HOTSHOT LAWYER NATASHA Winthrop, tipped as a future president of the US, is brutally assaulted in her own home. She manages to kill him. When he turns out to be a rapist and wanted murderer Jeffrey Todd and CCTV images show the outline of a person opening the front door to let him in, the question is whether Natasha is the victim or the aggressor? Natasha is arrested and questioned. Her internet searches show that she had frequently visited questionable sites that dealt with BDSM and rape. Enter political troubleshooter Maggi Costello whom Natasha hires to find out the truth. As Maggi scours through Natasha’s mail and other personal documents, she discovers worrying indications of a dark past and layers of lies. More assaults on sexual predators in other geographies raise the question of whether these attacks are linked.
In the world of MeToo and the ‘he said, she said’ nature of evidence, the central question evolves around how to bring sexual marauders to justice. Sam Bourne’s thriller is firmly ensconced in the tradition of Frederick Forsyth with whom he shares a background in journalism and a similar method of taking topical issues and turning them into moral dilemmas. Here the questions are: if victims turn into aggressors, is that morally alright? When is murder justice? If law doesn’t work for you (the conviction rate in rape cases in the US is less than one per cent), should you take the law into your own hands? Where does it leave you in relation to guilt? These are the grey areas created by unequal power between men and women and the breakdown of the processes to bring rapists and sexual harassers to justice.
Bourne, the pseudonym of a Guardian journalist, has written a taut thriller that manages to be as fastpaced as it is firmly embedded in the issues raised by the MeToo movement.
THIS IS GRISHAM’S second outing in Camino Island, and one can see that he has enjoyed writing this series. The main protagonist is the wind—Leo the hurricane—that first meanders along on the high seas and suddenly and swiftly strikes Camino Island. Facing an emergency evacuation, Bruce Cable, the bookseller who was the main suspect in the previous book, decides to hunker down with his assistant while most of the residents including the writers in his coterie scramble to get out. In the destruction wrought by Leo, a writer-friend Nelson is an apparent victim. However, Nelson’s injuries—being whacked with the same branch several times—point to a murder rather than an accident. The secretive Nelson writes thrillers and his new manuscript is in his computer. It is up to Bruce and his assistant and the writer-friend (Bob Cobb) who found the body to figure out who killed Nelson. Cobb, who is a paroled convict, says he spent the weekend with a mysterious blonde woman who had wanted to meet Nelson. She disappeared during the storm. The motive for the killing could be hidden in the pages of the manuscript, which the trio finally read. Here Grisham brings his traditional trademark elements—corruption, medical malpractice, mafia-style killers and nursing-home irregularities—into the story. Grisham’s craft is evident in the passages on island life and the hurricane, and the slow buildup to the murder. Fans of Grisham who want a simpler and less heartpounding read for a lazy Sunday afternoon will probably enjoy it.
A BODY IS FOUND in a muddy field in Cambridgeshire. It turns out to be a girl, Holly Kemp, who was last seen six years ago entering the house of a convicted serial killer, Christopher Masters. The serial killer, now dead from an attack in prison, alternated between saying ‘yea’ and ‘no’ to Holly’s murder. When DC Cat Kinsella and her fellow murder investigators DC Luigi Parnell and Ed Navarro examine the skeleton, several discrepancies show up that cast doubt on Masters’ guilt. The modus operandi is different from the other victims: Holly’s skeleton shows that she was dressed when she was shot in the head, and she is not buried with the other victims who were interred elsewhere. The investigation is reopened and the witnesses and suspects are re-interviewed.
The eyewitness who saw Holly with the serial killer is a teacher with a lilywhite background who is strangely precise about the details. The trail leads to several suspects including a boyfriend, a crime boss and a shop assistant.
Soon discrepancies crop up in the initial investigation conducted by the first team whose officers now occupy high positions.
The initial investigation was led by now DCI Tessa Dyer, a dynamic, no-nonsense cop who seems unconcerned that one of her early cases is being re-investigated. As Cat digs deeper, she realises that her own colleagues may have something to hide.
Frear has written a police procedural that asks difficult questions of the police force. Cat is a refreshingly snarky cop with an unusual background—her father is a criminal, a fact that she has hidden from her colleagues and boss. Her love life is complicated too because her boyfriend is the brother of a murdered victim in an earlier book where her father was involved. A twisty, racy, tension-filled thriller not to be missed.
IN THIS NEW outing for Poirot, he embarks on a luxury bus from London to Kingfisher Hill, an exclusive gated community where a murder has taken place in the Devonport residence. The eldest son, Frank, has been murdered and his brother’s fiancée (Helen) admits to the crime and will be executed in 10 days. Frank’s brother (Richard) summons Poirot to prove that Helen is innocent. Accompanied by a not-so-bright Scotland Yard Inspector Catchpool, Poirot has to solve several puzzles: why is one of the passengers terrified and says she will be murdered if she sits in a particular seat? Why does another passenger confide in him that she has murdered the man she loved? What is their connection with the Devonport family? How are the American friends of the family involved? As Poirot and Catchpool sift through a bewildering set of clues and stories in this closed-room murder, more bodies pile up. The core of the book is about what one would do when love is threatened. Agatha Christie was often accused of having flat characters but one thing she excelled at was giving us a flavour of the social milieu in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. Hannah however writes from a modern perspective, which means that the social boundaries between employer and maid, Englishmen and Americans are fuzzy, and the humour that comes from a clash of cultures and sensibilities is missing. The setting and the era are murky and give the book an ‘anywhere’ and ‘anytime’ feel that detracts from its charm. Miss Marple, I can see in a bus (Agatha Christie’s Nemesis) but not Poirot!
Where Hannah excels is in her depiction of Poirot. Her writing in this book, the fourth in the series, settles into the character more easily and captures Poirot’s vanity, intelligence and fastidiousness. It has a convoluted plot, many unreliable characters with bewildering stories and a couple of surprising twists—all of which require a complete suspension of disbelief.
In The Writing Style of Agatha Christie, Evelyn Hepburn writes that Christie generally has two main threads in her books. One thread involves the murder, while the other, a subplot, ‘involves a psychological trickster: a character that intentionally creates fear and chaos for the other characters’. Usually this character is not the murderer; rather, it is an individual with a hidden vendetta against the rest of the party. See if you can find the trickster in this cosy read for a rainy afternoon.
IN CONTRAST TO Hannah’s Poirot, Andrew Wilson’s series with Agatha Christie as the main character is firmly embedded in the 1920s. In I Saw Him Die, also the fourth in the series, Christie is asked by the British secret service to help in finding out who has sent a threatening note to murder Robin Kinmuir, one of their former operatives, who now runs a hotel in his ancestral home in the Isle of Skye (Scotland). They expect the attempt to be made by one of the guests. Robin was responsible for a failed mission that led to the deaths of 11 operatives. Christie, who is preparing to marry her second husband, agrees reluctantly to accompany Davison, also a secret service agent, as his cousin. They meet the host who is ‘a difficult and promiscuous’ man, his nephew and the nephew’s artist friend, an actress who is Robin’s mistress, a striking botanist with twin sisters who write romances, a handsome and mysterious man who is not what he seems and a cheery doctor. Robin is killed the next day, and the nephew-heir confesses to shooting him in the leg after mistaking him for a grouse. However, after the doctor, a close friend, examines Robin, he announces that it is murder. Enter Hawkins, a policeman sent from the mainland who too may have things to hide. Christie and Davison have to find the killer who will strike again and again. Wilson uses several motifs favoured by Christie in her books: embedding clues in sentences and nursery rhymes so that they seem almost invisible, using her expertise in poisons to figure out the solution, unveiling backstories that somehow seem plausible in that setting and using the dramatic wildness of Skye to vivid effect. Where both Wilson and Hannah fall short is in their depiction of policemen as slow-thinking and quick-to-accuse investigators who are invariably wrong.
Hannah’s Inspector Catchpool (also the narrator) is too dimwitted for a Scotland Yard man; she could have used Inspector Japp who takes no nonsense from Poirot. Wilson’s Hawkins, though portrayed as a person who can see into your soul, doesn’t act that way.
Despite this quibble, I would highly recommend reading Wilson’s series. It is wonderfully atmospheric and captures the spirit of Christie’s voice and era.