Review: THE SECOND GIRL by David Swinson (Mulholland)

SwinsonD-SecondGirlUSOne of the strongest crime series beginnings in many years

He’s a good detective… with a bad habit.

Frank Marr knows crime in Washington, DC. A decorated former police detective, he retired early and now ekes out a living as a private eye for a defense attorney. Frank Marr may be the best investigator the city has ever known, but the city doesn’t know his dirty secret.

A longtime drug addict, Frank has lent his considerable skills to hiding his habit from others. But after he accidentally discovers a kidnapped teenage girl in the home of a local drug gang, Frank becomes a hero and is thrust into the spotlight. He reluctantly agrees to investigate the disappearance of another girl — possibly connected to the first — and the heightened scrutiny may bring his own habits to light, too.

Frank is as slippery and charming an antihero as you’ve ever met, but he’s also achingly vulnerable. The result is a mystery of startling intensity, a tightly coiled thriller where every scene may turn disastrous. The Second Girl is the crime novel of the season and the start of a thunderous new series from an author who knows the criminal underworld inside and out.

I was rather slow getting around to reading this novel, and damn was that a stupid idea. The Second Girl is easily one of the strongest starts to a crime series that I’ve read in years. The characters, story, pacing… all of it worked perfectly. I was hooked from the opening scene, and all I wanted to do was keep reading. Continue reading

Review Round-Up: LITTLE KNOWN FACTS and THE HOPEFULS

Two novels. Two families. Two very different reactions.

SneedC-LittleKnownFactsLITTLE KNOWN FACTS by Christine Sneed (Bloomsbury USA)

The people who orbit around Renn Ivins, an actor of Harrison Ford-like stature — his girlfriends, his children, his ex-wives, those on the periphery — long to experience the glow of his flame. Anna and Will are Renn’s grown children, struggling to be authentic versions of themselves in a world where they are seen as less-important extensions of their father. They are both drawn to and repelled by the man who overshadows every part of them.

A story of the fallout of fame and fortune on family members and others who can neither fully embrace nor ignore the superstar in their midst. A story of influence and affluence, of forging identity and happiness and a moral compass; the question being, if we could have anything on earth, would we choose correctly?

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Little Known Facts. I’d been looking for something new and different to read, and this looked like it might fit the bill. Sneed’s prose is very good, and pulled me through the novel nicely. Each chapter is told from a different perspective, and the novel works its way through the experiences of those who have been swept up into Renn Ivins’s orbit. Sneed does an excellent job giving each character their own distinct voice, and luckily all of them worked.

As can perhaps be predicted, there’s a fair amount of bad behaviour in this novel — especially when it comes to infidelity and philandering (Renn’s behaviour is quite reprehensible in some cases). Each of the characters is flawed, of course, in their own way. Each of them is trying to carve their own identity separate from Renn, while also being unable to resist the allure of proximity and what that conveys and enjoying some of the perks.

I really enjoyed reading this novel. And, despite some flaws, would recommend it to anyone who wants to read a good story about family, fame and celebrity (but mostly focused on what’s going on with the individual family members).

Little Known Facts is published by Bloomsbury.

*

CloseJ-HopefulsUSTHE HOPEFULS by Jennifer Close (Knopf)

The story of a young wife who follows her husband and his political dreams to D.C., a city of idealism, gossip, and complicated friendships among young Washington’s aspiring elite. 

When Beth arrives in Washington, D.C., she hates everything about it: the confusing traffic circles, the ubiquitous Ann Taylor suits, the humidity that descends each summer. At dinner parties, guests compare their security clearance levels. They leave their BlackBerrys on the table. They speak in acronyms. And once they realize Beth doesn’t work in politics, they smile blandly and turn away. Soon Beth and her husband, Matt, meet a charismatic White House staffer named Jimmy and his wife, Ashleigh, and the four become inseparable, coordinating brunch, birthdays, and long weekends away. But as Jimmy’s star rises higher and higher, their friendship – and Beth’s relationship with Matt – is threatened by jealousy, competition and rumors.

A glorious send-up of young D.C. and a blazingly honest portrait of a marriage, this is the finest work yet by one of our most beloved writers.

I think “glorious send-up” means something different to me than to the writer of the synopsis. I had high hopes for this novel, but unfortunately it didn’t deliver. There’s nothing wrong with Close’s prose — there’s a very good flow, and I read the novel pretty quickly. But, ultimately, the story was dull. Things happen, of course, but so much of what I think might have been interesting takes place off-stage. Beth is basically floating through this novel, a mere observer to… well, very little.

Maybe if you’ve lived and worked in DC, you’ll “get” this. There’s certainly a “knowing” tone to some of the scenes. I just think it’s not being quite as clever as it thinks it is. There was nothing particularly original, and nothing particularly interesting in the novel. There was only one moment that made me chuckle (a dream about Mitt Romney). Most of the points to be made — young DC workers are self-involved, form their own tribal rituals and rules, are too earnest for their own good, and are also highly competitive and jealous — is repeated so often, with little variation. The characters felt flat, and Beth’s self-involvement blinded her to potentially interesting observations (maybe that was the point — if Beth was meant to be a boring character, then job well done).

Most of the elements of the novel felt half-baked — if things had just been followed through, then it could have been a very good novel. As it stands, it’s unfortunately quite bland.

The Hopefuls is published by Knopf in July 2016.

Review: THE DIRECTIVE by Matthew Quirk (Headline/Back Bay)

Quirk-MF2-DirectiveUKA series of unfortunate events met with terrible decisions

What if the only way to go straight is to break the law?

Michael Ford has finally escaped his chequered past to lead the respectable life he’s always dreamed of, preparing to settle down with his fiance Annie. But the quiet is shattered when his brother, Jack, comes back into his life.

Jack is a world-class con man who has finally overplayed his hand. He’s in way over his head in a conspiracy to steal a billion-dollar secret from the heart of the financial system. And in an effort to help his brother, Mike soon finds himself trapped by the dangerous men in charge — and responsible for pulling off the heist himself.

With Annie’s safety on the line, Mike tries to figure out who’s behind the job — and realises the only way to keep the honest life is to return to his criminal past. But will he get in too deep to save Annie’s life?

You may have caught my glowing review for Matthew Quirk’s debut, The 500. It was with considerable anticipation, therefore, that I awaited for his next book. The Directive, a direct sequel, failed to live up to my expectations. There are some good things to say, but sadly it had just as many flaws as strengths and they eclipsed much of what I enjoyed.
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