Monthly Round-up: October 2018

fullsizeoutput_888So here I am back again after an unplanned hiatus. I really did mean to blog while I was away but that just didn’t happen, and then when I got back home I was unwell and life took over with lots of appointments and stuff. I’m hoping that over the next couple of weeks I will catch up on my backlog as I have lots of Notes about Things.

Watch this space.

Anyway, this is a quick recap of the last month!

Books read:

  • Night Film by Marisha Pessl
  • The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers
  • The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler
  • Unnatural Causes by Richard Shepherd
  • Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel

Books bought: too many to list here. Seriously, it’s almost embarrassing. There are a lot.

Other stuff:

Our break in the east of England was really enjoyable, full of wonderful places and great food. I’ll be writing about all of that separately. Maybe not the food, but certainly all of the history stuff.

Lots of good TV around at the moment. Watching Killing Eve (in regular time, no binge watching) and loving it deeply, along with the return of Criminal Minds, one of my all time favourite series.

 

Femme Fatale: Sick, Sweet & Evil

IMG_0770I didn’t know anything about Chelsea Cain and her series of books about Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell until I came across a TV series called Gone; when I realised it was based on a novel I went looking for it and found the author’s other works. I love a decent serial killer so tried the first one and became hooked.

Since then I have read the first three in the six-book series and I know that I will be reading the remainder (in fact I already have book four on my TBR list) simply because they are so easy to read – I usually devour the whole thing in a single sitting.

But why?

For a start the premise is interesting. Archie Sheridan is a detective investigating a series of murders when he is captured and tortured by the serial killer herself, Gretchen Lowell. Gretchen has inserted herself into the investigation by posing as a psychologist and of course because she is stunningly beautiful and very intelligent no-one suspects that she is the one responsible for what she claims to be 200 murders over a lengthy period of time.

None of this is spoiler territory because it’s all made clear at the very beginning of the first book. She tortures, kills and revives Archie and then surrenders to the police. Once he recovers Archie visits her in prison regularly and for every visit she gives him information on where another of her victims can be found so that closure can be given to the families. Archie thinks he is in control but of course he isn’t; Gretchen is an expert manipulator and through all three of the books she is effectively directing the action.

I won’t go into the plots of the novels; although each is focussed on a particular case the main event is of course the warped relationship between the two main characters as well as the involvement of Susan Ward, a reporter for a local newspaper who is drawn into the ongoing drama.

As with a lot of serial killer novels this is in no way true to life or at all subtle. Gretchen is an almost mythical figure who becomes something of a folk hero to a certain type of person. She is a complete monster in the vein of Hannibal Lecter, with no scruples and an overwhelming desire to cause pain and suffering, though it’s clear that she can stop killing for periods of time when she feels like it. The books are pretty gruesome and almost veer into horror territory but not quite. The problem with series of this type, if you can call it a problem, is the need to keep increasing the tension and gore without falling into camp. The books have managed to avoid that so far.

Having said all that, and noting that if Gretchen really is so striking why does nobody ever seem to notice what she’s up to until it’s too late, I love these books and would recommend them for a quick and enjoyable read.

Slow Horses & Dead Lions

IMG_0771I was drawn to reading the Slough House series of novels by Mick Herron via a recommendation from Jen Williams (@sennydreadful on Twitter and a fine author herself), and before I finished the first one had already bought the second.

That should tell you something.

Slough House is the (as far as we know, fictional) part of MI5 and located near the Barbican in London. It’s where those members of the service who have blotted their copybooks are sent to endure a miserable, slow decline in the hopes that they will see sense and voluntarily resign; in my experience in the civil service the equivalent is being assigned to Special Projects or being sent to work in the library when you aren’t a librarian, though to be honest I could never understand why that was thought to be a punishment.

Anyway, the books.

Slow Horses is the terribly tortuous punning name given to those who “work” there, carrying out a series of meaningless tasks and boring paperwork. But Jackson Lamb knows what he’s doing and when, in the first novel, he senses that there is something not right at all about the hooded figure tied up and threatened with death on the interwebs, he finds a way for his team to get involved in a proper mission to resolve the issue. I won’t say any more about that.

In Dead Lions, the fallout from the previous novel is still being felt – and that’s one of the things I like about the series, it builds on what’s gone before – and when a former colleague is found dead on a bus (that’s what you get these days on  rail replacement services) he feels the need to investigate, at a time when a couple of members of his team have been assigned to protect a visiting Russian oligarch. It slowly become clear that the two issues are connected.

I really enjoy a good spy novel – one of my favourite reading experiences was le Carre’s The Honourable Schoolboy which I found in my then father-in-law’s bookshelf (and why didn’t the BBC film that?) – and these are wonderfully seedy, with that depressed air you get in some parts of the public service where everything seems futile. The characters are really strong, there are the obligatory wheels within wheels and of course lots and lots of double crossing. And when things happen there are real consequences.

There is a very good interview with Mick Herron in the Guardian which gives some insight into the characters he’s created, and this in particular made me laugh:

[…] I’m a London-bound commuter and an open-plan-office worker, and anyone who’s been either of those things knows that bile and venom are only ever a hair’s-breadth away.

So true.

I fully intend to read the whole series and if you like a good post-Cold War spy story you should give them a try too.