The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Is this what’s become of me? A woman who gawks like a guppy at an every day lunch hour? A visitor from another world, awed by the miracle of a new grocery store? Deep within my dry-iced brain, something throbs, something angry and vanquished. A flush sunrises in my cheeks. This is what’s become of me. This is who I am.

Sometimes what you need is a purely escapist thriller. A don’t-think-too-hard-about-it, page-turning suspense novel. Something you can finish in 2 or 3 days, even with work and family and hard things going on in your life. I greedily gobbled up A.J. Finn’s best-selling debut, The Woman in the Window, grateful for the respite from reality. (It’s hugely popular in the U.S. right now – my library system has a wait list over 200 people long, usually reserved for the likes of John Grisham and James Patterson. I must have put my name down relatively early I guess!)

u34+1F!EVWH7ngw7NLVXIcKIKW2pmYA+Gl!w8rbMsYH!BRIAG5OUet9tcq9F2XjffXkZsjELHH1dotzfe59Az8458JDs9D0t2hphI9KAc!+WsW1OYzkgsRAdZgmVYczuAnna Fox is severely agoraphobic, a virtual prisoner in her New York City home. She has a physical therapist and a psychiatrist who come over weekly to tend to her. She orders food (but mostly wine) online. She plays chess and takes French lessons online too. A former psychiatrist herself, she gives mental health advice to her fellow agoraphobics on an online chat room dedicated to the condition. She speaks to and about her family, husband Ed and daughter Olivia, who don’t live with her in the home. We don’t know what’s happened, but hints are dropped bit by bit that something terrible has happened, something for which Anna has blamed herself and that has resulted in the lonely half-life she currently lives.

Oh, and she also obsessively watches her neighbors through her camera lens. When she becomes acquainted with the new family who has moved in across the park, the Russells, crazy things start happening. Anna witnesses a gruesome act of violence through her window, but she can’t get anyone to believe her or corroborate her tale – not the police, not the Russells themselves. A heavy drinker and liberal mixer of medication and alcohol, Anna starts to doubt herself. The reader is taken along with Anna as she tries to prove that what she saw was real and that more people – including Anna herself – are in very real danger.

So we’ve got an addicted, possibly unreliable narrator as we did in Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, but I have to say that Finn’s writing elevated this novel over that one in my mind. Also, Anna is a much more sympathetic character than Rachel was, and as the novel goes along we get a glimpse into the truly devastating event that changed everything for her. I wanted Anna to quit mixing her wine and her meds already and rejoin the world, but I can’t say that I blamed her when I found out what happened. Still, I rooted for her.

I seem to have a weakness for these big, splashy thrillers that “everyone” is reading. I LOVED Gone Girl, really liked both of Ruth Ware’s novels that I’ve read, and thought that Paula Hawkins’s follow-up, Into the Water, was even better than Girl on the Train. I have to say that I think it’s best to approach these books with the mindset of fun and escapism, and not try to deconstruct or look too closely at the undercarriage. Maybe it was my distracted frame of mind, but there was a twist in this one that I did NOT see coming. There was one red herring that I did guess, or at the least my radar was alarmed by and had confirmed by the end.

I recommend The Woman in the Window if you’re a fan of thrillers, or if you’re just in the mood for a page-turning read. Also, side bonus: Anna is a huge fan of classic movies, especially Hitchcock films. (There’s a Rear Window vibe to this book for sure.) There are a ton of films referenced in the novel, and it reminded me again how many of his films I’ve not yet watched. In fact, I ordered Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 version) from my library to watch later this week. I don’t know that this book is one that will stay with me for long, but it was just what I needed to sink my teeth into recently. It would be a very good poolside read for the summer. 4 stars.

What’s the last escapist/page-turning book you read? Talk to me!

 

Advertisements

Dead Scared by S.J. Bolton (Lacey Flint series #2)

Jesus, what was I thinking? I had no idea how to be an undercover officer. SO10 trained its officers rigorously. The programme was tough and not everyone who applied made it through. Whilst it wasn’t unusual for run-of-the-mill detectives to go undercover, they were rarely sent into situations that lasted any amount of time. Besides, I’d joined the Met to work on serious crimes against women. If I spent the next few months off the grid, I could miss the chance to transfer to one of the specialist units. Why had I agreed?

Like I needed the answer to that one. I was doing it for Joesbury.

13120860Here is a mystery series on which I have become good and hooked. S.J. Bolton knows how to write a page-turner. Dead Scared is set in the academic world of Cambridge, where an alarming trend of grisly apparent suicides and suicide attempts has set the University on edge. Most of the victims are attractive young women, and DC Lacey Flint is recruited to pose undercover as a student. The police think that perhaps someone is encouraging these vulnerable young women to end their lives, perhaps on an online chat room. What Flint uncovers is much darker than she ever imagined.

As with the first in the series, Now You See Me, Bolton includes some nice misdirection; I was sure that a certain character, to whom Lacey feels attracted, had something to do with the deaths. There is also an interesting secondary character, a professor named Dr. Evie Oliver, head of student counseling, who forms a bond with Lacey and is the only person on campus who knows that she is a detective. She’s treated some of the young women involved and feels a great interest in the investigation.  While Lacey is trying to settle into the routines of academic life, including a frightening episode of hazing (which actually disturbed me a great deal) involving a bucket of water on a cold night, Dr. Oliver is dealing with creepy things going on in her university-owned home. Pinecones (which hold significance for her) being left in a neat line in her driveway and in a pile on her dining room table, a wind-up “bone-man” going off in an upstairs closet, threatening message left in the steam of her bathroom mirror. But the police, for various reasons, don’t seem to exactly believe her. Things get scary for Lacey as well, as she deals with her feelings of inadequacy in the academic environment and starts having some vivid, terrifying dreams that feel all too real.

There is a tremendous sense of menace throughout this novel. While reading at night, I had to put the book down in a few places and wait to read it the next day in the safety and bright lights of my workplace break room! And I will warn you, the apparent suicides and attempts are very dark and gruesome. I normally don’t really go for stuff like that, but this series is so well-written and the relationship between the two main detectives, Lacey and DI Mark Joesbury, is so full of complicated and repressed attraction that I can’t help but be drawn in. I would say that if you’d not read the first in the series, you could still jump in with this one and be fine; there’s just enough allusion to the backstory that you’d feel up to speed and the plot is so engrossing you wouldn’t care. If you like British mysteries and can tolerate darker plot lines, I recommend you give these a try.

In A Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

I’ve now read both of Ruth Ware’s novels, and I’m here to say that I’m down to try anything else she publishes.  I read The Woman in Cabin 10 late last year, and was entertained all to heck by it.  In a Dark, Dark Wood, Ware’s first novel, is another four-star reading experience for me.  Both are twisty, secret-filled, suspenseful page-turners.  Both are a bit campy and improbable at times.  Yet I couldn’t stop reading either – the kind of books where you don’t want anyone to talk to you while you’re reading, you just want to cram the words into your brain as quickly as possible.

9781501112317_custom-b94a64187bf3180e71db57fd0feedeb786ff5a89-s300-c85The bulk of the novel takes place over a weekend at a “hen do” (a bachelorette party to Americans.  I quite like the term “hen do.”)  Our heroine, a young writer named Leonora, has been invited to the festivities by an old high school friend, Clare, whom she hasn’t been in contact with for ten years.  Curiously, she hasn’t been invited to the actual wedding.  (Alarm bells should probably have been going off internally, am I right?)  But for some reason (remembered fondness?  curiosity?  boredom?) she agrees to go, along with a mutual friend, Nina.  There end up being six people staying at the house in the middle of nowhere England, in the winter.  Oh, and it’s a glass house.  A creepy, glass house belonging to the aunt of the hen do’s host, Flo.  Flo and Clare are college pals, and as the action unfolds, we see that she is mentally… fragile?  Unbalanced?  She is desperate for the weekend to go perfectly on Clare’s behalf.

However, from the start we know that something has gone terribly wrong, because the first chapter opens with Leonora (Nora as she now wishes to be called) in the hospital, in pain, and a nurse telling her where she is, that she’s had a head injury, and that she’s going for a scan.  So the reader alternates between the events of the weekend and Nora’s time in the hospital, desperately trying to remember what happened to put her there.

517zkkkjmxl-_sx324_bo1204203200_Secrets abound in this thriller.  Why did Clare and Nora have a falling out?  Why has she been invited to the bachelorette but not the wedding?  Who is the groom?  Why is Flo so strange?  What has happened to Nora, and why can’t she remember?  I admit that I didn’t discover the answers to these mysteries as quickly as I should have, and was thrown by more than one red herring.

It is just as I’m drifting off to sleep than an image comes to me: a shotgun hanging on a wall.  

And suddenly I know.

The bruise is a recoil bruise.  At some point in the recent past, I have fired a gun.  

If you’re interested and want to try one of Ware’s books, I would start with this one.  The sense of dread in this one built much more convincingly, and the heroine wasn’t quite as annoying as the one in The Woman in Cabin 10.  Don’t say that I didn’t warn you that at times you may be frustrated with the main characters and find yourself thinking things like, “What are you doing?” or “Take your damn phone with you, woman!”  But if you want to be entertained and feel a need to escape, you could do much worse than these two books.

Do you enjoy thrillers or suspense?  Just what is the difference between those two terms anyway?  Have you read this one?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly: a Mini-Review

29154543The Wrong Side of Goodbye is Michael Connelly’s twenty-first Harry Bosch book.  I’ve never before read a mystery series for this long.  Years ago I was into the Hamish Macbeth series by M.C. Beaton, but I think I stopped somewhere around the sixteenth book or so, because things just got too repetitive.  I used to read Martha Grimes’s Richard Jury series but decided to quit, coincidentally, after the 16th, mostly for the same reason (boredom) but also because that one involved investigating a snuff film with kids (NOPE NOPE NOPE!)  I’m still digging Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford series, of which I’m on the fifteenth book.  But let’s face it, it’s Ruth freaking Rendell, the queen of smart psychological mysteries, and she’s a goddess in my book, so I think I’m safe there.   (Sadly, she passed away in 2015; I wrote a tribute to her here.)  The thing about series is, at some point they have to end, right?  I’m definitely hanging in with Detective Harry Bosch until the end, whenever that may be – and based on how much I enjoyed this one, I hope that’s not any time soon!

If you’ve never read a Bosch book before, let me get you up to speed.  They’re set in L.A. (with a few detours here and there to Vegas, Florida, and even once to China.)  Harry’s real name is Hieronymous (yes, like the 15th century painter!) His mom died when he was young, and he was put into foster care.  He’s a Vietnam vet, and flashbacks play a role in many of the novels.    He’s horrible at relationships, and as of this last book, he hasn’t found his one true love.  (I admit, the relationship plot lines are my least favorite and most cringe-worthy elements of the books.)  But he does have a daughter, and he manages to forge a pretty good relationship with her.  And his relationship with a half-brother, who he doesn’t discover until many books in, is really compelling (no spoilers!)

What I like about Harry is that he’s the guy fighting the system, fighting corrupt cops and politicians alike, always fighting for justice and the underdog.  He’s smart but he’s not perfect – he sometimes misses things and makes mistakes, and he’s got a bit of a hot temper.  He usually reads people well and is a good study of character.  I like how he will often think that something about a case is bothering him but he can’t quite make the connections, so he’ll let it sit and percolate, go about his business, and all of a sudden BAM! He’s cracked the case and it’s a mad race to see if he can save the next victim or catch the bad guy after all. Connelly’s plots are page-turners, but it’s really Bosch himself that keeps me coming back.

This one was a bit different because there were two cases being worked simultaneously.  Harry’s part-time now at the small San Fernando Police Department, since he’s no longer with the LAPD.  He’s also a private investigator on the side.  He’s working a serial rapist case for the department while also trying to find a potential heir to an ailing millionaire’s fortune. He gets so caught up in one case that he makes some crucial missteps in the other, possibly endangering someone he is close to.  It was a typically fast-paced Connelly thriller; I raced through it in two days, even willingly staying up way past my bedtime to finish it.

518cjmm-dxl-_sy344_bo1204203200_If you’re thinking about trying one of these books, I’ll tell you that the first three were solid three-star books for me.  It wasn’t until the fourth book  (The Last Coyote) that I knew that I was invested in the series for a while.  Harry is a capable, complicated, tough, caring, haunted man, and he made me want to keep coming back. Mysteries make great, entertaining palate-cleansers in between heavier literary fare, so if you’re game, I say give Michael Connelly a try!

 

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

I’m going through a grapefruit phase right now.  Occasionally I’ll get obsessed with a particular fruit and I just can’t get enough.  Right now it’s grapefruits.  I eat half of one almost every morning.  Sometimes I eat the other half later in the day.  I don’t know.  I’m just going with it.

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s The Nest reminds me of grapefruit.  It’s tart, somewhat sweet, and totally juicy.  I loved it.  It hit many of my bookish buttons right from the start.  New York City setting – check.  Multiple perspectives, told convincingly – check.  Family secrets and lies – check.  I didn’t have a lot of reading time when I first began, but once I was halfway through I finished the remainder in one day.  (My son was sick, and I stayed home and sat on the couch with him and read while he watched cartoons.)  I simultaneously didn’t want it to end and couldn’t stop turning the pages.25781157

The bare bones plot is this:  The Plumb siblings, the youngest of whom is soon turning forty, have been counting on “The Nest,” a ridiculously named trust fund that their father set up for them.  He intended it not to be something that they counted on to save them from bad decisions, but rather a modest sum that they could add to their retirement funds or help their kids pay for college.  Well, what was intended to be modest grew into a sizable sum, and all four kids counted their chickens before they were hatched.  Now that the youngest, Melody, is turning forty, they are all in financial trouble and eagerly awaiting their portions of The Nest.  The trouble is, the oldest sibling, the charming but feckless brother Leo, has gotten himself into major trouble, and Mama Plumb raids the Nest’s coffers to dig him out (and to shield herself from scandal.)

But this novel is so much bigger than its plot.  What I loved most about these characters (and we get to know not just the siblings, but their children, their partners, and their neighbors) is that they all seemed wholly believable to me.  They are all very flawed people, but they are not unlikable.  Sweeney writes with great empathy for her characters. This family not only doesn’t connect well with one another, but they also don’t really know themselves.  And it’s a real treat getting to see how they build (or break) bonds with one another and go on emotional journeys of their own, reckoning with old family patterns and poor choices.

If you enjoy a well-written family saga, if you’re a fan of books like J. Courtney Sullivan’s Maine or The Engagements, or Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House, you will probably enjoy The Nest.  It’s sharp, smart, funny, and compassionate, and I can’t wait to see what Sweeney writes next.  Definitely one of my favorite reads so far this year.