Books Read in 2015 – 20. Brighton Rock – Graham Greene

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Genre: Classics, Crime

Narrative Style: Third person from various viewpoints

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1938Unknown-1

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Hale realises soon after he arrives in Brighton that his life is in danger. He is caught up in Brighton’s gang war. After he has killed Hale, Pinkie believes that he can escape earthly punishment but he didn’t expect the force for good that is Ida Arnold.

Reading challenges: TBR Pile Challenge

Time on Shelf: About 15 years. My husband read it almost straightaway when we bought it but it has taken me this long. 

 

When the opening line is ‘Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him’, you know that you are onto a winner. This book hooks you in immediately and does not let go. There is not a moment wasted as the plot is intense and taut.

The character of Pinkie was fascinating. He was both vulnerable and dangerous. His own background makes his path into violence seem almost inevitable. He is not much more than a child, trying desperately to mimic the methods of the men he sees around him. He is clever but untamed and has no moral code to speak of. He is the very model of a psychopath but Greene makes it possible for the reader to feel for him and the situation he has got himself into.

On the side of good is Ida Arnold, the woman who was with Hale just before he died. She barely knew him but is determined to discover the truth of his death. She is full of life and laughter, a strong character who will not give up. Thankfully, she is not a saint but an ordinary woman who decides that she must not let this one go. She is motherly and tries to look after Rose (who Pinkie marries to keep her from testifying against him) even when Rose does not want her help.

The character of Rose was the one weak link in the novel. I couldn’t see why she might fall for Pinkie so heavily that she would marry him immediately. She was dangerously naive and I wasn’t really convinced by her. I don’t think she was as well drawn a character as the others. It was hard to feel any sort of empathy with her about her bullheaded belief that Pinkie loved her.

This is very much a novel about earthly retribution versus that of the Catholic church. One of the only things that Pinkie believes in is the fiery depths of hell. He appears to believe that nothing on earth can touch him. I must admit that I do not know a lot about Catholicism or even religion as I have no beliefs and I think some of the finer points of this novel passed me by because of it.

Overall, though this was a fine thriller which kept me interested throughout and although Pinkie’s downfall seems inevitable, the exact nature of it was still a surprise and the ending of the novel is quite devastating. A very enjoyable read and certainly encouragement to read more of Greene’s work.

 

Books Read in 2015 – 13. A Kiss Before Dying – Ira Levin

Genre: American Crime

Narrative Style: 3rd person narration from multiple viewpointsUnknown-1

Rating: 5/5

Published: 1953

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: The future had looked so rosy but then Dorothy announced she was pregnant and all his plans came crashing down. He knows he has to something – indeed he will do anything – to ensure his plans come to fruition. He is a man of ambition and his goal is the millions of wealthy copper ore family, the Kingships. He will stop at nothing, not even murder, to get what he feels he deserves. 

I was familiar with the plot of this story, having seen the film with Matt Dillon in the early 90s so I was eager to see what the book was like. As with other books by Levin, I was impressed to see that the book was even better than the film versions. Levin really was a master of suspense and he certainly kept me reading on.

The novel starts with an unnamed male narrator discovering that his girlfriend, Dorothy Kingship is pregnant. This does not please him but it soon comes clear he feels there is more at stake than merely the loss of his freedom. He has been courting Dorothy with the hope of marrying her and gaining access to her family’s money. If her father discovers the pregnancy, she will be cut off. At first, he tries to make her take pills that will make her miscarry and then, when that doesn’t work, his thoughts take an even darker turn. He cons Dorothy into thinking he will marry her and then lures her on to the roof of the building before pushing her off, making it look like suicide. I must admit, I felt little sympathy for Dorothy and I was more concerned with how he might overcome the obstacles that fate presented for him. It was fascinating to watch the thought processes of a psychopath unfurl. Especially one who thinks he may be getting away with the perfect crime.

In the second part, we are presented with Dorothy’s sister, Ellen who is unconvinced by her sister’s supposed suicide. She has some information about a boy who was seeing Dorothy and she is determined that he had something to do with her death. She meets two men, both of which fit the bill. As the man from the first part is never named, the reader is also in the dark about his identity. I was genuinely surprised when his identity was revealed.

The final part concerns the final sister, recovering slowly from one sister’s suicide and the next one’s murder. She seems to have found the perfect man. He likes all the things she likes. He is a gentleman although he is poor. Now the reader is fully aware that this is the same man from the start and the tension is now whether he will indeed get away with it. The ending was intense and immensely satisfying. It was also a relief. The tension before the end is almost unbearable. An excellent read.

Books read in 2015 – 11. Shutter Island – Dennis Lehane (Contains Spoilers)

Genre: Crime, Madness

Narrative Style: Third person51LCaxGm-UL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Rating: 5/5

Published: 2004

Format:Paperback

Synopsis: Teddy Daniels has arrived on Shutter Island with his partner to investigate the disappearance of one of the patients. From the very beginning, things don’t seem quite right to Teddy who already has suspicions about what goes on at the hospital. Things are definitely not as they seem but is it Teddy who is delusional or the hospital that is keeping secrets from him.

I had already seen the film of Shutter Island but it was so affecting that when I realised that it was based on a novel, I was excited to read it even though I knew what the ending was. I do wish that I could have read it blind but I suppose it would be similar to my feelings at the end of the film. Watching the film, I was completely taken in by Teddy and was absolutely shocked when it turns out that he is the lost patient. Reading the book, I was not taken in in the same way but there was a new delight to be had; spotting the clues that Lehane gives to the reader about the true nature of Teddy’s character.

The style of writing was almost typical crime writing with a certain detachment from the subject matter. And at first, Teddy seems like a typical crime fighter – all macho, having seen things in the war that no one should see. However, as the novel progresses, he becomes both more paranoid and more emotional. He starts to lose his grip on reality. If you were reading this without knowledge of the film then it would be perfectly easy to be led along by his decline – to believe that he has stumbled across some great conspiracy. Lehane makes us believe in Teddy that much. Having seen the film, I felt I was a bit less involved than I might have been but this is in no way Lehane’s fault.

The ending is just as affecting even though I knew what was coming. Teddy slowly comes to the realisation that he is the one who has killed his wife and his is the lost patient. The hospital have taken a huge risk – taking him off his medication – in order to try and force him to see the truth. If Teddy cannot face reality then he will be lobotomized – something his doctors do not want. The flicker of hope that the reader feels when Teddy acknowledges his crime is quickly extinguished when in the final chapter, he is back in his delusion and he can see the porters coming to take him away.

The ending of the novel raises the question of how to deal with patients like Teddy. Even though he killed his wife, I felt a great deal of sympathy for him. His elaborate fantasy was due to his inability to accept what he had done, not only to his wife but what he allowed to happen to his children as well. His sense of self was destroyed by the crime. So he could spend the rest of his life in his delusion or he could be lobotomised. Neither option offers much hope.

Books Read in 2015 – 10. The Anniversary Man – R. J. Ellory

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Genre: American Crime, Serial Killer

Narrative Style: Third person

Rating 4/5Unknown

Published: 2009

Format: Paperback

Reading Challenges: TBR Challenge 2015

Time on shelf: About four years. I bought it at the same time as A Quiet Vendetta which I read straightaway and really enjoyed. I had no real reason for not reading it except other books got in the way.

Synopsis: John Costello survives an attack by a serial killer which kills his girlfriend. Now, twenty years later, he is the only one in New York to realise that a new spate of murders are in fact linked. They are all copies of old murders, committed on the anniversary of the original. However, contact with the police only brings John into the firing line of the killer. 

I wasn’t entirely sure about the premise of this book at first. I had visions of the film Copycat which I considered to be the definitive narrative of the copycat killer idea. I wasn’t sure what could possibly be added to the idea. However, I was wrong. This a completely different take on the tale.

The novel begins with the attack on John Costello back in 1984 and charts his difficulty with getting on with his life and his obsession with serial killers. He is damaged, not just physically but mentally by the attack and there is certainly something odd about him. Odd enough that when, later in the novel, the police believe he is the killer you begin to doubt yourself as to whether or not he is the guilty party.

The narrative then moves on to a series of murders in different areas of New York which have no stylistic similarities so no one links them until the Chief of Police gets wind of a possible article linking the murders together. This is the work of John Costello and he has realised the link between the deaths and the killer gets his name – The Anniversary Man.

It is at this point that the narrative really takes off and we really get to know the cop in charge of the investigation Ray Irving. He is suitably cynical and completely deprived of resources and time. He and Costello form an interesting team, both lonely and difficult men although in different ways. They face a race against time, trying to work out which murder will be the next enacted and I found that I couldn’t put the book down.

I have to say that I did work out how this would end. However, that is not to say that that it wasn’t enjoyable or that I wasn’t surprised by any of it. The ending was sad but also realistic and I wasn’t at all disappointed.

Books Read in 2015. 6. The Hell You Say – Josh Lanyon

Genre: Crime, GLBT

Narrative Style: First Person, Chronologicalhell_you_say_2011

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2006

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: This is the third book in the Adrien English series. Angus, Adrien’s assistant at his bookstore has been receiving threatening phone calls. Adrien foolishly loans him the money to disappear for a while. Foolish because it soon becomes apparent that Angus is involved in some sort of demonic cult and, as usual, Adrien feels compelled to investigate, getting himself into all sorts of trouble as a consequence. Adrien is still sort of involved with closeted cop Jake Riordan. Even Adrien isn’t exactly sure whether to call it a relationship and Jake certainly doesn’t. That word is reserved for the woman he is also involved with.

Although this was a really good read, it has probably been my least favourite so far. The main reason for this is that the romance between Adrien and Jake came to a dead end when Jake announces he had got his girlfriend pregnant. Maybe this is a good thing for Adrien in the long run but I was hoping that it would run the other way and he would realise that Adrien was who he really wanted. Of course, I am sure that Jake will still be involved in future books in the series but it would seem unlikely that his and Adrien’s relationship will ever be anything other than on again, off again which is a bit depressing.

The thriller elements were all in place and, as usual, Lanyon walks between sending up typical genre expectations and using them to fool the reader. There are a suitable number of red herrings and blind alleys and Adrien is always flying of on a whim which makes him an interesting narrator. The tension between the cold unemotional detecting of Jake and the police and Adrien’s more hysterical, intuitive style adds another element of tension to both the mystery and their romance.

Adrien is a sympathetic narrator. His voice is warm and funny as he sends himself up and over-dramatisises. He is easy to relate to and feel concerned for. As well as everything else he has to deal with, his mother announces that she is getting re-married and the descriptions of Adrien’s encounters with his three new step-sisters and ultra masculine new father are extremely amusing.

It was tempting, as always, to go to read the next instalment straightaway but I have a lot of other things to read for challenges. And I don’t want to hurry through them too quickly because then I’ll be at the end of the series. Besides, I need to have some books in reserve that I know are going to be good so that I can turn to them when I’ve read something not so great.

Books Read in 2014 – 34. Nineteen Seventy Four (Red Riding 1) – David Pearce

Genre: Crime

Narrative Style: First Person Narrative659058

Rating 4/5

Format: Paperback

Published: 1999

Synopsis: Ed Dunford is back in Yorkshire with his dream job as a crime correspondent. He begins investigating the horrible death of a little girl and finds himself mired in corruption and violence until he barely knows what is right and what is wrong. 

This book really isn’t for the fainthearted. It is brutal and violent almost from the very first. Ed is thrown into a world he thinks he understands but that really is beyond his very worst imaginings. No one is to be trusted and in the end, Ed feels he has to become like the men he is trying to stop because they are outside of the normal rules of law and order.

Pearce has a lot in common with hard-boiled American writers such as James Ellroy. None of the characters are pleasant, they all double-cross each other. Ed – supposedly the good guy – is just as misogynistic and unpleasant as the rest of them. I have seen complaints about the amount of violence against the female characters in this book and it is true that very few survive the length of the book and those that do are still effected by male violence. However, I feel that given the subject matter of the book and the setting in the seventies, this is to be expected. This is a book about male violence and its consequences. It would seem unrealistic for this violence not to be against women. That said, I’m not sure that Ed needed to be quite so unpleasant towards the women in his life, forcing on into having an abortion, forcing another into anal sex. To me, this was superfluous, an unnecessary addition to the already high levels of misogyny. It added nothing to Ed’s character development.

The narrative voice was convincing throughout – especially as Ed started to unravel. It was interesting to have a hard-boiled novel set in Yorkshire and to have a narrative voice that was so very northern. The pace was perfectly judged with things happening so quickly towards the end it was hard to keep track and no wonder that Ed could barely keep up. I will certainly be reading the next installment.

Books Read in 2014 – 28. Running Wild – J. G. Ballard (Contains spoilers)

Genre: Crime

Narrative Style: First Person reports on Pangbourne Massacredownload (7)

Rating 3/5

Format: Hardback

Published 1988
Synopsis: All the adults at expensive gated community Pangbourne are dead and all the children have disappeared. Richard Grenville is the psychologist called into investigate. The novella begins two months after the massacre. 

After two months, when no terrorist groups have laid claim to the Pangbourne Massacre, the home office calls in Dr. Richard Grenville and asks him to investigate. He takes the reader through the crimes and the theories surrounding them in a clinical and professional way so that it is possible to be both detached and disturbed by them.

When one of the children reappears, in a catatonic state, Grenville realises who the culprits are. She is clearly disturbed by what has happened and reporters assume this is due to the treatment of her kidnappers. However, Grenville realises that it is because she is one of the murderers herself. He then revisits the scene of the crime and works out the exact events.

To be honest, it was fairly apparent straightaway that the children were to blame. There lives were filled with love and approval but were also stifling. They had no freedom – except as Grenville points out – the freedom to escape into madness. For me, the obviousness of this, meant that the novel lacked suspense.

That said, the issues raised by the novel are certainly interesting. One of the reasons that the public never believe in the theory that the children are to blame is that on the surface, their lives are perfect. They want for nothing. Who wouldn’t want the constant affection of one’s parents, never arguing and having nothing to rebel against. But teenagers need to rebel, regardless of whether there is anything real to rebel against.

The crimes at Pangbourne are fascinating, not just to the public and press in the novella but to the reader as well. They hit at what we all want to avoid thinking about. Children are brutal, to each other and to their parents. They have a savagery that we like to believe we can civilize. This is those in authority persist in viewing the massacre as an act of terroris, even though that is patently absurd.

This is well written and the ideas are good but I did feel that it became a bit pointless as it went on because of the obviousness of the culprits. The ending – when the teenagers attack a former prime minister – felt a bit forced. Although it could be taken as an interesting metaphor for the way that youth and the next generation remove what has gone before.