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Posts Tagged ‘missing children’

LITTLE DEATHS by Emma Flint: Book Review

If a woman drinks too much, has multiple affairs with married men while she herself is married, and leaves her children alone at night while she’s at work, she’s definitely not a candidate for Mother of the Year.  But does that make her a murderer?

Ruth Malone is simply too attractive, too sensual for her own good.  She married young in order to leave the unpleasant home she shared with her mother, had two children in quick succession, and now realizes she wants more out of life.  Her part-time job as a cocktail waitress makes it easy for her to attract men, and she has no scruples about wearing provocative clothing and lots of makeup to enhance her already sultry looks.  She does love her young children, Frankie and Cindy, but their neediness is often more than she can handle.  Sometimes she has to take long walks at midnight or sit on the front step smoking, just to breathe and get some time alone.

As Little Deaths opens, Ruth is in prison, trying to deal with the overcrowding, dirt, and smells that overwhelm her every day.  So right from the beginning we know that she’s been convicted of a crime, although we’re not certain what it is.  But that knowledge comes along quickly, as Ruth wakes one morning and the children’s bedroom is empty, the screen pushed out of their first-floor window.  She calls her husband Frank, from whom she is separated, the police, and then her mother, and a search is begun.

It’s not difficult to see that Ruth is desperately unhappy with her life.  She dislikes her mother, has little respect for her estranged husband, can barely make ends meet, and feels overwhelmed by the demands that her children place on her.  She also has no sense of how she appears to others, at least to others she is not trying to seduce.  She ignores her neighbors, dresses very differently from the lower-middle-class women around her, and smokes and drinks way more than is good for her.  Her only outlet is the men she meets while working, men who tip big, buy her drinks, and are happy to take her to a motel for a couple of hours.  But then the same problems start all over the next day.

Little Deaths is Emma Flint’s first novel, hard to believe given the compelling voices of the narrative.  The reader can hardly understand Ruth’s total unawareness of how others, particularly her neighbors and the police, perceive her, but Ms. Flint makes the case convincingly for a woman whose only assets are her looks.  Her heavy makeup and the clothing choices that she makes even after the bodies of Frankie and Cindy are found seem reasonable to her; her goal is to show that she’s strong and in control.

To the police, however, all this is evidence that she’s the one responsible for her children’s deaths.  The detectives see the messy apartment, the trash filled with liquor bottles, and, most damning of all, the suitcase under the bed filled with love notes sent by various men.  They’re convinced that Ruth has killed her children and don’t seriously look any further.  But are they right?

Little Deaths is a debut not to be missed.

You can read more about Emma Flint at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.


LITTLE BLACK LIES by Sharon Bolton: Book Review

You know that feeling when you begin reading a mystery and know from page one that it’s going to be a winner?  That’s the experience I had after reading the first paragraph of Little Black Lies, and the rest of the novel didn’t let me down.

Little Black Lies takes place in the Falkland Islands, an archipelago off the eastern coast of South America.  Catrin Quinn is a life-long resident of the islands, and she is at her emotional breaking point.  Three years earlier her two children were in the car of her best friend, Rachel Grimwood, and were left alone for just a minute when the car slid down a cliff.  Both boys were killed instantly.  Naturally, Catrin’s life fell apart–she and her husband Ben divorced shortly afterwards, and she hasn’t spoken to Rachel since the accident.

Now, only two days before the third anniversary of her sons’ death, Catrin has made a decision.  “I believe just about anyone can kill in the right circumstances, given enough motivation,” she says to herself.  “The question is, am I there yet?”

Stanley, the island’s capital, is a small place, and it’s very difficult for Catrin to avoid both her ex-husband and her ex-best friend, but she tries.  She cannot stop herself, however, from frequently driving past Rachel’s house late at night, imaging Rachel inside with her three children, doing the mothering things that Catrin can no longer do.  With each drive-by she gets closer to her ultimate desire, punishing Rachel as she herself has been punished.

Events in Stanley are spiraling out of control.  As the novel opens, there is a hunt on for a young boy, the third boy to go missing in three years.  Little Archie West is out picnicking with his family when they lose sight of him for a few minutes; then he is gone.  An all-island search is being conducted, with no one wanting to give voice to the fear that, like the other two boys, Archie will never be found.

At the same time the search for the youngster is going on, there’s another disaster in the making on the small island of Speedwell.  There is a mass beaching of pilot whales, hundreds of them, leaving the water and going aground on the sand.  Of course, once they’re on the sand, they’re unable to breathe and will die unless they can be forced/guided back to the ocean.  Scientists have various theories about what causes these beachings–one of the whales can have a virus, be hit by a ship, have its navigational system go wrong–but the results are fatal for them.  If one whale swims into shallow water and can’t get back into deeper water, the whole pod will follow.

Sharon Bolton has written a terrific thriller that will hold you enthralled until the last page.  And even then, I promise you will be totally unprepared for the book’s ending.

You can read more about Sharon Bolton at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.



BLUE MONDAY by Nicci French: Book Review

“Wow” is the only word with which to begin a review of Blue Monday.  It expresses my thoughts about every part of the novel–the plot, the characters, the setting.

Two sisters are walking home from school in 1987.  The nine-year-old girl wants to get to the neighborhood candy store quickly and is annoyed that the younger one, age five, is loitering and holding her back.  Finally, the older girl’s desire for candy gets too strong, and she runs ahead to start looking at the display cases and choosing her treats.  And then, two minutes later when she looks around, her sister is gone.

Skip ahead to the present and meet Frieda Klein, a well-regarded, thirty-something psychiatrist.  A new patient is brought to Frieda at the clinic where she works.  Alan Dekker had originally been referred to another psychiatrist, but that referral didn’t work out well.  It went so badly, in fact, that Alan is thinking of making an official complaint.  Thus the patient is brought to Frieda in hopes she can work with him and possibly dissuade him from reporting the first doctor.

Alan at first seems to be in the middle of a mid-life crisis, although he’s a bit young for that, but it gradually comes out that he’s having a type of panic attack.  He and his wife want children, but lately he has been unable to perform sexually and refuses to consider adoption.  He wants a child of his own, he says, both to his wife and Frieda.

He’s been dreaming about this child and describes the child and his dream in detail:  it will be a boy, five years old, with red hair like his, and he’s teaching him to play football.  He admits to Frieda that he’s had similar attacks and dreams in the past, when he was in his early twenties, but that time his dreams involved a young girl.  Alan doesn’t know why he’s having these attacks and dreams again, more than twenty years later, but they are definitely impacting his life and his relationship with his wife.

And then, several days after Alan discusses his dream with Frieda, a five-year-old boy is snatched from in front of his school in an almost exact repeat of the abduction of the five-year-old girl twenty-two years earlier.  And Frieda isn’t sure what to make of Alan and his dream.

This powerful novel is the first in a series featuring Frieda Klein.  We’re given little information about her.  She’s single, never been married, and for some reason is estranged from her birth family.  Her only contact with relatives is with her neurotic sister-in-law Olivia whose husband, Frieda’s brother, has left her for a much younger woman, and her niece Chloe who has been cutting herself for years.

Blue Monday is a powerful novel, one that will have your heart racing.  All the characters have deep layers, some of which are peeled off one by one, but there are always some remaining.  The ending has multiple surprises, but they all make sense.

Nicci French is the pseudonym of Sean French and Nicci Gerrard, an English husband and wife writing team.  The second book in the Frieda Klein series has just been released in the United States, and you may be sure I’ll be reading it before the year ends.

You can read more about the Nicci French collaboration on their web site.

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