The Killing Doll by Ruth Rendell

The Killing Doll by Ruth Rendell

Pantheon, 1984

Source: I bought this book.

While my local library has reopened in a limited capacity, I am still plugging away at my project to clear my bookshelves. I picked this Rendell because of the creepy cover, and because I figured a book from the 80s would have a different feel than a contemporary crime or psychological suspense novel. The Killing Doll delivers: it’s sinister, it’s heartbreaking, and it surprised me along the way.

The story centers on the Yearman family: older sister Dolly idolizes her younger brother Pup, who takes up magic (but he loves to call it geomancy). The siblings and their widower father are all grieving and wounded in their own ways: Dolly is psychologically debilitated by the port-wine birthmark on her face and her mother’s death; Pup is still a teenager when his mother dies and while adrift turns to the occult for some sort of organizing principle in his life; and their father Harold runs a typewriter store by day and devours historical fiction in all of his spare time. The B story deals with a loner who lives in the Yearman’s neighborhood, and he has his own host of psychological issues. He’s also an orphan.

The book is mostly Dolly’s story: her obsessions, her phobias, and her plans for her brother the magician. Rendell renders her agoraphobia and fears very keenly, and while I was dismayed throughout the book, I couldn’t turn away. It’s been five years nearly to the day that I last read Rendell (one joy of blogging is I can verify these things), and I, again, highly recommend her.

I See You by Clare Mackintosh



It’s been a while since I’ve read a good thriller so I was especially taken with I See You by Clare McIntosh. I was a little concerned at the outset because the focus on a middle aged woman commuting in London felt too reminiscent of  The Girl on the Train, but I liked the cast of characters in this book much more than I liked the characters in The Girl on a Train (in the first 50 pages or so, which is all I read).

I See You is the story of Zoe, a single mother of nearly-adult children, and the drudgery of her daily commute. She uncovers a crime ring that targets women on the Tube, and the investigation is both done with the police and on her own.I felt unsettled throughout the book, and though I knew what kind of a reading ride I was in for, there were still surprises along the way. If you’re in the mood for a paranoid cat-and-mouse kind of plot that moves briskly, this is your kind of book.

I See You by Clare Mackintosh

Berkley, February 2017

Disclosure:  I received a review copy from the publisher.

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward

bitter chillIn Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward

Minotaur Books, September 2015

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

There is so much I liked about Sarah Ward’s debut novel In Bitter Chill. I’m fond of police procedurals, which this is in part. I liked following the team of police investigators (solo detective stories are not my favorite right now). I’m also a fan of the central character of Ruth Jones, a professional genealogist. She’s curious but not a careless investigator. Her life has problems, but it isn’t overly messy. But overall, what I liked was the tone: it could have easily become a melodramatic or sensationalistic story about child abduction, and instead the story is very matter-of-fact about a series of strange events.

The book opens with the suicide of the mother of a young girl who disappeared nearly thirty years before. Ruth Jones enters the story because she disappeared at the same time but returned. She remembers very little about her disappearance, and I’m thankful that the book doesn’t rely on too many flashbacks to the abduction. It’s much more unsettling to have gaps in the story, I think. This is a story full of gaps and strangeness because of the length of time between the abduction and the suicide and because of the secrets the police and Rachel uncover during the story.

In Bitter Chill is one of my favorite reads of the year: it’s suspenseful, I like the array of characters, and I am very much looking forward to book 2.





A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine, My #1987book

fatal inversion

A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine

Bantam, September 1987

I borrowed my copy from the library.

A Fatal Inversion is my first Barbara Vine (and I’ve only read one Ruth Rendell that I remember- sort of: From Doon with Death). I figured it would be a good pick for me because I read that this book was heavy on psychological suspense, and it popped up on a list of Top 100 Crime Novels of the Century. Thankfully I agree with the awards and list accolades: A Fatal Inversion is a fine read that grows in my estimation the further I am from it.

The story takes place during an incredibly hot summer in 1976 in England at a country mansion that nineteen-year-old Adam inherited from his great-uncle after his first year at university. He spends the summer with a small group of friends and acquaintances, and the book focuses on three main perspectives: Adam, his friend Rufus, and their new acquaintance Shiva.

The descriptions are very detailed, and the mood of the story from 1976 is quite hazy, lazy and sunny.

Adam closed his eyes and turned his head away from Anne. A down-stuffed duvet in a printed cotton cover lay over them. It had been a quilt at Ecalpemos, faded yellow satin, brought in by Vivien from the terrace when the rain began. Quilts were what you lay on to sunbathe that summer, no for warmth on beds, but slung for lounging comfort as it might be on some Damasene rooftop. Night after night they had lain out there in the soft, scented warmth, looking at the stars, or lighting candles stuk in Rufus’s wine bottles, eating and drinking, talking, hoping, and happy. That summer–there had never been another like it, before or since (p. 57).

The story begins with the discovery of human skeletons in a pet cemetery at said country mansion in 1987, and the story about Adam in 1976 will eventually tell what happened and whose skeletons were discovered over 10 years later.  It’s obvious early on who is guilty, but Vine doles out details of the complete story in the past quite slowly– and effectively– to make this a very involving read. She has a lot to say about guilt and degrees of guilt, and it would make for a great book club discussion.

You have to be able to stand self-involved young adults to be able to get into this story, and thankfully this feels like a condensed, creepy version of The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I much preferred this book to the Tartt. The story is heartbreaking, the plotting is insanely good, and the ending is so apt. I love the ending. It’s really a masterful story.

Thanks to Rich at Past Offences for hosting this monthly Crimes of the Century reading challenge. I’ve picked a lot of female writers I hadn’t read much of before, and I’ve been pretty excited by all of them (du Maurier, Allingham, and Highsmith).





Book vs. Movie: Before the Fact by Francis Iles and Suspicion by Alfred Hitchcock

Before the FactBefore the Fact by Francis Iles

The Gregg Press, 1979

Originally published 1932

I borrowed this book from the library.


Before the Fact is a psychological thriller that has a quite captivating first paragraph and delves into a story about money, a very odd marriage, and murder. It sounds quite contemporary, but there are several things that place the book firmly in the year 1932: the economy is in shambles. Work is hard to come by, and there are limits on taking English currency out of the country, which is a crucial part of the plot.

Lina McLaidlaw is an older  unmarried woman– nearly 30 years old– who lives with her wealthy parents in the country, and she falls in love with Johnnie Ayrsgard, a disreputable man from a formerly-wealthy family. The novel chronicles the ups and downs of her marriage to Johnnie and follows the turns of her relationship with him. Over the course of 10 years, she finds out what crimes he is willing to commit in order to sustain his standard of living. Their relationship is quite twisted and codependent, but codependent is not a word much bandied about in 1932, when this book takes place.

The introduction in my edition is from H.R.F. Keating, and he calls it a primo psychological novel in terms or focusing on characters and their subconscious unlike lots of earlier works. It’s a sort of incomprehensible subconscious to me: she has money and means to escape Johnnie, but she refuses to do so. Part of it has to do with how much Johnnie has manipulated her during the course of the 10 years this book covers, but part of it too is her own personality: she feels extremely grateful that Johnnie rescued her from spinsterhood. Iles does not go into Johnnie’s mind, which is fine by me, but it makes for a bit of an odd story because the other characters are not nearly as well-developed as Lina is.

I also watched the Alfred Hitchcock version of the book, Suspicion (1941), starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine. The obvious differences between the book and the film involve the beginning and the end. The first paragraph of the book is quite creepy, a tone that is utterly missing in the film:

Some women give birth to murderers, some got to bed with them, and some marry them. Lina Ayrsgarth had lived with her husband for nearly eight years before she realized that she was married to a murderer.

The film is much more oblique, as the title Suspicion points too: the film constantly plays with the question of whether Lina is misinterpreting events. and Iles himself is quite clear that she cannot underestimate Johnnie’s criminality. Also, according to an interview in a DVD extra, the ending of the film was not Hitchcock’s choice, nor was it in any way like the ending of the book: Cary Grant comes off a lot better in the movie than Johnnie does in the book, and it’s a much cleaner ending for Lina as well in the film. The ending of the book is one worth much discussion, and though the book is ancient, I don’t want to go into it in much detail here.

My preference is for the book over the film: even though I didn’t understand all the levels of Lina and Johnnie’s marriage in the book, the story was much more nuanced in the book than in the film. And the tone was much creepier in the book as well.

Martin Edwards wrote an interesting piece in Mystery Scene Magazine about Anthony Berkeley (Francis Iles was a pen name), and Shelf Love featured another comparison of the book and film.


Broadchurch by Erin Kelly and Chris Chibnall

broachchurchBroadchurch by Erin Kelly and Chris Chibnall

Minotaur Books, September 2014

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

I decided to read the novelization of the series Broadchurch because I haven’t seen the TV version and had heard good things. In some ways it was a very good book and story, and in other ways it didn’t quite take off for me.

I’m pretty picky about books about murdered children: I often give them a pass. Broadchurch involves the death of eleven year old Danny, who lives next door to Detective Ellie Miller, who expects to lead the investigation until returning from vacation to find out that the promotion she anticipated was given to an outsider, Detective Alec Hardy, who was responsible for botching a child murder trial some time before. Miller and Hardy are both interesting and troubled characters to varying degrees, and their stories are interesting because they are dealing with such a harrowing case.

But my main concern about the book was that absolutely every character had a very sad or troubled backstory, and it was a bit overwhelming an approach to the town and its residents.  I think it may be a difference between the book and the filmed version: the novelization is a lot more in the characters’ heads than the show was, I presume.

Finally, because the book took place in such a small resort town, it was sort of easy to figure out who did it by process of elimination. The conclusion was a bit of a letdown, and it made me remember this interesting post about the original version of The Killing: the discussion about different investigative approaches was very illuminating.

Overall, this was an interesting read, but I’m not in a rush to watch the show now.

Other reviews appear in Cleopatra Loves Books and Crime Fiction Lover.

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

children actThe Children Act by Ian McEwan

Nan A. Talese, September 2014

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

The Children Act is a short, thoughtful character study of Fiona Maye, a High Court judge in London who grapples with her own marital difficulties while dealing with a few major cases that involve children and religion, notably a hospital’s application to transfuse a 17 year old leukemia patient who refused because he is a Jehovah’s Witness.The focus on character is quite good, and it’s quite evident how years of being a lawyer and judge shape Fiona’s worldview and thought processes. It makes it difficult for her to handle her own marital crisis:

          Her emotional tone, as she sometimes referred to it, and which she liked to monitor, was               entirely novel. 

But Fiona’s marital troubles do not occupy the bulk of the book: McEwan spends most of this short novel describing Fiona’s work on two major cases involving families and religion. It’s difficult to say more about such a short work, but I enjoyed the novel for its characters and its precise writing.



Dark Tide by Elizabeth Haynes

dark tideDark Tide by Elizabeth Haynes
Harper, March 12, 2013
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss

Dark Tide is the story of Genevieve, a young woman who leaves her high-pressured sales job and a second part-time job in London to live on a barge named The Revenge of the Tide. The suspense comes in when the body of a friend turns up outside her boat on the night of the boat-warming party. The story follows her life on the boat as well as flashbacks to her life in London and what led her to leave. It takes to the end of the book to get all the details about Genevieve’s hasty departure from London, but I felt her story was kind of predictable. I won’t divulge her part-time job in this review, but once I found out what it was, I was not surprised that her work life interfered with her ability to enjoy a peaceful life on a barge in Kent.

So much of my enjoyment of a book centers on whether or not I’m interested in the main character, and Genevieve, unfortunately was not one of my favorite characters. She’s pretty naive, and much of this book was devoted to her attraction to unsuitable men. If the plot had been less predictable, I may have forgiven her naivete, but, unfortunately, this book wasn’t too suspenseful for me.

I chose to review Dark Tide, originally published as Revenge of the Tide in the UK, because I had heard good things about Elizabeth Haynes’s first book, Into the Darkest Corner. I wasn’t in love with this book, but I’m willing to read her first book after this one.

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

crossing placesThe Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009
Ruth Galloway book 1
source: library

I can’t remember where I first saw good reviews for the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths, but I’m now a fan.  What draws me in the most in a story are well-rounded characters.  I’m not really a sucker for atmosphere and setting, which this book has plenty of, unless I actually care about the characters involved.  Ruth Galloway is an academic archaelogist. whose single, overweight, a loner, smart and funny, which are the immediate draws.  DC Nelson calls in Ruth as an expert to investigate bones that may be linked to the ten year old disappearance of a young girl in the area. Ruth feels a connection between the ancient bones she finds and the disappearances of two girls in the area, and her empathy is the driving force of the story.

The desolate Saltmarsh where Ruth lives figures prominently in the story.  Griffiths goes into the history, the archaelogy, and the tide that figure prominently in the area (Ruth and her colleagues discovered a henge ten years before the action of this story takes place).  Also, this book makes me realize that I know just a tiny bit about Norse mythology.

Ruth and Nelson are the most interesting characters in this story, but I did enjoy reading about the archaelogical obsessions of a good segment of the other characters.  I imagine Nelson’s story will be fleshed out more further in the series.  I couldn’t help wondering why I run across so many druids in British books and tv series than in American ones, and I think they just call themselves pagans here.

I thought the first half of the book was stronger than the second, and I think I say that because I figured out who the criminal was pretty early on.  That being said, I expect the plotting in subsequent books to catch up with the characterizations.

Other positive reviews may be found at crimepieces, Reactions to Reading, and Petrona.  I also enjoyed this interview with Griffiths: At the Scene of the Crime.

Necessary as Blood by Deborah Crombie

Necessary as Blood by Deborah Crombie

William Morrow, 2009

Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid book 13

Source: library

I’ve hit a bit of a reading slump in the last few months so I decided to read more in one of my favorite series, but, unfortunately, as readable as Necessary as Blood was, I feel a little unsettled by it.  The James and Kincaid series is written by an American about police couple in London.  It’s very procedural but sort of cozy (not all the books take place in the city, the author is very fond of maps in the frontispieces of her books to map out her characters’ investigations), and, frankly, one of the main reasons I return to the series is to find out what’s happening in James and Kincaid’s personal lives.  It’s been a drawn-out relationship over 13 books.

So what exactly is leaving me unsettled?  The opening of the book makes it fairly clear that the central mystery will involve human trafficking between Bangladesh and London, but the bulk of the book does not get to that point.  The opening introduces the character of Sandra Gilles, a fiber artist who lives in the East End who somehow follows missing Bangladeshi girls before she herself disappears.  The bulk of the book involves the police investigation into both her disappearance and her husband’s subsequent murder as well as the latest troubles in James’s personal life.   The last section of the book, however, that uncovers the human trafficking plot, feels like a very different story than the rest of the book.  I guess I’m unsettled because the tone varies so sharply between the horrors of human trafficking versus the domestic and investigative drama in the story.  I guess I expect a crime novel dealing with human trafficking to be more unsettling and to realize how high the stakes are.  If Crombie hadn’t tipped her hands so clearly in the opening section of the book, I still would have been weirded out by the abrupt shift in tone in the book at the end.