Category Archives: Mystery

Joyland, Stephen King (Hard Case Crime [Titan Books], 2013)

A new coming-of-age novel is on the block, and it’s from a rather unlikely suspect…

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First there was Holden Caulfield, the “catcher”, and then the “wallflower” Charlie, but now Stephen King, typically known for his ability to thrill and terrify, has brought us Devin Jones, a new teenage protagonist we are able to empathise with.

Devin recounts the story of his time working at Joyland, a funfair in North Carolina, where he has taken up a summer work placement. In his 20s, he is nursing a broken heart from a previous love, naively believing she will change her mind; but it is another girl who will be on his mind throughout the summer.

Linda Grey had been found dead just four years previously after entering the Horror House ride. Her ghost still looms, and Devin, intrigued by the mystery, begins to dig deeper, making some horrifying discoveries…

King himself stated that the image of a wheelchair-bound boy flying a kite on the beach was the inspiration for Joyland, and this image comes to life, as Devin forms two very special, yet different, bonds with the boy, Mike, and his mother, Annie.

We must not forget that King is not completely alien to “coming-of-age” writing, as his collection Different Seasons, to which Joyland beautifully alludes at times, contains elements of the genre. This novel nonetheless demonstrates King’s masterful versatility as a writer, as he effortlessly blends together horror, mystery and Bildungsroman in under 300 pages.

Although I’m not fully convinced by the efficacy of the novel’s funfair setting, and the fact that it is a little predictable, Joyland is undoubtedly a very gripping novel, in which Stephen King weaves his magic, giving us murder, the loss of innocence and heartbreak in a novel which is destined to become a cult classic.

4 Books

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The Yard, Alex Grecian (Penguin, 2013)

The Yard

A year after Jack the Ripper’s string of murders stuns Whitechapel, and there is another killer on the loose in London, the city at the centre of the world.

Alex Grecian expertly interweaves the stories of multiple characters within, and related to, Scotland Yard, leading with the protagonist Inspector Little, who has just joined the “Murder Squad”.

Grecian’s ability to effortlessly glide between stories makes for gripping reading of a novel which echoes the style of a movie, a TV show or even a graphic novel, such as Grecian’s own Proof.

Nonetheless, the author’s tense and suspenseful style somewhat casts into the shadows what is really a rather mediocre plot, which does not produce anything that is extremely exciting or revolutionary.

The novel provides us with an interesting look into the workings of Scotland Yard, and also the developments of forensic science during late 19th century, when many were highly skeptical about the use of fingerprints for identification.

While the story itself is easy to imagine, I was only able to picture modern-day London; the description of Victorian London was not wholly convincing, and I felt that it lacked the muggy, noisy and bustling atmosphere which I tend to associate with the capital during that era.

The Yard is, on the whole, a well-produced, promising debut novel; it is a definite page-turner, in which style and form nevertheless triumph over content and story-line.

3.5 Books

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The Interpretation of Murder, Jed Rubenfeld (Headline, 2007)

Interpretation of Murder

The death of debutante Elizabeth Rutherford and the attack on Nora Acton the following night coincides with Sigmund Freud’s arrival to New York. The latter is due to deliver a series of lectures at Clark University. Rubenfeld proposes his hypothesis for the latter’s dislike of the US, which forms the backbone to this thought-provoking novel.

Detective Littlemore heads the investigation’s inquiries, while Freud entrusts Stratham Younger, the first-person narrator of the novel, to conduct several psychoanalysis sessions with the surviving victim, Miss Acton. This is where this unique novel comes into its own, as we gain an insight into Freud’s psychoanalytic methods and his beliefs, specifically in regards to the Oedipus complex. We also encounter some Shakespeare, through Stratham’s alternative interpretation of Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ speech.

The picture of the US at the turn of the twentieth-century painted by Rubenfeld captures the country’s immense growth; economically, populously and physically, with the appearance of many skyscrapers. The author’s tendency to shift from this development to a Freudian conspiracy or a murder investigation may cause confusion for some. I, however, feel that this shift in perspective reflects the disjointed nature of a murder inquiry, while adding to the suspense of this exciting novel.

For the most part, the institutions of law and psychology remain apart, pursuing separate leads, nonetheless, we see a merging of the two, highlighting the importance of latter particularly, in criminal inquiries. Some may point out a few inconsistencies in The Interpretation of Murder, but I personally think that this novel, full of shocking twists, will keep you thinking throughout. A superb debut from Jed Rubenfeld; I look forward to reading its sequel The Death Instinct.

4 Books

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The City of Shadows, Michael Russell (Avon, 2012)

City of Shadows_Medium

In The City of Shadows, we are given an insight into Ireland, specifically Dublin, in the build-up to WWII. I myself had very little prior knowledge of this period in Ireland, and was surprised to learn about the strong influence of Nazism, the strength of the Catholic Church and the hostility against homosexuals. More well-informed readers may be more familiar with this history, and would probably warn me not to take it as given, as this is nonetheless a fictional work.

Through Stefan Gillespie’s investigation, in which he discovers the bodies of Vincent Walsh and Susan Field, Hannah Rosen’s  friend,  we are taken to Danzig and back, delving into the darkest corners of life. These are not the only two deaths we encounter in The City of Shadows, as institutional corruption in the government, the police and the church uncovers bribery, blackmail and a lack of consideration for the value of human life.

The pastoral location of West Wicklow, Stefan’s childhood home, is also explored, where Tom, his son, now lives with his grandparents. Here lies the underlying subplot: a fight for justice. The local priest attempts to send Tom away, owed to the views of his Protestant father and his late Jewish mother. This battle illustrates the fragility of human nature, as Stefan becomes a product of the evil against which he is fighting.

Meanwhile, the love affair between Stefan and Hannah Rosen, a Jewish friend of the deceased Susan, is tested by the discriminatory society and by distance, as she travels to Danzig and later follows her Jewish roots to Palestine.

I felt somewhat disappointed with the conclusion of the novel, which was not as romantic or ideal as I had expected; nevertheless, it is a realistic ending to a gripping mystery novel, into which Michael Russell cleverly weaves the history of the era. An excellent debut by an author from whom I hope to hear more in the coming years.

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