#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

 

Blog Tour- Kjell Ola Dahl- Faithless

Oslo detectives Gunnarstranda and Frølich are back and this time, it’s personal… When the body of a woman turns up in a dumpster, scalded and wrapped in plastic, Inspector Frank Frølich is shocked to discover that he knows her, and their recent meetings may hold the clue to her murder. As he ponders the tragic events surrounding her death, Frølich’s colleague Gunnarstranda investigates a disturbingly similar cold case involving the murder of a young girl in northern Norway and Frølich is forced to look into his own past to find the answers – and the killer – before he strikes again…

I don’t think I’m too wrong in my opinion that the reason we love our Scandinavian crime fiction is its aura of unrelenting darkness, be it literally or metaphorically. Kjell Ola Dahl (author The Fourth Man, The Man in the Window, The Last Fix, and Lethal Investments) has been a long time favourite of mine, simply because he has a penchant for wholly embracing this psychological blackness, and taking his readers to some very dark places indeed…

Series regular detective Frank Frolich finds himself immersed in two difficult cases, with one of them being personally too close for comfort.  Embracing both investigations in his normal resilient, but nevertheless emotionally intense style, Dahl uses Frohlich to expose a visceral tale of drugs, sexual exploitation, and the testing of the bonds of family and friendship. Although the product of a Norwegian writer, Frohlich, always reminds me of Arnaldur Indradason’s tortured detective Erlendur, whose black psyche so consumes the reader.  Frohlich always has the tendency to be on the brink of his life unravelling around him, and in Faithless, Dahl takes great delight in using him as a doomed marionette like figure, thwarted in love, betrayed in friendship, and driven to the utmost extreme of behaviour, which cannot help but have serious ramifications. Prepare for some serious sharp intakes of breath as the book progresses.

In common with the depiction of Frohlich, Dahl’s characterisation of police and criminal alike is always flawless. There is a wonderful sense to his characters that none are wholly good or wholly bad, and I like the way that most of the characters exhibit at least one component of the seven deadly sins. His police protagonists range display a wide range of characteristics from the straight-laced and po-faced, to the loud and boorish, to the sexually confused, giving the reader much to chew on before Dahl even starts to deal with the criminal fraternity, or those suspected of heinous deeds. The idiosyncrasies and inherent madness of the society and criminals they investigate is embraced in their natural cynicism, and the ways they depressurise from their unrelenting nastiness of their day job. Dahl seems to wholeheartedly embrace the notion of life’s rich tapestry when drawing his characters and their personal foibles, which toys significantly with the reader’s empathies, and plays with our notions of natural justice,  and the acceptable degrees of guilt and punishment.

Once again, the book is flawlessly plotted, with a beautifully nuanced translation by Don Bartlett ( a Raven favourite due to his wonderful translations of Per Petterson and Karl Ove Knausgaard) which strikes exactly the right chord throughout. With the Scandinavian crime market positively bursting at the seams, the quality of its runners and riders is becoming more obvious with a greater pool of authors to choose from. Dahl firmly remains one of the front runners for this reader, and if you haven’t read him before, start right here. Highly recommended.

Catch up with, or continue to follow the blog tour at these excellent sites:

#PolishBooks Blog Tour- Aga Lesiewicz- Exposure- *Exclusive Extract*

 

Welcome to the latest stop on the #PolishBooks blog tour,  in association with the  Polish Cultural Institute /@PLinst_London  to promote some of the best Polish writing. Exposure by Aga Lesiewicz  is a dark and gripping psychological thriller which will shock and delight you in equal measure…

When up-and-coming photographer Kristin begins to receive anonymous emails, her life in a trendy loft in London’s Hoxton with Anton, her ultra-cool, street-artist boyfriend, suddenly begins to feel unsafe. The emails come with sinister attachments that suggest the sender has an intimate knowledge of Kristin’s past, and soon her life spirals out of control.

Who can she trust? And will she be able to discover the sender’s identity before it’s too late?

Prologue

A new email pings in my mailbox and my chest tightens with anxiety. I know I have no reason to react like this anymore, but the sound still fills me with dread. I click on the mailbox icon and stare at its contents in disbelief.

Exposure 5’.

My worst nightmare isn’t over, after all.

I could ignore it, I could delete it, but I know it will appear again. And again. I also know there is no point in trying to trace its sender. The person who has sent it doesn’t want to be found and isn’t interested in my answer.

I take a deep breath and click on the attachment. It’s a photograph this time and it’s mesmerizing. I’ve seen something like this before. It seamlessly blends two images, the one of the view outside and that of the inside of a room. The image of the exterior is projected on the back wall of the room and is upside down. I rotate the picture on my computer screen and take a closer look. It’s a section of an urban riverbank, a uniform row of solid four- and five-storey houses, perched in a neat line above the dark water. The brown and beige brick mass is inter­rupted by splashes of colour, marking the developer’s frivolous idea of painting some of the tiny balconies white or blue. A modern addition breaks the brick monotony, an incongruous cube of glass and steel crowned with a ‘For Sale’ sign. Below, the river has left its mark on the mixture of rotting wood and concrete with a vibrant green bloom of algae clinging to the man-made walls. My heart begins to pound when I realize the view looks familiar.

I know where the photo was taken.

I rotate the image back and concentrate on the interior. It’s someone’s bedroom, dominated by a large bed. The heavy wooden frame fills the picture, its carved antique headboard clashing with the image of the exterior projected over it. The bed is unmade, a mess of pillows and a duvet entangled with sheets that are dark red, almost crimson. A small bedside table on the left, with an unlit brass lamp on top of it. Some books scattered on the floor, mostly large-format, hardcover art albums. I find my eye keeps coming back to one spot in the image, a body on the bed. The woman is partly covered by the crimson sheet, her dark hair spilling over the edge of the mattress. One of her arms is twisted at a weird angle, revealing a small tattoo on the inside of the forearm, just above the wrist. I recognize the image. And I can tell the woman is dead.

I close the attachment and get up from the table, away from the computer. I feel dizzy and faint, my skin clammy, the thin shirt I’m wearing drenched in cold sweat. No, I can’t let panic get the better of me. I have to think and act. I go to the sink and pour myself a glass of water from the tap. I drink it greedily, spilling some on the floor. It helps a little, but the choking sensation in my throat persists as I go back to the Mac and click on the attachment. I force myself to look at the image again. Yes, there is no doubt about it. I am the dead woman in the photograph. And I know who my killer is…

Aga Lesiewicz is a former TV producer and director. A knee injury led to a change in her career and prompted her to write her first psychological thriller Rebound. She lives in London. Visit her website here and follow on Twitter @Aga_Lesiewicz

Catch up with, or continue to follow the blog tour at these excellent sites:

A Quick Round Up-Sara Flannery Murphy- The Possessions/ Mikel Santiago- Last Night At Tremore Beach/ Nicolas Obregon- Blue Light Yokohama

4133aZlueGL__SX317_BO1,204,203,200_For five years Edie has worked for the Elysian Society, a secretive organisation that provides a very specialised service: its clients come to reconnect with their dead loved ones by channelling them through living ‘Bodies’. Edie is one such Body, perhaps the best in the team, renowned for her professionalism and discretion. Everything changes when Patrick, a distraught husband, comes to look for traces of his drowned wife in Edie. The more time that Edie spends as the glamorous, enigmatic Sylvia, the closer she comes to falling in love with Patrick and the more mysterious the circumstances around Sylvia’s death appear. As Edie falls under Sylvia’s spell, she must discover not only the couple’s darkest secrets, but also her own long-buried memories and desires — before it’s too late…

Billed as a thriller, a ghost story and as a tale of sexual obsession, The Possessions was one of the strangest reading experiences I have encountered for some time. With comparisons to the work of such estimable authors as Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro and Daphne Du Maurier, Sara Flannery Murphy encloses the reader in a world of grief, guilt, love and obsession where irreality, spirituality and human emotions are inextricably entwined…

Curiously I am still unsure as to how much I really enjoyed this book, despite being initially enraptured at its highly original approach to the bridging of the gap between the living and dead. Equally, at first I was held in the thrall of the author’s emotive and completely accurate exploration and characterisation of the human response to personal loss and the assimilation of grief. She explored well the feelings of guilt and emotional stress that the recently bereaved experience, and the need for us to hold on to the one we have lost on some level to eventually move on to emotional closure. Her depiction and description of these differing but highly intense feelings of grief could not be faulted. By using Eurydice (whose name conjures up images of mythical strangeness) an isolated and emotionally closed off individual to act as a conduit from living to dead was expertly handled from the beginning, but as her strange relationship with the recently bereaved Patrick comes to the forefront, I started to find myself doubting her credibility. There was an escalating amount of repetition as the book progressed, with the author re-treading themes and images that started to irk me as the book progressed, and I began to care less and less about Eurydice’s increasing involvement with the spirit of Patrick’s dead wife. As a very obvious plot reveal came to life, I began to falter, and despite reading to the end, I felt strangely unsatisfied by what at first had held my interest entirely, and undoing my initial general crowing about this weirdly good book I was reading. One to make your own minds up about.

(With thanks to Scribe for the ARC)

TREWhen Peter Harper, a gifted musician whose career and personal life are in trouble, comes to northwest Ireland and rents a remote cottage on beautiful, windswept Tremore Beach, he thinks he has found a refuge, a tranquil place in a time of crisis. His only neighbours for miles around are a retired American couple, Leo and Marie Kogan, who sense his difficulties and take him under their wing. But there’s something strange about the pair that he can’t quite figure out. One night during one of the dramatic storms that pummel the coast, Peter is struck by lightning. Though he survives, he begins to experience a series of terrifying, lucid and bloody nightmares that frame him, the Kogans and his visiting children in mortal danger. The Harper family legend of second sight suddenly takes on a sinister twist. What if his horrifying visions came true, could tonight be his last…?

With one reviewer billing The Last Night At Tremore Beach as a cross between Don’t Look Now and Straw Dogs, I can only concur thus leaving me only a little to say about this one. I found it a slightly unbalanced affair, although I was intrigued by the back story of Peter’s coast dwelling neighbours, and the secrets in their shady past. With shades of Dean Koontz and Stephen King in the portrayal of Peter’s supernatural gift, I felt that this was to some extent, a bit superfluous to the plot, as a more linear depiction of his uncovering, and being threatened by, his neighbour’s former lives could have been portrayed without this. It felt a little padded. Peter’s character left no real impact on me, and found him generally a bit woolly around the edges. However, on a more positive note I did enjoy Santiago’s attention to the geography of this barren Irish coastline, and how he built tension through the secluded position of this location, and the natural elements that assailed its shores. A mixed bag.

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

BLInspector Kosuke Iwata, newly transferred to Tokyo’s homicide department, is assigned a new partner and a secondhand case. Blunt, hard as nails and shunned by her colleagues, Assistant Inspector Noriko Sakai is a partner Iwata decides it would be unwise to cross. A case that’s complicated – a family of four murdered in their own home by a killer who then ate ice cream, surfed the web and painted a hideous black sun on the bedroom ceiling before he left in broad daylight. A case that so haunted the original investigator that he threw himself off the city’s famous Rainbow Bridge. Carrying his own secret torment, Iwata is no stranger to pain. He senses the trauma behind the killer’s brutal actions. Yet his progress is thwarted in the unlikeliest of places. Fearing corruption among his fellow officers, tracking a killer he’s sure is only just beginning and trying to put his own shattered life back together, Iwata knows time is running out before he’s taken off the case or there are more killings . . .

So saving the best until last, I was incredibly impressed with Blue Light Yokohama based on the real life, and still unsolved, slaying of a family in Japan, and the suicide of its lead investigator. Obregon has beautifully manipulated and used the details of this original case to construct a real slow burning thriller that kept me gripped throughout. Aside from referencing a real case which is one of my favourite tropes in crime fiction, there is a consistency of atmospheric building of tension, punctuated by moments of extreme stress and violence that demonstrates what a good writer Obregon is. His characters, particularly Iwata and Sakai, are completely believable, and undergo real trials by fire throughout, with their reactions and actions also entirely plausible. The story of female officer Sakai is heartrendingly honest and how her story plays out moved me greatly.

Although the book does not contain the level of attention to Japanese culture and social mores as that of an authentically Japanese author, the strength and gradual build up of an excellent plot cancelled out this slight disappointment. I delighted in the red herrings and false alleyways that Obregon navigates us through, and there were genuine moments of utter surprise and shock throughout. I felt emotionally invested in both the story and the personal travails of Obregon’s protagonists, and knowing that this book was so firmly grounded in reality further added to my enjoyment. When I finished this book I tweeted that I needed to take a breath. I guarantee you will too.  Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Penguin/Michael Joseph for the ARC)

 

 

Teaser No. 3… Nuala Ellwood- My Sister’s Bones + Exclusive Extract

msbwindowfinal

 

Exclusive extract from My Sister’s Bones by Nuala Ellwood

“I carefully climb up onto the chair and stand looking into next-door’s garden. The noise has stopped and there is nothing there but an empty washing line and a pair of old wellington boots lying by an overgrown rockery. The shed is in darkness.

‘Hearing things again,’ I tell myself as I climb down from the seat, but just as my feet touch the ground the noise starts again, this time louder and more frantic, and it is coming from beyond the fence.

I scramble back on to the chair and peer over. And then my heart flips inside my chest.

There, in the window of the shed, is a face.”

51xvbs7ubwl

 

1ST NOVEMBER 2016

 PRE-ORDER E-BOOK HERE

Kate Rafter is a high-flying war reporter. She’s the strong one. The one who escaped their father. Her younger sister Sally didn’t. Instead, she drinks.

But when their mother dies, Kate is forced to return home. And on her first night she is woken by a terrifying scream.

At first Kate tells herself it’s just a nightmare. But then she hears it again. And this time she knows she’s not imagining it.

What secret is lurking in the old family home?
And is she strong enough to uncover it . . . and make it out alive?

 

Advance reviews for My Sister’s Bones:

‘Compelling and intriguing, right from the very first page’ (Sharon Bolton, Sunday Times bestselling author of Like This, For Ever)

Gripping and beautifully written, My Sister’s Bones is a tense, atmospheric, deliciously dark story (Amanda Jennings)

A stunning book. I was drawn in by Nuala Ellwood’s hypnotic, haunting and elegant prose. Compelling, unsettling and powerful this is a book that will stay with me for a long time’ (C. L. Taylor)

Loved I Let You Go and Behind Closed Doors? My Sister’s Bones is guaranteed to be this year’s most twisty and twisted read – you’ll never see what’s coming! (Ava Marsh, author of UNTOUCHABLE)

‘Ellwood’s protagonist Kate is a female hero in the best sense, flawed but brave. Very quickly you are sucked into her fragile, damaged world, until you no longer know what is real or imaginary’ (Helen Callaghan, author of DEAR AMY)

This book is amazing – harrowing and compelling…a clever plot that twists right to the very end (Luana Lewis)

An accomplished and page-turning thriller…it’s impossible to guess where it’s going next’ (Nicholas Searle)

 

 

Blog Tour- Elizabeth Haynes- Never Alone- Review

A few years ago, way ahead of the fashionable, over-hyped, and largely disappointing array of domestic noir thrillers, Elizabeth Haynes wrote Into The Darkest Corner, untouched by girls, trains, nauseating middle class strife, and the like. To my mind, having dabbled in the current crop, Into The Darkest Corner still stands head and shoulders above what I have read to date in the domestic noir genre, in terms of its psychological depth, character development, the sheer visceral chill of a woman under threat, and how the reader can actually relate to and believe in the insidious danger that Haynes presented to us. Having read most of Haynes’ books since, I was more than happy to curl up with her latest book, Never Alone and post a review for this blog tour marking its publication…

haynesSarah Carpenter lives in an isolated farmhouse in North Yorkshire and for the first time, after the death of her husband some years ago and her children, Louis and Kitty, leaving for university, she’s living alone. But she doesn’t consider herself lonely. She has two dogs, a wide network of friends and the support of her best friend, Sophie. When an old acquaintance, Aiden Beck, needs somewhere to stay for a while, Sarah s cottage seems ideal; and renewing her relationship with Aiden gives her a reason to smile again. It s supposed to be temporary, but not everyone is comfortable with the arrangement: her children are wary of his motives, and Will Brewer, an old friend of her son s, seems to have taken it upon himself to check up on Sarah at every opportunity. Even Sophie has grown remote and distant. After Sophie disappears, it’s clear she hasn’t been entirely honest with anyone, including Will, who seems more concerned for Sarah’s safety than anyone else. As the weather closes in, events take a dramatic turn and Kitty too goes missing. Suddenly Sarah finds herself in terrible danger, unsure of who she can still trust. But she isn’t facing this alone; she has Aiden, and Aiden offers the protection that Sarah needs. Doesn’t he?

And so to Never Alone, and Haynes once again with an immediate intensity, draws us into the life of Sarah Carpenter, an emotionally fragile woman three years on from the loss of her husband, and residing in a metaphorically empty nest with her two children having left home for differing reasons. What Haynes disseminates so well in this book is the nature of human relationships, and every character is used to explore the differing connections we make with one another. As the following demonstrates there are numerous different permutations of characters’ connections to one another throughout the book. Sarah finds herself emotionally unsettled by the reappearance of an old flame, Aiden, who takes up residence in a small cottage aligning her property, concealing certain revelations about his past interactions with her late husband, and the shocking reveal of his current career choice. She is also grappling with missing her daughter Kitty who is at university (who is also experiencing her first love affair) and the minimal contact with her son Louis, who has his own reasons for shunning her. Sarah also has only one close friendship in this small community, with glamorous and larger than life politician’s wife, Sophie, which seems an unlikely alliance, and when Sarah is plunged into the company of others seems rather a square peg in a round hole. Then there is Will, a friend of her son’s Louis, who comes to the attention of Aiden and Sophie for differing reasons, and Sophie and Aiden also have a connection. Haynes perfectly controls the gradual reveals about the deeper connections between various characters, and by splitting the narrative in sections between them, gives her a real opportunity to explore their psychology, and allows us to see the same scenarios from different viewpoints.

Sometimes I felt that the characterisation was a little diminished by the need to so completely control all their connections to one another, and how these would bring the action together at the denouement of the book, and felt there was a certain amount of repetition in how Sarah was presented. In particular, her critique of her own life, that did seem to be endlessly re-treading the same analysis of her emotional and financial situation. I hesitate to use the word annoying, but she didn’t engage my empathy as much as she should have. I did, however, like the characters of Louis and Sophie very much, who had interesting textures and quirks to them which I would have like to have seen more fully explored, and Aiden proved a pivotal figure to the book with shades of light and dark to keep the reader on their toes. There is also a sinister stream of consciousness by a certain character, that runs chillingly throughout the book, alerting us to the danger of an individual on the brink of violence, and Haynes largely conceals the identity of this person until a crucial point in the plot.

I very much liked the setting of the book, using the North Yorkshire Moors, as an immovable and threatening backdrop in the grip of winter, reflecting the psychological bleakness and threat of the main plot. The perfectly placed reveals of one character’s connection to another drove the plot consistently at a measured and controlled pace, and although the unveiling of the bad egg in the whole affair did not come as a real surprise, there was a good amount of tension and suspicion built up along the way to keep reading on. Although not entirely convinced why the bad person did what they did for the reasons they did and how this was played out, I feel that the consistency of the writing up until that point more than justifies giving this one a look. Perhaps, this is a testament to the writing of Haynes herself that even, in my humble opinion, a slightly below par book from her is still immeasurably more enjoyable than others in her chosen genre. Recommended.

(With thanks to Myriad Editions for the ARC)

Catch up with the #NeverAlone Blog Tour at these excellent sites:

Never Alone blog tour

Pierre Lemaitre- Blood Wedding

bloodblood

Sophie Duguet is losing her grip. Haunted by visions from her past, of her loving husband, who committed suicide after a car accident.

One morning she wakes to find Leo, the child in her care, strangled in his bed by Sophie’s own shoelaces. She can remember nothing of the night before. Could she really have killed him? She flees in panic, but this only cements her guilt in the eyes of the law.

Not long afterwards it happens again – she wakes with blood on her hands, with no memory of the murder committed. Just what is it that comes over Sophie when she sleeps? And what else might she be capable of?

Wanted by the police, and desperate to change her identity, Sophie decides to find a man to marry. To have and to hold. For better or for worse. Till death do them part . . .

Having been blown away by Lemaitre’s Brigade Criminelle trilogy, Irene, Alex and Camille featuring diminutive detective Camille Verhoeven, we now have the compelling standalone Blood Wedding, which further serves to demonstrate the sheer brilliance of Monsieur Lemaitre.

Once again, Lemaitre has produced a book that proves troublesome to review in terms of potential plot spoilers. Reducing the story to a linear description, Blood Wedding focuses on a young woman, Sophie who finds herself implicated in two murders, and going on the run, seeks to conceal her identity further by entering into a marriage with a man she meets online, giving her the security to explore the reasons for her attributed guilt, and come to terms with her tangled past. But this is Lemaitre, known for slips and tricks which play with the reader’s perception, and as the plot twists and turns, turns and twists, we are consistently wrong-footed and deceived. In the best tradition of Patricia Highsmith and Alfred Hitchcock, Lemaitre slowly reveals the plight of a woman in a confused psychological state, seeking to make meaning of the situation she finds herself in, whilst having possibly having been manipulated by person or persons unknown. Consequently, as each previously unknown detail of Sophie’s plight is revealed, with pinpoint precision timing, I would challenge you all to resist the impetus to keep reading, and reading, and reading…

Another real strength of Lemaitre’s work to date, is the depth and realism that he consistently instils in his female protagonists, and I’m always mightily impressed by male writers who achieve this so convincingly. Without a shadow of a doubt, Sophie is seen to run through the whole gamut of human emotion from her initial bewilderment, self-questioning and threat of incarceration, to her own critical analysis of her situation, and a growing steadfast resolve and path of clear-thinking to extricate herself from her now under threat personal freedom. Into the mix comes Frantz, her unwitting potential husband, who possesses a degree of self-knowledge that maybe Sophie is not so enamoured with their match as he is, but resolves to make the best of it regardless, seemingly to bring a degree of solidity to his own troubled past. I will delve no deeper into their attendant character traits at this point, but suffice to say there are more revelations afoot. This combination of extremely well-developed characters, and the reliance of the two of them to drive forward the intricate and exceptionally well plotted story arc, shows a clear degree of authorial skill and deftness of touch that eludes many other writers. As a crime reader, precise plotting, the control of suspense, and believable characterisation lay at the core of my reading pleasure, and Lemaitre achieves this beautifully throughout. The plot twists are in no way reliant on the suspension of disbelief, or clumsily wrought, leading to a genuinely intriguing, and utterly enthralling, example of psychological suspense. The novel is once again beautifully translated by Lemaitre regular, Frank Wynne, which captures all the nuances, and linguistic tone of the original French, further adding to the reader’s enjoyment.

There is little left to say regarding Blood Wedding, as my admiration for Lemaitre has surely been noticed already, but drawing on a well worn adage, I would simply say, if you only read one thriller this summer, do make sure it’s this one. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to MacLehose Press for the ARC)