I’ve been busy this summer, reading thrillers – most of them, I am happy to report, fantastic!
I’ve listened to the audiobook of Something in the Water, written and narrated by Catherine Steadman and right off the bat, I was in love with the narrator’s voice (both within the novel but also the author’s own actual voice) and with this story of two people who find themselves in dangerous waters. A couple in their honeymoon are presented with the chance of a lifetime, a tempting discovery that can change their lives forever if only they muster the courage to take a chance.
Erin is a documentary maker and her new husband Mark is a City banker who works in investment banking and who loses his job just before their wedding. Struggling to adapt to a new (less wealthy, less privileged) life, the duo still travels to their honeymoon in Bora Bora as a last hurrah. In the lead up to the trip, Erin sees a less wholesome side of Mark but chalks it up to the stress of losing everything. When diving one day they find the remnants of a very recent plane crash and lots and lots of money as well as a fortune in diamonds. They KNOW the treasure must belong to someone who will probably (most likely) will be looking for it. They KNOW they shouldn’t take it. And yet…
This could be the answer to their problems and change their lives for the better. So here we have two amateur, unlikeable criminals trying to put their minds to work in order to get away with what seems like the perfect crime. There is no such thing as the perfect crime though, is there? That’s what Erin, the narrator, finds out as the problems and the danger escalate with a couple of unexpected twists and a lot of unreliability.
I highly recommend the brilliant audiobook for this one – the author/narrator is a Downtown Abbey actress and it shows.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Another novel about regular people finding themselves in a pickle is Those People by Louise Candlish. A master in taking the routine lives of people and looking at the petty and how small mistakes can escalate in unexpected ways, this new book sees Candlish looking at… neighbours. Most specifically at how having antisocial neighbours can be detrimental to one’s mental health in a very real way but also how the questions of class and social stratification can significantly have an impact and lead to prejudiced actions.
A quiet, friendly, affluent (but not rich) street in London sees new neighbours moving in to a house at the end of the street. Right at the beginning the new couple appears less friendly, rougher and less inclined to abide by the unwritten rules of the community. They play loud music, they park their cars (from a side business people are sure they should not be running from home) where they oughtn’t, they work on house repairs at all hours. When the noise and antisocial behaviour become unbearable to the point where it affects the small businesses, the sleep patterns of babies (and how that in turn, affect their parents) and more, things take a turn to the dark with an unexpected death. Following multiple narrators, Candlish writes this so well you can see how this escalation could happen. Also recommended, the author’s previous book, Our House, which has similar motives and is equally engaging for being so…. Human.
Rating: 8 – Excellent.
Heartstream by Tom Pollock is the only SF YA thriller in this group and it’s a heart pumping blend of technology, unreliable narrators and suspense, very akin to Black Mirror. The narrative happens in two separate streams: in one of them Amy uses Heartstream, a new social media app that allows others to feel your emotions, and Amy uses it to share everything about her mother’s illness and her grief after her funeral with the world. In this she finds communion, she finds people who understand how she is feeling. But things take a turn for the weird, when after the funeral she comes home to find a fan in her kitchen, waiting for her.
Meanwhile, the other stream follows Cat, her best friend Evie and the fandom they are both a huge part of. They are m/m shippers, in love with the idea of the real-life boyband they love and the presumed love affair between its leads. Cat has found friends, empathy and shared passion within this fandom. And this is why she keeps it secret that she has been dating one of the leads for a while.
I spent most of the book so tense, waiting to see how exactly the two narratives would converge and when it happened, my mind was blown. This is a story about how social media, technology and fandom can be both forces for good or bad, as well as potential sources of communion or alienation. On top of its examination of celebrity and obsession, there is also lot about of friendship, family, betrayal and hope here. Its ending may fall a bit on the super gothic and dramatic twist side of things, but I kinda dug it. Your mileage may vary.
Rating: 7 – Very Good
The Turn of the Key was my first thriller by Ruth Ware, slightly reminiscent of The Turn of the Screw but its own whole thing. When nanny Rowan Caine answers to an ad to work as a line-in nanny to four children at a remote Heatherbrae House in Scotland, she thinks the pay and perks are too good to be true. The house alone is an amazing smart mansion fitted with all the most advanced tech (and some unfortunate camera placements) and everything she could want. But something terrible happens because the framing of the novel is her in prison months later awaiting her trial for the murder of a child, writing to a lawyer about the “truth” of what really happened. We know from the start that Rowan is a liar, who deceived her new employees to get the job – the motive we only learn later on. But is she lying to her lawyer (and us?). The narrative never lets its secrets go until the very end.
The audiobook, narrated by Imogen Church, is a treasure on its own. She sounds so natural ( this is not always the case in audiobooks as I have come to learn throughout my audiobook adventures this year) and narrates the terrifying bits with such gusto, no joke, I almost peed my pants. I loved the book and the narrator so much that upon learning she narrates all of Ware’s audiobooks, I immediately listened to two more of them (The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Death of Mrs Westaway, both excellent).
Rating: 8 – Excellent.
Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman is the one I am most conflicted about. On the one hand, I appreciate its historical set up, 1960s Baltimore, following the life of a woman who leaves her husband to pursue a career in investigative journalism. She sets out to the investigate the death of Cleo Sherwood, an African American woman who was found dead in a park lake. No one seems to care about her death – not the police, not the news.
I loved the main character – Maddie – for her determination just as much as I kinda hated her for steamrolling pretty much everybody around her. I am usually all up for unlikable but relatable characters, especially women. But – and here is one of the problems I had with the book: her narrative was interspersed with that of pretty much every character she met (including that of the dead woman she was investigating) and the more we see of other, random characters, the less we see of the Maddie. Although this creates a rich portrait of Baltimore’s inhabitants, it also effectively creates a problem of distance – it is hard to care for a main character you barely know as much as you appreciate the strides she was making.
On a similar note, Maddie starts a sexual relationship with Fergie, a black cop at a time when this is a crime so they must keep it a secret. Fergie falls in love with Maddie but she is just interested in sex (while exploiting their relationship to collect information she shouldn’t have and which would effectively destroy his life if anyone found out). Although the novel looks critically at systemic racism as part of its main storyline with the death of a black woman and the lacking way that it is dealt by the police and by the news, there is something… off, with the way that the novel portrays Fergie. He doesn’t get a lot of room in the narrative, and the fact that most of their scenes are in bed and around sex makes Fergie’s portrayal dangerously close to that harmful stereotype of the oversexed black man. Now, this could be a flaw in the narrative or a flaw in its narrator – Maddie does keep certain things from the reader and her real feelings for Fergie may well be one of them. Either way, it’s a problem, in my opinion as the result is the same.
Rating: 5 – Meh
How about you? Have you been reading any thrillers lately? Recs are MOST welcome!