Tag: Mystery

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton

“If this isn’t hell, the devil is surely taking notes.”

rain-and-book-seven-deaths-evelyn-hardcastle-stuart-turtonIs it possible to miss a book once you’ve finished it?

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton is quite a book – both in content and size. [The edition I received is called The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, but to quote the author Stuart Turton (from Goodreads): “‘Seven Deaths’ and ‘7 1/2 Deaths‘ are exactly the same. We had a clash in the US and had to change the title there, hence 7 1/2. Don’t worry, you’re getting exactly the same amount of murder for your money, though.”] As I was/am going through a whole phase, I’m a tad intimidated by books that are on the heavier side. Obviously one of the advantages of reading it on a Kindle is you don’t quite know what you’re signing up for. In the case of Seven Deaths, I was hooked right from the opening line, “I forget everything between footsteps.”

The book starts with a man waking up in a forest, with no memory of anything except for a name: Anna. He hears a scuffle and is convinced Anna has been murdered and a man whom he assumes to be the murderer hands him a compass. Using the compass, he finds his way out of the forest and reaches Blackheath, where preparations for a ball are underway. Servants and maids are running around, cleaning, arranging, decorating… He runs into a few of the guests, including a doctor, and they tell him his name is Sebastian Bell. He tries to reconcile his thoughts with the man he now knows he is. In the meantime, he meets Evelyn, the daughter of the Hardcastles of Blackheath, who spends most of her time in Paris and has returned for this ball. It is revealed that the ball is being held on the anniversary of the death of Evelyn’s youngest brother and the same guests who were present that day have been invited for this event. All of this is a lot for Sebastian to process. However, that’s the least of his troubles, for when he wakes up the next morning…
… he isn’t Sebastian Bell at all.

He is doomed to repeat the same day multiple times, each time waking up as a different person, a witness to the event that the title of the book alludes to.

When I realized what was going on, my mind immediately went to David Levithan’s Every Day. Unlike that one, Seven Deaths has body hopping as well as time travel. I’m not a fan of time travel usually – it leads to too many questions and there are always continuity problems that just cannot be explained. I kept all those doubts aside and just delved into the story.

What’s really impressive about this book is, even though it has so many named characters, at no point do you feel it’s an overload of information – each character has a distinct voice and a well-defined role to play. I quite liked the characters of Ravencourt, Dance and Rashton. The three serve as hosts on three different days and have the sharpest minds in the story. Dance’s sadness added an emotional side to this mystery.

In most books, around the 80-85% mark, the climax is done with and you’re just waiting for it to be tied up with a bow. No tying up here – for even at 90% you’re on a rollercoaster ride realizing all the information you’ve received so far is only half the mystery. The book keeps you on the edge until the last page – gripping and completely unputdownable, especially so in the last few chapters. It’s incredible, completely unreal!

The early reviews of this book have called it Nolan-esque and Agatha Christie-ly atmospheric. Both of these comparisons are apt. Add in a bit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to the mix for the brilliance that are the last few chapters.

Goodreads | Amazon

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle from NetGalley/Sourcebooks Landmark

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Into The Water, by Paula Hawkins

“We tell our stories differently, don’t we, you and I?”

into-the-water-rainandabookBack in school, for a while – before Harry Potter took over – we were all hooked on to R. L. Stine’s Fear Street series. There was one book in particular that was more popular than the rest – Fear Street Super Chiller Goodnight Kiss 2. The reason being the big reveal happened on the very last page. Those who had read it tricked those who didn’t into reading the last page before finishing the book, thereby spoiling it.

I never read Goodnight Kiss 2 even though it has been on my TBR for eighteen years or so. The only reason it’s still on my TBR is cos I’m still curious to find out what’s on that last page. I don’t even know the what the story is about!

And with that we come to Paula Hawkins’ latest, Into The Water, whose big reveal also happens on the very last page. Rather underwhelmingly. Into the Water is one of those books that meanders so far away from the point that not only do you get impatient, but also bored. It’s an odd mix of emotions, one directly contradicting the other.

In the beginning, we are told that Nel Abbott is dead. It is hinted that it was a murder. The characters, of course, insist it was a suicide, especially Nel’s daughter Lena. Nel’s body was found one morning in the Drowning Pool, where several “troublesome” women have died before her, including Lena’s best friend Katie. There is this not so subtle undercurrent of “These were all murders”. Woven into this mesh of POVs (oh so many POVs! Did an editor even see this?) are detectives Sean Townsend (whose mom died in the same pool) and Erin Morgan (who lives in a house which used to be occupied by Sean’s mom) (seriously, what is up with this unimaginatively titled pool!)

We are, as readers, directed to care about all the murdered women. We can’t. Or at least (this being my review) I couldn’t. I wanted to know about Nel – not these old murders that the characters were insisting on digging up. I didn’t know these other dead characters, why would I care if they’re dead? I couldn’t care much for Nel either, and don’t even get me started on how irritating her sister Jules (“not Julia”) was. The subplot of rape that caused the sisters to grow apart was sketched so poorly that it made me angry – it felt like it was forced into the narrative.

I know a lot of what I’m saying sounds like I hated the book. I didn’t. Or I don’t want to, but that’s mostly cos I like Paula Hawkins as a writer. I liked Paula Hawkins as a writer. Even when I read The Girl on the Train, I felt it started off real slow, but I was blown away by the end. I thought the comparisons to Gillian Flynn were unfair, cos Hawkins is clearly a superior writer, who didn’t need someone like Flynn to piggyback on to market her book. But Into The Water proves these comparisons are justified. One of the reasons I hate Flynn’s work (and for that matter Jessica Knoll’s work) is the undercurrent of woman-hate in her stories. In Sharp Objects, for instance, Flynn’s MC blames and shames rape victims. Something similar happens in Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive, and even in Into The Water. The story is about “troublesome” women who got murdered. By troublesome, Hawkins is referring to women who were unhappy in marriages, or women who fell in love with men who weren’t available to them. That’s a narrow definition of “troublesome” and a most unfitting one at that. A regressive narrative, wouldn’t you say?

And the writing! Gosh. Red Herrings are great in a thriller, but when three people come forward and say they committed the murder and the author goes on and on for pages about how, yes, they did commit the murder, but then reveals on the very last page that nope, someone else altogether committed the murder, it just takes the sting out. I read the final confession of the murderer, flipped the page and saw “Acknowledgments”, and went, “Huh?” in underwhelmed bewilderment. I was in a public place when this happened, and the lady seated next to me asked, “Is everything all right?” I didn’t want her to think I was crazy, so I said, “Oh, nothing, I was just reading a stupid book.”

I know I may be too old to read Fear Street now, but every instinct tells me the last page of that will still be better than the last page of Into The Water. This is easily one of the most forgettable books I’ve read, and that makes me sad, coming from the same writer as The Girl on the Train.

Paula Hawkins, I’m not mad. Just disappointed.

Rating: 2.5*

Amazon | Goodreads

Shadow In The Mirror, by Deepti Menon

imagesShadow In The Mirror: A Thrilling Quest for Redemption is a book whose subtitle does not quite go with the plot. It starts with the suicide of a pregnant woman named Nita. Vinny, a journalist, who is covering the story receives a note that says Nita did not commit suicide, but was murdered.

I honestly believe this story would have been much better had the whole scene with the note been avoided. We are told in the first chapter that it was a murder, and because we know it, we identify the murderer just a few chapters later. If the reader was convinced that it was suicide throughout, and if the murder angle was revealed only at the end, the word “thrilling” in the subtitle would have been justified. In this case, there’s not so much as a twist as a blatantly obvious conclusion with regards to the identity of the murderer. There’s not a lot of redemption either – those who are mad stay mad and those who are sad stay sad. Those who are dead (thankfully) stay dead.

With that said, the most interesting character in this story overrun with too many characters is in fact the murderer. Not that she/he committed the murder, but her/his history, as revealed in the chapter set in 1962, Dark Icy Winter. That was one twist that I did not see coming, and was totally impressed with that storyline.

The language is simple, and therefore this was a breezy read.

Too breezy.

And with that, we come to the flaws: the plot is wafer thin. Too many characters running amok in the story, but almost nothing of substance. Nothing meaty. All their backstories felt rushed, and there was too much telling and absolutely no showing. Do not tell me again and again that a character has “always” been a certain way (friendly/moody/artistic/level-headed/business-minded/whathaveyou), show it to me! Given the number of characters in the book, a little more care could have been taken to turn it into a character study of sorts – jealousy, possessiveness, effect of aging etc. Alas, it was a wasted opportunity – only the murderer’s psyche was fully delved into.

Some characters added nothing to the plot, such Kavita’s maid or the whole Gautam angle.

The prose is covered with a thick layer of adjectives, adverbs, cliches, and dead idioms and metaphors. While in the beginning, every setting was described in purple, this reduced as the story progressed. There was, however, no shortage of extra adjectives. Even the cliches and idioms take away from the reading experience and you wish the style of writing could have been better.

The plot takes you from 1958 to 1994. I noticed some inconsistencies in the timelines that I can’t quite wrap my head around. If you look at the dates preceding the chapters, technically this should make sense. But if you close your eyes to the dates and read only the plot, you feel there are some things off. For example, Roma and Vinny were once classmates, so let’s assume they’re of the same age. In one chapter, Roma is said to be older than Nita: “Roma had been shrewd enough to realize the immense advantages of playing tag with a girl, who despite being slightly younger than her, would catapult her straight into the upper bracket of society.” On the other hand, towards the end, it is revealed that Vinny is younger than Nita. Also, in 1989, Roma has a teenage daughter who runs away and becomes a model – considerable amount of time should have passed between these events but there’s definitely a mismatch. And there are several instances where the story jumps in time, but the same does not translate on to the page (no extra line gaps/section breaks). One such instance is: “Vinny brought with her all the normal upheavals that a brand new baby does. . . late nights, erratic feeds, colic and the smell of vomit and Johnson’s baby powder everywhere. “Mummy!” trilled Vinny one day when she got back from kindergarten.” When did kindergarten happen out of the blue? We were talking about colic, weren’t we? You feel at times that the author’s thoughts are not being correctly conveyed through the writing.

On the whole, Shadow In The Mirror is OK. It’s not a new story, but it definitely takes a longer route to reach the usual destination. It’s fast-paced (albeit at the cost of character development) and it keeps the reader mildly curious. Read it if you want a break from heavy literature.

Goodreads | Amazon

PS: I received a PDF copy of the book from Readomania. My review is honest and unbiased.

The Girl On The Train, by Paula Hawkins

Confession time: I first picked The Girl On The Train up a few months ago and did not finish it then, because I felt it was moving too slow for my tapaula-hawkins-girl-train-sreesha-divakaran-rain-and-bookste. Plus, I assumed it was yet another one of those over-hyped runaway hits. I remember it was being touted as the next Gone Girl or something (for the record, I haven’t read Gone Girl).

Big, big mistake, I gotta say! This book is spine-chillingly, goosebumps-rendering-ly brilliant! (apologies for the weird adverbs). I should not have abandoned it the first time.

The Girl On The Train is the story of Rachel Watson, who, after going through a bitter divorce, sinks into deep depression and alcoholism. She is fired from her job, but she cannot bring herself to admit this to Cathy, her roommate. So she takes a train to London every morning, pretending to go to work and returns every evening. From the train, she can see her old house, the one she shared with her husband Tom Watson, where he now lives with his new wife, Anna, and their daughter Evie. A few doors down is another house – of a young couple, who look very much in love to Rachel. She observes them every day, names them Jess and Jason. Their real names are Megan and Scott Hipwell. One day, Megan goes missing, and Rachel gets embroiled in the mystery, because she is convinced she knows something about the disappearance, but she cannot piece it together because of memory loss caused by her drinking habit.

This is a story filled with darkness. Brilliantly written, through multiple POVs, following a non-linear sequence. It’s frightening that despite the flaws of all the characters, in an odd way, I could relate to them all! Creepy, right?

Very few authors surprise me any more. I am not boasting, but I’ve read several well-received thrillers where I could figure out the ending from a mile away. Honestly, I expected the same from this book, what with my mind all clouded with, “Oh this is just one of those…” but I got engrossed, and the ending just came at me like a… well, like a train (sorry, couldn’t resist!) I did not expect that! Shocking and superb.

Highly recommended!

Rating: 4.5/5

Buy it on Amazon.