THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN IS A NON-STOP EXPRESS THRILLER WITH HAWKINS FIRMLY IN CONTROL AND PROMISING PLENTY MORE DOWN THE LINE

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Grl on train cvrTrains and romance have always gone hand in hand and so have trains and mystery. Take the Orient Express, Midnight express, the Great Train Robbery and the Railway Children for example. Then there’s train journeys in general which, just by the mere thought of them, spark ones imagination, the Rocky Mountaineer railway, the Trans-Siberian, even the Eurostar. Commuter trains are no exception, although the daily trip on the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) which links the city centre with the north and south coastal towns and counties, that I’ve taken for the past 20 years or so, doesn’t really have the same inspirational spark as the London underground,  the Metro in Paris or the New York Subway. Although, there are people in those countries who would disagree and would probably give their eye teeth to have the view over Killiney Bay twice a day, instead of the dark ominous brickwork of a tunnel,  I usually have my head stuck in a book. This brings us on to this month’s book.  It’s the current talk of the literary world, and has being suggested as this years “Gone Girl”, it’s The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins.

Rachel Watson takes the same train into London every morning and the same train home again every evening. It stops at the same signal each way and over time she gets to know the routines of the people in the houses that she over looks as the train idles there before moving on. So engrossed in the lives of one couple in particular is she, that she has even given them names Jason and Jess. One day she sees “Jess” in her back garden embracing a man not “Jason”. But the coincidental stopping of the train at that  point is not the only reason for Rachel’s interest in those particular houses, she used to live a couple of doors down, before her marriage broke down and now two years on, she’s struggling to get over the break up, which isn’t helped by her alcoholism. One evening she gets off at the nearest station and in a drunken stupor causes a scene at her old home. Coincidentally Megan Hipwell, the neighbour whom Rachel has Christened “Jess” goes missing goes that night – in the aftermath Rachel can’t remember what happened. Just hazy flash backs, which include her ex-husband Tom, his new wife Anna, a man with red hair, as well as waking up next morning bloodied and bruised. Thinking she has vital evidence she decides to go to the police and with her life spiraling into alcoholic oblivion Rachel blunders further into the investigation, when Megan’s body turns up a couple of weeks later. Is Rachel the killer or has she met them and is she about to be their next victim?

The word on the grapevine was that this was a great book to read and I have to say, it was correct. From the get go, Paula Hawkins builds the tension up superbly in the style of the great British thriller writers of the past. Agatha Christie and the recently departed Ruth Rendell would be very proud. The book is told primarily through the eyes of Rachel, but also from the point of view of Megan Hipwell and Anna Watson, the new wife of Rachel’s ex Tom.  At no point can you tell who the killer is until the very last minute. Every one of the main Characters is a viable suspect; it’s been years since I’ve read a book that has left me guessing till the last couple of pages. Also the initial premise of the story, that of what you see in peoples houses when you stare in fleetingly from a passing train, is not something new to any of us. We’re all “Nosey-Parkers”  deep down and we’ve probably see some strange things going on in peoples houses and often wondered what those people are doing, who lives in a house like that or why did they do that to their house or garden?

Its also been a while since I’ve come across such a flawed main character, her alcoholism is so nicely woven into the story-line that you really do feel for Rachel and almost want to step into the pages and take her by the hand and lead her to an AA meeting or pump her full of Coffee. As well as destroying her marriage, it’s also cost her a lucrative PR job in the city, but she still takes the train every day so that her flatmate Cathy thinks she still has a job. It’s Cathy who is her real and only support, despite being the recipient of all the general detritus associated with Rachel’s condition, although her patience is tested and  a sainthood is lurking somewhere in the ether.

Paula Hawkins

Paula Hawkins

Zimbabwean born Hawkins (www.paulahawkinsbooks.com) has been working and living in the UK since 1989. She’s a former journalist who credits reading Agatha Christie as a child as her inspiration, but that it was Donna Tarrt’s Secret History which was the real eye opener to the possibilities of psychological thrillers. This is her first book, but in a recent interview with Penguin Canada she admitted she has hundreds of pieces of fiction stored on hard drives, some a few pages long others tens of thousands of words long.

There are loads of similarities to other works set on a train in this 450 frm paddnton cvrbook but the closest is Agatha Christie’s The 4:50 From Paddington. The plot is scarily similar, two trains pull along side each other and a woman travelling alone in her carriage witnesses another woman being murdered in the other train, the only person who can help her is that wiley old sleuth Ms Marple.

So the next time you stare out the train window into houses along the way or another train, be careful what you see, you never know you could be witness to a crime. But in general just smile and wave, even if nobody returns the gesture. Then if you haven’t already, been prompted by this review to get a copy, then jump off at the next available station and pick up this book.

LUPTON AND SISTER FIND SUCCESS FIRST TIME OUT, WHILE GALLUCCI NEEDS MORE TIME TO FIND HIS FORM.

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sister-rosamund-lupton-ebook-e6e66You’ve got to hand it to the budding novelists of this world; it’s a little easier to get published these days with the advent of kindle and eBooks. You just write the book and it put up on Amazon and see if you can sell any outside of your family and friends or even be discovered by a publishing company. There are still those traditionalists though who get out there and write a couple of chapters and then post or email them round the myriad of publishers and literary agents and await the results of the publishing lottery. Which is awash with reams of confidence sapping rejection letters. Others like the first of this month’s two authors, cut their teeth in other media first.

Rosamund Lupton (www.rosamundlupton.com) was a copywriter and book reviewer, before winning the Carlton Televisions New Writers Competition and being accepted on to BBC’s new writer’s course. In 2010 she had her first book Sister published by Piatkus (www.piatkus.net) since then it’s won awards such Best First Novel at the 2011 Strand Magazine Critics Award as well as the Richard and Judy and WH Smith Readers Choice Award. It’s also been translated into thirty languages.

Sister tells the story of Beatrice an English interior designer now living in New York, whose wayward sister Tess goes missing. Bee jumps on the first plane home and sets about trying find out how and why her sister and soul mate just suddenly disappeared off the face of the earth. The more she discovers about her sister’s personal life the more she realises that despite their weekly Trans-Atlantic phone calls, she didn’t really know her sister that well. With the authorities, her family and Tess’s friends having accepted she’s gone for good, Beatrice throws herself headlong into Tess’s life. Almost taking on her Tess’s persona, by portraying her in a reconstruction and living in her flat. All the while the search for answers takes her on a precarious journey.

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This was my choice for the June meeting of the book group; I first read it back in 2012 and had held it up my sleeve like a sneaky ace for the past year and a half. From the very first page to the very end, the book lives up to the hype on the covers and. It is excellently written and Lupton’s plotting in masterful. She treats the reader like Beatrice’s shadow and you go on an eerie and compelling journey from the get go right to the very end, when she hits you square in the eyes with totally unforeseen ending.

What I remembered from my first time reading it was that I was commuting daily by train from home to work on a journey of about forty five minutes. Some books made the journey drag, but others like this had me stepping on a DART in south county Dublin and what felt like ten minutes later despairingly closing it and having to wait an agonizingly long time to get back to it in the evening.

The other members of the book group also thought this book was brilliantly written and had them finishing it in double quickGONE_GIRL time, while one member who couldn’t make it begged us not to post anything about the ending on social media or emails as she was just finishing it while on a trip abroad and didn’t want us to spoil the ending. It got what I would call in the world of book groups, a standing ovation almost and the last time a book of mine got that was three years ago when I presented them with Room by Emma Donoghue. A few found Beatrice slightly irritating, but loved the plotting and story and also a topic of discussion throughout the meeting was the comparison between Sister and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

The genetics storyline isn’t new but it’s well written and shows some great research, but as she admitted herself in an interview in the back of the book, the medical side was easy due to being married to an obstetrician.  As for advice from Lupton to other first time authors, “Go for it!! And if you meet rejection just keep on it…” she admits she could have papered a small room with rejection letters before getting her first break in scriptwriting. But that’s something she won’t have to worry about from now on. Since publishing Sister her second novel Afterwards was released in 2011.

 

big_img10The other type of first time authors are  the ones that, after the number of rejection letters swamps the whole house, making dinner parties awkward, decide to turn their back on the industry. They go down the self publishing route. My second author this month did a variation on that. He approached Iguana Books, (www.iguanabooks.com) a Canadian publishing company which according to their own website encourages the author to “Pitch In” with covering the cost of getting the book ready for the market, by crowdfunding.  This is the act of seeking small contributions from a group of people, usually over the net.

BP Gallucci (www.bpgallucci.com) is a cat lover and Torontonian born and bred, who’s been writing stories since he was in kindergarten; his first book which was published this year is called Lexus Sam.

The book tells the story of an amnesiac, who calls himself Lexus Sam, but is convinced this isn’t his real name. Currently living in a New York apartment he gets the feeling that he might not be a local because of intermittent flash backs of a life on the West Coast. His apartment is rented out to some guy called Adam Williams and the picture on his drivers licence is the same guy he sees in the mirror every morning, but he thinks it’s all a charade. In his flash backs he also sees a girl called Sarah, so to help him discover who he is he employs the services of a shrink who tries to aid his memory through hypnotic regression, But Lexus questions the doctors motives and as the past merges with the present, he must fight to discover the truth about his past and the mysterious Adam Williams.

If you think the summary above sounds like the marriage of four Matt Damon movies, then you’re not far wrong. Sent to me by Gallucci after we hooked up on Twitter,  the book its self feels like the reworking of more then just a couple of movies, a whole video store worth to be exact. There is no beginning of sorts you are just thrown into the story and mostly I found myself flailing to find direction.

I’m all for getting the reader into the story but you must allow them to get a feeling of where it might be going.Unless it’s set in a life raft, but even then, you  imagine an island, finding a flare gun, even the hint of an engine in the distance. This book just seemed to be occupied by a series of random stereotypical characters and some vague well worn plot. Halfway through, I couldn’t give a damn if he never got his memory back, hey he has an apartment, money to buy pizzas… life’s good.

First time books are rarely instant bestsellers, but it’s like passing your driving test, some do it first time others on their second, third for fourth go . Look at Dan Brown for example it was only after The Da Vinci Code  his fourth book was a bestseller that Digital Fortress, Angels & Demons and Deception Point start making money. Even before that he wrote a number of clunky humorous self help books, one under the pseudonym Dannielle Brown and the other under his wife’s name. Also it took John Le Carre three books to find international acclaim with The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.

BP Gallucci

So, I’m not knocking Gallucci’s ability(especially not a bloke with all those “tats”), just the fact that this first attempt at writing a compelling piece of fiction needs a bit of work. Which I’m sure he will do and who knows down the line, he’ll be up there with the best of them.

So if you want a good summer read get up close with Sister and leave the lost boy where you found him.

FLYNN IS MISSING NOTHING WITH GONE GIRL

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GONE_GIRLAccording to the Missing Persons Bureau in the UK 200,000 people went missing in England between 2009 and 2010. In Ireland 8,511 people were reported missing in 2011. While in the US, the FBI received 661,593 missing person reports, in 2012. There are various reasons why people go missing, but do we ever really understand what those reasons are and what happens to those who are left behind?  This month’s book states that there are two sides to every story; the book is Gillian Flynn’s, Gone Girl.

Gone Girl is this years most talked about work of fiction, in much the same respects as Fifty Shades was last year’s, except with out the sex and titillation. This is the former TV critic’s third novel following on from her 2006 debut, Sharp Objects and the 2009 book Dark Places.

Gone Girl is the story of a married couple Amy and Nick Dunne, who seem to have everything. Amy is the daughter of famous novelists and the inspiration for a series of “Amazing Amy” children’s books. While Nick is an ex newspaper columnist, who after losing his job in NYC, convinces Amy to move to his sleepy home town of Carthage, Missouri after his Sister Margo or  “Go” calls for help in looking after their Alzheimer afflicted father. Nick invests some of the couple’s (Amy’s trust fund) money into buy a bar with his sister. Everything’s going well until the day of their fifth wedding anniversary when Amy just disappears. All the clues lead to a violent abduction and the distinct possibility that Amy is lying dead somewhere. The two local detectives, Boney and Gilpin, start working the case and very soon they have a suspect, thanks to some very incriminating clues. But is Nick the Killer? Is Amy dead? Or is there a more sinister game being played by someone and is that game revenge no matter what the cost?

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The book tells the story through the eyes of Nick in real time and Amy in the past tense from her Diary. For the first 200 pages, I found myself skimming through the Amy’s chapters to get back to Nick’s real time description of events, as I thought Amy’s diary distracted from a good murder mystery.

I felt sorry for Nick, but I often wanted to slap him for being an idiot at times too, but more then anything else he’s a well written character who is believable from the get go. Then bang! On 214 pages and nearly halfway through, Flynn hits you with a ‘curve ball’ out of ‘left field’. You’re immediately left scrambling to adjust to the pace and direction of the story from there on in. It was then I realised why everyone was jumping up and down and raving about this book.

As for Amy, I found her whiney, selfish, introverted and irritating.  By the end of the book, I’d have taken a shovel or shotgun to her myself.  She reminded me of a couple of women I know, one in particular who makes me and other members of my close circle seethe with fury. The other characters in the book are glossed over; the only one who really stuck with me was Nick’s sister “Go”, who I envisaged as looking like Kathy Bates. Her relationship with Nick is portrayed excellently; she is his only support, even when he cocks up. Otherwise Carthage and its various inhabitants’ come across as your regular bunch of mid-western small town inhabitants.

If anything, the book reminded me of the Kathleen Turner, Michael Pike nd AfleckDouglas movie “War of the Roses”, but this book takes that premise to the whole new level. Talking of movies, there is a movie adaptation in pre-production as I write. Set for release in 2015, with Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike signed up the play the lead roles.

This book does for missing persons what Emma Donoghue’s – “Room”, does for abductees. It brings you inside the mind and suffering of those left behind. More importantly, what a husband goes through because as we know; they’re the number one suspect in all these cases, until proven innocent or until they break under damning evidence. It also highlights the warped and rather dark side of certain individuals and how deep down even the most grounded relationships can eventually take their toll on those at the centre. It asks the question; do you ever really know the person you live with?

So my advice would be, run out and get this book. But while you do that, you might want to pick up a stab vest and a secure lock for the spare bedroom door. We all have secrets, and harbour the odd bad thought about our loved ones, but you never really know how dark and devious theirs are. You also may want to heed the warning on  the inside cover of this book, “Marriage can be a real killer…

(first published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com 2013)