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Crime Scene Readers – Book Club Reviews

Writing.ie | Guest Bloggers | Crime Scene

Louise Phillips

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This week’s discerning bunch of Crime Scene readers give us some great reviews on Kind of Cruel by Sophie Hannah, Taken by Niamh O’Connor, and Absolute Zero Cool by Declan Burke!!!

If you want to send in your reviews for any books featured on the Crime Scene site, email me at crimescenewriter@gmail.com orphillips.louisem0@gmail.com

Valerie Healy

Twitter @valhealy

Kind of Cruel – Sophie Hannah

This is my first encounter with Sophie Hannah’s unique style of writing and Kind of Cruel didn’t disappoint me at all. However, if you are looking for a fast paced, action filled crime thriller, this book will disappoint. Instead this book is a slow paced psychological thriller that will have your mind working overtime instead of your heart jumping.

We are introduced to Amber Hewerdine who seeks the help of a hypnotherapist to help cure her of insomnia. I warmed to Amber straight away, falling in love with her very cynical outlook of how she feels about her trip to the hypnotherapist , Ginny Saxon.

“On the count of three”, I imagine saying to myself in my best deep hypnotic voice, “ you will get out of your car, go into the house across the road and pretend to be in a trance for an hour. You will then write a cheque for seventy quid to a charlatan. It’ll be ace”.

Amber’s funny and witty outlook makes the reader empathise with her straight away and as each of Ambers thought processes are revealed, we are introduced to the darker side to Amber and her life. During her session with Ginny Saxon, she innocently says the words, kind, cruel, kind of cruel which lead to her becoming embroiled in a murder investigation as their prime suspect.

To be honest, I struggled with the first few chapters, felt very lost at times and felt some of the narrative rambled on and on with no relevance to moving the story forward. At one point in the beginning, I thought that if Amber Hewerdine needed a cure to her insomnia that maybe picking up this novel would do the trick. I was tempted to put it down and not pick it up again but I read on and I am very glad I did because after Chapter 3, the story really starts to take shape and as you are led deeper into Ambers life and introduced to the other characters of the police team like Simon Waterhouse, investigating the murders, you need to understand them and find each one of them more compelling.

In-between each chapter, there are chapters written by the hypnotherapist. I didn’t know who was talking here at first but when it is revealed it is the hypnotherapist, Ginny Saxon, it all begins to make sense and I honestly looked forward to reaching the end of the main chapters to see what Ginny had to say next. This is where we are given insights into Ambers sessions with her and how our thought processes evolve in time by placing layers of layers of memories in our minds to protect ourselves from something we can’t face. Most of these chapters finished with a question leading the readers deeper into the story and needing to find out more.

The murderer is revealed early on in the book but what keeps you turning the pages is…. why. Why would a seemingly ordinary person commit these crimes? I felt that this was handled very well and well written and only revealed in the final few pages. However if I am honest, while the reasons for this, when revealed are believable, what falls flat for me is the way it is handled in the end.  There is a lengthy interview process with lots of exposition which mostly consists of Simon stating his own opinions and deductions of the murderer. I felt it was a disappointing ending to an extremely well written physiological thriller and although all the twists are wrapped up nicely, I was left feeling, is that it?

Hannah’s chapters are long and at times very slow moving in pace. I think the main points of each chapter could have been achieved with a lot less words while still moving the story forward.   There is a sub- plot between Charles Zailer (Simon’s wife and policewoman), Ginny Saxon and Simon Waterhouse which I felt had no relevance at all to this story and still don’t know why this was included towards the end of the book. The Guardian described this book as cool, calculating and chilling. I didn’t feel this at all when reading the book but I was intrigued by Amber and her dysfunctional family and Hannah’s unique style of writing by moving the narrative between Amber in the first person to the other main characters in the 3rd person.

If you are looking for a chilling, spine tingling, story, you won’t find that in this book but what you will find are intriguing straight talking characters who draw you into their dysfunctional lives. Some funny characters and some funny laugh out loud lines. But mainly what you will get out of this book is an insight into the functioning of the mind and how we can shape our memories into stories that may never have happened at all. Worth a read just for the brain outwork and Hannah’s unique way of making what is a very simple and somewhat silly plot into something that will leave you thinking about in and outs of the human mind long after you have closed the book.

Katy O’ Dowd

Twitter @katyod / Blog Link http://www.katyodowd.com/

Absolute Zero Cool – Declan Burke

The blurb: Absolute Zero Cool is a post-modern take on the crime thriller genre. Adrift in the half-life limbo of an unpublished novel, hospital porter Billy needs to up the stakes. Euthanasia simply isn’t shocking anymore; would blowing up his hospital be enough to see Billy published, or be damned? What follows is a gripping tale that subverts the crime genre’s grand tradition of liberal sadism, a novel that both excites and disturbs in equal measure. Absolute Zero Cool is not only an example of Irish crime writing at its best; it is an innovative, self-reflexive piece that turns every convention of crime fiction on its head.

I’m not sure how to describe Declan Burke’s Absolute Zero Cool, I’m not sure that I should even try. It’s a devilishly clever thing, but not so clever as to be exclusive, you see it’s far too funny for that. I adore that he wrote about a writer’s character coming to life and colluding with said author; I love that they bickered and bitched and plotted and planned; I was actually bewitched, bothered – but not bewildered, such a joyful thing this book is, cackling in places was I. So black is the noir featured within its pages that someone needs to come up with a new word for it, witty, irreverent and pacy as you like. Criminally good.

Triona Walsh

Twitter @DomesticOub/Blog Link http://domesticoubliettte.blogspot.ie/

Taken – Niamh O’Connor

Taken is a compulsive page turner. It begins with the kidnapping of a little boy on a miserable Dublin night and his distraught mother. To begin with I thought this was going to be a straightforward tale of kidnapping and DI Jo Birmingham’s efforts to retrieve the child. But it rapidly unfolds into a story of Dublin’s unseen sex and drug underworld. A world that exists just a scratched surface away. All that seemed so straightforward initially, gradually evolves to expose a much deeper, seedier, murkier underbelly. It’s a great read. I tore through it in only two days. O’Connor’s pacing is excellent, only perhaps flagging a little at the end, when the effort to tie up all the loose ends of this complex tale takes its toll. But the world she exposes is fascinating, and considering her background as True Crime editor of The Sunday World, it is all too believable.

There was a point though in the book, where I recognised elements of actual notorious Irish real life crimes in her story. I wasn’t crazy about this approach. At times it took me out of the narrative. But I could see how for some readers it could enhance their enjoyment – the reality of these crimes, reinforcing the plausibility of O’Connor’s story. Over all though, it was a small quibble.

The character of Detective Inspector Birmingham is a particular success in my opinion. She is perfect hero material – hard working, righteous, and commanding. Where every other character in the book is fatally flawed, even the mother of the lost child, DI Birmingham shines through never losing our interest or support. Writing a female character in a typically male environment, both fictionally as a police detective and literally, as a female hero in a genre dominated by male protagonist, is a tricky task. But O’Connor manages it with aplomb.

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