Sunday, 28 April 2013

Audiobook Review: THE BAT by Jo Nesbo

The Bat (Harry Hole, #1)

Title: The Bat
Author: Jo Nesbo
Narrator: Sean Barrett
Publisher: Random House Audiobooks
Read: April 19-27, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads): 

Before Harry took on the neo-Nazi gangs of Oslo, before he met Rakel, before The Snowman tried to take everything he held dear, he went to Australia. Harry Hole is sent to Sydney to investigate the murder of Inger Holter, a young Norwegian girl, who was working in a bar. Initially sidelined as an outsider, Harry becomes central to the Australian police investigation when they start to notice a number of unsolved rape and murder cases around the country. The victims were usually young blondes. Inger had a number of admirers, each with his own share of secrets, but there is no obvious suspect, and the pattern of the other crimes seems impossible to crack. Then a circus performer is brutally murdered followed by yet another young woman. Harry is in a race against time to stop highly intelligent killer, who is bent on total destruction.

My thoughts: 

I was first introduced to Jo Nesbo’s novels when picking up the audiobook version of The Snowman in our local library and sitting through hours of spine tingling storytelling on my daily commute to and from work. Nobody does unbridled brutality quite as well as Scandinavian authors – maybe there is something in the dark and cold winter weather which inspires the more horrific scenes found in that particular genre.

When searching on the web for more Nesbo novels I was bitterly disappointed that his earlier works had not yet been translated into English. So I eagerly awaited the Australian release of the English version of the first Harry Hole novel – The Bat. There are certain similarities between Scandinavian and Australian crime novels – both seem to be able to capture both the dark and flawed elements of human nature and the undercurrents of hopelessness and despair inspired by humans living in unforgiving environments. I was very interested how the two would mix – a Scandinavian thriller set in an Australian landscape.

In The Bat, Harry Hole is invited to Sydney to help solve the brutal murder of a young Norwegian woman, Inger Holter, who disappeared on her way home from work one night. With little information to work with, Harry and his Australian Aboriginal partner Andrew Kensington visit Inger’s flat to find clues regarding any persons who would have had contact with Inger prior to her death or had reason to harm her. Through the investigation, Harry comes into contact with a motley assortment of societal misfits in Sydney’s King’s Cross district – prostitutes, drug dealers, alcoholic landlords, transvestites, homeless drunks in the park, ex-boxers, circus-clowns and heroin addicted cops – each one playing a part in the enquiry. Initially focusing their efforts on a male acquaintance Inger confessed to have fallen in love with, the circle of suspects soon widens as some people involved in the investigation are brutally slain. With the pressure mounting, Harry must not only fight his own demons, but also try and outwit a sadistical serial killer before he takes the very thing which is dearest to Harry.

There were elements in this book I really enjoyed and some I didn’t, though it undoubtedly provided entertainment value and Nesbo’s trademark chill factor. Being the intrepid commuter I once again opted for the audio version and wasn’t disappointed – the narrator Sean Barrett perfectly captured not only the different accents perfectly, but also managed to infuse each character with their very own personality, which is no mean feat in a novel with mixing different nationalities and containing a cast of many. With the Australian element so skilfully captured in the narration, the setting and characters really came to life in the way the book alone may not have achieved.

It is a very different Harry Hole we encounter in the beginning of the novel – enthusiastic, optimistic and polite, Harry’s demons are not unleashed until later in the story, when things become close and personal. Nesbo introduces plenty of red herrings and twists, and his trademark unbridled violence which is certainly not for the faint hearted. Australia and its indigenous people must have made a big impression on Nesbo, as reflected in the inclusion of Aboriginal legends and Australian politics related to the treatment of its indigenous population and the injustices they endured. At times these inclusions felt chunky and a bit out of context and lecturing, and I did not quite understand the clues contained in the fables Andrew tells Harry to send him cryptic messages about the killer’s identity. Likewise, the end felt somehow inconclusive and sudden, and I had to rewind several times to see if I had missed a vital clue somewhere. With Harry being a smart detective, one of his decisions towards of the end of the novel seems uncharacteristically stupid and proves to be the one mistake which will haunt him for the rest of his career – I couldn’t quite work that one out and put it down to Harry being in an alcoholic haze for the later part of his stay. Considering that Harry was invited into the investigation as an observer only, and more for political reasons than needing him for the investigation, he somehow manages to make some major decisions and fatal errors without getting pulled into line.

However, having said all that, I am still glad to have managed to get a glimpse of a younger and more innocent Harry, and the very events which have left such deep scars on his psyche. With Nesbo being one of Scandinavia’s best crime writing exports, I will undoubtedly pick up many more of his novels – and therefore reading The Bat will help to give Harry a personal history and make him a more rounded character. If you are interested in reading this novel, I wholeheartedly recommend the audiobook version – where I may have lost interest in the printed word, Sean Barrett’s compelling narration kept me engaged with the characters all the way.

 This book formed part of my 2013 Audiobook Challenge, as well as the 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge (translated fiction).

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Book Review: DARK HORSE by Honey Brown

Dark Horse

Title: Dark Horse
Author: Honey Brown
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Read: April 24-26, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads): 

It's Christmas morning on the edge of the rugged Mortimer Ranges. Sarah Barnard saddles Tansy, her black mare. She is heading for the bush, escaping the reality of her broken marriage and her bankrupted trail-riding business.

Sarah seeks solace in the ranges. When a flash flood traps her on Devil Mountain, she heads to higher ground, taking shelter in Hangman's Hut.

She settles in to wait out Christmas.

A man, a lone bushwalker, arrives. Heath is charming, capable, handsome. But his story doesn't ring true. Why is he deep in the wilderness without any gear? Where is his vehicle? What's driving his resistance towards rescue? The closer they become the more her suspicions grow.

But to get off Devil Mountain alive, Sarah must engage in this secretive stranger's dangerous game of intimacy.

My thoughts: 

Honey Brown’s latest thriller, Dark Horse, is the kind of book you should not pick up without giving yourself enough time-out to finish it. Did it see me walk around the house in a daze, giving blank stares to any family member brave enough to approach me? Did it force me to survive on cold leftovers for a day because I did not want to waste valuable reading time by going shopping? Did it cause me to lodge my BAS statement late despite the threat of a hefty fine? Yes, yes and yes. Was it worth it? Yes, definitely! I reluctantly emerged from my bedroom, feeling emotionally battered like the survivor of a natural disaster – and probably looking like one, too, from lack of sleep! A mere hour after finishing it, I am still in the grips of this haunting tale, tempted to pick it back up again and start from the beginning, to find all the clues I missed along the way.

Still reeling from a nasty divorce, financial ruin and the prospect of losing both her business and her home, Sarah Barnard cannot muster up the energy to spend Christmas Day under the accusing stares of her parents, who somehow blame her for the breakup of her marriage and the downhill slide her life has taken. Saddling her beloved black mare Tansy, she heads for the one place she knows will give her sanctuary and solace – the rugged mountains of the Mortimer Ranges behind her home. Sarah knows this part of the bush well – she has taken visitors through these trails many times as part of her doomed trail riding business. And yet something doesn’t feel quite right on the mountain today. Before Sarah has the chance to check the weather forecast on her phone, Tansy is spooked by a deafening roar in the distance and both horse and rider gape in horror as the huge wave caused by a flash flood is bearing down on them. They barely escape with their lives, but are now trapped on the other side of the flooded creek, with the weather closing in rapidly. Knowing the mountain well, Sarah heads for the only place which can give them shelter – a lonely historic bushranger’s hut on top of Devil’s mountain.

Arriving at the hut soaked through to the skin and bitterly cold, Sarah finds it partly demolished and under repair. She finds food and shelter in a workman’s caravan, enough to see her through for a few days. But then, in the distance, she hears the whistling – she is not alone on the mountain. Who is Heath, the young man who has invaded her sanctuary? His name, his story, his whole demeanour appear to be one big lie to Sarah. His reasons for being here don’t add up. And yet, to survive, she must set her misgivings aside and share the food and shelter they have, until help arrives. But can she really trust him?

This taut and adrenaline-infused novel, with its cast of two (or three if you count the mare) is purely atmosphere and character driven, and Honey Brown does this so very well. From the moment Sarah puts her feet in the stirrups and heads for the hills, the scenery played out clearly for me in my head, bringing the mountain to life. In an interview with the author I read recently, she explained that she enjoys exploring the what-if’s in life. What if you were trapped on a lonely mountain, in the pouring rain, with no way of getting back and noone even knows where to look for you? And if that wasn’t bad enough, what if you now found that you have the company of a total stranger, trapped there on the mountain with you, a man whose whole reason for being there seems a lie? Well, it surely had me hooked, and I couldn’t put the book down until I had found out the answers.

By having a cast of only two, the novel may have been in danger of becoming monotonous or dry if written by a lesser writer. No fear of that with Dark Horse though – the dialogue was taut and urgent, the atmosphere creepy and the character’s emotions compelling. Every time I thought I had worked it out, a surprise twist or action would totally blow that theory out of the water again. And in the end I was so blindsighted that the truth left me gaping in surprise and horror – what???? No way!

Apart from the suspense, Dark Horse explores some of the intricacies of the human mind. Faced by danger, do we turn to the only other human near us for solace, despite the obvious dangers? Brown, who is no stranger to trauma and despair, captures both emotions skilfully in her characters, who each bear scars of their own which will affect their actions and behaviours. Whenever I thought Sarah’s actions to be irrational, and asked myself “what would you do?”, it ultimately all came down to the same answer- probably exactly the same. Or would I? It is a very clever story which can explore the outer limits of human emotions and behaviour in a way that the reader can see them clearly inside oneself as well. What are we really capable off if faced by danger and despair? Who do we turn to?

After reeling in shock from the twist near the end of the novel, the rest of the story felt almost like an anticlimax and I longed to go back to the mountain in my mind, despite the spine-thrilling chills it had sent down my spine earlier. For fear of giving away spoilers, I cannot discuss why the end felt unsatisfactory (not from a writing point of view, but from the emotions unleashed earlier), although it was perhaps the only reasonable conclusion that also allowed for hope and closure. And yet – it made me feel sad somehow.

Dark Horse is a must-read for any thriller lover and will undoubtedly be savoured by many. Readers who enjoyed Brown’s previous novels or other books in the same genre, such as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, should rush out NOW and read Dark Horse. Stock up on food and drink, unplug the phone, put a Do Not Disturb sign on your bedroom door and let yourself get carted off to an unforgettable adventure on Devil Mountain. You will not regret it.

This book forms part of my 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Book Review: THE GUILTY by Sean Slater

The Guilty (Jacob Striker #3)

The Guilty
Author: Sean Slater
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Read: April 15 - 22, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):




It's clear to Homicide Detective Jacob Striker and his partner Felicia Santos that the two incidents are linked. But with no demands being made by the bomber, and no known connection between the victims, uncovering the motive seems impossible.

When Detective Harry Eckhart disappears, taking with him the lone survivor. His actions make no sense, and they force Striker to redirect his focus onto his fellow cops. It is an investigation Striker would prefer to avoid,but cannot - For the bomber is about to strike again.

And this time, it's much closer to home...

My thoughts:

Sean Slater is an exciting new voice in the world of crime fiction, giving the reader a glimpse into Vancouver’s underworld and the experiences of the courageous police officers fighting a daily battle against crime in the city’s most troubled neighbourhoods.

After receiving a 911 call of a distressed young woman near an abandoned factory in one of Vancouver’s industrial areas, Jacob Striker and his partner Felicia Santos discover an improvised torture chamber where moments before a woman had been held hostage. Despite swift action by Striker, the perpetrator manages to escape with his victim. Through the victim’s unusual bracelet left behind at the scene, Striker manages to trace the name of the abducted woman – Dr Sharise Owens, a well respected trauma surgeon who has been missing from work for days.

Later that same day, Striker and Felicia get called to the site of an explosion which has destroyed a toy shop in central Vancouver, killing the owner in the blast. Thoughts of an accidental gas explosion are soon dismissed when Striker discovers that the toymaker was Sharise Owen’s cousin. As more explosions follow, the detectives must race against time to find a link between the victims which would give them clues to find the perpetrator before more lives are lost. Things become infinitely more complicated when it involves some of their own ….

The author, who is a real-life police officer in one of the toughest neighbourhoods in Vancouver, clearly draws on his own experience to create an atmosphere of action and suspense and create believable characters. Personally for me, one of the most satisfying aspects of a good police procedural is the background information, the how-to’s of the investigative process as well as an insight into procedural guidelines and forensics. As a police officer Slater has had first hand experience in these details and generously shares information with the reader which adds an element of authenticity and credibility to the novel.

When I first started reading Slater’s latest novel I was unaware that The Guilty is the third book in the Jacob Striker series, and heavily builds on previous novels in terms of character development. Although the story can be read as a stand-alone novel, I often felt that there were important details I was missing, for example to understand the somewhat complicated relationship between Striker and his partner Felicia Santos. It took me some time to work out the group dynamics and characters’ histories the book builds on, which created some distance between myself and the characters. I could never quite work out Felicia Santos, and admit I did not warm to her at all. Striker himself is a likeable hero in the mould of other famous crime novel protagonists such as Lee Child’s Jack Reacher or Dennis Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie – a bit of a loner, a man fighting for justice, not afraid to take action and even step out of line every now and then to achieve his means. The action itself involves Vancouver’s underworld, exploring the dark and sinister elements of the city.

The Guilty will appeal to readers who enjoy action packed police procedurals and are not afraid of a large cast of characters and a plot which changes direction many times throughout the book’s 579 pages, keeping an element of surprise to the very end of the story. However, if I had my time over again, I would definitely start with the first of the series, and read them in order to get a better understanding of the characters’ backgrounds.

Thank you to the publisher and the Reading Room for providing me with a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Book Review: TWO BROTHERS by Ben Elton

Two Brothers

Title: Two Brothers
Author: Ben Elton
Publisher: Bantam Press
Read: April 05 - 15, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Berlin 1920:

Two babies are born.

Two brothers. United and indivisible, sharing everything. Twins in all but blood.

As Germany marches into its Nazi Armageddon, the ties of family, friendship and love are tested to the very limits of endurance. And the brothers are faced with an unimaginable choice....Which one of them will survive?

Ben Elton's most personal novel to date,Two Brothers transports the reader to the time of history's darkest hour.

My thoughts:

I loved this book, and it may be the best I have read in 2013 so far! Based loosely on Ben Elton’s own family history, Two Brothers is a heartbreaking story of war, tragedy and sacrifice, family ties and first love. It took me on a 518-page long emotional roller coaster ride that will haunt me for a long time to come yet.

Berlin, 1920: Despite Germany being a political powder keg, life is good for Frieda and Wolfgang Stengel. Frieda is expecting twins, whilst finishing her medical degree. Wolfgang is a successful musician playing in Berlin’s jazz clubs, very much in love with his beautiful smart wife. When one of their twin boys is stillborn, the couple don’t hesitate to adopt the child of a single mother who died in childbirth merely an hour before Frieda’s babies were born – and their set of twins is complete again.

For years the two boys, Otto and Paulus, are unaware that they are not related by blood, and their doting parents see a bit of themselves in each one of them. Paulus, the clever twin, and Otto, the brave strong one. Each one loved equally, unaware of the circumstances of their birth.

But in 1920 another baby is also born – Hitler’s  Nationalist Socialist Party. With Hitler’s rise to power and his relentless propaganda blaming Jews for all of Germany’s woes, Jewish families like the Stengels suffer from the ever-increasing hatred against their people, finding themselves shunned and alienated by their own countrymen. Tragedy is never far away, and the Stengels are not exempt. Their only chance of survival may be the fact that their adopted son is not Jewish – forcing Frieda to make an impossible choice …

I loved everything about this book. From the very first page, Elton spins a web which draws in the reader and doesn’t let go until the very last page – and far beyond, because I can’t stop thinking about this novel. By starting the story with the birth of the two main protagonists, the Stengel twins, at the same time as the political power which will be their undoing, Elton skilfully sets the atmosphere and paints a vivid picture of life in the Weimar republic. So realistic are the characters that I could clearly see Frieda’s and Wolfgang’s home, hear the creaking of the cart Wolfgang uses to get his pregnant wife to hospital, see Frieda grieve for her stillborn child in a cold and colourless hospital room. Following the boys’ early lives I was lured into a false sense of security, which brought home the impact of Hitler’s anti-semitic politics with extra force.

Having grown up in Europe and having had contact with Holocaust survivors through my previous work, I was no stranger to the historical facts underlying this novel. However, where Elton’s amazing skill as a writer shines through is in the seemingly innocuous way the story builds tension. By the time the reader is truly aware of the danger the Stengel family is in, they – like millions of their countrymen – are already doomed. I admit that I had not been fully aware of how many years before the actual outbreak of war Jewish people already suffered from the Nazi regime’s relentless discrimination and persecution.

Elton’s book is one of the few I have read who manages to capture the truly terrifying reality of a dictatorship and the power of propaganda to brainwash a country’s entire population without once sounding preachy or text-bookish. Instead, Elton achieves this by subtly introducing new facts impacting on the Stengel family’s life, slowly spinning a web until the reader (like the Stengel family) feels like their back is against the wall with no way out. Having been lucky enough not to experience war in my lifetime, Two Brothers gave me a sense of what true terror and fear for one’s life must be like, trapped in a hostile environment surrounded by hate. We may feel very superior and clever in our time of technology, but recent world events and the inherent qualities of human nature show that even in our time we are far from immune against racial hatred and political brain washing – even on a large scale.

It was interesting to read about Ben Elton’s own family history which inspired this novel. The author’s emotional connection to the story is ever obvious, which makes it all the more powerful. And yet Elton’s humour also shines through, giving the faintest glimmer of hope and redemption even in the direst of circumstances. Between the laughter and the tears, I couldn’t wait for the times I could sit down with this (rather substantial) novel and immerse myself in Otto and Paulus’ life.

The only small gripe I had with the story was the use of very English sounding idioms in the beginning of the novel, which seemed out of place for Berlin in the 1920’s. This may perhaps not be noticeable at all to readers of English-speaking origin, but I found them slightly distracting and not in sync with Elton’s otherwise flawless skill of re-creating the atmosphere of the era.

All in all, Two Brothers is as good as it gets, and deserves a full 5 stars from me. A must-read for everyone interested in WW2 – and very highly recommended to any reader who enjoys a powerful, emotion-driven and well-researched novel based on true historical facts. I loved it!


Monday, 8 April 2013

Audiobook Review: JULIE & JULIA by Julie Powell

Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen

Title: Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen
Author: Julie Powell
Publisher: Hachette Audiobooks
Read: March 27 - April 8, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Nearing 30 and trapped in a dead-end secretarial job, Julie Powell reclaims her life by cooking every single recipe in Julia Child's legendary Mastering the Art of French Cooking in the span of one year. It's a hysterical, inconceivable redemptive journey - life rediscovered through aspics, calves' brains and crème brûlée.

The bestselling memoir that's "irresistible....A kind of Bridget Jones meets The French Chef" (Philadelphia Inquirer) is now a major motion picture directed by Nora Ephron, starring Amy Adams as Julie and Meryl Streep as Julia, the film Julie & Julia will be released by Sony Pictures on August 7, 2009.

My thoughts:

There is a lot of pressure when being asked to choose the next book to be read by all members of our bookclub– and after a run of rather depressing reads which saw our group’s alcohol consumption increase tenfold as we tried to drown our sorrowful reflections in cheap wine, this time the vote was unilaterally in favour of “something funny”. I googled “funny books” into my trusty computer, and perhaps it was the fact that it was just before dinner and my fridge was bare, that Julie Powell’s memoir stood out from the rest.

For those who have not read the book or seen the movie (which by the way I really liked): in her book “Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen” the author Julie Powell writes about her project which involved cooking all 524 recipes from Julia Child’s book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in one year – and writing a daily blog about her efforts, which propelled her to authordom and blogging fame. Why? Because at 29, Julie Powell feels like a failure, and blogging is the creative outlet she chooses to make her feel worthwhile and appreciated by her peers.

Being the intrepid commuter who frankly struggles at times to find enough hours in the day to read all the books I would like to, I ordered the audiobook version from the library and settled into what I hoped would be a funny mouth-watering exposé on delicious food and cooking disasters (being rather disaster prone in the kitchen myself). But I admit that after suffering my way through the first third of the book I almost gave up on it, only keeping going for the simple fact that I could not under any circumstances throw in the dishcloth on my own bookclub choice (even the excuse of “busy at work”, “long hours” or “suffering from the plague” would not get me out of this one). I hated it! As the narrative randomly skipped back and forth between Powell’s childhood (I still don’t really see the connection between her teenage sexual urges or her father’s dirty magazines and her cooking project) I almost preferred a boring silent drive to having to listen to another one of Julie Powell’s expletives (of which there are many) or rants.

However, as Powell focused more on her actual project and less on reflections of past sexual fantasies, the book improved and there were some genuinely funny, laugh-out-loud moments. Julie never denies that she may be somewhat self-centred and suffering from the terrible infliction of sewer-mouth (personally, I can handle swearing, but think that an excess of such does not make for better humour, just makes it sound cheap and nasty). I can accept that. Even the repeated saucepan-throwing and abuse of her long suffering husband can be understood on some level of female-solidarity (anyone who has ever suffered from the monthly hormonal mood swings women have to put up with will know never to attempt a complicated French recipe on those days). Once the book focused on the actual cooking and kitchen disasters I actually quite enjoyed it. I had hoped to see more passion about cooking and food in general from Julie, which would explain the rationale behind her strange project, but some of her descriptions did tickle the funny bone and kept me interested.

My biggest gripe with the audiobook at that stage was the narration. No offence, Julie, but there is a reason why some people make their careers as narrators and others don’t. This should serve as a lesson to other authors who are tempted to narrate their own books – being a good narrator is a gift just as writing a good novel cannot be accomplished by anyone. A good narrator will breathe life into the different characters, giving each a unique voice and drawing the listener into the story. “Julie and Julia” was not the worst narration I have ever listened to, but it wasn’t that far off. Perhaps it didn’t help that I had only just listened to two of the best audiobooks – in narration terms – a short while before, so the bar was set very high.

All in all, Julie & Julia had moments of enjoyment and laughter, even if the beginning nearly saw me fling the CD set out of the car window in despair. On some deep level I related to Julie’s feelings on the verge of turning 30 (what will she do just before the dreaded 40, or, God help us – 50?). Some cooking disasters were hilarious (and familiar –living in rural Australia I know all about flies!), some cringe-worthy, and some made just plainly turned my stomach. I am now very interested to see what others in our reading group thought – no doubt there will be more wine involved, and food (though I will not inflict my own cooking on anyone – I do value my friends too much for that), and hopefully many divided opinions which will make for a lively discussion.

I read this book as part of my 2013 Audiobook Challenge and the 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge (humour).


Monday, 1 April 2013

Book Review: THE HUSBAND'S SECRET by Liane Moriarty

The Husband's Secret

Title: The Husband's Secret
Author: Liane Moriarty
Publisher: Pan MacMillan Australia
Read: March 31 - April 01, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

The Husband's Secret is a funny, heartbreaking novel of marriage, grief, love and secrets. When her husband announces he's in love with her best friend, painfully shy Tess picks up her young son and returns to her mother's house. There she begins an unexpected affair with an old flame. Rachel is a woman in her sixties consumed by grief and anger at the loss of her daughter twenty years earlier. When her son announces he is taking her beloved grandson overseas, Rachel begins a descent into deeper bitterness and pain. Cecilia is the quintessential "I don't know how she does it" woman. A devoted mother to three daughters, she runs her household like clockwork, is President of the P&C, owns an extremely successful Tupperware business and is happy in her fifteen-year marriage. Until she discovers a letter in their attic labelled: "To my wife Cecilia, to be opened in the event of my death"... Her husband's secret is a bombshell beyond all imagining with repercussions across the lives of all three women.

My thoughts:

I loved all of Liane Moriarty’s previous books, and was therefore very excited to find out that her latest novel was available for download from Amazon. It quickly solved my dilemma of the dreadfully difficult decision of which book on my looooooong tbr list to read next (maybe if I was as organised as Cecilia I would have a better system than the eeny-meeny-miny-mo method I usually employ, coupled with much nail-biting and doubt over my final decision). And The Husband’s Secret did not disappoint – Moriarty’s gift of making her characters almost real flesh-and-blood people, coupled with the offer of an unexpected roster day off from work, made for an intense read-a-thon which saw me finishing this book in a few hours of sheer reading bliss.

From the premise of the novel to the very last detail of its execution The Husband’s Secret had me totally in its grip and still causes some soul searching even now after the last page has been turned. What would you do if you found a letter written to you by your husband years ago, marked “to be opened in the event of my death”? Cecilia of course wants to do the right thing – she is the queen of proper decision-making (no eeny-meeny-miny-mo for her), and decides to ask her husband John-Paul about it first. His reaction is so baffling that for once Cecilia does give in to temptation – and opens the letter. Its contents are so startling, so mind-blowing that her life, and that of their three daughters, can never be the same again. No matter of organising, smoothing-over or patching-up will ever fix this mess, and for the first time in her life Cecilia finds herself totally out of her depth.

Told in the third-person narrative, the book’s chapters are written from the perspective of three different people, who are seemingly unconnected in the beginning of the novel.

Tess, part owner and operator of a small advertising agency in Melbourne and mother of a six-year old son, has little idea of how her life is about to change when her husband and her cousin take her aside in the middle of her favourite TV show to confess that they have fallen in love. Feeling betrayed and heartbroken she takes her son and flees to Sydney under the guise of helping her mother cope after breaking her ankle. It is there that she runs into an ex-boyfriend she last saw when she was nineteen, and who is still very attracted to her.

Rachel, who after twenty-eight years is still mourning the tragic death of her teenage daughter Janie, is having to face losing her beloved grandson when her son and daughter-in-law announce their planned move to New York. This decision, coupled with the imminent anniversary of Janie’s death, brings back renewed feelings of loss and grief for Rachel, who contemplates a lonely life on her own in Sydney.

Through Cecilia and the startling revelation in John-Paul’s letter these three women’s lives become intertwined in ways none of them could have imagined.

I loved the premise of the book, the question of “what if” which seems to have become a popular theme in modern literature. Perhaps because every one of us at some stage in our lives will ask this question: “What if I had acted differently? How would my life have changed?” Moriarty answers this existential question perfectly in her epilogue, bringing together all the threads of the story and presenting a very satisfying finale – but enough said, there will be no spoilers from me.

Inspired by real-life death-bed confessions, Moriarty’s novel raises a lot of moral and ethical questions of what constitutes “the right thing”. I may have been quite black-and-white in my answer prior to reading this novel, but vacillated constantly between different answers as several angles were explored. I may be a terrible decision maker, but in the face of such controversy, even the super organised Cecilia never stood a chance (of course she had a lot more to lose as well). And just when you may have thought that “the right thing” is pretty clear, the author challenges it with some startling revelations at the very end of the book. Amazing.

What I also love about Moriarty’s writing is the authenticity of her characters. All three main protagonists are the women-next-door, the mothers you see at the school gates, the members of your bookclub or the people standing in front of you in the supermarket queue. It brings the events unfolding even closer to home, thinking that this could happen to anyone, at any time. I had such vivid pictures in my mind of all characters involved that their personalities, their families and their homes seemed like I had seen them in real life. Perhaps the only thing I missed in this novel was the tongue-in-cheek humour found in “What Alice Forgot”, which still makes it my favourite Moriarty book to-date.

Apart from secrets kept and secrets exposed, marriage and motherhood feature as strongly in The Husband’s Secret as in previous novels. As a mother, decisions no longer involve just a single person, but have grave outcomes on the people you love most.

“You’re a mother. You’d do anything for your children, just like I’d do anything for mine. “

Would I, or wouldn’t I? If it involved my own children, yes, I probably would. Regardless of moral and ethical dilemmas, like a lioness protecting her cub I wouldn’t hesitate to defend my young. And this is where it becomes tricky of course. Although in Virginia's shoes I don't think I could just turn a blind eye, I would have to confront my child and find out the truth, no matter how painful that may be.

Enough said. I loved this book. I fully recommend it. Go and buy it and see for yourself. If you enjoyed Moriarty’s previous novels, you will not be disappointed.

 I read this book as part of my 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge; as well as my 2013 Monthly Keyword Challenge ("secret").