Her – Harriet Lane

This is another of these books which were massively hyped last year – another one described as the new you-know-what…I only got access to the digital ARC at the start of this year, however, to coincide with the book being released in paperback. I was actually quite excited about it, as it sounded intriguing…”You don’t remember her. But she remembers you…”

It’s the story of two woman, Nina and Emma, who are both about the same age – late 30s, I’d guess, although Nina appears much older, sophisticated and confident than Emma. Nina has, on the surface, an enviable life. She’s a reasonably successful artist, and is on her second marriage, to the easy-going, well-off Charles. She has one daughter, Sophie, who is about to sit her A-levels, from her first marriage. They are financially secure. The only difficulty in her life is her relationship with her long divorced parents. Her mother is still resentful, and can drink too much, resulting in bitter phone calls to her daughter. Her father, however, is a successful composer of film music, and has remarried and has another young daughter – the apple of his eye. Marriage seems to be suiting him better at this stage in his life.

Emma has just started her family, giving up a career in documentary film-making. Money is tight as she and her husband Ben have just bought a bigger house to accommodate their growing family. She has a toddler son, Christopher, and is pregnant with her second child when Nina spots her in the street, recognising her from a long time ago. She engineers a meeting, presenting herself as a Good Samaritan, returning Emma’s purse. As she anticipated, Emma doesn’t recognise her. Then she’s there again, coincidentally, to “help” Emma by finding Christopher when he goes missing in the park. But we know that, in actuality, Nina basically abducted Christopher in order to make Emma look flaky, and her, well, invaluable. From thereon in, a friendship is established, as Nina had hoped. She sees Emma is struggling with motherhood, so helps with babysitting (when she has a good nosy round their house, of course…) and even offers the family the use of her father’s villa in the South of France for a much-needed break.

However, we’re still not told what the “grudge” Nina has against Emma – we don’t find this out until near the end, and it is something pretty small (as it probably had to be, otherwise Emma would have remembered Nina.) But this slight has grown over the years, until Nina blames Emma for everything that went wrong in her early life (which doesn’t appear to be a great deal, to be fair, compared to what some people have lived through! And from the outside, it looks as though what did happen was inevitable – I’m trying to be opaque here, so that there are no spoilers for those who haven’t read it, while those that have will know what I’m talking about!) Emma, though, remains oblivious, until very near the end (despite lots of people throughout the book wondering why her and Nina are friendly, given they lead such different lives.) Then things finally click into place. But has she left it to late to save her family from Nina’s devious machinations? (And she’s very devious; in fact, she probably qualifies as a psychopath!)

This novel is a nice length, being a little shorter than some of the doorstops that are coming out now. It can be slightly repetitive, as we see each scene from one woman’s viewpoint, then the other – for example, Emma worries about the untidiness of her house; Nina comes round and notes the messiness…which isn’t really the biggest deal in the world, given that by now Emma has had her baby daughter Cecily, and as many of us know, your home’s tidiness isn’t the biggest priority when you have small children to take care of. There are some funny, perceptive moments, particularly when Emma and Ben go to stay with his parents, in whose home Christopher runs amok, as it isn’t designed for toddlers, and a new gadget his grandfather is very proud of is destroyed.

But it’s in France that the novel really finds its legs, and the description of the villa and the surrounding countryside feels spot on. Emma gets a chance to relax a little, and enjoy the unaccustomed luxury of Nina’s father’s holiday home, before Nina and Sophie arrive and their holidays overlap for a short time. And, with Emma’s guard down, Nina gets her chance to act…

There’s been quite a bit of debate over the ending, with some liking it, others hating it…I was really irritated by it when I first finished the book, and debated this with FictionFan, who writes much better reviews than me…! But actually, after a day or so’s reflection, I felt it was rather clever, and not what we expect from books. In the West, we like a nice smooth story arc, with some sort of resolution – I think that’s why people struggle with, say, Japanese literature, as things aren’t always resolved in a satisfying fashion, so it can take a bit of getting used to. Harriet Lane can write well enough, that’s for sure, and I felt she did a good job describing the disparity between the two women’s lives (she evidently knows what a “posh” lifestyle consists of, whereas I’d definitely have to guess at that!) If you’re a fan of what appears to be now called “domestic noir”, you’ve probably read it. But if you haven’t and you like these sort of family/psychological thriller books, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in Her. Just don’t complain to me if the ending drives you mad!

With thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Orion Books for allowing me access to a digital ARC, in exchange for an honest review.

Have you read Her? Or do you like the sound of it? Do leave your comments below; I do love to hear from fellow book addicts!

The Black Box – Michael Connelly

That’s the mantra by which Hieronymous “Harry” Bosch lives his role as a homicide detective. He’s returned from retirement to join the Cold Case Unit (or Open Unsolved, as it’s officially known) and in this book is re-investigating a murder for which he was, co-incidentally, the first homicide officer on the scene, along with his old partner Jerry Edgar. They were unable to launch a proper investigation as it was 1992, and South Central LA was the scene of rioting, after four police officers accused of beating suspect Rodney King had been acquitted. Bizarrely, the victim was in fact a Danish journalist, Anneke Jespersen. But why was she alone in such a dangerous area? Was she reporting on the riots?

With the police overwhelmed and the city in a state of turmoil, the National Guard had been called in in an attempt to keep the peace, and it is they who have come across the body and secured the scene. Jerry christened the victim “Snow White”, as it was so unexpected to have a white victim amidst the riots. Harry and Jerry were only able to do a cursory scene examination, where they found a bullet casing, but nothing else, before being called to the next murder scene. Harry’s last words to Anneke’s corpse were, “I’m sorry”. Her cameras were missing, probably stolen. He knew the likelihood of solving this murder was extremely slim.

Fast forward 20 years, and Bosch re-opens the case in his role as a cold case investigator. He gets a match on the only piece of evidence retrieved at the scene, with the help of a computer database collated by the ATF. It turns out that the same gun had been used in two related gang murders in the 20 years since Anneke’s death. One of the gang members, conveniently, lived in the house next to where her body was found. This, and an unusual telephone call on the 10th anniversary of the murder asking if it had been solved, noted in the Murder Book, which contains all the investigation details to date, set Bosch off on an unusual investigative path – one which was the opposite of his original suspicions. He also finds out that Anneke hadn’t been in the US on holiday, and didn’t divert to LA just to report on the riots – her brother in Denmark maintains that her entire trip to the US was part of a journalism lead she was pursuing. Amongst her belongings, Bosch notes that there is no room key. Was she investigating a story which was going to make waves for someone, with the riots providing them with an ideal opportunity to shut her up, and steal her notes? As part of his investigation, Bosch also searches through all Anneke’s previous journalistic output, in order to get to know his victim – and on the off chance there is a clue to what story she was pursuing in the States.

Along the way, as is usual for Bosch, he creates waves among his superiors. They are reluctant to see this case solved, as, if it turns out to be the only one from the time of the riots to result in a conviction, it will look to the black community that the murder of a white woman was given extra consideration and resources. He is encouraged to string out the investigation beyond the 20th anniversary of the riots. This, as Connelly fans know well, is not how Bosch works. He has a habit of bumping heads with the top brass, and this book is no exception. In an attempt to slow him down, he is put under investigation after a spurious complaint – but simply investigates the murder in his own time.

Fans of the series will also be aware that Bosch’s daughter, Maddie, has been living with him since the death of her mother. She is now 16, and intent on a career in law enforcement – and I can’t help wondering if she will end up working with her father, or, more likely, the series will move focus to her, with a retired Bosch acting as her mentor.

As ever with Michael Connelly, he cleverly uses the book’s title to mean different things: in this case, the “black box” refers to the clue which opens up an investigation, like the one which reveals why an aeroplane crashes. It also refers to the box which the gang unit he consults use to keep handwritten intelligence on gang members, which gives Bosch a crucial lead when he re-opens the case. Finally, near the end of the book, Bosch refers to the coffin which he is convinced he will find himself in as a “black box”. He has finally met his match in this book, and the people who want to keep him quiet are very powerful. Plus, being Bosch, he has headed off alone in his investigations, and has no partner for back-up. How can he possibly get out of this one?

Michael Connelly is an author who’s an “auto buy” for me. I’ve read all the Bosch books (this is the nineteenth), and most of the Mickey Haller ones (Bosch’s half-brother lawyer.) He’s an incredibly reliable author, like his peers James Lee Burke, Dennis Lehane, and George Pelecanos. If you’re a crime fiction fan, and haven’t read Michael Connelly – why not? I’d advise starting with the earlier books, but they don’t really have to be read in order. It also might be worth taking a peek at the Amazon Prime series, Bosch, which goes online on February 13th (I’ll probably get the free 30 day trial, and binge watch them!) However you sample him, though, Michael Connelly is the cream of the American crime fiction crop.

Last Kiss – Louise Phillips

Product Details


A dark tale of deception and desire from the author of Red Ribbons and The Doll’s House
In a quiet suburb, a woman desperately clings to her sanity as a shadowy presence moves objects around her home.
In a hotel room across the city, an art dealer with a dubious sexual past is found butchered, his body arranged to mimic the Hangman card from the Tarot deck.
But what connects them?
When criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson is brought in to help investigate the murder, she finds herself plunged into a web of sexual power and evil which spreads from Dublin to Paris, and then to Rome.
Will Kate discover the identity of the killer before it’s too late to protect the innocent? But what separates the innocent from the guilty when the sins of the past can never be forgotten?

Last Kiss is the first book I’ve read by Irish psychological crime writer Louise Phillips, but it definitely won’t be the last. It’s her third book, and they all feature the criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson as their main protagonist. Kate has recently separated from her partner, and is sharing childcare of their son Charlie with him. There appears to be something of a tentative flirtation with Detective Inspector Adam O’Connor, who returns from a suspension early in the book, and, together with Detective Mark Lynch, they do the majority of the investigative work in this case, with, of course, Kate. I suspect we will see more of a relationship develop between Kate and Adam in further books, but don’t worry, crime fans, romantic connections very definitely take a back seat to the criminal investigation in this book!

Very quickly, with Kate’s help, the Garda conclude it is, unusually, a woman killer for whom they are searching. Investigations into the Tarot card clue find a possible linked case further afield – in Paris, nine years previously. Another case, this time in Rome, also flags up as being possibly similar. Kate and Adam are despatched across Europe to speak to the original investigators, and people who knew the victims and their social circle.

In between the chapters concentrating on the investigation, we also get short chapters from the perspective of the killer, explaining/justifying her thoughts and actions. There are others from the viewpoint of Dubliner Sandra Regan, who is convinced her husband Edgar is having an affair. Furthermore, she believes the other woman has been breaking into her home, moving things around, as well as writing in her diary, but she doesn’t speak to the police, as she fears she would sound insane. The wife of Rick Shevlin, the victim in the Dublin hotel room, had also suspected she was being stalked – as had the wife of the Italian victim. A pattern appears to be forming of a woman who seduces her male victims, and then, when she tires of them, or they prove unworthy of her attentions, she murders them, grotesquely posing the body to resemble the picture on a Tarot card. Kate also suspects the killer has a strong interest in art, or photography, as furniture in the crime scenes have been moved to provide reflections of the crime scene. Also, all the victims had either studied art, or worked in artistic careers.

The term “psychological thriller” is bandied about a lot these days, mainly to describe any book where all may not be as it initially appears. This, however, is a psychological thriller in the truest sense, as the answer to the murders, and their motivations, lies in the damaged psyche of the murderer. For this reason, Kate’s input is crucial, and the investigation eventually leads back, as psychology inevitably does, to where it all began for the murderer – her childhood home, a place of sexual and physical abuse, where the murderer learnt to equate sex with love, as this was the only way she was treated with any affection. Here, she first learnt to use her sexual wiles. Her sole ally was a close female friend whose home life was also less than ideal, and together they played with Tarot cards and studied their meanings. The portrayal of the small Irish village where she grew up, a place where people were aware of the abuse in families, but said nothing to the authorities, rings very true. No-one wanted to get involved – although, perhaps if someone had, a young vulnerable girl would not have grown into a ruthless killer.

The conclusion of this book is truly heart-stopping, and, as expected, sees our main characters in mortal danger – I read until 4 am last night (thank God it was a Friday night!), frantically turning the pages to reach the conclusion. The “twist in the tale” is also expertly executed (the mere possibility only occurred to me the page before it was revealed!)

I have no idea how much psychology Louise Phillips has studied, but all the conclusions Dr Kate Pearson reaches appear, to my uneducated ear, perfectly feasible. It’s also intriguing, and fairly unusual, to have a female serial killer. I definitely want to get my hands on the first two by Louise Phillips (Red Ribbons and The Doll’s House, if you’re interested) and will be looking out for any further books in the series, where, hopefully, we’ll get to know Dr Kate Pearson a little better – with all the investigative work going on, Kate remains difficult to know, although possibly this is because it’s the first book in the series I’ve read. If you’re a fan, like me, of Nicci French’s excellent Frieda Klein series, or of Kate Rhodes’ similarly wonderful Alice Quentin books, you’ll find a great deal to enjoy in Louise Phillips work.

I’d like to thank the author, and Hachette Ireland, for supplying me with a copy of the book, in exchange for an unbiased review.