Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

My IRL book club has chosen ‘Burial Rites’ by Hannah Kent for the month of June. The choices were all based on the ‘Women’s Prize for Fiction’ back list but it was ‘Burial Rites’ that won the book club vote.

‘Burial Rites’ is a a truly brilliant read. I was hooked from the moment that I picked it up. It is haunting and beautifully written, based on a true story, a tale of the last execution to take place in 1830. And that execution was that of a woman, Agnes Magnusdottir (apologies: the spelling is missing some of the symbols needed on the letters). Now, this is no spoiler, as you can imagine her crime must be one of the worst if the punishment is execution – and it is; she is charged with being complicit in the murder of Natan, a man she has been in love with, and who she believed, or maybe hoped, loved her too.

This book is a fictionalised exploration of Agnes’ exprience as she awaits her execution, and the people who are responsible for her care, spiritually and physically, until that final moment. It also slowly reveals what had happened on that fateful night, and leaves us considering the morality of the execution.

I felt fully immersed in this world. I could feel the cold of 1830 in Iceland, and the isolation that Agnes felt in those final days. It evoked anger as I read about the moment that led to the crime with which she is charged, and the inequality of society as nobody appears to relate to Agnes and what happened because of her social background and her gender. She is labelled by her ‘guilt’ until others start to see past that, as they spend time together, and the sense of injustice starts to build.

The final pages are some of the best that I have read: I cannot share more than that as I do not want to spoil it for readers. But I almost felt like I was there in the final moments of the story, feeling all the emotions as the story drew to a close.

I am not sure I can do this book justice because I do not want to spoil the experience for other readers but this is a book that is going to become one of my auto recommendations when people ask for something to read. It will satisfy those who enjoy historical fiction; it will satisfy those who like a great story with fantastic writing, and it will satisfy those who enjoy crime fiction. To be honest, it will be a satisfying read to anybody who admires a well-constructed story with fascinating characters – whatever your usual genre taste is.

A Game of Lies by Clare Mackintosh

When I spotted that ‘A Game of Lies’ was a bargain price on the Kindle, I knew that I had to read it. I discovered the books of Clare Mackintosh last year when I read ‘The Last Party‘ And as ‘A Game of Lies’ is the second book featuring Ffion Morgan, I thought it would be an excellent read to satisfy my thriller/crime fiction genre need.

‘A Game of Lies’ did not disappoint. I absolutley loved the concept of the Exposure reality TV show which eventually revealed the contestants’ deepest secrets and how horrendous this would be if it was a real show. But it fed beautifully into the backdrop of the murder mystery that was about to unfold on the pages. The contestants create quite a rogues’ gallery of potential perpetrators of the crime, and potential victims. But are they victims of a crime, or their own vanity and desire to have their fifteen minutes of fame?

I absolutely cannot reveal any spoilers as it is a thriler, but I can assure you that Ffion Morgan is still a fantastic lead female figure for this book. And her relationship with Leo is still something as a reader you are fully invested in until the very last page. This is as much part of the twists and turns as the mystery unfolding at the foot of the Welsh mountains.

This is a well-constructed, thrilling read; I did not solve it until Ffion Morgan and her team did, and I am okay with that, because I do not read these books to solve the crime – I read these books for the escapism from the real world. And if you want the chance to do the same, then pick this book up. I hope that we are going to meet her and Leo again, because they are a rather fantastic crime-fighting duo.

The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

I am a month behind on my Read Christie 2024, so mid-March means I have picked up the February pick. This was my introduction to Tommy and Tuppence in the written form (I have listened to them as an audio book) and I was very pleasantly surprised as they did not leave much of a mark on me as an audio book.

This, despite having some dark undertones as you would imagine from Christie, is a more light-hearted novel. I think because our characters are younger, with more optimisim and hope as they have come out of World War One. They are also a fantastic pair, bringing the best out of each other as only very dear friends (or more) can do. I found myself having a little smile on my face as I read some of the lines, because Tommy and Tuppence just seem to bring such joy to the story. Even in their darkest moments.

This is a brilliant story of espionage and politics. The world has come out of World War One but there are still threats on the horizon, with an unstable Europe and distrust between the nations. Tommy and Tuppence get drawn into this world, almost accidentally, and embark on a life as private investigators: can they find the missing Jane Finn and the documents she was given to take good care of? They certainly give it a jolly good go, meeting a whole host of suspicious characters along the way, and finding themselves in a number of dangerous situations.

There are some twists and turns along the way, but this is not Christie’s most complicated tale. In fact, you may work some of the plot out, but that does not spoil the reading experience as the fun of reading this story is being on the adventure with Tommy and Tuppence, and rooting for them at every moment.

I am not sure they will replace Poirot in my affections but this is a slightly different reading experience. I certainly won’t be avoiding reading more of Tommy and Tuppence, which I think I have been up until this point, as I like to read Poirot and Miss Marple for comfort reads, which means I have been missing out on some of Christie’s other stories.

Girl on Fire by Tony Parsons

A friend of mine passed ‘Girl on Fire’ on to me recently so, as I was in a bit of a crime and thriller mood, I decided I would sneak it in before the end of February. I mean, as we are in a leap year and there is an extra day, I may as well use some of it reading.

‘Girl on Fire’ introduced me to DC Max Wolfe (although not his first case), and I was quite taken with this character. A single parent who loves his dog, his job and follows his moral compass, even when the odds may be stacked against him or his case.

Max Wolfe is caught up in the events of a terrorist attack on a local shopping centre, and becomes involved in trying to draw out those who were responsible but also those who believe that they have a right to carry out vigilante justice. There appears to be danger around every corner, from many different sources but Max Wolfe always keeps his sense of fair justice, which makes him a fascinating character to read about as he faces so many troubles and dangers in his work.

I actually found this quite a thought-provoking read, as there was a study of character along the way as it considered what influences people to carry out some of the actions that they do. And how different people view right and wrong, justice and injustice – how do we form our morals and values?

My only tiny frustration with this book with the punctuation of the flow occasionally to explain a piece of police jargon or abbreviation. Although I appreciate as readers we may not have fully understood these things without that little explanation, I just occasionally felt that it interrupted my flow when I was fully immersed in a moment in the story. But I think that was probably just my personal preference when I read rather than a criticism.

I think I would like to read more about Max Wolfe and will be keeping an eye out for more books which feature him in the lead, because I am keen to see where his character came from and where his character is going. Only six more books to read – so many books, so little time.

The Lie Maker by Linwood Barclay

I was kindly gifted a copy of Linwood Barclay’s ‘The Lie Maker’ by HQ Stories.

Wow, there are so many books in the world that, as I was reading this, I thought this was the first time that I had read Linwood Barclay – however, I was mistaken. In fact, five years ago I had read one of his books, and I admit that maybe I should remember all the novels that I have enjoyed, but I think, for me, this actually means this is evidence of a good author, as I do not feel I was reading a book that I had read before, but something completely fresh.

‘The Lie Maker’ was an absolutely fantastic read. In fact, I devoured it in two days; this was a book that the phrase ‘I cannot put it down’ was created for. I shut myself away just so that I could get the book finished.

A friend messaged me to tell me that ‘He [Linwood Barclay] is an absolute master’ – and she was not wrong. This was such a clever idea for a book; our main character is offered a job writing the background stories for people who go into witness protection, but – as you can imagine – this is not going to be a job that is smooth sailing…if it is a job at all. Now, that is as much as I can say for the moment because, as a thriller/crime novel, there will be no spoilers here.

But what I can say is that this book is well crafted and has you guessing from start to finish, I think maybe a couple of the reveals may not come as a total shock, but they are all so cleverly woven into the story that you are not at all disappointed. I definitely did not have the solutions in my head before we got to the end. The characterisation of all the characters was fantastic, too, making the story very believable as a piece of fiction.

I think it is fair to say that I have been reminded that I am a fan of Linwood Barclay, and I will be looking for his books in the bookshops and the libraries. And, as he is an author that counts Stephen King amongst his fans, you know you must be a reading an author who deserves the title of ‘an absolute master’.

Kill for Me Kill for You by Steve Cavanagh

I was lucky enough to hear Steve Cavanagh and Gillian McAllister talk about their latest books at my local Waterstones recently. So, of course, that means I have to start reading them (and pause for a moment on shopping my shelves).

‘Kill for Me Kill for You’ is a standalone novel from the pen of Steve Cavanagh (do not worry, Eddie Flynn is returning), inspired by the novel ‘Strangers on a Train’ (yes, I have ordered a copy of that book too). It is a page-turning thriller full of twists and turns, and quite some suspense. It is a study of what may lead someone to agree to kill another person – and if an agreement means that someone can actually go through the act.

It is always hard to review thrillers, as there are no spoilers here – however, this book is simply brilliant. I could not put it down; I read past my bedtime and chores were definitely left undone as I needed to know what was going to happen next. Especially each time something new was revealed that you may not have been expecting.

It is a very well-constructed narrative, with the clever use of timelines and characters’ narratives building all the thrilling tension.

Steve Cavanagh is a particularly talented thriller writer, and I cannot wait to read more of the Eddie Flynn books.

The Detective by Ajay Chowdhury

If you love a great piece of detective fiction, well, then you will love ‘The Detective’ by Ajay Chowdhury.

This is a crime novel that is right up to date but cleverly also entwines a crime from the past. We follow Detective Kamil as he attempts to impress his new team at the Met. Can he solve the mystery of a series of murders linked to a cyber company that is about to be sold for millions? And what exactly is it about the company that makes it so valuable – is it all it seems? Also, who are the skeletons that have been found at the scene of the first murder? After all, they are over 100 years old…

As you know, I do not write reviews that contain spoilers, but I do hope I spark your interest in the book. I mean, I was really interested in Detective Kamil and his case; Ajay Chowdury creates fantastic characters who are involved in a highly engaging mystery. I would quite like to sit down with Detective Kamil and find out a bit more about him (or just read the previous two books to find out a bit more – which I am definitely tempted to do). But he also brings the murder mystery exploding into the 21st century as he tackles some of the issues that we are facing today. Especially the idea about how much do these cyber companies know? Do we always know what is happening behind the scenes and with our data?

If you like a well-constructed, contemporary page-turner, then I would recommend you pick up ‘The Detective’, because you will not be disappointed.

Thank you to Harvell Sacker for the gifted copy of this fantastic read.

The Club by Ellery Lloyd

The pick for May for The Tasting Notes Book Club is ‘The Club’ by Ellery Lloyd. This is clearly a popular pick for book clubs, as it has also been picked by Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club – and she has great taste in books.

‘The Club’ is a whodunnit – with some twists and turns. This is not quite as simple as one victim and looking for the culprit. We end up with multiple victims, multiple suspects, an isolated crime scene and all sorts of secrets and lies which creates misdirection at times.

Now, I have to be honest, I think as I read this after ‘The Last Party’ by Clare Mackintosh and some of the themes and ideas were similar this did not quite hit the mark for me. It started a little slow for me; I wanted to be gripped from the moment that I picked up the book, and I am not sure I was. However, once all the juicy details about the characters started to be revealed, I was definitely more invested and intrigued to see where the story would take us.

There were some great characters, and definitely a few villians that you loved to hate – I mean, sometimes it is not a surprise who may meet a tragic end. It does also have one of those fantastic slightly open-ended conclusions that leaves you to make your own decisions about what may have happened next as you read the last line.

I definitely think that this will be a book that will be enjoyed by crime fans, I think I just caught it at the wrong time and may need to re-read it to allow it to have its own judgement, without a similar book having left a shadow.

The Last Party by Clare Mackintosh

My latest library book (which I finished, sadly I did have a DNF too) was ‘The Last Party’ by Clare Mackintosh. This is one that I have seen around on Bookstagram and thought I had to try.

This was a brilliant piece of crime fiction with all the ingredients crime fans love in a book. We have a couple of slightly flawed detectives (who know more about each other than they possibly care to when they realise that they have to work together), who also have a nice bit of professional rivalry too. We have an exclusive community full of secrets and victim that nobody would appear to want to harm…to begin with.

As always, I will not be sharing any spoilers in my review, which may make it very short and sweet. However, I thought this was a fantastically constructed story, which kept me reading. I absolutely could not wait to find out more about what was going to happen next, and which secret we were going to be treated to next as we play armchair detective.

The characters are also brilliantly created. There are some who you just love to hate, those that you have a little sympathy for, and those that just deserve a little bit of happiness. And it is great to have DC Morgan as a strong female lead character, but who keeps it real with a little vulnerability (just every now and then) and attempts to tackle her own demons.

I absolutely cannot wait to meet DC Morgan again in another book some time soon, as I think she has many more crimes to solve and stories to tell. I also need to check out if the library has any more of Clare Mackintosh’s books, because I am always a fan of a good thriller/crime novel.

The Exiles by Jane Harper

I was so excited when I went to the library and discovered that they had ‘The Exiles’ by Jane Harper on the shelf. I absolutely love the books of Jane Harper and I could not wait to have the chance to be reacquainted with one of my favourite characters, Aaron Falk. And, as we know, I am on a bit of a thriller/crime streak with my book choices at the moment, so that meant I could definitely take the book out, despite all those books on my shelf at home (where I am suposed to be making my choices from).

Now, I am not going to spoil this book for anyone, as I know there are so many Jane Harper and Aaron Falk fans out there, but I am going to try and share some thoughts about the novel with you all. It will be no surprise that I absolutely loved this book.

I think the thing I always like most about these books is that the scenery and the landscape become as much of a character as the actual characters do. And that was the case in this book, just as it had been in the others. I felt like I was there in the small Australian town, experiencing all the things that the characters were experiencing. So, it will come as no surprise that this was a real page-turner that I could not put down.

This book also felt like a natural progression for Aaron Falk: he again manages to solve a crime (well, more than one) and helps the town and its residents move on. But, also, Aaron Falk seems to have naturally developed as a character in this book, as he has found a solid group of friends who have made him feel as though he belongs. He certainly seemed a more vulnerable character than we have seen before. I thought this was fantastic because, as a reader, I felt as though I have been on Aaron Falk’s journey of discovery with him.

I think it is safe to say that Jane Harper has secured herself a place as one of my favourite authors, and Aaron Falk as one of my favourite characters. He may be a flawed man (as they all are – I mean, that is what seems to make a fantastic detective), but he is a definitely a believable character.

If you have enjoyed Jane Harper’s other books, then I can guarantee that you will enjoy this one, too.