BOOK REVIEW | The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler

3/5 stars

I’ve finally started on Lars Kepler’s famous Joona Linna series, and I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed the first installment. I’d heard terrible things about this book, but it’s my understanding that earlier translations were not well done (Lars Kepler is a pseudonym for a Swedish husband and wife writing team), rendering the story nonsense. I’m happy to report that these new editions read very well.

This plot is complex, but here are the basics. 10 years ago Erik Maria Bark worked as a professional hypnotist, helping people to move through their past traumas. After a patient incident, he has promised never to hypnotize anyone again. Meanwhile, detective Joona Linna is investigating a complex case which leaves nearly an entire family killed. It’s clear that, regardless of his vow never to practice hypnotism again, Erik is required to hypnotize Josef, the teenage survivor and lone witness of this crime, to unlock details that could lead solving the case. The chain of events that follows leaves Erik and his wife Simone in desperate need of Joona’s help as well.

This was an easy story to move through, but it did feel a little disjointed – as though I was reading two separate stories in one. Both of the stories were good, but there was no connection between them. By the end of the book we are in a totally different place than we started. The story really is Erik’s, not Josef’s, as we initially believe.

This would be a great book for someone interested in Nordic Noir. Overall, a very engaging read and I’m looking forward to continuing with the series!

BOOK REVIEW | The Outsider by Stephen King

4/5 stars

The first half of this book was such a blast, and one of the best thriller / mystery / police procedurals I’ve read in a long time. I was powering through at a pretty quick pace, until about the half way mark when the story takes a severe left turn. I like to go into books pretty blind, so I wasn’t aware that there would be a connection to the Bill Hodges trilogy. King loves connecting his stories together, but unfortunately I found this took away from an otherwise stellar narrative.

The premise: a young boy is violently killed but the prime suspect, coach Terry Maitland, has an indisputable alibi. Multiple eye witnesses claim to have seen Terry near the scene of the crime and with the victim, but there is no way he can be responsible – a man can’t be in two places at once. Due to the horrific nature of the crime police are looking to make an arrest ASAP to ensure the public feels safe, and when the DNA comes back as a match they arrest Terry publicly, leaving tragedy behind for his family. As the story progressive it becomes more and more apparent that Terry can’t be responsible, but DNA doesn’t lie…

If you haven’t read the Bill Hodges trilogy and would like to, do not read The Outsider first. It’s a stand-alone book, but will spoil the series for those who haven’t read it. When the mystery seems impossible to solve, King brings back Holly Gibney from his trilogy (which I loved) – the anxious, quiet, yet shockingly astute partner who played a pivotal role in those books. This is also the point in the book that dives into the supernatural, which can go either way for me. I generally don’t like supernatural stories, but King often does it extremely well. It was good here, just not as good as the first half of the story.

I love Stephen King, and this was so close to being a home run! My review sounds a bit negative but I really enjoyed the book, even though it felt a bit disjointed. Fans of King will appreciate his dedication to continuing to surprise, even with so many stories under his belt.

BOOK REVIEW | Snap by Belinda Bauer | Man Booker Prize 2018

5/5 stars

What a journey! This was a a fantastic crime read that packed an emotional punch in its last few lines. If you enjoy police procedurals and are looking for a unique story, this is a must-read. For readers that want to try the genre and are uncomfortable with the vast amounts of graphic violence in most crime novels (not me), this will satisfy as well.

Jack, Joy, and Merry are waiting by the side of the road in their broken down car: their mother had gone to call for help and would be back soon. An hour passes, and the kids decide go searching for her, unaware that they would never see her again – she was found stabbed to death days later. Three years pass, and the kids are living alone in their family’s house having slipped through all the cracks in the system.

Jack, the eldest at 14, turns to burglary to take care of his sisters. When he thinks he discovers a key to his mother’s death, he takes an unconventional approach to get the police to re-open the investigation. Meanwhile, a pregnant lady named Catherine, experiences a home invasion while her husband is away for work. These two narratives play out simultaneously, seemingly unrelated. Their stories, however, will soon collide.

There were a few elements that didn’t work for me; a secondary character named Smooth Louis, for example. He’s a mentor to Jack / petty criminal who is obsessed with removing all hair from his body. He’s always shaving it away, but we have no idea why. It’s never explained and his character doesn’t go anywhere. I’m all for weird for the sake of weird, but it just didn’t make sense in this book. Secondly, Bauer likes to call everyone fat. I can’t tell you how many times in this book her characters are described as fat and disgusting – it was a bit much. I’m sure there are more creative ways to describe someone’s size.

I sort of wanted to give this book 4 stars, but it was so damn addictive that I have to give it 5. This was an incredibly interesting choice for the Man Booker longlist – it’a an excellent crime read and I’m curious as to why the judges decided to include this genre into the prize for 2018. Looking forward to reading more of the longlist next!

BOOK REVIEW | Find You in the Dark by Nathan Ripley

3/5 stars

Look, this book isn’t going to win any awards for its quality of writing, but Find You in the Dark shines in plot. After reading countless thrillers that feel all too similar, it was refreshing to read one that had an entirely unique premise. This was a really fun read!

Martin Reese retired young after his tech company exploded, leaving him with both ample financial resources and plenty of time on his hands. He is a devoted husband and father, who happens to have a bit of a twisted obsession: he seeks out the bodies of murder victims from unsolved cases, uncovering them for the police to find. To carry out his compulsion he tells his wife, Ellen, that he’s going camping and uses his alone time to uncover bodies. Martin’s focus is on the victims of a long captured serial killer, Jason Shurn, and he gets his intel from a cop who sells him case files on the sly.

Before long, a past family tragedy takes centre stage, reaching a breaking point when his daughter disappears. Shurn may not have acted alone, and Martin has enraged someone by uncovering victims from the past. Martin will have to succumb to an internal darkness to save his family and get his daughter back.

I’ve heard this book compared to Dexter, but I have a hard time seeing that. Unlike Dexter Martin isn’t a killer. He’s simply a man who has taken an interest in true crime to the next level, albeit a twisted one. The book is a little long and though it drags a little, I was compelled to keep reading. Side note – Nathan Ripley is a pseudonym for Naben Ruthnum, an Indian writer from Canada. He’s said he used the new monicker because of the expectations that come with having an ethnic sounding name. I must say, I wish he used his real name! Shatter the expectations! OK, back to business – 3 stars, because it was hard to put down.

BOOK REVIEW| Kill the Father by Sandrone Dazieri

4/5 stars

I absolutely loving diving into a new, meaty, crime book and Kill the Father did not disappoint. The first installment in Italian author Sandrone Dazieri’s ‘Colomba Caselli’ series was a great start to what will hopefully be an ongoing project. I love a good crime book, and this one hit all the right spots – a complex, deeply woven, murder-mystery with an unlikely pairing set on solving the case.

A boy and his mother go missing, and detective Colomba Caselli, on leave from work after suffering a trauma of her own, is called upon to look at the details of the case. With reluctance, she becomes involved in the case, and is introduced to someone who is believed to have insight into the mystery.  When Dante Torre was a boy, he was held captive for years by a man known only as The Father. He eventually escapes and manages to rebuild his life. With a new boy missing, Dante must re-open this dark chapter of his life and prove to the police force that The Father is very much alive and still at work.

This story is heavily character-driver, and soon the initial mystery that drew me in – a boy and his mother go missing – eventually becomes a part of the backstory. We discover more about Colomba and Dante, and the focus shifts to uncovering who The Father is and how he is committing his crimes. I missed a bit of the intensity that comes from similar stories where time is everything, and the hunt of the missing child is the focus, though I enjoyed the character progression and look forward to re-visiting these characters again. There was a focus on mental health and trauma that were a welcome addition to a formula that crime fiction fans know well. I could have used some more grit too, but I think that says more about me than it does the book!

This is a nice addition to any crime fiction collection, and the cliffhanger in the very last line of the book will definitely have me reaching for the second installment when it is released.

BOOK REVIEW | I’m Traveling Alone by Samuel Bjork

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
A six-year-old girl is found in the Norwegian countryside, hanging lifeless from a tree with a jump rope around her neck. She is dressed in strange doll’s clothes. Around her neck is an airline tag that says “I’m traveling alone.”

A special homicide unit in Oslo re-opens with veteran police investigator Holger Munch at the helm. Holger’s first step is to persuade the brilliant but haunted investigator Mia Krüger to come back to the squad–she’s been living on an isolated island, overcome by memories of her past. When Mia views a photograph of the crime scene and spots the number “1” carved into the dead girl’s fingernail, she knows this is only the beginning. She’ll soon discover that six years earlier, an infant girl was abducted from a nearby maternity ward. The baby was never found. Could this new killer have something to do with the missing child, or with the reclusive Christian sect hidden in the nearby woods?

Mia returns to duty to track down a revenge-driven and ruthlessly intelligent killer. But when Munch’s own six-year-old granddaughter goes missing, Mia realizes that the killer’s sinister game is personal, and I’m Traveling Alone races to an explosive–and shocking–conclusion.

My thoughts:
I’m happy to report that my first read of 2017 was a good one – a really good one. Samuel Bjork is a Norweigan author, and his North American debut I’m Traveling Alone pulled me right in.

After a disturbing crime is committed, detective Holger Munch is leading the case on a new homicide unit. It doesn’t take long for him to realize that he needs his old partner, Mia Kruger, to help him piece this together. Mia, extremely depressed and haunted by the tragic death of her twin sister, has isolated herself on an island, intent on suicide. When Holger shows up unannounced, she is less than pleased – she had a plan and he’s messing with it. Known for her brilliant mind, Mia can’t keep herself from hypothesizing about the details of the crime and before long the wheels are in motion and she is heading back to the police force with Holger – for one final case.

This book is intricately plotted with well-drawn characters that the reader can become invested in. I can’t wait to read about Holger and Mia again – they make for an awesome team and I really enjoyed that there was zero romantic involvement between the two. Just two strong, though flawed, characters working together to beat the clock and get the job done. There were no major twists or turns, rather a layered work that slowly unfolded to reveal the each piece of the puzzle. Bjork kept the tension high and I flew through this one pretty quickly!

There was a little to be desired at the end – I wasn’t totally thrilled with how the last two chapters played out. That said, I absolutely loved this book and can’t wait for the follow up! The second installment in the Holger Munch and Mia Kruger series, The Owl Always Hunts at Night,  is set for North American release in June 2017.

BOOK REVIEW | The Ice Princess by Camilla Läckberg

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3/5 stars

From the publisher:
In this electrifying tale of suspense from an international crime-writing sensation, a grisly death exposes the dark heart of a Scandinavian seaside village. Erica Falck returns to her tiny, remote hometown of Fjällbacka, Sweden, after her parents’ deaths only to encounter another tragedy: the suicide of her childhood best friend, Alex. It’s Erica herself who finds Alex’s body—suspended in a bathtub of frozen water, her wrists slashed. Erica is bewildered: Why would a beautiful woman who had it all take her own life? Teaming up with police detective Patrik Hedström, Erica begins to uncover shocking events from Alex’s childhood. As one horrifying fact after another comes to light, Erica and Patrik’s curiosity gives way to obsession—and their flirtation grows into uncontrollable attraction. But it’s not long before one thing becomes very clear: a deadly secret is at stake, and there’s someone out there who will do anything—even commit murder—to protect it.

My thoughts:
I was so excited to jump into my first Camilla Läckberg! I love Nordic Noir and crime fiction, and couldn’t wait to dive in.

Eric Falc, a writer who has returned to her home town of Fjällbacka, finds the body of a childhood friend who has committed suicide. She has trouble understanding why someone who is beautiful, successful, and with a husband who loves her dearly would come to such an end. She begins working with detective Patrik Hedström to uncover the details of her death. Along the way more death occurs, terrible secrets are revealed, and the truth uncovered is unexpected and disturbing. Oh, and there’s a love connection between Erica and Patrik.

This was a nice escapist read with a few interesting characters, and I will be continuing with the next in the series, The Preacher. This certainly wasn’t an amazing literary work, or the best crime fiction book that I have read, but I am intrigued enough to carry on! I believe this was Läckberg’s first book after a drastic career change, and there are some passages that give the reader insight into her style as a crime writer:

The material was increasingly taking on the form of a crime novel, a genre to which she’d never felt particularly attracted. It was people – their relationships and psychological motivations – that she was interested in; she thought that was something most crime novels had to give up in favor of bloody murders and cold shivers running down the spine. She hated all the cliches they used; she wanted to write about something genuine. Something that attempted to describe why someone could commit the worst of all sins – to take the life of another human being.

There was a side story about Erica’s sister and her abusive husband that didn’t wrap up at all – I really hope that there is more about this in the next book. That said, there were just enough twists to keep this interesting, and I look forward to seeing Läckberg’s voice develop in the next installment.