Thursday, 30 December 2010

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Quick Review - MISSING

Missing by Karin Alvtegen
Published – 2000
Translated from Swedish by Anna Paterson

Though born to a wealthy family, Sybilla Forsenstrom has for 15 years been homeless by choice. She has no address, no identifying papers, and is invisible among the other homeless in Stockholm. Her one tie to her unhappy past is a monthly stipend she receives from her mother--providing she remains invisible. She has been scrupulously saving the money, for her big dream is to buy a small place of her own in the country.

With all her possessions and necessities in backpack and briefcase, Sybilla moves about the city and countryside like a shadow. She has learned all the tricks: how to travel free, where she can find washing facilities, places where she can warm herself during harsh Swedish winters. She resides for weeks at a time in cottages whose owners are away, and leaves no trace she was there.

Occasionally she dons her one good outfit and dines in an upscale hotel, acting as a businesswoman on the road, charming and conning male travelers into paying for her meal and room. For years the game has gone well. A good meal quells her constant hunger, a luxurious room ensures one night of warmth, a fragrant bath, and comfortable sleep.

Then her mark is murdered in his hotel room, his body mutilated. Sybilla was the last person seen with the victim. Her fingerprints are on his key card. This "evidence" combined with mental problems she had in the past makes her an easy suspect. The only suspect.

Too frightened to go to the police, Sybilla is on the run. When a second and then a third man is killed in a similar gruesome manner, she becomes the most wanted serial killer in Sweden. The story of her troubled youth screams from newspaper headlines and across television screens.

She hides in a school attic to rest and regroup, and there meets fifteen year old Patric, a similarly isolated loner. Over the course of several days they become trusted friends, and when a fourth murder is committed, Patric vows to help her prove her innocence.

Proficient using computers, able to hack into police files, Patric learns names of people who might be involved in the murders. He and Sybilla follow up on the leads, with Sybilla dipping into her precious fund to pay expenses.

As they get closer to the truth, Sybilla, worried about Patric's future should his involvement with her become known, strikes out on her own and bravely confronts the killer.

Deftly plotted, Missing is both suspenseful thriller and detailed psychological study of a gritty survivor. Sybilla's struggles are interwoven with flashbacks of her unhappy childhood trying desperately to please cold and distant parents, and the culmination of harrowing events that drove her to become one of the Missing.

Conclusion: I enjoyed reading Sybilla's story. I was fully engaged and admired her intelligence and her determination to overcome enormous obstacles and live free. Many books I read and soon forget; this one has stayed with me.


Saturday, 13 March 2010

Quick Review - Alone

Published 2005

Part police procedural, part dark psychological suspense, this well-written chiller kept me turning the pages. (Through most of the book.)

The two main characters dragged huge amounts of baggage through the story.

Massachusetts State Trooper Bobby Dodge is a member of the elite Boston STOP team. An on-the-wagon alcoholic, he's been struggling for thirty years with mother abandonment issues, brought on by his violent, hard-drinking father.

Catherine Gagnon was at the age twelve kidnapped and kept for weeks in a dark hole by a sick rapist. The experience shattered her young life and haunts her more than twenty years later, when she is trapped in marriage to a physically abusive man.

Called out to a domestic incident in a posh Boston neighborhood, Bobby shoots Catherine's husband Jimmy as he is about to kill her.

Bad move. Jimmy Gagnon's father, a wealthy supreme court judge, charges Bobby with murder. The resulting investigation probes deeply into Bobby's life and has him questioning his existence and his actions.

Despised by her father-in-law, Catherine is accused of using Bobby to get rid of her husband. Making matters worse, the judge also accuses her of trying to gain attention and sympathy by poisoning her four year old son, who has been mysteriously ill since birth

Making matters worser (sic) the man who terrorized Catherine as a child has been released from prison. Using the name Mr. Bosu, he receives a list of names and a sum of money and gleefully embarks on a murder spree, systematically disposing of everyone close to Catherine.

The gripping story unfolds, bad piled upon bad, almost depressingly so.
But as secrets are revealed my fascination with the story fell flat, and when I learned the why of it all, I was underwhelmed. I could not believe in the story any more. Nor did I believe in the characters any longer, except for Mr. Bosu, one of the better villains I've come across. His motives were clear; everyone else's made no sense to me.

Conclusion: taut, well-paced thriller that falls apart at the end.

Monday, 1 February 2010


Published in 1998

Ann Rule, a master of the true crime genre, tackles the case of a woman who has it all, then ends up doing two consecutive hard forties--forty years in prison for a capital offense in place of the death penalty--for the murders of two of her children and attempted murder of her third child and husband.

Debora Green and Mike Farrar seemed to have a perfect life. Both doctors, they had three active children and an affluent lifestyle. But beneath her devoted wife and mother facade, Debora concealed a volatile personality--she was subject to debilitating insecurities, extreme jealousy and violent rages.

After more than a decade, Mike had had enough and moved out. When their house burned to the ground, Debora and the children moved in with him. They bought a far grander house and Mike promised to make things work with his family. Life improved. For a while.

Once more reaching his limit with Debora, Mike again spoke of moving out and getting a divorce. This time the situation was different as he had met another woman.

Despite recurring bouts of ill health that brought him near death and the growing suspicion he was being poisoned, Mike moved out. Debora turned the children against their father with vile and untrue accusations, then began to drink heavily and take medication for depression. Mike often found her incoherent.

A stint in a psychiatric facility seemed to improve Debora's outlook and all seemed calm until one night Mike received a frantic phone call from a neighbor. His house was on fire! Debora was outside and one of their children managed to escape, but the other two died.

As the police and fire departments investigated it became apparent the fire was arson and the prime suspect with motive and means was Debora Green.

Rule gives us in meticulous detail facts of the investigation, who said/did what, dates, places, pictures. Involved doctors, investigators, lawyers, prosecutors, neighbors and friends add pertinent facts to the book.

Questions raised: Is Debora Green truly the monster who poisoned her husband, then plotted to kill her children by setting a fire that would trap them in their rooms? Is she a brilliant doctor who can't relate to people and, as some psychiatrists said, has the emotional intellect of a child? Can she reasonably claim she didn't know what she had done?

I pitied her at times. At others couldn't wait for her to be locked away.

I certainly pitied Mike for what he had to go through, yet wondered more than once why, knowing how unstable she was, he left the children in her care. Wishful thinking? Hoping for the best? I suppose his motives are another story, another book.

My greatest pity was for the children, two innocent lives lost, one changed forever. Though Rule assures us their lives were fairly normal I can't imagine this myself. They knew what was going on, however their love for their mother kept them fiercely loyal.

Conclusion: Like an episode of Law And Order, we see events unfold and lead toward a horrific crime, then the thorough work of prosecutors building their case. I found much of the book a suspenseful page turner.