No Sleep Tonight with “Our House”

328     I should have known better, reading a thriller at night with unreliable narrators and creepy insinuations of how cold and calculating people can be, but I finished Louis Candlish’s Our House at midnight, precluding restful sleep last night.  This new version of Gone Girl includes distracting comments from a twitter-like audience.

Coming back from a long weekend early, Fi finds someone moving into her posh London house.  All her furniture and belongings are gone, the new couple have proof of purchase, and her husband is missing.  This compelling premise then reverts to a he-said/she-said tale of marital infidelity, identify theft, hit and run car crash, and murder with a Greek chorus chiming in periodically.  Although the story is a page turner, many of the twists are hard to swallow.  

Fi and her handsome philandering husband, Bram, separate after she finds him in bed with another woman.  They decide to keep the house for the sake of the children, as well as the increasing equity in the neighborhood.  She stays in the house all week, while he sleeps at a small apartment nearby; on weekends they switch.  To add to the drama, he has lost his driver’s license but drives anyway.  He gets caught in a road rage incident while he is driving drunk and without a license, causing the death of a ten year old girl.

But there is more – the plot twists when a vile witness who helped cause the accident, Mike, decides to blackmail Bram.  Candlish continues to add surprises as the plot develops, and the ending gives everyone their just punishment in an unexpected climax.

I now need a soothing book to cleanse my poor mind from the taste of horrible people.  I found an NPR review of Anne Youngson’s Meet Me at the Museum, and will be reading it tonight – hoping for a more peaceful sleep.

SNAP

71wtI34-tjL   A pregnant mother walks up a British highway to phone for help, leaving her three children in the broken down car; when the children follow her trail later they find a phone receiver dangling from the hook but their mother has disappeared.  With this opening Belinda Bauer’s SNAP slowly unravels into a compelling murder mystery with a thrilling twist.

As the eldest, eleven year old Jack is in charge of his two younger sisters; their father is too devastated to cope. When their father does not return one day from his run to the market to get milk, Jack turns to burglary to sustain the household and keep his younger siblings from being discovered and sent to foster homes.  Five year old Merry mows the front lawn to keep up appearances, while Joy hoards newspapers, clipping articles about her murdered mother.

Their lives are brave but pathetic. Known as the Goldilocks burglar because he naps in the rooms of children, Jack looks for books on vampires he can steal for Joy to read.  He delivers his stolen goods to the neighborhood fence, Louis, another unlikely criminal who proudly pushes his baby son around in a stroller.  With Louis’ connections, Jack can target only empty homes where the owners have gone on extended vacations, but one day he  enters a house where he finds not only a pregnant woman in her bed but also the knife he somehow knows killed his mother.

Bauer cleverly weaves her characters together, introducing each in a different context unlikely to arouse the reader’s suspicion, until they overlap.  Her red herrings become real clues to the murderer’s identity and motive, as Jack and police detectives Marvel and Reynolds make missteps as they close in on the suspect.  The subplots overlap and unravel quickly into a compelling tale filled with survival, manipulation, violence, and murder.

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, SNAP has an unconventional but satisfying ending, and  Jack is now one of my favorite fictional characters. With so many possibilities for discussion,  I considered SNAP as a candidate for book club lists, but after some thought, I decided I would rather keep my own images of Jack, Marvel, and the Whiles in my head, without dissecting them.  Read it and let me know what you think..

The Banker’s Wife

51RKYsNg1yL._AC_US218_.jpgIt’s not often you can read a thriller with almost more dead bodies than pages, and still have a happy ending, but Cristina Alger’s The Banker’s Wife delivers with a fast-paced mystery thriller loaded with international espionage and financial deceit.

The obscenely wealthy hiding money in Swiss bank accounts seems trite, but this premise expands to politicians and shady Ponzi schemes in Alger’s story.  The chapters alternate between two women, Annabel who is the banker’s wife, and Martina, the dedicated journalist about to give up her investigative career to marry the son of a Presidential hopeful.  Although unknown to each other, both are highly reliable narrators (this is not a “Girl” book), and the two women are on track to disclose the same off-shore banking crime: ““A world of dirty money, hidden away in shadow accounts, and it belongs to some very powerful and dangerous people…”

Annabel’s husband Matthew, who works for the Swiss bank which handles lucrative but illegal funds, suddenly dies in a plane crash.  Martina’s mentor, Duncan, who has been working with an inside whistleblower, suddenly dies in his house.  Both women are literally left holding the bag, or in this case, the computers and USB’s containing the incriminating information.  Both are dodging bullets, literally and figuratively, as they try to find trustworthy men (there are not many in this story) who will get the information out via the international news corps, and stop the masterminds controlling the action from escaping justice.

Cited as a “financial thriller,” The Banker’s Wife has the timeliness of political and banking deceit in the news that has become all too familiar.  The story is a page-turner with new developments around the bend of every cliff-hanging narrow road in the Swiss countryside, and the ending takes a satisfying turn. What a great movie this would make.

Something in the Water

Reese Witherspoon’s book club pick – Something in the Water – has me wondering when she will produce it for viewing. Catherine Steadman’s book has all the elements of a great series – exotic settings, unreliable characters, and plot twists favoring the female leads.

I listened to Steadman’s British tones reading the book for Audible and it was hard to not keep going into the night. The “something in the water” was not what I had expected and the hints of espionage and financial fraud added to the suspense.

Erin, a documentary producer, and Mark, an out of work hedge fund expert, go off on their honeymoon to Bora Bora. Mark, an expert diver, convinces Erin to overcome her fears to experience the beautiful underwater world. His cavalier comments about the sharks in the water had me suspicious, but what they find leads the adventure into murky waters as each plot twist combines danger and a new life for both.

Great fun to listen to.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

51C4xxzWsHL._AC_US218_A fortune for a fortune teller? Ruth Ware returns with another mystery thriller to keep you reading through the night in The Death of Mrs. Westaway.

Hal’s life has been most unfortunate with the hit and run death of her mother and the loan sharks threatening to knock out her teeth if she cannot make more money reading tarot cards on the pier. Suddenly, her luck changes when she becomes heir to her grandmother’s fortune. But wait; it’s not really her grandmother – or is it?

Ware weaves a page turning adventure within a Gothic setting. As the interloper in a family of brothers who had expected to inherit the estate, Hal finds herself in the middle of family drama and resentments, and the deceased Mrs. Westaway seems to be stirring the pot beyond the grave. The housekeeper, Mrs. Warren, is the Mrs. Danvers character right out of du Maurier’s Rebecca – cold, creepy, and tyrranical, and the perfect foil to Hal’s timid second Mrs. de Winter who finally finds her courage.

Although the resolution is obvious long before the ending, and the villain is not a total surprise, The Death of Mrs. Westaway is great fun for fans of Ruth Ware. I enjoyed the distraction.