Stop Me is a novel that involves a serial killer and traverses both the USA and Europe, with a protagonist based in London. The 'vacation killer' operates by sending out a chain email suggesting the recipient forwards it on to ten other people in the hope that he ultimately receives the same email back, which will save the woman he has kidnapped. Failure to achieve this within the specified time frame results in evidence of the woman's death delivered to the authorities. The killer operates in the US, but soon, Europe feels the impact of his twisted mind.
In London, and in the spate of the rushed but organised last-minute shopping that occurs before Christmas, Leo Sharpe loses his wife Laura. She simply disappears. He receives a vacation killer email and the time elapses but nothing of Laura is delivered to prove her death. Thus we have Leo living another version of life after Laura's disappearance, ever-optimistic that Laura is still alive and spared, just no longer with him. It is with Leo and through Leo that we learn of the story.
I first noticed this book at the London Book Fair, then forgot about it. For some reason, I discovered it again and ordered a copy from Waterstone's. Then it came up in Sam Jordison's Not the Booker Prize on the Guardian's book blog, so I gave it a great thwack up the TBR pile, the sort of thwack I used to deliver to the ball on serving in volleyball at school (the only sport I've ever been any good at).
If my memory serves me well here, at the LBF the novel was being touted as 'Rendellesque': one of the reasons it caught my eye. But the back cover synopsis also caught my eye. It's the tale of a woman seeking pastures new, someone who is obese and lonely, someone who can't connect that easily.
Having enjoyed his first novel Echoes from the Dead, I couldn't wait to embark on Johan Theorin's second The Darkest Room. The back cover synopsis seemed fine, but then I read some online reviews. I am a bit of a purist when it comes to crime fiction, so when I read the words "ghost story", I was worried I wouldn't enjoy the book. However, this is the second novel I have read in succession that demanded my attention over three major sittings. (More on the other later in the week as I am tying in a tête-à-tête with the author.)
The titles could be interchangeable for this novel as there are plenty of echoes from the dead in The Darkest Room. Katrine and Joakim Westin decide to leave Stockholm for a better quality of life in the country with their two young children. Their new home is the old manor house at Eel Point, on the island of Oland. Unfortunately, it is a property with a history of tragedy dating back to the latter half of the nineteenth century and that tragedy does not stop with the arrival of the Westins. Only days after Joakim joins his family there, Katrine is found dead, drowned. His sense of loss is made all the more deep by a mistake on the part of the police; he was travelling back from Stockholm expecting to comfort his wife having been told that it was their daughter who had drowned.
In a nutshell, L C Tyler's Ten Little Herrings is a wonderful, satirical, head-butting type of nod to Agatha Christie and the locked room mystery, with gently pointed humour. Literary agent Elsie Thirkettle fancies herself as the modern day Miss Marple, but in high heels and a short, tight designer skirt and with a passion for chocolat. She has more in common with Inspector Clouseau.
And yes, that wasn't a typo on the chocolat above as Ten Little Herrings is mainly set in France, at a place called Chaubord, to be precise (and modelled on Chambord, I presume). When the novel opens we learn that lit agent Elsie is in Sussex looking after Ethelred's flat and that she has "killed off" her novel-writing client and cancelled his credit cards. When the matter of finances draws to a head, she asserts herself and takes the lead, travelling to Chaubord to escort her author client, Ethelred home.
But Chaubord is where all the action is: this hotel may suffer from peeling flock paper but a recent stamp collectors' trading get-together ensured that the hotel provided a focal point and the locked room to which I referred earlier. With two dead, how many to go next? If any? And why those two? And whodunnit? Elsie decides to investigate and becomes the prime suspect on times (not her decision on the latter).