Gripping Psychological Thriller from Koren Zailckas

I love when a book grabs me from the first page and Koren Zailckas’s debut novel Mother, Mother did just that.This is a skilfully crafted and suspenseful dark story about a very disturbed family. The writing is beautifully controlled — the tension builds gradually and every sentence moves the story forward. The characters are believable and the suspense is maintained right to the end of the novel. Did I say I loved this book?

On the surface, the Hursts maintain the appearance of a normal family. The father, Douglas, works for an IT company and appears to lead a normal life. But Douglas is an alcoholic who doesn’t pay enough attention to what is going on in his own house.

Meanwhile, the mother, Josephine, raises our suspicions from the very first page where we see the first of many signs that all is not quite right in her relationship with her youngest child, William.

William finds himself at the centre of a family storm that brings the Child Protection Service into the Hurst family but not before his older sister, Violet, finds herself locked up in a psychiatric hospital.

Meanwhile William’s eldest sister, Rose, has apparently left home to live with a boyfriend, Damien Koch but it quickly becomes clear that all was not well in Rose’s family relationships. The question is, where is Rose? Is she lurking just out of sight and playing tricks on Josephine? Has she been having an illicit affair with a married man? Or has she simply set up home and found a new life with Damien?

Koren Zailckas’s inspiration for Mother, Mother is apparently drawn from her own childhood. Whatever her inspiration, she has written a cracker of a first novel. Let’s hope we see more from her soon!

Mother, Mother is published by Crown.[Disclosure: An advance reader’s copy was provided by the publisher.]

If you like this type of fiction, you might also like The Accident by CL Taylor.



The Racketeer — Another Legal Thriller from John Grisham

The Racketeer by John Grisham is the latest thriller to catch my eye

It has been a while since I last read John Grisham.  His earlier novels —  A Time to Kill and The Pelican Brief in particular — are enjoyable legal thrillers and having spotted The Racketeer on a list of recently published fiction, I purchased the Kindle edition and was looking forward to reading it.

The opening is promising — Malcolm Bannister, a lawyer, is half way through a ten year jail sentence having been convicted of a money laundering offence. His wife has left him and his only visitor is his father, Henry.

When a judge is murdered, Malcolm claims to know the killer and uses a legal strategem — Rule 35 — to trade information with the FBI that helps them to catch the killer which gets Malcolm out of jail with a new identity.

On the positive side, the plot of The Racketeer is okay —  perhaps a little far-fetched — and there is enough suspense — just about — to keep you turning the pages but the characters lack depth which makes sticking with the story more of an effort than it might otherwise have been. I couldn’t help thinking that The Racketeer would work better as a movie than it does in print. As a novel, it seemed to me overly long and rather flat. I was a full 50% into the Kindle edition before I felt engaged with the story and although I persisted to the end, overall I found The Racketeer a disappointing read.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

If you are a fan of crime thrillers, chances are you will want to take a look at The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes.

In this story, Lauren Beukes introduces us to Kirby Mazrachi — a woman who survived an attack by serial killer Harper Curtis. The killer, it turns out is a time-travelling drifter who leaves unusual calling cards with his victims. When Kirby gets the opportunity to work with journalist Dan Velasquez she starts to piece together connections between a number of past femicides and suspects that the perpetrator is her attacker. As the book description puts it, this is the story of “the girl who wouldn’t die, hunting a killer who shouldn’t exist …”

While the first few chapters of The Shining Girls are somewhat confusing as Lauren Beukes sets up the cast of characters and the time lines, stay with it and when you get the hang of what she is doing you can then relax and immerse yourself in her story telling.

I liked the short chapters and Lauren Beukes is adept at closing each chapter with a hint or an insight that makes you rush on to the next in a way that reminded me of Gone Girl, one of my favourite reads of 2012. Kirby Mazrachi is a likeable character. Harper is despicable but also trapped in a continuous loop where his victims are sometimes alive, sometimes dead depending on his time zone. Interestingly, the victims are given enough detail to show their lives before the killing as well as the impact afterwards. Of the secondary characters, Dan is the most important and, oddly, is perhaps the least well realised.

The Kindle edition of The Shining Girls has a very interesting author insight at the back in which Beukes suggests that the depiction of her cast of women characters can be seen as a comment on how society impacted women at various periods across the twentieth century.

If you like  crime thrillers and are not put off by the time travel aspect (which is actually what drew me to The Shining Girls), then this could be a good choice for your ‘to be read’ (TBR) list. All in all, I found The Shining Girls an enjoyable and entertaining read.

 The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes is published by Harper Collins. ISBN 9780007464562; eBook edition 9780007464630