The Break by Marian Keyes

Never having read a Marian Keyes book before I was uncertain what to expect. However, a glowing review about The Break from a friend (who’s also a huge fan of Keye’s work) made me keen to start. Well, what a glorious, heart-wrenching, warm, funny and fundamentally human novel this is. I found it so hard to tear myself away from and then felt bereft when I’d finished.

Ostensibly the story of the happily married Amy and Hugh who experience a relationship crisis when Hugh decides that though he loves Amy, he wants a “break”, it’s also a great deal more than that. Striding into middle age and all its cosy familiarity, for some people, this stage of life can also breed contempt – mostly for the self. Wondering if we’ve reached our potential or if this is indeed “it” for whatever more time we’re granted, it’s easy to understand why middle age can sometimes be the autumn of so many people’s discontent.

Thus it is with Hugh. A decent, good man (and Amy’s second husband), he nonetheless feels the need to take a hiatus from what he’s become and may yet be becoming. Shocked, horrified and in disbelief by what Hugh intends and unable to prevent him (even if she really wanted to), Amy struggles with the cliché her marriage is turning into. Trying to understand Hugh while feeling a mixture of grief, anger, loathing and every other emotion there is, as well as trying to balance her professional life with the wreck of her personal and the unwelcome return of her narcissistic her ex-husband and his claims, Amy undergoes her own sort of crisis. Juggling her wonderfully messy family and their demands, catastrophes and triumphs, and the chaos that ensues in Hugh’s departure’s wake, Amy’s enforced break almost becomes a breakdown.

The characters are so real, their emotions raw, complex and simple. You ache for them all – Hugh, Amy, the children they share, the mad grandmother and curmudgeonly father and the rainbow of brothers and sisters Amy possesses as well as her business partners. Slowly, Amy realises that if Hugh is on a break, then it means she is as well – with all the liberties and restrictions, difficulties and pleasures, painful memories and daring hopes that entails.

If you’re looking for a book that will make you laugh, cry, think deeply and look afresh at your own life and choices, that features witty, authentic and flawed people and mad Irish humour, then don’t go past this sensitively explored, thoroughly entertaining and downright marvellous book.

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Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner is a marvellous, beautifully written novel that while it sits under the crime genre, is so much more than that.

When Cambridge University post-graduate student, Edith Hind – a privileged young lady whose parents not only have royal connections but friends in high political places –  goes missing, DS Manon Bradshaw, a self-described misanthrope is put on the case. A shade this side of 40, Manon seems to be the only one not too perturbed by the high-profile nature of the case – not even when every possible suspect has a water-tight alibi – Manon has more things than death and kidnapping on her mind. Yet, there is blood at the scene of Edith’s disappearance, suspicious circumstances and behaviours leading up to the event but, there’s no ransom note or any other clue as to where in the hell Edith is.

With the media breathing down their throats, time ticking and budget limitations, never mind stressed parents on their backs, the police are hard-pressed to know what to do. Every angle appears to lead to a dead-end or uncovers an element that bears no relevance to Edith’s disappearance.

In the meantime, Manon does her job and gets on with her rather miserable life. Stuck in the predictable rut of internet dating, she uses sex as a panacea for loneliness and just exacerbates her condition. With good friends and a reliable partner, however, it’s not all bad, especially not when a young street kid comes into her life.

However, there is the over-arching case and associated pressures of solving Edith’s disappearance and when more death follows, Manon begins to understand that they’ve all been looking in the wrong places and at the wrong people.

Superbly written with shifting points of view, allowing you to access other characters in the story in ways that are unusual to this genre, this story is an absolute cracker of a read. Insightful, deep characters with moving and logical interactions all set to a wonderful pace, this is a story you can get your teeth into. You see the crime from multiple perspectives, get to know all the police involved in the action and the people who are affected by what has occurred. You care deeply what happens and no more so than to Manon.

Filled with surprises and ah ha moments, more because of the rich street-philosophy and observations about people and life than anything, this was a joy to read. I didn’t want it to end. Cannot recommend highly enough for lovers of crime but also literary, well-written books with great plots and characters. Cannot wait to fall into another Susie Steiner.

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Cold Granite by Stuart MacBride

8333678Cold Granite is the first book in the Logan McRae series by Stuart MacBride, and it’s a doozy. Opening with a really disturbing scene – not only the finding of a child’s dead body (which is horrific enough), buried beneath snow and ice, but one that’s been mutilated as well, the book sets a cracking pace that rarely lets up.

Apart from a series of grizzly murders and grieving parents, dodgy suspects, and wild Aberdeen weather, readers are introduced to the extremely likeable and relatable Detective Sergeant Logan McRae who, after a year recovering from a near-fatal stabbing and the break-up of a relationship, is back at work, scarred literally and metaphorically by his experiences.

As additional bodies are discovered and the media appears to know more than the police, leaking intimate details of the cases and causing panic in the town to rise, McRae and his colleagues are angry and desperate.

When McRae discovers the source of the leaks and draws closer to the identity of the killer, it’s not just children who are under threat, but the affable DS as well.

Dark at times and laugh out loud funny as well (McRae’s relationship with his colleagues and his bosses as well as his self-deprecation is oft-times hilarious), the book doesn’t shy away from the brutal details (not just of murders, but autopsies – I don’t think I’ve read a crime procedural quite so graphic) and the kind of gallows humour that people in these jobs develop as a survival mechanism. As the case both proceeds and is stalled by outside influence and suspicion within the team, the reader is drawn into not only the case but also the personal lives of the main characters.

Abderdeen is as much a character in the book as the police and grieving families, as it comes alive in all its rainy glory and wonderfully diverse and richly tongued people.

Taut and tightly plotted with great dialogue and logical, believable crime and outcomes, this is a terrific book for fans of crime. Loathe to leave the world of DS McRae and co, I’ve already downloaded and started the next one.

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The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

30107954The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick is a simply magical story about a sad and rather lonely widower, named Arthur Pepper who, a year after his wife dies, finally faces up to the emotionally painful task of sorting his beloved Miriam’s clothes. Among her belongings, he finds a quite beautiful and ornate charm bracelet. Unable to recall seeing it, let alone his wife wearing it, Arthur can’t help but be intrigued by what the charms signify and wonders if they could possibly represent an aspect or aspects of his wife, about which he remained blissfully unaware.

When he concludes that the engraving on the small gold elephant charm is actually an international number, the normally orderly and ordinary Arthur does something extraordinary: he rings it. What he learns from that phone call sets Arthur on an incredible journey into his wife’s past and the woman she once was. But it also takes the usually reticent Arthur on his own voyage of personal discovery as he meets people who wouldn’t usually cross his path, travels to exotic locations and finds his normally tight boundaries challenged and shifted in ways he’d never conceived. The more he learns about his wife’s past, the more he learns about himself, them as a couple and even as a family. Scared his life up until now has somehow been fraudulent, a lie he ignorantly lived, Arthur is both anxious but determined to uncover the truth: who was his Miriam and why on earth did she settle for him, if she even did?

Heart-wrenchingly lovely, unexpected in wonderful ways, this is a novel with soul and more than a little charm. I found myself thinking about it for days afterwards and cannot recommend it enough. Lyrical, insightful and moving it is a reader’s delight.

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The Girl in the Ice by Robert Bryndza

28233082The Girl in the Ice is the first crime novel for Robert Bryndza, an author better known for his frothy romantic comedies and it’s a doozy. Opening with the gruesome murder of a young, privileged and rich society girl, a murder that will form the focus of the rest of the narrative, the novel takes off at a cracking pace that doesn’t relent until the past page.

Detective Chief Inspector, Erica Foster, transferred from Manchester to London after some kind of recuperative period, hits the ground of her new job sprinting. She not only has to try and solve a high-society crime with very few leads, but deal with the hostility of some of her colleagues and interference and direction from the powers that be as well. Furthermore, there is a terrible recent tragedy in her past, and the demons memories of this conjure almost highjack Foster’s return to work, making her job even more difficult.

When Foster and her team start to realise that the killer they’re trying to catch has struck before and will again, catching the murderer becomes a race against the clock and more personal than Foster and the force are prepared for.

From the very first page, the story grabs you by the collar and drags you along at a furious speed. It also doesn’t steer away from gruesome (but you never feel gratuitous) detail – murder, after all, is a grisly, horrid event that affects everyone involved. Foster, who arrives carrying more baggage than Heathrow, while arcing people’s backs up initially, quickly wins over the reader and the more reasoned of her colleagues with her work ethic, intelligence and warmth. The suffering she also experiences, the grief that tries to break her, also endears you to her as she does everything possible not to let this impact on her professionalism. As a character, she is both remarkably strong and yet possessed of a vulnerability that gives her depth and complexity and places you firmly on her side at all times.

Saying this, however, there were two very small things that bothered me with the novel: the first was that Foster repeatedly argues with her superiors and does some really ballsy things in order to get her own way (which does and doesn’t work). Smart and clearly able to negotiate the complexity of egos in the force, I wondered about her repeating some of her behaviours when she was initially punished for them (even though those doing the punishing were clearly stupid and ill-informed). Narratively convenient, the repetition didn’t ring true for such a steadfast and competent character.

The other small bugbear I have is that there are a few chapters told from the point of view of the killer who is denoted as “the figure”. I am not persuaded these added anything to an already tight plot and pace… on the contrary, they detracted in my humble opinion and deleting them would have made no difference to the story.

Overall, this was a terrific, fast-paced read that gives crime fans another rich and interesting cop to love, ache for and champion through the few highs and terrible lows of solving crimes. Can’t wait for the next one, which I have already ordered!

 

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