Yesterday by Felicia Yap

Wildfire | 2017 (10 August) | 432p | Review copy | Buy the book

Yesterday by Felicia YapImagine an alternative present, in which nobody over the age of 18 can remember what happened more than one or two days ago. The fortunate ones are Duos – those who can remember the events of the day before yesterday. The Monos, on the other hand, can remember only yesterday. As a result, Monos are victimised and judged as inferior, backward and of little use to society. They must even register at the Department of Monos. They have little chance of advancing in their careers. Duos, on the other hand, are regarded as the thinkers, inventors, artists and doers of society. They are the high achievers. But, in order to manage, everyone must record their everyday lives onto their iDiaries and each day they must study it to remember the ‘Facts’ of their lives.

How easy it must be, then, to hide a murder, to forget it even happened. But why would anyone choose to murder at all? It’s difficult to hate somebody when you can choose to forget that they even exist. These are the issues facing DCI Hans Richardson when the body of a woman is pulled from the river Cam in Cambridge. The obvious suspect is the man with whom she was having an affair, novelist Mark Evans, a Duo who is close to achieving his goal of being elected an MP. He is also married to a Mono who everyday must learn to re-love a man she knows she can’t trust. But how can Hans tell what really happened when the clock is ticking towards yet another day of forgotten memories? The answer he feels may be found in the iDiary secrets of the murdered woman, Sophia.

Yesterday is an excellent psychological thriller with an intriguing and original premise. It’s set in a world (and England) that we can recognise but everything is altered due to the way that people and society cope without the luxury of memory. This is done brilliantly. We’re given extracts from scientific and social studies, from personal diaries and from literature (including snippets from Mark Evans’s own novels) which illustrate what this means for culture and society. In a way it’s almost a Utopia – there’s little crime, war or unhappiness – but then we’re reminded of what the reality is actually like for Monos. There’s a reason why there’s no misogyny, religious hatred and racism in this alternate world – all that prejudice is reserved for the Monos. It’s fascinating stuff. It also allows for some humorous touches, such as Steve Jobs’ runaway success in developing the iDiary (with lots of software updates, obviously).

Much of the narrative is told by each of the main characters (Mark, his wife Claire, Sophia and Hans) in turn, moving backwards and forwards between them, and also moving into the past, especially in the sections told by the victim. But each is the very epitome of the unreliable narrator – how could they be otherwise? Each of these people is either desperate to remember or to forget. It also throws light on the relationship between Duos and Monos by focusing on how Mark and Claire relate to each other. Claire is a wonderful character, my favourite in the novel, and her story is incredible and very moving at times. My feelings towards Sophia were much more complicated – what a creation she is. Hans has his own problems, a world away from those facing detectives in crime fiction set in our time and place. Hans has only a day to solve the crime and this adds a different twist to the police procedural element of the novel.

I did have one minor issue with the novel. I didn’t understand how people could make themselves remember Facts from their iDiaries. This gets over the obvious problem of characters not being able to remember anything or anyone at all but I didn’t understand how it worked.

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the way that Yesterday comes together into what is a very clever and original debut novel from Felicia Yap. It races along and maintains the tension throughout. I’m very intrigued to see where the author will head next. I think it’s going to be very interesting indeed.

I Know a Secret by Tess Gerritsen

Bantam Press | 2017 (10 August) | 336p | Review copy | Buy the book

I Know a Secret by Tess GerritsenYoung men and women are being murdered in Boston in horrifically elaborate ways – the first is found in her house, lying on her bed, holding her eyeballs in her hand. The walls of the house are covered in horror movie posters. The torso of the second is shot through with arrows. There seems little to link the murders except for their gruesome nature but Detectives Jane Rizzoli and Barry Frost, as well as Medical Examiner Maura Isles, are determined to find one and stop the killer. But watching them is a young woman with something to fear. She knows how the victims are linked and she knows she’s on the murderer’s list. But she has a secret and that means that she can’t look to the police for help. Matters aren’t helped when someone very close to Maura Isles, someone she hoped never to see again, decides to take an interest.

I Know a Secret is the twelfth novel in Tess Gerritsen’s fine Rizzoli and Isles series. As usual, it features a standalone mystery but this is set within the context of so much that has grown familiar over the series – this a close-knit group of people. Jane and Maura know everything about each other and their team. Family and relationship troubles are causes for concern and Jane in particular spends time worrying about others, including Frost, whose longterm marriage woes continue to torment him (and everyone around him). Likewise there are developments in Jane’s own family and in Maura’s difficult past. These stories don’t dominate the novel – the mystery is always what matters the most – but it does mean that if you come to this novel cold, without having read any of the others, then you might well be missing out on the pleasure of getting to know their wonderful characters. I have yet to read them all but I’ve read enough to have picked up a real affection for these people.

I do enjoy how I Know a Secret is driven as much by character as it is suspense. Rizzoli, Frost and Isles all react in very human ways to the horrible sights that face them. They care about the victims and their families. The hunt for the killer becomes a personal driving force. I like Jane so much and, among all the other memorable characters who play their part here, I love her mother.

The crime case is a good one and it’s speeded along by regular chapters that give the point of view of the mysterious young woman who is watching events so closely. While I did find the story a little less involving than others in the series, it does pick up in the second half of the book as it begins to move in unexpected ways, culminating in a thoroughly satisfying conclusion.

I’ve grown to love this series very much and, as always, I must wait impatiently for the next while enjoying the fact that I still have a few to catch up on. It’s always good to spend time with Rizzoli and Isles.

Other reviews
Die Again (Rizzoli and Isles 11)
Gravity

The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory

Simon & Schuster | 2017 (8 August) | 519p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Last Tudor by Philippa GregoryPerhaps if Lady Jane Grey had denied her Protestant faith, her Catholic cousin, Queen Mary Tudor, might not have had Jane beheaded for stealing the Tudor crown for those nine infamous days in July 1553. But Jane steadfastly refused and so this 17-year-old girl went to the block, becoming one of the most well-known and pitied figures in English history. But Jane wasn’t the only member of the Grey family to fall foul of their more powerful cousins. Her younger sisters Katherine and Mary were Elizabeth I’s closest heirs, a constant reminder of how fragile her grip on the throne was, and, just like Jane, the target of men with ambition. But in the end their crime was very different from Jane’s. Both Katherine and Mary were prepared to risk everything for love.

Philippa Gregory’s latest novel about Tudor women is, she tells us, most likely her last and this, I think, explains much of its title. Beginning in the 1550s, it covers the reigns of Henry VIII’s three children but its early focus is on the events that forced Lady Jane Grey to the forefront of history. The novel is divided into three (unequal in length) parts, covering each of the three sisters’ stories in turn, with the larger middle part telling the tragic tale of Katherine Grey. Each section is told in the present tense by each sister in turn – Jane, Katherine and Mary – and the voice of Jane sets a striking opening note for The Last Tudor.

Jane’s story is well-known to history for a good reason – it’s as fascinating as it’s upsetting, but Philippa Gregory does a fine job of showing that there was more to her than the usual image of an innocent lamb led to the slaughter. This Jane is defiant and uncompromising, difficult to love and isolated. Her religion is more important than family. But we’re not allowed to forget that she is effectively a child and she has no control over her own destiny. The only thing she has power over is her faith and she will not give it up. But the Jane portrayed here might never have thought that Mary would actually kill her. Jane isn’t easy to like but she’s extremely easy to feel sorry for. The author demonstrates well that Jane’s death was such an enormous waste. This might be a familiar tale but it’s a powerful one and it doesn’t lose anything in the re-telling.

Jane’s two sisters Katherine and Mary are less well-known but their stories – Katherine’s in particular – are just as tragic. Mary is a fascinating character, not least because she would have stood out in court for being a ‘little person’ but this characteristic and useful ability to appear unseen didn’t always keep her safe from Elizabeth I. I really enjoyed Mary’s narrative during the novel’s final third. She presents an unusual perspective on the Tudor court and her resilience is extraordinary.

The larger part of the novel concerns the middle sister Katherine Grey and what a pitiful story it is. Perhaps it’s because this is the longest section but I soon tired of Katherine’s voice. Her naivety in embarking on a course of action that was bound to end in trouble made me less sympathetic than I should have been. I must admit that I just wanted it to end.

The figure that overshadows the whole novel is Elizabeth I and what a tyrant she is. Philippa Gregory always makes plain her feelings about historical figures and we can be in no doubt about her view of Elizabeth. This is all well and good (this is fiction after all) but I did have some trouble with the novel’s judgement of Elizabeth’s relationship with Thomas Seymour. The novel tells a gripping story but its characterisation is arguably quite flat or black and white with little freedom for development and few surprises.

Philippa Gregory is a prolific author and so it’s not surprising that I get on with some novels better than others. Some I absolutely adore, such as The Taming of the Queen, but others, including The Last Tudor, less so. Nevertheless, the history that fuels The Last Queen is absolutely fascinating and deserves a re-telling. What will stay in my mind most of all, though, is the opening voice of Lady Jane Grey as she heads resolutely towards her fate.

Other reviews
The Taming of the Queen
Three Sisters, Three Queens

The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond

Michael Joseph | 2017 (27 July) | 414p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Marriage Pact by Michelle RichmondAlice and Jake are the perfect couple – young, attractive, with fine careers ahead of them. Alice was a singer in a successful rock band but now she’s an up and coming lawyer while Jake is a partner in a growing psychology practice. They’re ready to get married. On the spur of the moment they invite one of Alice’s wealthy clients to the wedding. He loves weddings, he tells them. His gift is unexpected – an offer to join something called the Pact.

The Pact, Alice and Jake learn, is a society of like-minded couples who want nothing more than to achieve the perfect marriage. It lays down a few rules that are designed to bring the couple closer together and every few months everyone gathers at a Pact party to celebrate their marriages and friendships. It all sounds positive and Jake and Alice desperately want their marriage to work. Jake spends much of his time counselling couples on the verge of divorce. He knows better than most that a relationship takes commitment. Perhaps they could do with the help. So, with only a cursory glance at the paperwork, Jake and Alice join the Pact. And so begins a descent into a hell of their own making.

What follows is something from the realms of horror that, as reviewers have noted, has elements in common with The Stepford Wives. For the Pact is nothing but a sinister cult. It might be glamorous on the outside but its core is rotten through and through. The lengthy manual that Jake and Alice are given lays out the code and any infractions are met with punishments of increasing brutality and humiliation. Jake and Alice are trapped and what happens to them is appalling.

The Marriage Pact is undoubtedly one of the most gripping novels I’ve read this year. It’s a rollercoaster ride of suffering for Jake and Alice but it’s a thrilling read for us as time after time we wonder what could possibly happen next. The movement from the beginning to the end is staggering, so much has happened. The members of the Pact are successful members of society and it’s all stripped away before our eyes.

There is a fundamental issue with The Marriage Pact that you have to get past in order to enjoy it. Its premise is completely preposterous and unbelievable. This is compounded by the fact that Alice is a lawyer – why didn’t she read the contract? And the incredible resources that the Pact has in its power are just that – incredible. Everything feels that it is held together purely by compliance and submission. I wanted to shake these silly people from start to finish.

But, if you can get past this as I did, then you’ll have a lot of fun with The Marriage Pact. It’s well-written and there are sections of this novel that were golden to me. These bits, for me, weren’t part of the main plot but to do with Jake’s job as a psychologist. The novel is narrated by Jake and he likes to tell us about his day, giving us facts and figures, for example, about marriage as well as anecdotes about coming to terms with one’s past. I found some of these sections extraordinarily powerful and I actually took some tips away from it! Some of the book’s ideas went far deeper than I was expecting.

I also enjoyed Jake and Alice. It’s easy to feel irritated by Alice but her character is an interesting one and I was desperate for her to wake up. Their relationship, though, feels genuine and I did care what happened to them. The spiral into hell that is The Marriage Pact happens fast and it is very hard to put down. The ending has divided reviewers and I can’t say that it was entirely satisfactory for me but I can’t imagine how else it might have ended so I’m happy enough with it. This is a novel with fine writing and huge energy and heart and within were significant little nuggets of gold which I’ll carry away with me.

I’m delighted to post my review as part of the blog tour to celebrate the publication of The Marriage Pact. For other stops on the tour, do take a look at the poster below.

The Marriage Pact blog tour

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Century | 2017 (27 July) | 432p | Review copy | Buy the book

Then She Was Gone by Lisa JewellEllie disappeared ten years ago when she was just fifteen years old. A popular and very clever girl, she was about to sit her GCSEs – her future was ahead of her. And then she was gone. Ellie’s disappearance changed her family forever, with her mother Laurel and father Paul trying to deal with her loss in their own ways while her sister and brother have to cope not just with the grief of it but also the devastation of knowing that their mother has lost the child she loved the most. Guilt is such a big part of the grief and it has endured for years. But now, all these years on, something happens to give Laurel the kick she needs to move her own life on again – she falls in love with Floyd, a charismatic and handsome stranger.

It isn’t long before Laurel is spending all of her spare time with Floyd and the day comes soon when she accompanies him home to meet his two daughters. And when she meets Poppy, Floyd’s lovely, curious and precocious nine-year-old daughter, time stops. Poppy is the spitting image of Ellie when she was that age. As Laurel finds herself increasingly drawn into the arms of Floyd’s family, the questions that used to obsess her about Ellie’s disappearance return with a vengeance.

Then She Was Gone is the first novel by Lisa Jewell I’ve read but I soon knew it wouldn’t be the last. She most certainly knows how to tell a good tale. The writing is superb as is her characterisation and it’s this that pushes Then She Was Gone into another class of psychological thrillers. I love the way that the narrative moves around between key characters, also shifting between the present and the events of ten years ago when Ellie vanished out of the lives of those who loved her so much. It’s hugely accomplished.

The novel is driven most of all by character. The story itself is such a good one but it’s quite possible that you, like me, will guess much of what happens. At first I was slightly disappointed by this, hoping that I’d made a mistake and some great twist was on the way to confound me, but on reflection I realise that this was entirely the wrong attitude. Perhaps I’ve been conditioned by reading far too many psychological thrillers! What matters here is the story of Laurel, her family, Floyd and his. It’s superbly done. It’s very emotional and sensitively handled. Laurel in particular is a marvellous character, learning to cope with great trauma while also dealing with people so close to her who don’t quite know how to handle her.

Poppy is an absolute delight. She’s vulnerable and tiny but so courageous. She can be irritating but Laurel knows just how to handle her and the relationship between the two is wonderful, as is Laurel’s troubled relationship with her other daughter Hanna. I liked these people a great deal.

Then She Was Gone is a very difficult novel to put down. So well written, it insists you keep reading, immersing you in the story of these people’s lives while always reminding us, and them, of the beautiful, clever, funny and loving Ellie. It’s time the truth was told.

They All Fall Down by Tammy Cohen

Black Swan | 2017 (13 July) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

They All Fall Down by Tammy CohenThere was a time when everything was going well for Hannah – she had a happy marriage, a good job and with every hope of having a child to complete her life. But then she did something that shocked all who knew her and now she exists as well as she can in an expensive psychiatric clinic, The Meadows. The clinic is exclusive with few patients, all female. It’s taken a while but Hannah is beginning to form friendships but her progress is compromised when two of those closest to her commit suicide. She’s told that both were high suicide risks but Hannah is convinced that there’s more to it. She believes that they were murdered. But who would believe a woman regarded by doctors and family alike as mad?

Tammy Cohen has rapidly become one of my very favourite authors, thanks to the fabulous and original psychological thriller When She Was Bad and also the superb A Dangerous Crossing (written as Rachel Rhys), which will be among my top novels of 2017. They All Fall Down is another standalone psychological thriller with an unusual and captivating, almost claustrophobic, setting – this time a small psychiatric clinic. Our cast of characters is also relatively small but each of them is complex and holds our attention to the utmost.

At the heart of the novel is Hannah and this is reflected in the present-tense chapters that bear her name. But Hannah is the very epitome of the unreliable witness. We only find out slowly why she is in The Meadows but we can see some of the signs of her illness in her behaviour. I warmed to her immediately but I can’t say that I ever trusted her. But her story as it is revealed is fascinating and pulls us to her. It is even more difficult to know the other patients in the clinic. Each copes with what life has thrown with them and none can be relied upon.

We follow a small number of other characters, taking us outside of the clinic setting – Laura, one of the medical staff who works so hard to find the real Hannah within the damaged one before them, and Corinne, Hannah’s mother, who is determined to do whatever she can to help Hannah return to her old life. Each of these women brings a new perspective to Hannah’s story but, instead of stripping away the layers, they add to them. From one chapter to the next, we have little idea where we are heading.

They All Fall Down is such a fabulously twisty twisted tale. We expect this from Tammy Cohen and she most certainly delivers. I’m pretty good at working out psychological thrillers – I read so many of them – but this one surprised me continually and I loved that. But these aren’t shocks for shocks’ sake – they serve the story, the story of Hannah, and so we are emotionally invested in each of them. The relationship between Hannah and her mother is told so well and gives the novel such a punch that complements brilliantly the unravelling of the book’s mysteries, for there is more than one.

I thoroughly enjoyed the claustrophobic atmosphere and the world of secrets evoked by the clinic setting. It presents a sympathetic portrait of the clinic’s troubled and vulnerable patients and of the responsibility and duty of those who have them in their care. At times, we descend into horrifying territory but it is also an uplifting story in some ways as characters hold each other close. I might have imagined at the beginning that I knew where the novel would take me but I was so wrong and I relished each of its surprises while immersing myself in the gripping story of Hannah.

Other reviews
When She Was Bad
(as Rachel Rhys) A Dangerous Crossing

The Rift by Nina Allan

Titan Books | 2017 (11 July) | 423p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Rift by Nina AllanOn 16 July 1996, 17-year-old Julie Rouane left her home in Cheshire telling her mum and younger sister Selena that she was off out to see a friend. Julie didn’t come home. Twenty years later, Selena picks up the phone to hear Julie’s voice on the other end. Julie’s back. And what a story she has to tell. Julie tells Selena that she has spent the years away on Tristane, a distant planet, and there she lived another life, with another set of friends who insisted that she had been born on Tristane and not on this strange planet Earth that preoccupies Julie’s mind.

But Julie’s absence deeply affected the lives of those left behind, including those who were suspected by the police or media of having been involved in her disappearance and likely murder. None were hurt more than Julie’s family, particularly her father.

The Rift fills in those missing years by moving between the perspectives of both sisters, focusing in particular on Selena who now has to pick up the pieces once more. But their narratives are complemented by other bits and pieces – newspaper articles, letters, extracts from fiction and non-fiction, diary entries – which aim to throw light on the devastating impact of Julie’s disappearance while also recreating before us the planet of Tristane. It’s a powerful tale. We’re removed from the reality of what happened by the unreliability of our narrators. The evidence is before us and it’s up to us to rearrange it into order. There are a multitude of possibilities and each at some point pulls us towards it.

This is one of those novels that crosses genres. If I had to categorise it, then I’d probably say that it’s a clever and rewarding psychological thriller but there is a science fiction element to it that I found very appealing. Tristane is presented to us in an unassuming and non-sensational manner and there is a real melancholy to it, a touch of the tragic and a sense of loss. I would have liked more of this but what there was I really enjoyed.

The Rift is a beautifully written novel about dealing with loss and coping with trauma – I found the story of the sisters’ father especially moving. Both Selena and Julie have fascinating stories to tell and, when they come together to try and come to terms with their renewed relationship, I was gripped. This is powerful stuff mixed with the exotic of Tristane, the allure of love and the sinister beauty of some of the novel’s settings on Earth. It’s a haunting read and one that rewards our questions.