Sunday, 28 April 2019

My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite.

           Korede and Ayoola are sisters in Lagos, Nigeria:  Korede is clever, shrewd, a highly-respected career nurse – and plain.  Ayoola is tiny, curvaceous, shallow – and beautiful.  She also has a predilection for murdering her boyfriends, then sending out a distress call to Korede to help her avoid the consequences of her wildly impetuous actions.  And to dispose of the bodies.
            Korede dreads phone calls from her sister even worse than the sick envy she feels at Ayoola’s effortless ability to attract whomever she pleases;  consequently she is horrified when Ayoola visits her one day at the hospital where she works – ‘we can go to lunch at that new place round the corner.  Won’t that be fun!’ – and immediately draws the eye of Doctor Tade.
            Doctore Tade:  noble, kind, handsome.  Everything a Doctor should be, and Korede’s secret love.  Why, oh why could he never look at her in that gobsmacked way at his first sight of Ayoola?  OK, Korede is nearly six feet tall and all angles, but still ……..  life is cruel and will be even more so if he follows his lust struck impulses and asks Ayoola on a date:  Korede must nip this ‘romance’ in the bud before it even starts.
            But how?
            Korede’s best efforts to discourage contact come to nothing, for Ayoola is quite taken with Doctor Tade;  it’s fun to have a highly educated man completely smitten with her, and even more so when he buys her an engagement ring (admittedly rather small, under three carats;  she doesn’t usually accept anything less, but perhaps this time she’ll make an exception) but Korede knows only too well what will happen to Doctor Tade if he pursues his fatal romance with Ayoola:  there will be fatal consequences!
            Korede’s only confidante during these trying times is a coma patient in the hospital whom she visits to pour out all her worries, including Ayoola’s previous murders, Korede’s infatuation with Doctor Tade, even her preference for a certain type of popcorn, and their childhood with their brutal father.  Well, the coma patient is a perfect audience – he can’t see, speak or hear - he’s the three wise monkeys rolled into one!  Until, much to everyone’s shock and surprise, he wakes up one day – and wishes to speak to Korede.
            Ms Braithwaite’s debut novel is smart, funny - and spine-chilling, exactly as a good thriller should be.  Each sister has choices, as we all do;  it’s very satisfying to see what they decide.  FIVE STARS.   

Monday, 22 April 2019

The Border, by Don Winslow. 

            This is the last book of master crime-writer Don Winslow’s trilogy which started with ‘The Power of the Dog’, followed by ‘The Cartel’.  Now this magnificent, terrible story of the drug war between Mexico and the USA comes to an end;  several of the major characters have died, including Adan Barrera, ‘El Senor’, supreme leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, with whom the Mexican government negotiated a deal:  if they gave his cartel autonomy, then the myriad killings of innocent people could be kept to a more ‘manageable’ level.
            Yep, sounds like a plan.  But Barrera has now been murdered and his cartel is exposed to a take-over from rivals for whom brutality, sadism and ferocity are meat and drink:  the butchering of innocents resumes, as does increased trafficking of heroin across the border to the cartels’ biggest customer – the USA.
            New Head of the Drug Enforcement Agency Art Keller is once again at the helm of a special undercover unit tasked with tracing  heroin shipments and money laundering movements by the bankers believed to be attached to the cartels, and what he eventually discovers is information to chill his blood, if only it can be proven:  not only is drug money laundered by being provided as seed-money in New York hedge fund operations,  but the faceless people borrowing laundered Mexican drug money reside at the very top:  the new White House administration.  Art Keller has always been a Lone Wolf and as such will never be popular.  But he is brave and honourable and believes in doing the right thing, and the right thing here is to expose the corruption and rot within those at the highest levels, those whose only god is money.  He knows it is a battle he cannot win.
            ‘The Border’ teems with characters that delight and horrify the reader.  The violence is gut-churningly graphic – there is no escape for us as the gory, bloody war that will never be won proceeds onwards;  instead we can only marvel at Don Winslow’s genius at bringing this monumental tragedy to life with such cruel realism:  although this is a work of fiction, it was all based on factual events, but the question remains:  what is so fundamentally wrong with American society that they must continually seek the anaesthetic release from pain for, as long as there are buyers of poison, there will be vendors.  Why? 
            This is a master work.  SIX STARS.         

Friday, 12 April 2019

November Road, by Lou Berney.

            The assassination of President John F Kennedy in November 1963 has given birth to conspiracy theories galore, not to mention rafts of published material, both fact and fiction guaranteeing the continued life of the legend.  Stephen King introduced the supernatural element in his masterful novel of time travel in ’12.22.63;  now we have Lou Berney’s version of the tragedy in Dallas.  And it is chillingly plausible.           
            Frank Guidry is a fixer for Carlos Marcello, a ruthless Louisiana crime boss whose reach is long and power absolute;  Frank is his favourite because he’s very good at his job, which is keeping even a sniff of trouble away from his merciless employer, and for that he is well paid.  He’s handsome, a sharp dresser, and well-read enough to fool all kinds of people.  He loves being indispensable.  Until the unthinkable Crime of the Century occurs:  Kennedy is murdered in Dallas, and Frank is despatched from New Orleans to Dallas with instructions to dump a car hiding an incriminating weapon in the tide.  Which he does, for a good soldier always follows orders – until he realises that plans of disposal have been made for him, too:  he knows too much.  Never mind that he would eat his teeth before he would divulge that he has figured out that Oswald and Ruby were patsies and that Kennedy’s murder was a mafia hit:  sadly, the only way his boss can be sure he won’t talk is to silence him forever.
            Frank finds this morally outrageous.  Is this any way to treat a 100% loyal employee?  His only course of action is to go on the run, which is fine – at first, until he hears that Paul Barone, a particularly evil killer has been hired to find him and end his life as painfully as possible:  well, he’s not going to make Barone’s job easy for him – he has friends in Las Vegas who will help him leave the country, if he can get there in one piece.
            And he does, with the help of a young woman and her two little girls and their family dog;  Charlotte has left her drunken husband and is going to her aunt in Los Angeles.  Frank is not the only one on the run, but a chance to pose as a family man will be the perfect disguise – he hopes.
            Lou Berney’s characters leap off the page.  His dialogue can be smart and funny, until the reader is sideswiped by dramatic, jaw-dropping twists in the plot of a great story in which there are few winners.  SIX STARS 

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

The Rosie Result, by Graeme Simsion.

           Professor of Genetics Don Tillman is very happy with his life at the beginning of the final book of Graeme Simsion’s marvellous trilogy:  he is still married to Rosie, The Most Beautiful Woman in the World, who has now gained all her qualifications for new medical research into various mental illnesses;  he has a satisfying job at New York’s Columbia University;  their 11 year old son Hudson – after a few false starts – is doing well academically (for the most part:  maths and English excellent, handwriting illegible and sports terrible), and Don has firm, loyal friends.  For the first time in his life, he fits in.
            But Rosie inadvertently changes everything when her application for a position as lead researcher on a medical team in Melbourne is accepted.  In what seems an obscenely short time, Don’s little family is ensconced in a three bed two bath house in suburban Melbourne, and Hudson is not adjusting at all to his new environment and new school.  Meltdowns, formerly few and far between, are occurring often:  Hudson, because of his American accent and complete lack of interest in sports (he’d rather read books on Space Travel) is  bullied by his class-mates, the ‘neurotypicals’ (that’s thee an me, folks!).  Something has to be done, and Don, who went through the same agonising situations when he was the same age and knows just how damaging they can be, determines that he is the one to do it:  his brilliant, atypical, ‘your son has autism’ boy will receive the maximum benefit from Don’s own adolescent Baptism of Fire:  Hudson will fit in if they both die in the attempt!
            Thus begins Don’s efforts to help Hudson lead a normal life by showing him all the pitfalls of ‘being weird’ and how to avoid them, including tuition on How to Ride a Bike – but Hudson has his own ideas about what he considers normal, and his own solutions to his problems of not fitting in. He’s brave enough to acknowledge that he’s On the Spectrum, and eventually, confident enough in his new learned skills to think that maybe ‘neurotypicals’ might like to fit in with him for a change.
            This is such a lovely story that I am saddened to think that this will be the last we read of Don and his singular little family, but Mr Simsion has ended his trilogy at the right time – leaving us wanting more, and wishing to show more tolerance to those of us who don’t always fit in.  SIX STARS.