Tag Archives: suspense

The Bright Forever by Lee Martin

Lee Martin’s novel The Bright Forever has restored my faith in fiction. After a long drought, The Bright Forever accomplished what all good novels should: it held me spellbound. It is beautifully written, has a cast of damaged and damned characters and is almost impossible to put down.

Nine-year-old Katie Mackey goes missing one hot July night in small-town Indiana. She’s the youngest child of Patsy and Junior Mackey. Junior is a man about town; he owns the glass factory. Katie and her older brother, Gilley, are not spoiled rich kids, though – they are smart and kind.

The Bright Forever is told from the viewpoints of Gilley, Mr. Dees (the bachelor math teacher who is helping Katie improve her math skills that hot summer) and Raymond and Clare, a couple of misfits who live on the other side of town, close to Mr. Dees. Occasionally, the story drops into 3rd person omniscient, allowing us to see how the town is reacting to Katie’s disappearance. These transitions are handled effortlessly and the various voicesare distinct and original. Each perspective adds to the story’s central mystery – what happened to Katie – but also allows us to see how fragile and broken these people are.

It’s clearly early on that Mr. Dees and Ray are the prime suspects in this case, but what the reader isn’t suspecting is their complicated complicity and the way their story unfolds. Suffice to say – there is more than one victim in this story.

The Bright Forever is remarkable – it moves at a suspenseful clip and yet, ultimately, it’s a tragedy.  A worthy read, indeed.

Blogcritics Review

The Evening Reader shares her personal recollections of author Lee Martin.

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Dismantled by Jennifer McMahon

dismantled

I was so excited to be given this book which had arrived at the bookstore where I used to work. The manager there knew I was a huge fan of McMahon’s novel Promise Not to Tell, and so she passed this along. Dismantled is the story of the Compassionate Dismantlers, four art students: Tess, Henry, Winnie and the charismatic Suz. The Compassionate Dismantlers believe that “to understand the nature of a thing you have to take it apart.” What they really believe, it seems, is that you can ruin someone’s career and set fires and manipulate lives for your own personal gain. At the end of their post-graduation summer in a cabin by the lake, Suz is dead and the remaining Dismantlers go their separate ways. Flash forward ten years. Henry and Tess are unhappily married and have a 10 year old daughter, Emma. Winnie has had her own struggles with mental illness. A simple act by Emma sets off a chain of events with far reaching consequences.

Dismantled was a big disappointment for me and it truly pains me to say that because I loved Promise Not To Tell and encouraged everyone I know to read it. For me, there was just too much going on. Was Dismantled a novel about a failing marriage, infidelity, the nature of art, childhood fears, imaginary friends, ghosts – real and imagined? Was it a mystery? Was it a ghost story? Was it a novel about revenge?

Honestly, I really struggled to finish Dismantled and only kept going because I thought maybe the end would justify the rest.  I didn’t like any of the characters and worse, I didn’t care about any of them.

Read Promise Not to Tell instead.

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Another Review

Author’s Web Site

Body of a Girl by Leah Stewart

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I read Leah Stewart’s novel The Myth of You and Me a couple years back and I had a lot of problems with it. I had a lot of problems with Body of a Girl, too.

Olivia Dale is a crime reporter for a Memphis newspaper. She’s not a rookie, but she’s young and it shows despite her best attempts to hide her reactions to the horrible things she’s called upon to write about. When the novel opens, she’s at a crime scene. Timing allows her to be closer to the body of a girl than she would normally be allowed.

“I’ve learned to stomach the photographs they show me,” Dale says, “but now I know it’s nothing like being so close you could lean down and touch that dead, dead skin” (2).

Perhaps because the dead girl is similar in age and appearance or perhaps she’s just the final straw in Dale’s precariously constructed life-  either way,  she  becomes obsessed with finding out everything there is to know about the dead girl. Not only does she throw  her personal safety out the window, she chucks out her common sense as well. As the book chugs along I felt less and less sympathetic and more and more annoyed with her.

I think Body of a Girl attempts to answer some of the questions we all ask: what makes us the same, what makes us different? How close to the edge can we walk without toppling over? Can we ever really know someone? The problem with Dale is that, despite her profession, she’s a piss-poor judge of character and doesn’t seem to have a compass of any sort. Her journey, ultimately, seems self-destructive, rather than a real attempt to understand the human condition. Dale just seems reckless and stupid by the novel’s rather sappy ending.

Author’s site

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A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

    reliablewife

    Everyone,  it seems, is raving about Robert Goolrick’s novel A Reliable Wife. Sadly, I am not going to be one of those people. I don’t mean to imply that I didn’t enjoy the book; I actually liked the book quite a lot (once I got past the first dry chapter). Still, there were elements of the book that just didn’t work for me.

    A Reliable Wife  tells the story of Ralph Pruitt, a wealthy man who lives in Wisconsin. He’s been a widower for the past twenty years and when the story opens he is standing on the platform at the train station waiting for Catherine Land, his soon-to-be-bride. Catherine has answered Truitt’s advertisement in a St. Louis paper for ‘a reliable wife.’ It is 1907.

    Not all is as it seems with these two characters, though. Each has hidden agendas and secrets galore and as I read I imagined the fantastic movie this would make. Did it make a fantastic book, though, that’s the question. Well, yes and no.

    What did A Reliable Wife do well?

    It gave the reader a real glimpse into the hardships and isolation of a mid-western winter. It dealt sympathetically with the novel’s central characters: Catherine and Truitt. Truitt is especially well-drawn. He is a man who selfishly chases  erotic pleasures for much of his young life, returning to the family business only after his father dies. His story unfolds a little at a time, saving one last ‘secret’ for the novel’s final pages.

    Catherine comes to him the supposed daughter of missionaries, but her story is actually far more sordid.  It gives nothing away to say that she has come to Wisconsin to marry and then murder Truitt by way of arsenic poisoning.

    What did A Reliable Wife do less well?

    At a certain point in the novel I felt like everything became melodramatic. Sub-plots did nothing to advance the story. Catherine’s sister, Alice, is introduced near the middle of the book and I know it’s meant to juxtapose her life with Catherine’s, but for me it seemed tacked on. We hear tidbits of violent crimes or horrible accidents which have happened in Truitt’s community followed by the author’s statement “such things happen”, as if this explains all the wrong-doing in the world. Or, perhaps, to say that some things can’t be explained.

    Ultimately, A Reliable Wife  asks the question: Is it possible to be redeemed? Truitt wants to make up for what he believes is a horrible mark against him as a father. Catherine makes a decision which changes the course of her future. Other characters hold on to their anger and bitterness and suffer a more drastic fate.

    There is also the question of suspense. I wouldn’t say that the book was suspenseful in the way modern readers might expect. We know from the book’s jacket that Truitt and Catherine are hiding something and so we start reading with the knowledge that not everything is as it seems. I don’t think the story is propulsive because of any so-called suspense.  A lot of stuff happens and it happens at a relatively quick clip. On a few occasions  (especially towards the end) I actually felt I was being told what was happening rather than watching the story unfold.

    One thing that totally surprised me about this book was the amount of sex in it. These are people with very real human appetites and the book does a terrific job with sensual details of all sorts: the sex is not the fade-to-black kind. Truitt’s sexual reawakening, in particular, is impressively realistic.

    All this to say that I enjoyed reading the book, but I didn’t feel totally satisfied when I’d finished.

    Read a Review

    And another review

    Robert Goolrick’s site

    Reading Guide

The Innocent by Harlan Coben

Those who like Harlan Coben, seem to like him a lot. The Innocent was my first Coben book and while I didn’t love it, it did deliver enough curious twists and sympathetic characters to keep my interest.

The difficulty in writing about a suspense thriller is trying to avoid giving away too many important plot points. Briefly, The Innocent concerns Matt Hunter an ex-con (but only marginally because his crime was more accident than premeditated) who has returned to his home town after serving his sentence with his wife, Olivia. Olivia goes away on a business trip and Matt receives a cell phone picture of her in a hotel room with another man. The story unravels from there.

In some ways The Innocent‘s convoluted plot doesn’t really work.Too many people have too small a part to play in the book’s nasty business…and some of the pieces seem gratuitous rather than helpful. Still, like a good book in this genre should, the book clicks along at a healthy pace and the lead character, Matt, is smart and likable.

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And another

A Cold Dark Place by Gregg Olsen

Oh dear.

I picked up Gregg Olsen’s book A Cold Dark Place on a whim. It wasn’t on my to-read list; I hadn’t heard anything about it. I’ve been on a bit of a mystery-suspense thriller kick and this one sounded good.

When you’re talking about this kind of book, you don’t want to give too much away. I mean, generally speaking, suspense thrillers aren’t literary gems. I read them because they’re fun. Page turners filled with menace and heart-racing thrills.

A Cold Dark Place tells the story of Detective Emily Kenyon who is hot on the trail of a killer. A tornado has just swept through the town of Cherrystone, Washington. Kenyon has gone out to the home of a family no one has heard from since the storm. Their house is leveled, but a closer inspection of the premises turns up three dead bodies: dad, mom and a young boy. They’d all been murdered. The older son, Nick, is missing. Soon after Kenyon begins her investigation, her teenage daughter, Jenna, disappears. Jenna and Nick were friends, but Kenyon can only believe the worst.

This is only the beginning of a convoluted plot that involves convicted serial killer Dylan Walker, old cases that Kenyon was involved in, an adoption agency, a hateful relationship with her ex-husband, a creepy lawyer and an ex-partner who turns up at the end to help Kenyon.

The ending is wholly unbelievable (and, okay, sometimes that’s the case in this sort of book), but worse- the characters are shrill and annoying. Olsen was a true crime writer before he turned to fiction and maybe that’s why none of the book’s details seemed authentic. (I know, it seems ridiculous- but a true crime writer doesn’t have to fabricate anything.) In A Cold Dark Place what characters had for dinner seems like a tacked on detail rather than an investment in their character- and let’s face it, if you’re not rooting for someone in this kind of book, the denouement hardly matters.

Read about the book
Read more about Olsen

End of Story by Peter Abrahams

I cut my teeth on mystery novels when I was about eight. Every gift-giving occasion, my uncle would give me two brand new Bobbsey Twin books- hard covers. I loved following Bert and Nan, Flossie and Freddie as they solved mysteries in and around their home town, Lakeport. My daughter has those books I managed to save through numerous moves.

Anyway- I still love a good mystery and I finished a new one this morning. Peter Abraham’s new book End of Story. I added this book to my ‘must read’ list when it appeared on Entertainment Weekly’s list of Best Books for 2006. End of Story is a great book…but not just because EW said so. (Or any of the other media outlets which have called it everything from “cunning…suspenseful…very scary” (New York Times Book Review) to “almost physically impossible to put down.” (Booklist) I’d have to agree with that last one; I read last night until my eyes were burning. This is a great book because it pays attention to details, transcends crime-story cliches and delivers characters that are cunning, charismatic, naive.

End of Story tells the compelling tale of Ivy Siedel, an aspiring writer, who takes a job teaching writing to a small group of inmates at Dannemora Prison, in Upstate New York. When one of her students, Vance Harrow, turns out to be a talented writer, Ivy decides to take a closer look at his history and discovers something about him that both shocks and excites her…and changes her life forever. Abrahams doesn’t waste any time –  dumping the reader right into the middle of Ivy’s story- which barrels along as fast as you can turn the pages (and I was turning pretty fast. I read the book over the course of two days.) Obviously, since this is a mystery novel I can’t give you too much info. But I can say that the novel’s natural climax offers a surprising twist as Ivy works and reworks the details of Vance’s story. Along the way Abrahams makes some interesting observations about writing and the process of doing it.

Read a review

There is no reading book guide for this book and I’m not sure you could conduct an entire book club discussion around the book except…


MY QUESTIONS

1. In what ways is ‘End of Story’ a crime novel cliche?
2. Are you sympathetic towards Ivy? At what point, if ever, do you stop feeling sorry for her?
3. Explain her attraction to Vance Harrow.
4. What are some of the most surprising moments in the book?

FOOD

Coconut Creme Caramel

Serves 6
400ml can coconut milk
6 eggs, lightly whisked
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
1 cup white sugar
1 1/2 cups of milk
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
grated lime zest to serve

Preheat oven to 160c. Combine the white sugar and water in a medium saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring until sugar dissolves (about 2 minutes). Increase heat to high and bring to the boil. Boil without stirring until the sugar turns to a golden color. Pour the caramel mixture evenly among 6 (2/3 cup) oven proof ramekins. Set aside until set.

Whisk until well combined the coconut milk, milk, egg, brown sugar and vanilla paste in a large bowl. Pour this mixture over the caramel mixture in the ramekins. Place ramekins in a pan and pour enough boiling water to reach halfway up the side of the ramekins. Bake 34-40 minutes or until the custards are just set. Remove from pan and let cool on a rack. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 6 hours. To serve, run a knife around the edge of the ramekins and carefully turn onto serving plates. Sprinkle with grated lime zest.

For added flavor, toast some shredded coconut and sprinkle on top of the creme caramel.