On this hot, sunny July morning, I really need my soothing cup of chai tea to relax me, since I’ve been reading so many fast-paced, heart-pounding thrillers lately.
The first book I want to talk about is BC writer Chevy Stevens’ Always Watching. This novel tells the story of a psychiatrist who specializes in healing others and helping broken families on Vancouver Island. Unfortunately, she can’t seem to help her own situation. When Heather, an attempted suicide, is admitted to the hospital, Nadine is called on to assess her and try to help, and recognizes parallels in Heather's experiences with the local retreat centre and her own repressed childhood memories, areas that she would rather not relive. As she digs deeper into Heather’s life, experiences involving a spiritual retreat led by Aaron Quinn jolt her into recalling her own forgotten past involving cults and drugs. On top of these memories, Nadine also deals with her own family issues, such as her runaway daughter, Lisa, and her estranged step-son, Garret. As memories flood back and she seeks justice for the cult members, danger lurks around every corner, and fear for her lost daughter mounts as the novel reaches a thrilling and satisfying end. I have never read anything by this author, although I did try reading an earlier novel, Still Missing, some time ago, but it did not grab me, unlike this one, which had me from the first page. I felt that it dealt with many significant issues, such as the difficult themes of cults/communes, sexual abuse, drugs and street youth. This book proved to be a real page-turner. With a main character I could not always like but could totally understand, and themes that were definitely interesting to explore, this novel, while it dragged a bit towards the end and the main character was sometimes frustrating, was definitely a worthwhile read, though not a literary masterpiece. I would recommend this novel to just about any reader who likes plot-driven stories, although there is some character development with Nadine.
And I read Robert Rotenberg’s fourth novel in what is NOT a series about a network of Toronto lawyers, police officers, reporters and crown attorneys, Stranglehold. The first in the non-series is Old City Hall, which I wrote about a couple of years ago (June 15, 2011): “I thoroughly enjoyed it. It started out offering interesting characters and complex storylines, and delivered on these promises right to the last page... on a scale of 1 to 5, I give Old City Hall 5 stars. It is complex and intriguing to the very end. I dare you to read it and not feel sympathetic towards most, if not all, of the main characters.” I then went on to read the second of his novels, Guilty Plea, which I liked less well, ant the third novel, Stray Bullets, I started but it did not grab me so I didn’t even finish it. Stranglehold, on the other hand, grabbed me right away and kept me glued to my seat for too many hours at a time (my back is cranky from sitting and reading for so long without sufficient breaks!!) This novel tells the story of the search for the killer of one of this non-series’ main characters, and the complex story leading up to the murder. There is great character development for almost all of the members of this complex cast of players, excellent courtroom scenes, fabulous representation of the multicultural makeup of Toronto, some humour, and potential love stories, but mostly tense, thrilling pages of story that will keep you reading long past your bedtime. I think this is Rotenberg’s best book yet. And I’m really impressed with him as an individual as well, since he is still a practicing lawyer in Toronto, and he seems to be a genuinely nice guy. I saw him read a few months ago at WordsWorth Bookstore, and he was really approachable and friendly, even offering to possibly come to or at least participate in via phone one of my book club meetings, if we were discussing one of his books, which I think is pretty amazing. He mentioned at the reading that he was working on a stand-alone at the moment, so I’m really excited about that. And since Stranglehold was such a great book, I may go back and give Stray Bullets another try, although my “required reading” list has just grown exponentially, as I received a box of books for review a few days ago. I guess there is not time for leisure reading. Anyway, I would definitely recommend this book, and I think that readers could get the gist of the characters from this novel alone, even if they had not read the previous novels, although that of course helps to understand the complex relationships and situations in the book. To sum up: Great book that will be impossible to put down!
And to top off my week of thrilling reading, I’m nearly finished listening to The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming, which I’ve listened to before, but I forgot how tense and suspenseful it was. More on that next time, but suffice it to say that it is not a calm, relaxing story by any stretch.
That’s all for now. Stay cool and read more!
Bye for now…