One of the benefits of this weird lockdown world is that, when concentration allows, I have read some excellent thrillers of late. I would absolutely recommend these, not only for the quality of writing, but also for being so compelling that they all provided a very welcome distraction from the strange times we find ourselves in…
GABRIEL BERGMOSER- THE HUNTED: Frank owns a service station on a little-used highway. His granddaughter, Allie, is sent to stay with him for the summer, but they don’t talk a lot. Simon is a dreamer and an idealist, in thrall to the romance of the open road and desperately in search of something. Maggie is the woman who will bring them together, someone whose own personal journey will visit unimaginable terror on them all. . .
Okay, I’m going to stick my neck out here, and say that is highly unlikely that I will read such an intense, visceral and creepy-as-hell thriller this year as The Hunted. I absolutely adored this book, which totally justifies it’s Deliverance in the Australia outback tagline. Gabriel Bergmoser injects such a feeling of creeping intensity and fear into this book, that the well worn adage of reading it in one sitting is spot on- this is exactly what I did. I also timed it perfectly so that I was reading the most spine chilling episodes in it in the wee small hours of the morning. Yikes.
I am extremely reticent to reveal much of the plot as I would really love you to experience it untainted by spoilers, but will say that from the outset, the author cunningly lulls us into a tale that subtly examines human relationships, and how ‘ordinary’ people function under extreme pressure, with exemplary characterisation. And then he ramps it up, with some style, introducing a thread to the story that is so, so, sinister that I felt it was channelling the spirit of Stephen King, and the compressed horror of some of the best American backwoods fiction. Raw, violent and like a car wreck that you can’t look away from, I thought The Hunted was absolutely superb, both in terms of the clipped dialogue, sharp pared down descriptions of place and character, and the general shifting and slowly amplifying feeling of unease that he draws out in the story, and the reader. A Top Ten read? It’s a very strong possibility…
Highly recommended…if you dare…
(With thanks to Faber Books for the ARC)
CRAIG ROBERTSON: WATCH HIM DIE: The LAPD find a man dead at home. Nothing suggests foul-play but elements of the victim’s house show that something is deeply wrong. Meanwhile, in Glasgow, DI Rachel Narey is searching for a missing young woman – and the man she suspects of killing her. When a feed broadcasting the slow and painful death of a final victim is discovered, these two cases become linked. There’s no way to identify him. No way to find him. No way to save him. Not without the cooperation of a killer. And the only way he will cooperate is if he can watch him die…
I am a confirmed fan of Craig Robertson’s Glasgow based crime series featuring DI Rachel Narey, which unfailingly combine all the elements of a solid police procedural and some truly unsettling investigations. With Watch Him Die, Robertson has totally smashed it out of the park, by introducing a new element into what was an already pretty fine series. The book cleverly combines a joint investigation between Narey’s own team, and that of two detectives from the LAPD. Opening with the discovery of a body in a Los Angeles neighbourhood, which then leads to the pursuit of a killer thousands of miles away, there are so many elements to this book which grabbed my attention.
Starting with the American core of the story, Robertson stealthily immerses us in a world of serial killer obsession, referencing historic cases and how a deep fascination with crimes of others can heighten someone’s natural propensity to kill. Then the LA investigation itself which introduces us to a cop partnership that feels completely authentic, mirrored by the language they use, and how they conduct their investigation. I was strongly reminded of the style of Chris Carter whose Hunter/ Garcia series treads similar ground, and loved the way that Robertson puts his own stamp on this genre of crime writing, with heinous and inventive murders. This is all underscored by a real attention to detail in terms of his depiction of Los Angeles itself, which becomes of itself a third cog in the story. As the investigations diverge and Narey and her Glasgow colleagues become involved, the author flips back to the familiarity of his series, but imbued with some lovely compare and contrasts, as investigative minds become united across the ocean. I thought Watch Him Die was brilliantly plotted, increasing and decreasing the tension superbly as the investigation flips and develops from one location to the other. I liked the relatively cliché free depiction of a serial killer investigation, but also the sly moments of humour in the face of incomparable stress for our intrepid detectives. Another runner in the Top Ten reads sweepstake, and a thoroughly enjoyable change of direction in an already excellent series. Highly recommended.
(With thanks to Simon & Schuster for the ARC)
LESLEY KELLY- THE HEALTH OF STRANGERS: The Virus is spreading. Monthly health checks are mandatory. Enter the Health Enforcement Team. Stuck with colleagues they don’t like, politicians they don’t trust and civil servants undermining them, Mona and Bernard are fighting more than one losing battle.
Written a couple of years ago yet incredibly prescient, and on the recommendation of Grab This Book The Health Of Strangers was every bit as good as anticipated. The country is in the grip of a pandemic- I know right- and the book is based around the Edinburgh based Health Enforcement Team, a group of disparate, and more importantly, immune individuals who track the health of the local inhabitants. Seamlessly blending all the recognisable societal constraints and government advice in the event of a pandemic, and a taut and intriguing thriller, Lesley Kelly has struck crime gold in this first of a four book series. Her depictions of a city in the grip of a viral infection was, in the light of current events, quite chillingly accurate, and the plot focussing on the disappearance of young women was exceptionally rendered, with all the elements of a crime procedural firmly in evidence.
I think what I loved most about it was the Health Enforcement Team themselves, which put me strongly in mind of the Slough House team in Mick Herron’s series- a group of individuals who find it difficult to work with others with their own flaws and eccentricities, but somehow are able to function as a whole. Sure, there are tensions and flashpoints along the way, but as we slowly get to see the characters beneath the surface, they provide an incredibly solid base for this series to run and run. I have already bought the next 3 books in the series, so this is proof of how enjoyable I found this first foray into their world. Highly recommended.
(I bought this copy of The Health Of Strangers via Sandstone Press)
DAVID JACKSON- THE RESIDENT: Thomas Brogan is a serial killer. Having left a trail of bodies in his wake, and with the police hot on his heels, it seems like Thomas has nowhere left to hide. That is until he breaks into an abandoned house at the end of a terrace on a quiet street. And when he climbs up into the loft, he realises that the can drop down into all the other houses on the street through the shared attic space. That’s when the real fun begins. Because the one thing that Thomas enjoys even more than killing, is playing games with his victims. And his new neighbours have more than enough dark secrets to make this game his best one yet. Do you fear The Resident? Soon you’ll be dying to meet him…
I have been reading and reviewing David Jackson’s books for some years now, and something I have always admired is the versatility he shows as an author. Already the author of two terrific detective crime series, one set in New York and one in Liverpool, which are well worth seeking out, The Resident is a standalone, and a pretty damn chilling one at that…
What particularly struck me about this book is how much it uses the ordinary to heighten the intensity of the extraordinary. The action takes place in an ordinary street, inhabited by ordinary people with ordinary lives and problems, and most importantly, ordinary loft spaces. And then Jackson totally brings it. I dread to think how this idea came to fruition, of a wanted serial killer skulking amongst the outgrown baby clothes, Christmas trees and sundry knick- knacks above our heads, but by putting such a loathsome individual in this ordinary setting works exceptionally well. As Brogan traverses the loft space looking for the next victims to sate his twisted appetite, Jackson keeps a smart control of the tension and pace of his plot.
What was particularly interesting is the way that the author shows how Brogan insinuates himself into the lives of the inhabitants below, either up close and personal, or at a distance feeding on their sadness or insecurities, but slowly beginning to reveal to us that these are not exceptionally ordinary people at all as some dark secrets come to light. There is also a clever use of Brogan’s own interior monologue too, which also opens up his character and a growing sense of him forming attachments and beginning to self-question his motivations and previous actions. Although, I had a little suspension of disbelief at the ending of The Resident, with hindsight it was a nice reminder of the fact that you should never underestimate the most ordinary of people… Highly recommended.
(With thanks to Viper Books for the ARC)