27 February 2014

Book Review: In Too Deep by Bea Davenport

Title: In Too Deep

Author: Bea Davenport

Publisher: Legend Press

Format: Paperback

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense

Source: Publisher

In Too Deep, is a compelling mystery about a young woman trying to forget a traumatic event that happened in a small town in northern England. Maura Wood used to live in Dowerby but she ran away five years ago and is hiding in London where she started a new life using a different name. Then a determined young reporter named Paul Hollings tracked her down.

Why did Maura change her name? Why is she hiding? Why did a reporter feel compelled to find her? What happened five years ago? The reader knows that it involves the death of Maura’s friend, Kim, because this vital clue is provided at the end of the first paragraph:

The window is so small I can’t see what happens next. But what I do know is that Kim is dead. And I know this, too, that I helped to kill her. Kim, my lovely, only, best friend.

The reader is quickly drawn into the story as it alternates between Maura’s past life in Dowerby and her present life in London.

At first, Maura refuses to see the reporter but then he presents her with crucial new evidence about the incident and pleads for her side of the story. Maura reluctantly agrees. As Maura relates her story to Paul, the reader begins to piece together the sequence of events that led to Maura running away to London.

Maura’s life had been quiet and predictable in Dowerby before she met Kim. Her husband, Nick, went to work and Maura stayed home to raise Rosie, their young daughter. Maura thought she was happy with her life.Then she met the new reporter for the local paper. Kim Carter was an outsider and Maura was the only one in the small town to welcome her. Maura was an outsider too and they soon became friends. When Kim offered to train her as an assistant, Maura was thrilled. However, Maura had no idea just how much Nick resented her growing independence.

Kim was a good reporter but she was an outsider and dared to challenge Dowerby’s traditions, such as the annual Dowerby Fair. And then.her reckless behavior in her personal life provoked unintended consequences. Soon everyone in Dowerby was angry with Kim.Then Kim discovered a shocking story involving corruption. And not long after, Kim was dead. 

Now Paul has new information regarding that fateful day. Maura realizes she must return to Dowerby to make certain the truth is brought to light. But she is fearful. She is certain someone else besides Paul has found her in London.

In Too Deep is an exciting, fast-paced mystery with an intriguing plot that easily conveys the stifling atmosphere of a small town with their close-minded views and their hostile reaction to all outsiders.

The author creates an unsettling feeling of foreboding right from the start as the reader worries about the engaging characters, and is keen to learn more about what happened to Kim and find out how the situation will be resolved for Maura. The suspense builds to a very dramatic conclusion.

Bea Davenport is the writing name of former BBC and newspaper journalist Barbara Henderson.The author uses her experiences as a journalist to provide fascinating details in this novel about how reporters work. 

In Too Deep is her first novel, which was shortlisted for the 2009 Luke Bitmead Bursary.

Note: There is an author interview in the back of the book that is well-worth reading too. It’s particularly interesting to learn how Bea Davenport  was inspired to write the book.

28 January 2014

Book Review: A Parachute in the Lime Tree

Title: A Parachute in the Lime Tree

Author: Annemarie Neary

Publisher: The History Press Ireland

Format: Paperback, 239 pages

Genre: Historical fiction

Source: Author

A Parachute in the Lime Tree is a poignant story set in neutral Ireland in 1941 during the precarious weeks following the Belfast blitz. The story alternates between four characters and the way their lives intertwine in the midst of turmoil during the ‘Emergency’ in Ireland. Everyone is on edge, wondering if Ireland will be invaded.

The reader is immediately drawn into the story with the opening scene, when Oskar decides to desert his Luftwaffe unit by jumping after they attacked Belfast.

Once the parachute jolted in, he was a puppet in the dark. He didn’t see the tree. It tossed him this way and that as he bumped down through its layers.

Oskar is an unhappy German conscript who is obsessed with memories of his sweetheart, Elsa, who was forced to leave Berlin two years ago, and now lives in Ireland. Oskar doesn’t want anything to do with the war. All he can think about is finding Elsa.

Kitty resents her mundane life with her widowed mother in Ireland so she is excited to see the parachute in the lime tree in their garden. When she discovers Oskar looking for food in the kitchen, she quickly decides to keep his presence a secret. Kitty is fascinated by this polite German who suddenly appeared in her life:

Elsa, a German Jewish exile, is now living in Dublin. Her host family notice her talent as a pianist and with their encouragement she is slowly starting to settle into her new life. However, she worries about her parents who she had to leave behind, and she wonders how Oskar is doing.

Charlie is a young medical student, and one afternoon he decides to go to a music festival where he notices Elsa playing the piano. He is instantly smitten.

The lives of these four characters - Oskar, Kitty, Elsa, and Charlie - become intertwined, as the war affects all of them in ways that will have far-reaching consequences. The viewpoint alternates between each character so the reader gradually learns their backstory, and the reader is able to understand their actions now.

A Parachute in the Lime Tree is an evocative story about enduring love and the impact of war. The characters seem very real and the Irish setting is vividly described so it's easy to become immersed in the story.

The ending stayed with me long after I turned the last page.

Highly recommended.

22 December 2013

Book Review: A Private Venus

Title: A Private Venus
The First Duca Lamberti Noir
(Translated from the Italian by Howard Curtis)

Author: Giorgio Scerbanenco

Publisher: Hersilia Press

Format: Proof Copy, 284 pages

Genre: Crime fiction

Source: Publisher

A Private Venus is a compelling mystery set in Milan, Italy in 1966. The protagonist is Dr Duca Lamberti, a medical doctor. He has just been released from prison after serving three years for the mercy killing of one of his patients. Thus, he can no longer practice medicine and will have to take a job selling pharmaceuticals but a completely different job is unexpectedly offered to him.

A wealthy man named Pietro Auseri wants Duca to act as a guardian to his young alcoholic son, Davide, and to get him to stop drinking. Duca accepts the unusual job but soon discovers that Davide is deeply depressed and suicidal which worries Duca since he can’t afford further trouble with the law. He must get Davide to stop drinking as soon as possible but first he has to discover why he is so depressed.

Duca learns that Davide’s depression is due to a chance meeting he had a year ago, when he met a young prostitute named Alberta Radelli. She begged Davide to take him away for three months but he refused so when her suicide was reported, Davide became consumed by guilt. He also feels tormented by two objects she left in his car. When Duca sees them, he immediately realizes there is something strange going on and decides to find out more about Alberta Radelli and the circumstances surrounding her suicide.

As the doctor turns detective and learns more details, he follows a trail of clues that lead to a corrupt world of prostitution, pornography, and murder. The tension builds as the story turns into an intriguing mystery with Duca using his keen observation skills to piece together clues and pursue the criminals.

This is a very atmospheric novel with a strong sense of time and place, a tightly-crafted plot and terse, snappy dialogue. Duca is an extremely likeable character, with a cynical attitude but a strong desire for justice. And even though it’s a very dark, gritty story, it’s interspersed with Duca’s witty thoughts such as his amusing nicknames for people like ‘the little emperor’ and ‘Little Miss General Topics’. These touches of humour help to break the unbearable tension that ultimately leads to the exciting, nail-biting conclusion.

The author makes every word count.and his unique voice immediately grabs the reader. If you like crime fiction, you will definitely want to read A Private Venus with its intricate plot and a doctor turned private detective. Simply stunning.

A Private Venus is the first of the Duca Lamberti series and is considered an Italian noir classic but has only recently been translated into English.

The author, Giorgio Scerbanenco, is considered to be the father of Italian noir. Indeed, the top crime fiction award, the ‘Premio Scerbanenco', is named in his honour.