Book review: Far From True

Book review: Far From True

Books & Poetry

Best-selling crime writer Linwood Barclay’s new thriller is set in the small, upstate New York town of Promise Falls, where it seems bodies are appearing as fast as local businesses are closing.

On its last night of operation, the iconic Constellation Drive-In folds in a literal sense when an explosion causes the four-storey movie screen to collapse onto cars in the front row.

Four people are killed and this is just the start of the awful things in store for the folk of Promise Falls.

It seems someone is unhappy with the local populace and is out to wreak revenge. There’s a strange fixation with the number 23: it featured on the hoodie of a recently shot university student who had been terrorising women, there’s 23 dead squirrels strung up on a fence, and three mannequins appear hanging from cart 23 on a Ferris wheel).

There’s also the discovery of a secret adult “play room” and missing home movies, a particularly brutal child custody battle, a former mayor out to regain his position, and some unsolved gruesome murders. Safe to say, there’s a lot going on in this little town.

Far From True is the second in a trilogy set in Promise Falls, something that’s not apparent from the book blurb, although the sense of arriving late to the party soon becomes apparent.

Barclay recycles characters from previous stories, including private investigator Cal Weaver, Detective Barry Duckworth, and former news reporter turned political hander David Harwood. These characters’ back-stories, including how Cal’s wife and son were tragically murdered, are filtered in as the reader needs to know them. The effect is a little discombobulating, because every step forward in the current goings-on requires reams of explanation about what’s already transpired – and as already mentioned, there’s a lot going on.

Barclay is a story master, so despite the vast number of plot lines, the reader doesn’t get lost and the effect is a pacey, plot-driven story. The downside, however, is that it’s difficult to connect with and really care about any of the characters in this story. Just as I was forming a bond with the protagonist in the first chapter, he disappeared; the same thing kept happening throughout the novel.

If you’d like character “buy-in”, it’s probably advisable to start with the first in this trilogy (Broken Promise). If you don’t care about that, and just want a fast-paced, well-written thriller, go ahead and jump straight into Far From True.

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The Unkown Woman: book review

The Unknown Woman, Random House, $32.99, is the second novel by Jacqueline Lunn (left).

The Unknown Woman

The Unknown Woman, Random House, $32.99, is the second novel by Jacqueline Lunn (left).<br /><br />

The Unknown Woman, Random House, $32.99, is the second novel by Jacqueline Lunn (left).

BOOK REVIEW | Lilith Granger is an upper-class Sydneysider and stay-at-home mum who has the perfect life – or so it would seem.

At 44, Lilith lives in a mansion, spends the mornings at yoga, drives her kids to their expensive private school in her SUV, has had the luxury of not working for more than a decade and can afford to spend more than $2000 on a designer pink coat. But somewhere along the way, she has lost her sense of self. Once a gifted actuary who earned more than her husband, she’s now a mum, wife, daughter, friend and neighbour. But will the real Lilith Granger please stand up?

This second novel from Australian novelist Jacqueline Lunn is quite simply stunning.

Neither Lilith nor any of her other characters are particularly likeable, but perhaps that’s the point.

Told from alternating points of view – first that of Lilith, then someone in her life (friend, daughter, neighbour, etc) – this story is set over the course of a day with significant flashbacks to provide context. In a way, the novel is like a series of interconnected vignettes in which each character provides new perspective on Lilith and also tells their own story.

Some of the stories have little to do with Lilith’s life (such as the nurse who works in the aged-care home where Lilith’s father lives) and are really self-contained short stories. It doesn’t matter, they’re still imminently readable and demonstrate Lunn’s gift for characterisation.

The author seems to have a fascination with the impact of one’s past on their present. This was the theme of her first novel, Under the Influence, and again presents itself in The Unknown Woman. Lilith has had it tough, and as a result her actions in parts of the book are disturbing. Entitled and deranged would be another way of describing them. But that is the stuff of story – characters who do odd things, unlikeable things, and yet make us want to read on.

Lilith had a difficult childhood, her best friend is both abused and narcissistic, her brother a hapless bachelor who dabbles in sexual harassment, her teen daughter a selfie-obsessed pain in the butt, and her husband an absent workaholic. No wonder that to all of them, including herself, Lilith is the unknown woman.

This is top-end literary commercial fiction. The writing is so sharp, the imperfect characters so well drawn that it’s not an oversell to rate it as one of the best releases of 2014.

Bridget Jones: Mad about the Boy

Bridget Jones: Mad about the Boy

BOOK REVIEW | “A text is gone at the brush of a fingertip, like a nuclear bomb or Exocet missile.

Dating Rule Number 1: DO NOT TEXT WHEN DRUNK.”

Helen Fielding, creator of the legendary Bridget Jones, has again unleashed her calamitous heroine on devoted fans in Bridget Jones: Mad about the Boy.

It’s not a spoiler to tell you that in this book, beloved hero Mark Darcy has died –– it was all over the media upon its release, and the revelation is made early on in the story. But that tragedy, which caused so much controversy, helps Fielding establish Jones as a more mature, in-depth character than the hapless, 30-something woman with whom we’re all familiar.

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, Helen Fielding, Random House, $19.99

In this latest addition to the Bridget Jones saga, we encounter Bridget as a widow, mother of two young children, writing professional, techo-bimbo and, at last, a grown-up. The story begins as Bridget is emerging from her depression over Mark’s death and again feeling ready for love. Another bonus of doing away with Mr Darcy is it has allowed Fielding to maintain the ultimate chick-lit premise: single woman seeks love.

Complicating Bridget’s goal are the presence of her two children, and the author expertly conveys the constant seesaw of emotions a parent feels toward the young and demanding: one minute overwhelming love, the next minute overwhelming desire to lock oneself in the bathroom with a bottle of gin. Their Godfather is Bridget’s still sexy, bad-boy ex, Daniel Cleaver (the Hugh grant character in the movies), with whom the Darcys made-up after the children were born. His one-liners and unrelenting skirt-chasing are highlights of the book.

Another factor affecting Bridget’s quest for love is her weight (those familiar with the previous stories will know it is a constant in all her diary entries), which this time lands her in an obesity clinic. And she is not as young as she once was – now 51, Bridget flirts with Botox with disastrous results; she also tries to come to grips with Twitter and master the art of turning on her overly complicated entertainment system.

That brings us to the romance plot. Never one to make the sensible choice, Bridget lands herself a 29-year-old toy boy. Their flirtations and romance are hilarious, and the character of Roxster is adorable, but it wouldn’t be chic-lit if all ended well.

You know what you’re in for when you pick up Mad About the Boy. Fielding again utlises the breezy shorthand style she perfected in previous novels, and once the reader becomes accustomed to the missing pronouns, the book provides an excellent read. Overall, it’s witty, excellently written chick-lit with depth and humour.

To borrow Fielding’s way of writing: well worth reacquainting oneself with Ms Jones.