Tag Archives: Thriller

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

book cover

The world stops for you when you’re pretty. That’s why women spend billions on crap for their faces. Their whole life, they’re the center of attention. People want to be around them just because they’re attractive. Their jokes are funnier. Their lives are better.

Well, there might be some downsides. Pretty Girls is a white-knuckle thriller that will keep you turning the pages long after you should really have gone to sleep. Do not read this while on a train. You will miss your stop.

The story is told from three alternating perspectives. Claire Scott, newly free of that nasty ankle-monitor, has a pretty good life. 38, in great shape, no kids, a studly, attentive hubby who makes much more than a decent living, cool digs. What’s not to like? After a celebratory dinner out, Paul wants to do the nasty in an adjacent alley, way out of character, but, whatever. But sorry, no nookie for you guys. An armed, tattooed criminal element sort robs them. Things go too far and Paul winds up on the sidewalk, tinting the pavement with considerable quantities of red, and the game is afoot. What Claire discovers in going through her late mate’s computer files after the funeral will rock her world.

Lydia Delgado’s life is somewhat different. Single mother, 41, struggling to get by, alienated from most of her family, runs a dog grooming business. Her past would not look very nice on a resume. She’d hit rock bottom a while back and lived there for a spell, with a pick and shovel. But these days she is respectable. Owns a dog-grooming business. Met her pretty nice bf in a 12-step program. Her teenage daughter is a peach. Lydia is on the wrong side of pudge these days, with an addiction to the sort of culinary drugs that come in crinkly bags at supermarkets. Life’s a bitch and then you diet. Lydia used to be a looker. Not surprising, really. Her sisters were easy on the eyes too, but one vanished when she was 19, never to be seen again, and the other one just saw her husband get killed.

Sam is a determined sort, bulldog with a bone. He never believed the official cop line that his Julia had simply run away. So he dedicated his life to finding out what had really happened to his eldest daughter. It cost him his marriage, and maybe even more. We see the progress of Sam’s investigation through his journals, from the time when he was on this quest. Claire and Lydia’s adventure takes place today.

The two sisters join forces to continue searching for the truth about Julia’s disappearance, and must face the consequences of Claire learning some very disturbing secrets about her husband.

description
Karin Slaughter – from her FB pages

Karin Slaughter is not new to the best-seller lists, having sold more than 30 million copies of her crime books books in 32 languages. She was born in a small Georgia town and now lives in Atlanta, where Pretty Girls is set. Her books include six in the Grant County series and nine in the Will Trent series, set in Atlanta. She was working on another book entirely when the notion for this one occurred to her in dream, so she checked in with her publisher, put the planned book on the back burner and dove into this one.

There are several elements at work here. In a book of this sort, if you are not engaged by the characters, the rest does not much matter. Lydia certainly has had her troubles in the past, but she is pretty supportable now, finding her best self in this worst of times. Claire makes us wonder how she could have buried her head in the sand for so long, ignoring what look like warning signs to us. But in wondering, it is worth keeping in mind that we are all sand-dwellers, from the neck up at least. Maybe it is an innate and useful skill to be able to simply ignore warning signs of peril. If we recognize them then we might have to do something about them, which entails personal risk, of either physical or emotional harm. Most of the time most of us prefer to keep a lid on things. Thus we live to ignore another day. So it feels entirely credible that reasonable people can overlook behavior that might stand out to an external observer. Particularly in Claire’s case, as she has tried to keep her head down in most situations for most of her life. We can see her vulnerability, however cloaked it may have been, and can easily feel for her. In addition we see the characters develop over the course of the tale, Claire moving from passive to assertive and Lydia moving from nobody to a sort of anti-hero. Family dynamics plays a major part in the sisters’ struggle, both to find the truth and to find a way back to sisterhood across a very large distance. Check.

The story must be engaging. Will Claire and Lydia find out what really happened to their missing sister? Does Sam? Do we care? If you can’t empathize with this as a driving force, it must be because you are too busy torturing kittens. Check.

Pace must be maintained. Slaughter must have a metronome that is set for increasing tempo. Check.

The baddie must be truly scary, and up to some really awful stuff. You have no idea. Check

The hero/heroine(s) must face believable peril. Is it possible that one or more of our core three might come to harm of the terminal sort? You betcha. Check

A thriller is never without a bit of misdirection, a few fish-hooks hoisting red-herrings for us to consider. Yep. Get your scaling tools ready. Check.

And there is that old favorite, the twist. Let’s just say that Chubby Checker would be pleased. Check. Wait, what’s that? My advisors inform me that not everyone will appreciate my lame boomer refs, so, fine, whatever. For you kids out there, ok, rewind. Start over. Twists. Let’s just say that after reading this book, I was in need of a good neck brace. Ok? Sheesh.

Finally there is the issue of payload. That is the extra information one learns about the world in reading a work of fiction. I suppose there is a bit of that here. I have no idea if the awfulness that is depicted in Pretty Girls (aside from Paul’s questionable taste in décor and labeling) has a real-world basis. Although it does seem that if one can imagine a particularly grotesque form of depravity, there is probably someone, somewhere who is practicing it right now, and with so many folks on the planet, probably more than a few. So if the book is highlighting some actual form of human awfulness, then bad-a-bing. Check

Gripes. You knew there would have to be one or two. The title, Pretty Girls suggests that those on the 10 side of life are more at risk than those closer to the 1 end of things. The theme of prettiness is noted with frequency early on, in comments on the attractiveness of some and the unattractiveness of others. Slaughter seems interested in giving some serious thought to how people react to beauty and to how the beautiful react to the world. Certainly there is peril about for those blessed with pleasing countenances, whether it comes from a wicked witch or the ravages of time. She keeps up the mentions for a while, sometimes offering actual insight. But then it seems to fade, as if she had run out of things to say about prettiness, until it is brought back into the spotlight for a final bow or two. Like, oh, the title is Pretty Girls. I guess I should put something in here to give that some closure. It looked totally like an afterthought. I thought this could have been better handled, maybe spread out a bit more, maybe dig a bit more than skin deep. But that is a quibble. No one is going to read this book to get enlightened about beauty. My second gripe will have to be a bit clouded. I don’t want to spoil anything. I found the particular fixation of the baddie on the specific group that is targeted curious. Why did this person focus on these targets? I did not get that there was a particular reason why the baddie was so set on this particular subset of victims. Perhaps the significance of this is in the eye of the beholder? But no matter, really.

The bottom line here is that you will be ripping through this book, dying (well, almost) to see how things turn out. Pretty Girls is an outstanding thriller, a very engaging, entertaining, and disturbing read, and that is a beautiful thing.

Review posted – 7/31/15

Publication date – 9/29/15

=======================================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal and FB pages

How serial killers choose their victims

The Advantages of Being Beautiful
8 Scientifically Proven Reasons Life Is Better If You’re Beautiful – by Dina Spector in Business Insider
—A Smithsonian article on
How Much is Being Attractive Worth
– by Abigail Tucker
10 Pleasures and Pains of Being Beautiful by Dr Jeremy Dean on PsyBlog

A lovely audio interview with the author by Steve White of Literary Week. The sound levels are off a bit, his volume being too loud relative to hers, but it’s worth putting up with.

==============================================SONGS

Offering a bit of further discomfort, after reading this book you might find some of these listens a bit disturbing

Pretty Woman – Roy Orbison and friends

Oh You Pretty Things – David Bowie

PYT (Pretty Young Thing) – Michael Jackson

You’re Beautiful – James Blunt

You are so Beautiful– Joe Cocker

And the all time best stalker theme song – Every Breath You Take – The Police

2 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Thriller

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

book coverI read this one out of curiosity. Aware that it had been a huge market success, I wondered if it merited the sales. According to Riverhead, The Girl on the Train is, or was, the fastest-selling adult hardcover fiction debut ever. And that is a shame. With so many great books being published every year that do little or no business, for this one to have secured a first class ticket on the book-sales express can only be dispiriting to the good and great writers everywhere toiling away in third class on the oft-delayed local.

I do not mean to say that The Girl… is a bad book. Although I believe it to be seriously flawed, it is most definitely entertaining and will no doubt help hundreds of thousands of readers while away a few hours of their (our) lives, getting from this station to that. But if you want a psychological thriller that doesn’t disregard red signals you would do better to book a seat elsewhere.

description
Paula Hawkins

Rachel Watson has had a tough go of it. When her hopes of having a baby with hubby Tom did not work out, she landed in a trough of post-hope depression, and self-medicated with a steady flow of what seemed happier spirits. It did not work out. Now, divorced and unemployed as a result of her drinking, growing larger and pastier by the day, Rachel rides the commuter train to London on weekday mornings, pretending she is still working, pretending she still has a life. The ride takes her past her old neighborhood, offering a nice, mood dampening view of a stretch of railroad-edge homes. She used to live in one of those, before her ex bought out her interest. A few places away from her former home there is a couple she sees most days. She imagines lives for them, nursing this fantasy for quite some time, until she learns that the woman has vanished, and the game is afoot.

The notion for the story occurred to Hawkins on her regular train ride in London some years back. She calls it “Rear-Window-ish,” noting that it is hardly unusual for train riders to be curious about the lives being lived in the houses they pass, and just as likely for those on the ground to wonder about those passing by.

I used to go to college on the District line,” she said. “It goes very, very slowly and you can look into people’s houses. I did idly wonder about what you would do if you saw an act of violence or something suspicious. It’s quite normal, everyone is curious about other people’s lives.” – from an article in the Standard

This irregular Watson will not make anyone forget the investigative Doctor, let alone his illustrious partner, but Rachel feels compelled to find out whatever she can, using the knowledge she has gleaned from her daily observations. We expect our investigators these days to be a bit down on their luck, and to throw back maybe more than their share of amber liquid. But Rachel Watson doesn’t have a drinking problem, she has a drinking catastrophe. How is she to figure out whither the missing lady has gone, or perhaps who made her go missing, how is she to judge whether the lady’s anger-management-challenged husband, the other man she saw at her place, or someone else might be somehow involved, if her drinking causes her to have more blackouts than London during the blitz.

The tale is told in staggered chronology, from three perspectives. Rachel’s, the missing person’s, and Anna’s, she being the woman with whom Rachel’s ex cheated while he was still with Rachel, and whom he subsequently married. Or she said, she said, and then she said. The timelines converge at the end. Most sections are divided into sub headings of morning, evening, afternoon, that sort. It makes for many short passages, good, appropriately, for reading on a train.

description
This is an example of the S stock used on the District line Hawkins once rode

The pace of the tale is quick, clickety-clacking along without exceeding posted limits, advancing nicely to the big climax. Truthfulness comes in for some attention, as it seems everyone has something to hide. If you are looking for likeable characters, you might try the Hogwarts Express. The folks here tote enough baggage to merit their own cars. I suppose Rachel is sympathetic, but seems almost as much an agent of her misery as a victim. Making her pathetic and annoying was, I expect, a way to make her real, make her sympathetic, and that works, to a point.

Will Rachel find out what happened with the missing woman? Will her ex take out an order of protection against her, as she keeps calling and showing up at his place? Is the missing person merely missing? or worse? Can Rachel stay sober long enough to figure anything out? You might very well care. Clearly, judging by sales, many do. But, while I did, a little, I felt pushed away by this book. I felt cheated, as an actual audience member, as if riding on a disoriented express. I do understand that the unreliable narrator is simply a story-telling mechanism and that Rachel falls into the Madman classification within that, but when she changes her story about a significant piece of information the story went off the rails for me. So, while there is plenty to enjoy about The Girl on the Train, while there is plenty of tension-release-repeat, and while many readers are bound to be transported by the story, relating to or rooting for one or more characters at least some of the time, the one thing a reader demands from an author is honesty, and when trust is lost so is the benefit of the several hours we spend together. The locomotive was transformed, for me, into a hand-car trapped in a siding. It’s elementary.

Review posted – 7/10/15

Publication date – 1/13/15

=======================================EXTRA STUFF

While this may be the first novel by Paula Hawkins, it is not the first novel that Paula Hawkins wrote, or published. She got work writing chick-lit under the name Amy Silver, an experience that she says was great training. Hawkins, born and raised in Zimbabwe, was 17 when her family moved to London. She had wanted to be a foreign correspondent like her father, but decided that war zones were just too scary. Check the Guardian piece if you are interested in getting more info on the author.

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, Twitter as Amy Silver, and FB pages

Excellent intel in this piece in The Guardian

Here is the article from the Standard cited in the review, ‘My District line commute inspired bestselling thriller,’ says London author Paula Hawkins ,

An interview with the author in Entertainment Weekly The Girl on the Train author Paula Hawkins talks about her next thriller, by Clark Collis

A few great train reads. Now don’t bug me about the brevity of this. I know there are only a gazillion. Do feel free, however to add your favorite train books in the comments. I will be happy to add those to this list if you like. I have not gotten around to installing links for all of these, but I expect you guys can manage

4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie’s
Murder on the Orient Express by AC
Closely Watched Trains by Bohumil Hrabal, Edith Pargeter
The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton
The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux, or several other train books by this author
Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead – recommended for inclusion by Dianne

Not to be outdone, train tunes

Casey Jones – this version by Allan Hirsch
Folsom Prison Blues (I hear that train a’comin) – Johnny Cash
I’ve Been Working on the Railroad – Pete Seeger
Last Train to Clarkesville – The Monkees
Last Train to Lhasa – Banco de Gaia – recommended by Rand
Locomotive Breath – Jethro Tull – the vid is cadged together, but this is what it should sound like
Midnight Train to Georgia – Gladys Knight
MTA – The Kingston Trio
Take the A-Train – Duke Ellington
The Train Song – a bit of silliness from Armstrong and Miller

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction