The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Firstly, I want to thank BookShout and William Morrow for providing me with a galley copy of this fabulous debut novel, The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn.

Secondly, what a ripper of a read.

Arising out of the same oeuvre as the spate of “girl” books (Girl on the Train, Gone Girl etc), replete with their unreliable narrators, who are arch manipulators, alcoholics and liars etc., The Woman in the Window relies on many of the tropes these books used. However, not only is there a “woman” at the heart of the story, with a complex psychology and history, who happens to be a highly qualified child psychologist with a PhD but, importantly to the plot, structure and ambience of the novel, she’s also a black and white movie buff, her preferred genre being Hitchcockian thrillers. More on that shortly.

Dr Anna Fox is, for reasons that eventually emerge, housebound. Suffering from agoraphobia, she is also far too reliant and irresponsible with prescription drugs and wine and has poor personal hygiene. Separated from her husband and daughter, she is also without a support network, unless you can call her psychologist, occupational therapist, tenant in the basement and those she manages in an online group a support. When she’s not in her various chatrooms or playing chess online, Anna spends her days calling her husband and daughter or viewing her neighbourhood through her windows, camera in hand so she can use its powerful lens to really observe the goings on in the world she’s currently rejecting.

When she witnesses something terrible, the tight, closed domain she’s created starts to unravel and she begins to doubt – not only the life she’s created and the few people she’s allowed to enter it – but herself. But, as a fabulous line in the book declares, “It isn’t paranoia if it’s really happening….”

Or is it?

That’s the central question facing Anna and, in turn, the reader.

Though the core plot takes a while to kick off, this is not a dull book, nor does it have a slow start. Right from the outset, the reader is drawn to Anna and her claustrophobic environment. We learn to see the world and others the way she does before that too is overturned. Not only is Anna, a difficult, clever, self-depreciating woman who is at least honest with herself some of the time, eminently likeable, but you quickly root for her and feel a sense of protectiveness as her bland existence quickly becomes so very sinister.

Though the underlying notion of the book isn’t original, there’s no doubt the execution – and the characters that enact it – is. Superbly drawn though the various characters are, for me the use of old movies is what sets this novel apart. They function not only as a brilliant device that works as foreshadowing and even analepsis, but also to add flesh to the bones of specific scenes. References to fabulous old films like Rear Window, Rope, Birds and so many others, mean they too become characters in the novel, explicit scenes playing in the background or quotes from characters driving the narrative forward, adding to the building tension, making parts of the book almost gothic. There were times I was holding my breath while my heart knocked against my ribs, so well done was the atmosphere – the clever use of the movies and memories of those and their chilling soundtracks as well, adding a frisson.

Overall, once I really lost myself in Anna’s tale, I couldn’t put the book down.

I am not surprised it is being optioned as a film. Cinematic in execution and delivery, it’s crying out for the same treatment the films it plays such serious and celebratory homage to are given.

An outstanding book that readers of Girl on the Train, The Girl Before, Gone Girl, Girl Last Seen etc will devour, but also anyone who enjoys a good, well-written thriller and page-turner.


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Book Review: Victims by Jonathan Kellerman

This is only the third Jonathan Kellerman book I’ve read and I intend to remedy that tout de suite (as Poirot would say). Victims is number 27 in the Alex Delaware series, so I am glad I have many more stories about this psychologist with a wicked sense of humour and fine capacity to read people and situations and his cop buddy, Milo Sturgis (the books recall to me Michael Robotham’Victims by Jonathan Kellermans sensational series) to delve into. Victims is one of the more gory books I’ve read in this oeuvre, the story opening with a really gruesome murder of a cantankerous old bitch who no-one liked and everyone is not-so-secretly glad is dead. If it wasn’t for the almost ritualistic and brutal slaying, Sturgis and Delaware would have numerous suspects.

But an interesting and dark psychopathology is at work here and as more bodies, are slain and in similar ways, but with no apparent connection, Delaware and Sturgis realise they have a very sick serial killer on their hands. The only way to discover the identity of the murderer is to uncover a link between the victims. At first, this seems an impossible task, but as more people are found and connections are made, not only do Delaware and Sturgis start to hone in on the killer, they start to realise he’s closer than they think…

A fast-paced, oft-times scary book, it delves into the capacity of humans for both cruelty and revenge and the sickness that resides inside. Dark, but laced with humour and really well-rounded characters, I couldn’t put it down, despite the fact I found the descriptions of the murders both brutal and graphic. I think because they didn’t feel gratuitous but built a profile of the killer, I was able to stomach it, to see it through Delaware’s eyes and thus be drawn into the narrative.


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Book Review: Lost, Michael Robotham

Lost is the second book in the Joe O’Loughlin series. Written from the first person perspective of Vincent Ruiz, the Detective Inspector determined to find Joe guilty in Suspect, it commences with Ruiz clinging to a yellow buoy in the middle of the Thames, dazed, confused and shot.

Admitted to hospital and placed in a coma, when Ruiz awakes, he has no memory of the events leading up to his immersion in the river or his wounds, only that it’s somehow connected to a previous case of an abducted girl, a Russian criminal, a child molester and a grieving mother.

With the help of his friend, psychologist, Joe O’Loughlin and a young policewoman, Ruiz has to not only piece together aspects of the old case, but recover his memories and discover who it is that’s not only trying to frame him for crimes he didn’t commit, but sabotage his career as well.

At first I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this book as much as I have the others in the Joe O’Loughlin series. For a start, I found it hard to get used to Ruiz as the first person point of view. His tone grated and I was still smarting from his attitude in Suspect (yes, I take these characters very seriously). However, as the novel went on, I became immersed in this psychological jigsaw, how the characters both divulged and withheld information, enabling or preventing Ruiz from discovering the information he so desperately needs. I also really enjoyed seeing Joe through Ruiz’s eyes, witnessing his admiration and the almost begrudging warmth he feels for a man he once tried to arrest. Gaining insight into Ruiz’s past as well as the relationship he has with his mother and children, why his marriages have failed and how he perceives himself were simultaneously poignant and downright tragic.

Once more, the prose is sharp, evocative and moving. Dialogue crackles and is often laugh out loud funny and wise-arse. Ruiz’s repartee is “take-no-prisoners” and yet, just as he can out-smart-alec the best of them, he’s also capable of deep compassion. Likewise, in seeing Joe from another perspective, we also come to learn how his insights really do nurture and support those he offers them to and the type of reliable and ethical friend he can be.

It was also nice to see Julianne through another man’s eyes as well as Charlie and Emma. But it’s in his fight for justice and peace of mind that Ruiz shines. Brave and loyal to a fault, there’s no risk he won’t take and literally no stone he’ll leave unturned.

As you would expect from the title, the notion of being “lost’ is a theme of the novel – from losing one’s memory, to a beloved, to one’s place in the world – as a part of a family, position in society or career. The converse of lost is “found” and it’s in the “finding” – the whys and wherefores of what is a physical, psychological and mental process – that the book draws its narrative trajectory, meaning and, ultimately, strength.

Terrific, this is a fast-paced book that gives a new and fuller picture of O’Loughlin’s world from a beloved character’s point of view.

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Book Review: Suspect, Michael Robotham

Having read Michael Robotham’s Joe ‘O’Loughlin books our of order (I literally read Say You’re Sorry, the latest, first – and loved it – see earlier review), I found I didn’t enjoy this first in the series as much as I feel I probably should.

Don’t get me wrong – this is a tautly written, gripping thriller that takes you on a roller-coaster ride as we’re introduced to the recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s, psychologist, Joe O’Loughlin. Dealing with this advancing neurological disease and the fact it will steal precious time with his beloved family is bad enough, but when Joe discovers that a woman who once accused him of sexual assault has been murdered, and all the clues as to her killer lead to him, time works against him in different ways.

Convinced the killer is one of his patients, no-one will listen to Joe and, as the body count increases, even those who know and love him start to regard him differently, particularly when Joe is caught in the biggest lie a married man can tell.

Not only do we meet Joe’s wife, Julieanne, and young, adorable daughter Charlie, this is also the book that introduces Vincent Ruiz – hardbitten detective who would be quite at home in a Raymond Chandler noir as he is between the pages of this book.

This is a real cat and mouse book – one where the roles sometimes change. While I can acknowledge the writing is superlative and the plotting excellent, I think it’s also testimony to Robotham (and possibly unfair of me) that the main reason I didn’t like the story as much is because, to me, Joe acted in a manner I considered out of character and which didn’t ring true. If I’d read the books in order, however, I presumably wouldn’t feel that way because I wouldn’t “know” Joe or be as invested in him as I’ve become. To me, this intelligent, deeply thinking man (always thinking, as Ruiz observes in a later book, which I’ve just finished and will shortly review as well), behaves in a way that jars – whether it’s how he responds to his diagnosis or the fact he continues to withhold information from the police, I’m not entirely sure. I found this enormously frustrating and even if I didn’t “know” Joe, I would have thought someone with his perceptive qualities and understanding of humans, should know not to keep the sort of information he does hidden as it will only cast more suspicion in him – which it does with devastating results.

Likewise, Ruiz is such an arse. Hostile from the outset, he really is incredibly unlovable and difficult to reconcile with the person he later becomes. I didn’t struggle with him as much as Joe, however, and enjoyed discovering the early stages of their relationship which, in many ways, functions as bromance – boy meets boy, boy hates boy, boy loves boy.

These are very picky complaints and, as I’ve noted, only arise because I read the books front to back (so to speak). Overall, it’s such a tremendous read and again, kept me awake far too late and is, I suspect (pun intentded) responsible for the shadows under my eyes.

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Book Review: Shatter, Michael Robotham


Once again, Michael Robotham has defined what’s meant by the often loosely applied term “page-turner.” I literally could not put this book down – I was turning the pages and burning the midnight oil because I simply had to know what happened next.

Written in stark, but laden prose that beautifully captures a range of human emotions, conditions and relationships, Shatter is another in the Joseph O’Loughlin series and a triumph of the genre.

Commencing with Professor Joe being unwillingly taken from university by police to where a naked woman with the word “slut” scrawled across her torso, talking on a mobile phone, is about to jump off a bridge, our poignant, Parkinson-suffering psychologist is unable to save her. Finding the situation plays upon him, when the woman’s daughter discovers where Joe lives and implores his help, insisting her mother didn’t take her own life, Joe believes her but, just because he’s convinced this is a murder case doesn’t mean any of those with the power to investigate it do as well.

Finding himself in the unenviable situation of being drawn into the life of a young woman he wants to help and the personal conflict it creates, Joe is caught up in a terrifying and sadistic revenge that, as the body count and danger grows, threatens to tear apart not just the lives of those connected to the killer, but his own family’s as well.

Segueing between the killer’s point of view and that of Joe’s, this is a chilling narrative that also manages to portray the brutal realities of those who witness and deal with dysfunction and violence every day and the inevitable toll this takes on the self and family. The dialogue is masterful, the scenes laden with suspense and, just when you think you cannot take it anymore, humour is thrown in as well, usually in the form of his friend, ex-cop, Ruiz. The way Robotham constructs his young characters is both realistic and heart-warming.

For those who love crime and well-written thrillers, with logical, exciting plots, terrifically crafted characters and dialogue with veracity, you cannot go past Robotham.

I am already two-thirds of the way through another of his books and am utterly in awe of this man’s talent.

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