The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid

2nd June 2020.   4 stars.

One of the joys of crime fiction is the number of series available, whether by established or new authors. While many police procedurals are similar or different versions of the same formula, some are more distinctive.

The Mermaids Singing, written in the 1990s, introduces psychological profiler Tony Hill. He’s a damaged character with a lot to prove, especially to police forces used to solving crimes by the book. After three murders the police refuse to connect, he’s brought in secretly to help identify and capture a serial killer. He’s teamed with Carol Jordan, an ambitious fast-track detective inspector, who’s also got a lot to prove to her male colleagues.

The killer, who’s obsessed with torture, is a meticulous planner, well ahead of the police. The trouble is, they won’t acknowledge him and give him the credit and publicity he feels he deserves. When Tony Hill enters the arena, you know there’s going to be a battle of intellects and wills. After all, this is a thriller at heart.

While the chapters relating to the killer were disturbing, they were restrained and essential to the thriller element of the story, increasing the tension as the story headed for an inevitable confrontation.

The characters of Jordan and Hill were well drawn and realistic. The pace was steady, building to an exciting climax with a neat, if predictable twist. It posed a few unanswered questions, but didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment.

I would certainly recommend the book as the writing is first rate, the story well told, and the atmosphere deadly but electric.

Description

You always remember the first time. Isn’t that what they say about sex? How much more true it is of murder…

Up till now, the only serial killers Tony Hill had encountered were safely behind bars. This one’s different – this one’s on the loose.

Four men have been found mutilated and tortured. As fear grips the city, the police turn to clinical psychologist Tony Hill for a profile of the killer. But soon Tony becomes the unsuspecting target in a battle of wits and wills where he has to use every ounce of his professional nerve to survive.

A tense, beautifully written psychological thriller, The Mermaids Singing explores the tormented mind of a serial killer unlike any the world of fiction has ever seen.

The Mermaids Singing

 

An interview with author J A Schneider

I’m delighted to welcome psychological suspense author, J A Schneider to Robservations. Her latest novel, What You’ve Done, is released tomorrow, 16th April 2020. I was lucky enough to read it recently and it’s brilliant, driven by a strong lead character in attorney, Mia Pearle, who feels a sense of responsibility and guilt when 16-year old Kelly is brutally murdered in a quiet town in Connecticut.

Having also read and thoroughly enjoyed Girl Watching You, I thought it was time to find out a little more about J A Schneider.

Please tell me a little about yourself and your writing.

When very young, I’d hear complaints that I’d rather read the back of cereal boxes than “join in the discussion.” Ha! Well, small talk can be small indeed, right? Much more thrilling to escape the mundane and imagine exciting stories. So that’s me at the core: wild imagination, cooking up stories since forever.

And that led to being a reader, which led to being a French literature major in college/university, which led me next to working at Newsweek…where everyone dreamed out loud about writing the next “great American novel.” Back then, I never dared dream I could actually write fiction but I listened, and kept reading everything, pulp to Jane Austen.

When did you first realise you wanted to be an author?

Maybe it was the moment I started timidly, not really serious but “what the heck, let’s see if I can string sentences together.” My husband Bob and I were living in Paris, I’d had two glasses of wine and was off – scribbling on the back of a paper menu in a café. He thought it was funny. Our waiter came along, looked curious, and tried to read over my shoulder. Bob told him I was writing a novel and he said, “Ooh, mais qu’est-ce qui se passe?” (What’s happening!?) Seeing him grin and his eyes light up was magic. It was the first time I had dared tell anyone not a loved one that I was writing fiction. Such a serendipity, but I started more seriously soon after.

Describe the first piece you wrote and what it meant to you?

When my children were young, I wrote first for our local newspaper – people interest stuff, historical stories about Colonial times in Connecticut. It was nice to see people react to them, less nice when people found fault – “Greenwich was not founded by the Dutch!” – so I decided, nuts to non-fiction, if you write fiction no one can argue, it’s your thing. Back to scribbling fiction I went.

What do you most enjoy about being an author?

Feeling an exciting idea come to me.

What do you least enjoy about being an author?

The marketing and promo part, since I publish independently.

What type of characters do you love and hate to write? Why?

Do you mean love but hate to write? None! I enjoy developing all characters, imagining their innermost thoughts. In a way the villain is the most fun. Peter Pan would be no story at all without Captain Hook.

Can you tell us about your time at Newsweek magazine and how it influenced your writing career?

It was the most writing-intense experience ever. Every Friday night was a deadline. We had to research and write fast but succinctly – no padding. I’d watch whole paragraphs I’d slaved over get cut…so there was that aspect. Also eye-opening were former writers who’d published bestsellers and quit, then come back to grin and tease: “What are you still doing here? Write a novel!”

I believe you keep a list of inspirational quotes. Could you share a couple of your favourites and how they relate to your writing journey?

  • “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekhov
  • “Every paragraph I write is a surprise to me. Ideas comes as I write.” Lee Child
  • “We’re not writers, we’re re-writers. Nobody gets it right the first time.” Stephen King

I write on my laptop, and for the first draft keep three documents open: In the centre, the growing story; to the left my “crutch” with lots of inspirational quotes, & to the right the story’s outline – which only goes down as I figure out the story…not before. I’ve tried to outline before I start, and can’t.

You’ve written two series and standalone novels? Which do you prefer and why?

Love ‘em both. It’s like deciding which of your children is your favorite. Series stories are somewhat easier, because I already know the main characters. Readers also enjoy feeling familiarity with the characters…but again, I do like mulling whole new standalone ideas, like a box of chocolates.

How would you describe your books to someone who has never read one before?

High adrenaline romantic suspense thrillers often with police procedural.

What’s the best compliment you’ve received about your books?

“You’ve helped me. Helped me get through dark times just by being able to escape.”

Do you have any favourite authors? What is it about them or their work that appeals to you?

Ira Levin: (Rosemary’s Baby, The Boys From Brazil, The Stepford Wives) I re-read him often, am still astonished at how he conveys so much with so few words.

Agatha Christie’s best (And Then There Were None, Death on the Nile, others) Same: her ability to say much with few words.

James Patterson: I love his pace, fast action; also his ability to say much with few words.

If you could invite four guests (fictional or real, alive or dead) for dinner, who would you choose and why?

Smile…JFK was asked that question and he said, “I’d just want Thomas Jefferson dining alone.” J  But okay, four guests? How ‘bout James Patterson, Ira Levin, Don Rickles and Mel Brooks? What fun that would be!

Please tell me about your latest project/plans for the future.

The next thriller. Will probably feature Mia Peale and Jay Colter.

Thank you for some fascinating insights into the way you work and what motivates and inspires you to write fiction. Good luck with the launch and the book.

What You've Done

A small town divorce lawyer (“I know people’s secrets”) blames herself when a client’s teen daughter is brutally murdered. She investigates and finds herself the killer’s next target.

Grieving the loss of her NYPD detective husband, former defence attorney Mia Peale moves to Grand Cove, Connecticut, desperate for a sense of community and hoping to rebuild her life. Now, starting a family law practice, she’s finally found friends and peace – until the teen daughter of one of her clients is brutally murdered, and the girl’s boyfriend stands accused.

Kelly Payne was an adored high school track star. Brian Hall is a poor boy in a rich town, and the community is outraged. But Mia has known Brian since her arrival and can’t believe he’s guilty, despite strong circumstantial evidence against him. As his defence turns lacklustre, she asks Grand Cove police detective Jay Colter for help. Jay is also sceptical of the police and DA’s case and takes them on, especially when Mia’s friend from her former Manhattan law firm uncovers a frighteningly similar murder in the city. Secretly, Jay helps Mia investigate both murders, but his alarm grows as her life is threatened by a maniac hiding among them.

You can find J A Schneider on

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joyce.schneider.142?fref=ts (friends)

https://www.facebook.com/JASchneiderAuthor?fref=ts   (author)

Twitter:   https://twitter.com/JoyceSchneider1

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5832782.J_A_Schneider

Website: http://jaschneiderauthor.net

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/j-a-schneider

 

Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech

11th January 2020.    4 stars.

I find many psychological suspense stories formulaic, relying on dark family secrets being slowly peeled away. Star Girl was quite different, being focused on the death of a pregnant woman, Vicky Valbon.

The story is told by Stella and her mother, Elizabeth, who abandoned her daughter at a young age. It jumps back and forth in time, which helps to build tension and suspense as more details are revealed. At times it felt like there were too many background details, slowing the pace and drawing out the story to delay revelations and key developments.

The characters are intense and driven by passion, often selfishly, often darkly, but the author portrays them sympathetically and deeply so you understand them and the way they think and behave. The intensity of the characters drives events and the consequences that lead towards a shocking climax. Several further twists then follow. Though they are clever and reveal what really happened to Vicky Valbon, I thought the twists drew out the ending, just taking the edge off the emotional impact.

Dark, occasionally disturbing, but always intriguing, Call Me Star Girl is a complex, consuming story that will take you on an emotional roller coaster. It will leave you drained but glad you took the ride.

Description

Stirring up secrets can be deadly … especially if they’re yours…

Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago – and her killer hasn’t been caught.

Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers.

Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after fourteen years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father …

What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station … who says he knows who killed Victoria, and has proof.

Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything…

Call Me Star Girl

The Family by Louise Jensen

6th November 2019.  2 stars.

After reading some of the reviews for this psychological thriller, I started the book with high expectations. The first impressions were good. The story was told through the eyes of the three main characters, Laura, her daughter, Tilly, and Alex, who ran the community. They took it in turns to present their version of the events that unfolded.

The emotional states of the characters were particularly well portrayed, and the unresolved problems each one had helped to create the suspense needed for this type of story.

But despite the good writing, I never fully engaged or connected with these characters. I’m not sure why because they were realistic enough. Maybe their many secrets and past tragedies, which were hinted at regularly, got in the way, slowing the pace of the story. When the pace finally picked up towards the end, many of the twists and surprises felt more like convenient coincidences.

I wanted to like the story, but finished it feeling disappointed. The slow pace meant it never really got going for me. I never felt uneasy or threatened because I didn’t connect with the three viewpoint characters. And the revelations that explained the characters’ problems felt contrived, taking the edge off any surprises.

Description

ONCE YOU’RE IN, THEY’LL NEVER LET YOU LEAVE.

At Oak Leaf Farm you will find a haven.
Welcome to The Family.

Laura is grieving after the sudden death of her husband. Struggling to cope emotionally and financially, Laura is grateful when a local community, Oak Leaf Organics, offer her and her 17-year-old daughter Tilly a home.

But as Laura and Tilly settle into life with their new ‘family’, sinister things begin to happen. When one of the community dies in suspicious circumstances Laura wants to leave but Tilly, enthralled by the charismatic leader, Alex, refuses to go.

Desperately searching for a way to save her daughter, Laura uncovers a horrifying secret but Alex and his family aren’t the only ones with something to hide. Just as Laura has been digging into their past, they’ve been digging into hers and she discovers the terrifying reason they invited her and Tilly in, and why they’ll never let them leave…

The Family by Louise Jensen

Girl Watching You by J A Schneider

5th September 2019.   5 stars.

I loved this psychological thriller from the first page. The writing was smooth, intriguing and sharp. Ava Beck’s intensity and compulsion was as addictive as it was reckless, drawing me into her troubled life and her belief that a womanising customer had killed his girlfriend.

But what to do about it – leave it to the police? Or get yourself into even deeper trouble?

The emotional level never dropped throughout the twisting story, which swerved and detoured before delivering a twist I didn’t see coming, leading to a heart-in-the-mouth climax. It just goes to show how easy it is to make wrong judgements.

All the characters were sharply drawn and convincing, pulling me into their often convoluted worlds. No one was quite who they seemed to be, leading to the edgy atmosphere that’s essential in a psychological thriller. As the pace and action picked up, I was never quite sure who to trust and who to dispel.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys intense and edgy psychological thrillers. I certainly look forward to reading more by JA Schneider.

Description

Out of work actress Ava Beck, reduced to working in a West Village flower shop, starts to watch handsome, womanizing hedge funder Peter Greer, who lives near. He likes to romance his girlfriends with flowers.

Ava notices bruises on his troubled-looking date named Chloe. Concerned, she follows them after work to Chloe’s studio, second floor in the rear of a brownstone. She hears them arguing, climbs up the fire escape just as Greer angrily sees her….and plunges into a world of stunning twists, murder and madness worse than any she could have imagined…

Girl Watching You

The Lie by CL Taylor

8th January 2019 – 5 stars.

I haven’t enjoyed a psychological thriller this much since I read Joy Fielding’s, See Jane Run, over 20 years ago.

The breakdown of friendship and the revenge that followed are at the heart of this thrilling story. From the intriguing opening to the gripping climax, I was hooked by Jane Hughes’ journey to hell and back.

Alternating between the past and the present, The Lie tells the story of four friends who embark on a holiday at a retreat in Nepal. Jane has put the horrors of that holiday behind her to rebuild her life with a new name, a job she loves and a caring boyfriend. But the spectre of that holiday threatens to destroy her happiness by revealing what really happened and Jane’s part in it.

The author builds the suspense and tension slowly and gently as little by little the events of the holiday turn into a nightmare. The changes in the characters and their relationships are vividly portrayed as their friendship crumbles and new allegiances are formed.

Back in the present, Jane’s new world slowly disintegrates until she trusts no one.

The pace, characterisation and unveiling of the past were accomplished and brilliantly handled, keeping me hooked and entertained throughout.

If you love good, character-driven psychological thrillers, then I’d recommend The Lie without hesitation.

Description

I know your name’s not really Jane Hughes . . .

Jane Hughes has a loving partner, a job in an animal sanctuary and a tiny cottage in rural Wales. She’s happier than she’s ever been but her life is a lie. Jane Hughes does not really exist.

Five years earlier Jane and her then best friends went on holiday but what should have been the trip of a lifetime rapidly descended into a nightmare that claimed the lives of two of the women.

Jane has tried to put the past behind her but someone knows the truth about what happened. Someone who won’t stop until they’ve destroyed Jane and everything she loves . . .

The Lie by CL Taylor