Posted in bloggers, Books, murder mystery, Reviews, Thriller

Book Review: Ordeal By Innocence – Agatha Christie

Well, I suppose they can’t all be masterpieces.

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Although I’ve only just recently started plowing my way through her massive body of work, I’ve been a fan of Ms. Christie from the moment I cracked open my first Hercule Poirot mystery.

I think she is a true master of the crime/thriller genre, and she manages to tell a tale without having to turn a book into something you can pound a nail with. I was very impressed with ‘And Then There Were None’ and ‘Murder at the Orient Express’, and just last month I saw ‘Witness For The Prosecution’ at the county hall with my sister and was blown away by a plot that was deceptively simple but in actuality layered and intricate.

So I had really high expectations for this book. I mean, the premise was promising and characteristic of some of her great works. A woman murdered at her family home, a son accused of the crime and sent to prison, and a last-minute witness that gave evidence to the fact that the son was sent to prison for a crime he never committed.

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This meant that the killer is still at large and could be ANYONE. So sister turns against brother, husband turns against wife, lover turns against lover, as the hunt for the real murderer commences.

All very gripping, presumably. HOWEVER, I found myself increasingly frustrated as the book went on for several reasons which I will try to enumerate in this post. First of all, I found it ludicrous that a stranger would ever be given license to investigate a murder when he had no jurisdiction, experience or even any sort of ties to the family. I mean, really, what business was it of his?? The witness/protagonist in this book toed a really fine line between good samaritan and busybody.

Secondly, I know that having people trapped in one setting and unable to escape each other’s company is a hallmark of her work. BUT. There was something about this plot that felt almost recycled to me. Maybe its pure coincidence and stems from the fact that the last five books of hers that I’ve bought were all relatively similar plot-wise, but while reading this book I found myself thinking that I’ve read this all before.

Thirdly, my God, towards the end of the book I just wished she’d shorten the length of the novel rather than subject us all to the needless repetition of facts that we ALL ALREADY KNEW. Like, all the clues were explored and thought over by so many characters; random people were examining the murder from all angles in several different chapters and at that point I just wanted to throw my hands up and say, OKAY, I GET IT. THESE ARE THE FACTS. NOW SOLVE THE MYSTERY ALREADY.

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And then when the mystery was solved, it was such a bloody letdown. After all the build-up, the twist almost felt like an anti-climax. I mean, okay, a part of me thought it was really clever and I can see how Agatha Christie has influenced the murder mystery genre because I felt like I’ve seen this twist in an episode of Castle or some other tv crime series. I suppose I just didn’t warm up to how this story was told, which is a shame because now that I think about it, it was actually quite a good story.

So there’s a BBC adaptation of this starring the incomparable Bill Nighy that I’m hoping would be better than the book. Maybe this is a plot that works better as a live action tv series rather than a book? I don’t know. I feel like I’VE just committed a crime by giving an Agatha Christie book a bad review but I have to be honest.

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Hopefully, the next three books I have lined up will be better. Maybe I should stick to the Poirot or Miss Marple mysteries.

Anyway, I would love to hear what you all think. If someone can tell me how the BBC production is, I’d appreciate it!

Cheers, bookworms.

Posted in Books, Religion, Reviews

Book Review: Origin – Dan Brown

It’s weirdly fitting that I finished and am reviewing this book on Sunday, a day known to Christians the world over as the day of the Lord.

 

The premise of the book is quite simple and a little bit formulaic in my opinion. But hey, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it right? Dan Brown has sold millions of copies of these Robert Langdon books that he should know by now that if you just stick to the plan, you’re good.

 

As per usual Robert Langdon is invited to an event, this time by his former student, Edmond Kirsch, an influential man who is renowned in the scientific world as a pioneer and a prophet. Edmond has promised to reveal a groundbreaking research that will rock the very foundation of religious belief. However, things take a sinister turn before he can do so and it is up to Robert, and inevitably a female companion, to search through the clues left by this enigmatic man so that his final discovery can be broadcasted to the world, facing challenges and threats to their existence along the way of course.

 

I’m not kidding when I say these books are formulaic: European city as a setting (Barcelona), art (Gaudi) the usual anti-religion tirade, symbols and clues, plot twists, heck, Robert’s female sidekick this time around – Ambra Vidal – is made out of the same mold as Vittoria, Sophie and that girl from Inferno (although we were spared the romantic undertones this time around, thank God. I don’t think Tom Hanks can handle any more romantic entanglements.)

 

 

 

There are so many themes to explore that I think I’ll just dive right into it. There will be minor spoilers along the way, although I’ll try to keep them to a minimum and readers will still get to enjoy the element of surprise brought about by a good plot twist, although I saw this one coming from a mile away.

Where did we come from?

This is the question that divides religion and science. Despite attempts to unify them and despite calls for us to see the hand of God behind scientific advancements, it seems like they can’t bridge the big divide of the question of where man came from. Of course, everyone is familiar with the story of Genesis and God creating Adam and Eve from his own likeness. Equally familiar is Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution: man’s journey from homo Habilis to Homo sapiens brought about by the survival instinct.

 

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One of our more enterprising teachers attempted to begin an intelligent and stimulating dialogue back when I was in high school by having us students debate these two theories. I think she greatly underestimated how fervent some people’s religious beliefs are and that some of the students will take things personally. Religion is a deeply personal thing. It forms a major part of your entire belief system and influences how you see and interpret the world. For most of us, religion is learned from a loved one and part of what keeps us believing in it is the influence of that loved one. For example, I may not necessarily have as strong a faith as I did when I was younger and I have come to believe that there is a big flaw in my belief system, but I still go to church every Sunday out of fear of disappointing my mum, who is deeply religious.

 

Anyway, the debate ended in fights and tears especially on the side of those who were for Creationism. I think someone did raise the question about whether you would prefer to believe you evolved from a chimpanzee or whether you’d rather believe you were a special creation of a divine being. This was over 15 years ago so I’ve forgotten which side I was on but I distinctly remember being able to see and understand both sides of the story and my eventual take on it is that we should all stop asking this inane question and just move on with our lives.

I mean, does it really matter where we came from? Shouldn’t it be enough that we exist and therefore should make that existence meaningful? So many debates raging and wars being waged over a pointless question. I agree with what one character in this book said, no matter what scientific discoveries people come up with, people will still cling to their faith because at the end of the day, everyone needs to believe in a higher power.

 

Religion versus Science

Religion is intangible. The bible itself praises people who “do not see and yet choose to believe”. Christianity requires a leap of faith and – paradoxically -a suspension of belief. We believe in a God who loves us so much that He gave us his only son, birthed through divine conception. This son, Jesus, then gave up his life on the cross to save us from our sins and was resurrected three days after and brought into heaven. Those are two of the mysteries of our faith that we’ve chosen to base our entire belief system on.

A scientific mind will just lose the plot when faced with this belief system because it just. doesn’t. make. any. sense. I agree. Its got plot holes the size of the hole on the ozone layer. The entire system can be destroyed by a few questions and all we’re inevitably left with is our faith. Science, and the scientific method, meanwhile is based on facts and experiments. Its based on research and results that are tangible and reproducible. So when scientists discover something that directly contradicts religion, it’s a big deal because you know they will be armed with facts to back up their claims, like the theory of evolution.

I don’t know, really. I don’t understand the war between religion and science because I think there’s room for both to co-exist in the world. I think the world needs both in equal amounts. Take medicine, for example. I am both a Catholic and a medical personnel and I am able to reconcile both my faith and my medical knowledge when I deal with my patients. When a family member is sick, I find myself both recommending drugs and treatment that I think will help and keeping them in my prayers. When I found out my dad had high PSA levels (one of the indicators of prostate cancer) I spent one day researching all there is to know about it and then spent the night praying the rosary. I don’t see the disparity or the divide.

I remember being deeply offended one day when a surgeon I was working with said that religion is for the weak. I disagree. Yes, from a certain narrow-minded perspective it may seem as if some people use religion as a crutch because they can’t bear to take responsibility for their own destinies. But equally, there is something beautiful about how it is also used as a moral compass to temper man’s often irresponsible foray into things he’s not ready for.

 

Where are we going?

During his big reveal, Edmond said that the question of where we came from is not as important as where he thought we were going. I am heading into spoiler territory so do stop reading if you’ve not read the book yet. Although I think this won’t change your reading experience, I have to post an obligatory

SPOILER ALERT!!!!

Anyway, apparently Edmond’s experiments and his work on a super-computer has allowed him to predict man’s future and he predicts that in 50 or so years, man as we know it would be extinct and a whole new race will take over. According to Edmond technology will eventually consume man, pacing the way for a “new and better race of human beings”.

Now, this is clearly Dan Brown’s way of admonishing the current society’s obsession with technology and its true, in a way. Everything we need, we can access at the touch of our fingers. Need information? Find it on google. Need directions? Use the maps on your phone. Need to tell the world something new about yourself? Post a status on Facebook. Need to contact your mum from halfway around the world? Call her on FaceTime. Bombs can now be triggered remotely. There is a theory that we are entering a new dawn where technological warfare will replace traditional warfare. The advancement of technology can now be measured in terms of years instead of decades. Apple comes up with a newer, bigger, better and more advanced smart phone every year and it needs to do so in order to stay one step ahead of its competitors.

In a sense, the world is moving too fast that this plot twist really didn’t surprise me as much. One thing I found really clever is that, if you really pay attention, the book’s narrative and action was really in keeping with this theme of technology taking over. For example, Robert Langdon I felt played less of a role here because he had someone (or something) else doing the work for him (you’ll notice this if you read the book). Even the central mystery being solved was in keeping with this theme.

 

Despite that, it’s still the little things…

I was quite ready to give this book a negative review. I found it to be too long and I never really engaged with the story the way I did with what I still argue is Dan Brown’s best work (Angels and Demons). However, it was the little pockets of human interaction amidst all the chaos and startling new ideas that really turned the tide for me: a father’s love for his son, a son’s wish to live up to his father’s expectations, the thrill of falling in love and the purest love between two people who were destined to never share their feelings to the world because their world is not ready for it yet. But there is hope that one day it will be.

Again, I don’t know if this contrast was intentional but I, for one, found it really poignant. It’s in keeping with the message of the book I guess, that the human capacity for tolerance and compassion will keep us from being overrun by the dangers of powerful technology and that is what keeps Edmond Kirsch hopeful about the future.

 

….and finally.

I know this is a pretty long review, I apologise but it is a rather long book (again, this is one of my major complaints about this. Find a better editor, Danny boy!) but it’s certainly worth reading, especially if you’ve been a fan all these years.

My advice is to take everything with a pinch of salt. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what other people tell you anyway. You believe what you believe and you are entitled to that. Live and let live, people.

 

Happy Sunday, blabbaholics and bookworms alike!

 

 

Posted in Books, relationships, Reviews, romance

In Death: An Ode to JD Robb

There is something to be said about an author who’s got enough mileage to keep a series – for the most part – fresh and interesting 44 books in, with number 45 having just been released this week.

JD Robb, who first gained fame as a romance author under the pen name of Nora Roberts, has earned the title of being one of the most prolific writers in the business. She still publishes under both pseudonyms and she’s able to churn out at least two books a year. While her works as Nora have declined in quality in my own personal opinion, the In Death series under JD Robb feels a little bit like the energiser bunny: its just going to keep on going until her fingers get too arthritic to type on a keyboard.

I read the first book in the series a little over a year ago when I was looking for a good whodunit crime novel. I picked up Origin in Death based on the recommendation of one of my Goodreads friends who has a reputation for always giving honest reviews. I was quite surprised that she praised this one so highly as she’s usually into alternate universes, post-apocalyptic settings and dystopia. In comparison, this “futuristic” series seemed a little bit tame for her taste. Despite the fact that its set about 60 years in the future in a still-recognisable but crazier version of New York City, and despite the fact that there are crazy gadgets and new inventions to help solve crime, at the heart of it this is a procedural crime novel with Lieutenant Eve Dallas of the NYPD at its centre.

Eve and Roarke

Eve is an enigma even to herself. She’s very methodical and all about the job. She cares and stands for her victims and seems to take any crime in her city personally, which is what makes her so good. You can tell she’s been through something nightmarish in her past because she’s so closed off to other people and have very little, if any, time for a personal life. She is the job and the job is what makes her. While working a case, she meets the equally enigmatic and ultra-charming billionaire Roarke (no last name just like Madonna), who was initially one of the suspects in the case she was working on but who she later develops a romantic relationship with.

The mysteries in each book are interesting in and of themselves; I would probably have followed the series for that reason alone. But the backstory and the character development, as well as seeing how a relationship between two people with such a complicated and traumatic past developed into a strong partnership, is what makes the series special. Seeing how Eve Dallas, respected lieutenant with a reputation for solving crimes, navigates the minefield of marriage and is thoroughly discombobulated by her role as a wife provided a comedic fodder for all the other heavy stuff going on in the books. It was also amazing to see how she developed close relationships with other people and how she somehow allowed them in to her world as a result of opening herself up to Roarke. So much so that she finds herself pleasantly surprised that she’s managed to create a family after years and years of being alone.

The Supporting Cast

The supporting characters in the story also enrich the experience of reading the books. We’re introduced to Delia Peabody, Detective McNab, the other detectives at Cop Central, Chief Morris, Captain Feeney, the chief of police, Summerset the butler, Mavis Freestone, even Galahad the cat – they all matter. JD Robb somehow wrote the series in such a way that she gradually made the readers care for each and every one of them one book at a time. But the lynchpin of the books is really Eve. Its such a joy to see her journey as a character. Which isn’t to say that she can’t be annoying. I sometimes get so annoyed by how she sees things in black and white, which is probably why Roarke is perfect for her because he is all about the shades of grey in between.

44 books in the series!

I read all 37 books in this series one after the other. I’m quite happy that I didn’t know just how many books there were when I started because it might have put me off starting. As it is, I’m sure I made Amazon Kindle really happy when I bought all the published books back then in a bundle, it probably cost me a little over 200 quid but its money well spent. Not all the books were great and there were some that I was tempted not to finish because I was bored, but then those books would surprise me with a scene between Eve and Roarke that would just move their relationship forward and it would make up for an otherwise mediocre story. That’s how JD Robb hooks you: if the story is a dud, the character development makes up for it. If there’s nothing new to explore in terms of the main characters, you sink your claws into a good old-fashioned crime mystery. Its the perfect one-two punch.

Unfortunately, none of the books can be read as a standalone. I mean, when you start reading the first three or four you’d just want to carry on anyway. And okay, you can probably pick one book at random and still enjoy a good mystery but the payoff really is in knowing the characters and the history of how they all came to be what they are to each other. Some books are all about the payoff, with returning characters from previous books or a previous issue that was brought up in one of the previous books but was never fully explored. So I wouldn’t recommend not reading them in order. I would recommend borrowing them from someone who’s got the full collection rather than buying them like I did. There are some highlights in the series and you can go visit my page for my top ten favourite In Death books to check out my personal favourites.

All in all, reading books from this series always feels like visiting an old friend. Its always great to escape into Eve and Roarke’s world for a while and to pray that in these troubled times we live in where the world is literally going to hell in a hand basket, there would be someone like her in our police force who will stand for the good people of London the way Eve Dallas does for New York.

More power to JD Robb and may the books keep coming!

 

Posted in Books, Reviews

Review: Black Water Lilies – Michel Bussi: MIND BLOWN.

 

Its 1 am and I’ve just stayed up late to finish this fantastic crime/mystery book. As I said, I recently joined the Armchair Murder Book Club at Waterstones‘, which meets every first Wednesday of the month. You can imagine my panic on Tuesday night when I realised that the meeting was the following evening and I haven’t even started the damned book yet. Nonetheless, I decided to make a start so I could at least have something to contribute to the conversation. At the last meeting, some people didn’t finish and it didn’t really make that much of a difference because there wasn’t really a big reveal to spoil. I honestly thought the case would be the same for this book.

WRONG.

This book had one of the best plot twists I’ve ever read in my life. I don’t know if its because I haven’t read a good mystery book lately, but this one just blew. my. mind.

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What?! 

To my everlasting regret, I unfortunately learned of the plot twist during the meeting when I was still 30% into the book, but my mind was still blown. I was speechless for a good 2 minutes, which for me is a long time. I could not wrap my head around it.

The Blurb

Three women lived in a village. One was eighty year old living in a mill overlooking the river. The second was a pretty school teacher trapped in a loveless marriage. The third was a child progeny with the gift of painting. All three were trapped in the picturesque village of Giverny, famous for being the inspiration for Monet’s paintings. All three longed for escape.

Three women lived in a village. “The first one was mean, the second a liar, the third and egotist”. For thirteen days, the gates of Giverny were open for a possible escape but only one would make it out. The third woman was the most intelligent, the second one was the most cunning, the first woman was the most determined. 

This is a riddle solved against the background of the brutal murder of a prominent businessman who had a passion for Monet and an even greater passion for women.

Things are not what they seem.

The Review

I am not going to give away any plot twists. Suffice it to say that during our book club meeting, one of the other readers pointed out that in the hands of a less brave author, this book would have been written very differently. It takes courage and talent to have written it the way it was written; the plot was tight and there were no glaring holes that would make you say “but what about the time when…?” when the big reveal was finally unveiled.

The story generated a lot of discussion during the book club, even from me and I didn’t even finish the damn thing. I was kicking myself for the entire hour and a half for not finishing this book. Ultimately though, I can’t really say that my reading experience was less satisfactory because of the fact that I’ve already been spoiled. I read it with the understanding and  perspective of someone who already knew what was coming so I could look at certain plot lines and see exactly how the author cleverly placed red herrings deliberately designed to mislead us, but actually the clues to the real story were there all along.

This book is ultimately about the chances you take and the tragedy of a life that is not fully lived. I can’t really say much without unintentionally spoiling it for everyone. However, as tragic as the circumstances may seem, I find upon finishing it that there was no other way for the story to have ended and that things happened exactly as they were meant to. All the victims were victims of their own actions or inaction; one of my fellow book club members pointed out that it was hard for her to sympathise with any of the characters, and I agree. The characters will annoy you to the point of wanting to give up on the book, but DO NOT GIVE UP ON THE BOOK  because the payoff is worth it.

The writing was very fluid. I tend to be biased against books that have been translated from a different language, especially French, because sometimes the translation is too stiff and something inevitably gets lost in translation. However, this was so well done that I forgot that this book wasn’t originally written in English. The prose was seamless and easy to follow. Michel Bussi was very descriptive (almost too descriptive) that it really created a nice atmosphere for the story to unfold. I now want to visit the town of Giverny and see Monet’s pond for myself.

Armchair Murder Book Club

Kudos to the book club moderators at Waterstones’ for the awesome choice of books. I can’t wait for the next one. Readers in London, if you’re interested in joining like-minded individuals geeking out over books, check out the Waterstones website for events at the store nearest you. Usually, the book clubs are at the flagship store in Piccadilly, my happy place, 5 floors of bookworm heaven. There’s free wine involved if you want to check it out. Our next book is The Collin Case by Ferdinand Von Schirack.

Good night and good morning bookworms!