The Girl on the Train

tgottTitle: The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens.
She’s even started to feel like she knows them. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.
Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.
Now they’ll see; she’s so much more than just the girl on the train…

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: This has been on my to read pile for a while, so long, in fact, that my SO got to it first. With the recent release of the film, i decided it was time (though i didn’t, and still don’t, have any plans to see the film–i’ve heard it’s terrible).

It’s a gripping book that definitely kept me reading. The chapters were quite short and often had a teasing or slightly revelatory end to them which made starting the next so easy. The plot–the mystery–is established well with plenty of scope and lots of avenues to consider. Although the draw for this book might be the plot, i felt it was more the string tying the characters together, because it was the characters who stand out.

As seems to be the theme with popular thrillers these days, none of the characters are exactly likeable. Mostly, though, i’m sick of readers moaning about not liking characters. To me, readers who just outright dislike all these characters aren’t looking deep enough. Yes, they are all extremely flawed, but they all have their own motivations, vices and shortcomings. They’re all complex individuals, and we get to see them trying to live and be better people, but we also see them failing at their worst moments. That’s more real and interesting to me than likeable but only two dimensional characters.

Rachel, our main character, i mostly didn’t like because she comes across as very weak, needy and desperate. She’s also an alcoholic who i preferred much more when she was sober and talking honestly about her issues. I’m glad the road wasn’t easy for her in this regard, though, because that would have been unbelievable. As much as i wanted her to get sober, i wouldn’t have bought it if she hadn’t fallen off the waggon and fucked up a few times.

Megan, our missing girl, i neither liked nor disliked. I felt like she wasn’t getting the chance to be who she wanted to be, and that maybe that person could be someone i’d like. Anna i very much disliked, i think mostly because there was nothing about her i could relate to, but a few of her actions later in the book more than redeem her in my eyes. Cathy was nice, but a bit too nice–i dislike too nice. And the men, well. I found them less fleshed out, less complex, less… just less.

The plot was simple enough, and the narrative devices standard and formulaic. The narrators were unreliable, but only in ways the author wants them to be. Missing, misleading and vague information is just as telling as what is clearly presented and discussed. If you know what to look for, this book holds no surprises. If you’re encouraged to consider X, instead take a closer look at Y. I had my suspicions by chapter four, my bet placed on the ending by halfway through, and every new revelation from there just made me more confident i was right. I half hoped i wasn’t, though, because i like being surprised!

Overall this was an okay book. What it did it did well, but it played it too safe, stuck to tricks and tactics so well-used they are easy to spot if you know to look for them. But it kept me turning pages, kept me hoping there’d be something i’d missed, something i’d not considered. When there wasn’t, i couldn’t give it more than a solidly average three stars.


Dead Girl Walking

dgwTitle: Dead Girl Walking

Author: Christopher Brookmyre

Summary: Famous, beautiful and talented, Heike has the world at her feet. Then she simply vanishes.

Jack Parlabane has lost everything: his journalism career, his marriage, his self-respect. A call for help from an old friend offers a chance of redemption – but only if he can find our what happened to missing singer Heike.

Each member of her band has secrets, not least newest recruit Monica Halcrow. Fixated on Heike from day one, she is driven by paranoia, jealousy and fear.

Pursued across Europe by those who would punish him for past crimes, Parlabane must find out what Monica is hiding before it’s too late.

Rating: ★★★★★ 4.5/5

Review: Well, first of all that blurb is misleading and inaccurate. Finding out what happened to Heike isn’t a chance at redemption–it’s a job. None of the band really has secrets, and Monica was not fixated or paranoid. Parlabane isn’t pursued by people wanting to punish him for past crimes and he only even knows Monica is hiding something in the last 75 pages or so.

Despite the poor summary, the book is good. I had missed Parlabane, and so had a lot of his friends, it turns out, because the man we meet at the start of this book is certainly not the Parlabane we know from previous books. Along with Brookmyre’s writing, Parlabane’s grown up a wee bit. I’d say he’s having a midlife crisis, but as his life is usually so full of comedy, adventure and danger, a midlife crisis for him is having no job, no wife and no hope.

When he gets a call from the sister of an old friend with a job offer, things begin to change. I saw the love-interest angle here from the get go, and from the get-go i did not like it. It seemed forced, and she seems like not at all the kind of partner Parlabane needs; she might be able to corral rock stars, but if she can’t make a sharp exit down a rope or keep her head in a crisis, what good is she to Parlabane? I would be much more interested if Parlabane and McLeod ended up dating. Journalist and copper. They’d disagree on a hell of a lot, but in a fiery wild way, and they’re both able to handle themselves in dangerous situations.

The best part of Parlabane stayed the course, though: his humour. His dry, cynical, straight talking makes me crack a grin every time, with more than a few chuckles.

He had recently heard some chinless Tory fuckpuddle say that London was a world-class city being held back by the rest of the UK. Parlabane had reckoned that if he poured all his money and efforts into fitting out his toilet he could almost certainly have himself a truly world class shite-house. Obviously there would be little in the way of cash or other physical resources for the development and upkeep of the living room and the kitchen, etc… but if anyone asked, he could tell them he had a world-class bog and it was just a shame the rest of the house was holding it back.

Parlabane is only half the book, though. The other half is Monica and Heike. I was ambivalent on the pair of them, to be honest. Throughout I seemed to dislike one or the other of them. I think they were supposed to be in their early 20s, but they often read like teenagers. They were moody and fickle and never properly talked to each other, which lead to many misunderstandings. I just really like it when two female lead characters are mature and get on with each other, so it’s a shame these two couldn’t manage it. I liked that Brookmyre included a lesbian character and a bi-curious character, but i couldn’t buy their relationship because it never seemed consistent enough

The story was fine–typical crime/mystery thriller type with a sex-traffic angle, though the missing rock star and band-on-tour blog added an interesting shade to it all. I looooved the start, in that the only thing revealed was that someone was murdered and someone witnessed it, but you don’t know who these people are. It had me interested and analysing everything right from the first chapter. Unfortunately the twists in the reveal weren’t a shock to me–i’d called most of them.

Ultimately what makes this book, like any other Brookmyre, is the writing. It is witty, relevant, concise and addictive. It might not be quite as crude and immature as his early books, but it’s miles better than your average crime fiction. I’m looking forward to more Parlabane soon!


Florence and Giles

florence-and-gilesTitle: Florence and Giles

Author: John Harding

Summary: 1891. In a crumbling New England mansion, 12-year-old orphan Florence and her younger brother Giles are neglected by their guardian uncle. Banned from reading, Florence devours books in secret, and twists words and phrases into a language uniquely her own.

After the violent death of the children’s first governess, a second arrives. Florence becomes convinced she is vengeful and malevolent spirit who means to do Giles harm. Against a powerful enemy, with no adult to turn for help, Florence will need all her intelligence and ingenuity to save Giles and preserve her private world. This is her chilling tale…

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: There was a lot i liked about this book, but there was also a lot that i think could be improved. On the whole, i don’t like having that kind of feeling about a book; i like to either really like it, really hate it, or just think it was okay. To see so much good and so much potential in a book just leaves me wanting.

Let’s start with the good. I adored Florence–from start to finish. She’s strong, smart and independent; i can’t not love her. She teaches herself how to read, she spends hours each day sneaking to the library to read. She creates a herself a little den in the library in the winter to keep warm while she reads, she reads and loves Shakespeare and Poe. She messes with the English language, making nouns and adjectives into verbs (which are hit and miss; some are brilliant, others are awkward). She effortlessly manipulates the adults around her, while never taking that ability for granted.

I loved the setting: A old country mansion. Two young children alone save for the adults hired to tend to the house. Visits from the young boy from the next mansion over. And i loved the setting up of a mystery: A mysterious uncle whom no one has ever met. A father and two mothers whose lives nor deaths anyone will speak of. A photo album with the faces of one woman cut out. The sudden death of one governess followed by the swift appointing of a suspicious second.

Where the book then started to fail was towards the end, with the rather lacking unravelling of this mystery. Quite early on i thought i had it pegged. I thought i knew who this suspicious new governess was and what her motives were. In the end, i can’t be sure whether i was right or wrong–the clues surrounding it are never truly addressed. Instead there is a different twist to the end of the book. A twist which i loved, but that came with it’s own problems. All the foreshadowing in the book pointed in one direction, while the drama at the end focused on something entirely different. Neither the mystery nor the twist satisfied me enough because of this.

I really would have liked to see a better pay off for the clues scattered throughout the first half of the book, as well as more build up and foreshadowing towards the twist that is revealed at the end. The fact that i can see exactly how easily this book could have been better, stronger, more shocking… it pains me more than everything i enjoyed about it.

To end on a fond note, though, one of my favourite Florence-isms:

As I princessed in the tower, he knight-in-shining-armoured up the drive.

This knocks three squares off my Bookish Bingo: A retelling (it’s a reworking of The Turn of the Screw), main character under 16 and a strong sibling relationship.

The Hourglass Factory

hourglassTitle: The Hourglass Factory

Author: Lucy Ribchester

Summary: Meet Ebony Diamond: trapeze artist, tiger-tamer, suffragette. Where there is trouble, she is never far away. But now she’s the one in trouble, and she’d up to her neck in it.

Enter Frankie George: tomboy, cub reporter, chippy upstart. She’s determined to make her name on the London Evening Gazette, if only someone will give her a chance. The Ebony disappears during a performance at the London Coliseum, and Frankie jumps at the chance to find out what happened.

How did Ebony vanish, who was she afraid of, and what goes on behind the doors of the mysterious Hourglass Factory? From the newsrooms of Fleet Street to the suffragette headquarters, Frankie enters a world of society columnists, corset fetishists and circus freaks on the trail of a murderous villain with a plot more deadly than anyone could have imagined…

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2.5/5

Review: I bought this book on a whim after i saw in in a shop. The cover caught my eye, it had females leads, it included suffragettes… it seemed interesting. It seems like it will be the last time i buy a book on a whim.

This has taken me over a month to read, it was so hard going. The worst of it is, though, that there is nothing i can point to to say ‘this was bad’, but at the same time, not much i can point to to say ‘this was good’. It wasn’t so exciting or engrossing that i wanted to pick it up to keep reading, but it wasn’t so bad that i just wanted to give up altogether. I wanted to have read it, i just didn’t want to read it. And in some ways, that’s worse than just disliking a book enough to not finish it.

It had a great concept, a great premise. The era it was set in and the suffragettes… except the plot was so (so, very, very) slow to get going that instead of being interesting in the book itself, i was more inclined to research more details about the suffragette movement. In fact i have a copy of The Militant Suffragettes on my bedside table to read in the near future now i’ve (finally) finished this book!

I liked the characters, at least, the characters i was supposed to like. And i disliked the characters i was supposed to dislike. It was all very easy–too easy. What i would have liked is more. There are hints and trickles to these characters, but nothing more. Inspector Primrose and his wife particularly gained my affections and interest, and i wanted to know more about them. Instead they seemed like bit-part characters filling the role of stars. The same can be said for all the characters. I liked Frankie, but we’re only ever given hints of her feelings. Does she regret her childhood sweetheart married someone else? Does she feel for the women she gets to know over the course of the book, or is she only interested in making it in a man’s world? Milly and Ebony seemed too far away to reach… too attractive to be very deep. Liam seemed smart and highly under-appreciated, and i would have liked him and Frankie to stop arguing and acknowledge the value of each other at some point.

The plot meandered, with the characters fumbling from one clue to the next, not really figuring anything out until it was put right in front of their noses. And never actually finding the missing Ebony–instead she finds them. The end culminates in action-packed fashion, but mostly i didn’t care, unfortunately.

There was just so much to like about this book… but it was so lacklustre and mediocre. I’m annoyed with it for not being what i had hoped it would be.

Hallowe’en Party: Graphic Novel

hallowe'enTitle: Hallowe’en Party: Graphic Novel

Author: Agatha Christie, Chandre (Illustrator)

Summary: A 13 year-old girl holds the clue to a death at a party on 31st October – was it a fatal mistake or a murder?

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: Yesterday i found myself in a library with some time to kill. I happened to pass by the graphic novel section and spot some Agatha Christies. I hadn’t even known there were graphic novels versions of her books, so i was a little excited. With it being the end of October, of the five or six books that were there, of course i picked up ‘Hallowe’en Party’. I found a nice comfy spot and read all 46 pages.

It was odd, reading a Poirot graphic novel. There were distinct elements missing. Most noticeably Poirot’s air of egotism. It is, i am happy to admit, my favourite thing about Poirot. He’s a clever sod, and he knows it. Though there is reference to the “little grey cells”, the closest the books gets to Poirot’s conceitedness is a smug face when someone else describes how smart he is. It was nice, but it wasn’t the same.

I also found it harder, somehow, to keep track of the characters. Even though there were faces to go with the names, there were a few people i kept mixing up. “The blonde one” was not enough to remember a character by, apparently. Graphic novels are, of course, less in-depth than textual novels, and not having Poirot’s descriptions and observations of characters made them much more forgettable.

With everyone Poirot talked to toting the same line about the victim, at first i was convinced this was another Orient. When the truth was revealed, it seemed much more out of no where than usual. Again, i think this was due to the lack of clues in the details about characters and their actions that graphic novels are prone to.

As much as this was a enjoyable enough book, overall i don’t think Christie’s books, or murder mysteries in general, are the best material for adapting into graphic novels. There is something essential in the detail of clues that this genre needs, but graphic novels just can’t provide.

The Vesuvius Club: Graphic Edition

vcgeTitle: The Vesuvius Club: Graphic Edition

Author: Mark Gatiss, Ian Bass (Illustrator)

Summary: The first adventure of Lucifer Box rendered in every detail.

Lucifer Box, the greatest portraitist of the Edwardian age and England’s most dashing secret agent, investigates a series of bizarre disappearances and plunges headlong into low life and high society.

Who is killing Britain’s most prominent vulcanologists?
What secrets lie beyond the grave?
And which tie goes best with a white carnation?

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I read and loved The Vesuvius Club many years ago. When i found out there was a graphic novel edition, i wanted it. It was on my wish list for a few years, but i never received it. So, a little while ago, i bought it myself. It was worth the wait.

While the story itself is not as in depth as the original book (obviously), the art does such a good job of bringing the character and the action and the settings to life. There is no colour, it is only black and white. This is a shame in some respects, because i would have loved some colour in a few particular panels (mostly the violent ones, i will confess–what’s a blood splatter without a little red?). On the other hand, the black and white provides such a noir, mystery and classy feel to the images.

Lucifer, whom i fell in love with in the book, is very much as i pictured him; a handsome devil who knows it. There were a few images where he seemed overly comic (bug-eyed, squared-chinned and fat-lipped) and others where he just looked old, but on the whole he personified the character described in the book.

Mr Victor is my second favourite character, though to reveal more about him would spoil far too much. Suffice to say there is a wonderful full-page image that sums it up efficiently.

The plot and action move swiftly and the story never gets dull. It was great to see the fight scenes play out, rather than having to image them as they play out slowly among detailed descriptions, as they so often do in prose. And in a few cases, particularly plots twists, it was much nicer to have visual cues as to the nature of what was playing out, and that slight anticipation evoked with an image before the narrative progresses.

I would definitely recommend this as a supplement the original book. Although the art is wonderful and the story flows well enough, there is obviously a lot omitted. As much as the graphic edition can stand on its own, it was only enhanced by my knowledge of the book, and the nuances and details of characters and plot that simply can not be converted into this edition.

Gone Girl

Title: Gone Girl

Author: Gillian Flynn

Summary: Who are you?
What have we done to each other?

These are the questions Nick Dunne finds himself asking on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn’t true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they weren’t made by him. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone.

So what did happen to Nick’s beautiful wife?

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: WARNING: This review contains huge, massive, mega spoilers for Gone Girl. The entire thing. So, read on at your own risk. /WARNING

I ummed and ahhed over reading this for quite a while. I had heard both good and bad things and, along with my general habit of avoiding something if it’s too popular, i held off for a long time. When the film trailer was released, i watched it to see if it was a film i would want to watch. It was, and being a book > film kind of person, that decided it for me. I bought the book next time i saw it in a charity shop.

It was easy to read, and i enjoyed it a lot more than i worried i might. That i knew there was a twist helped. The story is told in chapters alternating between present-day husband and historical diary entries wife. For the first half of the book i didn’t really like either of them, but i didn’t hate them either.

The wife, Amy, came across as a little weak, a little bit too naive. Nick, the husband, was a bit oblivious and was obviously hiding something. These obvious omissions were what drew my interest the most. I was driven crazy with casual lines like:

It was my fifth lie to the police. I was just getting started.

All i wanted was to know what the hell had happened and what the unexpected twist would be. Because Nick being the murderer everything indicated he was was clearly not going to be it.

My very early theory had been that Nick and Amy had faked it together, to claim the life insurance money and solve their financial problems. I was half right.

When the twist that Amy had faked her own death was revealed about halfway through the book, the main thing that had kept me reading was brought to an end. She even reveals how she did it pretty swiftly, and enough to satisfy my curiosity. What then became the driving force of the book was: Who is Amy, really? With the diary entries we had been reading revealed as fake, Amy was now almost a new character. I still didn’t like her.

Throughout the second half of the book, i liked both Amy and Nick less. I appreciated Nick’s simmering anger at Amy, but hadn’t forgiven him for his affair and disinterest. The more i learnt about the real Amy the more i disliked her, but i admired her intelligence and ability to hold a grudge and seek revenge. Really, I wanted them both to win and to lose.

In that respect, i thought the ending was great. These two, i disliked them both the perfect amount, so for them to end up stuck with each other seemed like a wonderful comeuppance for the pair of them.

I’ve heard the film has changed the ending, which i’m not so attached to that that idea bothers me. I just hope they haven’t gone with Amy getting caught. As much as i dislike her, i wanted her to get away with it. She doesn’t have to get a happy ending, but her getting caught would be dull, as far as i’m concerned.

I just love more ambiguous open endings–endings the reader can decide the details on, decide where the story ultimately goes. And the idea that Amy and Nick spend the rest of their lives together, playing mind games and one-upping each other all the way, is the best kind of ending.

The Man Who Was Thursday

thursTitle: The Man Who Was Thursday

Author: G.K. Chesterton

Summary: Gabriel Syme is dispatched by Scotland Yard on a secret mission to infiltrate the Central Anarchist Council — an organization plotting to bring down the existing social order. The seven members of the group are named after days of the week, with the mysterious Sunday — who calls himself ‘the Sabbath and the peace of God’ — as their leader and mastermind. Having successfully infiltrated their ranks, Syme himself becomes known as ‘Thursday’. But he soon finds himself in a surreal waking nightmare, in which the lines between freedom and order, fact and fiction, become irrevocably blurred.

Written in 1908, and drawing heavily on contemporary fears of anarchist conspiracies and bomb plots, The Man Who Was Thursday remains uncannily relevant. It is a fascinating mystery, a spellbinding allegory, and an entirely chilling classic of crime fiction.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2/5

Review: This book sounded intriguing. A policeman infiltrating a group of anarchists, lines being blurred. Unfortunately what i imagined from the summary and what i got were… very different.

First of all the idea of an anarchist group with fractions across Europe and elected representatives and leaders… does Chesterton even know what anarchism means? (And no, it’s not chaos or lack of order, but from what i understand “no masters” is a significant aspect.)

Then that Syme, the main character and rookie policeman, all but strolls into a secret location and takes part in a meeting and gets himself elected–by a group of anarchists who have never met him–to the “Central Anarchist Council” all in one day. I just… no.

The book only get more bizarre from there, with slapstick chase scenes and lack of logic. The book seemed to go all over the place without actually going anywhere at all.

There are seven main characters in the book, comprising of the members of the “Central Anarchist Council”, but really, i could keep track of no more than three. They were all so bland and lacking of any character. I had no feelings for them at all, save perhaps boredom. And poor characters will always make a poor book, as far as i am concerned.

There were a few amusing one-liners throughout the book, and some aspects of the story were great, if poorly executed (twist after twist, even though i saw them all coming from very early on).

Despite all the outrageous action and bonkers plots, it was only during the last chase and the final scenes that i actually stopped and thought, “What the hell is going on?” And i still don’t know what the book is about, really. What points Chesterton is trying to make.

From reading others’ reviews, i get the impression that perhaps i am missing something and wasn’t reading “deep” enough. (And apparently not being familiar with biblical references has put me at a disadvantage–a disadvantage i have no regrets about, however.)

When a book barely keeps my attention, is all over the place in terms of action and direction, has such poor characters and seems to have no point, it can’t then expect me to dig any deep and meaningful reading from it. I just don’t have the time for that shit, when the book is this shit.

Flesh Wounds

16204828Title: Flesh Wounds

Author: Chris Brookmyre

Summary: Private investigator Jasmine Sharp’s father was murdered before she was born, and her mother went to self-sacrificing lengths in order to shield her from the world in which he moved. Since her mother’s death, all she has been able to learn is his first name – and that only through a strange bond she has forged with the man who killed him: Glen Fallan. But when Fallan is arrested for the murder of a criminal her mother knew since childhood, Jasmine is finally forced to enter his domain: a place where violence is a way of life and vengeance spans generations.

Detective Superintendent Catherine McLeod has one major Glaswegian gangster in the mortuary and another in the cells for killing him – which ought to be cause for celebration. Catherine is not smiling, however. From the moment she discovered a symbol daubed on the victim’s head, she has understood that this case is far more dangerous than it appears on the surface: deeper than skin, darker than blood; something that could threaten her family and end her career.

As one battles her demons and the other chases her ghosts, these two very different detectives will ultimately confront the secrets that have entangled both of their fates since before Jasmine was even born.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: Flesh Wounds = ((Gangster history lessons + Revenge) x (Police + Sharp Investigations)) ^ Secrets + Mystery

It has been almost two years since i last read a Brookmyre book. That makes it almost two years since i last wrote a book summary equation. (They’re fun, but for some reason i’ve only ever done them for Brookmyre books.)

You wont catch me with many bad things to say about a Brookmyre book, and this is no exception. So, let’s start with the good.

Female characters. I won’t deny i prefer classic Christopher Brookmyre more; the bizarre characters (Spammy forever), the outlandish situations and the big laughs. But what the Sharp Investigations series has that they didn’t is a concentrated wealth of strong females, including the two leads, Jasmine Sharp and Catherine McLeod. It’s so refreshing to read, especially from a male writer who’s actually doing it well. They aren’t all the same female with different names. They aren’t all stereotypically feminine. They are individual, well-rounded characters who happen to be female. Brookmyre is doing females here better than some female authors, and that’s because he’s doing characters, and he excels at that.

Plots and sub-plots and sub-sub-plots. A couple of times it was difficult for me to remember who was what and what was where and where was when, but the detail and history and plots that are weaved in this book (in this series) are incredible. I want a peek at Brookmyre’s notes to see how he’s managed to keep all the facts organised.

An event (a death, a conversation, a deal, an arrest) can be mentioned almost off-handedly, or only briefly referenced, then pages and chapters later in a flashback chapter we get to see it played out in full (and even then it might not be the main point of the scene). Once i was left thinking, “Is that the guy whose death was mentioned earlier? His name rings a bell. It must be. So this is how he died. (I think.)”

Other sub-plots include the budding romance of two more minor characters, McLeod’s children’s penchant for violence and Jasmie’s Aunt’s lesbianism. These things don’t advance the main plot of the book–they advance the development of the characters. (Have i mentioned how good the characters are?)

Points of view. There are many. The main two for most of the book are Jasmine and McLeod, but the book is spattered with others. Some get a three or four chapters, others only one. It’s the kind of thing that could leave the reader confused, but in this case it just… doesn’t. It works well with the plots and sub-plots that are woven, letting them all exist in their own sections of the book. It helps everything be kept clearer, until all the threads start to meet towards the climax of the book.

I think really there are only two things i can say i didn’t like about this book. The first was that i would have preferred more Jasmine. For a book in the “Sharp Investigations” series, this book felt very much dominated by the police investigation and characters. This isn’t “bad”; it worked, it’s just not what i would have preferred.

The only other thing that didn’t work (for me, personally) were some of the attempts at mystery and twists. I have a knack for seeing twists coming (not always, but often), so this isn’t completely a reflection of the book. But it felt far too often hints were made at ~something~ that was supposed to keep the reader in suspense until it was revealed, but i would just think, “Okay, so [this is what that’s about].” And it left me a little disappointed, because to me it was so obvious. The biggest of these were the chapters scattered through the book about a young girl growing up on a farm. She is very carefully left unnamed, which told me she was someone we know–that this was a flashback plot. Process of elimination quickly lead me to who it was before the end of the first of these chapters, and i was already working things out about her history, character and motivations in the present-plot. Which isn’t a bad thing, you might say. And i would agree–but not for a first read through; it shouldn’t have been that obvious. I can’t let myself judge too harshly on this, though, because as i said, i am prone to noticing the hints and putting things together quicker than the dramatic reveals plans for.

Ultimately, this book was really great. When someone writes characters and invents plots as well as Brookmyre, he could write about anything and i would read it. And really, the last paragraph of the book has left me happily craving the next!

The Thirty-Nine Steps

13617693Title: The Thirty-Nine Steps.

Author: John Buchan.

Summary: When Richard Hannay is warned of an assassination plot that has the potential to take Britain into a war, are then discovers in his flat the murdered body of the American that warned him, he becomes a prime suspect. He flees to the moors of Scotland and a spirited chase begins as he is pursued by the police and the German spies involved with stealing British plans. Buchan’s tale unfolds into one of the seminal and most influential ‘chase’ books, mimicked by many, yet unrivalled in the tension and mystery created by his writing.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: This book starts off with a letter/dedication from the author, who talks about enjoying books in which “the incidents defy the probabilities, and march just inside the boarders of the possible.” And that is a perfectly fine description of the book he wrote.

On the run from the police and German spies, the majority of the book follows the main character, Hannay, roaming remote parts of Scotland without a map. This book is hailed as the most influential ‘chase’ book, but i hope that means it influenced people to improve on it. The time Hannay spends on the run is intensely repetitive.

He meets kind, generous and trustworthy person after kind, generous and trustworthy person. They feed him, clothe him, give him a bed for the night and in one case nurse him back to health for 10 days. A couple of them listen to and believe without question his tale of assassination and spies.

Each time, Hannay is keen to get on and keep moving, never staying for more than a night or two if he can help it. After being given food, clothing and time to devise a plan he feels hopeful, as did i as the reader. But no. Each and every time he manages to almost instantly get himself into more trouble.

This repetitiveness lasts for a large portion of the book and generally serves no purpose. The only relevance to the plot it holds is the fact that one of the kind, generous and trustworthy people he meets helps him to get in touch with someone in the government who is able (eventually, once all the ‘chasing’ has been done) to help him.

By the time Hannay does reach this man in the government, who does believe his story and does help him, things improve massively. The last few chapters flew by in an instant compared to how long the ‘chase’ chapters seemed to take. Those were the chapters filled with actual plot, mystery and suspense. I was excited and constantly left wanting to know what would happen next. I could’ve done with the whole book being that good.

I’m not opposed to a good chase plot, but i do prefer them to actually include a bit of plot; if Hannay was actually working towards something or finding out information. Instead he was simply killing time until closer to the date of the predicted assassination, which seems entirely boring and pointless.

The writing was good, and the beginning and the end was some pretty wonderful stuff. The idea of the ‘chase’ section of the book works, it’s just a shame it had nothing driving it and ended up rather repetitive.