I Let You Go – Clare Mackintosh

There have been a lot of books in the suspense thriller vein of late and I love them, especialllet you goy in the summer when I just want to give my brain a break from school.  Publishers always want to draw comparisons to Gone Girl, which is the book that perhaps kick-started this newest craze, but I think it’s better to let a book stand on its own bookish merits.

Clare Mackintosh’s novel I Let You Go is definitely top of the thriller heap. I couldn’t put this book down and galloped through it in just a couple of sittings.

In the book’s opening pages, a mother is walking home in the pouring rain with her young son. Just at the road across the street from their home, he lets go of her hand and runs across the street. Out of nowhere, a car comes barreling down the street and hits the boy. From this point on, I Let You Go is a grab-you-by-the-throat suspense thriller that follows Jenna Gray as she goes to the Welsh coast to escape the tragic death and the police detectives, Ray and Kate, who are trying to find the driver behind the wheel.

Jenna’s grief is palpable. “Everything has changed,” she muses. “The instant the car slid across the wet tarmac, my whole life changed.” She stays until she can’t anymore and then, packing only what will fit into her holdall, including a box of treasures from her life, she runs away.

Unable to resist, I open the box and pick up the uppermost photo: a Polaroid taken by a soft-spoken midwife on the day he was born. He is a tiny scrap of pink, barely visible beneath the white hospital blanket.

As a mom, it’s hard to imagine how Jenna will ever survive this tragedy, but survive she must. She finally settles in a tiny tourist town called Penfach, somewhere outside of Swansea. There she rents an isolated, dilapidated cottage and begins the arduous process of overcoming her grief.

In the meantime, Ray and Kate sift through the non-existent evidence, hoping for a break in the case. Mackintosh spent twelve years as a police officer and so these sections are authentic, but don’t weigh the narrative down with unnecessary police jargon. In addition, Ray and Kate – especially Ray – are given interesting personal lives, which add another dimension to the story.

It doesn’t always work, but it does here – Mackintosh pushes the story along and months pass. Jenna starts to make a life for herself; Ray and Kate are taken off the hit and run case because they’ve done all they can do and then all hell breaks loose in a totally WTF fashion. You’ll know what I mean when you get there and from that moment on, it is a breathless race to the book’s conclusion.





Nevermore – Linda Newbery

This is the kind of book I would have loved as a young reader. Plucky heroine, manor house in the English countryside, an intriguing mystery. The problem for me, of course, was that I solved the mystery early on – but that doesn’t mean the book wasn’t fun to read.

Twelve-year-old Tizzie and her mother, Morag,  have moved to Roven Mere, where Morag has taken a job as a cook. The huge estate is a constant source of intrigue, especially for Tizzie, who hopes that for once Morag will give up the wanderlust that has driven them from town-to-town most of her life.

Owned by Sir Rupert Evershall, but run by the crusty Finnigan, Roven Mere is always at the ready for the return of Sir Rupert and his young daughter, Greta.

“Is he very grand, Lord Rupert?” Tizzie asks Mrs. Crump, the housekeeper.

“Oh, I’ve never actually met him,” said Mrs. Crump. None of us have. Only Finnigan. We’re expecting him home in a week or two. Him and his family. Very exciting it’ll be, meeting them at last.”

Tizzie spends her early days exploring the house – which does seem to be in a constant state of readiness for Sir Rupert and Greta’s homecoming – making friends with Davy, Mrs. Crump’s grandson, and trying to manage her mother’s moodiness.

The book is intended for younger readers whom I am sure would be charmed by Tizzie, the novel’s mystery and Roven Mere itself. I certainly was.

Until It’s Over – Nicci French

I can honestly say I’ve been a Nicci French (husband and wife team, Sean French and Nicci Gerrard) for over a decade, but I may have to quit them after reading Until It’s Over.

Astrid Bell is in her early 20s and works as a bike messenger in London. She lives in a huge house with university pals Pippa and her former boyfriend (and owner of the house) Miles. They share the space with Mick, Dario, Davy and Owen. They’re a family, in a sense.

Until It’s Over opens with an accident. Astrid is riding home from work and is almost at her house when someone opens their car door and Astrid goes flying off her bike. The woman in the car is a neighbour and she’s mortified at the accident she’s caused. Astrid is unhurt except for minor cuts and bruises. But later, the woman turns up dead. And hers is just the first murder connected to Astrid Bell.

Until It’s Over is supposed to be a mystery. About two thirds of the way through, though, the narration changes. Instead of following Astrid’s first person narration, we suddenly find ourselves in the killer’s head. I guess this was so we could understand their motivation. Um. The killer is Crazy.

Nicci French is usually such a dependable author -books that are  page turning, psychologically complex and fun. Until It’s Over was none of those things. I didn’t believe in (or care about) any of the characters. It wasn’t suspenseful. I often felt myself shaking my head in disbelief at the way characters interacted each other in a sort of oh please way.

I think if you’ve never read Nicci French – you absolutely should. But don’t read this. Read Killing Me Softly (which remains my favourite) or The Safe House.

Never Tell A Lie – Hallie Ephron

I guess I have been spoiled by Thomas H. Cook, who never fails to amaze me with his layered and intelligent mysteries. Hallie Ephron’s debut novel Never Tell A Lie, while not horrible, wasn’t all that the praise had promised.

Ivy and her handsome husband, David, are hosting a yard sale at their Victorian home. Ivy is hugely pregnant and she’s nesting like crazy, trying to rid the house of years of accumulated junk – most of which belonged to the previous owner. She is approached by a woman, Melinda, with whom she went to high school. Melinda used to play in Ivy and David’s house as a child and she asks if she can see it once more. David offers to give her a tour and Melinda disappears. Sounds pretty fishy, eh?

What follows is a by-the-numbers mystery where Ivy and David must fight to prove their innocence and everything is suspect. The plot unravels at a pretty quick pace but it’s a clunker. Puzzle pieces turn up relatively easily and lock into place without too much effort and even Ephron’ s attempts to toss the reader some plausible red herrings are only mildly diverting.

Ultimately a book like this depends on the reader’s investment in the character. Ivy isn’t unlikable; she actually manages quite well considering she’s nine months pregnant. She’s resilient and smart and figures out the mystery of Melinda’s disappearance quite handily.

I just didn’t care.


Love You Hate You Miss You – Elizabeth Scott

Back in the mid 7os, when made for TV movies were the rage, Linda Blair starred in one called Sara T: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic.  I’m sure it’s incredibly cheesy now, but I remember thinking that it was shocking and heart-breaking back then (and, yes, I realize I’m dating myself!) See for yourself.

I love the fact that all this stuff turns up on YouTube!

Love You Hate You Miss You by Elizabeth Scott is an updated take on teenage drinking. It tells the story of Amy whose best friend, Julia, has been killed in a car accident that Amy feels wholly responsible for. At the start of the book, Amy is just being released from Pinewood, a teen treatment center. She’s back home with her parents, high powered people from whom Amy has always felt distant. She has to return to school and continue to see her therapist, who insists she ask and answer some hard questions about her relationship with Julia.

Some of Love You Hate You Miss You is written in the form of letters to Julia. Amy’s therapist thinks it would be a good idea to journal her way to recovery, but Amy decides that she’ll write to Julia instead. The rest of the novel is a first person account of Amy’s attempts to fit back into a life she never really fit in to before.

Instead of a ‘movie of the week” feel, though, Love You Hate You Miss You seems authentic. Amy is 16 and she sounds it. She is trying to make sense of her life, but now she has to do it without her best friend. She drank because it made her feel less awkward, more confident.  Of course, the truth is alcohol just masks things temporarily – when the high wears off, you are who you are.

Amy has no choice but to come to terms with her parents, her life and herself and Love You Hate You Miss You allows that to happen without talking down to its intended audience.

Now, I think I’ll re-watch Sara T!

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter – Tom Franklin

Although there is a murder mystery at the centre of Tom Franklin’s novel, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, it isn’t what kept me reading.

In the late 1970s in rural Mississippi, Larry Ott lives with his parents. Larry’s an awkward kid who spends his spare time reading Stephen King novels and trying to ingratiate himself with the students at school. His father owns the local garage, and while Larry admires the way his father can tell a story, he and his dad aren’t close.

Then Silas Jones moves to town. Silas and his mother live in a shack deep in the woods, property owned by Larry’s father. A tentative friendship blossoms between the boys. Then, when the boys are in high school, Larry takes a local girl to the drive-in and she’s never heard from again. There’s no evidence to prove Larry had anything to do with her disappearance, but serious damage is done to his reputation.

Twenty years later, Larry operates his father’s garage but has no customers because of his tarnished past. Silas returns home to Chabot as a constable and another girl goes missing. Larry is the obvious suspect.

It sounds like a murder mystery and that is part of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter‘s appeal, but the book is  more than that.  I felt a great deal of sympathy for Larry, for his awkward relationship with his father – a man he tried to please but never could. When the story opens, we see him lovingly tend his mother’s chickens. He’s built them a contraption, a “head-high movable cage with an open floor” which he could move around so the hens would always have new grass to graze. Not exactly the actions of a cold-blooded killer. He also forms a relationship with a petty criminal, Wallace, out of sheer loneliness.

The story alternates between present-day and the boys’ shared past. Of course, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask why Larry didn’t stay away when he had the chance, or why Silas came home, but I still think Franklin handled their relationship, its secrets and revelations well.

Breathe My Name – R.A. Nelson

Fireless is the country where we live. Every day Momma teaches us something new about it.

Frances is 18 and something of a loner. She lives with her parents and two younger brothers in small-town Alabama.  It isn’t until the new boy, John Mullinix  or Nix, arrives at her school that Frances’ life cracks open.  Frances has been living in the shadow of a traumatic event – an event so horrible that she never talks about it and has, in many ways, surpressed its horror.

Frances’ best friend Ann Mirette insists that Frances tell Nix about her “first family,” but Frances is understandably reluctant. She really likes Nix and one senses that Frances doesn’t form attachments easily. She’s afraid that if she tells Nix what happened in Fireless, he’ll bolt.

Breathe My Name is a beautifully written book about facing your past and freeing yourself from its terrible hold. I don’t want to spoil the novel by spilling Frances’ closely guarded secrets. She’s been protected by her parents for eleven years, but the past has a way of finding you even when you’re trying desperately to hide from it.

I gladly went along with Frances on her journey to adulthood but I do have one niggle with the book. I just didn’t buy what happened in Charleston. The book had this beautiful rhythm going and Nelson deftly handled the past and the present, but the climax of the novel just felt out of place and Carruther’s motivation seemed like an afterthought. One of those: okay now why would this guy behave in this manner, wait, let’s make him an obsessed psychopath sort of solutions. I would have been just as happy if after he set Frances on her journey he was never heard from again.

Still, in the great scheme of things it hardly matters. Breathe My Name had lovely things to say about family and the courage it takes to confront your past and, more importantly, forgive yourself for surviving it.