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The Child by Fiona Barton

I didn’t read The Widow by Fiona Barton, which was apparently an international best seller, but the teaser for her second book, The Child, intrigued me:

While razing an old neighborhood, construction workers make a grisly discovery at the building site: the remains of a baby buried years earlier. Thrown by the ongoing changes at her newspaper—where hastily written online content is increasingly valued over long-format investigative journalism, and layoffs loom—reporter Kate thinks finding the truth behind the baby’s story will put her byline back on the front page. Digging into the history of the working class neighborhood where the baby was found, Kate soon finds herself entangled in the lives of two women, Emma and Angela, whose lives and long-kept secrets are upended the discovery of the child. The story is told through the alternating perspectives of each woman, as their search for answers sets them on a shocking collision course.

So I agreed to participate in the blog tour and offer my thoughts. I grabbed the book on NetGalley and dove in.

I found it to be a mostly well done psychological thriller/mystery with a clever hook.  But I am wondering if it was just not my style.  A little too much drama and perhaps the dark subject matter made it slow going at times.

Plus, I found a lot of the characters unlikable and the early setup of the story a little slow. To be fair, as the mystery unraveled it picked up speed and there was definitely tension and excitement as it drove to its conclusion.  It was interesting enough to keep me reading but it just never switched gears and sucked me in.

At the risk of being accused of sexism or gender stereotypes (or whatever term is used for this particular sin these days), let me also note that there is likely a bit of an extra appeal to women due to the themes of motherhood, mother-daughter relationships, and the role of women in relationships and family, etc. If those themes and roles interest you, there is likely a great deal more emotional punch to the story.

I do think the character of Kate Waters gets stronger as the book develops.  I enjoyed her sense of humor and her often emotional reactions combined with, or perhaps driven by, her dedication to her career and desire to again break a big story.

Publishers Weekly notes the slow start but likes the finish:

Readers patient with the relatively slow initial pace until the intertwining stories gain momentum will be rewarded with startling twists—and a stunning, emotionally satisfying conclusion. Author tour.

Kirkus notes the melodrama:

Barton flirts with melodrama at times but pulls back and allows her characters to develop into fully realized, deeply scarred women whose wounds aren’t always visible.  This is as much a why-dunit as a whodunit, with the real question being whether it’s possible to heal and live with the truth after hiding behind a lie for so long.

Marry Cadden at USA Today was a big fan:

In addition to being a page-turning whodunit, The Child is also a subtle exploration of the relationships between mothers and their children, their bonds and battles. What makes a good mother? When it comes to maternal love, is there a fine line between helping and hindering?

Barton again weaves a tale that keeps us on our toes. A novel that is both fast-paced and thought-provoking, it keeps the reader guessing right to the end. The Child truly is the best of both worlds.

Maureen Corrigan at the Washington Post was a bit more harsh that I was:

“The Child” is a middling and much-too-long suspense story that would have benefited from a ruthless red-pencil. As she did in “The Widow,” Barton relies on multiple points of view to tell (and retell) the larger story of the “Building Site Baby” as the unidentified infant comes to be known. Three other female characters get drawn into this story by learning about that same news item that piqued Kate’s curiosity.

[…]

Figuring out how all these women are connected — to each other and to the unidentified infant — is the hypothetical draw of this kind of fragmented, multi-perspective type of storytelling. I say “hypothetical draw,” because “The Child” is more tedious than tense. Characters chew over the same events from chapter to chapter until they’re as worn out as a stick of used Trident; even when the final revelation seems undeniably clear to readers, it takes Barton a good 80 pages or so to wrap things up. “The Child” isn’t a terrible novel; it’s simply much too much of a just okay one.

If you like the psychological drama of the women, the internal monologues if you will, I think you would enjoy The Child.  This seems like a great beach read for example. But if this style and the themes noted are not your preference than it might not live up to its hype.  Alas, I can’t tell you if reading The Widow makes the second book better or whether the expectations are lessened by not having read it.

 

 

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor is a quirky and odd tale of two women and two mysteries in Night Vale – a small town where the weird is normal. The book is based on the podcast by the authors that chronicles the strange events that occur in the town.

I am more of a grounded-in-realism reader and this book is not that. It has shape-shifting characters, alien sightings, and other odd occurrences. Although this is not my type of book, it does keep the reader’s attention.

The main characters Jackie Fierro (a pawn shop owner who is given a piece of paper with the only words “KING CITY” on it) and Diane Crayton (her son is a shape-shifter who is increasingly interested in knowing more about his absent father) try to figure out the weirder things going on in the town.

Two mysteries abound: who is a mysterious man who keeps handing out “KING CITY” notes and why does Diane’s ex keep popping up in town. In Jackie and Diane’s quest to find information, they escape with their lives as they visit the local library (local librarians are monsters).

Expect the unexpected and hang on for the weirdest ride of a tale.

Tracking the Beast by Henry Kisor

I stumbled on Henry Kisor and his character Steve Martinez in Northern Minnesota while visiting my in-laws.  Which seems appropriate since the Steve Martinez novels are set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan which share much with its neighbor rural northern Minnesota.

Over a dozen years later and I am still reading Kisor (who retired from his role as the Chicago Sun-Times book editor and columnist to spend half the year in the UP) and he is still writing Steve Martinez novels.  The act of getting his books published has been a challenge but the stories continue to entertain.

The most recent novel, The Riddle of Billy Gibbs, came out in November but I wanted to get caught up by reviewing Tracking the Beast which I neglected when I read it last June.

Here is a plot teaser:

When the remains of three little girls turn up inside railroad hopper cars, Sheriff Steve Martinez faces a troublesome case, for the cars had sat for years on a siding deep inside his beloved Porcupine County. After Steve and his comrades do the spadework, the FBI moves in, thinking their Unsub is both rapist and murderer. But Steve believes the killer or killers instead hired someone to dispose of the bodies. With the help of lawmen of all kinds, including the Ontario Provincial Police, and even Detroit mobsters, Steve doggedly tracks the Beast.

What Kisor offers is a police procedural/mystery with an interesting hook and the people, history and culture of the Upper Peninsula as a setting and important background.

He uses the hook, in this case railroad hopper cars as a place to dispose of bodies, and turns it into an exploration of that world.  For this book that means trains and their enthusiasts or “foamers.”  But it also involves a tour of the coast of Lake Superior and the involvement of a number of law enforcement agencies state, local, national and international.

Kisor doesn’t offer fast paced thrillers or literary creations that explore the internal lives of their characters but intricately plotted and engaging mysteries that highlight a unique part of the country.  Even though Kisor is not a former police officer or detective, You get the sense that you understand law enforcement and crime solving better when you finish his books.  You understand what it takes to collect information, weigh clues, use your gut, and work together with others to find out what happened, as best you can, and compile the evidence needed to solve a crime.

You also get the perspective of the folks rarely on the mind of the so called coastal elites, those living in sparsely populated northern midwest. For Steve Martinez and his team, his longterm gal Ginny, and the other residents of Porcupine County the benefits of living in the UP outweigh the challenges.

Having gotten to know Steve and his world it is easy reading to slip back into that world and watch as he tackles the latest mystery (while juggling the politics of being a county sheriff not to mention a relationship).

In the minds of publishers Kisor may only be a regional mystery writer but I am glad he has continued to find a way to share his stories (more on that in the next review).  If you or someone you know enjoys police procedurals with a unique setting and style, I recommend Kisor’s Steve Martinez series.  As an added bonus, Kindle users can grab them for less than $4 each.

 

Moon Over Soho (PC Peter Grant Book 2) by Ben Aaronovitch

As I noted last month, I have been listening to the Rivers of London or PC Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch during my daily commute to work.  It has been a great choice for audio-book listening. The narration is simply fantastic. And this series works perfect for the commute; entertaining and fast moving but not too complex or dense (which is hard to process when you are driving).  It is great blend of urban fantasy, police procedural, and mystery. Peter Grant is a strong lead character but there is a nice mix of secondary characters, including London itself, and with enough action to keep the plot moving. Highly entertaining.

Moon Over Soho is book two:

moon-over-sohoBODY AND SOUL

The song. That’s what London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant first notices when he examines the corpse of Cyrus Wilkins, part-time jazz drummer and full-time accountant, who dropped dead of a heart attack while playing a gig at Soho’s 606 Club. The notes of the old jazz standard are rising from the body—a sure sign that something about the man’s death was not at all natural but instead supernatural.

Body and soul—they’re also what Peter will risk as he investigates a pattern of similar deaths in and around Soho. With the help of his superior officer, Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, and the assistance of beautiful jazz aficionado Simone Fitzwilliam, Peter will uncover a deadly magical menace—one that leads right to his own doorstep and to the squandered promise of a young jazz musician: a talented trumpet player named Richard “Lord” Grant—otherwise known as Peter’s dear old dad.

If there is a weakness to the series it is the rather sprawling nature of the stories;  the plot is not particularly tight nor the mystery particularly suspenseful. It is the journey that make the book not the destination or route.

The hook is what holds the reader: a modern detective working out how to assimilate the existence of magic into his understanding of the world and do his job well.  Peter Grant’s background, perspective and personality give it its unique flavor.  And his, and the author’s,love of London also comes through.

What also make the series enjoyable is something that all series offer: an opportunity to build on the characters and history of previous books.  Characters, ideas, historical events, etc. all get further unpacked and developed as the series move forward.  Relationships develop, shift and evolve and the reader learns more about the chain of events that led the protagonist and central characters to this point.  Twists and turns leave you guessing what lies ahead on this path.

All this makes the series enjoyable but leaves each book less compelling as a stand alone novel from my perspective.  Listening to them as a serialized radio drama of sorts has been enjoyable but I am not sure any of the books would be a great read by itself.

a street in Lausanne, Switzerland

The Traitor’s Story by Kevin Wignall

Long time readers of this blog, all three of you at this point, will know that I am a fan of Kevin Wignall.  I believe I have read all of his books and even interviewed him a few times.  So I am always excited when he has a new novel out.  And this time I am going to review it in a timely manner.

I was able to get a review copy of The Traitor’s Story from NetGalley.  And not surprisingly given that it is Wignall, it turned out to be an intelligent espionage thriller that explores the complex nature of loyalty, patriotism and love amongst other things. Although, it is not really a typical thriller until the later part of the book. But at the heart of the story is the challenge and impact of secrets which grows out of espionage and an attempt to escape from it.

I enjoyed the way Wignall builds the characters, particularly Finn, by alternating between the present and the past.  Finn is trying to put the past behind him, ironically by writing about the ancient past, but finds it is both a part of who he has become and something that can’t so easily be left behind.

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