Posts tagged ‘thriller’

July 4, 2022

The Old Woman with the Knife by Gu Byeong-Mo

by Team Riverside
book cover The Old Woman With the Knife

Paperback, Canongate, £14.99, out now

Who can resist a book with this alarmingly motivational title and a praise quote from the author of Killing Eve?  The Old Woman with the Knife is a pacy assassin story from a prize-winning Korean novelist, and is built around a good mystery.

But it’s also more than that.  The Old Woman with the Knife offers reflections on how older women can become invisible in society, being written off as obsolete and dull. While this can help if you’re trying to murder people for work and get away with it, there is a price to be paid, as our 65-year-old killer Hornclaw finds out.

I had never thought about the difficulty of remaining inconspicuous in a gym as an older female contract killer: “Once, a young woman on the treadmill next to hers held out her business card and said she was a producer for a program that aired at six in the evening and that featured unusual people, and she asked her to come on the show to talk about being an older woman with a killer body”.  

Easy to read, the book works on many levels. It’s one of the best things I’ve read about ageing and exclusion, while retaining snappy lines and a vivid sense of place.  What has Hornclaw given up or gone without to get this life? Is it what she wanted? Can she become part of the things she finds herself outside, including perhaps family life?  Nothing feels laboured or heavily burdened with message or meaning, it just feels very human.

There is a great and memorable dog in this book, Hornclaw’s companion Deadweight.  Hornclaw explains to Deadweight that it will be hard for the dog to be rehomed, if it comes to that: “Not just because you’re a dog.  It’s the same with people.  They think that an old person can’t live the rest of her life with her mind intact, that an old person gets sick easily and spreads disease, and that nobody will take care of the elderly.  That’s what they think about all living things”.

For anyone who loved the films Salt or Haywire this is a must read… but also for fans of crime fiction that has something to say. A great holiday read.

Review by Bethan

September 7, 2016

His Bloody Project, by Graeme Macrae Burnet

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Contraband, £8.99, out nowgraeme-macrae-burnet-his-bloody-project

This Booker-longlisted novel is the story of a 17 year old boy facing the death penalty for a triple murder committed in a remote village in the Scottish highlands.  It is 1869, and Roderick Macrae is the son of a crofter who is living in a feudal society.  His Bloody Project is presented like a true crime story, with an account by the killer of what happened and documents from other parties involved.  The novel is introduced by the author, in his own name, suggesting that Roderick Macrae was a relative of his.  You have to bring your brain to this collection of purported primary sources, and the main question you have to answer is not whether Macrae committed the crime, which he admits, but whether he was mad at the time.  If it could be proved that he was insane, he might avoid the otherwise inevitable death penalty.

What has happened to Macrae that may have led to this point?  Through his partial account we hear of brutality, unfairness, bereavement and extreme poverty.  As a study in the abuse of power, and the impunity that goes with it, the book is excellent (to be more specific would be to risk spoilers).  The language used by every character in the documents is evocative and convincing – for example, Macrae calls winter in the village the ‘black months’ and summer the ‘yellow months’.

His Bloody Project grips tighter and tighter as the pages run out.  As we find out more about the murders and the killer, we inevitably think more about how we test whether a defendant was insane or not, an issue as present today as in 1869.  Equally relevant now, is the question – when you are subject to the law but the law does not protect you when you need it, can the society you live in really be said to be based on the rule of law?

Review by Bethan

October 12, 2015

Kolymsky Heights, by Lionel Davidson

by Team Riverside

Faber and Faber, £8.99, out now

Recently re-released in paperback, Phillip Pullman in his new introduction describes this 1994 spy adventure novel as “the best thriller I’ve ever read”.Lionel Davidson KOLYMSKY HEIGHTS

The head scientist of a supremely secret Russian base in Siberia sends an urgent message to a friend in the West, asking him to send help. The base is described initially as something similar to the UK’s Porton Down, conducting “research into the materials for chemical and biological warfare”. A mysterious and fantastically accomplished Indian from British Columbia, known sometimes as Dr Johnny Porter, sets out to provide this. But how can he get to, and into, the station? Why has he been summoned? And even if he does get there and find out why, how can he get home?

The book is satisfying at every level, with instantly believable characters and utterly convincing plot and locations. In particular, the action in Siberia is so well written I was wandering about with a head full of whiteness, snow and ice and wind, even when forced to put the book down.

Davidson won multiple awards from the Crime Writers Association, culminating in the lifetime achievement award of the Diamond dagger. Graham Greene and Daphne du Maurier were fans, and his own life was not short on adventure and challenge (see I have no idea why I have not heard of him until now. But I loved this book and will be seeking out his others.

Review by Bethan