Tag Archives: Crime fiction review

Review: The Innocent (By David Baldacci)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 422 pages

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Government assassin, Will Robie, returns from two successful assignments in Tangier and Edinburgh to find that his next target is right in his home city – a government employee who needs to be eliminated for an unknown reason. But on the day, faced by the young woman he’s meant to kill and the child that’s holding on to her, Robie, for the first time in his life, hesitates. Before he realizes his mistake, a secondary shooter kills both mother and child. Robie manages to escape in spite of his handler leading him to the second shooter, and imminent death. Putting his personal escape plan into action, he heads to the bus station to get on the next bus to New York with a ticket booked earlier under an alias.

Fourteen-year-old Julie Getty has been forced into the foster care system due to a recurring drug problem faced by parents who have made numerous attempts to turn clean. When she receives a note from her mother stating that they want to make a new start as a family, Julie runs away from her foster home. Returning to her own house, she sees her parents being murdered by a lone killer. She manages to escape and heads to the bus station, coincidentally getting on the same bus as Robie in an attempt to leave town.

But the killer follows her on board. Robie stops him before he finishes his mission. Moments later, Robie and Julie get off the bus. And the bus is blown to smithereens. Unsure of who between them the target was, Robie feels compelled to protect Julie. But his plans to help Julie and save himself are brought to an abrupt halt when he’s called back in by his department to liaise with the FBI on the assassination-gone-wrong, and discover who had set him up. Now, Robie is working with FBI Special Agent Nicole Vance on a crime at which he’d been present. He knows that, somehow, everything is connected. Only by discovering how can Robie prove his innocence and save lives… including Vance’s, Julie’s, and his own. But, to do that, Robie needs to identify who he can really trust. Struggling to get to the truth in a web lies, Robie is running out of time. He needs to get to the bottom of things before Vance uncovers his real profession and the role he really played in the events of the night, and before more people around him are killed.

The Bottom Line:

A typical Baldacci political-crime-conspiracy-thriller that takes an oddly analytic look at assassinations and murder, and that introduces a hero with lots of potential.

My take:

The Innocent is a typical Baldacci book – it’s got the political angle, it’s got a hero who has a unique moral compass, and it’s got the crime thriller angle that keeps the pages turning. The story is complicated enough to be interesting and stops just short of becoming down-right confusing.

As expected from Baldacci’s work, the most intriguing aspect of The Innocent is the new hero it introduces. Will Robie is intrinsically a good guy with exceptional skills, and he’s an assassin for his government. He is a man trained to kill, he’s good at it, and he feels no remorse about his profession. The book often touches upon the concept of good vs. evil, and the reality that humans (even those like Robie) are essentially not one or the other. As a character, he is definitely interesting and, although I didn’t find the book as good as others by Baldacci, I definitely want to follow Robie’s development.

One thing that really stands out is the bluntness of the violence. It isn’t gory nor exaggerated in any way. It is oddly calculated. When Robie eliminates a target or sees someone dead, he perceives and analyses it with the strangest simplicity, practicality, and mundaneness. He does not think of life as cheap, as is made very evident. But the coldness with which he looks at death definitely adds a lot to his characterization.

The only downside, if I had to choose, is that the story was good, but could have been much better. It has a lot of build-up but ends up being slightly anticlimactic – not in delivery, but in the story itself. Maybe a couple of pages more about how the many different angles came together, and why, would have made the story more compelling, and consequently more fulfilling.

Should you read The Innocent? It doesn’t have to be the first David Baldacci you pick up, but it’s definitely one that should be on the list, even if it makes an appearance slightly later. Recommended to:

  • fans of David Baldacci
  • political-conspiracy-crim-fiction lovers looking for a new series
  • anyone who wants to read a fast-paced, slightly-complicated crime fiction

Read The Innocent or any other Baldacci books? Share your thoughts on Will Robie or whoever your favorite Baldacci character is in the comments below!

– Rishika

 

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Review: The Sleeping Doll (By Jeffery Deaver)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 530 pages

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

CBI Special Agent Kathryn Dance is the best in her field. She’s an expert in kinesics which makes her a very good agent and an exceptional interrogator. But she’s never tried to read someone like Daniel Pell. In 1999, Pell murdered an entire family, unwittingly leaving behind a young girl who was asleep, and hidden behind dolls. After eight years in prison, Pell evokes renewed interest by the CBI when new evidence connects him to another murder. The interview with Pell is meant for Dance to find the truth.

But things don’t go as planned. Within moments of the interview that leaves Dance unsettled, Pell is on the run, death and destruction in his wake. Now Dance has to rely on everything she could learn about Pell during the short interview as the CBI and local police begin an immense manhunt. But Pell behaves nothing like as escaped convict. He seems to have no interest in leaving the area. Dance struggles to identify the reason, and comes to a disturbing conclusion – she and Pell may be looking for the same person, the young girl who survived, the one called The Sleeping Doll. And as Pell outsmarts Dance and her colleagues at every step of the way, she begins to fear that her inability to read him might cost even more lives, especially those of the ones close to her.

The Bottom Line:

An interesting enough crime thriller, whose most positive factor is the technicalities of the protagonist’s profession.

My take:

I started reading Jeffery Deaver with his first novel, The Bone Collector (check out my review of that one here). What was most impressive about that book was the detail to the technicalities of forensics.

The Sleeping Doll mirrors Deaver’s skill in that regard. It goes into quite a lot of detail about kinesics, without becoming text-bookish. In fact, the theoretical angle actually paves the way for the story to move forward in many places.

The protagonist, Katheryn Dance, is… strange. For whatever reason, you don’t exactly like her right away. In retrospect, I think it’s because of her excessive ability to understand people’s actions, which makes her oddly reaction-less to a great extent (even though she isn’t emotion-less). She initially comes across as an aloof individual, but grows on you as the story proceeds and her personality unfolds.

Although the antagonist, Daniel Pell, is shown (through repetitive mentions by other characters) to be an extremely dangerous, sadistic psychopath, his character just didn’t have enough of a cringe factor to drive the point home. He falls short, seeming more like a villain who tries very hard to be coolly insane, but only manages to remain basically-negative.

As a story, The Sleeping Doll definitely has a lot of twists. As can be expected from Deaver’s work, it does a good job of maintaining the suspense until revelation time. Yet, it does seem to fall short of being an edge-of-your-seat-thriller. And I’d chalk this up to Pell’s character too. To be honest, he just wasn’t as scary as everyone in the story claimed him to be. And since most of the storyline is based on how brilliant and devious he is, the lacking in characterization greatly affects the overall feel of the book.

The supporting characters are (as expected) strong, with each person adding interesting elements to the story. You really associate with a lot of the characters, and Dance too, until you are invested enough to want to know what happens next. Which is why I would definitely continue to read the Dance series. I’d recommend this book to:

  • fans of crime fiction and crime thrillers
  • fans of Jeffery Deaver (may not be as good as the Rhyme series, but is definitely worth reading for its typical Deaver-ness)
  • fans of shows like Criminal Minds and Lie To Me (which I haven’t seen but know the premise of; I find some similarities in that and the kinesics-interrogation approach this book takes)

Let me know what you thought of The Sleeping Doll (or if I should ever actually watch Lie To Me)… share your comments below!

P.S.: I still prefer the Lincoln Rhyme series, although that may be because I’ve read more of them and there’s been significant character development. But, I’m still very keen to see where Dance’s story takes her.

Until the next book.

– Rishika

 

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Review: Into The Darkness (By Sibel Hodge)

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Source: Goodreads

Length:

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Eighteen-year-old Toni wants to study criminal psychology to be able to help people, especially children, affected by the evil deeds of which psychopaths are capable. But a week before her university course begins, she discovers something horrifying in the deepest corners of the internet. Before she is able to wrap her head around what she’s seen, she finds herself attacked, abducted, and locked in a dark cell. With no help from the police, Toni’s mother turns to an old friend for help. Ex-SAS operative, Mitchell, has seen the worst that the world and its people have to offer. He knows that evil is not a concept of fairy tales, but a very real threat that can exist in the form of anything and anyone. Uncaring about the law and only concerned with quick justice, Mitchell is a vigilante with a mission – bring Toni home safe, no matter what it costs.

DS Warren Carter has been a detective for so long that the job and the growing lack of justice are beginning to make him grow weary. He is two weeks away from retiring from the force and taking up a different job. Then, he’s called in to investigate the double murder of a simple, seemingly normal couple. Nothing is what it seems in the case. DS Carter is short on staff and has almost no support from his overbearing, bureaucratic boss. Yet, he won’t let the case go, relying on the instincts that have always had his back to try and solve the cold-hearted, heinous crime. But the case isn’t simple, and DS Carter finds himself falling into the depths of a world that is more twisted and evil than he could have ever imagined.

Time is running out for Toni as Mitchell tries desperately to find her in a world of shadows where anonymity is pivotal. And DS Carter is beginning to question everything he’s ever known. The Missing, the Vigilante, and the Detective are caught in a dangerous game, one that offers threats at every turn, and that none of them may win.

The Bottom Line:

An interestingly told thriller that does not shy away from the gory stuff, hits you in the face with the truth that you’d rather never know, and spins an intricate, well-plotted tale that is not made any less enjoyable by its predictability.

My take:

Writing in the first person isn’t always easy. Not too many people like the approach so you have to be exceptionally good at it to ensure that your audience can associate with the character they’re following. Writing from different points of view consistently isn’t easy either. It’s altogether too easy to get their personalities mixed up, and end up with one’s style seeping into the other.

Yet, Sibel Hodge does both these things with brilliant precision in Into the Darkness. 

The story follows a vigilante who believes that justice is best served instantly, a missing girl whose desire to help people takes her into the depths of unspeakable horror, and a detective who’s been worn down by the injustices he’s witnessed in his career but still, desperately, needs to trust in the legal system. All three are gray characters, and Hodge’s style allows you to follow their internal battles and really get into the story. She doesn’t break their characterization at all, which adds to the association that readers develop for the characters.

The story itself is quite interesting. It is based on a topic that has been done previously (in movies and books) – the dark web – but still manages to be fresh in its approach. It’s also painfully graphic, so those who aren’t used to too much gore may have a few cringe-worthy moments while reading. When you look beyond the near-horrific narrations though, you see that it’s less about the activity and more about the people behind it. Into the Darkness focuses a lot on what people, good and bad, are really capable of; on how far someone can go, how malleable their morals can become, if they’re motivated by greed and insane fetishes, or the desire to help people and enable justice.

The book proceeds at a good speed, taking you from one POV to another and back as you turn pages wondering just how (and even if) these three arcs meet. It’s not immensely unpredictable, but there are definitely some shock-factors. The characters within the story have apparently made appearances previously in other works, but the story is complete in itself. All in all, Into the Darkness is a well-paced, intriguing thriller; and while I wouldn’t say that this should be the next book you should read, it definitely should be on the TBR pile of anyone who enjoys the genre or wants to venture into it.

Recommended to:

  • those who enjoy thrillers
  • those who enjoy multi-POV or first-person focused books (both these aspects are done extremely well)
  • those who like crime fiction

A big thanks to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for an ARC of this book. It led to me discovering some very interesting characters and a new author to follow. Share your thoughts on how you liked (or are waiting for) Into the Darkness and any other books by Sibel Hodge in the comments section below.

Into the Darkness releases on 3rd June, 2018.

– Rishika

 

 

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Review: Fool Me Once (By Harlan Coben)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 387 pages

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Maya Stern is no stranger to death. Having served in the army, she’s seen her share of loss. And learned to deal with it. Which is how she manages to bear the pain of having witnessed the death of her husband in a mugging gone wrong. She’s forcing herself to get through one day at a time, fighting against the loss and the nightmares she brought home from the war with a smile on her face for the sake of her two-year-old daughter. But some things are too much even for Maya’s willpower. When she sees her husband on the feed from a secret nanny-cam – feed from a week after his death – she begins to question everything, and everyone. She begins digging to find an answer, but instead finds only more questions. And secrets that go back decades. Everything she’s ever known begins to come under suspicion, and Maya is forced to face the fact that she can trust no one – not even herself. Things simply aren’t what they seem. But is that the result of a conspiracy that goes back years, or the loss of Maya’s own sanity?

The Bottom Line:

A relatively typical crime thriller whose saving grace is its incredible, and unpredictable, ending.

My take:

Fool Me Once has an interesting story that is told with the nearly infallible skill that only an experienced author can possess. Harlan Coben has been around for a while and yet, this is the first book of his that I’ve read. And I can say that the man is, without a doubt, a really good storyteller.

Fool Me Once moves along briskly, and the suspense keeps you turning the pages relentlessly. It is written with the effortlessness that seems so simple, but is probably extremely difficult to achieve. And that translates into a smooth, effortless reading experience too.

The characters are well defined and very human. In fact, they’re human enough to like and dislike at the same time. This is another aspect in which complexity is presented exceptionally well, in seemingly-effortless simplicity. The most enjoyable thing in Fool Me Once is Coben’s skill; I definitely want to read more from him.

As a story, however, it’s pretty average. The premise is interesting, and it unfolds well. But the many twists and turns that were meant to be shocking are quite predictable. That’s not to say that they aren’t enjoyable. But at the same time, it leaves the book lacking the quality that gives it an edge, that pushes it to the level of evoking an, “I loved it!”

The one thing that was surely unpredictable though was the end. And that is what takes the book up from 2 stars (read: It was okay), to 3 stars. All in all, Fool Me Once is a very average thriller, but one that deserves to be read for its story-telling finesse and pretty awesome end. Recommended to:

  • fans of crime fiction and thrillers
  • fans of Jeffery Deaver and/or Agatha Christie
  • anyone who wants to read a fast-moving but not heavy crime fiction

Liked Fool Me Once? Or think that another Coben book is better? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

– Rishika

 

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Review: The Fix (By David Baldacci)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 428 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Amos Decker, the man who forgets nothing and who has just about managed to bring his life back on track, is walking along outside the FBI Headquarters. In front of him is Walter Dabney, a well-respected family man, and patriot who has built a successful business consulting on government projects. Everything seems normal. Until Dabney shoots Anne Berkshire, a high school substitute teacher in the head, and then himself.

The special FBI team of which Decker is a part is assigned the case. But they can find no connection between the killer and victim. And yet Decker can’t believe that anything about the shooting was random. Then Agent Harper Brown of the Defense Intelligence Agency orders Decker and his team off the case; the murder is part of an ongoing DIA investigation for which they aren’t cleared and which has now become an urgent matter of national security.

Unfortunately for Brown, Decker doesn’t care about rules. He only cares about finding the truth. Forced into a shaky alliance, Decker, his team, and Brown work against the clock to discover the truth behind the shooting and the connection between Dabney and Berkshire. The right steps will help them save the nation from an impending attack of unprecedented proportions. A wrong or delayed step leaves the nation vulnerable to an unknown but dangerous and armed enemy. Time and luck are against them; and this time, even Decker’s famous abilities may not be enough to solve the case.

The Bottom Line:

A compelling read that keeps you turning more for the combination of individual story and continuing (personal) story arc than just the story of Dabney and Berkshire themselves.

My review:

The Fix is the third book in the Amos Decker series. And it’s as good as its prequels. For more info on those, check out my review of Memory Man here, and The Last Mile here.

As with many of Baldacci’s works, The Fix takes a seemingly isolated incident and merges it with matters national and political angles. The book tackles the mystery of why Dabney killed Berkshire really well, slowly developing one angle into an elaborate story with an interesting political angle.

The characters are well fleshed out. They are very real, their human-ness being at the very core of everything that happens, and yet being something that isn’t made very obvious. That is what allows the story to unfold in the way that it does – the randomness and unpredictability that is inherent in people. And, this is more shown than told, making it seem all the more relatable.

The Fix introduces us to some new characters and re-introduces us to old ones too. One of the most appealing parts of the book was the development of the relationships between the characters, with each one really coming into their own. There is inevitable conflict, but there is also growth achieved by accepting and showcasing both vulnerabilities and strengths.

At the center of it all lies Amos Decker. A haunted hero if there ever was one, Decker is one of my favorite Baldacci characters. It can sometimes get annoying as to how much people expect from him. Or how much he takes on himself. But as the characters grow, the reasoning for this is also depicted. And it makes things a lot easier to understand and accept. In fact, it manages to give you new insight into a character who you may have considered easy to figure out, a character who can be painfully simply and oddly complex at the same time. But all within reason.

Overall, The Fix shows a lot of development in the arc continued across the series. The individual story is also very interesting. It does come across as a bit over the top at times. In retrospect, I realize that it’s not really about those seemingly fantastic parts. The story is about repercussions. And as a whole, it plays out well and makes for a difficult-to-put-down read.

I’d recommend The Fix to:

  • fans of Baldacci (this has enough background to be a standalone, but you may have a better experience if you read Memory Man and The Last Mile first)
  • anyone interested in getting started on a new series (The Amos Decker one is interesting, to say the least)
  • fans of political thrillers and crime fiction

Let us know what you thought about The Fix and why you love or hate Baldacci and/or Amos Decker. Shout out in the comments below!

Thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

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Review: The Coffin Dancer (By Jeffery Deaver)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 438 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

One of the best forensic experts in the world, Lincoln Rhyme loses almost everything when an accident leaves him a quadriplegic. Until he starts solving cases as a consulting criminalist, assisted by unlikely partner, Amelia Sachs. And when an old name comes up, Rhyme is pulled into one of his toughest cases yet. The Coffin Dancer is the best assassin in the country. And he’s outwitted Rhyme before, killing two of his tech-agents in the process. Now, he’s back to kill three key witnesses in a case against a nearly untouchable airline businessman. When the first witness Ed Carney’s plane blows up, killing him, Rhyme is brought in to protect the other two witnesses and stop the Coffin Dancer. But he has only two days before the trial, two days in which the Coffin Dancer will use everything he can to finish the job. This time, the expert criminalist finds himself facing an enemy who may be smarter and more determined. Because the Coffin Dancer never leaves a job incomplete, even if it means having to kill everyone who stands between him and his target, including Lincoln Rhyme and all the people he cares about.

The Bottom Line:

A fast-paced, edge of your seat read that packs a lot of surprises and remains highly unpredictable, with great character development.

My review:

The Coffin Dancer starts slow, in spite of starting with a literal bang. You take some time to get into the story, but once you’re about 10% in, there’s no looking back. It moves really fast and keeps you guessing right until the last page. There are parts where you feel like you know what’s going to happen, but Deaver manages to surprise time and time again, showcasing his talent for thrillers.

The book does have some references to its prequel – The Bone Collector – but they’re nothing so obvious as to put a dent in the reading experience if you haven’t read the first Lincoln Rhyme novel. As a mystery and story, it stands by itself.

There are some strong, unsaid references to the first book in its character development though. The many relationships that began in the first book move ahead in this one quite naturally. The personalities of characters also progress quite realistically. And that’s the best part of the book – the progression of the characters. The Coffin Dancer delves into those sides of Rhyme and Sachs that were only hinted at in the previous book. The characters have definitely changed (in both good and bad ways) and this change is depicted really well. In fact, Deaver shows off his craftsmanship in the way he handles both sides of his primary and secondary characters – their personal vulnerability and sensitivity, and the unforgiving hunger and drive for their work.

The only problem, I felt, the book had was a very slight lack of logic in a particular part. I get that things happened a certain way. I don’t get why, and it isn’t really explained except as part of a character’s choice. But there was no explicit (or implied) reason behind that choice being made; and “Because I said so,” doesn’t seem like the most fitting reason for a book that’s otherwise brilliantly logical. That’s the only reason this crime fiction doesn’t get to 5 stars.

The Coffin Dancer confirmed (for me) that I’m going to be reading a lot more of Deaver’s work. He’s published a lot too so that is going to be work-in-progress for a while. In the meanwhile, I’d recommend The Coffin Dancer to:

  • fans of crime fiction
  • fans of Simon Beckett and Lee Child
  • anyone who wants to give Deaver a try (may not be his best book, but it’s a good one)

For those who prefer to go in order to really enjoy the series, start with The Bone Collector (you can check out my review for that one here). If you’ve read The Coffin Dancer, drop us a comment below to share your thoughts. Or share some recommendations… I’m always looking for new authors and styles!

– Rishika

 

 

 

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Review: If I Die Before I Wake (By Emily Koch)

 

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Source: Goodreads

 

Length: 320 pages

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Alex Jackson has been in a coma for two years. At least, that’s what everybody believes. What they don’t know is that Alex can hear and feel everything around him, even if he remains incapable of responding. He can hear his father and sister discuss letting him go, he can hear his friends talk about how his girlfriend – Bae – needs to move on, and he can hear the discussions that reveal a shocking truth.

He hadn’t ended up in the hospital because of a climbing accident as everyone had thought. Someone had tried to kill him. Now, lying in bed and incapable of doing anything but listen, Alex needs to figure out who hated him enough to try and murder him. He only has clues from his past to mull over, clues that tell him that whoever his attacker was, he’s not done with Alex yet, nor with the people he loves. Now, Alex struggles every moment to wake up, desperate to discover the whole truth, and desperate to protect his family and friends, before they decide to let him go.

The bottom line:

An interesting storyline with implementation that holds its own for the most part, but that does leave some things lacking.

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK for an ARC of this book!

If I Die Before I Wake is the debut novel of Emily Koch, and it’s pretty good for a debut. It has a very interesting storyline told from a (sort-of) unique perspective. What’s really remarkable about it, though, is that it isn’t easy to create a 320-pages long book when you’re writing the entire thing from the perspective of someone in a vegetative state who can do nothing but listen, think, and occasionally feel. And yet, Koch manages to spin a page-turning tale that doesn’t get boring at any point.

The story itself is quite good. It addresses a gamut of very real, raw human emotions and thoughts, and makes it quite easy to associate with the characters. The suspense, twists, and turns are also well done, definitely managing to evoke a good amount of surprise. Alex’s feelings, struggle, and emotions come across especially well. As one of those “if you woke up in a coffin” type of situations, it is quite disturbing. But I did think that it could have been executed even better because, to be honest, his outlook and emotions seemed a little too calm to me. The feeling of being trapped in your body, unable to move while your mind is screaming at you to do something (to the point where you hallucinate that you’re actually doing it only to find out you hallucinated that too) is much more terrifying than the story depicted. And it probably would have had much more reading value if it had gone that extra bit on what Alex really felt.

What brought the rating of the book down for me (I was leaning towards 3.5 stars or 4 stars earlier), was the first half and the end. The first half tends to jump a lot between different events of the past. While a little ambiguity in the order was the aim (I think), it just got a little too messy to be easily followed. The second half really picks up though and was good enough to compensate for the first. Until the few pages at the end.

A story of this type is meant to be a little abstract in its delivery, I suppose. That’s part of its beauty, and can really make for a great read that evokes crazy amounts of varied emotions. But that kind of chaotic order is also very difficult to achieve. That’s where If I Die Before I Wake was lacking. It was abstract and even hit the right emotional chords. But it did so with very little conviction. As a result, the book (that was probably meant to leave you in thinking about it for a long time) ended without much impact.

All in all, If I Die Before I Wake is definitely worth a read. I won’t say that the author will make my watch-list. But she definitely has a style and genre choice that I would opt for and enjoy (once the chaos has a little more order). In the meanwhile, I’d recommend readers to give Emily Koch’s debut novel a shot, especially if you:

  • enjoy slightly obscure literature
  • like fiction and want to experiment with new styles
  • are interested in crime fiction

If I Die Before I Wake releases on 11th January 2018. Have a read and tell us what you liked/disliked about the book in the comments below!

– Rishika

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