Ed McBain- So Nude, So Dead


He’d been a promising piano prodigy, once. Now he was just an addict, scraping to get by, letting his hunger for drugs consume him. But a man’s life can always get worse – as Ray Stone discovers when he wakes up beside a beautiful nightclub singer, Eileen Chalmers, only to find her dead… and 16 ounces of pure heroin missing. On the run from the law, desperate to prove his innocence and find a killer, Ray also faces another foe, merciless and unforgiving: his growing craving for a fix…

So Nude, So Dead was the first crime novel by the writer most famously known as Ed McBain, and was originally published in 1952 as The Evil Sleep! (under the name of Evan Hunter), and again in 1956 as So Nude, So Dead under the pen name of Richard Marsten. Thanks to those wonderful people at Hard Case Crime, the book* has been re-published over 50 years later, to mark the tenth anniversary of McBain’s passing.

As a lifelong fan of McBain, the re-emergence of a ‘lost’ book by him has been an absolute treat, and if, like me, you love your American crime with an enhanced sense of ‘pulp’ this will be as much of a treat for you. With his central protagonist, the mercurial dope fiend Ray Stone, on the hunt for those that would frame him for murder and larceny, supported by a cast of increasingly unlikeable and grasping characters, this is vintage McBain. As Stone traverses the seedy underbelly of New York nightclubs avoiding the police and the bad guys, McBain steadily sets up each possible culprit, male and female, for Stone to interrogate using a number of guises, but all underpinned by Stone’s increasing tension caused by his need for one more fix to see him through his quest. His desperation for dope is succinctly and colourfully portrayed, and we get a real sense of how such a promising individual has found his life gone to the dogs by his addiction, and the effects of his addiction on those closest to him. We feel every moment of confusion, every wrenching stomach pain, and cold sweat, as he tries to balance his body’s cry for a fix with his search for a killer. McBain also trains a cool eye on the depths of deviousness Stone has employed to fund this addiction, which makes for some harsh reading, and carefully manipulates our feelings towards Stone even as his reliance on his habit waxes and wanes as the book progresses. McBain’s supporting cast is terrific too, as he builds up a picture of Eileen Chalmers’ life as a nightclub singer, and the host of unsavoury connections she has made behind the surface glitz and glamour of her chosen profession. As Stone encounters each exploitative impressario, slimy musician or jealous female acquaintance of Chalmers’ you could put your money on any of them stitching him up….

Shooting straight from the hip the dialogue is razor sharp and as Chalmers’ teasingly refers to her and Stone’s repartee on their first encounter, “Sparkling dialogue. Refuges from a Grade-B stinkeroo”. The dialogue is spare, frank and uncompromising, and delivered in a style that by which what is unsaid lingers in the air like plumes of exhaled tobacco smoke. See he’s got me at it now. As I’ve said before, it was this style of book that got me hooked on crime fiction, with the deceit and failings of some of the most despicable members of society unflinchingly portrayed through the pared down rhythmic simplicity of manner and speech. It’s mesmerising, darkly witty and brutally truthful, and that is why I have always adored Ed McBain. So Nude, So Dead only compounds my adoration, and it was a joy to discover anew a fledgling work by this most missed of crime authors.

(With thanks to Cara at Titan Books for the ARC)

*This edition also contains a rare McBain short story Die Hard featuring private eye Matt Cordell from The Gutter and the Grave).

Ruth Ware- In A Dark Dark Wood


If the murderous goings on at a stag do in Peter James` Dead Simple chilled you to the bone, Ruth Ware sets out to even the score in In A Dark Dark Wood,  with a hen weekend that is full of  deliciously disturbing surprises. With my normal, cynical air, I feared that my general apathy with British psychological thrillers would continue as I embarked on this one. Idly sitting down to read a few pages to test the water, I was hooked. Completely. And breaking only for some quick refreshment, I read this in pretty much one sitting…

Crime writer Leonora (Nora) Shaw leads a fairly solitary existence in London, mostly happy to keep herself to herself, with sporadic entertainment provided by her larger than life best friend Nina. Out of the blue, she and Nina receive an invitation to a hen weekend in the wilds of Northumbria, from a mystery woman called Flo, purporting to be a close friend of the bride, Clare Cavendish What is strange for Nora is that she and Claire broke all contact ten years ago, for reasons as yet unrevealed, so why the invite? Egged on by Nina, Nora accepts the invitation and quelle surprise, this is where the trouble really begins…

As far as any expansion on the plot goes, I am keeping it zipped, as it is tricky to avoid spoilers, and spoil your participation as a reader, trying to untangle and second-guess the nature of the relationships at play. With the plot shifting between the events of the weekend itself , and the aftermath with Nora finding herself at the centre of a police investigation, the pacing of this book is exemplary. With the Christie-esque air of a pseudo country-house mystery, there is palpable feel of tension and claustrophobia pervading the whole book. With our six relative strangers, trapped in some horrible contemporary glass monstrosity in the woods in the beginning of winter, the location works beautifully to ratchet up the feeling of peril. The house becomes almost another character in the book, made even more sinister by the encroaching tendrils of the dark, dark woods. Likewise, the tension that Nora and Nina feel in this setting, amplifies the feeling of dread that both experience over the course of the weekend, and to be honest I would have turned tail fairly sharpish.  Woods + goldfish bowl of a house + remote location = whole heap of trouble…

Another real strength of the book is the characterisation, and the balance of Nora’s reticent and introverted nature, making her a highly empathetic character, is superbly counterbalanced by the boisterous, loud and kick ass attitude of Nina. Hence, the juxtaposition of two such contrary characters works very well, particularly when they find themselves even more closely aligned in their mockery and suspicion of their fellow ‘hen’ guests- Clare, the icy bride-to-be, Flo, the mental chief bridesmaid, Tom, camp best friend, and Melanie, the over emotional new mum. It’s a real melting pot of weirdness, and as events from the past come to light, be prepared for some very odd and irrational behaviour indeed. Oh. And a murder…

On the whole, I enjoyed this debut very much. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the ending, but to be honest, with the strength of how it had built up to this point, it wasn’t really a major problem. Heaps more enjoyable than Girl On A Train (or any other book at the moment with girl in the title), and in true reviewer style, I’ve little hesitation in announcing this a total page-turner. Oh, and take a peep underneath the dust jacket. A thing of beauty lurks beneath…

(With thanks to Random House for the ARC)

Mark Edwards- Follow You Home


I would be the first person to put my hands up and say that I have had rather a patchy reading relationship with Mark Edwards’ previous crime thrillers, but very pleased to report that, although not without fault, I really quite enjoyed Follow You Home, a dark, psychologically suspenseful read….

Based on the interesting premise, and as it turns out in common with the author, a young couple, Daniel and Laura, find themselves set adrift on their European tour, with a young Eastern European woman, Alina, in the arse-end of Romania, having had their passports and tickets stolen on a train. Unlike, Edwards own experience, and against all common sense advice of every horror film going, they take a misguided trip into the woods, but what they encounter there stays concealed for a good while, as the story flips back to their return to what should be the normality of their lives in London. It quickly becomes evident that this foray into the backwoods of Eastern Europe has wreaked havoc on their relationship, their mental and emotional balance, and that they are both in extreme danger from what they have witnessed, as certain dangerous chickens come home to roost. Well. Not literally, but you get my drift.

I found this to be a very well-plotted, if slightly too long, psychological thriller. I enjoyed the little teasing vignettes of their sinister Romanian escapade that Edwards inserts intermittently throughout the book, and despite an assortment of misguided guesses on my part, the truth of what they had witnessed is a whole heap darker and disturbing that even the most twisted mind could conjure. It’s dark. Very dark indeed. I thought the characterisation and rendition of the European location was well realised, and that even the most talented of travel guide writers, could not have made this locale feel any less sinister. I did feel a little that so much creative energy had been used on this clever and well weighted plot that the characterisation suffered a little as a result. I found it hard to really relate to Daniel or Laura, as I didn’t find them all that likeable to begin with, but I liked Alina very much, and through her horrific experiences could not help but feel a huge sense of sympathy for her character. She was incredibly well-drawn with a terrific balance of gritty determination, yet emotional fragility, and was a real beacon of interest throughout this torrid tale. Likewise, the comely Camelia who is tasked by the baddies to break down Daniel’s defences, is a welcome addition to the plot, and if you ever want to confess to some minor infraction like nicking a pencil from Argos, she would probably welcome this revelation. You’ll understand when you read the book..

Having already accrued a plethora of glowing reviews on the internet, Follow You Home, ticks all the boxes for an engaging and quite chilling summer read. The plot is well executed, and Edwards controls the dramatic tension fairly evenly throughout, although it could have been trimmed slightly which would have tightened up some of the more meandering London interludes. With a couple of stand-out characters, and a highly original and interesting premise for a thriller, this was overall a satisfying read. Good.

(With thanks to Amazon Publishing for the ARC)

Blog Tour- Neil White- The Death Collector- Extract

51lPwPqpFWL__SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Welcome to the next stop on the Neil White blog tour to promote the hardback release of White’s new thriller The Domino Killer, and the recent release of The Death Collector in paperback. If White is going to be a new discovery for you, I think you’re going to like this one, and courtesy of the dedicated Liz Loves Books a highly intriguing extract follows…

Joe Parker is Manchester’s top criminal defence lawyer and Sam Parker – his brother – is a brilliant detective with the Greater Manchester Police force. Together they must solve a puzzling case that is chilling Manchester to the bone. The Death Collector is charming, sophisticated and intelligent, but he likes to dominate women, to make them give themselves to him completely; to surrender their dignity and their lives. He’s a collector of beautiful things, so once he traps them he’ll never let them go. Joe is drawn into the Death Collector’s world and when the case becomes dangerous, Sam is the first person he turns to. In this gripping thriller, danger lurks for not only the Parker brothers, but also those closest to them….


It was the comedown he hated.

The fire had maintained him through the night, kept loaded with coal to keep their heat and make it intimate, the flames casting moving shadows as they lay together. One last time.

His head was against her breast, his arm across her, keeping her close. He remembered their times together, those nights in his car in secluded lanes, or reaching for her hand in quiet restaurants far away from home so that no one would see them. Their secret, close and intense.

He opened his eyes and the scene had altered somehow. Gone was the warmth of before. The flames were dying down and the mood was different. Now it felt empty.

Things had changed. The police had been outside earlier and someone had been at his window. That changed everything. It could be the end. How did he feel about that? He searched his mind for that gentle flicker of fear, but there was nothing. Just an acceptance. He had always known it was coming. The end.

He raised himself up on his elbows and looked at the fire. It kept him warm but it cheated him too. The heat would make her stiffen up too quickly, the rigor mortis setting in before the full rush of sunrise. All of a sudden she would feel alien and unreal against his skin.

He clenched and unclenched his right hand. Once tight around her throat, it was now cramping from the effort. He’d held her hands high above her head, stretched out against the floor, because she hadn’t drunk anything. He’d relied on pure force, and it had made it different, not how he’d expected it. Normally they drift away before he takes them. This one hadn’t worked out that way. He had looked into her eyes as he squeezed, tried to see her final thoughts in them, and they’d been there. Confusion at first, then fear, before he saw what he had been chasing. Realisation: the knowledge of what she should have always known.

No one leaves...

neilNeil White was born and brought up around West Yorkshire. He left school at sixteen but studied for a law degree in his twenties, then started writing in 1994. He is now a lawyer by day, crime fiction writer by night. He lives with his wife and three children in Preston. Visit his website here and follow on Twitter @neilwhite1965

Also by Neil White:


Click to go to the Domino Killer page
The Domino Killer, published in hardback and ebook by Sphere in July 2015.

When a man is found beaten to death in a local Manchester park, Detective Constable Sam Parker is one of the investigating officers. Sam swiftly identifies the victim, but what at first looks like an open and shut case quickly starts to unravel when he realises that the victim’s fingerprints were found on a knife at another crime scene, a month earlier.

Meanwhile, Sam’s brother, Joe – a criminal defence lawyer in the city – comes face to face with a man whose very presence sends shockwaves through his life. Joe must confront the demons of his past as he struggles to come to terms with the darkness that this man represents.

Before long, Joe and Sam are in way over their heads, both sucked into a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse that threatens to change their lives for ever…”
Click to go to the Next To Die page

Joe Parker is Manchester’s most ingenious criminal defence lawyer.

Sam Parker is Manchester’s most tenacious murder detective.

Both bear the burden of the unsolved murder of their sister fifteen years earlier.

And both have a stake in a new series of murders that has shaken their city to its core.

Ronnie Bagley is accused of the murder of his girlfriend and baby, and claims that there’s only one lawyer he wants to defend him: Joe Parker. Little does Joe Parker know that Bagley is smarter than anyone has given him credit for, and soon Joe will find himself pitched against his own brother, Sam, in a race to outwit the most terrifying serial killer the city has ever seen. It isn’t long before Joe and Sam’s shared past comes crashing into the present in a pulse-pounding race to find out who is NEXT TO DIE

Click to go to the Beyond Evil page

“No one stayed long enough to get near the body. As soon as they looked, they backed away, screaming.”

DI Sheldon Brown has never recovered from finding the body of Alice Kenyon brutally murdered, naked and abandoned. And he’s never stopped pursuing his main suspect, hellraiser and lottery winner Billy Privett either. So when Billy is found dead in a hotel room, his face horrifically carved up, DI Brown’s obsession is rekindled.

Who killed the notorious millionaire in such a bloodthirsty way? With jaded lawyer Charlie Barker, who desperately needs to pick up the pieces of his own life, Sheldon will uncover a world of murder, drugs, long-buried secrets and a cult with a deadly conviction to their cause…

Click to go to the Cold Kill page

He’ll stuff your jaws till you can’t talk
He’ll bind your legs till you can’t walk
He’ll tie your hands till you can’t claw
And he’ll close your eyes so you see no more

When Jane Roberts is found dead in a woodland area, Detective Sergeant Laura McGanity is first on the scene. The body bears a chilling similarity to a woman – Deborah Corley – murdered three weeks earlier. Both have been stripped, strangled and defiled.

When reporter Jack Garrett starts digging for dirt on the notorious Whitcroft estate, he finds himself face-to-face with Jane’s father, local gangland boss Don Roberts, who won’t stop until justice is done. It seems that the two murdered women were linked in more ways than one and a dirty secret is about to surface that some would prefer stay buried.

As the killer circles once more, Jack and Laura must stop him before he strikes again. But his sights are set on his next victim and he’s watching Laura’s every move….

Click to go to the Dead Silent page

Digging for the truth can be fatal!

20 years ago, Britain was rocked by the strange disappearance of Claude Gilbert, after the beaten corpse of his wife was discovered hidden in the garden. Worst of all, scratches found on her makeshift coffin signal that the unthinkable took place – Nancy was buried alive.

Conspiracy theories say hotshot barrister and handsome TV presenter Gilbert murdered his wife and then killed himself, but with no body ever found, the mystery has remained unsolved. Until now! When Lancashire crime beat reporter Jack Garrett is contacted by someone claiming to be Gilbert’s girlfriend, and that he needs him to write the story proving his innocence, Jack eagerly leaps on the chance to clear a decades-old enigma.

But as Jack sets off on the trail of Gilbert – and the news scoop of his career – he quickly finds that the truth is stranger than the headlines. And as Jack chases the story, he and girlfriend Laura McGanity, attempting to earn her sergeant stripes in the local police force, quickly become pawns to a twisted individual with their own agenda!”

Click to go the Last Rites page

Parts of this book are so tense that I found myself hunched over it, desperate to find out what happened next, but fearful of what it might be…..a good plot with some compelling characters.
the bookbag.co.uk

When Luke Howarth is found fatally stabbed to death in his bed, suspicion falls on his girlfriend, Sarah Goode – missing since his murder. Just another crime of passion with a tragic end. Or is it?

Reporter Jack Garrett isn’t sure – especially when Sarah’s parents implore him to find their daughter.

But as he hunts for Sarah, he delves into the area’s troubled history and discovers that old rites may not be a thing of the past. Soon, Jack and Laura find themselves in mortal danger as they face an unhinged killer who is determined that they will pay with their lives…


Click to go to the Lost Souls page

A woman is found butchered on a Lancashire housing estate, her tongue and eyes brutally gouged out. Ritual murder or crime of passion?

Children are abducted and then returned to their families days later, unharmed but with no knowledge of where they have been – or who took them.

DC Laura McGanity, having relocated from London, quickly learns that life up north is far from peaceful. She needs to solve these mystifying cases – but keep the local police on side.

Her reporter boyfriend Jack Garrett – the reason for McGanity’s relocation – is back in his hometown and finds himself entangled in the two mysterious cases, his investigations revealing murky connections and sordid secrets.

But when Jack meets a man who ‘paints’ the future – prophecies of horrific events which he then puts onto canvas – it becomes terrifyingly clear that many people, including his own family, are in grave danger …

Click to go the Fallen Idols page
“A masterpiece. A fantastic book.

A Premiership footballer is murdered on a busy London street, and a country is gripped by terror. Who lies behind this apparently motiveless killing – and who’s next?

Crime-beat reporter Jack Garrett is convinced that this is no celebrity stalker. Aided by DC Laura McGanity, desperately trying to juggle police life with motherhood, the trail leads them to Turners Fold, Lancashire – Jack’s home town.

What’s the connection between the recent assassination and the murder of a young girl there ten years before? Could it be that people are not all they seem – and will do anything to keep themselves in the spotlight?

Conspiracy, revenge and the high price of fame all combine in this stunning debut novel.

Michael Robotham- Life Or Death

25484031Audie Palmer has spent a decade in prison for an armed robbery in which four people died, including two of the gang. Seven million dollars has never been recovered and everybody believes that Audie knows where the money is. For ten years he has been beaten, stabbed, throttled and threatened almost daily by prison guards, inmates and criminal gangs, who all want to answer this same question, but suddenly Audie vanishes, the day before he’s due to be released. Everybody wants to find Audie, but he’s not running. Instead he’s trying to save a life . . . and not just his own.

Billed as a cross between The Shawshank Redemption and No Country For Old Men, Life Or Death has been dubbed by Michael Robotham himself as the book he always meant to write. In all fairness, I would say that this is a book that all crime fiction lovers were meant to read. I have absolutely no qualms in stating that this is one of my absolute stand-out reads of the year so far, and here’s why…

From the very outset, Robotham firmly ensconces us in the world of Audie Palmer, a man on the brink of release from prison who stages an escape the night before his legitimate release. Immediately you are thinking why. Why would you do that? And take it from me, the journey to us discovering the reasons for this is a taut, compelling and dangerous one for us and Audie both. Pursued by both law enforcement, and a fellow prisoner granted an early release to track Audie down, Robotham takes us on nerve shredding yet beautifully paced story, revealing piece by piece the details of the cause of Audie’s incarceration, and his desperate dash for freedom. As he seeks to atone and deliver justice for the violent events of the past, Robotham immerses us in a world of corrupt officialdom who will stop at nothing to silence him…

With some degree of boldness I will say that although this crime novel strays to beyond 500 pages, there is not a single word wasted or scene out of place. I was enraptured from the outset by the vividness of the language, and the natural cadence of the American voice that shone throughout the book. Sometimes, when crime authors are locating their books in a non-native country to themselves, the voices do not so keenly demonstrate the natural rhythms and patterns of dialogue that they are seeking to represent. Robotham has done his homework well, as the natural ebb and flow of the Texan vernacular is keenly resonant throughout the book. Equally, the characterisation of all the main players is beautifully weighted throughout, so that characters that initially appear bad to the bone, are not truly so, as the demands of their public persona are starkly at odds with the depth of emotion, self-preservation and their fundamental human need to protect those closest to them. This is clearly in evidence in both Audie Palmer and law enforcement officer Ryan Valdez, who embark on a violent game of cat and mouse as the book progresses. Both men are imbued with their own sense of honour, sometimes twisted, that drives them to achieve retribution on the other for reasons I will not spoil here. I also loved Special Agent Desiree Furness, a pint-sized powerhouse of feistiness who endlessly strives to overcome both her gender and small stature within the masculine confines of the FBI. She adds not only an interesting counterbalance to the struggle between Audie and Valdez, but also affords Robotham to add some lighter moments to the book.

The slow reveal of Audie’s grand passion with the haunted and beautiful Belita is so poignantly and delicately portrayed, when taken in tandem with the more violent and disturbing aspects of the book, giving wonderful shades of light and dark throughout. Robotham plays with our empathy, and skilfully manipulates our perception of the characters, in a way that I have only rarely witnessed in crime fiction outside of those American crime writers that walk the line between crime writing and contemporary fiction. This along with the beautifully weighted and shifting timeline of the central plot, cannot help but hold you enthralled as the reveal of what has happened in the past gathers momentum to manipulate and taint the events in the present as Audie and Valdez hurtle towards a final showdown.

Although I have been a fan of Robotham’s for many years, as he is a consistently enjoyable crime writer, I was more than taken aback at this change of style, and if I had read this blind, would never have picked him as the author. Consequently, this has increased his stature even more, as this book demonstrates his true flexibility and skill as a writer, and has impressed me greatly, no mean feat in itself! A terrific book and executed quite beautifully. I am now emotionally spent…

Visit Michael Robotham’s website here Follow him on Twitter @michaelrobotham

(With thanks to Little Brown UK for the ARC)

Blog Tour- Sarah Ward- In Bitter Chill- Review


Bampton, Derbyshire, January 1978. Two girls go missing: Rachel Jones returns, Sophie Jenkins is never found. Thirty years later: Sophie Jenkins’s mother commits suicide.

Rachel Jones has tried to put the past behind her and move on with her life. But news of the suicide re-opens old wounds and Rachel realises that the only way she can have a future is to finally discover what really happened all those years ago…

With a thought-provoking and atmospheric blend of police procedural and psychological thriller, Sarah Ward will quickly establish herself as a name to watch in the crime fiction genre. Drawing on  her experience as a seasoned crime reviewer, Ward has carefully crafted a thriller that will appeal to fans of the British and Scandinavian crime genre, with an extremely character driven novel, that pivots between an historic child abduction case in the 70’s, and the ramifications of this thirty years on…

In terms of the police procedural, Ward has created a trio of extremely strong police protagonists, and the underlying tensions that lay between them. DCI Francis Sadler is a seasoned police officer tasked with the case, but the book focuses as strongly on his two young police cohorts DS Damien Palmer, and DC Connie Childs and the petty rivalry and professional jealousies that lay between them in their attempts to court the affections of their much respected boss. In truth, it was this aspect of the book that engaged me the most throughout, and I was particularly taken with Connie who was a well-crafted and utterly believable character. It was great when she went slightly off-piste, so to speak, in her attempts to impress the boss, and gain ground on the floundering Palmer, whose private life and tribulations seemed to impact greatly on his professional performance. Tempered by the natural stoicism of Sadler, and the domestic trials of Palmer, Connie consistently shone through the book. The whiff of sexual tension between Connie and her boss was also beautifully played, but by the same token did not feel ham-fisted or out of kilter with the way that we saw their  relationship as readers, and will stoke the fire in future books I’m sure.

In Bitter Chill blog tourWith the emotive subject of child abduction, and the subsequent suspicious deaths as a result of the initial case, Ward carefully manipulates the reader as to how the past cannot help but impact on the present. As much as the book works as a police procedural, it is in her rendering of Rachel’s character, that we fully appreciate the balance Ward achieves in the book between police and victim, with Rachel’s fears and development as a person in the light of her traumatic childhood experience beautifully and sensitively depicted. There is no question that is a strong feel of underlying emotional damage to Rachel, but when deaths occur linked to her own experience, she steels herself to confront the past, and revisit those dark areas that are impacting on those around her. With her chosen career as a genealogist, she is more than used to filling in other people’s histories, but investigating her own is a far darker proposition. To be truthful, I did get a little bogged down in the more factual emphasis on the genealogy, as it is not a subject that I am overly interested in, but Ward does reign it in as the book progresses to get us back on track with the central plot.

Set in Derbyshire, the book is underscored by a strong depiction of the surrounding locale and mercurial weather conditions of this most picturesque area of Britain. Equally, and with a nod to the Scandinavian genre, Ward builds up a strong sense of the claustrophobic and suspicious nature of a small community rooted in a totally rural setting, and the close connections and inter-relations between its inhabitants. This helps to grow the tension of the plot, and equally allows us to identify the possible links between Rachel and others in the hunt for a killer, and the cause of her childhood friend’s unresolved disappearance. Enhanced by the strong characterisation throughout, and an intriguing plot with its shifting time-line, In Bitter Chill, proves itself a solid and intriguing debut, and a good addition to the British crime fiction genre. Well worth a read.

Sarah Ward is an online book reviewer whose blog, Crimepieces reviews the best of current crime fiction published around the world. She has also reviewed for Eurocrime and Crimesquad and is a judge for the  Petrona Award for Scandinavian translated crime novels. Follow her on Twitter @sarahrward1

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

Alexandra Sokoloff- Huntress Moon (FBI Thrillers Book 1)

alexsFBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can’t believe is coincidental. His suspicions put him on the trail of a mysterious young woman who appears to have been present at each scene of a years-long string of “accidents” and murders, and who may well be that most rare of killers: a female serial…

Huntress Moon is the first of a trilogy by Alexandra Sokoloff, that in a wonderful moment of serendipity, and the power of Twitter, I came to review. I think the fact that I read in this in somewhat of a vacuum, having been completely unaware of the author and these books, contributed even more so to my enjoyment of the book. Hence, the reason why I have given you only a snippet of the synopsis of the book, so that you can gain as much pleasure from discovering this intelligent and beautifully plotted thriller as I did.

Having just effectively boxed myself into a corner as to how far I can share the plot with you, I will reveal that we encounter this story from two narrative viewpoints, that of seasoned FBI investigator and the mysterious and violent female perpetrator he pursues. A satisfying aspect of this as a narrative structure is that Sokoloff retains an assured sense of balance between her two central protagonists, and as a reader you are discovering the bigger picture about our female killer through Roarke’s deeper investigation into her life, background, and why she exhibits such a compulsion for killing. The only book I can compare it to in terms of this structure would be Pierre Lemaitre’s compelling thriller Alex, where there is a gradual sense of the curtain being lifted on the central female protagonist, after a period of uncertainty on behalf of the reader as to her motivations. With Special Agent Roarke being so adept at reading the criminal mind, it is truly enthralling to see him confronted with the fairly unique prospect of tracking a female serial who in another intriguing twist, fails to comply with his cut-out Quantico image of why particular women are driven to kill. This is turn gives Sokoloff the opportunity to demonstrate a welcome degree of research on the psychology of killers, to intersperse the plot with some extremely interesting background detail on the psychopathy of serial or spree killers. Although this is quite a common trait amongst writers of serial killer thrillers, and some of the material was familiar from other books, I did learn a fair few things that I didn’t know before, and I particularly enjoyed the wider and more cerebral musing on the place of women in society in general, at odds with the oftentimes violent, patriarchal status quo.

In terms of characterisation, there was a glorious lack of cliché in relation to the depiction of both the central protagonists. Although Roarke is quickly revealed as a man whose personal relationships have suffered due to the demands of his job, which is not uncommon in law enforcement generally, I found him a mercurial, intelligent and completely engaging character. I was intrigued by the moral dilemma he found himself in as an essentially moral man, as he became more involved in his hunt, and certain details and heinous events became apparent to him. It gave a wonderful sense of his moral axis having to shift slightly as events played out, but undergoing a mental battle with his responsibilities as a federal officer pitted against his natural sense of empathy. Likewise, our female protagonist is multi-layered, leading the reader to question her motives, particularly when we see her entering alien environments, and reaching out to form relationships, but always with the underlying question as to what degree are her motives pure, or is she just bad to the bone? Hence, the shades of uncertainty that Sokoloff attributes to her characters, just serve to perplex the reader more, and increase our curiosity further…

With the further enticement two more titles in this series, Blood Moon and Cold Moon, I am genuinely pleased to have been introduced to this writer’s work. If you like your serial killer thrillers to be of the more intelligent variety, with a considered, well-researched approach, a real depth of plotting and character development, look no further. You’ve found it. Very enjoyable indeed.

Alexandra Sokoloff is the Thriller Award-winning and Bram Stoker, Anthony, and Black Quill Award-nominated author of the supernatural thrillers The Harrowing, The Price, The Unseen, Book of Shadows, The Shifters, and The Space Between, and the Thriller Award-nominated, Amazon bestselling Huntress FBI thriller series (Huntress Moon, Blood Moon). As a screenwriter she has sold original horror and thriller scripts and adapted novels for numerous Hollywood studios. She has also written two non-fiction workbooks: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love,and has served on the Board of Directors of the WGA, west and the board of the Mystery Writers of America. Alex is a California native and a graduate of U.C. Berkeley, where she majored in theater and minored in everything Berkeley has a reputation for. In her spare time (!) she performs with Heather Graham’s all-author Slush Pile Players, and dances like a fiend. She is also very active on Facebook. But not an addict. Seriously, it’s under control. Visit her website here

(With thanks to the author for the ARC)