A Bunch of Mini Crime and Thriller Reviews

The Ice TwinsCop TownChemistry of DeathUntil It's OverDisclaimerMurder on the Orient EXpress

I went over my stacks of read books during German Literature Month and was startled when I noticed how many books, especially thriller and crime novels, I had read but not reviewed. I could probably write longer posts but decided to write a few very short reviews instead. That way, you might still hear about a book worth reading or one you should avoid and I don’t have to post every single day until the end of the year.

Disclaimer

Renée Knight’s Disclaimer is possibly the thriller disappointment of the year. The premise was interesting – a woman receives a novel in which the authors describe something that happened a long time ago and that she never told anyone. I think the book has two major flaws. One is that it’s not believable. I hate it when plot relies on one character suspecting another without questioning things. That alone would have annoyed me but I also thought the story was highly unbelievable. Sometimes a book can be salvaged through great atmosphere and description. Not so this novel. In my opinion that’s the second flaw of Disclaimer. While it’s said to be set in London, it might as well have been set on the moon. Not once did I see the city. Unbelievable story, wonky psychology, and zero atmosphere.

Murder on the Orient EXpress

Murder on the Orient Express was another disappointment. I picked it because I was in the mood to read a locked-room mystery and because I haven’t read any Agatha Christie in a long time. So far I’ve only ever read her standalone novels and one or two Miss Marple novels. While they might be formulaic, I still really enjoyed them. This was my first Hercule Poirot. I never picked them up because for me, as a native French speaker, the name is so silly. It sounds like poireau – leek – or poivrot – drunkard – . Plus Hercule? Really? I expected him to be on the boring side and that’s what he is. I wasn’t fascinated by his deductive skills. Still, it was a quick read and I loved the setting. I only found the murder and the way it was solved a bit lame. Still, if you like a great setting – a train in winter – and are in favour of cozy crime and whodunnits – especially locked-room mysteries – this might be for you.

The Ice Twins

The Ice Twins had a lot to offer. Stunning descriptions and atmosphere. After the death of one of their twin daughters, Angus and Sara Moorcroft move to a remote Scottish island. Such eerie, creepy descriptions and certainly not a place I would have chosen to live in, after the awful loss of a child. It gets creepier when the surviving twin begins to claim that she’s the other one. The part that affected me the most and which is the creepiest is the favouritism. While the father openly preferred one kid, the mother preferred the other. What does it mean, when you suddenly think that it’s not your favourite who has survived?  The Ice Twins was psychologically compelling. The descriptions are great. Unfortunately the end was a bit of a disaster. Not only was it disappointing and far-fetched, I also found it misogynistic. When I bought the book, I thought S.K.Tremayne was a woman but after finishing, I started to doubt that. And indeed, S.K. Tremayne is a man. I’m not surprised. The ending leaves no doubt.

Cop Town

With Karin Slaughter’s standalone novel Cop Town I finally enter the territory of the books I loved without reservations. Like Nicci French or Sarah Bolton, she is one of my favourite mainstream crime writers.  I’ve been reading her series for years, but when I heard she’d written a standalone novel, set in the 70s in Atlanta, I was interested immediately. What sounded particularly great was the research she’d done for this book. The period details are amazing. Her choices of two female protagonists make this a very feminist novel, as it’s in part a murder mystery – there’s a shooter killing cops – and a book about women on the police force, a workplace that’s dominated by white males who are sexist, racists, anti-Semites, homophobic . . . you name it. Into this explosive environment comes Kate, a rookie cop. She’s recently widowed, her husband died in Vietnam. Kate comes from an upper-class, Jewish family. The Vietnam angle, is another well-done angle.  Her first day is a shocker, but to the surprise of everyone, even her partner Maggie, she doesn’t give up. Maggie comes from a cop family. Her uncle and her brother have joined the force. They both didn’t want her to follow them in their footsteps and the aggression and violence she has to endure, are appalling. Notably her uncle Terry is the prototypical male white homophobic sexist racist. The shooter’s been active for a while, which infuriates the cops and even leads them to plant false evidence.  Maggie and Kate decide to take matters into their own hands. A dangerous idea. Slaughter’s writing is tight, as usual, the period details so well captured, the story is gripping. A remarkable achievement. It works as a crime novel and as a novel on the 70s, Atlanta, gender issues . . .  It’s shocking to think what women had to put up with to fulfill the dream of working in a male dominated  job. A word of warning—I’m not the most squeamish but there’s some violence in this book that was very hard to read and get out of my mind again.

Until It's Over

Everyone reading this blog knows how much I love the author duo Nicci French. I’m slowly reading my way through their novels. Surprisingly I wouldn’t have heard of Until It’s Over, if it hadn’t been mentioned by one of my readers a year ago (I’m really sorry I can’t remember who it was). I got it back then and kept it for later. A while ago, I read a review of it and that’s how I remembered I had it on my piles. I’m glad I read that review before reading the book because, with the wrong expectation, I might have been disappointed. They did something very unusual here. They wrote two distinct parts. Part one is told from the point of view of London Cycling Courier Astrid, part two from the point of view of the perpetrator. It wasn’t easy to adapt to part two because I loved part one so much. Astrid lives together with a group of friends in an old house, in an area of London that hasn’t bee gentrified yet. Suddenly people around her are murdered. What has it got to do with her? While the story is suspenseful, it’s not what I liked best. I liked to read about this group of friends who share a house. Loved the setting, which Nicci French captures so well- the bars, the parks, the houses. London is as much a character as the people. Part two is very good too, but I would have loved to go on reading from Astrid’s point of view. Once I had gotten used to the new narrator, I liked part two almost as much. I’ve read a lot of Nicci French’s novels. Some I loved, some I found OK; this was one of the best.

Chemistry of Death

The Chemistry of Death is another book that has been lying on my piles almost since it came out. For some reasons, I didn’t think I would like it because I got a bit tired of serial killer novels. In theory I would like them, because, for me, a great serial killer novel is like a realistic ghost or horror story. That’s why setting, atmosphere and mood are so important in this subgenre. Sadly, many authors just use the trope to avoid to have to dig for good reasons for murder and many of those “products” are as far from psychologically compelling as can be. However, there’s one thing I don’t like even in the best serial killer books —the showdown ending. All these books get frantic towards the end and there are recurring elements that are frankly annoying – e.g. hero/heroine tries to avoid killer and runs right into his arms. While The Chemistry of Death does have a formulaic ending, the rest of the book is so astonishingly well done, that it hasn’t only become one of the favourites of this year but I think it’s possibly one of the best crime novels I’ve ever read. I loved the mourning, depressed narrator, loved, the almost gothic descriptions of murder scenes and locations. The atmosphere is brooding, haunting. Don’t be put of by the serial killer thing— this is so well written and atmospheric, it would be sad to miss it.

Have you read any of these? Does anyone know a good locked-room mystery?

23 thoughts on “A Bunch of Mini Crime and Thriller Reviews

  1. I had my Agatha Christie period when I was 12. I loved them then, I’m not sure I would now. And I agree with you: Hercule ? Poirot ? But then he’s Belgian, not French🙂

  2. A little like Emma, I went through a Christie phase when I was a teenager. They were just what I needed at the time as a bit of light relief from studies, but I wonder how I would find them now. Have you seen the film of Murder on the Orient Express? It’s a good one for a rainy Sunday afternoon.🙂

  3. I really must give Nicci French a go–I am sure I would like her! I think I tried one book and had a hard time getting into it, but I suspect it was more timing than anything. Too bad about the Christie–I have mostly read standalones and Miss Marple books but I think I have read one or two Poiriots–I did like Death on the Nile. I am sure I will read Murder on the Orient Express at some point–I like train settings so am holding it in reserve. AC is not too demanding and generally entertaining which is nice when you need that sort of read. Litlove also liked the Slaughter book but had the same reservations about the violence–I am tempted by it, but sometimes I just (lately) cannot handle anything too gruesome, which means serial killer type stories are usually not books I pick up–but the Beckett sounds good. I have been in the mood for a crime novel (am reading another Laurie King Mary Russell–but those are closer to cozies and it is historical which I like very much, but the subgenres are very different–so it’s okay to have more than one mystery on the go at once, right…..?😉 ). Strangely the French novel doesn’t seem to have been published in the US, but maybe I will download the Kindle book–it sounds like a perfect gym/escapist read. You have been busy with thrillers lately!🙂

    • I think you’d like Nicci French and Beckett. He’s a bit like Sarah Bolton, only a tad more gruesome but OKish. The violence in Cop Town is so realistic that it was too much. Beckett’s book really feels a bit like a ghost story.
      I rarely have more tha one mystery/crime on the go but think if they are very different, why not? I’ll be trying Laurie King soon.
      I still have a Poirot mystery I’d like to read because I’ve heard such good things – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. The book didn’t wow me but it was pleasant. I just expected more.

  4. I’m really into thrillers these days, so I appreciate the reviews, Caroline. Could never get into Agatha Christie’s books, but I do enjoy watching Miss Marple on PBS (the older version). The Hercule Poirot character on TV is too much of a caricature for me.
    Thanks too for the reminder about Nicci French–I’ve been meaning to read her for years.

    • He’s a caricature in the books as well but it isn’t even funny.
      I really like Nicci French but I must say, Cop Town is a very interesting, tightly written book. I only wish it hadn’t been as graphic in places.

  5. This is a neat post Caroline.I like these short reviews.

    In regards to Disclaimer, while I do not think that all books need to be realistic, I think that it is important that this type of book is plausible.

    I have never read Murder on the Orient Express but my wife is a bit Agatha Christie fan. With that, she does not like the Poirot books as much as the other Christie novels.

  6. Oh hell, I am so disappointed to hear that The Ice Twins is misogynistic. I was excited to read it — the creep factor sounded fantastic! But eh, I am not at all in the mood for sexist crap right now. I’ll be returning this one to the library.

  7. I’ve got both Disclaimer and Ice Twins on my TBR list, but you are making me unsure I want to go on and read them now…
    Like you, I enjoy Nicci French (I think that might have been the first one I read) and I’ve heard really good things about Cop Town.

    • I think you wouldn’t like Disclaimer all that much but maybe The Ice Twins? It’s good up until the last third and then – I could tell you exactly why I found it so annoying but that would spoil the book completely. I would be interested to know if you feel the same.

  8. I am so glad you loved Cop Town – it was a really powerful novel, and I did admire the way it managed to be a nove with a social perspective as well as a well-plotted piece of crime fiction. I liked The Girl on the Train a lot less than you did, so when I heard that Disclaimer was the ‘new’ TGOTT I decided to give it a miss. Am glad that I did! I’ve really enjoyed the Nicci French novels about the psychotherapist, but have been – like you – hit and miss with the other ones. I’ll make a note of this title!

    • Disclaimer was really not believable and it seems quite a few people didn’t get along with it. Cop Town is so well done. I like her series too, but this was more than just a crime novel. I’d be interested to k is how you like this Nicci French novel.

  9. I have only read Orient Express, and that was a very long time ago. From what I remember I liked it, but I doubt I will re-read her. My interests and reading preferences have changed a lot since then and I would now probably quite disappointed. Still, the movie was quite good plus the setting is in the Balkans – which is for an old Balkanist like me always a nice added value. As for the other books: thanks for your impressions. I like this sort of short review to get an overview about books of a certain genre that I usually not read. But sometimes you come across something that sounds appealing (like the Erebos book) and then I might reconsider. As you know, I enjoy diversity🙂

    • I wouldn’t reread Orient EXpress but your the second to recommend the movie, so I might give it a try.
      I too like these mini review, so I thought, it’s about time to do it as well.
      I don’t think any of these would be for you. Maybe Cop Town because it’s historical and sociological and such tight writing.

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