Book review – Guillaume Musso: The Secret Life of Writers (2020)

Book review – Guillaume Musso: The Secret Life of Writers (2020)

The history of a cover-up.

Despite the fact that he is a popular and young author, I have not yet read anything by Guillaume Musso before, so that the powerful ability of the author to create atmosphere took me by complete surprise, as he has grasped my attention from the first pages, sucked me into the story and did not let go before he turned me around and made me dizzy several times.  He did this while the text is not long, the descriptions do not become too overwhelming, we could say that sentences building up atmosphere are completely minimised, and the essence is summarised in the events outlined in a few lines.

Everything that is important comes from meetings and dialogues, the author drags us into every key scene so that we can experience the events there and then, and then he quickly pulls us out into the present so that we face the consequences. Yes, but then, what makes this novel so special and exciting? Well, the way this all materialises. Were it just a simple crime story, it would be possible for us to speculate within the first third of the text who the murderer is, who is not suspicious, yet, could be connected to the murder.

Thrillers have their own obligatory elements, just like any other literary genres.

What a successful author’s offer can make special and enjoyable today is not rejecting mandatory panels but the presentation of the sequence of events, making the reader think, and even forcing him/her to re-assess each character’s motivation over and over again. The mystery is there right at the very beginning of the story: why does a successful author, who has published three books, all of which are adored by readers and critics alike, retire to a small, secluded island in the Mediterranean?

What compels a man to live his life in solitude for 20 years without writing a single line?

These are serious questions in themselves, and the explanation is much more complicated, much more macabre than we could have anticipated beforehand. The seemingly peaceful inhabitants of the island may not be who they appear to be, and the characters who show up in the meantime may not be merely curious characters connecting two story lines, either, even if they appear to be so at first glance. There are attempts of various kinds to find out the truth behind the story, while the reader is increasingly involved in the detection of gradually unfolding events, while the seemingly viable, logical solution keeps changing from chapter to chapter.

Just when we think we have an answer to the question, and we also know who committed the mysterious murder that has been keeping the island in feverish excitement, Musso throws in yet another detail that compells us to reassess our opinion, and he keeps up this habit to the very last chapter. So The Secret Life of Writers is a terribly exciting mystery-thriller, entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time. It is easy to consume, although, despite the rolling story, it raises serious questions. Why do we create? What makes the writer a writer? Is criticism important? Is someone who condemns himself to solitude actually lonely? Is it possible to rise above the desire for revenge?

Is there forgiveness?

Anyone who is interested in the questions raised and can tolerate psychological stress should definitely read this novel. I don’t regret it. It’s perfect for me now.

How to improve our writing – part 14

How to improve our writing – part 14

The Ten commandments of writing scenes. Here is the fourth commandment.

4. Keep a story plausible.

Perhaps the writers’ most difficult task is to create stories which, although mostly fictional, yet feel true. What matters to the reader is not whether the story is true or not, but WHETHER IT COULD HAVE BEEN TRUE if it had happened. The writer’s job is to dispel the doubts that arise in the reader and almost lure him into his seemingly true fairytale world. Readers tend to believe a lot of things, and a smart writer can make them believe almost anything.

Suppose an accountant from a small rural town rents a hotel room in a big city because he finally gets to meet the lady he’s been exchanging messages with online for months. The accountant is a romantic, plays the saxophone, writes poetry and is a passionate collector of butterflies. His only disadvantage is that he is of delicate physique and weighs a mere 70kg. Shortly after he checks into his room, he notices a loud phone call in the next room, and then a man’s sobbing. He walks out onto the balcony and notices that the man with a bear-like physique in the next room is about to commit suicide. He wants to throw himself off the balcony.  There’s already a crowd down there, even the fire department and the police have arrived as well.

Our protagonist then waves to the firefighters and reassures the man with confident words as he climbs the parapet. At the right moment, he jumps through the air to the adjacent balcony, two metres away, knocking the other man about to commit suicide off his feet. However, the other man does not desist from his intentions, he jumps up and wants to throw himself into the depths again, but our protagonist,acting like a lion, also prevents this. He pulls the man back so hard that the man falls through the French window and falls back right into the room. That’s when the firemen break down the door and are shocked to see our protagonist helping the sobbing man onto his feet.

Why do we have the feeling that this would never happen?

Because if the story does not reveal more of the hero’s background, the fact that the accountant weighs 70 kg only because he has just survived cancer but, before that, he served as a U.S. Marine for ten years and was specially trained in counterterrorism and hostage rescue, the reader won’t believe he was able to jump onto the other balcony, and then threw his suicidal neighbour with a bear-like physique through the French window of the balcony. In a nutshell: The action or action sequence must be credible in all aspects. And not by adding some quick fix to make the absolutely unbelievable scene believable and letting some machine gun fall from the sky into the hands of our protagonist when he’s threatened with a knife.

Don’t Let Go! By Michel Bussi – book review

Don’t Let Go! By Michel Bussi – book review

A holiday can be paradise itself, but at other times it can deteriorate into a murderous adventure.

Martial and Liane spend their holidays in an idyllic environment on the island of Réunion. For the couple and their six-year-old daughter, these are the days and minutes of perfect happiness. Crystal-clear, turquoise water, palm trees, warm breezes – then, all of a sudden, Liane Bellion disappears. She goes to their hotel room between three and four in the afternoon and simply does not return. An employee at the hotel claims to have seen Martial in the hotel corridor at that time. Soon Martial disapppears as well, and their little daughter is nowhere to be found, either. They turn over every blade of grass on the whole island to find them. Did Martial kill his wife? If not, what makes him feel guilty?

Let’s start with maybe the biggest drawback, the title.

Because Don’t Let Go basically reminds me of a Danielle Steel book or a ‘90s action movie based on worn templates. On the basis of such an unimaginative title, we might rightly think that the book would not be more exciting than that, but we would be very much mistaken if we did. Bussi’s current thriller takes place on the French island of Réunion, which tourists like, but we should not think it a holiday paradise where you can stumble upon foreigners at every turn. The schifting fate of hotels – one disappears while the other one thrives – well reflects the somewhat resigned life of local residents, which is greatly shaken by the disappearance of a tourist followed by the death of a local resident.

Martial Bellion arrives on the island with his wife Liane and their six-year-old daughter, Sofia, to rest, but the holiday takes an unexpected turn when Liane goes up to her hotel room one afternoon, and she never turns up again. The hotel turns into a mess, but Martial can’t credibly play the role of a broken and worried husband, and soon it is revealed that several people saw him going down to his car with one of the hotel’s linen trollies shortly before he reported his wife missing. The man becomes even more suspicious when he too, together with his daughter, disappears. The island’s police chief, Aja Purvi, and his lazy subordinate, Christosé, undertake the task of solving the mystery, although the latter would rather spend all his time in the bedroom of his mistress, Imelda. 

At the beginning, the search for Bellion and his daughter repeatedly falters, especially because it is revealed relatively late that Martial Bellion had had a child whose life had ended in tragic circumstances, but precisely on the island where Liane had disappeared and where the novel takes place. Bussi tries to maintain tension with one of the most traditional writing tools: he constantly changes the perspective of the narrative, we can even get a glimpse from the perspective of the little girl, Sofa, which is a particularly refreshing move by the writer, so that we can gain insight into the thoughts of the meek and naive little girl, who cannot decide whether her father is a victim or a murderer.

“Don’t Let Go!” can in no way be considered a sequel to the author’s book Black Water Lilies; the detectives are different, the location is different, perhaps even the structure of the novel can be considered as different from its predecessor. It is important to point this out because Bussi had to build from scratch when he created this story, the reader has no way of knowing any of the characters from before (as opposed to the traditions of Scandinavian mysteries, for example, where writers mostly use a (pair of) detective(s) till the end of their lives).

Therefore, Bussi had to be very convincing with characterisations in order to encourage his readers to read further.

He did not have to nudge me for long as, although I have thoroughly criticised the title above, apart from this, there are no platitudes with Bussi – not only the action and scene of the thriller, but also its characters are unique, which makes us really excited about what the next chapter will be about because we can only grope for what will happen next and can only guess that, considering it’s a crime story, the murderer will be exposed in the end.

How to improve our writing – part 13

How to improve our writing – part 13

The Ten Commandments of writing scenes. Here is the third commandment.

3. Avoid dead-ends

When we are writing a scene in a novel, we should not forget that we have to get from one point to another. We can’t start and finish a scene at the same place. If the action described in that section does not get from point A to point B in any way, it does not fit the novel. Cross it out immediately, it’s just unnecessary frippery, which takes up both our readers’ and your own time.

You can avoid the curse of standing still and of the writer’s hesitation by referring or pointing to a future action or occurrence and having it actually performed by one of the characters in the novel.  If, for example, you begin a scene by your male protagonist looking for a missing love in a deserted village, you should not close it with the same scene but, instead of that, either let him find what he is looking for or meet someone who knows where the lady in question is. And if, at the end of the scene, he meets someone who knows where his love is, this meting will raise a series of new questions in the reader.

How does that person know where the missing girl is, who is the one who has such information? Isn’t he just the one who has kidnapped her? How could the protagonist get to his lover? Etc. So the rule is to assure the reader without fail before closing the scene that the problem raised at the beginning of the scene will be solved at some point.

Anders Roslund: Knock-Knock/Three Days – book review

Anders Roslund: Knock-Knock/Three Days – book review

It was a great pleasure to discover Anders Roslund’s crime story among the summer novelties of 21st Century Publishers (orig. 21. Század Kiadó). So far, I have read all three of his books that have been published in this country, and all three were outstanding experience to me. The author has had a hard ride in Hungary so far, but with this fourth publishing, the time may turn to the good and he may reach a safe haven.

In our country, Roslund’s novels have already been appearing in a third publisher’s offer. This highly successful crime story, which came out last year, is the first volume of a three-piece series.

Roslund knows how to write a breathtaking, fantastic story.

It is a special point of interest that he worked with fellow authors up until this one. This is his first independent crime story. It is a combination of the Nordic crime genre with stunning characters and the political thriller. The subject is important and timely nowadays. In all respects, the crime is brilliant and complex. What started out as a birthday party ends dramatically … with a jump, the story continues from here a good ten years later. The location is the same apartment. The criminal inspector Ewert Grens is assigned to the case, as it was him who investigated the previous murder back then as well.

Behind this mysterious burglary, however, a dark past knocks. Our inspector gets this old new case only half a year before his much anticipated retirement. What lie behind are political interests, the Albanian Mafia and the arms trade. Through bloody tragedies, market monopoly leads to a staggering and unexpected solution. Nordic crime stories are never just crime stories, this one is not a typical story, either – it tackles important issues and social problems.

I would rather not ponder details for fear of a spoiler. It is a true psychological thriller leading through the fate of a five-year-old girl, who is the only survivor (and witness) of a slaughter. This life-changing childhood event is the basis for everything. Beside power, witness protection and an evil case of vengeance stand in the background, and a great many tiny details can only be fully understood at the end of the story.

Grens now fears that someone is intent on silencing the only witness. A race against time is beginning, for even the inspector is unaware of the fate of the little girl of the original crime. Meanwhile, someone in the city’s criminal underworld is executing weapons smugglers, and has placed former police informant Piet Hoffman’s family in grave danger. The secret agent Piet Hoffmann may be familiar to our readers from the thriller Three Seconds. The seemingly separate events are slow to unfold but, naturally, they are related. The action is unpredictable, sufficiently elaborate, I can guarantee that.

The unfolding horror does not spare the characters. As I was progressing through the story, my head kept spinning to find out where we were, what was going to happen, the events swept me away. The combination of facts and fiction works optimally. I suppose this has turned out to be a real “guy’s thriller”. What is happening in Albania and Stockholm has a dreadful background. The award-winning journalist portrays organized crime, the intertwining of politics, and provides an exciting insight into that world with enormous power.

He has carried out thorough research: the background is accurate and thoughtful. He is also a master of creating suspense, which increases from page to page. Dramatic turns, his broken, agitated, brief sentences also enhance the effect. The pieces of the family puzzle will only let you see the whole picture at the end. Roslund is very skilful at depicting internal machinations and waving misleading threads into the fabric of the crime story. It’s not just a breathtaking story – it’s also a heartrending one. He is now showing a completely new side of his to his readers.

All in all, it is a masterly dark thriller of organized crime and revenge where, in addition to trust and loyalty, recovery from grieving is also involved.

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