It’s laughable how bad I am at this blogging thing, but here is my final mystery genre update for my Shameful Book Club! Before I get to the good stuff, I want to quickly mention that due to exciting life changes I’ll be switching up the format of this book club to one book a month. More on that at the bottom of the post, plus July’s read!
As I left it last time, I was already beginning the first of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad novels, In The Woods. This book had my mouth open the entire time I was reading it. I was completely absorbed in its world and characters. While I and everyone I know who’s read it loved this book, I can see how some people would feel differently. I could see how some people would actually hate it. The characters are incredibly unlikable, most of all our hero, Detective Rob Ryan.
Rob was part of a notorious group of kids who wandered into the woods outside of their village one day and never came back. Rob, whose legal name is Adam, was finally found covered in blood and in severe shock. His two best friends were never recovered. He remembers nothing from the event and rarely thinks about it, until a child’s murder brings him and his partner, Cassie Maddox, back to his home town.
The two detectives work this incredibly twisted murder mystery, and solve it, at the expense of their partnership and friendship. The ending of this book is devastating and heartbreaking and incredibly visceral, which is one of the reasons why I loved it so much. Another reason is how amazing the characters are. They’re messy and complicated and painfully real. Some people will probably hate In The Woods because of its ending, and also because you never get all the answers you were hoping for, but Tana French actually had a great Goodreads Q&A that I highly recommend. She kind of explains why those answers are never given, and it makes total sense.
If you’re like me you’ll become obsessed after reading In The Woods. Thank god this is a series with five, going on six, books. I immediately downloaded The Likeness on audible (which I highly recommend due to the delightful Irish accent of reader Heather O’Neill).
The second Murder Squad book follows Cassie, Rob’s partner, on to her own adventure. Her old life as an undercover comes back to bite her in a most unusual way. I enjoyed The Likeness even more than In The Woods, and it has a much more pleasant ending. So if you were frustrated by the first book, at least try the second.
A thing that French does that I really enjoy is that she jumps from character to character each book. We’re not stuck with the same exact crew each time, but rather shift focus to a secondary character and make him or her the protagonist for a book. For example, the third book jumps from Cassie to her old undercover boss, Frank Mackey. I fully intend to devour them all. There is also some good news for us rabid fans, the first three books have been optioned and will be turned into a Dublin Murder Squad TV Series.
Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man was a lot of fun, exactly as I expected! A wise cracking couple get wrapped up on a confusing murder case that cracks open the heart of a dysfunctional and ridiculous family. The only thing that keeps Kick and Nora Charles sane through the process is their liquor cabinet. It was a light and quick read that acted as a nice break between all the gruesome novels I squished it between. The Charles’ are hilarious. I must have underlined half of the book so I wouldn’t forget my favorite quips and jabs they frequently threw out. Sadly, I’ve packed it away for my upcoming move so I can’t share any here with you now, but there was definitely one that involved sharks. Nick and Nora live a life of ridiculous leisure and yet are far too smart for the company they keep, hence the whispered barbs. Make no mistake, the Charles are the reason this books is so damn good! They are at Andrew & Emma status, and the definition of literally drunk in love.
Dashiell Hammett is a wonderful writer and does a good job at building exciting characters and a simple world so you can enjoy the plot as it unfolds without feeling lost in contrivances. The movies are also an incredibly good time! If you want something quick for a sick weekend in bed or a not so sick weekend laying out in the sun, definitely introduce yourself to the Charles.
An unexpected disappointment came in the form of The Ice Princess, by Camilla Lackberg. I was so excited for this book! The cover was bad ass, the story sounded super dark and it’s Swedish: all of my favorite things! But no. What a letdown. The book was not suspenseful, the characters were flat as a board and the world was barely created.
I hated the main character Erica Falck, a biography writer who returns home after her parents’ death only to find that an old childhood friend had been found dead under suspicious circumstances. Erica was bland, pretty stupid, and way too concerned with how she looked. User “Patti” on Goodreads described her as a Bridget Jones type, and that’s exactly what she is. That works for Bridget Jones, but not someone I’m supposed to believe is solving murders. The book focused way more on her budding romance with local detective Patrik Hedstrom than on the two of them solving the case, which they did a sloppy job at.
The mystery was not satisfying at all. They solved it in a way that excluded the reader, which, if you’re reading a mystery novel, is the exact opposite of what you would like. It’s also lazy writing. When we did get details of the mystery, there were so many crazy twists that it felt very contrived. And some of the details were really just placed in there for shock value. Nothing settled with me. Nothing stirred me like it did in In The Woods. This is the first book of the Fjallbacka series, but I probably won’t pick up book number two unless I’m taking a long beach vacation and I’ve exhausted all of Nicholas Sparks’ bibliography. There might be a movie in the works, however, and if that’s the case I’ll probably check it out. It could improve through adaptation.
I had included The Girl On The Train, the buzzy debut by Paula Hawkins, as a bonus novel on my mystery list. Although I didn’t actually get to everything on my “required” list, I had fun swapping some out with those on the bench. It gave me the illusion of choice, and I enjoyed that. I loved The Girl On The Train just as much as you would expect me to. It was right on par with In The Woods and Gone Girl for me: fucked up unreliable characters, confusing narrative, gritty truths we don’t like to talk about. Yes, I will have that, thank you.
While TGOTT is, in my opinion, a simpler and perhaps less gripping story than the other two, I related to it more. I can’t relate to being an Irish murder detective or a sociopath (or can I??). I can, however, relate to depression, job loss, the destruction of a relationship, drinking problems, and having the truth twisted so far around me that I couldn’t tell which way was up. I could see so clearly how if I hadn’t had good friends or a good family (or an insanely type A personality), I very easily could have ended up like Rachel, the protagonist. And while I’ve never gone on the exact tail spin she did, I have experienced many of the same emotions and situations at different points in my life.
I’m not going to recap TGOTT because chances are you’ve already heard all about it. If you haven’t, I don’t want to spoil anything. The mystery is a good one mostly because Rachel, as an alcoholic, can’t trust herself or what other people tell her. Something some people had a hard time with in this book is how she kept inserting herself into the mystery, into the lives of these strangers who moved in down the street from her ex. She gets attached to them as she watches them from her train every day, and then when the wife goes missing Rachel can’t let it go. I know exactly why she did that. Anyone who has had a really bad night of drinking that they don’t quite remember can definitely relate to this. She’s chasing redemption.
Of course, Rachel has so much guilt and self-hate bottled up inside her that it’s more than just trying to make up for the fact that she might have all he answers in her head but can’t access them. She’s trying to make up for her lost marriage and every single time her drunken behavior ruined nights and friendships and reputations…or did it? Does she really need to hate herself like she does? Is redemption what she really needs? Or is it liberation from lies she’s been accepting as truths. That is the awesome part of TGOTT. The rumor is that Emily Blunt is in talks to star in the movie as Rachel, and I think that is absolutely perfect. What do you guys think?
I had another surprise bonus read that I think I can include in this update. I ended up reading Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith after hearing about how much everyone hated the film adaptation that was recently (and briefly) in theaters. It starred Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, and Gary Oldman, and the premise was amazing: the murder of a child in Stalin-era Russia is brushed off as an accident because murder can only be a capitalist crime, but soon former MGB agent Leo Demidov starts to discover a brutal pattern that stretches across the country and has left over 40 children dead. Leo decides to take it upon himself to investigate, although it could cost him his life. So you’ve got that premise, a fascinating world in 1950s Russia, and an incredible cast. How do you fuck that up?
I didn’t get to see the movie because it left theaters so quickly, but I did grab a copy of the book at my library. The book was amazing! It was one of those books that had me up all night reading it and Googling details about Russia and the real-life serial killer the book was based on. I cannot recommend it enough. However, I do see how it would be a challenge to adapt for film. The book has so many different things going on and covers so much ground that I think it would be hard to keep the tone steady for film. It is all over the place, and I think that’s what people disliked about the film. It’s a shame, because if they had adapted it in a different way and allowed it to stray more from the book, I think it would have been really thrilling.
I loved Child 44 so much I decided to continue with the trilogy. I just finished The Secret Speech, which is more of a political thriller and takes readers to the gulags and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. I loved it as well, but still prefer Child 44. I just picked up Agent 6 from the library, which takes Leo and his family to America. I’m a bit skeptical of this one, but I can’t just not read it.
So what didn’t I get to? I wasn’t able to read Chandler’s The Big Sleep or PD James’ The Private Patient, but I own copies of those and will certainly be getting to them eventually. I still think I made a pretty big dent in the mystery novels stacked on my shelf and look forward to continuing with some of the series I started.
I’m going to be changing the format of the Shameful Book Club and maybe taking a time out with it all together soon, but it’s for a really great reason. I think most of the five people who read this blog already know this, but I’m heading to Pittsburgh in exactly four weeks to start graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Information and Library Sciences. I’m incredibly excited to be moving to a city I really love and be in the amazing MLIS program at Pitt.
The new format will focus on only one book a month as opposed to several a season. Each month will have permanent genres assigned to them, and I will pick a book in that genre I am ashamed I haven’t read yet. This will be much simpler and easier to handle, and maybe it will be easier for anyone wanting to read along as well!
July will, forever and always, be crime, and this July’s crime is the Killing Floor by Lee Child! I loved the Jack Reacher film and would like to start this beloved series. My shame comes from the fact that I loved the movie and most people who like the book series seemed to hate it. Maybe I’ll understand after I meet the real Jack Reacher. Hit me up on Goodreads to start a convo about the book as I read. Finish date July 31st. August’s genre is adventure, and this August’s adventure is Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. I hope you can join me for one or both of these reads!