Joyland by Stephen King

Summary: Saying Joyland by Stephen King is a mix of a horror story and a crime novel wouldn’t be quite right: it’s the kind of book that you couldn’t squeeze into one genre. It is about twenty-one year old, mopey, just-broken-up-with-his-first-love Devin Jones who does a summer job at an amusement park, Joyland (where they sell fun.) On his first day, two mysterious things happen. One: Madame Fortuna, the resident fortune teller and an apparent psychic, predicts that Devin would meet two important children during his work at Joyland, one of them with the Sight. Two: Devin hears of the ghost that haunts the park’s only dark ride, Horror House. A little sleuthing leads him to the tragic murder of Linda Gray, by a man who slit her throat and dumped her in the darkest part of the amusement ride; the murderer was never caught. Intrigued by the stories, slightly suicidal after his break-up, Devin finds himself turning his summer stint at Joyland into a full time job. And that is when he meets Annie Ross and her ten-year-old, Mike, who knows he is going to die, just the way he somehow knows so many other things.
My thoughts: This book was so sweet. It reminded me of how 11.22.63 made me feel at the end and if you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean. It was deeply moving. Joyland was another one of those reads that show that Stephen King writes more than ‘scary stories’. This was not another book of gory monsters written for those with the emotional range of a teaspoon (know who said that? give yourself a pat on the back!) Nor just another whodunit where the story ends fair and happy when the smart detective figures out who the killer is.

The book was written in a nostalgic tone, as Devin, now old described the most memorable times of his youth. It was almost ruefully funny at times and sad and scary, at others. I adored Mike, the little crippled boy so full of hope. In a way, he might have reminded me of Danny Torrance (so many other Goodreads reviewers say the same thing) for his ability, but somehow he left a much greater impression on me. I liked the people of Joyland, all strange, hilarious and thoroughly lovable; from Fortuna to the owner, the cute old man Bradley Easterbrook. Not to mention, Tom Kennedy and Erin Cook; the young promises and friendships were wonderfully dealt with. Throughout, I could visualize Joyland and its carny lingo, its employees taking turns at ‘wearing the fur’ and being Happy Howie, the German shepherd mascot, the spooky lore and the large Ferris wheel, Carolina Spin, which made you feel like you were flying. The mystery itself was noirish and played out roughly: the ‘answer’ which ought to satisfy you, just left me drained.

Mostly, Joyland by Stephen King was a gritty, brutally honest coming-of-age novel. Read it as a book about growing up and tackling life as it comes, and you might love it.

I read this because I finally found it, yay. But also maybe for the R.I.P. Challenge. I’m just biding time now till my copy of Dr. Sleep arrives.

A Criminal Defense by Steven Gore

My whole problem with the crime-mystery-suspense genre has always been that it ends up being little more than a puzzle that is to be solves as quickly as possible. Rarely any books focus on the motives and psychological aspects and even fewer books talk extensively about the procedures involved in solving a crime. Anyone could get up and write a police procedural novel these days, throwing in just enough jargon, with the help of the hundred crime dramas on television. Steven Gore’s A Criminal Defense, though, surprised me.
Hamlin was a corrupt lawyer known hatefully for intimidating witnesses, suborning perjury, laundering money and destroying evidence. At the very start of the book, he is found murdered in the most gruesome way; it is hard to tell if he’s a victim of murder or of a sexual encounter gone awry. Former detective Harlan Donnally is assigned to the case. As Donnally immerses himself into the mystery, he ponders over the what makes someone lead a career of such deceit. We are exposed to a world of intricate lies and betrayals and are shown the inner workings of, ironically, the justice system. Towards the end, the excitement increases and the final blowout and resolution, and how Donnally got there, are quite intriguing.

As I said, the book is written by someone who knows what he’s talking about, which comes as a pleasant surprise. That being said, the language, to my disappointment, became a bit too meticulously informative and dreary for a while. While the events of the book never lost their excitement, the writing had little beauty. The book could have used a little editing; there were moments when I thought, I didn’t have to know that, I could have done without this; and the story would have worked just as well without some details.

If this sounds like your kind of read, do buy the book here.

I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the publisher.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

“How easy it was to capitalise on a person’s own bent for
self-destruction; how simple to nudge them into non-being, then to stand back
and shrug and agree that it had been the inevitable result of a chaotic,
catastrophic life.”

Lula Landry, a famous model, has fallen to her death from her balcony. The constantly depressed, lonely addict is believed to have killed herself. London’s glamorous world of fashion has already seemingly moved past the well publicized suicide, but Landry’s brother isn’t convinced. John Bristow tracks down the hero of the book, private detective Strike. Recently broken up with his fiance, Cormoran Strike is a hairy, slightly overweight 30-something ex-soldier, with a prosthetic leg, no place to live and a painfully stagnant career. With his new temp secretary, 25-year old Robin, Strike reluctantly accepts the case, more for the money to pay off his debts than anything else. And so the story dives straight into the typical world of celebrity: secrets, cover-ups and the omnipresent paparazzi.

I rarely like mysteries, for the very reason that has been mentioned in this book: “(…) killings were more than puzzles to be solved.” Most action packed crime novels lack both the human element as well as the touch of grounded reality that The Cuckoo’s Calling had. As I read this book, I realized something that had never really occurred to me before. I don’t love Harry Potter for the magic; it’s hardly my favourite in the fantasy genre. I like it for the compelling characters, engaging narration and the warm humour. The Cuckoo’s Calling offers all that, with an added dash of apt literary prose, a rare sight in run-of-the-mill detective fiction. All books have critics, often those who spew literary jargon with an annoying frequency and fluency. In case of this book, as in case of almost every other, I simply don’t want to address them. Let me assure you, though, it wasn’t just my unfaltering loyalty to J.K. Rowling that made me fall in love with this book.
Plot: I liked the detailed descriptions of the method Cormoran followed for his research; the extensive Google searches and conversations with each suspect about the same things, repeated for our benefit, over and over. It seemed realistic, no violent action scenes or office romances, nor delightfully developed technological help. I loved that there were clues strewn all over the book, things you could tell were important. I loved how the pieces slowly fell together and I actually was able to guess who by the very end. I love how much time was given to the how and of course, the entire book was about why the murder was committed.

Characters: It was interesting, how every interrogation revealed each character’s unique voice, opinion and priorities. And most intriguingly, none of the characters were how they appeared to be. Stereotypes were broken in the most unexpected manners; like showing a surprisingly emotional side to Landry’s obnoxious druggie boyfriend Evan Duffield. I liked designer Guy Some, almost as much as the running gag about his name (it’s pronounced ghee.) I loved the clumsy, endearing relationship between Strike and his ‘temporary solution’ Robin. Rowling can create worlds, even ordinary ones, with such flourish, that even those who rarely come onstage have an effect on you: Matthew, Charlotte, Jonny Rokeby, to name a few. I liked Rachel, Raquelle or whatever her name was as one of the people who go unnoticed, who, despite the many snouted cameras pointed their way, stay hidden in the shadows, out of the limelight. And in a very Barry Fairbrother-esque way, the most complex character of the book was the one who never made an appearance; the black girl adopted into a white family, now famous, still searching for her true self, her roots: Lula Landry.
Language: Rowling is good at one-liners, of the ‘there’s no need to call me sir, professor’-variety and this book was full of them. In the midst of all the serious drama, her skillfully funny dialogue made me chuckle. The writing is vivid, perceptive, rich. It cast a spell on me, that tugged at me and made it impossible for me to concentrate on anything else. I inserted scraps of papers (makeshift bookmarks) whenever any line, any thought appealed to me. By the time the book was over, it was filled with little pieces of paper, stuck in after almost every couple of pages. When I re-read them, the spell stayed unbroken and I do know every read will show me something new. An entire day later, today, I’m still unable to put the book back on the shelf. I want more.
After reading An Ocean at the End of the Lane, I was at a loss for words. The Cuckoo’s Calling has left me bursting with words of praise, love, surprise, satisfaction, awe, intrigue… 

Ring in the Dead by J.A. Jance

I can’t believe I had never heard of this series. When I got this, I browsed through a neverending list of books by New York Times bestselling author J.A. Jance and was fascinated just by the popularity. The book certainly lived up to my expectations. If not anything else, I’d recommend it as an introduction to the Jance’s writing style. Being a novella, it’s a quick read and the characters keep you involved. There’s little suspense and the plot is pretty straightforward but it doesn’t spoil the book’s charm.

J. P. Beaumont is an old detective now, who stars in his own series, of which this book is the 20.5th installment (that adds twenty books to my TBR list!) When he is visited by the daughter of an old partner, Milton ‘Pickles’ Gurkey he remembers the case that brought them together. One day, at the end of Beaumont and Pickles’s shift, a stop
at the Doghouse restaurant quickly turns deadly. Not feeling well, Pickles
steps out into the parking lot for a breath of fresh air and stumbles into a
crime in progress. Suffering from a heart attack, he is found unconscious, with
a dead woman on the ground nearby and the murder weapon in his hand. 
With Pickles under investigation from Internal Affairs, it’s
up to the new kid on the block, J. P. Beaumont, and his friends on the force to
find out the truth.

For those who are familiar with this series, reading the book will be an altogether different experience from mine. What was a first-view at the characters for me, would be a cozy look into their past. But I can say this: if not familiar, it was certainly as enjoyable for me as would be for them. First-timer or not, this is an interesting book by an author you shouldn’t miss. 
It’s easy to like Beau, even though we get to know very little about him. Switching perspectives, if only briefly, with Pickles was a great idea! The author has their individual voices down and you begin to identify with the characters better. The writing has a flow to it, even though nothing much happens in the book. The detective work by itself is nothing special or exciting, the ending is very abrupt, and if the writing weren’t so inexplicably engaging, I would have give the book a bad review. It shouldn’t be called a suspense or crime novel or any of those labels that bring to mind an action-packed story. However, the book does have much deeper characterization and relationship establishment than your average mystery. I honestly don’t know what genre this fits into; I suppose it forms a genre of its own. I have a feeling that might be true for all the author’s novels and I can’t wait to read them! Meanwhile, those interested can buy this book here.

I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the publisher.

Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino

Summary: The book opens as Ayane, a beautiful young patchwork-artist decides to kill her husband Yoshitaka Mashiba. He is about to leave her as she cannot get pregnant, and that is the only reason he got married in the first place – to have a child. He already has a new girl in mind who could father his baby, and she happens to be Ayane’s favourite student Hiromi. Ayane doesn’t object to the break-up, but does escape to her parents’ place for a few days, seemingly to calm herself down. In the meanwhile, Hiromi and Yoshitaka meet up and make plans. On the next day, when Hiromi shows up at Yoshitaka’s house for a dinner date with her lover, she finds him on the floor, dead, poisoned. It is up to Tokyo Police Detective Kusanagi and his assistant Utsumi, who enlists the help of genius physics professor Dr. Yukawa, to solve the mystery.

My thoughts: If you ask anyone, what a good crime novel is all about, they say it’s a book that keep you guessing. There are different ways of keeping a howdunit / whydunit like this one mysterious, and Higashino somehow doesn’t get them – in neither his previous book The Devotion of Suspect X, which was quite a phenomenon nor Salvation of a Saint. We already know who did the crime and as the book progresses we watch the police and detectives try to figure it out, trying ourselves to figure how Ayane committed the murder and why. The investigation goes around in loops; junior detective Utsumi suspects Ayane, but couldn’t tell you why and Kusanagi, our hero, seems to have fallen for the beautiful widow. For the first hundred pages of the book, it is impossible to guess just what might have happened – the reason being, nothing new really comes up – the same conversations with the same few suspects, minutely detailed descriptions of feelings and analyses and different perspectives on the same thing. The investigation becomes a drag (although I rather believe real-life investigations would be just as repetitive and unlike the fast-paced action most books provide.) The detectives’ constant state of being confused forms a major part of the book. And just when, somewhere in the middle, the writer lets slip the first obvious clue of why the crime could have happened, figuring out the whole reason is a piece of cake. Infinitely easy. So, I could guess the whydunit there and then and that part of the mystery was lost. Then came the howdunit. You know the man was poisoned, you know, from the prologue, that a bag of white powder was somehow involved in the crime. You couldn’t possibly figure out the method used to poison, but when you know who and why, does ‘how’ really matter? Enough to read half a book? If it does, well, let me tell you, I could vaguely guess what must have happened forty pages before it was revealed, or could at least guess the components involved in arranging that crime (let’s put it that way, if we want to avoid spoilers.) And when I did find out the whole truth it wasn’t as ingenious as I would have liked it to be – in fact, it was kind of ludicrous (and also kind of moot, which you’d understand if you’ve read the book; tragic how Ayane went through so much only to be caught.)

If a good crime novel really is one that keeps you guessing, this isn’t it. But I think people put too much weight on suspense. For me, a good book is so much more than “What happened? What happened? What happened? Oh! THAT happened! Wow.”

The book deals with many social issues; you almost relate to the killer, which is saying something. There is no definite bad guy, just a string of unfortunate situations and behaviour that spiraled off to a murder. It makes you wonder how sordid the world has become, how biased and superficial our actions and emotions are, how helpless we often feel and how blurred the line between right and wrong is. The motive for the murder is just typical enough to be believable, the characters are really fleshed out. Ironically, I could connect to them better, because they were almost irreparably selfish and flawed.

(By the way, good work by the translator as well, the words flow in a way that makes it hard to believe it’s a translation – as I remember, The Devotion of Suspect X was a bit clumsy: which is odd, considering it’s the same translator.)

Like I said, if you’re looking for a fact-paced thriller, surprising, crime mystery novel thing, this is probably not it. You would probably enjoy The Devotion of Suspect X a lot more. But if you want a good book, one that lingers on your mind long after you’ve finished reading it, I would suggest you go ahead and read this one. I certainly liked the book.

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The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

I received this book in exchange for an honest review through Blogadda.

The Devotion of Suspect X is a Japanese crime thriller first published in 2005. It is the third and the most acclaimed book in Keigo Higashino’s Galileo series. The first two chapters tell us, the readers, of the murder that is committed by single mother Yasuko Hanaoka and the cover-up designed by her strange and mysterious neighbour, a genius mathematician called Tetsuya Ishigami. The murder has the police completely puzzled. And it is upto detective Kunasagi, assisted by physicist Manabu Yuwaka (Galileo) to figure out just what happened.

(What I liked) Usually, twist endings in crime novels leave me thinking; “What!! Did that just happen?”. They almost always make me wonder if the writer just got tired of coming up with a decent ending. It’s safe to say, that there are very few unexpected turns of events that I actually like. But this one was one of those few. As a reader, you are an observer of a story, which is carefully veiled. The veil is lifted slightly every so often, but never quite so much that you know exactly what is happening. The author does a great job of maintaining the suspense, of not letting on too much, without making you impatient. Every page gives a little more information, and every page creates a new question.

This was also one of the few psychological thrillers I have read, where the hero isn’t suffering from an actual mental disorder. And yet, it was also the most thrilling, in that respect. I know people who don’t like mysteries/crime novels because you don’t get anything valuable out of them. I disagree, because the biggest reason I read is to just get lost in a new kind of world. But this book had a lot more to offer than just that. It was highly unrealistic in many places, but at the same time, it said something about human nature that is uncannily real. I couldn’t tell you that without disclosing the best parts of the book, so let me just leave it at this; the book has the most apt title! Plot-wise, I think The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino was really quite fabulous.

That being said, I did not exactly love the book.

(What I did not like) Firstly, let me just say, I might have enjoyed this book a tad bit more, if I could have read the original. It was obvious in many places, that this was a translation. The sentence construction was awkward. Another thing I did not like was that it seemed too much like an unrealistic and cheesy detective movie. Crime fiction is so vast a genre, and has seen so many bests over the years, that it must be hard to write something that would count as different. The scenes were repetitive and it seemed to me, as if I was viewing a combination of all the crime dramas there on TV these days.
Which brings me to the next thing; the book read like a movie script at times; and that, according to me, is the worst thing when it comes to a thriller.
It was also kind of weird, how the writer kept explaining every thing over and over again, from the different perspectives of all the different characters. It was almost as if he assumed the readers were too stupid to figure things out on their own.
The characters had the potential to be much better than they actually were; much more developed. But somehow I kept thinking that the author was juggling a lot more characters and viewpoints than he should have been.

It’s not the worst book I’ve read, but it’s certainly not the best. I would recommend people to read this book, for all the good parts. But I would like to remind you, 2 million people might even be wrong; Twilight taught us that!

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Verbrechen (Crime) – Ferdinand von Schirach (Week II)

The German Literature Month is hosted by Caroline @ Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy @ Lizzy’s Literary Life. The reading theme for the second week is Crime Fiction. I read a volume of short stories titled Verbrechen/Crime by German author Ferdinand von Schirach, in the original German.

About the author: Ferdinand von Schirach is a defense counsel from Munich. He is specialized in handling controversial cases of his high-profile clients. His grandfather – Baldur von Schirach – the Nazi youth leader later convicted of being a war criminal, is not the only reason Ferdinand is world famous. In 2009 Ferdinand von Schirach published his debut book entitled “Verbrechen” or “Crime.” The book stayed on the bestsellers’ list of Der Spiegel magazine for over forty weeks.

About the book: Verbrechen is a collection of eleven short stories about law and crime. It is a work of fiction; but even if not entirely based on reality, the book certainly draws inspiration from real events.
Summary: A nameless lawyer, the narrator, describes random cases to the reader. From an old man murdering his dominating wife after forty years of marriage to a young girl poisoning her brother to end his difficult life; the stories deal with shocking events, introducing us to everything from drugs, abuse and cannibalism to incest.
My thoughts: The mere thought that these gruesome stories might be rooted in truth can haunt the reader’s mind. The book is touching, at times heart-breaking, and a frightening glimpse into the world of law and crime. The author’s own vast experience in the field is clear throughout the entire book – from the way he describes crime scenes, to the way he analyses motives.
So much is expressed, without really diving into anything too emotional. The book is frank, it only relates the facts. The reader has to add the dabs of emotion wherever necessary. The writer is impartial. In each case, at the end, the “guilty” is punished; but whether he is rightfully punished is left for us to judge. The stories seem real and believable, as much as the reader wants to convince himself they couldn’t possibly be. That, according to me, is what gives the book credibility.
I never liked any short stories quite as much as I loved these eleven. (Do check out Risa’s Bread Crumb Reads for Short Stories on Wednesday.)
I’d recommend this book, original or translation, not just to fans of the crime genre, but to just about everyone who cares to listen!!

Killing Floor by Lee Child

I thought: should I be worried? I was under arrest. In a town where I’d never been before. Apparently for murder. But I knew two things. First, they couldn’t prove something had happened if it hadn’t happened. And second, I hadn’t killed anybody. Not in their town, and not for a long time, anyway.

About the book: Killing Floor is a crime thriller novel by Lee Child. Published in 1997, it is Lee Child’s debut novel. It is the first book in the Jack Reacher series.
Short summary: Jack Reacher is arrested for murder, almost as soon as he enters the tiny town of Margrave, Georgia. But the tough ex-military policeman has been through much worse. Unable to convince the cops of his innocence, Jack Reacher decides to take matters in his own hands. As he tries to uncover the truth himself, he stumbles across a much deeper conspiracy in Margrave.
My thoughts: It was a good read. With the fast paced action, the twists in the plot, the strong (albeit stereotypical) characters – it was a really good read. It was the sort of thing that I’d very reluctantly add to a list of ‘Guilty Pleasure Reads’, though. What I didn’t like was the drama. The first thing I thought was it would make a good movie (I don’t know if there already is one..?!) At times I found it too brutal, I found some dialogues kind of cheesy, and I didn’t like the fact that most of the core happenings in the book were shaped by some pretty huge coincidences.
It felt almost as if the writer had planned the ending first, and wrote the book backwards. So when I read it from the starting, it was hard to believe how the characters guessed and assumed all the things they did; it was almost as if they knew the end. The plot holes were a huge disappointment.
I thought of the book as something written to attract a huge number of fans – which it rightfully did. It was a fun read, but I also thought it could have been much better.

R.I.P. – The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carré

As they got to the door, Control put his hand lightly on Leamas’ shoulder.
“This is your last job,” he said. “Then you can come in from the cold.”

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is a 1963 spy/crime thriller novel by John Le Carré. The protagonist is an agent called Alec Leamas, working for the British Intelligence Service (referred to as “the Circus”) in early Cold War Berlin. He gets called back to London by his spy master, Control, who gives him his last, scary assignment.
When I started reading this book, my first spy novel, I had no idea what to expect. With a continually twisting story line, the book is fast and packed with tension. Anything I reveal under “Summary” could be counted as a spoiler; the book is best read directly and is a must read.
The story is genuinely complicated and seems highly probable. This is what a spy’s life is like; each man for himself and no one is a hero. There is no flashiness and no glamour, just dark and touchingly realistic experiences. More than anything else though, the book, coming from an agent himself, sounds a lot like an anecdote, making it all the more involving.
The characters are great, each with a detailed background story. It is not easy to figure out their motives and Le Carré has maintained the suspense throughout the novel; letting us know little at a time, and keeping us wait for more. The relationships are complex but not complicated – the single love story is intricately involved in the plot, leaving many blanks for us to fill. The story is mostly plot based, but it involves some of the strongest characters ever.
The book is not only a thriller, but so much more. I might just have found my new favourite novel.
I wrote this book review as a part of the R.I.P Challenge.

Children of the Street by Kwei Quartey

I received this book in exchange for an honest review through Netgalley.

“In the world of homelessness, poverty, and desperation, you fight for survival, and there are no polite limits to the fight.”

Children of the Street is a mystery novel by Kwei Quartey. It is the second book (after Wife of the Gods) in the Inspector Darko Dawson series.
Rating: 4/5

Summary: Darko Dawson works as an inspector in Accra, the capital of Ghana. He has seen a lot of things in this brutal place, laced with poverty and unemployment. Yet something about the latest series of murders makes them much worse. Street children are turning up dead, each body mutilated and thrown away in the exact same way. All the deaths seem to point to one killer. It is up to Inspector Dawson to figure out if it is some sort of a ritual killing or the job of another psychopathic serial killer. But the list of suspects isn’t short, as this murderer isn’t the only bad thing roaming the dark streets of Accra. Everyone’s got skeletons in their closet.

My thoughts: I loved the book right from the cover design. I haven’t read the first book in the series, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The book did have a rough start for me. What struck me as odd were the sudden and many gory details. The writing seemed repetitive and there were a few page-long descriptions that were almost entirely unnecessary! The story did catch pace, though, and it was a soon a smooth and enjoyable read.

Considering how little I know about Ghana or even Africa for that matter, I thought the author painted a very complete picture; with all elements, the good and the bad! What I loved the most was the story had no villain and hero, as such. Every had problems and secrets and regrets. The characters were strong, and dark in a way which (and this is a huge compliment coming from me) reminded me of Stephen King’s books. I felt the plot slack a couple of times, but the characters never became even remotely uninteresting. Their secrets and lives so intricately stringed together became for me, the highlights of the book. I can think of very few mysteries that aren’t almost completely focused on the plot.

I can’t wait to read more books by the author. Meanwhile, I definitely recommend this one to all mystery and crime fiction fans or anyone in search of a short, exciting read!