This Little Bag of Dreams

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,/How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Category: Crime

Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit

Fear Dirk Kurbjuweit

You’d die for your family.

But would you kill for them?

Fear is a fascinating novel to read in today’s climate of gun debate, and if you are interested in the real-life background which inspired Kurbjuweit, there is a great Guardian article by him here.  The situation in the novel is, of course, totally different from America’s horror story, but the ‘us against them’ trope is firmly relevant here.  When we rely on the law to solve our problems and the law fails us, what do we do?

Randolph Tiefenethaler lives with his wife and two children in a Berlin apartment.  Their life is largely pleasant: they love their children and are comfortably off due to Randolph’s architecture career.  However, their neighbour in the basement decides that they are sexually abusing their children.  What’s more, he is also in love with Randolph’s wife.  They seek legal advice and tell the police; they also offer to buy the neighbour’s apartment.  We are always being told that ‘money talks’.  But in Fear, ultimately, money means very little: it buys you neither peace nor happiness.  But a gun? Now you’re talking.   But who is to do the murder?  Randolph, a father of young children, or his elderly father, an avid collector of weapons?

The Australian edition of Fear

The ‘monster in the basement’ is not only their stalker neighbour, but also a metaphor for the couple’s various fears: for Randolph, that he does not love his wife anymore, that she is, in fact, abusing their children, and that he is becoming his father; for his wife, that Randolph is an abuser, that he does not love her anymore, and that she will never craft out a career for herself.

I was hoping, from seeing the cover, that Fear would be more a fast-paced, than psychological, thriller, and for me, the twist was unsurprising.  But is remains an original and brave work.

Fear works backwards, much like Amis’s Time’s Arrow.  It is not so much a whodunnit, as a whydunnit – indeed, some might call it a whydidyounotdoitsooner?  You will have to read the novel and decide for yourself what you think.

The Trophy Child by Paula Daly

UK edition

Rewind four years, back to when I was a Waterstones assistant manager, and I remember cheerleading Paula Daly’s debut, Just What Kind of Mother Are You? (JWKOMAY). Well, Daly has done it again with her latest novel, The Trophy Child.  Once again, missing persons is her theme, but do not fear: this is not the same novel.  Despite being as compelling as JWKOMAY, you are in for a treat with some brand new characters and story lines.

All the same, familiarity is a nice foil to crime.  So it is good to see old faces reappear from JWKOMAY and Keep Your Friends Close, including DC Joanne Cunliffe (as likeable as ever and now a DS) and her weight-obsessed aunt, Jackie.  That said, despite this continuity in characters, there is no need to read Daly’s work in order.  (Yes, reader, you are free to read whichever one you like first.  And in this world, with its increasing lack of freedoms, THAT is a privilege.)

So, just to confirm:

  1. The Trophy Child does not ruin your fun by being the third novel in a series.
  2. But Daly does have some other fab novels to discover once you’ve read it.

Right, then.  Let us resume the task at hand.

US edition

The Trophy Child, as the title suggests, explores the effects a pushy mother can have on a child.  Bronte Bloom – and let’s face it, no ordinary parent would christen her child BRONTE – is ten years old and her mother, Karen, has imposed on her harp lessons (yep, you read that correctly), extra Maths, dance, drama and a veterinary degree (ok, one of those is incorrect).  Karen’s husband, Noel, is a GP who not only works long hours, but also prefers to extend his working day by doing overtime (read ‘going to the pub’ for ‘doing overtime’).  Noel tends to leave the parenting to Karen, and poor Ewan, Karen’s 19 year old son from a previous relationship, tends to get forgotten altogether.  The novel starts in the aftermath of Karen’s stepdaughter, Verity, attacking her, and oddly enough, relations between the two are a bit frosty.

But The Trophy Child is not about Verity’s attack on Karen.  Rather, it is about Karen’s relentless ‘attack’ on Bronte, seeking constantly to improve her instead of letting her enjoy her childhood.  And when it is perceived that this tiger mothering has gone too far, Bronte suddenly goes missing……..and soon afterwards, so does Karen.

I enjoyed this novel immensely.  Daly’s style of writing is so natural, and she has the ability to notice the quirks of human behaviour which go unobserved by most authors.  Some people may identify with Karen, although most will find her unbearable, both as a wife and a mother (I know that I was hoping for her downfall, but maybe that’s just me….).  As usual, the other characters are harder to place in terms of morality, which is what makes Daly’s work so true: they are all human and they all make mistakes.

Thank you to Alison Barrow at Transworld for the review copy.


We Shall Inherit the Wind by Gunnar Staalesen

We Shall Inherit the Wind Blog TourLong time, no blog.  But you have a treat in store with my review of the fantastic We Shall Inherit the Wind.  And what an honour to host the final day of the blog tour!

The novel opens in the late nineties.  Our alliterative hero, Varg Veum, sits by the bedside of his critically ill partner, Karin.  How did she get in this state?  Is it because of Varg’s private investigations?  And does she recover?

Rewind to the week before, when Varg is summoned by Ranveig Maeland to investigate her husband’s disappearance.  They had argued and he had stormed off; so far, just like any other marriage, and just like any other disappearance.  However, when no trace of Mons Maeland’s mobile phone or banking records can be discovered, and when it comes to light that Mons was on the cusp of changing his mind about his company’s planned wind farm, Varg begins to fear the worst.

Soon enough, the plot thickens.  It comes to light that Mons’ two children, Kristoffer and Else, are on opposing sides of the wind farm debate.  Whereas Kristoffer is firmly for the wind farm, Else is, like the zealous preacher Lars Rordal, decidedly against it.  This, of course, suggests either child as an accessory to Mons’ disappearance, depending on his views on the wind farm at the time of his disappearance.  What’s more, when we discover that Ranveig is, in fact, Mons’ second wife, and the children’s mother, Lea, went missing in the eighties, another motive is suggested for Mons’ own disappearance: revenge.  And as with all excellent crime, you will never guess what has really happened.

What I really enjoyed about We Shall Inherit the Wind was Staalesen’s incorporation of religious themes; indeed, these are themes which he has been exploring for more than twenty years, as discussed here.  Unlike other proponents of Scandi crime, such as Stieg Larsson, where misogynistic violence is a recurring theme, Staalesen instead places his novel in a greater context, using his character, Lars Rordal, to implicitly ask the question, ‘Who owns the earth – mankind or God?’

‘This land is the work of Our Lord.  He’s given it to us, but not so that we let it rot as we’re doing at the moment.  It’s an abomination in God’s eyes, and He will strike back with a vengeance.  Pestilence, destruction, storms, flames and other catastrophes will smite us all if we don’t change course and learn to live according to God’s word.’

Also, like Larsson, he shows us all sides of a woman: usurper, whore, angel and victim.  I very much look forward to what he does next.

Many thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for the review copy.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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Rachel gets the same train to work and the same train back every day. So far, so ordinary. Often, she treats herself to a mini bottle of wine to celebrate that Friday feeling. And that’s ok, isn’t it? She’s had a long day at work. But then, the wine and miniature cans of G & T start to appear more regularly, and one starts to wonder what Rachel is doing in London, and why she has an obsession with ‘Jason’ and ‘Jess’, the couple she watches from the train.

For Rachel is anything but your average commuter. Her weekends pass in a blur of booze, bad daytime TV and constant attempts to contact her ex husband, Tom. Clearly lonely and lost, she is an incessant source of frustration to her housemate, Cathy, who is just as in the dark as the rest of Rachel’s increasing small circle about what she actually does in London during the week. (But frankly, the fact that Cathy welcomes every Saturday by hoovering the house tells you everything you need to know about her.)

Who are ‘Jess’ and ‘Jason’? Why is Rachel so obsessed with them? And what does she see from the train which so shocks and angers her?

The end, when it comes, is eye-openingly, gaspingly good. I absolutely loved this debut and cannot wait to see what Hawkins will do next.

The Book of Souls by James Oswald


Having loved the first Inspector McLean novel, Natural Causes, I had high hopes for The Book of Souls. I was not disappointed.

The novel begins with the death of Donald Anderson, a serial killer who just so happens to have murdered Tony McLean’s fiancée, Kirsty Summers, ten years ago. Despite attending his funeral in order to gain that elusive ‘closure’, McLean starts seeing Anderson everywhere. The plot thickens further when copycat murders start to occur. Is Anderson still alive? Or is someone merely imitating his methods?

Although The Book of Souls had a slower start than Natural Causes, soon enough, I was taking the novel everywhere with me. I loved the clashes between McLean and his nemesis superior, Dagwood, and the fact that McLean carries on in pursuit of the truth, regardless of Dagwood’s opinion. It was good, too, to see the return of the slightly supernatural, John Connolly-esque touch introduced in Natural Causes. And like all good crime novels, I was one step behind McLean, only realising the culprit when he was caught.

My next task is to purchase The Hangman’s Song, where I hope to see the relationship develop between McLean and Emma, his on-off love interest.