Category Archives: Suspense Fiction

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Sometimes I jump on bandwagons – never for sports teams, but occasionally for books. Last week I decided to jump on the Gone Girl bandwagon. This cunning thriller has been the talk of the summer at my library and has been mentioned on almost every ‘Best Books of Summer’ list I’ve seen. There are still over 100 holds on it in my library system and more requests being made by the hour. I really wanted to see what all the fuss is about.

Gone Girl starts out as a traditional missing woman novel. Amy disappears one morning from her Missouri home and all clues lead to her husband, Nick, as being the prime suspect. The story moves back and forth between Nick’s account of the investigation and Amy’s past journal entries. The reader quickly realizes that we’re dealing with two unreliable narrators and the first half of the book is a dizzying journey through the heads of this couple with many twists and turns driving the plot along a compelling, but unknown, road.

The second half of the novel has a much different feel because we find out a startling fact about Amy that changes the entire landscape of the novel and very cleverly switches the feel of the book from a murder investigation to an examination of marriage. All of the big (and little) issues that can infect a marriage are intensified here and completely transformed into psychosis. It is well-done and fascinatingly so.

However, I didn’t really like this novel. I was left with a sense of vague disappointment that I feel after reading most contemporary thrillers. I think this is a matter of personal taste rather than anything wrong with the quality of the book. I definitely recognize the excellence of the plot and writing, but I don’t like the overuse of profanity, the crudity or the general sense of modern malaise. Yes, I am old-fashioned and somewhat of a prude and feel more comfortable in the world of Barbara Pym than in the world of Gillian Flynn.

If you are a fan of thrillers I would recommend this, though. It is a very good suspense novel and obviously appeals to a lot of people. It has a unique plot and is undeniably absorbing. It just wasn’t for me.

I’d like to know – how do you feel about profanity in novels?

 

Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart

For my fifth Mary Stewart novel I decided to read the very first book she published, in 1955, Madam, Will You Talk? This action-packed thriller is set in the South of France and is the first-person account of Charity Selborne and the trouble she finds herself in just for being nice to a little boy.

Charity and her friend Louise settle in to Avignon, Charity intending to play the tourist and Louise to relax, draw, read and enjoy the sun. When Charity befriends a young boy named David she unknowingly embroils herself in a dangerous murder plot involving his father, his step-mother and some really shady war criminals. This Stewart has a lot more action than her others I’ve read, a lot more trickery and deception. I like Charity’s character – she has gumption and courage, but I love her friend Louise who is described as “unutterably and incurably lazy.” I remember loving the sidekick aunt character in The Moonspinners also – Stewart writes great supporting characters.

Madam, Will You Talk? is very definitely a vintage thriller. It is the first of hers I’ve read that felt a tad dated. But I don’t mind at all because I love the ’50’s and enjoyed reading something that was written during the time period and felt like it.

I think The Moonspinners is still my favorite of the Stewart’s that I’ve read, but Madam, Will You Talk? was hugely entertaining and I loved reading it.

The author Deanna Raybourn discusses Mary Stewart from a writer’s persepective here.

There’s still time to enter my giveaway for The Blank Wall – go here to enter. Entries due by tomorrow at midnight.

Have you seen this video for Penguin’s English Library series? It’s kind of bizarre, but I like it!

Thunder on the Right by Mary Stewart

Last month, I went on a little spending spree and bought five of the new vintage-looking Mary Stewart editions published by Hodder & Stoughton last year. I just love the way these colorful covers look. They do Mary Stewart proud and make her novels a tad more enticing to today’s readers (I hope).

Thunder On the Right, my third Mary Stewart, was part of my spoils and has a lovely pale green cover that is just perfect. The background I used in the photo is a piece of fabric that Katrina from Pining for the West sent me and I think it is a great compliment. Thanks again, Katrina!

This book is the first Stewart I’ve read that takes place outside of England. It is set in the Pyrenees, the mountains that divide France and Spain. The plot involves a case of identity theft and the struggle to uncover the truth behind the switch.

Jennifer Silver, a young Englishwoman, travels to France to meet her cousin Gillian, but when she arrives she’s told that Gillian died in a convent after a horrible car crash. Not quite believing the nuns who tell her the news, she decides to stick around and investigate the accident to find out exactly what happened. Joined in her endeavors by a former boyfriend, she uncovers a sinister smuggling operation that somehow involves Gillian.

This novel is the least favorite of the Stewart novels I’ve read. The plot is pretty feeble and the evil characters are comically drawn. There is too much melodrama and not enough backstory to make it as interesting as the others I’ve read. And there is zero character development. Other reviews I’ve read online concede that this is perhaps Stewart’s weakest novel.

That being said, I gobbled it up and did not want to stop. I usually read Mary Stewart in the bath and they are so riveting, this one included, that I end up all pruney by the time I can pull myself away.

If you’re new to Stewart I wouldn’t recommend this as your first experience of her writing. It is probably best to read it when you are already addicted to her and can’t be discouraged from thinking she’s wonderful.

The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

 

If ever there was an impulse read, this would be it. I was perusing blogs one Saturday at work about a month ago and came across ‘The 10 Best Neglected Literary Classics’ list in the Guardian. I adore lists like this. I think they are a great source for finding exciting new reads. I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to find any of the titles in my library system so I grabbed my Kindle and started checking the availability of each title on Amazon. The Blank Wall was available, inexpensive and is one of the small number of ebooks published by Persephone Books. Sold!

The Blank Wall is a suspense novel set during World War II. Lucia Holley lives with her two teens and her father in a lakeside house. Her husband, Tom, is somewhere in the Pacific and her frequent letters from him are one of the only bright spots in her life. Her daughter, Bee, is in art school and has been dating an unscrupulous man called Ted Darby. When Lucia tries to stop the relationship she inadvertently immerses herself into a dark, dangerous and completely unfamiliar world she doesn’t know quite how to navigate.

The mystery part of this novel is definitely thrilling and well-done, but the more interesting aspect of the novel for me was the questions it raises about homemaking and motherhood. When the novel opens Lucia’s life has already altered with her husband away at war. However, she is still the isolated homemaker she has always been, only thinking about planning meals, how to keep her father entertained and her children’s future. When she is forced to come into contact with the outside world through her conflict with Bee’s boyfriend, she realizes that men still find her attractive, that she has the strength to navigate life outside of her home and she discovers the sad fact that her children have a limited view of her capabilities and don’t respect her.

Lucia’s narrow existence has stunted her character – she’s naive, childish and has an unrealistic view of how to handle problems. Her son David treats her like a little girl, chastising her about taking the boat out on the lake by herself. Bee is disgusted with Lucia and doesn’t have any regard for her especially after she interferes in her love life. The only one who looks up to Lucia is her father who is even more childish than she is.

I don’t think Holding is knocking being a wife and mother, but she is questioning if it somehow stunted the character of the young women who married and then were sucked into family life so completely. Lucia has certainly been sheltered by her husband and it makes me wonder how many women were challenged beyond anything they had ever known when their husbands left for war.

Joan Bennett as Lucia in ‘Reckless Moment’ – the movie version of ‘The Blank Wall’.

Another intriguing aspect of The Blank Wall is the relationship between Lucia and her maid, Sibyl. Sibyl is more streetwise than Lucia and looks after her more than Lucia realizes. Sibyl knows everything about Lucia, but Lucia knows nothing about Sibyl. It’s a very strange relationship and it fascinated me that these two women have an unacknowledged bond that sustains them both through their troubles.

This is a spectacular suspense novel and would have been wonderful if it was just that. The fact that it is also a thought-provoking social study is a bonus that I wasn’t expecting. I can’t recall ever having been haunted by a mystery novel before, but this book has stayed with me and has led me to wonder about the lives of all the women who were suddenly thrust outside of their comfort zones when their husbands went off to war.

I would highly recommend this novel. It is a revealing insight into life on the American home front during World War II, how the war changed the way women had to interact with society and how their roles changed within their families while their husbands were away. This is an unexpected, but perfect, book for Persephone to have published and I’m glad it’s available in ebook format –  hopefully, it will give more people access to this incredible novel.

Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart

Another Mary Stewart, another thumbs up! Touch Not the Cat is my second Mary Stewart and I enjoyed it just as much as the first. Like Thornyhold it is a combination romance/suspense/family drama that is smart, thrilling and has that sprinkling of the supernatural that I so enjoy.

Bryony Ashley is telepathic. Not just with anyone, though. She can only communicate through her mind with one person, her ‘lover’, a person she doesn’t know the identity of, but who is her constant companion and support. When her father is hit by a car and killed in Germany she knows instantly in her mind because her lover lets her know. After the funeral, Bryony learns that she has inherited the family cottage, but that the rest of the vast family estate has gone to her male cousin, Emory. However, the entire family, including herself and Emory’s two brothers, have to give their permission if Emory ever wants to sell the old pile. Well, it just so happens that Emory is having money troubles and subtly pressures Bryony into giving her permission for him to sell everything so he can repay his debts. Bryony is reluctant because she slowly uncovers evidence that Emory is a ruthless, cold man who has no scruples when it comes to getting money.

In the meantime, she desperately searches for the identity of her lover (who she thinks is one of her cousins) and befriends the American family who are renting the estate. When she discovers that valuable art pieces are missing from the house things come to a head and her cousin’s true motives and the identity of her lover are both revealed. The end of the novel is a sensational page-turner that had me tense with anxiety.

A maze plays a huge role in Touch Not the Cat. This is the maze at Chatsworth. from http://www.eta.edu.

Touch Not the Cat is a very entertaining book, kind of silly, but I like Mary Stewart’s characters and her style of writing. I put a hold at the library on a volume that has four of her novels, but it seems the book is missing so I think I will buy some of her novels from the Internet because I truly like them and want to read more. The mixture of suspense + romance + history + sympathetic heroines + interesting settings =instant enjoyment and pleasure.

Thornyhold by Mary Stewart

First off I want to take a moment to *gush* about Mary Stewart. She is amazing. I’ve been reading a lot about her the past few months here and here and here. I felt immediately sure that I would like her novels, but I didn’t know how smitten I would be. Her writing is dreamy and evocative and her main characters are sensible and likeable. And there is the supernatural! I don’t know if all of her novels contain otherworldly elements, but this one and the one I am reading now, Touch Not the Cat, definitely do and I like it.

Thornyhold reminded me in some ways of Practical Magic, Garden Spells and The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. There were elements of all these books drifting through Thornyhold, but Stewart has such a charming, unique style that I didn’t feel like I was entering “been there/done that” territory. Plus, Stewart came first!

Geillis (Jilly) Ramsey has had a tough life. Her parents are not affectionate, won’t let her have pets (which she dearly longs for) and ship her off to school at the first chance they get. Her mother is a cold, stern woman who doesn’t provide any light or sparkling moments for Geillis to cherish. The most memorable interactions of her childhood are with her mother’s cousin, Geillis Saxon. Cousin Geillis has mysteriously appeared in her life a few times throughout her childhood and has left a tender and magical impression on Jilly’s heart. During college Jilly’s mother passes away and she returns home to care for her aging father until he dies as well. With no where to go and feeling anxious for her future she receives notification that Cousin Geillis, whom she hasn’t seen in years, has also passed and has left Jilly her home in the country, a home called Thornyhold.

Could this be Thornyhold?

This miraculous coincidence takes her to a paradisaical home that is surrounded by a neglected, but lush garden.  As Jilly settles into her new environment she encounters her young neighbor William and her cousin’s housekeeper Agnes Tripp who is not altogether trustworthy. She soon discerns that her cousin was known as a wise woman among her neighbors and she suspects that she may have the same gifts herself.

Slow, simmering suspense and a very sweet love story infuse Thornyhold with the perfect mixture of the serious and sublime. Jilly is a great character, a woman I can see myself befriending – she’s so real and believable. The setting is also colorfully alive and tangible – Stewart has a huge talent for description.

Reading this novel was like snuggling down into a soft, warm bed in your own familiar room – completely comfortable and satisfying. I think I have found an author who will stay with me.

Have you read Mary Stewart? Do you have a favorite Mary Stewart novel?

Blood Harvest by S.J. Bolton

Reading Blood Harvest was like a breath of fresh, though unpure, air after my recent struggle with The Night Circus. Fast-paced, economically written and never losing my interest for a minute – it was just the book I needed after the density of my previous read.

Trying to describe this novel would involve too many snarled threads so I’ll keep it simple. There is a house near a graveyard, children seeing and hearing spooky “monsters”, unexplained disappearances of little girls, harvest rituals, an unconventional vicar, a beautiful and handicapped psychiatrist, madness, insularity, crypts and nights on the moors.

These threads all miraculously fuse together to form a riveting and truly spine chilling novel. This is the first book I’ve read in quite a while that had me looking over my shoulder and seriously wishing I hadn’t read it before bed. Bolton has a way of injecting the supernatural into the story in a very believable way.

Her characters are not quite lovable, but sympathetic and their motives are understandable. Her writing is like a wildfire burning its way through the pages – she is skilled at crafting page-turners.

I will warn those of you who are distressed by descriptions of violence or harm against children to stay far away from this book as this issue is one of the central themes of the novel, though I don’t think Bolton exploits it for entertainment purposes.

I haven’t read a good thriller since the spring and I thank Helen at She Reads Novels for introducing me to S.J. Bolton. I can see that I will now have to devour her three other novels!