Review: All Her Fault by Andrea Mara

Title: All Her Fault

Author: Andrea Mara

Published: 22nd July 2021, Bantam Press UK

Status: Read July 2021 courtesy Penguin/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

In All Her Fault by Irish author Andrea Mara, Marissa Irvine arrives at 14 Tudor Grove to collect her four year old son, Milo, from a play date, only to discover the occupant is a stranger who knows nothing about her son.

It’s a scenario that becomes ever more nightmarish when it’s clear there has been no simple mistake. Jenny, with whom Marissa organised the playdate over text, claims to know nothing about the plan, and when no ransom demand is forthcoming, the police have few leads to follow.

The longer Milo remains missing, the higher the tension rises. Mara develops plenty of plausible red herrings as suspicion falls on strangers and those closest to the Irvine’s alike. Cleverly, though the identity of the abductor is eventually revealed, their motivation remains obscured, until a final shocking reveal that I really didn’t see coming. A couple of the twists are a bit of a stretch but in general I thought All Her Fault was well plotted, pacey and suspenseful.

Mara’s portrayal of Marissa’s journey from confusion through to panic and despair is well portrayed. I empathised with her devastation, and her determination to find her son. Gossip and speculation run rampant as the news of Milo’s kidnapping spreads, there are some particularly passive-aggressive characters – school gate mums (and a Dad)- who are eager to suggest Marissa is somehow to blame for the tragedy. Jenny is the only one who reaches out to Marissa and offers her genuine support, despite her unwitting role in the abduction.

With a compelling premise, well drawn characters and a rather spectacularly satisfying ending, I thought All Her Fault was a gripping read.

++++++

Available from Penguin UK


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Review: The Children’s Secret by Nina Monroe

 

Title: The Children’s Secret

Author: Nina Monroe

Published: 13th July 2021, Sphere

Status: Read July 2021 courtesy Hachette

 

+++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

In The Children’s Secret by Nina Monroe, a back-to-school party in the small New Hampshire town of Middlebrook, is marred by tragedy when an eleven year old guest is shot in the chest, and the children, whom were out of sight of the adults in a barn, refuse to explain how it happened.

Unfolding from multiple perspectives, the narrative explores the impact of the shooting and its aftermath.

The characters are diverse, which I appreciate, but it does feel a little contrived, in that the cast tick just about every minority box.

As the parents look to lay, or deflect blame, they find themselves wrestling with various concerns, not just those that relate directly to the tragedy, but also personal problems, ranging from a crisis of faith to a troublesome pregnancy, as well as social issues such as racism, prejudice, media distortion, and political expediency. I felt the personal issues were largely unnecessary distractions though, given the complex and divisive subjects related to the main subject at hand.

I think Monroe manages to be fairly even-handed in her examination of the gun control debate. Studies show that in the US around 3000 children are killed or injured per year in incidents where a gun is accidentally/unintentionally fired by a child under the age of 17*. I believe in gun control. In an ideal world I do not believe any ordinary citizen should own a gun except in very specific instances, and no semi or automatic weapons without exception. I believe in gun registration, background checks, age restrictions, licences/permits, storage requirements, and limits on ownership.

Though as The Children’s Secret shows, none of that necessarily precludes a tragedy (though it was still avoidable, and could have been worse). As the nine children, aged from four to thirteen, steadfastly repeat the same story about the shooting that explains almost nothing, the mystery of the novel rests in discovering how the children gained access to the gun, exactly what happened in the barn, who fired the shot that struck the victim, and why. I found my need for answers to be sufficient motivation to keep reading.

The novel’s tight timeline (it unfolds over the period of about a week) and short chapters helps the story to progress at a good pace. I did feel there were some some flaws in the writing, but nothing egregious.

Provocative and thoughtful, The Children’s Secret has the potential to elicit strong reactions among its readers.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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https://www.childrensdefense.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Protect-Children-Not-Guns-2019.pdf

 

Review: Catch Us The Foxes by Nicola West

 

Title: Catch Us The Foxes

Author: Nicola West

Published: 7th July 2021, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read July 2021 courtesy Simon & Schuster

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Catch Us the Foxes is a dark, enthralling thriller from debut Australian novelist, Nicola West.

The novel opens with a prologue where Marlowe ‘Lo’ Robertson, is being introduced to an audience at the Sydney Opera House. She is to speak about her best selling true crime book, ‘The Showgirl’s Secret’, an account of the tragic death of a young woman, Lily Williams, seven years previously.

Marlowe was a 22 year old intern at the local paper when she found Lily’s body in the stables of the town showground. When her father, the town police chief, asked Lo to lie about some of the details of the crime, including the symbols carved into the young woman’s flesh, she reluctantly agreed, but then she is given Lily’s journals which suggest Lo’s father, and other prominent citizens, may have a reason to have wanted Lily dead.

West presents a compelling, intricate mystery where the truth is shockingly elusive to the very last page. Lily’s diaries suggest a frightening cult is operating in their small coastal town, and while the allegations seem absurd, Lo is prompted to dig further when a carnival worker is arrested for Lily’s murder on threadbare evidence. If what Lily has written is true, there are plenty of possible suspects among the townsfolk, and West cleverly portrays them with an interesting ambiguity. Suspense builds as trust is eroded, and Lo attempts to ascertain the truth.

Lo presents as smart, resourceful and ambitious but there is an edge to her character that is disquieting. Doubt is thrown on the validity of her investigation when other characters suggest Lo is suffering from PTSD, and the possibility is a nag as she continues to piece information together, so that her reliability as a narrator is in question. It’s a clever conceit that West manages well.

The plot makes good use of the setting, small towns seem capable of hiding secrets behind their bucolic facades. I’ve been to Kiama (on NSW’s south coast) where Catch Us the Foxes takes place, and it’s a pretty coastal town, not so different from the one I live in now, but West successfully paints it as a claustrophobic, corrupt community.

With its clever structure and twisting, gripping plot, Catch Us the Foxes is an impressive read. The stunning final reveal seems to divide readers, but I thought it was terrific.

+++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

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Review: The Others by Mark Brandi

 

Title: The Others

Author: Mark Brandi

Published: 30th June 2021, Hachette

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy Hachette

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

The Others is a haunting coming-of-age novel from award-winning Australian author Mark Brandi.

On his eleventh birthday Jacob’s father gifts him a diary, encouraging his son to write about their life on an isolated farm in rural Tasmania. The boy writes of the sheep they tend, the goats they hunt and eat, the drought that destroys their crops, the foxes that lurk in the hills. Of his dead mother, whom he misses but can’t remember, of the whites of his father’s eyes, of the questions he has about ‘the town’, the plague, and the Others.

Jacob’s voice is captivating, Brandi pitches it perfectly to project the curiosity and innocence of a young boy whose understanding and experience of the world is limited to what his father tells him, supplemented by a dictionary, an incomplete encyclopaedia, and a faded Women’s Weekly magazine.

Jacob is reluctant to ask his father too many questions, wary of his father’s temper or alternatively afraid that the ‘soft eyes’ will return, which means his dad may not talk or move for days. There are subtle clues for the reader that what Jacob’s father tells him about life outside the farm may not be true, small details that the boy doesn’t recognise as incongruous. Tension builds as Jacob’s curiosity grows, and he secretively begins defying his father’s edict to remain within the confines of the farm. Brandi conjures dread and anxiety as a confrontation, either between Jacob and his father or Jacob and the ‘others’, seems inevitable.

The writing is spare, yet evocative, I was clearly able to visualise the farm and it’s immediate surrounds. Some of the graphic scenes in the novel have more impact because the description is so stark. Unexpectedly, the story is also enhanced by small sketches, drawn by Jacob in his diary.

Powerful and unsettling, The Others is a gripping novel with an ending that left my heart pounding.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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Review: The Heights by Louise Candlish

 

Title: The Heights

Author: Louise Candlish

Published: 2nd June 2021, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy Simon & Schuster Australia 

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

The Heights is a slow-burn psychological thriller exploring obsession, vengeance and justice from Louise Candlish.

Ellen Saint is stunned when, from a clients window, she sees a familiar figure on the roof terrace of a neighbouring building. It should be impossible, the man who broke her heart is dead. She knows this, because she is the one who killed him.

Presented in four parts, parts one and three are a first person account from Ellen Saint, taken from her to-be-published manuscript. Ellen paints herself as a happy wife to Justin, and adoring mother of 12 year-old daughter Freya, and her 17 year-old son from her previous relationship, Lucas. Lucas, a bright, responsible student, is in his final year at his private school when he is asked to mentor a new disadvantaged enrollee, Kieran Watts. Ellen’s introduction to Kieran leaves her feeling vaguely uncomfortable but that feeling soon turns to loathing as Lucas transforms into a rebellious, sullen teen more interested in partying than studying. It’s clear that this situation is not going to end well and Candlish skilfully builds and maintains the tension as the inevitable tragedy draws near.

Ellen may be a little high strung, but Candlish’s portrayal of her spiralling anxiety felt authentic to me. As a parent I could empathise with Ellen’s concern for her son, and her dislike of what she perceives to be the negative influence of Kieran. To be honest I once found myself in a similar circumstance, and I was at a loss as how to deal with it appropriately. I didn’t begrudge Ellen her fear, frustration or anger, especially given how the situation unfolded, even if I can’t condone her actions.

Parts two and four are presented from the third person viewpoint of Ellen’s ex partner, and Lucas’s father, Vic. Despite their separation, he and Ellen have remained close, and it’s Vic that Ellen turns to most often as Lucas’s behaviour worsens. Vic’s perspective of the situation is somewhat different to Ellen’s though, throwing some doubt on the veracity of her account. It’s a clever way to counter the established narrative, and surprise the reader with a few twists.

Carefully plotted, and with provocative characters, I found The Heights to be a gripping read, blurring the line between justice and vengeance.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster

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Review: Echolalia by Briohny Doyle

 

Title: Echolalia

Author: Briohny Doyle

Published: 1st June 2021, Vintage Australia

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

I’m not sure how best to describe Echolalia by Briohny Doyle, perhaps as a literary domestic suspense. Set in an outer suburban Australia the timeline of Echolalia shifts ‘Before’ and ‘After’ the night Emma Cormac left her infant son alone by a dried up lake.

In the before, Emma is married to Robert Cormac, the princely only son of local wealthy construction developers, and installed in the expansive home he built for them. It’s the stuff of fairytales for Emma, who is from a far less affluent background, which only begins to sour with the birth of their second child, a son who is quickly diagnosed with a hereditary disorder, and viewed as a blot on the Cormac family name. Seeking redemption for what is perceived as her failure to provide a suitable heir, barely eighteen months later Emma presents her husband wth a healthy son, Robbie.

After, Emma’s children, Clem and Arthur, are young adults who have not seen their mother since the night baby Robbie died. While Arthur has made a life for himself far from the influence of the Cormac’s, Clem remains haunted by all she does not know.

Echolalia is a bleak tale, commenting on climate change, capitalism, class, privilege, legacy, patriarchy, trauma and motherhood. I found the ‘Before’ to be more compelling than the ‘After’, which feels somewhat unresolved.

Emma’s emotions are viscerally portrayed as she becomes increasingly fragile, both emotionally and physically. Her sense of self already vague, it disintegrates under the expectations of the family she has into married to. Drifting unheeded towards the inevitable tragedy, it’s clear Emma is suffering from post natal depression which tips into psychosis.

In their relationship with Emma, while her husband Robert is perhaps at best myopic, his mother Pat is wilfully insensitive, and Robert’s cousin, Shane, is pointedly cruel. These attitudes are also echoed in their business dealings as the wield their wealth and power in ways which are both careless and deliberate. In the aftermath the Cormac’s accept no responsibility, Emma and the loss of Robbie, a convenient scapegoat for everything that then befalls them.

With its crisp and evocative prose, Echolalia is a raw, poignant and unsettling novel that left me uncomfortable, but thoughtful.

+++++++

Available from Penguin Books Australia 

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Review: Falling by T.J. Newman

 

Title: Falling

Author: T.J. Newman

Published: 4th June 2021, Simon & Schuster UK

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy Simon & Schuster Australia

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated, fasten your seatbelt and take a deep breath, we are about to take off and there aren’t any exits from T.J. Newman’s debut novel, Falling.

Barely a half hour into his flight from Los Angeles to News York commercial pilot Bill Hoffman receives an email from his wife, there is no subject or text just an attachment showing Bill’s wife and young children, bound and hooded. The hostage taker’s demand is simple, Bill is to crash the plane he is flying with one hundred and forty eight souls on board or his family will die.

The premise isn’t sophisticated but it is utterly compelling as Bill declares he has no intention of crashing the plane or losing his family. The hostage-taker warns Bill he is to tell no one but Bill nevertheless confides in the lead flight attendant, Jo, who contacts her nephew Theo, an agent with the FBI. As the captain and crew of Flight 416 attempt to devise a way to survive the terrorists threats, the FBI begin hunting for Bill’s family.

The pace is breathtaking as the crisis unfolds over a five hour timeline. While shock and fear eventually take a backseat to determination and courage amongst those trying to prevent a tragedy, the tension is unrelenting as the terrorists manage to stay one step ahead of Bill and Theo. Caught up in the intense emotion and action I couldn’t put it down. In all I felt there was only one awkward note, a mawkish quintessentially ‘American’ scene that happens on the ground near the end of the novel.

The heroes of Falling are, as one would expect, determined no-one will die. They use creative means to circumvent the terrorists, ignoring their own fears, and physical discomfort to protect others. The terrorists are not wholly typical, Newman makes an attempt to humanise by revealing their tragic pasts, and makes some valid points in terms of their cause, but their intentions really have no justification.

Almost everyone is at least vaguely familiar with the interior of a plane which makes scenes set in the AirBus easy to visualise. Newman draws on her experience as a former flight attendant so that the details in regards to the plane’s operation and the crew’s actions seem authentic, even if they are not accurate.

Falling is a well executed, exhilarating thriller, with appeal to a wide audience. Unsurprisingly it’s already been optioned for film and I imagine it will be a summer blockbuster.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

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Review: You Had It Coming by B.M. Carroll

 

Title: You Had It Coming

Author: B.M. Carroll

Published: 13th May 2021, Viper

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy Viper/Netgalley UK

+++++++

My Thoughts:

 

“Someone else must hate him as much as we do.”

As paramedic Megan Lowe loads a patient suffering gunshot wounds into her ambulance she is stunned to realise she recognises the man. Twelve years previously William Newson was the barrister who successfully gained the acquittal of the two men who raped her, by labelling her and her best friend Jess as liars. Homicide Squad detective Bridget Kennedy is suspicious of the coincidence, but she quickly learns that plenty of people thought he had coming, defending sexual predators has won the dead man few fans, including among his family.

You Had It Coming unfolds from the alternating perspectives of Megan, Jess and Bridget. Instinctively on learning of Newson’s death, both Megan and Jess feel that he deserves his fate, still angry about his role in their trial. While the women were victims of the same crime, their reactions in the aftermath have been quite different. Jess has arguably coped better in the intervening years, but then the fall out could be said to have been more dramatic for Megan, regardless both are living quite different lives from what they had planned at 17. I admired Carroll’s portrayal of both women, who come across as complex, authentic characters.

Carroll offers us a glimpse into Bridget’s personal life, and the effect her work as a detective has on her family. With a teenage daughter and son of her own, Bridget can’t help but be affected by Megan and Jess’s experiences.

I also appreciated the authenticity of Bridget’s investigation. She and her colleagues follow up on all the information that comes their way, sifting through evidence, leads and suspects. Carroll provides the reader with a number of potential suspects, and does well to keep many of them in play ensuring suspense is maintained, the stakes rising when the body of another man related to Megan and Jess’s case is discovered in suspicious circumstances.

Carroll explores a number of themes such as trauma, justice, shame, guilt and revenge. She also exposes the flaws of the justice system, particularly when it involves sexual assault, and illustrates how the consequences of the crime is rarely confined to just the perpetrators and victims. I felt her portrayal of all the issues was sensitive and respectful.

A blend of domestic thriller and police procedural, I found You Had It Coming to be a suspenseful and thought-provoking novel.

+++++++

Available from Serpents Tail

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and Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Review: Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson

 

Title: Mother May I 

Author: Joshilyn Jackson

Published: 13th May 2021, Raven Books

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy Raven Books/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

Mother May I is a gripping, fast paced domestic thriller from Joshilyn Jackson.

“A note. Handwritten in large block print. IF YOU EVER WANT TO SEE YOUR BABY AGAIN, GO HOME—“

When Bree Cabbat realises her ten week old son has been abducted, the only thing she can think to do is exactly as the kidnapper demands in the note left for her. So she goes home, leaving her teen daughters with a friend, assuming Robert is being held for ransom given both her lawyer husband, Trey, and his family are conspicuously wealthy, feeling certain that once the demands are met her son will be returned safely to her. Waiting for Bree is a gift bag hanging from her front door, inside is a cell phone and a bottle of pills.

The phone rings and Bree learns the woman on the phone who has her son doesn’t want money, she claims to want justice. All she asks of Bree is to follow a few basic rules and complete a relatively simple task that will allow for redress against the man, Bree’s husband’s friend and colleague, who hurt her daughter, and then she’ll return Robert to her. But Bree soon realises the woman isn’t seeking justice, she wants revenge, and if Bree wants her son back, she will have to learn why he was taken, and decide how far she will go to ensure his return.

The kidnap of a child is an emotive hook, a nightmare scenario every mother has likely imagined. Through the first person narrative, Jackson nurtures our sympathy for Bree, appealing to our own protective instincts. From the moment Robert is taken we are on Bree’s side, eager for mother and son to be reunited, and quick to judge his abductor as an irredeemable human being. It’s not that simple of course, the woman who has taken Bree’s son is a mother too, and she is convinced she is granting her daughter justice. The ambiguity of her character, as we learn bits and pieces of her story, is challenging.

The themes of motherhood, justice and privilege are crucial elements of the story. Jackson explores questions about the lengths a mother will go to protect and defend her child, and where the line is drawn between justice and revenge. She exposes the disparity between the rich, who are so often insulated from their mistakes, and the poor who are not. She reveals the privilege of men who, in never facing the consequences for their actions, believe there are none for their victims.

Jackson introduces suspense from the first page of Mother May I, and it never fades as Bree fights for the life of her infant son. With the spectacular pacing, and steadily increasing tension I flew through the book. Though realism is a little elastic at times, I enjoyed the twists, willingly suspending disbelief where required.

Addictive, dramatic and thought-provoking, I found Mother May I to be a sharp and satisfying read, equal to her genre debut, Never Have I Ever.

+++++++

Available from Bloomsbury Raven Books

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Review: Vanished by James Delargy


Title: Vanished

Author: James Delargy

Published: 5th May 2021, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy Simon & Schuster Australia

+++++++

My Thoughts:

“A family was missing. They had been in the town and then they weren’t. What they were even doing therein the first place wasn’t yet known. No one should have been there. No one had for close to fifty years.”

James Delargy has followed his impressive debut novel, 55, with another compelling thriller set in Australia’s unforgiving outback, Vanished.

Tasked to investigate the disappearance of the Maguire family, Lorcan, his wife Naiyana, and their six year old son, Dylan, from Kallayee, an abandoned town on the edge of the Great Victoria Desert, Major Case Squad Detective Emmaline Taylor is puzzled by what she finds left behind – a home on the brink of collapse, its contents ransacked; blood smears, though not enough to suggest a fatality; a tunnel littered with chocolate bar wrappers, a dead end, like all their leads seem to be, until she finds a body being savaged by a pack of dingo’s on the outskirts of town.

Unfolding from multiple perspectives, shifting between before and after their disappearance, it soon becomes apparent that the Maguires left Perth to set up home in the remote West Australian ghost town not in the spirit of adventure, but because they had few alternatives available to them.

Though the Maguire’s tell themselves they are in Kallayee to become closer as a  family, the cracks in their marriage are obvious. They lie to themselves as much as they lie to each other and eventually neither Lorcan nor Naiyana are particularly sympathetic or even likeable. If not for the presence of Dylan I’m not sure I’d care much what happened to them. I liked Emmaline a lot though, she’s smart, determined and interesting.

Clever plotting ensures there are several possibilities, from the benign to the ominous, that may explain the family’s disappearance. Even though we are privy to information Emmaline is not, Delargy doesn’t share everything with the reader, subtly undermining what we think we know, allowing for surprising twists.

Short chapters ensure a good pace, and the author effectively builds the suspense in both timelines. The desolate, broken landscape creates a claustrophobic, hostile backdrop to the story that adds to the tension.

Vanished is a gripping, atmospheric thriller with an unexpected but satisfying conclusion.

++++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

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