Review: XO by Jeffery Deaver

XO cover image

Part police procedural, part psychological thriller: a wholly engaging read

What the synopsis says … “Country singing starKayleigh Towne’s career is reaching new heights with her huge hit single “Your Shadow” but the increased fame is also bringing unwanted attention. An innocent exchange with one of her fans, signed with an “XO,” leads Kayleigh into the dangerous and terrifying realm of obsession.

Edwin Sharp thinks Kayleigh’s songs contain messages that speak directly to him. Despite her clear rejection and threats from lawyers and law enforcers, he remains convinced that “Your Shadow” was written just for him, and he announces he’s coming for Kayleigh. Then a potentially fatal accident occurs at the concert hall where Kayleigh is rehearsing for a triumphant hometown performance, and she is convinced that someone – maybe Edwin – was there watching her from the darkness.

True to his word, Edwin Sharp soon makes an ominous appearance in town, and California Bureau of Investigation Agent Kathryn Dance, a friend and fan of Kayleigh’s on vacation in Fresno to attend the show, intervenes on her behalf, drawing Sharp’s frightening attention to herself. That night a member of the road crew is murdered in an eerie echo of an image from her chart-topping song. As more deaths loom on the horizon, Kathryn Dance must use her considerable skills at investigation and body-language analysis to stop the stalker and save more innocent victims. But before long she learns that, like many celebrities, Kayleigh has more than one fan with a mission.”

It’s a clever story, one that has you thinking on more than one occasion that you definitely know who the killer is, only to discover a few pages on that there’s another piece of evidence that points away from that person and onto another.

Throughout the book, the lyrics of Kayleigh Towne play a large part in the action – being used as a killers calling card, the police trying to interpret them to locate a murder scene, the comfort the writer brought from them during personal hardship or, occasionally, as simply a tuneful accompaniment to a beer.

This is the first Kathryn Dance novel I’ve read. As you’d expect from Deaver, she’s a well drawn, engaging character: clever, witty and not afraid of throwing herself into the action, she’s made all the more real for the insecurities and family worries she grapples with in her personal life.  And, as a bonus, there’s even a guest appearance by another of Deaver’s well known continuing characters.

Highly recommended.

Writing Prompts: the abandoned motel

abandoned motel

abandoned motel

Travelling through the States I stumbled across this abandoned motel on the edge of a tiny town in West Virginia.

It seemed odd, that in a cute little town with artisan shops and traditional bars, a motel beside a picturesque river on the edge of a national park could fall into disrepair.

Old and crumbling, with broken windows and the door to the reception area just slightly ajar, the place looked like it’d been empty a while.

It got me wondering: what happened here?

Now there’s a prompt for a story …

Review: The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson

Cover of "The Killer Inside Me"

Cover of The Killer Inside Me

Brutal. Compelling. And Utterly Absorbing: first-person narration at its finest

“Lou Ford is the deputy sheriff of a small town in Texas.  The worst thing most people can say against him is that he’s a little slow and a little boring.  But, then, most people don’t know about the sickness – the sickness that almost got Lou put away when he was younger.  The sickness that is about to surface again.”

I have to admit I was rather unsure how I’d find this book. On the cover is an endorsement from Stanley Kubrick. It reads, “Probably the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind I have ever encountered.” This made me worry that the book might be a little too much for me to handle.

But I didn’t need to. Because although Kubrick is absolutely correct: the story is both chilling and believable, and there is no doubt that the first-person narration of Lou Ford is decidedly warped. It’s also brilliant. Utterly brilliant.

A true story of gritty noir, Thompson’s honest and darkly charming style pulls you into the story and gets you to care about Lou Ford, even though you know things are going to get bad. And despite the fact that you know “the sickness” is coming, and that Lou is preparing to do some very bad things, you can’t help but want to read more.

But, let’s be clear, this isn’t a first-person narrated killer like Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter. Lou Ford’s not doing anything that’s justifiable or righteous in any way. And when the bad stuff happens, although you knew it was coming all along, it slams into you quicker than you think.

Lou’s actions are brutal and horrifying, yet you find yourself wanting to stay with him and keep following the story to find out where it leads. Because warped and wrong as what Lou does is, he’s a compelling and complex character that you can’t help but keep reading about.

Written in 1952, and adapted to film in 1976 and 2010, Jim Thompson’s novel still seems fresh and contemporary.

Highly Recommended.

Finding Sherlock in the Maze

the book maze

For me there’s something wonderful about the physicality of a paper book.

Perhaps it’s because of fond memories of childhood Christmas’ and treasured hardbacks given as gifts. Or perhaps it’s because from the moment I could read a book I’ve always had at least one on the go at any time. I just can’t imagine not having a current book (and a long list of ‘to reads’).

So, that said, you can imagine how excited I was to visit the book maze installation at Royal Festival Hall, London, a couple of weeks ago.

The maze was made up of Braille books and second-hand paperbacks and hardbacks of all genres from crime to self-help via chick lit, academic textbooks and romance – to name a few!

As I navigated the passages between the walls of books, I spotted novels by authors I love and authors I’d love to read.  In fact, I could have read them right there because the maze was designed to be interactive: see a book that interests you, pick it up and start reading … wonderful.

When finally, after flicking through many books along the way, I reached the end I was delighted to find stories about one of my favourite characters, written by the author that first got me interested in the crime thriller genre, displayed on the final twist of the book wall. It was a hardback copy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Study in Scarlet and Hound of the Baskervilles.

And so, in the end (and the beginning for me) there was Sherlock.

Sherlock in the maze