A thriller you’ve been waiting for

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

You all know that I am always up for crime fiction or thrillers. As the genre becomes more and more dominant, it can sometimes feel like you’re reading the same story over and over.


When I first started reading The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena, I admit to feeling that way. Anne and Marco Conti are having dinner with their neighbours, Cynthia and Graham Stilwell. Anne’s been struggling with post-partum depression in the 6 months since their daughter, Cora, was born. Tonight, Cynthia, someone she used to be close friends with, is flirting shamelessly with Marco and Anne is having a hard time with it. Because their babysitter cancelled last minute, the Contis are taking turns checking on sleeping Cora every 30 minutes.

The evening ends with the discovery of a crime. This throws everyone, the Contis, Stilwells and the reader, on a thrill ride of discovery that has some pretty wicked twists and turns.

Lapena is masterful at keeping the reader guessing. There are a lot of elements to this book and there were moments reading this where I wondered how it was all going to work out. How could all these different things, these random facts actually have anything to do with what happened? Was it just littered with red herrings?

No. Lapena is just that good.

And lest you think that it’s only about plot, rest assured – it’s not. The cast of characters is so well-formed, so flawed, all of them caught up in a web of secrets that’s now threatening to ensnare them. Anne hasn’t been totally honest with Marco about things that happened in her past; Marco’s been keeping some pretty big things to himself as well. The Couple Next Door is just as much a portrait of marriage as it is a mystery.

And the ending?! I have not been so DELIGHTED with an ending in a good long while. It was exquisite.

I devoured this book. Know that if you start reading this, you’re not going to want to be torn away from it.

This is Lapena’s debut novel and if this is what she’s bringing to the table the first time out, I cannot wait to read what else she might have for us. And while I dislike the practice of comparing books to others (you know the books I’m talking about), know that this book more than holds it’s own among them.

The Couple Next Door is what you’ve been waiting for. If you like thrillers, if you enjoy a well-paced mystery that leaves you just one step behind the whole time, read this.


What even is this book?

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Jason is at home, enjoying a cozy fall evening with his wife, Daniela and son, Charlie. They are making dinner together, talking about their days, Charlie working on some homework, Jason and Daniela making their way through a bottle of wine. Jason’s college friend has recently been awarded a prestigious science award and is celebrating at a bar a few blocks away. Daniela suggests that Jason go over for a drink, show his face. Jason agrees, says he’ll be back in 45 minutes.

Except on the way home, he is kidnapped and asked if he’s happy with his life. Next thing he knows, he’s waking up in a strange place without any idea how he got there.

That’s all I’m going to tell you about Dark Matter, Blake Crouch’s thriller that makes you question everything.

You all know that normally I don’t read science fiction. At least, I don’t actively search for it. But Dark Matter is more than science fiction. It has a thrill ride element to it that meant I couldn’t put it down. It’s a well paced search for answers that left me questioning everything more than once.

Let’s look at some of my reactions, shall we?

This book was something else! It’s hard to accurately describe a book when you really can’t talk about it. If I tell you too much, it will ruin the book. Just know that it’s a great thrill ride, great for summer reading and would probably make a decent movie.

Sure, you could quibble about the fact that the only women in the book are damsels in distress and the entire thing is basically a treatise on the accomplishments of men. But I’m not going to do that because as a thriller, with a dash of sci-fi, it worked for me.

I think if you’re a fan of the Bourne books/movies, The Martian (I guess anything starring Matt Damon?) or Ready Player One, you will enjoy this one.

I know I didn’t give you a lot to go on in this post so why not read the first chapter?


If You’re Looking For a Great Thriller…

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

I didn’t know anything about Paula Daly’s work before I read The Mistake I Made. I didn’t know that her novel, Keep Your Friends Close, had been shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Fiction Novel of the Year, or that she was known to write taut, page turning psychological thrillers.

If I had known these things, I probably wouldn’t have let this book sit on my bedside table for a couple of weeks before I read it – I would have jumped all over this book because those things are my favourite.

mistake i made

Roz is a single mother at the breaking point. Her business has just gone under, she’s working as much as she can as a physiotherapist but she can still barely make ends meet. Her ex-husband took out a bunch of loans in her name, destroying her credit and putting her in the hole to the tune of 18,000£. When the bailiffs show up and take everything, she has no idea what she’s going to do.

But it’s her sister’s birthday and so for one evening, Roz and her son George, are going to celebrate and pretend like nothing is the matter. This is the night she meets the very wealthy Scott Elias, who takes a shine to her. A few days later, Scott shows up at her office with a proposition for her: spend the night with him for 4000£.

It turns out to be too good an offer to turn down – a couple of nights with Scott and she can get back on her feet, get ahead of things for a change. But the situation spirals out of control really quickly and there’s nothing Roz can do to undo her choice.

I was into the book from page one. Roz at work, talking to patients, something about it – I was hooked. Yes this is a story about a single mom, trying to get back on her feet, trying to date again. But it’s also about relationships men have with women, about the men who view women as objects, those that see paying for sex as just another ‘business transaction.’ Roz thinks that she has all the control – after all she is the one that is selling something. But the terms are Scott’s, he has the power, she needs the money and he knows it.

This is a top notch thriller. I thought Daly masterfully pulled away the layers, leading me along inch by inch until BAM! I ended up reading the rest of this at a break-neck speed, holding my breath waiting to find out just exactly what the f*ck happened.

And I’m for sure on the hunt for more of Daly’s books to devour.


Rolling My Eyes

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

When I first saw the title of the book I’m talking about today I had a moment of maybe I won’t read that. The title, No Cure For Love, makes me laugh, which is probably not the reaction you’re looking for when you’ve written a book about a stalker with a murderous streak. Because that’s what No Cure For Love is about.

Sarah Broughton is a transplanted Brit in Hollywood. She plays a cool, efficient detective on TV and is living the Hollywood life in an oceanfront beach house. But then she starts receiving strange letters that are addressed to Sally, which happens to be her real name. At first Sarah shrugs them off but when she’s convinced that someone is watching her on the beach she calls on her friends to help. See, Sarah had a breakdown about a year earlier and these letters are threatening to undo all the hard work she’s been putting in.

This book actually came out 20 years ago – the version that I have is an anniversary edition. That means that the story happens like it would have 20 years ago: barely any cell phones, databases, security cameras or high tech anything. And I’m not going to lie, when I first started reading this I rolled my eyes a few times. Sarah is a beautiful blonde actress,  the casting director is an older, overweight guy who has all the power, the cops are no nonsense tough guys out to catch bad guys.

In other words, it starts out very formulaically. And I don’t think this would have bothered me at all if I hadn’t just read the forward that was all about how authentic this book is.

Against all odds I became completely invested in this book though. Once the cast of characters is introduced, Peter Robinson seems to take his foot off the descriptive pedal and allows the story to move forward. Quickly. One minute Sarah is being interviewed about the letters by Detective Arvo Hughes, the next she finds a body on the beach. In pieces. And from there the story moves along fast. In the end, the fast pace, the red herrings, the clever ending and the balls-to-the-wall story really redeemed it from it’s eye-rolly start.

I loved going back in time with the investigation. The police don’t have the internet, there are no Facebook or instagram accounts to  watch. They have to go out and interview people, drive out to other towns to talk to more people – there’s a lot of legwork involved.

If you’re looking to tap out of a more serious read and just enjoy something because it’s fun, this is the kind of book you’ll enjoy. If you love fast paced thrillers, I’m pretty sure that you will like this one. I really did and no one is more surprised by that than me right now.


A Perfect Thriller: Broken Promise

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

In my books there is nothing better than a long weekend spent reading crime fiction in the sun. There is something about reading stories of the terrible things people do to each other while you sit in glorious weather that just feels so right.

So when I got some book mail that included Linwood Barclay’s Broken Promise just in time for the long weekend, I was in heaven. I devoured this book. When I stopped reading it, it felt like I had been holding my breath the whole time. I took down those 484 pages in less than 24 hours.

broken promise

David Harwood had returned home to Promise Falls to live with his parents. He left his job in Boston to take a job at the paper back home so that he would have more time at home with his son. On his first day back, the paper folds. Since he has nothing to do, his mom asks him to please take over some frozen meals to his cousin Marla. She’s been having a hard time the last 10 months, ever since her baby daughter died at birth. Marla even tried to steal a baby from the hospital. When David arrives he finds a baby with Marla, a little boy, who she says was left on her doorstep by an angel. Knowing Marla’s history, David fears the worst, especially when the baby’s mom is found dead.

According to Goodreads, this is book #1 in the Promise Falls series. But a lot of stuff was referenced in this book that made it feel like there had been other books before. It made me want to run to the library and find all of his other books and catch up.

This book was fast paced. Something changed or happened every few pages. We get perspectives from a number of different characters: Marla’s mother, the hospital administrator intent on making sure that nothing bad happens to Marla, the detective charged with solving the case of the dead woman as well as looking into strange occurrences all over town, the detective’s son who recently got a job with the disgraced former mayor. There are so many layers to this story, so many pieces that have to fit together in order for the big picture to make sense and Barclay ably juggles them all.

That said, when I finished reading this book I almost threw it across the lawn. Ask my mother-in-law. Turns out that Broken Promise is the first book in a trilogy of linked novels, which means I’m going to have to wait another nine months to get some of the answers I seek.

On the bright side, that should give me some time to familiarize myself with his other work. Next to crime fiction reading in the summer, crime fiction reading at Christmas is my favourite.


Unreliable Narrators: The Girl on the Train

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

One of the most commented and searched posts on my blog from last year was the review I did of Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch. In it I touched on the idea of an unlikeable narrator and how that can colour what actually happens in the story. Can you really trust what an unlikeable, unreliable narrator is telling you?

While the narrator in Koch’s book is telling you his version of events, filtered by his prejudices and a certain amount of self preservation, in The Girl on the Train Paula Hawkins’ narrator doesn’t really know what happened.


Rachel Watson takes the same commuter train into London and home every day. On the way in, the train stops at a light right outside some Victorian row houses and Rachel can see into the home at number 15. Here a young couple she christens Jason and Jess go about their morning routine. Rachel imagines that Jason is a doctor, heading out to save the world for weeks at a time. She imagines that Jess is some kind of creative, maybe she has a studio in the house where she paints, or she works in the fashion industry. Whatever she does, Rachel knows that Jess must miss Jason so much when he’s away because he’s such a kind, thoughtful and supportive husband.

But then one day as she’s passing, Rachel sees something that changes everything she thinks she knows about this couple and when, days later, “Jess” has gone missing, she decides that she has to tell the police what she knows.

The problem of course is that she actually doesn’t know anything. And Rachel has a bit of a drinking problem so the police are super suspicious of her from the beginning, pegging her as a rubbernecker.

As Rachel’s story unfolds, we find out more about what her life looked like five years ago and even two years ago. We begin to understand how she got to where she is. We also meet Megan (Jess’ real name) starting a year earlier and find out what her and Scott’s (Jason) life actually looked like. And finally, we meet Anna, who lives in Rachel’s old house, which was doors down from where Megan now lives. This goes some ways to explaining why Rachel became interested in what was happening at number 15 in the first place.

Hawkins used to be a journalist and it shows in the way she handles this story. Her prose is short and to the point. It is deceptively simple, straightforward writing but which infuses the whole thing with the best kind of suspense. Her narrator struggles with alcohol, trying to stay sober for hours, then a day, then three days together before ultimately giving in. Rachel gets black out drunk, calling and texting and emailing people she wouldn’t if she were sober. Her black outs also mean that she can’t always remember everything that’s happened to her – how she got that cut on her head, where the bruises on her arm came from, why she’s ended up in this room and not her own.

It’s been compared to Before I Go To Sleep and I can see the similarities. Both centre around a woman who doesn’t know the whole story as they try and put all the pieces together. But while Before I Go To Sleep deals with a brain injury, The Girl on the Train‘s narrator suffers from self-inflicted memory loss.

Rachel, Anna and Megan aren’t always the most likeable characters. Neither are the men in their lives. Each character hides parts of themselves from the world and keep some devastating secrets. Hawkins ably handles all their stories and has crafted a superb thriller.

There are still weeks and weeks of winter to get through and I can’t think of a better book to hunker down under the blankets with than The Girl on the Train.


The Distance: A Thriller

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.

I started The Distance, a thriller by Helen Giltrow back in September and only just finished it now. I’m not normally one to take three weeks to read a book, especially an exciting, complex thriller like The Distance but a few things conspired against me.

Firstly, I had been waiting and waiting and waiting for Ken Follett’s The Edge of Eternity to come out and when it finally did on September 17th, I resigned myself to the fact that I would be reading it at the same time as at least one other book because The Edge of Eternity is a beast of a book and I really wasn’t planning on dragging it on the bus with me.

And secondly, my wedding was days away and the planning of that and then the family coming in from out of town to hang out…well that all killed my reading stats.

Happily, I am now a married woman and we can all get back to our regular lives!

I literally just finished The Distance in the last 15 minutes. This is another complex story so I’m going to try and describe it as best I can without ruining the whole thing for you. We meet Charlotte Alton, an elegant London socialite out for a night at the opera. While there she thinks she sees someone she knows. But not as Charlotte; as Karla, the name she uses for work. Her work happens to be making people disappear. She’s only ever slipped up once and shown her face to this guy Simon, after a mob hit went horrifically wrong. So now, years later, Simon is back with an impossible job. He has to get inside this experimental prison project and take out a woman. Karla’s job is to keep an eye on him, make sure he has all the right paperwork in all the right places so that he has access and then make sure that he’s OK while he’s in there. The problem is that Karla doesn’t know enough – she doesn’t know who the hit is, what she did or who’s behind the project. And then there’s the whole thing where Karla has been providing information to this old school MI5 agent who has thrown himself in front of a train. He never knew who Karla was and neither did his superiors, referring to the informant as Knox, but the information that Knox supplied was so valuable, that they’ve put a new guy on the trail.

This is one of those books that you need some dedicated time to read. It’s really complicated and if you read it in small snatches of time, you will lose some of the threads that Giltrow has woven expertly for you to find. It’s extremely fast paced – things you know to be true at one point are no longer true 10 pages later. The narrative changes between Karla’s point of view as she’s tracking down who the target is and what she did and who might be behind the hit and back to Simon as he’s in the prison trying to find the target and then as he’s trying to stay alive in there. Some of the sections in the prison are really gruesome and kind of hard to read – lots of broken fingers and arms and flesh and knives and horrible people doing horrible things to each other. Every once in a while, the perspective changes to Powell, the guy that they’ve set to figure out who Knox is.

At times I wondered where the whole Powell thing was going. It seemed like an afterthought for much of the story but in the end, it was kind of a big part of the story. Giltrow had just disguised it so well that I didn’t realize it.

It’s Fall now so this is the kind of book that will make you want to stay inside while the rain and wind lashes at the windows and it gets dark earlier and earlier. Another fun thrill ride.