Category Archives: psychological thriller

Review: The House on the Cliff by Charlotte Williams

6th February 2014

pg1*I received this book from the publisher Bourbon Street Books in exchange for an honest review.

Jessica Mayhew’s psychotherapy office is a sanctuary of sorts. She goes in, listens to her patients, and goes home. Her life is routine, and she likes it that way. But her routine is disturbed when her husband admits to sleeping with a younger woman in what he says was a one-night stand. Her teenage daughter Nella has pulled away from her. And at work, a new client, Gwydion Morgan, an actor and the son of famous film director Evan Morgan, unsettles Jessica.

Gwydion has a phobia of buttons and is concerned it may affect his work in a period film. However, as their sessions continue, a recurring dream Gwydion has dominates their sessions. In the dream, he is a child on his father’s boat. He hears a disturbance and then a splash before he wakes up, unnerved. When Jessica makes a house call after Gwydion’s mother calls her, concerned he may be suicidal, she learns Gwydion’s au pair drowned at their cliff side home, and she begins to wonder if Gwydion’s dream is reality. What really happened to the au pair?

The House on the Cliff – beginning with its cover – looked like an absolutely perfect read for the dreary January weather we’ve been having. Set in Wales, the tone and the subject matter are eery and dark. However, the longer I read, the more I had to shake my head. I thoroughly enjoy mysteries whose detecting character isn’t necessarily a detective. That said, the main character should also exhibit a sense of investigation that makes his or her foray into detecting plausible. Instead, Jessica is a bit of a mess. She is certainly curious, but she never seems to pair her curiosity with rational, measured thought. Unable to forgive her husband for the affair, she quickly entangles herself with her patient (!), delves into his family history without authorization, manages to alienate and place her daughter in danger, and make an altogether ridiculously foolish move at the end of the book. Though I enjoyed the writing, The House on the Cliff left me wondering if Jessica Mayhew is capable of leading a mystery series.

If you’re so inclined, add this to your Goodreads shelf.

Review: The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood

15th August 2013

pg1*This book was sent to me by the publisher The Viking Press in exchange for an honest review.

The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood is a difficult book to pin down. A thriller of sorts, the novel examines the lives of two child killers, grown but still dealing with the ramifications of one summer afternoon. Yet again, it’s a look at a seedy beachside town and the people who populate it, dependent on tourists for a living wage and struggling to carve out a life.

The story parallels the lives of Kirsty Lindsay, a freelance newspaper reporter, and Amber Gordon, a newly promoted cleaning supervisor for the Funnland amusement park in Whitmouth with the children they were, Jade Walker and Annabel Oldacre, convicted child killers. Bound by their secret but barred from ever seeing one another ever again, Kirsty and Amber are thrown together by circumstance when a string of murders brings Kirsty to Whitmouth to follow the story.

What follows is an acutely uncomfortable narrowing of situation as Kirsty and Amber come closer and closer to the revelation the reader knows they’re bound for – the exposure of their true identities and the scrutiny and repulsion that are sure to follow. While this may sound predictable, the resolution is anything but, yet the flashbacks to what happened with Bel and Jade that day years before weren’t exceptionally shocking, so I’m not altogether sure why they were parsed out between chapters for the duration of the book.

In terms of narrative voice, Marwood changed perspectives sometimes within paragraphs, making the telling difficult to follow, and particularly odd was the absence of examination of Jade and Bel’s seemingly abusive childhoods, different though they are. The lack of examination of upbringing and the nature of the crime itself felt shortsighted and obvious instead of nuanced and implied.

Though the book was a fast read and unsettling (which here isn’t a bad thing), it wasn’t the book I wanted to read. Instead, it seemed to skirt the issues I think would have made it a much more profound and introspective thriller.

Add this book to your Goodreads shelf.

Review: The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

3rd July 2013

pg1*I received this book from the publisher, Riverhead Books, in exchange for an honest review.

In the opening pages of The Other Typist, beginning with the first line, “They said the typewriter would unsex us,” Suzanne Rindell immediately displays her writing chops, linking the typewriter, the women who use them, and the distance between the woman and the men for whom she types in a fitting criticism of the workplace in the 1920s.

Rose Baker is a typist for the police department, transcribing the confessions of those who walk through the precinct. She marvels at being thought too weak to handle the graphic talk, aptly pointing out that as a typist, she must hear the confession twice – once as it is dictated and again, as she types it.  Rose presents herself as clever, punctilious, and slightly prudish, a fact excused by her past – an orphan, she was raised by nuns.

But the other typist – Odalie – switches everything up. As Rose says, when Odalie enters the precinct, “I knew: It was like the eye of a hurricane. She was the dark epicenter of something we didn’t quite understand yet, the place where hot and cold mixed dangerously, and around her everything would change.”

Drawn in immediately by the confessional nature of Rose’s tale, the reader has no choice but to wonder at the tone Rose takes when she talks about the vivacious Odalie. At first wary of Odalie, Rose soon becomes enamored of someone so different from herself, calculatingly vying for her friendship. When Odalie does turn her light on Rose, it’s fast and bright, and Rose can’t turn away, bound by the dangerous mix of glamour and daring that Odalie exudes.

Along the way there are signs of distress, but Rose is in too deep, and the rumors of an inappropriate relationship with a nun hint at the possibility that Rose feels romantically toward Odalie, adding to her dependency. At the same time, The Other Typist briefly comments on the changing social sphere as well, as Rose says,

In a flash it came to me, and I suddenly understood something about my own generation….Their youth was what kept them moving, a sort of brutal vitality lingering in their muscles and bones that was all too often mistaken for athleticism and grace. But their innocence was something they were obligated to go on faking in order to maintain the illusion something fresh and spontaneous and exciting was just around the next corner.

But for Rose, the reality is that something spontaneous and exciting is around the corner; it just may not be what she thinks.

The Other Typist, though not as tight as perhaps the deft fiction of Sarah Waters, is an enthralling read I’d  compare to Affinity. It’s well worth the read as well as the edginess most readers will feel as Rindell unwinds this novel of love, obsession, and corruption.

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.

Review: Tuesday’s Gone by Nicci French

8th April 2013

pg1*This book was sent to me by the publisher Pamela Dorman Books in exchange for an honest review.

After the traumatic events in Blue Monday, Frieda Klein is nearly back to normal until she’s called on the carpet for delving into a client’s mind in order to help the police. Frieda herself questions her motives but ultimately knows she did what she had to in order to locate a kidnapped child, even if the results were less than ideal. The case still haunts her, particularly as she’s not sure it’s quite over…

Meanwhile, DCI Karlsson is in a bit of a quandary. A social worker visits a mentally ill patient only to discover a decomposing corpse covered in flies whom the patient has faithfully served tea. Unable to get a sense of what happened from the withdrawn woman, Karlsson calls again on Frieda, but she hesitates, unsure if police involvement is something she should be doing or even wants to do.

Ultimately, though, she cannot resist the draw of this patient who so obviously needs help. Plus, the victim is unidentified, and Frieda hunts down a clue the police have missed, leading to identification. But even with a name, this victim, Robert Poole, seems unknowable. Intelligent and perceptive, Poole was a con man, changing himself to suit the situation. The problem is, most of his con victims have no idea they’re being conned, or they’ve enjoyed his company so much they don’t seem to mind.

The more Karlsson and Frieda discover, the more they question who didn’t have a motive for killing Poole, and Frieda wonders at the similarities between herself and the victim, a man whom everyone seemed to be able to talk to easily.

Along with the suspense in Tuesday’s Gone, I really like the choice to very slowly reveal Frieda to the reader. In a way, the series seems to be less about the threads left over from the previous case and more about the exploration of Frieda’s own psyche. I like her; she’s introspective and cautious, but she also cannot resist helping once she’s begun, caring far too much about the people who could ultimately harm her. A good description of her, discussing a breakup over a year ago:

She suspected that Harry would think fourteen months was a long time; most people would. How do you measure absence? There had been minutes that had become hours, days dull and deadened as lead, and whole weeks when she’d had to force herself forward, inch by inch, across their expanse. How do you know when your heart is ready once more? Perhaps, for someone like her, the heart was never ready and had to be forced open.

Still enigmatic and quiet, Frieda nonetheless seems much more vulnerable in Tuesday’s Gone, and the tension left over from the outcome of Blue Monday follows her everywhere, making for an increasingly taut read.

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.

Review: The Burning Air by Erin Kelly

18th March 2013

Via Goodreads

Via Goodreads

*This book was sent to me by the publisher Pamela Dorman Books in exchange for an honest review.

Of course it was my love for my children, love for my son, that caused me to act as I did. It was a lapse of judgment. If I could have foreseen the rippling aftershocks that followed I would have acted differently, but by the time I realized the extent of the consequences, it was too late….

Motherhood was my only excuse. I was trying to do right by my son and it made me momentarily blind to the interior laws I have always tried to live by. We all want the best for our children, but I crossed the line between protection and offense.

Lydia MacBride has kept a diary every year, commemorating events large and small, noting her thoughts, her dreams, her confessions. The Burning Air begins with one of her greatest confessions: she is dying, and she has not told her family, but there is an even larger secret she must keep from them.

Close-knit and supportive, the MacBrides must move on after the death of Lydia. She was a force to be reckoned with, but the privilege of their lives – private school, family, a lovely home – has created unknown enemies. On an annual trip to Far Barn, a family residence in the secluded English countryside, one enemy in particular has waited for this moment, has crafted its circumstances, and will threaten the MacBrides and their memories.

A tale of obsession and misguided hatred, The Burning Air by Erin Kelly is a great thriller with an oddly intoxicating villain. Though the narrative shifts between characters to build suspense and divulge only what is known to each, the unreliable narrator is by far the most interesting. The megalomania is fascinating to consider but terrifying to behold.

However, the culmination of years of planning was too rushed and didn’t seem fitting of a truly obsessive enemy. I am being intentionally vague here because there were moments in The Burning Air where I gasped with recognition and knowledge of who the villain was and how it would all play out. A single-sitting read, The Burning Air by Erin Kelly was a fast and electric read with only a mildly disappointing ending.

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.