BR: ‘In The Woods’ by Tana French

This novel is narrated from the perspective of Rob Ryan, a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad haunted by memories of his two best friends, who vanished the summer he was twelve. He is sucked back into the case when a girl’s body is found near the sight of their disappearance, but the further he goes in investigating the crime, the closer he comes to tipping over the edge. The story is complicated by his intense relationship with his fellow detective Cassie Maddox, which becomes increasingly fraught as the past catches up with him.

The central mystery was unpredictable and I read it in a greedy, gulping couple of days. I cared deeply about the characters; Rob’s destruction of his career, his sanity, and ultimately his relationship with Cassie, absolutely broke my heart. The depiction of Rob’s carefree, innocent childhood and the contrast with the dark, uncertain present made this all the more moving. The novel mixed believable colloquial chatter with beautiful, literary prose; I particularly liked the way Rob’s memories returned to him in random fragments, written in uncertain stream-of-consciousness italics throughout the text.

Much as I enjoyed this book, I do have a few issues with it. Rob’s childhood mystery was never solved, and while a double solution might be less realistic, I feel as if a crime writer does have a duty to provide the reader with answers, particularly after tantalising them with clues and hints as French did. Moreover, the ending was just so tragic; it seemed downright unkind of French to leave Rob without one scrap of redemption.

With this sense of unfinished business – as well as the novel’s compelling, immersive charm – it is no wonder that readers are crying out for a sequel.


BR: ‘Into the Blue’ by Robert Goddard

I am very partial to a good thriller, and this is one of the best I have ever read. It tells the story of Harry Barnett, a shabby middle-aged failure, who leads an indifferent life as caretaker of a friend’s villa in Rhodes. However, he discovers a new sense of purpose when Heather, a guest at the villa, disappears, leaving behind only a few photographs. He resolves to track her down and, in doing so, must return to England to confront his past.

The novel was so exciting, with tension sustained expertly over more than 500 pages of twists and turns in the plot. It did take me a while to get into the story, but once it was over I felt something akin to grief at the loss of this fascinating cast of characters and the world in which I had become so invested. Goddard is great at creating atmosphere, slipping description into the story in such a subtle way that it is almost unnoticeable. I loved the idea that long-forgotten events in history can still impact the future, and I also loved the fact that, though the story started off being about Heather, in the end it was about Harry, who was a likeable character in spite of his many flaws.

Overall I would recommend this as a classy and clever thriller, and I will certainly be sampling more of Goddard’s work in future!

BR: ‘Good Girls Don’t Die’ by Isabelle Grey

This novel centres around the experiences of Detective Sergeant Grace Fisher as she makes a fresh start in Colchester after being humiliatingly driven away from her previous job. She is thrown in at the deep end as shortly after one girl goes missing, another is found dead and left obscenely posed on a pile of rubble. Grace must battle with her own insecurities and the pain of the past as she struggles to deal with a case which seems to lead her round in circles. This was a real page-turner; the tension did not flag for a moment and I finished it in two days.

At a workshop I once attended, the writer leading the session stressed that the key to writing a good crime novel was continually throwing up new questions, all of which must eventually find some sort of resolution. This is exactly what Grey did, and she achieved it with skill and ease; there was always a pressing reason to keep reading. Even though there were only a few suspects, the final reveal of the murderer’s identity was satisfying and also haunting; in some ways I felt sorry for him.

Another good thing about the novel was its originality; it was about more than just a crime. Grey delved deep into the conflict between freedom of the press and law and order, which raised some interesting questions. As well as this, Grace had no love interest but there was a strong focus on friendship, which made a refreshing change. The fact that it was set in Colchester, a town I am familiar with, made everything even more vivid and fresh for me.

The characters were all believable and interesting and I think Grey did a great job with describing their appearances, picking out certain identifiable details which stuck in the reader’s mind. Grace was mostly likeable but at times I felt that she slipped perilously close to being a Mary Sue, for example when amoral reporter Ivo Sweatman thinks, ‘Perhaps the impression of aloofness she gave came from being totally unconscious of her own loveliness.’

My main issue with the book, however, was the number of glaring typos; I don’t understand how the editor failed to spot that many. The writing could also be clumsy in parts – take, for example, the end of the first chapter: ‘Only one person could help her now. Her.’ 

Nonetheless, I enjoyed ‘Good Girls Don’t Die’ very much and would recommend it as an exciting and compelling read.

BR: ‘The Moonstone’ by Wilkie Collins

Contains spoilers!

Rating: 8/10

‘The Moonstone’ is the story of a diamond, said to be cursed, which is bequeathed to Rachel Verinder on her 18th birthday and stolen the same night. What follows is a dramatic and scandalous series of events, told from the perspective of multiple narrators. For a work of Victorian literature, I found it surprisingly funny, open-minded and easy to read. There were some lovely, atmospheric descriptive passages and the action took place in a wide variety of places including rural Yorkshire, Brighton, London and India, which kept it interesting.

The characters were idiosyncratic and amusing, if a little one-dimensional. Miss Clack, the religious fanatic who distributed tracts with appealing titles such as ‘Satan under the Tea Table‘, made a particularly interesting narrator. I was also amused by the faithful, Robinson-Crusoe-obsessed servant Gabriel Betteredge, who decided with regards to his housekeeper, ‘it will be cheaper to marry her than to keep her’. Then there was Caroline Ablewhite, whose idea of exercise was looking at ‘an invalid going by in a chair on wheels […] If it’s air you want, you get it in your chair. If it’s fatigue you want, I am sure it’s fatiguing enough to look at the man.’ The female characters were almost all strong and interesting, especially considering the time at which the book was written. However, although Sandra Kemp’s introduction to my edition said that Rosanna Spearman was a ‘memorable’ and ‘vivid’ character, I disagree: I found her drippy, and her ‘love at first sight’ and subsequent suicide were melodramatic and unbelievable. Sergeant Cuff was also a pretty poor detective – I kept waiting for him to pull a trick out of the bag but in the end it was the civilian characters who put all the hard work into solving the mystery.

‘The Moonstone’ is not a quick read – if it was a modern detective novel, it would have been half the size. But it is certainly a worthwhile read, with an unusual and surprising mystery at its core.