Book Reviews

Reviews for June 2020

Here are my book reviews for June 2020 – not one but two thrillers set in beautiful Tuscany; an action thriller that also pulls on the heartstrings; and a laugh-out-loud, sob-into-the-pages psychological thriller.

Can You See Her? by S.E. Lynes

A couple of years ago I was on a course at work. As an ice-breaker, the tutor asked each of us to name a superpower we wished we had. One young woman said she wished she had the power to become invisible. I piped up, “Don’t worry. When you get to my age, you will be.” Oh how they laughed. But two older women gave me wistful smiles and nodded sagely. They knew it wasn’t a joke.

I firmly believe Susie Lynes wrote this book for invisible, middle-aged women everywhere. The devil is in the detail, and every tiny detail and observation hit the mark. This author knows her main character, Rachel, inside out. Rachel suddenly realises that no one sees her anymore: not her husband, her daughter, her daughter’s friends and certainly not shop assistants and others she has to interact with in daily life. The realisation sets in motion a deadly chain of events.

I had seen the book advertised on social media but assumed it was a typical domestic noir, featuring younger characters involved in dodgy relationships and toxic friendships. I thought I would probably like it and would get round to it eventually. However, when I heard the author reading a chapter at Virtual Noir at the Bar, I realised this was something different and special. It needed to be bought and read immediately.

The whole approach of the novel sets it apart from most psychological thrillers. Not only is it unusual to feature a fifty-something female protagonist, the book differs from the norm in terms of structure and tone. In the main narrative, we find a tearful Rachel giving her confession to an official she has nicknamed Blue Eyes. The terrible events of the past few weeks are revealed in flashbacks from Rachel’s viewpoint and in police interviews with her husband, her daughter, her best friend and a neighbour.

Throughout her confession, we are entertained by Rachel’s earthy humour and sardonic digressions. For a dark thriller, it ain’t half funny. But the laughs are bittersweet and eventually fall away to reveal raw emotion and tears. I chuckled, I punched the air and then I blubbed.

Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton

This is a nail-biting thriller that keeps up the pace and suspense until the very end. A gunman prowls the grounds of a small private school in Somerset. Within minutes the police arrive, but with the school in lockdown, many pupils, from Reception to Sixth Form, are trapped inside. Some pupils and their drama teacher are in the school theatre rehearsing a play. In an effort to keep their minds occupied, they get into costume and run a dress rehearsal.

The story is told from many viewpoints – teachers, police, parents and pupils (including two Syrian refugees who’ve already faced more than a lifetime’s worth of danger as we see in flashbacks). The author does a great job of making the reader feel empathy for her large cast by giving us snapshots of their personalities, backstories, courage and fear.

But not only does the author show the emotional impact of the situation, she also describes the action and practicalities of the coordinated police and anti-terrorism response.

I would describe this as a crossover book that would appeal to YA readers as well as adults. The parallels with the Macbeth play rehearsal were a nice touch.

A thriller worthy of the name.

(I must thank Rebecca Bradley and her Virtual Book Club for connecting me with this book. I read it because it was the book club’s choice for June and might not have found my way to it otherwise. I’m delighted it to add it to my reviews for June 2020.)

The Silence by Katharine Johnson

The main character in this psychological thriller is Abby, a doctor with two young daughters and a happy marriage to a successful politician. When Abby was a child, the shock of her mother’s sudden death rendered her unable to speak. In desperation, her father sent her to stay with his sister’s family in Italy.

But her two summers spent with her cousins were far from idyllic. What memories she has of the time are fragmented and full of fear. When a shocking discovery is made in the grounds of the villa where she stayed, she is forced to face a truth she has suppressed for thirty years.

The star of this well-written story is the Italian setting. The author describes the atmosphere so well – sun, piazza, crumbling buildings, cicadas, fireflies, honey, olives – that I felt myself transported to Tuscany.

The Secret by Katharine Johnson

I enjoyed The Silence so much that my reviews for June 2020 include another book by Katharine Johnson. I went straight on and read The Secret.

The story takes place in the same Italian village. Although the two novels have one incident in common, this book features a different set of characters:
Carlo – son of the village, who after a career as a journalist in the US has returned home to run a restaurant. He’s keen to record his mother Irena’s war-time memoirs.
Irena – Carlo’s elderly mother, reluctant to remember the secrets of her past, but with her short-term memory fading, some days it’s only her past that remains.
Martina – Irena’s best friend from childhood until Martina’s actions tore their friendship apart.
Sonia – Martina’s daughter, now growing old, with a secret of her own.

Told mostly in flashbacks from the viewpoints of Irena and Martina, we see the devastating effect of the Second World War on one small Italian village.

The Suspects by Katharine Johnson was one of my favourite reads of 2019. Click here to read my review.

My Writing News

I’ve been taking the opportunity of sunny weather to write in the garden. When I wasn’t writing my reviews for June 2020, I was working on the first draft of my new project. Armed with notebook and pen, and leaving my laptop firmly in my study, I’ve been able to get the words flowing.

My son became the first member of the family to venture into the town centre when lockdown was eased. I was thrilled when he sent me a photo of The Roommates still in the “Criminally Good Reads” display at Waterstones.

By Rachel Sargeant

Rachel Sargeant is a British author. Her latest thriller, The Roommates, is a Closer Magazine "Must Read". Her other titles are The Good Teacher, The Perfect Neighbours and Gallipoli: Year of Love and Duty. Rachel won Writing Magazine’s Crime Short Story competition and has been shortlisted in various competitions including the Bristol Short Story Prize. She was born in Lincolnshire and is a graduate of Aberystwyth University. She now lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and children.

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