Posted in murder mystery, Reviews, Theatre, Thriller

Theatre Review: Witness For The Prosecution

For my sister’s birthday, I got us both tickets to see a production of Agatha Christie’s Witness For The Prosecution. Having just become massive fans ourselves, we thought it would be a good night out and plus, who doesn’t love a good murder/mystery?

First of all, the venue itself is amazing. I was excited when I heard it was going to be at the County Hall and in the room where Parliament used to meet in the 20s. The entrance is on Belvedere Road which is just across St. Thomas Hospital and at the back of the London Eye.

We were really chuffed when we got inside the actual theatre. Its set up so you can pretend you’re at the Old Bailey, which I think is the old criminal court near Newgate Prison. It had jury boxes and everything, and if you’ve got money to spend you might want to get a seat in the jury box for a more immersive experience. You may or may not get to participate in the actual play so get your best thespian voice ready.

It was worth splurging for stall seats because you’re really close to where the action is. Also, they were really roomy and comfortable so you don’t ever feel like you’re practically sitting on top of your neighbour for the duration of the show.

The play tells the story of Leonard Vogel, who’s been accused of murdering a rich woman that he’s befriended and goes to visit once or twice a week. His arrest is based on the testimony of the housekeeper who swore she heard him talking to the victim around 5 minutes before the time of death.

The play unfolds like a courtroom drama, and I had initial misgivings about that because I thought it would be very dry and boring. I could not have been more wrong. The actors were so good and the story itself is so riveting that you won’t even notice you’re halfway through the first act already.

There were also some unexpected lighthearted and even comedic moments, usually aimed at the Britishness of the British. Because this play was oh-so-British, from insulting each other politely (no one does this as well as the British) to offering tea during times of crises and even the British attitude towards foreigners…it was all very well done.

I have to say I guessed the plot twist about 3/4 of the way into the play but I was still shocked when THE BIG REVEAL was unveiled. I love how, just like in other Agatha Christie works, she manages to convey so much without having to bombard the audience or the readers with unnecessary details. You are instead led through a series of truths, half-truths and out and out lies and its up to you to make heads or tails of it to come to your own conclusion.

Overall, I had a really great time and I’d highly recommend this play to both theatre lovers and fans of the crime and murder genre because I can guarantee you’ll have a great time.

Click on the link here to go to the website, wherein there’s a tab for you to buy tickets. The shows are incredibly popular so the weekends might be fully booked but there’s plenty of seats during the weekdays and it doesn’t really last that long. Its finished by 10 and there are good transport links around the area (Waterloo, Embankment and Westminster stations and a lot of buses).

Cheers and Happy Birthday to my sister Arlene (shown on the photos with me)!! xx

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

Book Review: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

I very rarely give five star ratings anymore but I am happy to give this book the first of hopefully many to come this year.

This book absolutely blew me away. It kept me up at night and awake at the crack of dawn. It weighed heavily on my mind for two straight days; I was thinking about it over breakfast, while I was reading my emails, when I was arguing with a colleague and I even spared it a thought while I was swiping through Tinder. Lol

This is like a supernatural version of an Agatha Christie novel. A colleague asked me for a synopsis of it and she wanted me to be succinct so I told her its like if Murder On The Orient Express met Groundhog Day and they had a baby then that baby is this book.

Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at the night of the ball during a weekend house party. I don’t think that’s a spoiler because duh, the bloody title gives that away. That is not the main point of the novel. The point is that she is doomed to be murdered again and again until someone solves her murder.

Aiden Bishop is the man tasked with this herculean task. And you would think he’d have a fighting chance if the day repeats itself over and over again because hey, at least you’ll learn from the mistakes of the previous day right?

There’s always a catch; and the catch in this instance is that every time the day resets Aiden wakes up in the body of a different house guest which will serve as his host until he either falls asleep or dies.

More to the point, this whole sequence of events is actually some kind of loop and at some point he will intersect with himself in his past and future hosts, in which case he will need to figure out how to either influence future events or change the course of the day without fucking everything up basically. It gets terribly complicated in the best way possible.

This book was completely mind-boggling. I am simply amazed at its level of complexity; the amount of attention to detail it must have taken to keep everything straight and to make sure nothing gets missed must have taken heaps and heaps of notes and post-its and cross-referencing, not to mention meticulous editing. I simply don’t know how Stuart Turton did it but I, for one, am glad that we have this fantastic book as evidence of his hard labor.

The best kind of murder mysteries are the ones where everything is so unpredictable that you’ve given up trying to wade through all the false information and red herrings to try and solve the mystery yourself. This was what I did with this one. I just prepared myself for the unexpected, and told myself this is one mystery that I will not be able to solve. And I was right, I did not see that ending coming.

Utterly unpredictable, compelling and compulsively readable, this kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. I’ve read so many of these that I am very rarely surprised but well done, Mr. Turton, you’ve managed to do the impossible.

For my American readers, this book is out in the US sometime in September. For UK readers, get thee to your nearest bookstore now!

Five Jumping Up and Down Stars!

Posted in Books, Reviews

Book Review: Sirens – Joseph Knox

There are only really three things that I know for sure after having read this book:

  1. I will probably think twice before I ever volunteer to visit Manchester.
  2. I will never understand why some people would choose to take drugs
  3. I should think twice before opting to take such a gruesome crime novel with me whilst I’m on holiday

Joseph Knox spins a tale about a detective who has gone undercover to investigate some kind of drug cartel in Manchester and at the same time to look into the disappearance of an MP’s teenage daughter.

Detective Aiden Waits is a shady character at best, and he comes close to answering the age old question about whether a cop and a criminal are two sides of the same coin. If you spend the majority of your time trying to think like a criminal, how much more can you take before you are unable to distinguish yourself from the people whose crimes you’re trying to stop?

The good detective made some phenomenally bad choices throughout this book; he wasn’t the kind of main character I could really get behind on. He alternated between being stupidly arrogant and pitifully weak; he couldn’t figure out what was really going on until the last possible minute (neither could I, but I’m not a detective) and he almost seemed to play into the hands of the true perpetrators for about 70% of the book. So, no, he wasn’t the strongest point of this story.

The development of the rest of the supporting characters, however, fairly overshadowed that of Detective Waits. It takes much for me to sympathise with drug dealers and corrupt officials, but Joseph Knox did such a good job of showing their different backgrounds without bogging the story down. He offers no excuses for their actions, merely asking the readers to empathise and understand the life choices that have brought them to their present circumstances.

Its easier to judge people from behind glass houses, not so easy when you’re knee deep in shite with no other way out. We are all, I think, victims of our personal circumstances. Some of us just do better at rising against bad circumstances than others. But if you put yourself in other people’s shoes for a moment and think about how your own life could have been so different if you had to walk a mile in their shoes…you wouldn’t be so quick to judge.

The twists and turns of the story happened at breakneck speed; its such a page-turner that I finished it in a day (the weather was bad and I could not go to the beach as planned). Everything was set against the horrifyingly detailed backdrop of the underbelly of Manchester; Joseph Knox had no qualms about describing the city’s drug scene in all its glory, making me question just how much truth went into this and if so, that must have been some harrowing months of research (although I think I read somewhere that he grew up in Manchester).

The inevitable payoff and solving of the mystery was a little bit anti-climactic; I don’t think the ending was as satisfying as I would have liked. No one was really given an ending, and I’m not sure justice was really served in the end. But I guess that’s the reality of life isn’t it? The good guys don’t always win and the bad guys sometimes go free. Life goes on either way.

Overall, this was a good read! 3 out of 5 stars.

P.S. I think the play on the word ‘Sirens’ and its different meanings as the story progressed was very very clever. I would love to hear what you guys think! Buy the book on amazon for a good deal by clicking the photo below.

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, Classic Literature, Reviews, Uncategorized

Blast From The Past: Book Review – And Then There Were None 

People use the term “classic” to refer to something that transcends generations, a piece of work that remains relevant no matter what decade it is.

 This crime novel from Dame Agatha Christie is a classic in every sense of the word.
The plot is simple. 10 strangers are lured into a secluded island off the coast of Devon by the myseterious U.N. Owen. They started off thinking that it’ll be a nice weekend getaway. Then things take a more sinister turn when, after dinner, a pre-recorded gramophone thingy (I have no idea how a gramophone works) accused them all of being guilty of murder.

All of them denied it of course. There was a plausible explanation behind each accusation. They thought someone was just playing a practical joke…until one of them dies. And then one after the other each member of the party is killed, and the murder method is based on an old nursery rhyme called “Ten Little Soldier Boys.” 

Ten little soldier boys went out to dine; one choked his little self and then there were nine.

Nine little soldier boys sat up very late; one overslept himself and then there were eight.

The remaining guests soon figured out that because of the seclusion of the island and the inability of the boats from the mainland to come across, the murderer could only be one of them. The author did such a great job of creating the atmosphere; one can almost feel the paranoia mounting. Who can you turn to? Who can you trust?

I was amazed that Agatha Christie was able to cram this much action in so few pages. One would think that the characters wouldn’t be as fleshed out because its such a short novel but this actually proves that you don’t need to waste chapters and chapters just to provide someone’s backstory. And this author had 10 characters to contend with! 10 characters represented by 10 figurines of soldier boys in a mantelpiece, each figurine disappearing after one dies. 

Its clear early on that the motive for the murders is related to some form of justice being metted out. But justice for whom? Is the murderer related to one of the purported victims? Is there a common thread to all the victims that would eventually lead to the identity of the killer? These were some of the thoughts running through my head. It felt a little bit like watching the tv show Lost, which tells you how far ahead of its time this novel was. 

My boss told me that the stage adaptation of this book is also quite good. I can see how this would be great as a play; I sometimes felt while reading it that it comes across as a screenplay more than an actual novel. It still doesn’t take away from the genius of it. I was left completely confounded and guessing until the very end. I went so far as to postulate the theory that these people were really all one person, like they were part of “UN Owen”‘s dissociative personality just like in that film with John Cusack called Identity (spoiler alert: they’re not. There really is a murderer!)

I would recommend this book to all lovers of mystery, especially for those who want to have a good read but get bored with long, drawn-out stories. This is for you!