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Category: Book Reviews

Book Review: Perfect Days by Raphael Montes

Reviewed by Krista McKeeth

 

A twisted young medical student kidnaps the girl of his dreams and embarks on a dark and delirious road trip across Brazil in the English-language debut of Brazil’s most celebrated young crime writer.
 
Teo Avelar is a loner. He lives with his paraplegic mother and her dog in Rio de Janeiro, he doesn’t have many friends, and the only time he feels honest human emotion is in the presence of his medical school cadaver—that is, until he meets Clarice. She’s almost his exact opposite: exotic, spontaneous, unafraid to speak her mind. An aspiring screenwriter, she’s working on a screenplay called Perfect Days about three friends who go on a road trip across Brazil in search of romance. Teo is obsessed. He begins to stalk her, first following her to her university, then to her home, and when she ultimately rejects him, he kidnaps her and they embark upon their very own twisted odyssey across Brazil, tracing the same route outlined in her screenplay. Through it all, Teo is certain that time is all he needs to prove to Clarice that they are made for each other, that time is all he needs to make her fall in love with him. But as the journey progresses, he digs himself deeper and deeper into a pit that he can’t get out of, stopping at nothing to ensure that no one gets in the way of their life together. Both tense and lurid, and brimming with suspense from the very first page, Perfect Days is a psychological thriller in the vein of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley—a chilling journey in the passenger seat with a psychopath, and the English language debut of one of Brazil’s most deliciously dark young writers.

After recently reading The Collector by John Fowles, it was easy to find similarities in the stories, for starters, the personality of the main characters and their victims.

The major difference between the two being Perfect Days is a road trip kidnapping. Teo has medical knowledge and what seems like a never ending supply of money, so is able to keep his victim Clarice sedated and stuffed into a suitcase for easier travel. It’s when she’s awake that the real story takes place.

Teo is in medical school and spends his extra time taking care of his wheel-chair bound mother. He has no friends and only leaves the house for school, but one night he is talked into going to a party where he meets Clarice.  Clarice is outgoing, speaks her mind and hates sitting still. She love exploring and meeting people, and takes her screenwriting very seriously. After much consideration I do not believe this story and others like it are  meant for the reader to try to relate to the characters. Perhaps you might find some things similar, but to fully understand what is happening should be just beyond your belief at all times.

The story is all told from Teo’s perspective, in a very straightforward manner e.g. this is what happened, and the reasons why. The story invites the reader to see what his thought processes were and how he made sense of every action he took. It is all done in a very calm manner. With a twist ending, the only thing I could help wonder about in the end, was what was on Clarice’s mind throughout the ordeal. We never get to see what she wrote about on her laptop. Perhaps that is a story for another book. I’m sure it would be just as interesting as Teo’s interpretation of events.

Book Review: This House of Grief by Helen Garner

Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen

Australia was devastated when, on Father’s Day, 2005, a seemingly loving father drove into a dam, his three sons buckled into his old Commodore. He made it out of the submerging vehicle, none of the boys did. Three months later, when Robert Farquharson was charged with murder, the country was shocked.

This coldblooded crime, committed in the rural Victorian town of Winchelsea, captured the public’s compassion. Helen Garner’s included.

This House of Grief is true crime writing at its best. Rather than sensationalising the tragic deaths of Jai, Tyler and Bailey, it digs deeper. Garner doesn’t try to emotionally distance herself from the trial. Instead she allows us to see it through her eyes – to be bored by the minutiae of tyre track angles, car speed and the physics of a car’s trajectory on a downward slope. Through Garner, readers are also charmed by the cheery exuberance of defence barrister, Peter Morrissey, and confused by the sympathy that a figure like Farquharson evokes.

It is this approach that gives the most powerful view of Farquharson. In This House of Grief, he is painted, not as a monster, but as a man as devastated as anyone over the deaths of his sons. This House of Grief doesn’t try to excuse Farquharson for his crimes, nor diminish them. But it shows Farquharson’s humanity. In not trying to other him, Garner shows the face of men who kill their children. Though, interestingly, she doesn’t contextualise Farquharson’s crimes within a wider society. Reading This House of Grief, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was an isolated occurrence, although in reality it is something that happens with some regularity.

In This House of Grief, we get a glimpse of all major players in the case. The time spent on some of them may be brief, but is no less dynamic for that. Garner is an expert at people watching and her writing brilliantly captures the drives and personalities of the people at the centre of the trial.

This House of Grief touches on the Farquharson boys, Farquharson and his ex-wife, Cindy Gambino’s relationship and the circumstances of their separation. These aspects, however, are very much peripheral to the trial. As much as she can, Garner stays out of the personal lives of the boys and their estranged parents. This in no way diminishes the emotional impact of what has happened. Arguably, it makes it stronger. All of the many emotions that filter through the book are seen first-hand by Garner. She spends almost no time trying to guess at the emotions and events behind the scenes.

Though dark, devastating and heart-wrenching by turns, This House of Grief is a worthy addition to the true crime genre. With a focus on the people rather than the graphic details, it gives a deeper insight into the emotions and events surrounding a family annihilation.

This House of Grief – Helen Garner

Text Publishing (August 20, 2014)

ISBN: 9781922079206

Book Review: Homicide in Hardcover by Kate Carlisle

Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen

When Brooklyn Wainwright agrees to attend the opening of Covington Library’s latest antiquarian exhibit, she’s expecting conflict. She and her old mentor, Abraham Karastovsky – the man who taught her everything she knows about book restoration, haven’t spoken for six months, after all. What she’s not expecting is to find Abraham shot and close to death; the jewel of the collection, a supposedly cursed copy of Faust, nearby.

When Derek Stone, the head of security for the book exhibition, finds her hunched over the body, she becomes a major suspect. Now it’s up to Brooklyn to clear her name, bring the killer of her beloved mentor to justice, and try to stay alive doing so. With the suspects mounting, the task is getting more impossible by the minute.

Characters and setting are the magical combination that will either win or lose readers in a cosy mystery. Luckily, Homicide in Hardcover has a winning combination. Both the characters and setting are friendly, comfortable and easy to lose yourself in. Brooklyn grew up in an affluent hippie commune. While she doesn’t live there any longer, her family and friends mostly do; and she goes back to visit quite often.

While this is marketed as a cosy mystery and fits the guidelines fairly well, it could also fall into the romantic suspense category. From the first couple of chapters a classic love/hate relationship dynamic pops up around Brooklyn and Derek. It suits the quirky, whimsical atmosphere of the novel, but might be a too cheesy for some cosy crime readers.

The atmosphere of Homicide in Hardcover is fun and light, but that doesn’t keep it from tossing an abundance of red herrings into the mix. There’s no shortage of suspects. Brooklyn’s nemesis in love and work, the vindictively jealous Minka LaBoeuf, is hanging around on the night of the murder. And while there’s nothing to indicate that Minka had a grudge against Abraham, Brooklyn wouldn’t put stealing the Faust past her. Abraham’s own archrival, Enrico Baldacchio, has shown up, despite the bad blood between them. And, perhaps most disturbingly, Brooklyn runs into her mother only moments before finding the fatally wounded Abraham.

As forces close in from every side, Brooklyn needs to search for the truth– even if the answers she finds are not the ones she wants.

Homicide in Hardcover is a solid start to the Bibliophile Mystery series. A quick and easy read, it fills up an otherwise dull weekend quite nicely.

 

Homicide in Hardcover – Kate Carlisle

Berkley (February 3, 2009)

ISBN: 9780451226150

Book Review: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Reviewed by Krista McKeeth

In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling

In See What I Have Done, author Sarah Schmidt puts the reader right inside of the Borden house on the day of the murders – the famous 1892 case in which Lizzie Borden was accused of murdering her father and her step mother with an axe. This version not only allows us to view the story from the inside but from different perspectives of those closest to the case.

The story unfolds through the viewpoints of Lizzie, her sister Emma, the maid Bridget and one outsider, Ben. Although in the beginning I was confused about how Ben’s character would fit into the story, I found that he plays a huge part in how the author has chosen to wrap up the story and what happened after the murders. What I absolutely loved about this story is that, besides Emma, the other characters are all presented as possible killers and very unreliable narrators who have their own reasons to want the Borden’s dead. What a hostile environment the household was to live in!

Lizzie herself is full of zest! She is dramatic, haughty and cunning – the type of person you will love to hate. She was absolutely my favourite character with Bridget coming in a very close second because of her views of how the Borden’s ran their household and the kind of messes she was always left to clean up. Then there was Emma the oldest and put-upon daughter who only wants to find a love of her own and a life outside the home.

I really enjoyed the pacing of the story and how well the characters were adapted. They all had their own very true voices that played well in this engrossing story line of those fateful hours leading up to the murders. I was very entertained the whole time and found it a joy to jump into this secretive setting of the Borden household.

 

 

Review: Homicide in Hardcover by Kate Carlisle

When Brooklyn Wainwright agrees to attend the opening of Covington Library’s latest antiquarian exhibit, she’s expecting conflict. She and her old mentor, Abraham Karastovsky – the man who taught her everything she knows about book restoration, haven’t spoken for six months, after all. What she’s not expecting is to find Abraham shot and close to death; the jewel of the collection, a supposedly cursed copy of Faust, nearby.

When Derek Stone, the head of security for the book exhibition, finds her hunched over the body, she becomes a major suspect. Now it’s up to Brooklyn to clear her name, bring the killer of her beloved mentor to justice, and try to stay alive doing so. With the suspects mounting, the task is getting more impossible by the minute.

Characters and setting are the magical combination that will either win or lose readers in a cosy mystery. Luckily, Homicide in Hardcover has a winning combination. Both the characters and setting are friendly, comfortable and easy to lose yourself in. Brooklyn grew up in an affluent hippie commune. While she doesn’t live there any longer, her family and friends mostly do; and she goes back to visit quite often.

While this is marketed as a cosy mystery and fits the guidelines fairly well, it could also fall into the romantic suspense category. From the first couple of chapters a classic love/hate relationship dynamic pops up around Brooklyn and Derek. It suits the quirky, whimsical atmosphere of the novel, but might be a too cheesy for some cosy crime readers.

The atmosphere of Homicide in Hardcover is fun and light, but that doesn’t keep it from tossing an abundance of red herrings into the mix. There’s no shortage of suspects. Brooklyn’s nemesis in love and work, the vindictively jealous Minka LaBoeuf, is hanging around on the night of the murder. And while there’s nothing to indicate that Minka had a grudge against Abraham, Brooklyn wouldn’t put stealing the Faust past her. Abraham’s own arch rival, Enrico Baldacchio, has shown up, despite the bad blood between them. And, perhaps most disturbingly, Brooklyn runs into her mother only moments before finding the fatally wounded Abraham.

As forces close in from every side, Brooklyn needs to search for the truth– even if the answers she finds are not the ones she wants.

Homicide in Hardcover is a solid start to the Bibliophile Mystery series. A quick and easy read, it fills up an otherwise dull weekend quite nicely.

 

Homicide in Hardcover – Kate Carlisle

Berkley (February 3, 2009)

ISBN: 9780451226150