The Final Silence

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Review #19: Fiction

The Final Silence by Stuart Neville

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*I received this book as an advanced readers copy at the Book Expo America in New York City in May, 2014. The hardcover goes on sale October 28th, 2014.

The newest novel from award winning crime/thriller writer Stuart Neville is a roller coaster of gruesome murders and deadly secrets. This is the fourth installment of his Belfast novels, revolving around now disgraced investigator Jack Lennon.

Rea Carlisle, whose father is a prominent politician, inherits her uncle house after her mother’s brother dies. While cleaning out the house, Rea comes across an upstairs bedroom that is locked. After prying the door open with a crowbar, Rea discovers a secret book. The contents of the book describe several grisly murders; journal entries about committing the crimes, newspaper articles, and even hair clippings and fingernails of the victims.

Rea wants to take the book to the police immediately, however, her father (thinking of his political aspirations) wants to keep the whole thing quiet. Not knowing what to do, and not wanting to keep the book and the crimes a secret, Rea reaches out to an old friend — Jack Lennon. Since Jack is not currently working on the police force, he can’t do much other than look into Rea’s suspicions. But after the book goes missing and another horrible murder is committed, the Belfast police become fully involved.

DCI Serena Flanagan takes the case and, in a sense, (secretly) teams up with Lennon to track down the book, and the killer, before more murders pile up.

The plot moves at breakneck speed, with lots of secrets, lots of lies, and, well, lots of murders, both in the past and the present. Neville sets up an intricate web of good guys, bad guys, and every type of person in between. There are a few twists, and a handful of quick shocks that keep the story moving, and the pressure on DCI Flanagan and Lennon to find the incriminating book, catch the killer, and, in a way, begin to clean up Lennon’s heavily tarnished reputation.

Neville creates deep, flawed, real characters that move this story along just as smoothly as the actions do. Each has a very unique voice, and detailed and specific view of the world and the events that take place, and are genuine in their personalities.

With these characters and the action-packed and chilling plot, Neville does not disappoint old or new fans.

Though this novel stands completely on it’s own, and does a good job of integrating any relevant background information on Lennon and his career and relationship with his daughter and deceased wife’s family, I found my lack of complete understanding of Jack’s history a little annoying. There is a lot of mention of past events dealing with Jack’s police work, his wife and family life, and trauma in his life and his daughter;s that, though ultimately holding no real bearing on the plot, disconnected me from Lennon as a character because I didn’t know the full story. This is not a detriment to the book or Neville’s writing; anything really important was fleshed out, but I was always wanting more information. Whenever something from the past came up, I wished I was being reminded of information I already knew rather than hearing about it for the first time. So, my only issue with reading this novel is that it was my first Lennon book but the fourth in Neville’s Lennon collection. I would suggest anyone interested in this title and Jack Lennon’s story start with Collusion or it’s prequel The Ghosts of Belfast (where Jack is introduced as a minor character).

Basically Neville writes a fast-paced thrilling murder mystery that incorporates a collection of flawed (though in most cases well-intentioned) characters that sends shivers down your spine from the shear twistedness of the crimes.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

*cover art from Amazon.com

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Summer House With Swimming Pool

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Review #18: Fiction

Blogging for Books #3

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

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I haven’t read any of Herman Koch’s previous work, but apparently he is known for his unlikable characters, and on this point, his fans won’t be disappointed. I found each character either unremarkable to the point where I didn’t care at all, or unlikable to the point where I wasn’t all that interested in how the story played out for them. I read to find out where Koch was going with this plot, to see how he would tie all the ends together, but for the most part I was not engaged with the characters.

I do enjoy a good unlikable character, but I always feel like at least one needs to be likable enough to keep me rooting for them throughout. Each character in Summer House was either forgettable or reprehensible. Bad things happened to bad people and I guess I just wasn’t concerned with how it all ended, because no matter the consequences, they’d earned it.

That said, Koch clearly knows how to write these characters; he did a wonderful job making each one just horrible enough that you could never really decide which was a worse person than the last. The adults in the novel were awful to each other and the men especially awful to women. I suppose this was all part of creating the unlikable characters, but the blatant misogyny and sexism, though effective, wasn’t my cup of tea. Even the children, save the two youngest, were rude, self-centered, and conniving. Again, it’s clear that Koch is a master of the unlikable character, so if that’s the type of story you gravitate toward, this might be a great read for you.

The story revolves around Dr. Marc Schlosser and his patient and famous actor Ralph Meier. Schlosser runs a general practice and Ralph comes to see him about a lump he’s found. Soon after, Ralph is dead and people begin looking to Schlosser for answers.

We’re given the story from the present, when Ralph’s wife confronts Schlosser at his office, accusing him of murdering her husband. We’re then taken to the previous summer when Schlosser’s family spent time with Ralph’s family at the Meier summer home. Through the events that happen at the summer house, we’re given glimpses into the awful lives the adults are living, and the addition of their children (two girls for the Schlossers and two boys for the Meiers) we see their actions and behavior as even more despicable.

Something happens at the house that turns Schlosser against Meier, though the true facts are kept from him and reader until the end of the book. The meaty part of the story is finding out what really happened at the summer house, what in turn happened to Ralph (and if Schlosser was involved), and what comes next. Though we are finally told what really happened at the summer house, and exactly how Ralph died, we are left without the “what comes next” part. We see Schlosser and what consequences he could be facing for his actions throughout the book, but we never see if he gets what’s coming or not.

I was interested in finding out the truth behind the tragedy at the summer house, and also how Schlosser was connected to Ralph’s death, but I was disconnected a bit. I didn’t care that Ralph was dead because he was such an unlikable character. I was concerned with the truth of the events at the summer house, however, I felt let down when it was finally revealed; it was all a bit lack-luster. And as I also cared very little for Schlosser, not seeing if he had to face the consequences of his actions left something to be desired. I wasn’t looking for a happy ending, I just felt like there wasn’t an ending at all. It felt a bit open-ended. I would have rather known definitively if he got what was coming to him or if he didn’t rather than, perhaps he did, perhaps he didn’t.

Regardless, Koch did a great job of making his characters unlikable, though I personally found them therefore be uninteresting and found myself disconnected from the story surrounding them. I like that we start in the present to set the scene and then are taken back to the summer (and given short scenes from even further back to when Schlosser was in med school), then back to the present where we move forward with the characters.

I’ve seen reviews of this book where people say the story is too graphic. I, however, found it appropriately graphic for the most part. Some of the graphic descriptions help depict the awfulness of the characters and their thoughts and actions. This is also an adult novel, so language and graphic visuals shouldn’t really be much of a shock. We’re also dealing with a medical novel. The main character is a general physician and he goes into detail about his work (and what he hates about it) and I found those passages to be necessary for both mood and character building. To this point, I think it’s very much personal preference; I don’t find it overly graphic, though Koch does not sugarcoat anything, so don’t expect that.

In the end, I read to see what happened, but I in no way found myself unable to put it down. It was not a page-turner, it was well-written and seemed well-researched when it came to the medical aspects, and the characters are brilliantly written (if not personally enjoyably). I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

We Were Liars

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Review #17: Fiction

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

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I really enjoyed this book; it was fast-paced and intriguing, it kept me guessing, kept me curious from start to finish. I think it was well thought out, and the characters were perfectly described and fleshed out. Lockhart did a great job in creating this perfectly imperfect, wealthy East Coast family. I read this in less than 24 hours, with roughly a 10 hour nap in there somewhere, so it’s a quick, easy read that grips you and pulls you along; it demands to be read.

Cady is the oldest grandchild of the Sinclair family, she’s nearly 18 and is recovering from an accident that she can’t quite remember the details of, and we as readers find out about as she does along the way. We see her growing up through various snapshots of her summer vacations on an island in Martha’s Vineyard where her family owns several houses — there’s a main house (Clairmont, where her grandfather and grandmother live during the summer) and three other houses (one for each of their daughters and the grandchildren.) Cady has two cousins that are roughly her age, just a bit younger, Johnny and Mirren. She has a few younger cousins as well who come to the island every summer. When she is 8 years old, the nephew of her aunt’s boyfriend comes with, and together she, Johnny, Mirren and Gat become inseparable during the summers. They are the liars.

Gat and Cady start forming a more romantic bond around when Cady is 14. Around that summer, her grandmother dies, and this puts a lot of strain on her grandfather and the relationship between him and his daughters. The aunts are always fighting, always arguing over who gets what, whose children will get what, and the four liars are witness to this outwardly perfect and pristine family falling apart on the inside.

When Cady is fifteen, she has her accident. She wakes up in the ocean, has hit her head, spends a lot of time in the hospital recovering. She gets migraines that leave her unable to function for days at a time. Her father, who divorced her mother when she was younger, takes her on a trip to Europe the next summer and she misses going to the island. She doesn’t hear from the liars while she’s away, and she fears she is losing them as friends. The next summer she gets to return, she still has headaches, still doesn’t remember her accident completely, and finds that her grandfather has completely renovated the Clairmont house, she assumes to deal with the loss of her grandmother.

She reconnects with the liars, and finds that no one will talk to her about her accident. Everyone has been instructed by her doctors to let her remember on her own. She spends the time collecting little pieces of memories, trying to put it all together. She remembers the aunts fighting, she remembers the liars being fed up with how everyone was acting. She remembers a fire.

The end of this book is brilliant. I was trying so hard to put the pieces together myself and just couldn’t get there. Lockhart reveals everything perfectly and seamlessly, and once you know, you find you knew the whole time. All the clues were there, and they make perfect sense. The crumb trail that is weaved into the story is so delicate and precise, you can’t help but be in awe of Lockhart’s imagination and writing. She does a wonderful job as a story teller.

Throughout the book Lockhart’s writing is very lyrical; she uses unique line breaks and repetitions in areas that I think really help the reader. I loved how the line breaks forced me to slow down and take in those moments of the story, and the repetition of certain lines and names clued me into important messages and Cady’s thoughts. I thought it was poetic and hauntingly beautiful; it really made this work stand out in its delivery and not just in its content.

Lockhart also has Cady retell her family’s story as a fairy tale several times throughout; different “variations” of her family’s life. She makes her grandfather the king and her aunts and mother the princesses, and integrates the themes into those stories to further underline main topics, and to help the readers understand the Sinclairs. It’s as if Cady uses these stories to cope with her family’s issues, and at the same time they help the reader relate to Cady’s feeling of needing to cope with family issues. I thought these additions were really unique and a pleasure to read; they were stories within a story and were just as imaginative and heartbreakingly emotional as the story itself.

You could say there are aspects to this story that have been done before (that is all I will say because I am not going to give any spoilers for this one, the ending is too good, you need to read it for yourself) but I think everything around those aspects is fresh and lively. Lockhart puts a new twist on some been-done-before plot devices, and you should not miss her take on them.

The only thing that bothered me was the use of the word “Mummy.” Cady calls her mother Mummy, and it is just one of those words that I personally cannot stand. I think it does help to show the kind of class and wealth that belongs to the Sinclair name, but I was not a fan. Every time I read it, in my head I heard a little girl whining or a twenty-something man complaining to his mother (think the blue-blood guy Christina Ricci almost marries in the movie Penelope.) It just turned me off, and then every time I it came up, I was removed from the story a bit; the spell was broken just a little.

Overall, this was beautifully written and just really shows a master at work. Do not pass up Lockhart’s We Were Liars.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

*cover art from Amazon.com