BLACK-EYED SUSANS by Julia Heaberlin

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There’s nothing better than jumping into a chilling psychological thriller when engulfed by a sweltering week-long summer heatwave. With the air-con blasting on high, I was quickly engrossed in Julia Heaberlin’s Black-Eyed Susans.

The tension kicks in from the start and from there it escalates relentlessly with clever plot twists and minimal clues. Sixteen-year-old Tessie Cartwright is missing 32 hours of her life after having been kidnapped and left for dead in a shallow grave with another dead body and an assortment of bones from earlier victims. Tessie’s makeshift grave was covered with yellow flowers, Black-Eyed Susans, and the girls in the grave are soon nicknamed after the flowers, by the press.

Fast-forward 20 years and Tessa (as she’s known in adulthood) is a single mother and artist who has attempted to move on from her traumatic abduction, but someone won’t let her rest. She wakes one winter morning to a patch of freshly planted Black-Eyed Susans underneath her window. Someone is toying with her, taunting her, but it can’t be the perpetrator because he was convicted and sent to jail. Or was he? Is the wrong man in jail, now on death row? Tessa is terrified that the real killer is stalking her, worse, stalking her daughter. The walls that she built to protect herself from her abduction and attempted murder begin to crumble; her sanity and her life are on the line. Again. There is a race against time – to save an innocent man from being killed for a murder he didn’t commit, and to save Tessa’s daughter from the twisted serial killer who haunts and taunts her.

This is a gem of a book and the story is multi-layered, complex and compelling. Told by both Tessie and Tessa, alternating from past to present, there is a slow revealing of events – the teenager who struggles to cope and her subsequent sessions with a therapist, and the woman who has moved on to make a new life for herself, despite her fragile mental state. There’s a good peppering of suspicious characters to keep you guessing who the nasty serial killer is, and the motivations behind it all.

The story is driven by facts and misplaced leads, and Julia Heaberlin shows exemplary skill in knowing just where and when to place a crumb of evidence, to lead the story onwards, and when to create a diversion or false lead that goes nowhere. Black-Eyed Susans is an exhilarating thriller built on masterful writing and expertly handled plot development. If you’re a thriller fan, then you simply must add for this book to your reading list.

Rating:   4/5

 

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin (Penguin 2015)

ISBN: 9781405921299

Julia Heaberlin is the author of three thrillers and you can find out more about her other titles at her website: juliaheaberlin.com

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THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

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I thought I’d start the new year with a bang, and review Paula Hawkins’ thriller The Girl on the Train, which I read over the Christmas break. This is a book that has received a lot of press and deservedly so – it’s intense with a slow burn and building tension that hooks you in right from the start.

Rachel catches the train into London every morning on her way to work, or so she’s been telling her flatmate. On the daily commute she’s watches the backyards that face the rail line and has fixated on the residents of one particular residence. She names them ‘Jess and Jason’ and based on the snippets of their interactions that she sees as the train slows and stops for a minute each day, she fabricates a fantasy life for the couple. Then, one day, Rachel witnesses Megan (aka ‘Jess’) with another man, and not long after Jess goes missing. She is certain that she has seen something important, that she can help find Megan.

Rachel has problems of her own. She’s a divorced, jobless alcoholic who is pretending to go to work every day, and can’t quite seem to let go of her ex-husband, Tom, who has married Anna, and now has a baby. The one thing Rachel wanted but couldn’t have was a baby. Her ex-husband lives a few doors down from ‘Jess and Jason’, and Rachel has on occasion paid Anna and Tom a visit, but can’t always remember what happened because she’s so drunk she has blackouts.

Rachel’s desire to feel important, to be needed, lead her to involve herself in the investigation surrounding Megan’s disappearance. Along the way she is forced to confront her own actions and she wrestles with her inner demons and desires to reach for a drink at every moment. She’s unreliable, desperate, and despite her best intentions she gets herself into a deeper and deeper mess with her ex, her flatmate and the police. Rachel’s alcoholism makes her an unreliable witness to her own life, and the frustration that she feels at not being able to remember events is palpable. She’s sure that she saw something important, if only she could remember that night at the train station. She just needs to somehow regain those lost moments so that she can help find Megan.

Narrated by three different characters, all as unreliable as each other, all with secrets of their own to hide, this is a thriller that does not disappoint. But, don’t expect it to be a big, bold in-your-face action thriller. The Girl on a Train travels at a slower pace, circling and escalating that tension. There is a clever layering and intertwining of lives and events that snake around each other, revealing little by little clues to Megan’s disappearance. Addictive reading at it’s best. Once you start it, you won’t want to put it down.

Rating: 5/5

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Transworld Publishers 2015)

eISBN: 9781448171682

Author website: http://paulahawkinsbooks.com/the-girl-on-the-train-by-paula-hawkins/

Author FB page: https://www.facebook.com/PaulaHawkinsWriter/

 

SUMMER HOUSE WITH SWIMMING POOL by Herman Koch

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I’m a fan of Herman Koch’s writing after reading The Dinner, and his new book Summer House with Swimming Pool did not disappoint. It lived up to Koch’s style of drawing the reader in, then exposing the main characters’ flaws and the lengths they will go to to avoid being held responsible for their actions. Even if that means committing unlawful acts, which they then justify as serving a higher purpose.

Generally the focus in Koch’s books is on the gentrified middle class, which in many ways makes these acts more shocking, less acceptable because they are educated, well-to-do people who know better but their sense of entitlement and arrogance gets in the way and they succumb to committing horrible acts against others, or covering them up. Koch’s characters are so real that they trigger intense reactions – discomfort, indignation and even outrage. It makes for some excellent reading.

Summer House with Swimming Pool revolves around the sudden death of famous actor, Ralph Meier, and if his high profile doctor, Marc Schlosser was involved in his patient’s demise. Ralph and Marc knew each other outside of doctor/patient parameters: Marc, his wife and two teenage daughters spent the previous summer with the Meiers at their summer house in the Mediterranean. During that holiday personal boundaries are crossed, the relaxed atmosphere generates a relaxing of morals, and a violent incident triggers suspicion, blame and the desire for revenge.

Summer House with Swimming Pool is written with precision and sharp cutting insights into narrator, Dr Marc Schlosser’s detached and oft scornful view of his patients and the people around him. The writing is well sculpted and slices away any pretence. From Mark’s perspective the patient is reduced down to bodily form, in all its naked sick ugliness, that he loathes to touch, but has no qualms with issuing drugs when asked. (I’ll never look at a standard doctor’s appointment the same way again.)

The tension builds slowly in this book, winding and twisting with psychological angst, and just when you think you have the answer to who did what, you turn the page to find out you’re wrong. Overall, a kicker of a psychological thriller, with the quick pace of a holiday read, and tied together by some truly great literary writing.

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch (Text Publishing 2014)

Translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett

eISBN: 9781922148919