billions from the shady businessman, Wennerström…Salander takes herself off on a well-deserved break! She breaks all contact with Mikael at the end of the last book and only reinstates communication between the two of them when she is thrust into the public eye and wanted for murder! Mikael is desperate to find out who the murderer is, not only because he can’t believe that Lisbeth is guilty but because the victims were his friends and he is certain that they were murdered because of a book that ‘Millennium’ were publishing for them and a huge name & shame issue of the magazine, which would incriminate a lot of high-ranking police officers among other people. So how did Salander get mixed up in all of this!? More interestingly, how did her prints end up on the gun that killed the young couple?! Well, that is what Mikael needs to find out…

This book focuses much more on Salander than the first book did and I loved discovering new things about her, although she was often reluctant to give up the information! There are lots of moments that make you seriously consider what it is that you actually know about her rather than what is being portrayed by the other characters/media etc. However, I was always sure that she’d be alright! I never feared for her safety until that bit!!! But as guarded as Lisbeth is, she knew exactly which people to let into her life and this pays off! In recent years I’ve made a conscious effort not to bother with people who don’t reciprocate, not to the extent that Salander chooses her acquaintances but it was interesting to see the extreme side of it! I have been let down by SO many people that I’m slowly becoming hardened to being let down…What is really interesting is that in this book, however reluctant, Salander and Mikael are very close – even though they don’t see each other face-to-face until the very end! Salander is shocked that Mikael knows her so well, this is alien territory for her! But she is relieved when she does see him at the end of the book – unlike the first book, I feel that they will be friends in the third novel – as long as there is mutual respect!

So, how does she end up in this situation!?

Well, classic Salander…she hacks Mikael’s computer and finds out what he’s working on. Then, for reasons that we are unsure of…she goes to visit the young couple, Mia and Dag at their flat. Shortly after, they are both murdered. Her prints are on the gun that killed them. In a parallel storyline, her distrustful guardian Bjurman is fed up with being under Salander’s control and decides to contact someone called ‘Zala’ – incidentally, this is the name that sparked Salander’s interest in Mikael’s research and is what she has gone to speak to Mia and Dag about. The stories intertwine and the suspense continues right until the very end!

If you loved the first book, you won’t be disappointed with this one! I had intended to read the books sporadically but I don’t think I can wait to read the third and final book! Larsson writes the characters so clearly and they stubbornly remain true to themselves throughout, although I think by the end of the book, Salander realises that Mikael isn’t just going to give up on her…she may well have to let him into her life full-time! This is a fantastic book, which kept me in suspense until the very end!

‘Black Out’

Black Out by John Lawton is a fabulous read. It is quite a long book, but there are enough twists and turns along the way that you stay interested all the way until the end! I’ve always really enjoyed reading books about the war, I’m actually writing one as well…but that’s not important right now…anyway I always like reading about the war from different perspectives and I think this may be the first book that I’ve read from the point of view of a policeman. It’s easy to forget that crime still happened because there was so much else going on!

Anywho…it is 1944, our protagonist is Detective Sergeant Troy, and severed arm has been discovered by a group of school children (and a hungry dog…). In true detective story-style, there is much more to the plot than this one murder and slowly the story begins to unravel, sweeping both Troy and the reader along into a deep plot tinged with politics, international relations, lust and secrecy.

My only beef with this book is that it seemed to take me ages to read! I think that if certain sections had been more concise, it would have felt more like a detective thriller than a detective novel…there were lots of bits that had me on the edge but then instead of catapulting me onto the next plot twist, it bumbled along for a while…I just think it could have been a bit shorter. On reflection, maybe my desperation for a thriller-style detective novel isn’t fair to the author…Black Out is a brilliant read, I definitely didn’t guess the ending…I had my suspicions but I was kept guessing until the very end – which as you know, rarely happens!

‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’

I avoided this book for a while…because in ‘One Day’ style, EVERYONE was telling me to read it and I decided to try and avoid the hype…The other reason I was avoiding it was that I read Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman first and got really into the Harry Hole series and Nesbo was declared “The new Stieg Larsson”…so I didn’t want to just suddenly jump into the Larsson trilogy…

However, as a crime-book lover, I couldn’t wait too long! After receiving a kindle for Christmas (thank you parents!), it was the first thing I downloaded. I realised quite quickly just how easy it was to buy books on the kindle…and bought about 10! I’ve now discovered that I can put books that I am desperate to read, in a wish list – frankly, a brilliant idea! Now I have about 20 books in said wish list…which is fine by me!

Anywho, so I started reading the first in the trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and was instantly hooked! I powered through this book in about 4 days and I didn’t guess the ending! Which, as you might know from reading my review of The Snowman and the other Harry Hole books…is a big thing! I usually guess the plot/murderer/motive of the books at about 70% of the way through…but just like Nesbo a few months back, Larsson fooled me! I realise I’m very late on the uptake on this one…I realise that most people have read all three of these books now but let me just say…WOW! What a corker!

The book begins at the end of a trial, at which financial reporter Mikael Blomkvist is found guilty of libel…it becomes apparent that his professional life is crumbling around him…parallel to this, we meet Lisbeth Salander, a quiet, unassuming genius who works as an investigator. Soon the two lives interweave over the case of a missing girl. The two work together to try and solve the case for an old gentleman who is desperate to find out what happened to his granddaughter Harriet, nearly four decades ago. In true crime fiction style, it turns out that there’s much more to this than a missing person’s case…oooOoooh!

Fast-paced, gripping and chilling! This is a fantastic book and I look forward to reading the others!

‘The Devil’s Star’

Right, as you can probably tell…I haven’t read these in order AT ALL! But the next Jo Nesbo I read was The Devil’s Star (a.k.a. Harry Hole #5) and I don’t even mind if I sound like I’m obsessed with Nesbo because it’s better to be obsessed with a great crime fiction writer than something strange like…erm…trains?

Anywho, apologies to anyone who may be obsessed with trains…I’m pretty obsessed with fizzy sweets (a certain supermarket’s ‘Fizzy Fangs’ in particular…damn the ‘3 for £1’!!!)…

This book was interesting because most of the other Harry Hole books always feel like they’re set in cold places…well, especially The Snowman…*shudder* and The Devil’s Star begins during a sweltering summer in Oslo. Harry is assigned to the case of a woman who was found murdered in her own flat, one finger has been cut off and a tiny star-shaped red diamond has been placed behind her eyelid…well it wouldn’t be a Nesbo book without a bit of gore!

What is good about this book is that it focused quite a lot on Harry’s intuition. He is partnered with a man called Tom Waaler whom Harry suspects, murdered his partner in addition to running an arms smuggling ring…”but he seems like such a good guy” – is the attitude of everyone else but I feel that I’ve read enough Nesbo books to trust in the rogue detective…feel free to make up your own minds though! Anyway, Harry is determined to prove that he is right about Waaler, while solving the mysterious crimes simultaneously!

Another cracking mystery book for lovers of suspense!

‘The Redbreast’

Right, I know I’m not reading the Jo Nesbo books in the right order…but next time, I will! Well, I’ll try!

It is due to the strength of Nesbo’s writing that I can read them in this order and still know exactly what’s going on. Harry Hole is the kind of character who bumbles around, frowning, hating the world and most of its inhabitants…so although circumstances might change for him…his attitude rarely does, so from one book to another, it is easy to ignore the ‘correct’ order of reading and just enjoy the books!

So, back on subject…The Redbreast is technically the 3rd in the Harry Hole series – the full order can be found on the Jo Nesbo website

…and I actually haven’t read the books preceding it…but as I said, that doesn’t matter! This book jumps between 1944 on the Eastern Front and 1999 in Oslo, with chilling narratives in both times. Firstly, we’re transported to trenches just outside Leningrad where a group of soldiers fight for freedom. A bold, confident man named Daniel Gudeson is shot during this time and laid in a mass grave…however a while later, a man claiming to be Daniel turns up in a military hospital and falls in love with a nurse there, Helene. When he has recovered, he is called up to be sent to a notoriously dangerous area of the Eastern Front so they plot their escape. Fast forward to 1999 and an old man wanders the streets of Oslo after receiving some bad news from the doctor…he infers that he has one final thing to do before he dies.

So, where is Harry Hole in all of this madness I hear you cry!? Well, after characteristically but accidentally shooting an American secret service agent during a Presidential visit to Norway, Hole has been moved to the secret service unit and promoted to Inspector…he has also been packed off to an office to sift through a report on a low-priority case…regarding suspected arms dealers and old/new Nazis…ooOOoh! Exactly! So, there is a lot to get your head around but it is definitely worth it! I think you’ve probably already guessed that Harry doesn’t just sit at the desk for the whole book…

Mixing past, present and future, this book is fantastic and certainly keeps you on your toes! Another cracking book from Nesbo…just need to get my hands on the others now!

‘The Confession’

An innocent man is days from execution. Only a guilty man can save him.

What a chilling line! I’ve always enjoyed John Grisham books but tend to go for a few years without reading one and then wonder why I’ve left it so long! So The Confession is one of the books I was lucky enough to be given when at one of my aforementioned work experience placements but haven’t had a chance to read until now! This book looks at the death sentence in a way that must be in the back of everyone’s mind when they talk about capital punishment/see that someone has been put to death in America or even contemplate the sentences given to criminals in certain countries – what if they do have the wrong man? Surely that means that the guilty party are still at large in the community and an innocent man’s life has been taken away! This is exactly what happens in The Confession…Donté Drumm, a local football star is convicted of the murder of a popular high-school cheerleader and Travis Boyette (the real killer) is keen for the truth to come out, but not keen to actually face the punishment himself…it becomes evident throughout that as much as he has the tough guy exterior and is very hardened…he is really just a pathetic human who, in the last few months of his life, feels a bit guilty that he is 100% guilty of a murder and an innocent man, or actually, boy is going to be put to death for something that he didn’t do.

I raced through this book as if I had a deadline, I couldn’t put it down! I think what was best about this book is that people will read it with such different attitudes to the death penalty and yet still be enthralled throughout! I felt empathy for the poor pastor whom Travis spills the truth to…being faced with the truth about such a strong matter is hard enough to comprehend without bringing religion into it. I felt such anger towards Travis (understandably) but also towards the girl’s mother, who seems to shamelessly play the media against Donté and in fact causes a lot of trouble by inferring racial prejudice. There are a lot of likeable characters but more detestable ones…

All in all, this is a great page-turner! I couldn’t put it down! I think an important thing to remember about this kind of book is that people will read it and feel differently about the outcome/characters/idea/justice system/death penalty. My mum read it before I did and waited until I’d reached a certain point before talking to me about it and then we had a very grown-up discussion about it.

For lovers of John Grisham and crime fiction in general, this is a great crime book, which will echo through reality for years to come until a decision is made either way about the death penalty and its reverberations through history should the wrong person be killed.

 

‘Unnatural Exposure’

Now, this is the first Patricia Cornwell book that I’ve read – shock horror! On a recent holiday to see my parents in France…I underestimated how many books I would get through and didn’t pack enough…anyway, fortunately my bookworm Mother had a stash of books that I hadn’t read so I began making my way through a few of them, including one that I had cleverly left behind from my last visit (and completely forgotten about)…

Anyway, so I picked up Unnatural Exposure and immediately it seemed to be my kind of book…crime, with a witty female pathologist! Similar to 206 Bones it was from a series of books that include the same protagonist, in this case Kay Scarpetta. So the book begins as Scarpetta is called to examine a woman’s body that was found in a landfill and is horrified to find that it has been dismembered in a way that she has seen before…years ago! While she investigates this, the killer contacts her over the internet and she is sent police photos and along the way, deadoc (the alias used by the killer) sends her more cryptic information…then she discovers that the victim was exposed to a rare small-pox type virus before she died and the tension suddenly grows as it dawns on all of them that they could be exposed to a similar virus and there could be a pandemic! What may be more worrying is that the killer has knowledge of these types of disease and is not afraid of using them to kill whoever they like! I liked this book right up until the end…it just seemed to end really quickly! Suddenly, Scarpetta works out who it is, even though there haven’t really been any clues leading up to this certain person throughout…unless I really missed them!? Anyway, apart from that I enjoyed this book…I just felt that the murderer was caught really quickly but without much understanding of why they did it?!

‘Far Cry’, ‘The Art of Murder’ and ‘206 Bones’

As I’ve recently read 3 crime books and been VERY slow on the bloggage, I thought I’d combine the three reviews into one bumper crime fiction review and compare them to each other as well. Now, apart from Jo Nesbo’s books (The Snowman and The Leopard), I’ve had trouble finding crime fiction that I cannot solve in my head before the end of the book…I watch endless episodes of CSI and pretty much any good crime drama that is on (including ‘Murder She Wrote’ and ‘Diagnosis Murder’, back in the days of student life and unemployment…heck, I watch them now if they are on…) and I do have a bit of a knack for spotting the murderer and even finding the motive and how it was done sometimes…I’m not saying I have some amazing miraculous gift…just that I am difficult to surprise!

So, this is my review of three very different crime fictions…I have tried to switch off my incessant Jessica Fletcher-style brain but I just couldn’t…let’s start with ‘Far Cry’.

John Harvey’s Far Cry is based around two missing children, fifteen years apart but both daughters of one woman, Ruth. Shortly before the first child disappears, a serial molester and probable killer has been released from prison and seems determined to mess with the mind of DI Will Grayson in various creepy ways. The build-up to the first child’s disappearance is haunting and seeing it through the eyes of the mother who begrudgingly let her child go on holiday with her (unsuitable) best friend was devastating . Although this book is really chilling at times, not just the bits with ex-prisoner Mitchell Roberts pushing his bail restrictions to the limit…as emotional and believable as the story was after the first child’s disappearance…it soon went downhill for me as I predicted exactly what happened with the second child. I empathised in all the right places but there were too many elements of the novel that ruined the suspense for me unfortunately.

Next, I read The Art of Murder by Michael White. As with most crime books, there is one main detective on the case…in this book, that is Jack Pendragon…

However, unlike most crime books…the descriptions of the corpses are actually pretty disturbing…let’s just say that the murderer likes to arrange the bodies in an arty way…? As a sub plot, the murders are taking place in Whitechapel which obviously echoes of Jack the Ripper, throughout the book, various parallels can be seen between the two serial killers and their twisted minds. The language throughout was so detailed and graphic in the descriptions that I actually found myself being a little grossed out…unfortunately though, I did still guess the murderer and motive…it was a very original idea for crime fiction although I don’t know whether the Jack the Ripper bits needed to be there…I feel the book could have held its own without those references and that element as often, people have their own ideas about who Jack was and sometimes fiction books that try to persuade you that he was ‘so and so’…the strength of the novel lessens.

Finally, 206 Bones by Kathy Reichs, which is probably my favourite out of the three books. Now, I haven’t read any of her books before, let alone any of the so-called ‘Temperance Brennan’ series but this didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book at all.

From the first page we become completely immersed and I found myself desperately hoping Temperance would be able to get out of the underground chamber that she has found herself in. Not knowing the character from Adam, I assumed that she would get out but the tension was strong nevertheless. As the book continues, the flashes back to before her entombment give us more and more mystery. Besides being trapped underground, she has had to deal with an accusation of abuse of practice, ominous phone call and as usual, lots of dead bodies…This is a great book for people who enjoy crime fiction regardless of whether they are a super sleuth like me as the plot is very clever and the protagonist is very likeable. I also liked the style of Reichs’ writing as it kept the suspense going throughout and the disjointed narrative worked really well.

Here is a breakdown of what the books were best for:

Far Cry: Believable characters (especially the horrible Mitchell Roberts) and the ‘you never think it will happen to you’ aspect

The Art of Murder: Surprisingly gory descriptions of murder scenes and original idea for crimes

206 Bones: Suspense from the outset and likeable protagonist.

‘The Leopard’

Holy Moly! Another corker from Jo Nesbo! What I love most of all about these books is that I cannot put them down! I get completely and utterly addicted to them!

Harry Hole returns again to help solve a string of murders, well… supposedly that’s not the reason he returned…his father Olav is sick in hospital. But from reading The Snowman, it becomes apparent that as much as he tries to fight it, he cannot leave his crime-solving days behind…he HAS to stop the bad guys! That is the brilliance of Hole’s character, yes he’s the typical off-the-wall detective but he’s way more complicated and that’s why we come back and why HE comes back time and time again, risking life and limb to stop deadly, psychotic serial killers from striking again.

The Leopard is an exciting, breathtaking, thrill ride of a novel and as well as keeping with The Snowman’s style, Nesbo even brings ‘The Snowman’ into this one! Which, if you’ve read that book…you will get goosebumps on the back of your neck and actually become a little frightened. I think it was a brilliant idea to do that because it reinstated the idea that, just because you’ve caught the bad guys…doesn’t mean they disappear…they continue to have the same thoughts, ideas, emotions that you were aware of before and it brings the initial fear right back to you. But don’t worry, ‘The Snowman’ is still incapacitated…increasingly so, it seems.

I think it’s also interesting that we share a lot of the same fears and feelings as Harry. As soon as Kaja (the attractive female officer who drags him back from Hong Kong…) appears on the scene, we immediately think ‘Oh god, she’s going to be in danger’ and it is apparent that Harry feels the same way, keeping her at a distance for a while…but from our knowledge of Harry’s personality, we know that if he does allow himself to get close to her, he will protect her if it is the last thing he does.

I love Nesbo’s writing! We empathise, sympathise, share the same fear and the same emotions…albeit from the comfort of the tube/sofa/bed. I even felt a bit claustrophobic after the avalanche traps Harry and Kaja up in the mountains! This really is a credit to Nesbo’s style. His descriptions are tangible, the narratives are enthralling and the characters are really believable!

I’m desperate to get my hands on some of the earlier ‘Harry Hole’ books and try to see what has made him into the character he is in The Leopard. I know some people don’t approve of reading the books in the “wrong” order but I don’t think it matters…I love postmodern/disjointed, mixed-up narratives as it is!

If you haven’t read The Snowman yet – shame on  you! Go and read it now! Then read The Leopard maybe not straight away…you’ll be terrified! You won’t sleep! Fortunately, unlike me…you won’t have to read The Snowman when there are ACTUAL snowmen in your street and well, everywhere!

But I urge you to give Jo Nesbo a try…you won’t regret it!

‘The Almost Moon’

First line:

‘When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily’

I’m not really sure where to begin with this one…now, I love Alice Seabold and I love her soft, poetic writing style overlaying tragic and disturbing narratives, but I just didn’t get on with this book…I have a bit of a problem in that, I rarely read the back covers of books before I get going…mainly because I’m ploughing through 3 bags full of books from work experience but that’s not to say that I’m reading for consumption…I’m really just hand-picking books at random!

Anyway, as I mentioned before…I love Seabold’s writing style but I have to say, I just didn’t like the narrative. Although there were some themes that I could relate to, there were more that I couldn’t.

From the outset it becomes clear that Helen has a strained relationship (at best…) with her mother and that she has always felt like nothing she does is good enough to win her mother’s love. On visiting her mother one day, Helen suffocates her with a towel. If that sounds blunt when I’m saying it, you should hear it when Helen confesses to ex-husband Jake before dragging him into it all…(sorry, claws away Laura!)

So, she kills her mother and then becomes slightly obsessed with cleaning her body and preparing it for the next stages etc. which is a little startling in itself as Helen is so blasé about the whole thing! At one stage when the neighbour phoned, I actually thought that Helen was going to become a ventriloquist and pick up her mother’s arm and wave!

The good things about this novel are the style and the fact that Helen didn’t seem any different from anyone else…like when you see people on the news talking about their neighbours who turned out to be criminal masterminds but they ‘just seemed ordinary’. That is actually why this novel is both good and bad because it kind of, normalises the situation? By that I don’t mean that murdering your own mother is normal…I just mean that unlike novels where the murderer is psychotic, driven and obsessed, The Almost Moon is based around the idea that someone has just snapped. They’ve had enough of being treated badly, not feeling loved, not feeling good enough and then they just snap. This is exactly what has happened to Helen, although she does mention having homicidal feelings towards her mother in the past…this hasn’t been planned but she just feels ‘enough is enough’.

It is after the actual event that I began to lose interest…Helen shows absolutely NO remorse, she even contemplates cutting her mother up (to fulfil a supposed childhood fantasy!?) and she cuts off her mother’s prized possession, her braid. This is where it became less “understandable” – I use the term very loosely – and actually seems very childish. It seems that Helen hasn’t taken the moral high ground like adults should do, especially when their parents are getting very ill and even forgetting themselves but perhaps it could be argued that those kinds of values hadn’t been instilled in her because she didn’t have a very happy childhood…oh I don’t know! It makes my brain hurt! I just found that I had no sympathy, no empathy, no anything for Helen at all…and although she dabbled with the idea at the end of feeling remorseful for her actions, it was too late!

I think for me, because I didn’t get hooked from the start, I just found it difficult to understand and difficult to comprehend…I can always tell whether I’m engrossed by whether I miss my stop on the tube or whether I let my tea go cold etc. but I even got off the tube with two pages left to read! Supposedly the height of suspense/revelation etc. and I just closed the book!

Anyway, enough of the moaning…I just didn’t get on with it. I found it a really challenging, uncomfortable read and although sometimes I do like books to push me to various emotions, it just put me on edge. I’m sure many other people have read it and loved it but I’m afraid on this occasion, I’m one of the others…