Book Review: Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

Britt-Marie Was Here
Fredrik Backman
Washington Square Press, February 2017
ISBN: 978-1-5011-4254-3
Trade Paperback

Best-selling author Backman (A Man called Ove) is back with a difficult, intense novel about the life of the woman in the title. Britt-Marie is a familiar figure to many, hence the initial popularity of this deliberately paced novel of life in a small Scandinavian town, populated by a surprising number of odd mis-fits and other people who exhibit familiar and unusual traits.

Her unfaithful husband has left her, or she’s left him; I was never quite sure and she needs a job to sustain herself. We discover very early that Britt-Marie is an unusual person with a highly developed sense of necessary cleanliness, and precision-focused life. Appointments are kept, one is never late and one tries desperately at times to maintain a precise even rigid life style.

Written in the first person present tense, the novel is at times slow-moving, hard to penetrate and ultimately satisfying in resolution. However, it is not the sort of book that will appeal to a wide reading audience, unlike the author’s A Man Called Ove, which is charming and enormously popular, or boring and a struggle to complete, depending on whose reviews you read. I watched the movie which was charming.

This novel maintains an even pace and readers, if they complete the story, will be well-informed of the life and times in this small community and they will understand that Britt-Marie was indeed, here.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Accidents Happen by Louise Millar

Accidents HappenAccidents Happen
Louise Millar
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, June 2013
ISBN 978-1-4516-5670-1
Trade Paperback

Kate Parker is trying to recover from a series of traumas, and feels she’s not doing a very good job of it. A number of years previously, her parents were killed in a car accident while travelling to her wedding reception, and then more recently, Kate’s husband Hugo was brutally murdered. In an effort to cope, Kate has relocated from London, England to Oxford, in order to be nearer to her in-laws so they can assist with caring for her ten-year-old son, Jack. The family dynamics are difficult, however, and Kate is becoming less and less sure that this was a good idea, as Hugo’s parents and sister constantly seem to question her decisions and her parenting skills. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Kate’s semi-detached house has been broken into more than once, and various valuables have been stolen, leaving her even more insecure and panicky.

Not surprisingly, Kate is struggling to maintain any sense of normalcy and safety. She has become obsessive-compulsive, unable to tear herself away from studying all sorts of statistics, in an attempt to regain the feeling that she is in control. The result is that she is nearly paralyzed with fear from the mountains of information about accidents and deaths that she can’t tear herself away from. Kate can barely leave her house, take public transit, enter a store, or ride her bike. Even worse, she has become so overprotective of young Jack that their relationship is close to the breaking point.

When Kate meets a visiting professor, Jago, who has written a book on statistics and is interested in the field of OCD, she gets the first glimmer of hope she’s had in a long time. Jago offers to assist her by carrying out various experiments designed to challenge her into stepping outside the rigid boundaries she’s created for herself. The fact that Kate finds Jago physically attractive helps her decide to accept his assistance. Although Jago makes her nervous, Kate finds it more and more pleasurable to be around him.

Unfortunately, this was when the book stopped working for me, and I became unable to really believe in the way events were unfolding. Although the level of tragedy Kate had experienced caused me to feel very sorry for her, I couldn’t believe that she would go along with Jago’s odd suggestions, or that a professor would be carrying out such unethical experiments.

While Millar is skilled at creating a tense and ambiguous atmosphere, the novel veered into areas that began to seem unbelievable to me, particularly as Kate was described as being a competent, intelligent woman who had helped her husband build a highly successful renovation business. I thought Millar did a good job in her descriptions of the way Kate was experiencing the aftermath of trauma, but ultimately couldn’t go along with the plot that explained how Kate began to find her way back to health. Readers who particularly like taut psychological suspense might enjoy this book more than I did, however, as Millar consistently evokes a very paranoid, unsettling sensation. If you are reading to get creeped out, this book should do it for you – but if you are reading for authentic characters and plot, it probably won’t.

Reviewed by Andrea Thompson, February 2016.

Book Reviews: Lost by S. J. Bolton, Murder Is a Piece of Cake by Elaine Viets, and The Boyfriend by Thomas Perry

LostLost
S. J. Bolton
Minotaur Books, June 2013
ISBN:  978-1-250-02856-3
Hardcover

The current obsession of Barney Roberts, a bright young boy with OCD, is something with which many in London are currently preoccupied:  Five boys his age had disappeared in the last five weeks in South London, where Barney himself lives, their bodies turning up soon afterwards with their throats cut.  And as the book opens, the bodies are being found more and more quickly, the killer seemingly escalating.  Barney’s den is covered with posters, maps and photographs about each boy, his kidnapping, and his death.

The police investigation is headed up by D.I. Dana Tulloch, of Lewisham’s Major Investigation Team.  Sure of only one thing, that the killings will continue, they have no clues.  And someone, perhaps the killer, is taunting them online.  On the periphery of the investigation is D.C. Lacey Flint, still recovering from the horrific event of her last case, in the aftermath of which she is still seeing a psychiatrist twice a week, fighting her own demons, unsure of whether or not still wants to remain a policewoman.

Barney is the youngest of a small group of kids (five boys and one girl) who are brave, and foolhardy, enough to do some investigating of their own.  He also happens to live next door to Lacey Flint.  One day he works up the nerve to ask her to help him find his mother, who apparently left several years ago, when he was four years old, and he is determined to track her down, going so far as to use all his meager wages working for a newsagent to run anonymous classified ads in very methodically and geographically plotted newspapers in London and beyond.

The novel is but the newest of several suspenseful books from this author, and characters, plotting and tension seen in her prior work are fully present here.  The reader is never more than guessing at the possible identity of the killer, as are the detectives whose work is detailed here, knowing that if they do not succeed another boy will die.  Obsession is a constant theme.  This is another winner from S. J. Bolton, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2013.

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Murder Is a Piece of CakeMurder is a Piece of Cake
Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper Series
Elaine Viets
Obsidian, November 2012
ISBN: 978-0-451-23851-1
Mass Market Paperback

The newest book in the Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper extraordinaire, has Josie tasked by her boss, “Harry the Horrible,” to mystery shop wedding flowers and wedding cakes for a St. Louis wedding website.  The timing couldn’t be better for Josie, who is in the throes of planning her own wedding.  The first of her mystery-shopper sites is Denise’s Dreams, where the sales associate who assists her is a young woman named Molly, who in the ensuing exchange divulges – – well, gushes – – that she is also about to get married.

Josie is a thirty-one-year-old single mom to Amelia, a ‘tween’ with the usual fast-changing sulky-to-“flawless!” mood changes.  Her life is about to undergo major changes, with her upcoming wedding to local veterinarian Dr. Ted, scheduled for the day after Thanksgiving, five weeks away as the story opens.  Their combined pets include Stuart Little, Josie’s shih tzu, her cat Harry, Ted’s cat Marmalade and his black Labrador, Festus.

One week later, shortly after Josie arrives at Ted’s veterinary clinic one morning, a surreal scene unfolds:  the self-same Molly, dressed in all her bridal finery, exits a Bentley and pushes her way into the clinic, claiming she’s there to pick up Ted en route to their wedding.  Clearly delusional, the scene ends with Molly picking up a scalpel and attacking Ted when he insists that he is indeed shortly to be married, but to Josie.  Ted’s mother, also present, disarms her, brandishing the pistol she always carried in her purse.  To cut to the chase, “mad Molly” is arrested and charged with assault.  She is soon released from jail by a sympathetic judge, but the melodrama continues when, continuing to stalk Ted, she is shot to death in her car in the clinic parking lot.  Things only get worse when Ted’s “Boca diva” mother is arrested, as her gun proves to be the murder weapon.

The book was a delightful change of pace for this reader, contrasted with other fare of thrillers and serial killers.  Besides an intriguing murder mystery with several possible culprits, it offers a few mouthwatering culinary tidbits, and culminates in several pages of shopping tips for wedding-related purchases, from flowers for various segments of the Big Day, bling, cakes, etc.  Following which is a peek at the next offering in Ms. Viets’ Dead-End Job Mystery series, Board Stiff, published by Obsidian in May 2013, which I have the good fortune to have in my towering TBR/R pile – – more to come on that soon!

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2013.

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The BoyfriendThe Boyfriend
Thomas Perry
The Mysterious Press, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-8021-2606-1
Hardcover

The protagonist and his adversary in this newest terrific, suspenseful read from Thomas Perry have many similarities:  Both Jack Till, retired LAPD homicide detective now working as a private investigator, and the man he nicknames The Boyfriend are both highly intelligent, patient, meticulous, proficient with various kinds of weaponry, and very lethal.  Mostly they are both loners.  Till, however, has a daughter with Down Syndrome of whom he is very protective.  His wife had left them and divorced him shortly after she was diagnosed, unable to cope.  Holly is now 28 years old, employed at a florist shop and living in a group home where she is well looked after.  Till had retired after 23 years as a cop, and now embarks upon a relentless search for a killer.

The man Till is seeking is completely cold-blooded.  He preys upon young, beautiful women, all of a very similar physical type, and all ‘working girls,’ albeit highly-paid escorts earning several thousand dollars a day, as opposed to streetwalkers.  And all very vulnerable to the young, good-looking charmer, to their peril.  He has apparently killed several of them in all different parts of the country.  He has come to Till’s attention when the parents of the latest victim seek his help, when the police have, literally, no clues as to his identity.  He agrees to take the case and undertakes the investigation, and soon uncovers the connection to the other murders.  After 23 years as a cop, he “had an instinctive sense that this man was something he hadn’t seen before.”

Thomas Perry is the author, among his 21 previous books, of the wonderful Jane Whitefield series, and his newest is as much a page-turner as were those novels.  He manages an ending that is wonderfully elegant.  This was a terrific read, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, July 2013.