Book Review: The Teacher

‘In the assembly hall of an exclusive Devon school, the body of the head teacher is found hanging from the rafters. Hours earlier he’d received a package, and only he could understand the silent message it conveyed. It meant the end.’

The Teacher is a contemporary crime thriller by Katerina Diamon, in which DS Imogen Grey and DS Adrian Miles must work together in order to stop a series of grim murders, and uncover the identity of the killer.

This is a well-written book*; the narrative switched character perspectives, as well as forwards and backwards in time, which I liked. I was able to follow the story clearly, although it took me a while to piece certain characters or details together.

The dialogue felt completely natural and the short chapters kept my focus and moved the narrative along at a nice pace.

*Ironically, the first few chapters of the book seem to have not been proofread – the amount of missing punctuation and spelling mistakes were quite glaring, but I was fortunate that my particular charity shop copy had been re-edited by the previous owner with a Biro!

This book is probably one of the goriest thrillers I’ve ever read; no gruesome details were spared when it came to descriptions. Indeed, no topics were spared from The Teacher either – the book covers murder, suicide, rape and victim-blaming, gory violence, and extremist viewpoints.

I really enjoyed the thrills, uncovering the mystery behind the murders, and watching how the characters develop and link to one another.

However, there are some parts of The Teacher that wound. me. up.

Spoiler Warning: Minor

Firstly, a victim of rape is not believed when the incident is reported, and is blamed instead. I really felt for the character in these frustrating and upsetting moments – I can’t imagine what it must be like to have gone through such a horrific incident and have it dismissed as falsehood. Whilst The Teacher is merely a fiction, sadly, this situation is reality for some rape victims today.

Secondly, certain characters have different, warped perceptions of morality and subsequently, what is right and what is wrong. For some, the act of murder is seen as the crime it is, others see murder as justifiable if done in revenge, others see murder as an entirely acceptable act.

It was incredibly difficult to read the thoughts and dialogue of characters with such a vastly differing moral compass to my own, and it’s tricky to discuss this further without revealing some serious spoilers.

Yet, whilst these parts of The Teacher infuriated me, they still added to my overall enjoyment of the book, and I was glad Diamond’s writing was able to provoke such a strong emotional response from me.

I strongly recommend this book if you can stomach some gore and want to read a well-written, thrilling murder mystery.

– Judith

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Book Review: Weave A Murderous Web

Whilst dealing with a case of divorce, Jane Larson, a litigator for a law firm in New York, discovers a father’s hidden assets, which unravels a web of lies, drugs and murder. Jane has to uncover the identity of the murderer before she becomes the next victim.

My Photo [Weave A Murderous Web]

This is the second book in the Jane Larson series, the first being Praise Her, Praise Diana (which I haven’t read), by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Ken Hicks.

Initially, I wasn’t sure what to make of Weave A Murderous Web.

I’ve read some other reviews of the book, and a frequent comment I’ve noticed is that it took a while to get engrossed in the plot. I agree with this; there was rather a lot of dialogue and lots of character names flung around at the start so it was hard to focus at first.

However, after a little perseverance, the book settles down and the plot starts moving. I’d say it is a good and interesting story – a murder mystery that unveils a ring of criminals, all of whom are hiding in the city behind their high-flying professions.

Admittedly, the administrative and legal jargon tripped me up, but the thrill of Jane uncovering criminal secrets produced some exciting and tense scenes, like something out of a spy film or a police drama.

I thought characterisation could have been improved. There are lots of characters in Weave A Murderous Web – some major, some minor – but so many didn’t feel fleshed out that it was difficult for me to feel invested, or indeed care, about what was happening in their lives.

I’ll provide an example.

In my opinion, Vinnie and his wife were strongly developed characters, despite their minimal roles in the book. Their characters were established by describing not only physical appearances, but their jobs, their body language to one another and to others, the words they said and how they said them. In next to no time, I had formed a picture in my head of who this couple was and what they were like.

In contrast, characters such as Lee, David and Bryan, came across as men who just happened to be in the plot. I don’t remember much detail being provided about them other than a basic appearance, and so it was difficult to “know” anything about them that made me invested in seeing their lives unfold.

Overall, I think Weave A Murderous Web is a good story featuring a strong and independent protagonist, with some twists and turns to keep you guessing.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

Weave A Murderous Web is available as an e-book or a paperback from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

– Judith

 

Book Review: Swallows and Amazons

Swallows and Amazons is a children’s adventure story by Arthur Ransome. It follows the lives of John, Susan, Titty and Roger Walker as they stay at a farm near a lake in the Lake District during the school holidays. They borrow a boat named Swallow to go sailing and make a camp on a nearby island. Soon, they find themselves under attack from the fierce Amazon pirates [also known to some as Ruth and Peggy Blackett], who sail a boat named Amazon. The two groups of children have many outdoor adventures, including sailing, camping, fishing, exploration and general piracy.

I really enjoyed this book. Swallows and Amazons is just a good, a heart-warming, children’s adventure story, in a similar league to other popular children’s series such as Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books (which I loved as a girl).

The children explore an island, forage for supplies, engage in a pirate “battle”, and learn about some buried pirate treasure.

Ransome’s writing style is witty, and this subtle humour permeates the narration and added to my enjoyment of the novel. His characters, although children, use sarcasm and sharp wit within their dialogue and this is brilliant.

When I started Swallows and Amazons, I was a little wary of, in a story set in the 30s, the 2 boys and 2 girls falling into simple and constrictive gender stereotypes. However, I was pleasantly proved wrong. Whilst Susan, as the eldest girl, is mostly responsible for the cooking*, all the other roles and responsibilities – such as tidying, fishing, sailing, washing up – are shared by the children as best they can. This is only amplified when the “pirates” Ruth (who’s pirate name is Nancy) and Peggy appear on the island, proving that little girls can be just as adventurous and pirate-like as little boys.

*Inner housewife moment: I actually really love the little details Ransome includes of the meals Susan prepares, the way the tents are made homely, and all the little supplies the children need. This was one of my favourite parts of the Famous Five series too, when Anne takes on the role of cook and homemaker.

I think my favourite thing about Swallows and Amazons is that, in Ransome’s narration, he takes the children seriously and never belittles their imaginative minds and games. For example, John Walker is not John Walker, he is Captain. The local village is not just a local village, they are savage natives.

This, I think, is the charm of older children’s books – from authors like Ransome, Blyton, and C.S. Lewis for example –  in contrast to children’s fiction nowadays. Yes, the childlike essence of the story naturally appeals to his primary audience of children, but the writing style, characters and plot are also incredibly enjoyable for older readers too, which I think modern children’s fiction lacks – it is written specifically with a 7 year old in mind, and no-one else.**

**Feel free to challenge me on this, this is my own experience: The modern children’s books I read when I was a 7 year old I’d never read again. The books that do stick in my mind as a 7 year old and I would read again are classics such as the Famous Five series, the Chronicles of Narnia series, The Little Princess, The Secret Garden, Little Women, and so on.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Swallows and Amazons and read it in just a few days. There are 11 more books in this series, that I will probably / most definitely read in the future.

– Judith