Book Review: The Deadly Houses by Charlie Gallagher

The Deadly Houses
by
Charlie Gallagher

Detective Sergeant Maddie Ives is on the night shift at the Canterbury police station when she receives an unusual call. A man waits outside, ready to confess a murder. Adrian Hughes claims he kidnapped and brutally killed a young woman and he’s ready with all the details and evidence that will put him in jail, including where to find the woman.

The details check out but Ives thinks Hughes is lying. Her new boss is anxious for a quick conviction, however, so Ives must dig fast if she wants to uncover the whole story. While she’s out in the field, she relies on the sharp investigative skills of DC Rhiannon Davis to gather information. And soon her former partner, Harry Blaker is on the team, pulled from a quieter, low-pressure assignment he’d requested after a personal tragedy.

The reader knows there’s more because additional characters reveal strange and confusing details. And alternating scenes put the reader in an abandoned building where prisoners are forced to watch violent and disturbing videos. In a race against time and unknown enemies, Ives will need sort it out before more people die.

The Deadly Houses is the sixth book in the Maddie Ives police procedural series set in the UK but it can be read as a standalone. It was easy enough to get into the plot and I did not feel like I was missing out on a back story. That said, I found the story somewhat overloaded with details and its bad guys were a little too twisted and extreme for my tastes. The author is also a police officer and his knowledge of procedures and politics shows, making that part authentic.

The dominant theme of this story is the protection of women and children from violent partners and the author gives the reader a closer look at important police and social programs designed to help.

As with many thrillers, readers will need to bring with them the usual suspension of disbelief. Maddie Ives powers through many injuries and defies the odds in a number of situations. But she’s a likable character and has good rapport with Blaker and Davis and a peek at her personal life rounds out the story nicely.

All-in-all, I liked The Deadly Houses, but think this series is more geared towards fans of police procedurals.

I received a copy of The Deadly Houses from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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The Round House by Louise Erdrich

the round house picThe Round House
by
Louise Erdrich

Rating:

I’m giving The Round House three stars because, although I enjoyed reading it, I wasn’t completely satisfied with the direction it took.  To be fair, I liked many things about this story of the Coutts family, Native Americans living on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota.  Thirteen-year-old Joe Coutts is in that middle space between boyhood and adulthood and feels driven to find and punish the man who has attacked, raped and nearly killed his mother, Geraldine.  After this plot is developed, however, the book takes several detours that do not always blend well with the storyline.  The author begins by describing how Geraldine, Joe and his father, Bazil, cope in the aftermath of this violent crime.  Amid their shock and outrage is their desperate wish to have things back to the way they were.  When Geraldine retreats to her bedroom, they struggle to coax her back into their lives. The question of jurisdiction is equally important and Bazil, an Ojibwe judge, turns to his law files to find an answer.  The exact location of the crime is critical, and because of overlapping land rights, Bazil understands that it’s unclear who will decide the case, the Ojibwe court system or the federal courts.  These are the things that drew me in.

Instead of this focus, however, the plot seems to meander and visit storylines and characters that go nowhere or are bumbling and comic and I think this is strangely out of place.  Bazil hauls files home from his office and he and Joe begin their research, but this effort seems to stall.  Joe and his buddies visit the crime scene to locate evidence and are easily sidetracked.  They make other efforts to gather evidence in an almost slapstick fashion.  At other points, Joe’s narration seems to take on the style of a “Whodunit” crime novel.

But here are the main things I like about The Round House:

  • Erdrich tells a moving story about family relationships.  I like how all the characters recognize the importance of family and are accepting of friends of family and also across a wide range of families.  I like how this bond spans all generations.
  • I enjoyed learning about the Ojibwe traditions and beliefs.
  • I think the “early” Joe character is well-defined.  I especially like how Erdrich describes him as he wishes he could have gone back in time to prevent his mother from leaving on the day of the attack because this is such a human way to think.  “I kept thinking how easily I could have gotten in the car with her that afternoon.  How I could have offered to do that errand.  I had entered that furrow of remorse – planted with the seeds of resentment – peculiar to young men.”
  • I think Linda Wishkob is Erdrich’s best character.  Her story and how it ties in with Joe’s family is the most interesting.  Her reactions are unpredictable and that adds a lot of suspense.  And although she is a strange and quirky sort, this character works.
  • Bugger Pourier’s character is a nice “sleeper” addition.  I like how he seems to be unimportant, but has important information.
  • Bazil’s dinnertime stories, designed to draw Geraldine out of her depression, are touching.  I like how hard Bazil tries to bring her back.
  • I think Erdrich does a great job showing Joe’s feelings of dread and sickness near the end of the story, as he realizes what he has done.
  • Joe’s friendship with Cappy.  I like how Erdrich describes these friends.  I especially like when Cappy trades sneakers with Joe, even though they wear different sizes.  I think this is a realistic example of friendship between guys.

I’ve mentioned some of the things that bothered me; however I have a few more:

  • Father Travis – I think this character is totally unrealistic and I don’t know how it adds to the story, except perhaps in the end, when he helps Joe understand how good can come from bad things.  “The only thing that God can do, and does all of the time, is to draw good from any evil situation.”  I’m also not sure I understand Travis’ recollection of the JFK assassination or its relevance.  In addition, the chase scene between Cappy and Father Travis is a head-scratcher.
  • Joe’s character takes on drastic changes and they seem unrealistic for a thirteen-year-old boy.  How is it these boys are driving cars?
  • Sonja’s character.  I guess she’s supposed to be someone Joe feels conflicted love for, but I don’t understand how the reader can be sympathetic to her situation and forgive her actions.  I think she has the potential to tie together the theme of violence against women.  I wish Erdrich had done more of that.
  • I think Joe’s grandfather, Mooshum, is a character with great potential and his sleep-talking fables are interesting to me.  I wish they had been tied better to the main plot.
  • Sonja’s birthday visit to Mooshum.  No spoilers here, but beyond strange.
  • Other references to Star Trek, Star Wars.  This is lost on the readers who aren’t into these shows and movies.
  • Mooshum’s birthday cake.  I like the description of the party and how it shows the warmth of the celebration, but I don’t understand the incident.  Is this supposed to be funny?
  • A couple Kindle typos.  Not a huge deal, but still…

I think a lot of this is a matter of opinion and reader taste, however, and I welcome other points of view.  I’ve read reviews that complain about the lack of quotation marks.  Didn’t bother me.  I’ve read other reviews that compare The Round House to To Kill a Mockingbird.  I don’t think this is a fair comparison, despite the similar initial premise.  I’d love to hear what you think.  I’d also like to read something else by Erdrich and I’m looking for recommendations.

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The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

The girl who kicked the hornet's nest pic

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
by
Stieg Larsson

Rating:

How do you top the first two of this series? Write a third – The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest does not disappoint. Larsson’s characters become people we know, some we like, some we hate. I cheered throughout the third book for Lisbeth and Blomkvist and thoroughly enjoyed the sub-plots of the other characters. Lisbeth is such a strong character and I love how she is able to dupe her enemies. I particularly enjoyed reading about Lisbeth’s relationship with Dr. Jonasson and was glad to have him on her side.

I also enjoyed the Gullberg/Clinton “Special Section” subplot and think Larsson does a great job portraying these “old timers.” Despite their illegal activities, they are professionals in what they do and that is impressive. In addition, I think Erica Berger’s problems are both interesting and suspenseful and like that she becomes a key character in this book.

As with the first two books, I think the hi-tech element is totally entertaining and fun to read.

One thing that doesn’t quite sit with me is Blomkvist’s relationship with Figuerola. I think when you read this series, there are a lot of things you must simply believe for the sake of the story, but for some reason, I do not see the connection between these two. I guess that can also be said about Blomkvist’s brief affair with Harriett Vanger in the second book and with the other Vanger cousin in the first book. Despite Blomkvist’s and Figuerola’s relationship, I started to cheer for Berger, hoping she and Blomkvist would somehow stay connected.

I am sad this series is finished!

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The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

The Girl who played with fire pic

The Girl Who Played with Fire
by
Stieg Larsson

Rating:

Who else loves these references to places and food and technology?

Långholmsgatan near Vӓsterbron, Upplandsgatan near Odenplan, Allhelgonagatan, Nynӓsvӓgen! Frozen fish casseroles, calamari and chips with a bottle of Carib, Billy’s Pan Pizza. The Apple PowerBook G4 titanium with a 17-inch screen, the Palm PDA with a folding keyboard…The references go on and on and I thoroughly enjoyed these details as well as the entire plot and the hundreds of characters who appear in Stieg Larsson’s second book in the series of Lisbeth Salander adventures.

Salander is a great combination of kick-butt attitude and underdeveloped social skills. Larsson continues to show his disgust of violence against women and child abuse and I think it is in this book where the reader fully commits to Lisbeth’s character. There is plenty of action and many questions hang as the book ends. I think this second book is even better than the first!

Stay tuned to my comments on The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest!

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

the girl with the dragon tattoo picThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
by
Stieg Larsson

Rating:

There are so many things I thoroughly loved about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that I cannot decide which aspects were the most entertaining. Stieg Larsson has done a terrific job of creating a suspenseful story full of social and political commentary and extremely original and interesting characters.

So I am just going to list a few things that maybe you agree with, or maybe not:

  1. Lisbeth Salander is such an original character with so many contradicting traits. Despite her difficult personality and intimidating appearance, many of the men who meet Lisbeth are attracted to her in complicated ways, with varying shades of paternal love (?) and romantic feelings. She is fiercely independent and antisocial, yet underneath all this is an unidentified need. What do you think Lisbeth really needs? Does it make you cheer for her or are you frustrated with the way she cuts people off?
  2. Larsson’s disgust for violence against women and his hatred for pedophiles are dominant themes in this book. Do you think the impact of his message is even greater coming from a male author?
  3. Despite the serious themes, Larsson inserts a great deal of amusing details. Once I got over the overwhelming number of references to streets, towns, people, I stopped being frustrated and actually laughed. Did anyone else feel that way? In particular, I loved how he talked about how his characters got around town and around the country and what kinds of technology they used. In the beginning, I tried to visualize where the streets were in reference to each other (I even drew myself a map of the Vanger cottages!), then I gave up and just enjoyed myself. I also got a kick out of the sayings on Lisbeth’s t-shirts.
  4. Did anyone notice how industrious Larsson’s characters are? They plow through incredible amounts of work, piles of paper, their efforts fueled by a lot of coffee. Whenever I put down the book, I always felt an urge to try to accomplish something in my own life!

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