Dark Skies, DCI Ryan #& LJ Ross

This is the last instalment in the DCI Ryan series currently available (at the end we’re told to expect the next oImage result for Dark Skies L J Rossne early 2018). In this novel, DCI Ryan investigates the case of a body at the bottom of a reservoir. Found by a tourist doing a diving course, its discovery is timed with arrival of Ryan’s wife, Anna, and a mini-bus-load of her masters’ students engaged in a history study of the region. Since the body has been there at least 30 years and this appears to be a cold case, Ryan reassures Anna it’s OK to continue with her history trip. Only, when more bodies start turning up, both Ryan and Anna come to deeply regret their initial decision she remain.

To make matters worse, Ryan’s new boss who is also an old, unstable and manipulative flame, is making her presence felt, driving wedges in both friendships and professional practice. Not only does Ryan have an unhinged killer to deal with, but a woman scorned and Shakespeare warned us what they are like.

The book is tightly plotted and paced and hard to put down and I did really enjoy it. However, I am a little concerned that once again, there’s a rotten cop in the shop determined to bring Ryan and what he’s built down, and though The Hacker has gone, it’s like a carbon copy of him has been resurrected. More caricature than believable, I am very interested to see if he will be fleshed out and become the threat Ross clearly intends. Likewise, with Ryan’s boss, whose motives and actions seem so transparent, it’s ridiculous he and his friends appear to be the only ones to see it!

Still, it’s testimony to Ross’ prose and how much you come to care for the main characters that you simply have to have resolution and keep turning the pages. The repetitions could also be regarded as clever narrative devices, and I will reserve judgment to see where these two antagonists take the tale.

The descriptions of the area the crimes occur in are delightful and there’s no doubt, landscape becomes as much a character in this book. I would have liked to have more character to the villains and less reliance on repetition, but that’s just me. I like shades of grey instead of black and white, clear cut “goodies” and “baddies.” But I do enjoy this series and hope it’s not long before the next book appears.

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Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty

26247008I couldn’t wait to read Liane Moriarty’s latest novel, Truly, Madly, Guilty as I’m a huge fan of her work and have been really happy to see her finally getting the media attention she deserves here in Australia (even though readers of her books have known for years what a huge talent she is). The moment it downloaded on my Kindle, I put the other book I was reading on hiatus and commenced.

Did I regret doing that? To be frank, yes, and more than a little. Truly, Madly Guilty, though good, was not the smack you in the face with recognition and wonder that her other novels have been. While in many ways it starts (as Moriarty’s books often do) with a close-knit cast of characters bound by either familial ties, personal history, neighbourhoods or professional bonds and, like Big Little Lies, has these people share a crisis, that’s where the comparison ends.

The crisis that unites these people isn’t made evident until halfway through the book. Until then, the reader is treated to both prolepses (flash forwards) and flashbacks to the day of the BBQ when IT all happened. We’re privy to both the innocence and naivety of people coming together with all their oh-so-important anxieties and foibles and then the impact the crisis has upon them personally, as couples, families and friends and the differing perspectives it gives them: on life, themselves and each other.

In some ways, this novel is Big Little Lies Lite. There’s no doubt Moriarty has a huge gift for pluming the depths of personal neuroses and what makes people and families tick or implode, but for some reason, for at least two-thirds of the novel, I didn’t actually connect with or care much about the characters. Such an alien feeling with one of her novels, where I’m usually heavily invested in at least the characters and entwined in the plot as well. The book dragged in parts and I almost gave up on it, but this was a Moriarty and you don’t put her aside for anything!

So, I didn’t. I persevered. But, I wanted the book to hurry up and finish so I could get back the one I’d abandoned. However, the last third of the book goes a long way for compensating for the plodding and rather bland pace of the first part. Suddenly, the tempo quickens, characters’ motivations are both exposed and explored and actions make sense. Most importantly, I felt empathy for the characters, even those I didn’t much like. Finally, I understood them.

In some ways, this was just the right conclusion, if a little too late, to make up for what was a slow starting novel. But I did end up feeling really satisfied and not nearly as disappointed as I feared I would be.

The writing is still lovely and there are some real laugh out loud and poignant moments, but overall, I have to say, this was an OK read, not like her other books, a sensational one.

 

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The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

A wonderful story of secrets, families, hope, regret, relationships and the way in which the actions of past can impinge upon the present from Liane Moriarty. imgresSet on an island (Scribbly Gum) in the Hawkesbury River, New South Wales, Australia, it centres around Sophie Honeywell, a sweet-natured woman who reflects upon her life and decides that because she is in her late thirties, single and childless, she may have made some huge mistakes, including letting the man who asked her to marry him, Thomas Gordon, get away years earlier.

When she is left an extraordinary bequest by Thomas’ Aunt Connie, one that sees her relocating to Scribbly Gum Island and becoming part of the commercial enterprise that is the Munro Baby mystery – a mystery that harkens back to the 1930s when two residents of the island, Alice and Jack Munro dramatically disappeared, leaving behind a baby which the then island residents, Alice and Connie, raised as their own – she is flung back into Thomas’ life and that of his rather eccentric family. Befriending them all over again, Sophie is forced to reassess her life and her opinions of those who both seek to include her in the Munro baby enterprise but also those who feel that as an outsider, she has no right to be on the island and upsetting the status quo.

The longer Sophie stays, the more she begins to understand herself, what she wants from life and the “enigma” that is the Munro mystery.

While this book doesn’t quite have the sophisticated plot and characterisation of Big Little Lies, it is a delightful, light-hearted examination of people and the way we form and maintain or break relationships as well as how decisions made on the spur of the moment can have a huge impact upon the future. Often funny, moving and with a serious side, it’s an easy read and a great way to pass the time. Moriarty paints the characters so well, even the minor ones are three-dimensional and, just like real people, can be alternately annoying, fascinating and adorable. I read this while on holidays and reluctantly tore myself from it. While some of the narrative is predictable, there is a marvellous twist at the end that I never saw coming and found eminently satisfying. Another good read from a simply fabulous writer.

 

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The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project was not what I expected at all. Having heard about this novel from numerous sources, I’m not sure what I did expect, only that after reading an interview with Graeme Simsion and his wife (the author, Anne Buist), I knew I simply had to read it – and I’m so glad I did.
imgresOriginally written as a screenplay and five years in the crafting, The Rosie Project tells the extraordinary and delightfully absurd tale of Associate Professor Don Tillman, a geneticist who, despite his eidetic memory and OCD mannerisms, is unable to understand he clearly has Aspergers. Unlucky in love – well, in anything to do with women – and recognising he’s at least socially challenged, Don decides to embark on what he calls “The Wife Project” – something that makes perfect sense to him. Rather than continue to navigate the dating minefield where he detonates explosives all too often, he composes a detailed, scientifically sound and hilarious (to the reader) questionnaire, which he submits to dating websites and hands to almost any woman he encounters in order to find himself someone of the opposite sex with whom he’ll be compatible.

 

Viewing the world through his own unique prism (eg. as soon as he sets eyes on a person he is able to assess their BMI), with no fashion sense and finding it difficult to deviate from the rigid self-imposed timetable by which he governs his life – professional and personal – Don is astonishingly charming and funny. Unconstrained by factors that bother all too many of us, the superficialities we deem important such as appearances, Don evaluates folk by different but significant criteria. I haven’t laughed out loud so often while reading a book in such a long time. Nor have a winced, felt my heart squeezed or rooted for a brilliant underdog quite the way I have Don Tillman.

 

Evoking the world of someone with Aspergers as well as the politics and egos of academia with ease (having spent twenty plus years in the academy, I know Simsion captures it all too well), this novel balances romance, comedy and pathos beautifully. Don’s efforts to uncover a wife are heart-wrenchingly naïve, gauche, painful and belly-achingly funny.

 

Likewise, the character of Rosie is as pragmatic and earthy as Don is impractical (for all his seeming sense). What he lacks in EQ, Rosie more than makes up for and their adventures together are a charming quest that explores love, friendship, ethics, compatibility, trust, communication and the lengths humans will go to in order to find, rebuff and recognise love.

 

Filled with wonderful aphorisms and observations, this is a joy to read and I cannot wait to lose myself in the sequel.

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