Book Review: The Moment She Left, by Susan Lewis

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_moment_she_leftThe Moment She Left is one of those books that pulls you in very quickly and keeps you turning the pages avidly until the end. I had not read any Susan Lewis novels before this one but I’ll be keeping an eye out for her from now on.

In the first chapter we’re introduced to Jessica Leonard, who was heading to meet her family, but changed plans at the last minute after getting a call as she entered the railway station. Jessica’s final thoughts are relayed from inside a garage, before the book jumps ahead two years and it’s quickly apparent she never made it home to her family that day.

What happened to Jessica that day? Who did she meet? Where is she and is she alive or dead? These questions have plagued her family – dad Blake, who blames himself for having to relocate the whole family after something happened that caused him to lose his job, severely depressed mother Jenny, and twin brother Matt.

Blake hires retired detective Andee Lawrence to go over the case again in case the police missed something. She’s in the middle of her own crisis, splitting from husband Martin and unwittingly renewing contact with former lover Graeme – who just happens to be Blake’s boss.

Graeme’s sister Rowzee has secrets of her own – a serious health issue that she doesn’t want to burden her family with. She lives with their sister Pamela, who also appears to be hiding something.

At first I thought The Moment She Left was a crime novel but it’s so much more than that. It’s a drama about ordinary people who get caught up in events that dramatically change their lives. The book has a number of twists and turns that had several characters doubting themselves. And one character is being blackmailed, handing over vast sums of cash to an unknown person who is threatening to expose their secret.

Are any of these people connected to Jessica’s disappearance? Rowzee is the one who stumbles on the truth in the end, although by then she is so affected by her illness she’s not sure what’s going on.

I really enjoyed The Moment She Left as Susan Lewis kept the pace going and her characters were likeable and believable. The ending had elements of a fairy tale to it for some of the characters, but who could begrudge that when you know what they had all been through?

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Moment She Left
by Susan Lewis
Published by Century
ISBN 9781780891859

Book Review: Private Paris, by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan

cv_private_parisAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

A piece of tagging, appearing anywhere and everywhere among the streets of Paris, seems innocuous enough…its meaning obtuse, but not overtly offensive; more a puzzle, really, or a code, with no meaning – yet. Not exactly a top priority for either the Paris La Crim force or the Private, Paris agency.

Jack Morgan arrives in Paris from Berlin, but what was a routine office visit becomes a case involving Kimberley, a missing girl, possibly kidnapped, who may or may not want to be found.

While tracing Kimberley, Jack discovers Paris’s hidden world of crime, murder, cultural clashes, arms trading – all among the idolatry of its cultural icons of the arts, fashion and culinary expertise. The missing girl’s case becomes secondary to a world of pseudo-terrorism, and Kimberley is pivotal to both.

There are many characters for the reader to keep track of as they come and go, but the plot easily meshes together all the elements of an incredible conspiracy. This is the eleventh of the Private series, another I’ll have to pick back up from number one, and was written with Mark Sullivan.

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

Private Paris
by James Patterson
Published by Century, for Penguin Random House
ISBN:  9781780892795

Book Review: The Girl Who Came Back, by Susan Lewis

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_girl_who_came_backJules Bright’s happy family life was cruelly shattered by the actions of one young woman. Jules lost everything she held most dear. And now the perpetrator is being released from prison after serving a mere three years for her heinous crimes – and she’s coming back to live in her old neighbourhood.

This, in a nutshell, is the whole plot of The Girl Who Came Back. The reader learns, through flashbacks, just how happy Jules and her family were until Amelia Quentin came into their lives. And we discover, piece by painful piece, what Amelia did to utterly destroy that happiness.

Things are pretty black and white in the world Susan Lewis creates. Jules and her husband are, with one exceptional misstep, a perfectly happy married couple, blissfully living out their idyllic lives running a renovated 600-year-old pub on the coast of south-west England. Daisy, their only child is a perfectly delightful angel, with ‘her bouncy blonde curls and captivating violet-blue eyes’, doted on by all in the village. ‘Fortune has bestowed a dazzling smile on Jules and Kian…’. With a set-up like that, the reader knows that calamity cannot be too far away.

And calamity’s name is Amelia Quentin. This Amelia is much much naughtier than Enid Blyton’s Amelia Jane. Amelia is purely evil without any redeeming qualities whatsoever. From the moment we first meet her as a spoiled, petulant, unattractive child, Amelia is the dark cloud hanging over Jules’ happiness. And now she’s back. How will Jules cope, knowing that the woman who destroyed her family is back in town and seemingly having a grand ol’ time on her release from prison?

I understand that at least one of the minor characters in The Girl Who Came Back has featured in another of Susan Lewis’ books, Behind Closed Doors. I am sure her faithful readers will find this a satisfying read. However, I am not counting myself among them. I cannot rate this book as being more than an average read. Although the whodunit aspect is apparent from the blurb on the back cover, I found that the “what she did” took an agonisingly long time to unravel through frustrating flashbacks between past and present. And the “why she did it” is never fully explored beyond Amelia simply being a bad egg. The characters were too wholly good or wholly bad to be more than two dimensional, despite the laborious detail Lewis goes into in describing everything about them.

Susan Lewis is a best-selling and very prolific author. Fans of her work will no doubt be eager to add this latest novel to their To Read lists.

Reviewed by Tiffany Matsis

The Girl Who Came Back
by Susan Lewis
Published by Century
ISBN 9781780891835

Book Review: The Girls, by Lisa Jewell

Available nationwide from 2 July.cv_the_girls

A closed London suburban community, centred around a developed common garden is the least place to expect anything out of the ordinary. Some families are of three generations of residency around its border. Children use the garden and its planned areas for play and exploration. All seems peaceful.

Until a disturbing incident reveals their dubious background and events from the past are dragged into the here and now.

The most recently arrived residents – Grace and her daughters Grace and Pip – have brought with them their own story and trauma. As the two girls are gradually accepted by the Garden’s children, their mother is drawn into socialising with other parents. Over months we become more and more uneasy about the manner of each resident’s stories.

We follow Clare’s experiences among the community as she learns more about them and their past interaction: a man with a reputation, an elderly woman who has observed it all, a child neglected by her mother, the family whose three daughters are home-schooled, a young boy who cares for his adult brother’s welfare. Both Clare and Adele (the home-schooling mother) are drawn into following the trail of the children’s play, and in doing so learn of events more and more disturbing.

At first, in spite of the crime occurring in the first chapter, the domesticity of each family seemed of little interest. But as the back story worked its way through the lead up to the crime, I was drawn into the same feelings of worry felt by any protective mother, as Clare discovers more and more detail about her neighbours and their children. On reading through to the end, I have to adjudge the writer’s ability to entangle a reader in the mesh of the community as being superbly deceptive and enthralling. I am glad I had the opportunity to read Lisa Jewell’s thirteenth novel – and have a lot of catch up reading to do now.

Reviewed by Lynn McAnulty-Street

The Girls
Lisa Jewell
Published by Century, for Penguin Random House
ISBN: 9781780893594

Book Review: That Girl from Nowhere, by Dorothy Koomson

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_that_girl_from_nowhere

I’ll confess. I’m not really a pensive chick-lit fan. I love my trashy beach reads – sex and shopping is a great palate cleanser between great classical works and thrillers and memoirs; but those slightly drippy, overly emotional female-focused books that always seems to feature only part of a woman on a cover, usually her feet, with the background out of focus, often dropping something (why is that?) just aren’t my bag.

Guess what the cover of That Girl from Nowhere is?!

BUT having never read Dorothy Koomson, and being game for most things, I gave it a go, and I really enjoyed this book.

The story of an adopted woman of colour into a white British family, and her quest for a genetic identity, whatever that meant, was utterly absorbing. I couldn’t put this down! I was desperate to follow Clemency’s story as she negotiated the tricky path of reconnecting with her birth family while trying to reassure her own family that they were still her real family.

The question of belonging is something that everyone wrestles with; but when the colour of your skin is the polar opposite to those you share a name with, that question seems so much more profound, with consequences a lot further reaching than for those who look alike.

Well written with rich characterization and beautiful detail, That Girl from Nowhere is the ultimate reminder not to judge a book by its cover.

by Sarah McMullan @sarahmcmullannz

That Girl from Nowhere
by Dorothy Koomson
Published by Century
ISBN 9781780893358

Book Review: NYPD Red 3, by James Patterson (with Marshall Karp)

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_nypd_red_3

This is the story of three generations of a wealthy family, with Hudson. H. Alden I as the founder of the family’s legacy, annoyed at the ethics of his son (Hunter H. Alden II), who is equally annoyed at his son (H. H. Alden III, a.k.a. ‘Tripp’). And what Tripp has done to annoy his father is avoid the world of investments and trust funds, and instead seek a career in movie making, with friend Lonnie, under the tutelage of teacher Ryan Maddison. Not an atypical family issue in novels…so far, fairly commonplace…

Until Hunter’s chauffeur, Peter, has his head removed and placed, carefully in a chiller box, on the floor of Hunter’s garage, and Tripp and Lonnie are missing. Enter one tall blond unnamed man, whose note in Peter’s mouth scares the living daylights out of Hunter. But Hunter is not so scared that he’ll call the police – no, he’s a determined man, and tries to handle things his own way, being more concerned about the note and its writer than Peter, or Tripp who is missing.

NYPD Red detectives Zach and Kylie (who star in the previous two NYPD Red novels) only become involved when Peter’s headless body is found – not hidden, just…left on the ground among trees, a small distance from Hunter’s limousine. NYPD Red have a body, a limo, and nothing more – not even cooperation from Hunter. His wife, Tripp’s step-mother, doesn’t know about Tripp and his friend Lonnie being missing, nor about Peter’s death…yet.

While Hunter uses his private detective to carry out his own investigations, Zach & Kylie are left to patch information snippets together. Possibly fake texts from Tripp don’t help. An interview with the typical neighbourhood busybody gives them another puzzle to fit into what they have, and the janitor of a disused school is dragged into the mystery. Hunter’s father, uninterested in Hunter’s financial shenanigans, calls in the newly appointed mayor to lean on NYPD Red to move more quickly on finding his missing grandson.

There are lots of “two steps forward, one step back” situations, the main characters are fleshed out by incidental interaction in their personal lives, action scenes, then we come to a close by way of an unexpected reveal before the case is closed.

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street, also here

NYPD Red 3
by James Patterson
Publisher: Century
Paperback ISBN: 9781780892757
Hardback ISBN: 9781780892740

Book Review: The Thomas Berryman Number, by James Patterson

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_the_thomas_berryman_number

Recently scurrying through Wellington Airport I was accosted by a 7-foot blow-up of Crime Writer James Patterson on the side of a bookshop wall. Appropriate, I thought, given he’s a master of the airport thriller.

He’s a prolific writer and has producer numerous bestsellers including Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls. His online bibliography boasts 135 separate items. He’s largely known for the series about crime-fighting psychologist Alex Cross and he’s done the ‘Michael Bennett’, ‘Women’s Murder Club’, ‘Maximum Ride’, ‘Daniel X’, and Witch and Wizard books, as well as many stand-alone thrillers, non-fiction and romance novels. I learned that he’s sold more than 300 million copies and holds the Guinness World Record for being the first person to sell 1 million e-books. Phew! He is more recently known as somebody who collaborates freely with other authors.

The Thomas Berryman Number is his first novel, originally published in 1976 and now re-released in a new edition. Thomas Berryman is a hit man, a ‘Number’ being his code name for a cold, calculated assassination. The book opens with three horrific murders in the South.  Cool, calm, collected; Berryman researches his targets. In one case, he even enjoys reading their published biographies.

The story is directed loosely through the journal entries of a small town journalist who’s researching the killing of a high profile Southern politician, senate hopeful Jimmie Lee Horn. It alternates between the lens of Ochs Jones and the slithering, shadow of Berryman himself. I found the crisscrossing flashbacks somewhat diminished the immediacy and created some confusion at times.

Patterson writes at speed, his prose is quick, but somehow this plot just seems to crawl. It’s set in the Southern States of 1960’s America but is sparse on atmosphere and reference points. Unexpected reminders pop up here and there – descriptions of cars, recent events, radio shows or clothing. Yet none are truly unique to the time and I found it hard to put my head in that space. Of course, given it was written before 1976, when the story was written it was probably contemporary, but this is a failure of editing even if so. The trail of evidence presented by Jones is difficult to follow, and the essence of a suspense thriller – the ability to work out your own conclusions – seems to me to be missing. 

Given his legacy of speed to resolution, I was left wanting. If this was a library book, I would have returned it unfinished. For me, my only commitment to finish was so I could write this review. The concluding chapters were more of a relief than further suspense. As you can tell, this is not the novel I was hoping for.

But, in contemplation, it is another style for Patterson, and from a different time. Researching this one I saw many views and reviews. The camps are divided. Some want an Alex Cross prototype, others forgive his experimental approach, acknowledging the clear parallels between this and the drier literature of American novel like Catcher in the Rye and To Kill A Mockingbird. As a modern reader, in a fast-paced world, with a short media attention span, these, and this book require patience. It’s certainly a document to a very successful career. And, like Elvis, 50,000,000 fans can’t be wrong. But that is with regards his later work. On this, his first book? Well, you be the judge of that.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

The Thomas Berryman Number
by James Patterson
Published by Century
ISBN 9781780894423

Book Review: The Murder Bag, by Tony Parsons


This book is available from bookstores nationwide. 

Mr Parsons is devilishly clever – to a crimecv_the_murder_bag reader who is trying to beat the book’s end to solve the case. He offers tidbits of information which you just ‘know’ are significant to the resolution of the crimes, and then you later realise he’s got you – it’s a red herring, a clue that leads you to expect what doesn’t happen, and you just have to read on to let the story tell itself.

In the prologue, we learn that twenty years before the novel begins there is a violent death involving a group of teenaged pupils of Potters Field private school.

The story begins when Max Wolfe, Detective Constable, is called to a crime scene – a banker has been murdered in an especially effective, brutally unique, method. A second victim of the same modus operandi is found a few days later – a homeless junkie. It seems the only common element is the killing method.

The banker’s office and the junkie’s mother’s mantel both have a similar photograph –seven schoolboy soldiers including the banker and the junkie, all at about age fifteen. The full seven are identified – one, James Sutcliffe, committed suicide shortly after leaving the school, and after treatment and therapy for mental health issues. They were members of the Potters Field school’s Combined Defence Force, a group of volunteers for military training and discipline.

While searching in the storage of case weaponry in the Black Museum, Max is shown a “Murder Bag” – an early CSI bag (as in the title), and later is shown a unique knife and how it is used to produce the distinctive cut to the throat of the victims.

During a visit to the school, an attempt is made to kill another of the seven – the sports master. Max heads off on a chase back through the woods, comes to a farm, and is attacked from behind, recognising the knife at his throat as the one used in the first two killings. The killer changes his mind, knocks Max down to the ground where he sees the Murder Bag, and leaves Max to recover and crawl back to the school.

A social media trending personality – Bob the Butcher – has been posting messages about killing, and posts on his account, a video of Max crawling back onto the school football field. Max contacts all the remaining members of the photo of seven, trying to find information to lead him to the killer, and knowing the events are related to something that happened years ago when the seven were at school together.

When Bob the Butcher claims to be the serial killer, Max knows it is not him, and continues to investigate. One of the seven – an aspiring MP – eventually tells everything to Max. The two go to confront the Head Master, who admits to disposing of a young girl twenty years ago and where her body now is.

Mac has always been wondering why there have been no finger nor glove prints at any scene of the killings of the former school friends. Suddenly he realises who the killer is, and why.

Tony Parsons is a clever swine – in the following chapter there is a disturbing, sickening reveal, which left me cold. You probably won’t see it coming either.

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street, Rotorua NZ

The Murder Bag
by Tony Parsons
Published by Century, for Random House
Paperback ISBN: 9781780892344
Also available as eBook