Review : All The Missing Girls

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Author : Megan Miranda

Publication Date : October 2015

Publisher(s) : Simon & Schuster ( US )  &

Corvus ( UK )

When the suspense / detective fiction genres stayed simple , we had a crime or a string of crimes  , a detective and a good number of suspects . Sometimes these detectives came with their own sidekicks who will be the faithful chronicler / comic relief and sometimes bring his / her own accidental observations to the table which would help the sleuth to identify the perpetrator of the crime(s) . Then one sidekick proved that the detective needs to keep an eye on the person behind him too – one of the early books in the genre to feature an unreliable narrator . Then our crime fiction writers pounced upon it and now it has been done to death .

*Review starts here for the reader who can’t bother with my musings*

Once in a while , a writer is game enough to try something unusual in the way a story is told . And if the book becomes a bestseller , it would become yet another latest literary trope that several subsequent releases would implement . Megan Miranda has tackled an interesting narrative technique in her debut novel and has done it really well – the narrative traces the storyline in reverse : from Day 15 to Day 1 . Sounds interesting right ? ? I am waiting to see how this newest narrative technique picks up .

Here ‘ s brief summary of the story line –

Nicolette Farrell receives a letter from her father – ” I need to talk to you . That girl . I saw that girl ‘ . ‘ That girl ‘ is Corinne Prescott , her best friend who disappeared without a trace ten years ago . Nicolette left her hometown after Corinne ‘ s disappearance  and lives in Philadelphia . She returns home , concerned that her father ‘ s dementia has worsened or has he actually seen Corinne ? .

Then , another young lady disappears , almost to the day of the anniversary of when Corinne vanished . The townspeople relive Corinne ‘ s disappearance once again – searches are conducted ; everyone becomes a suspect . . . but there is no sign of the missing girl .

My thoughts on the book :

Nicolette is the narrator here and one can see what happens when the author goes with the first person narrative from a non –  sleuth character : The narrative has too much domestic drama rather than the sleuth action . I wouldn’t mind it if the story had a good pace though . . . Unfortunately , that was not the case here .

Nicolette ‘ s narrative comprises chiefly her teenage memories ( understandably ) –  the dynamics and the drama in the teenage friendships , relationship troubles and almost everything in between about her teenage years .  While Megan has played well with the plot points involving teenage psyche and even the psychological make – up of the characters in the present , Nicolette going on and on about her feelings then and now sometimes becomes too irritating . Then , there is the ” capture the moment ” writing where Nicolette points out every insignificant thing in the scene . While the hyper-realistic approach might work for the literary fiction / contemporary fiction genres , it slows down the pace and ( at-least for me ) it was really frustrating .  Only Megan’s pretty good writing kept me turning the pages .

A humble suggestion to the new crop of authors who feel a book must have 300 + pages to qualify as a book :

All this exposition of the characters’ psyche in addition to the real life drama is good only when the drama doesn’t become melodrama ( at-least by the standards of the suspense genre ) with detailed descriptions of what the character actually is feeling / might be feeling  .  Few genres like suspense could do very well without long – winded and flowery descriptions and metaphors coined by you .

After navigating through the torrent of drama in Nicolette ‘ s life , it is somewhat difficult to appreciate the really good ending . There were few scenarios where I also felt the characters did not react consistent with their characterization .One of my earlier reads also had the same problem of too much distracting stuff – coincidentally that too had a sighting of a girl who had been missing  for a long time .

Some suggestions to the new crop of crime fiction authors who feel a book must have 300 + pages to qualify as a book ( especially for newbie ‘ s who are right now banging away at their keyboards to write the next Gone Girl or the next Girl On The Train :

All this exposition of the characters’ psyche in addition to the real life drama is good only when the drama doesn’t become melodrama ( at-least by the standards of the suspense genre ) with detailed descriptions of what the character actually is feeling / might be feeling  .  Few genres like suspense could do very well without long – winded and flowery descriptions and metaphors coined by you . I would like to quote Stephen King here –

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one in your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day…fifty the day after that…and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s—GASP!!—too late.” 

It has become sort of a trend nowadays for crime fiction writers to fill up the pages with too many details & preferences of the characters , I wonder why . . .

A final word –

Also this needs to be a one sitting read so that you don’t get confused by the reverse narrative . When you go for multiple sittings ( like I had to , unfortunately ) the reading experience won’t be very great . However , it is a superb storyline and for a debut author to experiment with the narrative technique and pulling it off successfully , it is really remarkable .

You can pick this book if you are ready to give it enough time . If you want a racy read , then this wouldn ‘ t be a good pick . If you have already read this book , how do you feel about this book ?

Is there something in the post you disagree with ? Feel free to write about it as well in the comments section . . .

Until the next review then . . .

Book review : The Appearance of Murder

downloadAuthor : John Nightingale

Publication Date : October 2015

Publisher : Spider Monkey Books

Plot summary :

David Knight has decided to stay at home and finish his long overdue latest book featuring his regular sleuth Tom Travis while his wife and two sons went on a week long vacation to the country . On the first day of this much – awaited week , with his wife and sons absent , David is sitting at his desk with a glass of wine , determined to keep his word to his family and definitely his agent . The doorbell rings and David opens the door to this caller , with no idea of what he is inviting in . . .

The young woman , Perdita shows a photograph and claims that one of the five men in the photograph is her father . And David is in the photograph . With rumors that one of them might have also murdered their musician friend from some twenty – five years back , the week is off to a great start . Since neither option is going to make explanations to his wife easier , he can only hope to get the questions about the young woman ‘ s parentage and  the identity of the murderer in a possible sleeping murder  answered , before his wife returns from her vacation . The trouble is that David has a gaping black hole in his memory concerning that time period . . . The more he comes to know about that time period , the more incriminating the facts seem to be for him . . .

My thoughts about the book :

John Nightingale ‘ s addition of David Knight & Jerry Davis to detective fiction is a timely one I think . We couldn’t dream of another detective – sidekick duo who could take it up from Sherlock Holmes & Watson – that ‘s why Gatiss and Moffat had to transport Holmes to the 21st century and get him solve crimes which were again spin-offs from the crimes he had already solved . Of course , now he is more tech-savvy as the times and the crimes demand .  The Sherlockian fandom is too particular  that getting the Sherlockian vibes right is too great a burden for several of the crime fiction writers out  there I guess  . When you can get an idea about some of the struggles of a crime fiction writer  in David ‘ s portrayal , the last thing any writer would need is a character who has too much of a life of it ‘ s own . And Sherlock , needless to say is guilty of that ‘ presence ‘ .  I think that is why Sophie Hannah was ready to try her hands at a Poirot mystery  but Gatiss & Moffat were happy to keep several elements of the cases intact even in the spin-offs . I guess that should be a discussion for another post . . .

It is a smart move to make David Knight a crime fiction writer and not yet another consulting detective . Because any detective who is to come will always be in the long shadow of The Great Sherlock Holmes . When his creator could not write him off , how can one expect him to be shadowed by the newest arrival in the scene ? David is a decent writer who can put together a good mystery for his regular Tom Travis . But when there are elements of a mystery in his own life , he does not slip into the role of a detective with ease as one might imagine it of him , considering that he has built his career by throwing Tom Travis into several such situations and working out his splendid denouement in the last pages that has gained Travis a loyal following . Instead , when he tries to jump into the shoes of his own creation and think like him , he is slowly getting to understand that detection was never easy as Tom Travis seemed to make it . . .

Thankfully , for once the side-kick thinks –  maybe that’s because I have not ventured beyond Poirot & Holmes when it comes to detective duos . . .  Jerry is the man of action here .  You can dress him up in Holmes ‘ deerstalker hat and give him his pipe and the words  ” Come David , the game is afoot !! ”  would not sound out of character with him .  Those words would not go well with David who looks somewhat dazed every time  there is another plot twist  –  he has more of Dr Watson than Holmes in him .  Of course , David is the protagonist here – so we will  have David eventually rising up to his potential that gained Tom Travis his loyal following .

And all is well that ends well –  David has identified Perdita ‘ s father among his friends and the question of the murder is also finally settled . The pieces of the puzzle find their right places and the ending is immensely satisfying . David might not be a detective in every sense of the word who  can offer solid proofs for his deductions like Tom Travis  or Holmes does , still David ‘ s epiphany if not his detective skills can be relied upon  –  otherwise he would not have qualified to become the protagonist in the first place .  A man should have something that can be relied upon – even if it is only gut instinct or epiphany . . .

The tone is light-hearted  and there is  lot of wry humor and  interesting plot twists to keep  the reader guessing till the very last chapter .  As no lives hang in the balance and there is no race against time ,  readers can  read this book without  reactions like nail-biting , reading the last few pages because you would die without knowing who X is , breathlessness or stopping dead in the tracks due to some spine chilling plot twists . It is interesting to see that even genre fiction specimens like this one can offer interesting  variations with the plotting styles . . .

This is the first in a series of books featuring David Knight , the crime writer . For me , outings with David Knight & hopefully Jerry Davis will be an interesting deviation from all the tension packed crime fiction out there .  I would recommend it for holiday reading  for suspense fans when they need a respite from all the nail-biting and the tension of the regular fare and need to pick up something lighter . . .

P . S : This is just my little idea – David Knight may  have too many autobiographical elements of John Nightingale . The fact that the author chose to name his  protagonist Knight ( short form of Nightingale ) itself makes this suspicion stronger . When he describes the struggles of a crime fiction writer ,  we can say easily where it comes from . So , it might not be  a far fetched idea to say that Knight is a fictionalized portrait of the author himself  .  I was not sure if I should add my assumptions which might or might not be true . . .  But as an afterthought I decided to put it in the post . . .

If you have already read the book , you can say in the comments section if you agree with my idea . . . Until the next review then . . .

The Unexpected Guest by Agatha Christie ( novelized by Charles Osborne )

downloadThis is a novelization by Charles Osborne of a play by Agatha Christie of the same name . This is my first audio book by the  ” inimitable ” Hugh Fraser as a lady had described the narrator in her comment . This was my introduction to Hugh Fraser and I am not aware of his reputation .

( Just now googled to the person who has been praised to the skies  for the narration of an audio book – if there are any Hugh Fraser fans , please put down my ignorance to having very little zero idea about actors from other countries  who had started their careers  before 1990 s  . . . Can ‘ t say I know several from Bollywood also . . )

* Review starts here *

Plot summary :

Michael Starkwedder has run his car into a ditch on a foggy night . He visits a nearby house in the isolated spot where he finds the dead body of an invalid man and a woman who holds a gun and confesses to the murder . He gets to know that the couple are the Warwicks – Richard Warwick , an ex big – game hunter and his wife ,  Laura Warwick . On getting to know more about Richard Warwick , Starkwedder decides that a beautiful woman like Laura should not languish in prison even if she had committed the crime .

So , he masterminds a drama , for the benefit of the police and the other inmates of the house . Laura goes with his plan and they lay the blame upon a man named MacGreggor from Richard ‘ s past , whose son had been run over by Richard .

So , what happens next when the police come into the picture ? Do they discover the drama being staged by the duo and unmask the real killer ? Or do Laura Warwick and Michael Starkwedder dupe the police also successfully ,  as they did the other inmates of the house ?

My thoughts on the book : 

Halfway through the book , having read several Christie creations over the years , I had actually predicted who the murderer was correctly except that I fell for the red – herrings quite badly when they came . However , with the big reveal scene , Christie again managed to surprise me with the string of events  . Charles Osborne has nailed the Christie tone – the narrative could have been from Christie ‘ s pen for a reader who is not aware of the fact that is a novelization of Christie ‘ s play by another  writer [ Osborne has however retained the dialogues from Christie ‘ s script for the play ] . With multiple suspects for whom Christie has supplied with enough motives to kill the victim ,  the reader is once again treated to a solidly plotted closed – circle mystery from Christie .

Yes , the narration was really good by Hugh Fraser . . . With just an audio recording time of 3:31:26 , it can be easily completed with a single sitting . The voices of the different characters were distinct that the reader would have had  no difficulty in identifying which character was speaking , even if the man had read the script of the play . . . On the whole , it was a very satisfying first – time audio – book experience  .

However there are a few observations I would like to record :

  • Only Christie ‘ s characters are daredevils who are game enough for an entanglement with the police to the extent that he is ready to manufacture evidences and fabricate stories because he wants to get a suspect off the police radar and SUCCEEDS in doing so easily  .  Is this the author taking a sly dig at the competency of the police force ?
  • A random stranger becomes  almost a part of the murder victim ‘ s family during the investigation  , because he had witnessed a man running from the house in the dark leaving behind the murder weapon  . . . ( I mean , why would the police detain a man for more than a day if he had not seen the face of the murderer except for procuring the murder weapon dropped by the murderer ? Why doesn ‘ t he get into the car once his questioning is over and leave the place ?  )  . I could not come to terms that a man easily becomes a guest in a house  and the police not getting suspicious about it . . . Again , it boils down to the same question : Is this the author taking a sly dig at the competency of the police force ?

Scenes like these are somewhat fantastic and would have been trashed if it had been written by another writer who does not have Christie ‘ s reputation . He or she would be told off as a writer who manufactures fantastic scenarios to drive the plot . But for Christie , the readers are happy not to question any of the events and allow her to tell the story her way . This is not an isolated instance of some fantastic – plot – elements inclusion , but still , Christie ‘ s unequaled storytelling  and the way she keeps the readers  guessing till the last  15 minutes never let her down .

Rating : 3. 5 / 5

If you have already read the book , tell me your thoughts about the book in the comments section below . . . Is there something in the post you disagree with ? Feel free to write about it as well in the comments section . . .

For those who want to check out the audio-book , here is the link

Until the next review then . . .