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Getting That Blogging Groove Back (2)…Myers, Hirvonen, Tuomainen, Jonasson, and Sigurdardottir.

Right, eyes down and here we go again with the next instalment of my sorely neglected reviews. These are short, sweet, and to the point, as my propensity for rambling will return in the fullness of time, I’m sure…

 

First up one of my favourite deliciously dark authors, Benjamin Myers with These Darkening Days. Taking as his inspiration a real life crime case from the north of England, Myers once again lures us into the deepest disturbing psychological realms of his characters, delivering more than a few grim sucker punches along the way. A series of women become victims of a vicious assailant, plunging this close knit community into a miasma of suspicion and accusation.

I absolutely loved it. 

From the cynical world weariness of embittered reporter Roddy Mace, fighting off the temptation of the demon drink, to the reappearance of fastidious, OCD suffering detective James Brindle, and a cornucopia of dislikeable victims and suspects along the way, Myers (as in previous books) draws us in, shakes us up, and then spits us out the other end slightly soiled by our reading experience, but guiltily satisfied by it too. As always the book is suffused by Myers strange mix of sometimes lyrical, oftentimes unerringly brutal imagery of the natural environment against which his characters roil, fight, and will to survive.

Perfection. 

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Next we go the quirky, dry-humoured latest offering from Finnish author, Antti Tuomainen in the shape of The Man Who Died, a marked diversion in style from the intensely emotive, and lyrically profound psychological novels that we normally associate him with. Other reviewers have drawn comparison with Fargo, but I was strongly propelled back in time to the devilish Tales of The Unexpected by Roald Dahl, coupled with the brilliantly black humour of one of my favourite books ever, ever, Beyond The Great Indoors by Ingvar Ambjornsen. Tuomainen’s unlikely protagonist, Jaako Kaunismaa takes us on a surreal journey in rural Finland of tracking down his murderer whilst fighting the clutches of death by poisoning, to the sheer cutthroat mentality of competing mushroom harvesting businesses, instances of potential death by samurai sword, and exceptionally scheming women.

It’s all a bit mad, but in a good way, and with Tuomainen’s natural propensity to draw his reader into his exploration of the essence of humanity, just from a slightly different angle, his lightness of touch, and manipulation of absurdity work a treat. Who could possibly know that the world of mushroom growing was such a hotbed of evil intentions? Highly recommended. 

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Staying with Finland, I can confidently say that When Time Runs Out by Elina Hirvonen is champing for a place in my top five of the year. I was absolutely mesmerised by the pure intensity and sensitivity of one family’s turmoil in the wake of a mass shooting. With shades of We Need To Talk About Kevin, Hirvonen meticulously and stealthily portrays the increasing emotional dislocation of a family, over a period of time, to the devastating effects of this inability for them to communicate and connect on an emotional level.

Hirvonen broadens the sweep of the book even further with incisive comment on global human crises, and the ravaging of the environment which really engaged me and enraged me, but was wonderfully unflinching and truthful in its depiction. I am already recommending this left, right and centre, thrilled by its power as both a clear sighted narrative of familial breakdown, but also of the larger issues it encompasses in a comparatively condensed read.

Superb.   

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We’ll go for an Icelandic head-to-head now with Ragnar Jonasson- Whiteout and Lilja Sigurdardottir- Snare, the former being a continuation of the very successful series featuring policeman Ari Thor, and the latter the starting point of the Reykjavik Noir Trilogy.

Ragnar Jonasson’s quality as a crime writer need no further commendation from me, but truthfully, I would say that this has been my favourite of the series to date. I found the writing wonderfully understated, and the whole book exuded an air of English Gothic fiction, with women hurling themselves from cliffs, and the sinister backdrop of the all-seeing lighthouse, compounded by the revelations of very dark pernicious behaviour indeed. I found it tense, involving, and as usual there was a great harmony between the intensity of the criminal investigation itself, and the playing out of Ari’s domestic situation, and his eagerness to progress in his police career.   

Snare proved a curious mix for me, as my overriding feeling that this was almost two books running parallel to each other, with a gripping story of drug running, running alongside a slower Borgen-esque feeling of financial impropriety, and double dealing. I’ll be honest, and say that I didn’t take to the latter thread as much as the former, finding it a little turgid against the relative excitement of the drug smuggling narrative, and although I was slightly questioning of the veracity of single parent Sonja’s involvement in drug running, this was certainly the more compelling of the two storylines, and led to some real heart in the mouth moments. I also enjoyed playing witness to the touchingly sentimental ‘other’ life of customs officer Bragi, whose game of cat and mouse with Sonja was another enjoyable strand of the book. However, the emotional handwringing of Sonja’s romantic involvement with Agla, the bank executive under investigation, became increasingly tiresome, but cleverly the seemingly anodyne ending of the book must signpost further developments for the second part of the trilogy. A little unsure, but curious, and intrigued to see how the story progresses in the next instalment.  

 

(With thanks to Moth Publishing for These Darkening Days, Bonnier Zaffre for When Time Runs Out, and Orenda Books for The Man Who Died, Whiteout and Snare

 

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Blog Tour- Sarah Ward- A Patient Fury

When Detective Constable Connie Childs is dragged from her bed to the fire-wrecked property on Cross Farm Lane she knows as she steps from the car that this house contains death.
Three bodies discovered – a family obliterated – their deaths all seem to point to one conclusion: One mother, one murderer.

But D.C. Childs, determined as ever to discover the truth behind the tragedy, realises it is the fourth body – the one they cannot find – that holds the key to the mystery. What Connie Childs fails to spot is that her determination to unmask the real murderer might cost her more than her health – this time she could lose the thing she cares about most: her career.

I must confess that I have experienced a slight sense of disenchantment with some writers of Derbyshire set crime of late, but Sarah Ward has proved to be as refreshing as a window suddenly opening in an airless room. Having previously reviewed, and enjoyed, In Bitter Chill and A Deadly Thaw it is no exaggeration to say that Ward is honing her writing more and more with each book, and has just produced, in my opinion, the best of the series to date in A Patient Fury

The first aspect of this book that I really enjoyed was the undercurrent of darkness that undercuts the whole book. The central plot is exceedingly grim, with the crime of murder/suicide of a family laying at the heart of this twisted morality tale. The unconscionable act of a child’s murder strikes the investigation team particularly hard, and the initial suspicion of the mother being guilty of this crime sits uneasily with the fictional protagonists, and us as readers too. I thought the plotting was superb as the book is permeated by small twists, and teasing reveals, the instances of which are perfectly placed in terms of narrative pace, and to increase the suspense. As the net is cast wider to include other relations of this family, Ward plays with our perceptions of each protagonist, and invites us to engage in our own crime solving, as the police team grapple with this particularly tricky investigation. I thought the whole premise of the crime, and the conclusion to it, was entirely realistic, and I enjoyed the way that it unashamedly approached the very real issues of child abandonment, familial abuse, and brought to the fore the varying degrees of emotional intelligence that the members of this family exhibited. With all the elements of a soap opera, but infinitely better written, it certainly kept this reader fully engaged.

Obviously being three books into a series, there is an added enjoyment at my now familiarity with the two main police protagonists of D.I. Francis Sadler, and D.C. Connie Childs, and the way that Ward pushes their personal stories and tribulations onwards. In particular, Connie, still recovering from events in the previous books, is put through the wringer further in terms of her professional behaviour in relation to this case, and her own insecurities as a single woman. I like her character very much, admiring both her tenacity, impetuousness and those small moments of fragility that suddenly appear. Likewise, Sadler is not immune to moments of self doubt and sometimes blindness, both in his treatment of Connie, and his involvement with a face from the past. Ward balances this growth in their characters in parallel to the main plot with an assured touch, leading the story off in different directions, but never to the detriment of the reader’s involvement in the central investigation.

Ward draws heavily on the atmosphere and surrounds of her Derbyshire setting, bringing the area alive to the reader’s imagination, and using the unique landscape of the area as a rich texture to the human drama that plays out. Coupled with the strong, perfectly placed plotting, the examination of human frailty, and her innate talent for realistic characterisation, I found A Patient Fury a hugely satisfying read, and would urge you to discover this series for yourselves. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

A. A. Dhand- Girl Zero/ Felicia Yap-Yesterday

There are some surprises that no-one should ever have to experience. Standing over the body of your beloved – and murdered – niece is one of them. For Detective Inspector Harry Virdee, a man perilously close to the edge, it feels like the beginning of the end.

His boss may be telling him he’s too close to work the case, but this isn’t something that Harry can just let lie. He needs to dive into the murky depths of the Bradford underworld and find the monster that lurks there who killed his flesh and blood.

But before he can, he must tell his brother, Ron, the terrible news. And there is no predicting how he will react. Impulsive, dangerous and alarmingly well connected, Ron will act first and think later. Harry may have a murderer to find but if he isn’t careful, he may also have a murder to prevent…

And so we return to the seedy underbelly of Bradford in Girl Zero, the striking follow up to the excellent debut Streets of Darkness, that introduced us to D.I. Harry Virdee. Following the brutal murder of his niece, and the pressure this puts on Virdee in terms of his family loyalty, and the boundaries of his professional status as a police officer, Dhand is given ample opportunity to explore the issue of morality. For me, this was the absolute crux of the book, as Virdee has to navigate this intensely personal investigation, whilst balancing the demands of his brother Ron, a lynchpin in Bradford’s criminal community. Throughout the book, I kept drawing on the analogy of angels and demons, as Harry in particular, repeatedly seemed to be in conflict between these two forces. Dhand captures the tension and frustrations that exist between the brothers perfectly throughout, and as Harry’s professional loyalties are stretched and bent to the limit, their relationship and quest for justice lies at the very heart of the book.

With the estrangement from his parents because of marrying outside of his own religion, but obviously by necessity being drawn back into these familial conflicts, this added an extra frisson to the plot as the whole. As in the first book, Dhand explores the painful truths that exist in many Asian families when love overrides religious boundaries, and the exile that often occurs when individual are seen to be turning their back on their faith, and going against the wishes of their family. He handles this sensitively and clearsightedly throughout, with this storyline injecting an intensely human feel to what could have been a linear police procedural. Likewise, Dhand portrays the city of Bradford with an unflinching realism, unafraid to expose the social ills of this city, but with an underlying affection that the reader can easily discern.

I enjoyed Girl Zero very much, perhaps more so than the first book where I did criticise one aspect of it. It not only works as an effective and readable thriller, but is underscored by the some very real human dilemmas that heightened my enjoyment even more. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to PenguinRandomHouse for the ARC)

There are two types of people in the world: those who can only remember yesterday, and those who can also recall the day before. You have just one lifeline to the past: your diary. Each night, you write down the things that matter. Each morning, your diary tells you where you were, who you loved and what you did. Today, the police are at your door. They say that the body of your husband’s mistress has been found in the River Cam. They think your husband killed her two days ago.

Can you trust the police?
Can you trust your husband?
Can you trust yourself?

As the intriguing tagline of debut thriller, Yesterday, reads, “How do you solve a murder when you can only remember yesterday?” , my interest was thoroughly piqued by the seemingly unique premise of a thriller that would explore memory,  and the unreliability of our recollection of past experiences.

Undoubtedly, this is a clever premise, and for the most part I was ready to be convinced by the unique difficulties this societal structure of Monos and Duos would present in the course of a murder investigation. I’m afraid to say though, that I, in common with quite a few reviewers, was not entirely convinced by the way the theme of memory played out within the book, with some serious flaws in the way that certain memories would come to the surface within the structured remit of having either 24 or 48 hour recollections. I was intrigued by the way that memories were recorded, and the fallibility of this, using electronic diaries, but I think the mechanics of this were stretched in credibility. I also had an overriding feeling that too many elements of the crime genre were mixed into the central plot, as well as a huge imitation, and not entirely successful endeavour, to draw on the field of dystopian fiction. Also, the book is punctuated by quotes and the factual presentation of research material, that inhibits the flow of the story, and at times reads like an undergraduate’s dissertation.

I wanted to like the characters, and care about Yap’s startling portrayal of a woman’s descent into mental instability, and a marriage in crisis, but aside from the central police protagonist, Detective Hans Richardson, there was little to endear me to their plight. They seemed very closed off on an emotional level, and normally this reader would begin to form some alliance with a certain character on an empathetic level, but I just found them intensely dislikeable and weak. I also had a problem with the closing section of the book, but in the spirit of non-spoilers, I will not identify the problem. Truthfully, I was much more drawn to the intelligence and trials of Richardson, with Yap’s portrayal of him working much more favourably, and in tune with her presentation of the book as a crime thriller. I found myself itching to get back to the segments featuring this character, and enjoyed the air of subterfuge that colours him,  the pressure this puts on him within the remit of his position as a detective, and how this comes to the fore within the progress of this somewhat turgid investigation.

Obviously, this is my personal opinion, and as Yesterday has already garnered much praise throughout the media, I am probably only one of a few that couldn’t quite be convinced by it. I have no reticence in praising Yap’s attempt to use an interesting premise to play with the boundaries of the crime genre, but I did rather feel that too much had been thrown at it to produce a coherent whole. Maybe just a little too clever for its own good…

(With thanks to Wildfire for the ARC)

#BlogTour- Simon Lelic- The House- Extract

Welcome to the latest stop on the blog tour marking the release of a terrifyingly tense new psychological thriller- The House– from Simon Lelic.

Tantalise your crime tastebuds with this exclusive extract…

Londoners Jack and Syd moved into the house a year ago. It seemed like their dream home: tons of space, the perfect location, and a friendly owner who wanted a young couple to have it.
So when they made a grisly discovery in the attic, Jack and Syd chose to ignore it. That was a mistake.
Because someone has just been murdered outside their back door…

When my hand slips from the knife, my first thought is that using it wasn’t as difficult as I assumed it would be. I feel elated, initially, until I notice the blood. It flows quickly, determinedly. It stains my sweatshirt, my trousers, even the floor, and that’s when my elation turns to fear. It’s gone wrong, I realize. This thing I’ve planned for so carefully: it has all gone drastically, horribly wrong.

Jack

The police were outside again last night. I watched them in the alleyway from the spare- bedroom window. They couldn’t have seen me. I’m fairly sure they couldn’t have seen me. And anyway, so what if they had? It’s not like I was doing anything wrong. It’s perfectly natural, isn’t it? Like the way motorists slow down to get a view of an accident. Probably the police would have assumed it odd if I hadn’t been watching. I mean, I couldn’t tell from where I was standing, but I bet the rest of our neighbours were all watching too. All with their lights off. All cloaked discreetly by their curtains. What I didn’t like was the impression I had that everyone out there was also looking discreetly at me. That the police being out there, at that time of night, was all just a show. A reminder.

God, this is hard. Harder than I thought it would be. It’s knowing where to begin as much as anything. I’m not Syd. I know what she thinks, what conclusions she’s drawn already, but I don’t process things the way she does. If she had gone first, I don’t know where we would have ended up, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have had a clue about where to go next.

I guess for me the only logical place to start is the day we first saw the house. This was back in April. It’s September now. The fourteenth. At 3.17 in the morning, to be precise. Syd’s in bed, but I couldn’t sleep even if I wanted to. I doubt she’s sleeping either, to be honest. I don’t think she’s slept properly in weeks. Me, I drop off easily enough. Every night I don’t think I’m going to, but it’s exhaustion, I suppose, the weight of worry. Tonight, though, our decision made, I just wanted to get on with it.

There’s a lot to get through and not a lot of time.

The open day, then. I suppose it has to be, though there’s very little about the day itself that was unusual. I recall how busy it was; how many people, when the time came, narrow- shouldered their way through the front door. Because there was a queue, you see. Not a line, but one of those messy, I- was- here- first scrums you see at bus stops. We’d arrived forty minutes early and already there were half a dozen couples ahead of us. But that wasn’t uncommon. Not for a house viewing in London. The strange thing was that it wasn’t just the house that was up for sale. Whoever bought it would also be buying everything the house contained. And once Syd and I had got inside, we saw that the entire place was stuffed with junk. Actual dragged- home- from- the- skip junk. Books, too, and clothes, coats, pictures on every square inch of wall, boxes stacked heedless of shape or size, plus furniture big and small in every crevice. It was like a live- in, life- and- death version of Jenga.

Oh, and birds. Clearly the current owner was into dead stuff. Taxidermy: doing it, hoarding it, I couldn’t tell. There was a hawk, a seagull, even a pigeon amid the scattered flock. Syd must have noticed them, too. I remember being surprised she didn’t turn around the moment she did and walk straight out.

The story the estate agent gave us was that the owner had met a woman on the Internet. She lived in Australia, apparently, and he’d dropped everything to run off and be with her. Just like that. He’d been approaching retirement age anyway, but even so he chucked in his job, abandoned his friends and signed over his house, dead pets and all, to the estate agent to sell as one bumper package. Which made a good sales pitch, I suppose, and accounted for the state of the place, but personally, right from the off, I just couldn’t see it. I mean, what sort of person would do that? And, setting the storybook explanation aside for a moment, why?

So yes, that was odd, and for me more than a bit off- putting. Maybe it wouldn’t have bothered me so much if I’d fallen for the house itself. I mean, the layout wasn’t a problem and there was more than enough space (lounge, kitchen, separate dining room, plus one, two, three bedrooms, not including the unconverted attic). The building, though, it was creepy. There’s no other word to describe it. The garden was overgrown and the paintwork about as attractive as a skin complaint. The house stood alone (‘detached’, marvelled the brochure) as though it had been shunned. There was a row of terraced houses on one side, huddled together as though for safety, and a block of flats with its back turned on the other. It looked, and felt, somehow ostracised.

So I suppose all I’m saying is I didn’t like the place. All that junk, the building itself: it just felt wrong. The problem I had was that Syd was clearly smitten. I knew she would be. She knew she would be: it was Syd who’d found the house on the Internet and who’d insisted we arrive at least half an hour early.

So- oo,’ I remember her saying to me, once we’d finally finished looking around. ‘What do you think?’

We were in the lounge, beside the fireplace. I remember this older guy kept staring at me from across the room. I was conspicuous in trainers and a T- shirt, whereas all the other blokes my age wore a collar, pressed jeans and polished brogues. They were City types, basically, or, like the man who kept staring, fathers of spoiled little rich kids. And probably that was the other thing that was stopping me sharing Syd’s enthusiasm. It had taken Syd and me more than two years to scrimp enough for a deposit, whereas most of the couples we were up against had likely earned theirs from a single bonus. So on that playing field, with London rules, how could the two of us be expected to compete?

I think it’s like The Hunger Games,’ I answered uncomfortably. What I meant was that bit in the film before the action starts, where the contestants are drifting around, pretending to be friends, to be allies of whatever, when really they’re just itching to kill the crap out of one another.

Syd looked at me blankly. I knew for a fact she’d seen the movie at the cinema, but her memory about stuff like that isn’t the greatest. She smoked a lot when she was younger and I’m not talking Marlboro Lights. She did a lot of drugs, actually. I’m not saying I’ve never dabbled myself, but there’re certain people they affect more than others. Syd had a difficult upbringing. Horrendous, actually, so bad that she’s still never told me the whole story. And when, later on, she had her troubles, the drugs I reckon played a part. She says they didn’t. She says all the damage had already been done. But weed, coke, pills, what have you: that stuff definitely leaves a mark.

Just . . . all these people,’ I explained. ‘I mean, I knew there’d be other interest, but nothing like this.’

Syd slipped her hands around my waist. ‘Forget about everyone else for a moment. What do you think about the house ?’

I paused for half a second too long. ‘I like it,’ I said at last. ‘I do.’

But?’

But . . . nothing. It’s just . . . it’s kind of dark, that’s all.’

I think Syd assumed I was merely playing my role, in house- hunting as well as in life. Syd dishes out her affection as though she’s sharing wine gums, whereas I trail stoically beside her, kicking tyres and knuckle- tapping walls. It’s rare that I know what I’m wary about exactly (what’s actually supposed to happen when you kick a tyre, other than the reverberation in your toes?), but it’s a part I’ve somehow settled into. It’s what men do, I’ve learned from somewhere. My father, probably, who could suck the joy out of riding on a rollercoaster. Plus, as I say, Syd definitely needs a counterweight. It’s why we’re so good together. She stops me gazing at my feet so much; I stop her floating off into the sky.

That’s just the weather,’ Syd countered. ‘All these people. Plus, I mean, have you seen all of this stuff?’

I was half expecting her then to mention those birds. She didn’t.

There’s an attic, too,’ I said. ‘If the rest of the place is like this, what must it be like up there?’

Syd glanced towards the ceiling. I joined her, worrying in that moment whether the whole building was liable to suddenly cave in.

Well,’ said Syd, ‘we’ll just have to hire a van or something. A man. Assuming we can still afford it.’

She smiled then and tucked a stray strand of hair behind a perfectly formed ear. In the house in which I grew up there was this blossom tree outside my bedroom window. Cherry, apple, I’ve no idea. It flowered pink, but never actually bore any fruit. The leaves, though, were this deep, rosewood brown, which came aglow when caught by the light. Syd’s hair, which she never dyes, is exactly the same colour.

Jack? I’m not going to make you live somewhere you don’t want to. If you really don’t like it, then let’s just leave.’

It wasn’t a guilt trip. Syd genuinely meant what she’d said. So maybe I should have said something. Maybe I could have put an end to it all then and there.

We did leave . . . but in the end we put in an offer as well. Just for the hell of it. And, I’ll admit, because Syd was clearly head over heels and I wanted her to be happy. Besides, what harm could it do?

I didn’t love the place, but I didn’t hate it exactly, and anyway we couldn’t afford it. The mortgage we had agreed wouldn’t even get us to the asking price and the details stipulated offers over. So there was no way we’d get it, not given the level of interest. All those people, with all their money . . .

I felt safe because we shouldn’t have had a chance…


Simon Lelic is the author of The House, Rupture (winner of a Betty Trask Award and shortlisted for the John Creasy New Blood Dagger), The Facility and The Child Who (longlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger and CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger 2012).

The House is his first psychological thriller, inspired by a love of Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King.

Simon is married, with three young children, and lives in Brighton, England. Other than his family, reading is Simon’s biggest passion. He also holds a black belt in karate, in which he trains daily.

You can follow him on Twitter @Simon_Lelic.

The House is available to buy here

 

#BlogTour- Simon Booker- Kill Me Twice- Extract

Welcome to the latest stop on the blog tour marking the release of Kill Me Twice, a compelling and nerve-shredding psychological thriller from Simon Booker, and a follow up to his debut Without Trace which introduced us to feisty investigative journalist Morgan Vine.

Read on for a tantalising extract…

Karl Savage is dead.
He must be. His ex, Anjelica, is in prison for murdering him in an arson attack. Multiple forensic experts testified to finding his charred remains.
So when Anjelica begs investigative journalist Morgan Vine to prove her innocence, it seems an impossible task. It doesn’t matter that Karl was abusive. That Anjelica has a baby to care for. That she’s petrified of fire. The whole world knows Karl is dead.
Then he turns up outside Morgan’s window . . .

Her solicitor said the evidence against her was purely circumstantial. No jury would convict.

But here she is. And here she’ll stay, unless someone champions her cause.

They said I’d have done anything to stop Karl taking my baby, which was true.’ Angelica checks herself, swallowing. ‘But not that. Not setting fire to his flat…’ She swallows again, eyes brimming with tears.

Morgan lets Anjelica sob. She scans the woman’s bruises, the cuts on her cheek. She doesn’t need to ask how they got there. Weeks of hostile press coverage cemented the woman’s reputation as a callous killer. A heartless mother.

Mum murdered lover while sick baby cried.

Devil woman.

Time’s up.’

The overweight prison officer is in the doorway, hands on her hips.

Morgan checks her watch.

Still got twenty minutes.’

My shift’s over. There’s no one to supervise.’

Anjelica looks panic-stricken.

We don’t need anyone to supervise.’

The officer rolls her eyes.

Two minutes, make ‘em count.’

She steps outside. Anjelica starts to babble, running out of time.

The good Lord knows I’m telling the truth but he’s testing me every day. I need you to believe me. There’s no CCTV of me driving across London, the car doesn’t show up on the number plate recognition thing – the ANPR…’

She knows all the jargon. But still Morgan isn’t convinced.

You could have taken a friend’s car. Or a night bus. Or a minicab.

I need to review everything,’ she says. Her ribs are aching.

Anjelica fixes her with a glare.

Easy to write a book, make money,’ she says. ‘Harder to help people.’

Morgan forces half a smile. The woman is short on charm but has a point.

I’ll give you a decision as soon as I can.’

She gets to her feet. Anjelica follows suit, fear in her eyes, panic in her voice.

I can’t lose my baby. I can’t be in here. Not for something I didn’t do.’ She pauses, her voice falling to a whisper. ‘God forgive me for saying this, but if you don’t help me I’ll kill myself.’

The threat makes Morgan bristle with anger. The words harden her heart.

You know I’ll have to report what you just said.’

A steely stare.

Just being honest.’

The officer is back, tapping her watch, lips pursed.

I’ll be in touch,’ Morgan says. But Anjelica isn’t finished.

I read your book. It says you have a daughter.’

Yes.’

The woman stares Morgan in the eye.

Think about me tonight, when you’re trying to get to sleep. Picture me here. Imagine I’m your daughter.’

I’ll do what I can. I promise.’

Morgan follows the officer onto the landing. She turns. Anjelica is watching, twisting the tissue in her hands, a picture of anguish. Behind her head is a poster.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

——————————————————————————-

Simon Booker is an author and screenwriter who has written prime time TV drama for BBC1, ITV and US TV. His UK credits include The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, Holby City and The Mrs Bradley Mysteries. He has written seven plays for BBC Radio 4, worked extensively as a producer in television and radio, and as a journalist. Booker lives in London and Deal.

His partner is fellow crime writer MJ McGrath. They often discuss murder methods over breakfast.

Follow the author on Twitter @simonbooker 

Kill Me Twice is available to buy here

#BlogTour- J. G. Sinclair- Walk In Silence

Keira Lynch may be a lawyer, but that doesn’t mean she plays by the rules. She has been summoned to give evidence against an Albanian hit man. She was there the night he murdered the mother of a five-year-old boy. She remembers it well – it was the same night he put three bullets in her chest and left her for dead.
But there are powerful people who want the hit man back on the streets. When they kidnap the boy, she is given a choice: commit perjury, blow the trial and allow the killer to walk or give evidence, convict him and watch the child die. Keira must make a decision. This time, does she have to cross a line to win?

Following Seventy Times Seven and Blood Whispers, this is the third of J. G. Sinclair’s crime thrillers featuring the character of forthright and feisty Irish lawyer Keira Lynch. Lynch is juggling the dual concerns of an explosive court case back in her adopted city of Glasgow, but also tracking down the whereabouts of an orphaned boy in Albania to provide a better future for him after the violent death of his mother. Still recovering from the violent events recounted in the previous book, once again Lynch is in a killer’s sights, and must call on all her mental and physical strength to outwit the bad guys…

Quite honestly I could just say that I absolutely blooming loved this, and leave it at that, but as this is not an Amazon review, although I did receive the book well-packaged, I will share a little more with you. J. G. Sinclair was speaking at a recent crime festival, and said that his writing was incredibly influenced by the visual nature of the scenes and how this committed itself to the page, and I was incredibly struck throughout by the very strong sense of scene setting that Sinclair ingrains in his book. Be it the austere surrounds of a Glasgow courtroom, the terrace of a hotel in Albania, or a small village in which one particularly beautifully described building houses a horrific discovery. A sense of location and atmosphere suffuses the book consistently throughout, giving added depth and colour behind the central action as a backdrop to the increasingly precarious and dangerous situation that Lynch finds herself involved in.

The plot is utterly compelling, bolstered to some degree by the strength of Lynch’s character, but more simply that Sinclair has a knack for pure thrilling storytelling. There are bad guys, good guys, good guys that could be bad and vice versa, and the relentless pressure of Lynch’s mission to rescue this small child, and seek justice for his murdered mother driving the plot on at a furious pace. The violence is swift and uncompromising, but unlike many thrillers I have read where the degree of violence visited on one woman seems somewhat incredulous, Lynch is very much physically capable to meet violence with violence. Aside from her physical prowess, and her amazing knife skills, she is strong, mentally resilient and quick witted, continually assessing, planning, premeditating  and changing tactics to overcome the peril she finds herself in. She’s also a pretty good lawyer. And justifiably killed a man when she was a small girl. She’s great.

I read Walk In Silence at a frenetic pace, as the speed and energy of Sinclair’s writing, just pushes you on mercilessly, and avoiding spoilers I think the ending could be an interesting set-up for a new fork in Lynch’s life. Action, spills, thrills and some emotional depth it has to be said, amongst the maelstrom of violence and duplicity. Great thriller. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

#BlogTour- Sarah Stovell- Exquisite

Bo Luxton has it all – a loving family, a beautiful home in the Lake District, and a clutch of bestselling books to her name. Enter Alice Dark, an aspiring writer who is drifting through life, with a series of dead-end jobs and a freeloading boyfriend. When they meet at a writers’ retreat, the chemistry is instant, and a sinister relationship develops … Or does it?

With marked similarity to the books of Barbara Vine and Minette Walters, Exquisite by Sarah Stovell is a discomforting and taut tale of sexual obsession and damaged personalities that will keep you gripped…

Focussing on an initially altruistic friendship between an established author, Bo Luxton, and her young protegee and fledgling writer, Alice Dark, Stovell constructs an increasingly menacing story, built on unreliable narrators and alternating points of view. The structure of the book is also underpinned by a third narration set within the confines of a women’s prison in Yorkshire, automatically causing us to cast aspersions on which of our female protagonists, if either, are incarcerated within. These alternate narratives work beautifully in terms of controlling the suspense, and each is perfectly weighted, to disabuse the reader of flicking between one and the other, holding the interest throughout. Stovell uses these split narratives to great effect, and the unreliable narration works its magic to unsettle, and cause conflict in our own perceptions of these two women. Personally, I didn’t like either of them hugely from the outset, which perhaps is a credit to Stovell’s depiction of both, and I did question the intensity of their relationship which seemed at odds, and slightly unbelievable in light of what we knew of their lives. However, my sympathy was aroused for one character towards the close of the book, particularly with the exceedingly dark , though slightly obvious occurrence on the last page. I also found the presence of Bo’s husband Gus unsatisfying and increasingly superfluous, but as the story builds around Bo and Alice, this was I suppose the author’s intention.

Aside from this, the prose itself is darkly engaging, with interludes of beautifully lyrical descriptions of the Lake District itself, set against the intensity of the burgeoning tension, and increasingly dangerous nature of the relationship between Bo and Alice. Each woman’s point of view weaves seamlessly in and out of the other, leading the reader to question constantly, and form their own opinions of the veracity of each. Trying not to give anything away here, which is difficult, there is also an exploration of Bo and Alice’s formative years, and how the nature of their childhood familial relationships have impacted on them, and formed their personalities. Increasingly this brings to the fore the age old question of nature vs nurture, and with Bo’s own identity as a mother herself, it is interesting to see the ramifications of her previous life experience in her own relationship with her husband and children.

All in all, Exquisite is a largely satisfying psychological thriller with the influence of others in the genre looming large, but taking on an identity of its own. It is a disturbing tale of lies, jealousy and obsession, which will more than sate the reader of the current domestic noir crop, but definitely at the darker end of the spectrum. Recommended.

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

Matthew Richardson- My Name Is Nobody

Solomon Vine was the best of his generation, a spy on a fast track to the top. But when a prisoner is shot in unexplained circumstances on his watch, only suspension and exile beckon.
Three months later, MI6’s Head of Station in Istanbul is abducted from his home. There are signs of a violent struggle. With the Service in lockdown, uncertain of who can be trusted, thoughts turn to the missing man’s oldest friend: Solomon Vine.
Officially suspended, Vine can operate outside the chain of command to uncover the truth. But his investigation soon reveals that the disappearance heralds something much darker. And that there’s much more at stake than the life of a single spy…

Oooh I do love a good spy thriller, and a behind the scenes look at the secret world of espionage, so was more than a little tempted to read My Name Is Nobody, having heard debut author Matthew Richardson talk about the book at a recent crime fiction event. Tapping in perfectly to this popular genre, inhabited by such heavyweights as John Le Carre, Charles Cumming, and Mick Herron, how did this spy thriller measure up? Hailing from Cheltenham, the home of world renowned government listening post GCHQ, and currently working within the hallowed walls of Westminster, the home of British democracy, or skulduggery, depending on your viewpoint, Matthew Richardson brings his knowledge of both locations to the fore. Set aside the mysterious shadowy worlds of MI5 and MI6, and an obvious appreciation of spy tradecraft, Richardson serves up a twisting, and duplicitous tale of counter-bluff, and dishonesty worthy of his contemporaries. Beginning with violent events during an interrogation of a suspected terrorist in Istanbul, and the abduction of MI6’s Head of Station in its aftermath, disgraced agent Solomon Vine, begins his own unsanctioned investigation into these startling events, inviting a whole heap of trouble…

Overall, I found this a well-plotted and multi-layered spy thriller, resplendent with detail on the workings of some of Britain’s most secret inner sanctums, and a never less than accurate and atmospheric portrayal of Richardson’s chosen locations. This applied to the echoing chambers of Westminster itself in the pulsing heart of London, the dreaming spires of Oxford, the rolling countryside of Gloucestershire and the excruciating blandness of Cheltenham rail station and its environs. The action moves quickly and seamlessly between these locations, as Vine endeavours to uncover a major conspiracy, where the old adage applies of trust no one, be this in Vine’s investigation or as we discover in a series of flashbacks, those closest to him. Indeed, my prevailing thought throughout was that I felt unable to trust anybody, and more than a few characters may not appear to be all they seem. I’ll say no more than that on the plot.

Although the plot of My Name Is Nobody was incredibly well structured, with its attention to the workings of Britain’s security services, and some nice old school spy tricks, I was a little less convinced by the characterisation, and a slight over-reliance on repetition in the plot. I don’t know how convinced I felt by the main players as they were a wee bit cardboard cut-out, and some of the personal upheavals in Vine’s life were too well signposted, and a little predictable for this reader, but I think the strength of plotting, storytelling and location counterbalances these small hiccups. A good old fashioned spy thriller with a good contemporary feel. Recommended.

(With thanks to Penguin for the ARC)

A Belated Round-Up- Matt Wesolowski- Six Stories/ Alexandra Marzano-Lesnevich- The Fact Of A Body/ Lone Theils-Fatal Crossing/ The Crime Book

I’ve done my usual trick of reading many, many books, but have then left the writing of reviews for far too long (hangs head in shame, looking chastened etc…) So in this post I will try to provide some kind of cohesive summaries of these, and hopefully you may find something among them to tickle your fancy!

1997. Scarclaw Fell. The body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found at an outward bound centre. Verdict? Misadventure. But not everyone is convinced. And the truth of what happened in the beautiful but eerie fell is locked in the memories of the tight-knit group of friends who embarked on that fateful trip, and the flimsy testimony of those living nearby. 2017. Enter elusive investigative journalist Scott King, whose podcast examinations of complicated cases have rivalled the success of Serial, with his concealed identity making him a cult internet figure. In a series of six interviews, King attempts to work out how the dynamics of a group of idle teenagers conspired with the sinister legends surrounding the fell to result in Jeffries’ mysterious death. And who’s to blame …

With its highly innovative use of the serial podcast structure, Wesolowski’s widely-reviewed and praised Six Stories weaves a dark and disturbing tale of murder, jealousy and teenage angst pivoting between two distinctive timelines. Setting up each individual’s recounting of events surrounding an ill-fated trip as teenagers to an outward bound centre, Wesolowski uses the trope of unreliable narration to the max, as each protagonist’s recollection is laid out before us. The structure works well, causing the reader to question the veracity of each witness’ or suspect’s testimony, although you may pick up on something quite early on, but then delight in having your suspicion’s confirmed. I loved the very naturalistic style of Wesolowski’s portrayal of the wild and dangerous beauty of his imagined location of Scarclaw Fell, which reminded me strongly of the brilliant Turning Blue by Benjamin Myers, where the location so strongly mirrors the darkness and sinister tension of the main plot. Six Stories is certainly refreshingly different with its quirky structure and clarity of description, and Wesolowski taps in perfectly to both the teenager’s experiences, but also intuitively counterbalancing it with their later perspective on events as adults. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

Before Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, working on the retrial defence of death-row convicted murderer and child molester, Ricky Langley, she thinks her position is clear. The child of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti death penalty. But the moment Ricky’s face flashes on the screen as she reviews old tapes, the moment she hears him speak of his crimes, she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case, realizing that despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar. Crime, even the darkest and most unspeakable acts, can happen to any one of us, and as Alexandria pores over the facts of the murder, she finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining minute details of Ricky’s case, she is forced to face her own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, to reckon with how her own past colours her view of his crime…

With more than warranted comparisons to such true crime classics as In Cold Blood and Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil, Alexandria Marzano- Lesnevich’ s powerful, thought-provoking and intensely moving memoir, recounting the darker periods of her childhood, and her fledgling career in  law is one of the best non-fiction books I have encountered for some time. Tracing and examining her own emotional development from a childhood of abuse and family denial, and her involvement as a young lawyer in one of America’s most thorny and haunting crime cases, The Fact Of A Body raises as many questions as it answers regarding crime and punishment, as well as providing the reader with a deep insight into the life of this remarkable woman whose seemingly firm beliefs in the immorality of the death penalty are so roundly challenged and undermined by the retrial of notorious murderer Ricky Langley. As much as this is non-fiction, the author’s lightness of touch, and her powerful and intensely descriptive, scene setting, gives a feeling of fiction to the whole affair, adding to the reader’s engagement and the sheer readability of the book. One of my personal heroes since my teenage years has been English lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith, due to his tireless quest for justice for death row prisoners in the United States, and the author’s own professional involvement with this remarkable man is strongly bound up in the narrative throughout, adding another layer of interest for this reader. I found this an emotional, compelling and utterly fascinating read, and as only a sporadic reader of non-fiction, this had me completely transfixed. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC)

When a picture of two Danish girls who disappeared on a boat bound for England in 1985 emerges many years later in an old suitcase from a British second-hand dealer, the journalist Nora Sand’s professional curiosity is immediately awakened. But before she knows it, she is mixed up in the case of a serial killer who is serving a life sentence in a notorious prison, and the quest to discover the truth about the missing girls may be more dangerous that she had ever imagined…

With its satisfying mix of Scandinavian crime thriller, and more than a nod to Silence of the Lambs, I thoroughly enjoyed Fatal Crossing,  first of a series introducing Danish journalist Nora Sand. Nora proves herself an eminently likeable protagonist with her dogged reporter style, and her complicated private life, with the story criss-crossing nicely between Denmark and the UK, balancing well her part-time assimilation from her homeland to her life and work in London. With an intriguingly dark, well-plotted investigation, and the shadow of a notorious serial killer looming large within Sand’s quest for the truth, there were enough twists and tension to keep me reading. As an aside, Nora also provides some great moments of acerbic wit throughout, which provided some good pockets of light relief as the story unfolded. Very keen to read the next one. Recommended.

(With thanks to Arcadia Books for the ARC)

An essential guide to criminology, exploring the most infamous cases of all time, from serial killers to mob hits to war crimes and more.

From Jack the Ripper to Jeffrey Dahmer, The Crime Book is a complete study of international true crime history that unpacks the shocking stories through infographics and in-depth research that lays out every key fact and detail. Examine the science, psychology, and sociology of criminal behavior, and read profiles of villains, victims, and detectives. See each clue and follow the investigation from start to finish, and study the police and detective work of each case…

Having treated myself to the Sherlock Holmes Book from the same series. how could I resist this big, bold and beautifully illustrated compendium of dark deeds and murder from across the centuries? With a global representation of murderers, robbers, tricksters and shysters, this covers cases old and new, the well known and the less so, in one visually pleasing and mentally stimulating edition of all things crime. Divided into eight categories including Bandits, Robbers and Arsonists, Con Artists, White Collar Crimes, Kidnapping and Extortion, Murder Cases, Organized Crime, Assassinations and Political Plots and Serial Killers there are a whole host of illustrations, infographics and tantalising titbits to delve into…

The Crime Book not only focuses on the particulars of this myriad of cases, but also explores the world of forensics, psychological profiling, and the media representation of these most notorious of cases. With an introduction by British crime writer Peter James, this is a book that offers much to explore, and the best tips on how to get away- or not- with murder…

Mwahahaha….

(With thanks to Dorling Kindersley for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

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