February 2017 Round-Up + more… and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)After a little hiatus in January, my reading rate has improved significantly, but alas, I am still a little off the pace in terms of reviewing. So, I’m going to cheat a wee bit, and incorporate a few additional reviews into this round-up, before I storm into March where five reviews await already, as there are some cracking releases coming up.

Happy reading!

BOOKS READ AND REVIEWED:

Jonelle Patrick- Painted Doll   Claire Macleary- Cross Purpose  Andrew Taylor- The Ashes of London  Kate Rhodes- Crossbones Yard  J.P. Delaney- The Girl Before  Rory Clements- Corpus   Su Bristow- Sealskin  SJI Holliday- The Damselfly  Orlando Ortega-Medina- Jerusalem Ablaze

I was mightily impressed by Paradise City by Joe Thomas, which takes us deep into the throbbing heart of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the violent favela known as Paraisopolis. Low ranking detective Mario Leme drives through this favela everyday, as this is where his wife, Renata, a lawyer, was gunned down a year previously, the victim of a bala perdida– a stray bullet. One morning at the same spot, Leme witnesses a car careering out of control, but sees that the driver has several bullet wounds, although the incident is written off as a traffic accident. Leme finds himself embroiled in a tale of murder and corruption at the highest level, which puts him at odds with his superiors, and onto a dangerous path. What I liked most about this book was the colour and exuberance that Thomas injects into his vivid realisation of the pulsating favela, albeit suffused by violence. There is a wealth of local vernacular sprinkled throughout the book, and for those, like myself, who know little of Brazil, Thomas paints a broad and wide reaching picture of the social and financial chasm that exists between the different stratum of San Paulo society. Also, Leme, is an incredibly empathetic character, regularly overcome and clouded by grief by the loss of his wife, but also portrayed throughout as a decent man, a fair detective, and more importantly feeling his way back to normality, and the recovery of a life torn apart. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Arcadia Books for the ARC)

Having made a new year’s resolution to myself that I would endeavour to read more historical crime fiction, I was made aware of E. S. Thomson and Beloved Poison by one of my bookselling colleagues, who couldn’t recommend it highly enough. Set in the crumbling St Saviour’s Infirmary in the 1850’s the story centres on Jem Flockhart, an apothecary’s daughter who disguises herself as a man to practice her medicinal craft. It is a world of stinking wards, visceral medical procedures, and professional rivalries. As the demolition of the hospital looms, six tiny coffins are discovered, which provide a strong link to Jem’s past, and as a series of murders ensue, she finds herself in terrible danger. I thought this was a terrifically bawdy romp, with a host of beautifully named characters that Dickens would be proud of. Thomson’s precise and graphic description of the disinterment of bodies from the graveyard attached to the hospital,  the medical practices of this time, and the detail of the more natural cures available to apothecaries of the era, were rich and lively in a darkly delicious way, bringing a colour and vivacity to the whole affair. This worked perfectly in tandem with a well plotted and sporadically shocking plot, as Thomson so adroitly immerses us in a tale of murder, sex and jealousy peopled by blundering doctors, whores, sharp tongued servants, and the wonderfully empathetic Jem herself, disguised as a man with the necessary toughness of demeanour, but at the mercy of her finer feelings as a woman. I fair scuttled through this one, with its colourful characters, menacing atmosphere and brilliant period detail. Sordid, rumbustious and totally enjoyable. Highly recommended.

(I bought this copy of Beloved Poison)

I cannot resist the allure of a new title from Chris Carter (One By One,   An Evil Mind ) and his dynamite pairing of detectives Robert Hunter and Carlos Garcia of the LAPD. Once again in The Caller our intrepid duo are drawn into the nasty world of another completely loco serial killer, who operates via the world of social media, exacting some wonderfully visceral, and cruel and unusual punishments on his victims and those closest to them. Throw in a hitman looking for revenge on the killer too, whilst hoping to dodge the radar of Hunter and Garcia, and what Carter dishes up is a spine chilling, violent, read in one sitting (in subdued lighting if you dare) serial killer thriller with some very nasty surprises indeed. Typical Carter fare, but highly enjoyable nonetheless.

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

Raven’s Book of the Month

Without a single moment of doubt, hesitation or procrastination, it can only be…

sealskin

Mesmeric and lyrical writing, weaving a folkloric tale

that will enchant you from beginning to end. 

 

 

 

#BlogTour- SJI Holliday- The Damselfly

the_damselflyKatie Taylor is the perfect student. She’s bright and funny, she has a boyfriend who adores her and there are only a few months left of school before she can swap Banktoun for the bright lights of London. Life gets even better when she has an unexpected win on a scratch card. But then Katie’s luck runs out. Her tragic death instead becomes the latest in a series of dark mysteries blighting the small town. The new school counsellor Polly McAllister, who has recently returned to Banktoun to make amends in her own personal life, is thrown in at the deep end as the pupils and staff come to terms with Katie’s death. And it’s not long before she uncovers a multitude of murky secrets. Did Katie have enemies? Is her boyfriend really so squeaky clean? And who is her brother’s mysterious friend? With Banktoun’s insular community inflamed by gossip and a baying mob stirring itself into a frenzy on social media, DS Davie Gray and DC Louise Jennings must work out who really murdered Katie before someone takes matters into their own hands…

Having previously reviewed and enjoyed the first two books of this series-  Black Wood and  Willow Walk – it’s time to return to the dark and murderous world of the residents of SJI Holliday’s small Scottish community of Banktoun in The Damselfly. Be prepared for some unsavoury goings on…

Once again there is a seamless interweaving of the characters and events from the previous two books, but for those who have not discovered this series yet, fret not if you join in the deliciously dark fun at this later point. Holliday has a great way of placing her characters in differing scenarios of importance, but by the same token moving them forward through changes in their lives, or returning them to their roots after time spent away. In this way, there is an incredibly real fluidity to the lives of her characters, reflecting the natural changes that people undergo in terms of their jobs and relationships, but the lure of one’s roots plays a major part. Generally speaking, I think the central enjoyment of these books for me is the strong sense that you are reading about real people, not those mind-numbingly witless and largely unbelievable middle class creations, that are currently infesting the world of psychological crime fiction. Holliday’s people are a sublime mix of the well-adjusted, and the emotionally damaged, and the observational style of her books as she puts them through various forms of self doubt, or emotional trauma, is done extremely well, undercut by Holliday’s now trademark dark humour.

Likewise, with the story focussing on a broken family and the difficulties of adolescence, Holliday draws on the world of social media- warts and all- to explore the communicative habits of her younger protagonists, and how they use it as a conduit for their problems and insecurities. I must confess that I usually get very frustrated reading books that put teenagers front and centre, but Holliday manages to avoid well-worn stereotypes, and balanced out the mix of the good, the bad and the ugly adolescents very well, and neatly exposes the twisted loyalties, immaturity or plain fear that hampers the police investigation into a young girl’s death. Throughout the book, Holliday neatly uses her younger protagonists to toy with our empathy, drawing on the differences of their backgrounds, although interestingly a more privileged upbringing is certainly no guarantee of a better moral compass, and the theme of family loyalties and jealousy plays a major part throughout.

Throughout this tricky investigation the steadfast figure of recently promoted DS Davie Gray stands tall, where his innate knowledge of the town’s residents proves both useful or difficult in equal measure. He is an open-minded and fair copper, but underscored by a steely determination to catch Katie’s killer, even if it sets him at odds with the community. I enjoyed his partnership with DC Louise Jennings, and the slight air of tension that exists between them, for reasons that you will discover for yourselves. Also big kudos for Holliday, for further exploring one of the more minor characters from the previous books, in the shape of ex-addict Quinn, and I enjoyed the way he was realistically interweaved into the turbulent history of Katie’s family.

I will confess to being a little disappointed in the expose of the killer’s identity, in terms of the intriguing red herrings that Holliday puts in our path, but nonetheless a few hours spent in the community of Banktoun, with its dark deeds and disparate residents is never wasted. Whether this is your first visit, or you’re up to speed with the series to date, it’s a recommended read from the Raven.

(With thanks to Black and White Publishing for the ARC)

 

Missed a stop? Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

damselfly-blog-tour

Raven’s Yearly Round-Up and Top 5 Crime Reads 2016

 

largeWell, what a perfectly horrible year we’ve all had. War, poverty, death, and selfishness on a dizzying scale has defined 2016. We’ve had political meltdown, and our country is now floundering due to the 52% of the British people who really should not have been allowed anywhere near the Brexit vote, by reason of their gross stupidity. (Don’t even get me started on Theresa ‘we know you’re struggling but we don’t give a toss’ May). Then, to cap it all,  the weirdness of the U.S. voting system allowing the ascendancy of one of the most xenophobic and misogynistic individuals to the most powerful position imaginable and I refuse to even utter his name.  Also, I know I am not alone in having personal strife this year too. Yes. It’s all been a bit crap.

book-love-books-to-read-23017145-619-463But, gather round bookish friends and let’s take a moment to rejoice in the good stuff- ‘the books, the books’, I hear you cry. It’s been a superb year for crime fiction this year, and I have discovered some absolute gems along the way. So here’s how Raven’s reading year panned out…

(click on the book jackets for reviews)

 

DEBUT-TASTIC!

With 90+ books reviewed and over 150 read during the year, 2016 has been a bumper year for some damn, fine fiction. (Still 40+ non-starters but we’ll move swiftly on).  I was particularly struck by the quality of the debut authors I have encountered this year. A couple will be featuring in my Top 5, so aside from them, special mentions, and a round of applause to the following…

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THAT DIFFICULT SECOND BOOK…

Also wanted to highlight those authors that blew me away in 2015 with their debuts, and who have now produced second books, the equal of, or even better than their first foray into the world of crime fiction…

deadlyCarson_02_THE%20SALT%20MARSHsuzimedinathe-pleaFever_of_the_Blood

 

6c217d7a427ef735dcbf85b02b5c40a4AND STILL IT GOES ON….

In last year’s round-up I wrote this… It seems that only by dwelling at the outer reaches of the Arctic Circle could you escape the hype surrounding The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. And yet the Raven was unmoved by the sheer intensity of the praise heaped upon this book on its release, and the ensuing avalanche of ‘domestic noir’ thrillers that it helped spawn. There again I didn’t like Gone Girl either. I am the domestic noir Grinch. Enough already.” Unfortunately, I still failed to heed my own advice, and have either abandoned at the 40 page mark, or trawled all the way through on pain of death, a substantial number more of these over the last 12 months.

Resolution for 2017? Quoth the Raven. Nevermore.

Not a single dopey domestic noir thriller will grace my blog in the next year.

WORDS FAILED ME…BUT IN A GOOD WAY…

492ec49_6e4d53e237f2437cb87cd049f0b4cfaaAlthough I am not the most prolific of bloggers, and tend to give breathing/thinking space between finishing books and writing a review, there are some books that with fingers poised over keyboard that prove excessively difficult to review, because they are so damn weird/clever/thought provoking/intense (delete as applicable). Courtesy of Orenda Books, two such books have crossed my path this year, and never has it taken me so long to try and write reviews that reflect the sheer cleverness and thought provoking intensity of these two. Mr Yusuf Toropov, Mr Michael Grothaus, I salute you…

fb929b12453a2ce028c765b5197b1a04THE TBR PILE…

Yes, the behemoth of the TBR mountain looms large on my conscience, but to be honest, there are worse problems to have, and no, I am not going to count the number of books vying for my attention. Have started making a dent with my commute to work, which has afforded me the opportunity to finally get round to reading some excellent authors who had slipped the net, for example Eva Dolan, Neil Broadfoot and Helen Cadbury, and some quirky crime in translation too. I’ll keep chipping away…for at least the next ten years…or more…

And so to the winners, no prizes, but big thanks for your sparkling and enthralling books. Not all of these achieved Book of The Month status but have remained resolutely in the Raven’s mind all year…

Raven’s Top 5 (ish) Books of the Year

5.

A RISING MAN

“Not only is the writing whip smart and intuitive with a clever and engaging plot, but the depth of the historical research to so vividly portray the teeming life of this beautiful, yet socially and racially torn, outpost of the former British Empire, sings from every page.”

4.

aa

“A genuinely terrific thriller; clever, well-researched and beautifully executed, as the action ebbed and flowed, keeping me on tenterhooks throught. There’s scheming, corruption, violence, and a strong sense of the personal cost that power, political envy and money can bring in its wake.”

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“This is an intelligent, thoughtful and emotionally compelling read, peopled by a sublime cast of characters and a balanced and realistic portrayal of weighty issues, firmly located in the fascinating and tumultuous period of post war America. Cut through with moments of raw emotion, thought-provoking social observation, and never less than totally engrossing, Darktown is something really quite special indeed.”

tall-oaks

“There are moments of genuine tension carefully interspersed with warmth and humour, as this band of misfits, for various reasons, go about their daily lives, with the overriding urge to make personal and emotional connections with friends, lovers and relatives. It’s wonderfully plotted, and I enjoyed every minute of it.”

What do you mean, that’s cheating?

They are all set in America.

(My excuse and I’m sticking to it)

3. 

bird

“It’s dark, psychologically tense and packed full of emotion both overt or deliberately disguised, with the reader invited to fill the spaces between.”

2.

dod“The writing is flawless throughout with Beverly being as comfortable with the rat-a-tat rhythm of the young teenagers’ dialogue, and conveying the brutality of their world, to describing elements of the landscape they travel through with the lyricism of some of the best naturalistic American writers.”

1.

blood

“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.”

———————————————————–

All the best for 2017 everyone

and just remember…

keep-calm-and-happy-reading-2

 

 

June 2016 Round Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)I’ve already had my say about the farcical EU referendum, and the ensuing anger and unease that accompanied its outcome, so let’s get onto the fun stuff:  the books, the books. This has been a very productive month for the Raven in terms of books read, and if you’re currently considering what to be reading over the summer there are some real crackers here…

SJI Holliday- Willow Walk

Bill Daly- Cutting Edge

Chris Ewan- Long Time Lost

Jack Grimwood- Moskva

A. A. Dhand- Streets Of Darkness

Gunnar Staalesen- Where Roses Never Die

Michael Grothaus- Epiphany Jones

Emma Cline- The Girls

Eric Rickstad- The Silent Girls

Colin Winnette- Haint Stay 

Colin Winnette- Coyote  

John Sweeney- Cold

The additional good news is that I have another four reviews waiting in the wings- Clare Carson- The Salt Marsh, Simon Booker- Without Trace, Anna Mazzola- The Unseeing and Pierre Lemaitre- Blood Wedding. July is an absolute corker for crime publishing and there are further treats in store.

20 booksHowever, my 20 Books of Summer Challenge hosted by Cathy at 746books.com is progressing less well than expected. I have read the giddy total of…2… mmmm… not great. So I will hang fire on posting reviews for these two until I can provide a more fulsome post for you… *slapped wrists* (However, Raven’s mum has read 7 of her 20 picks. That’s just plain showing off…).

 

Raven’s Book of the Month

I can honestly say that June has been a reading pleasure, and pretty much all of the list above entertained, gripped or thrilled me to some degree. I was particularly taken with SJI Holliday’s Willow Walk, Jack Grimwood’s Moskva, and the bearded genius that is Colin Winnette.

92ec49_6e4d53e237f2437cb87cd049f0b4cfaaAnd speaking of bearded genius, the accolade of Book of the Month goes to the hirsute Michael Grothaus for the truly extraordinary, unsettling and singularly strange Epiphany Jones. A book that repulsed, mystified and enchanted me in equal measure, and one that rolled around my subconscious for days after reading. As I said in my review, it’s not for everyone, but this one thought it was just swell.

SJI Holliday- Willow Walk

suzi

When a woman is brutally attacked on a lonely country road by an escaped inmate from a nearby psychiatric hospital, Sergeant Davie Gray must track him down before he strikes again. But Gray is already facing a series of deaths connected to legal highs and a local fairground, as well as dealing with his girlfriend Marie’s bizarre behaviour. As Gray investigates the crimes, he suspects a horrifying link between Marie and the man on the run – but how can he confront her when she’s pushing him away? 

As a terrified Marie is pulled back into a violent past she thought she’d escaped, she makes an irrevocable decision. And when events come to a head at a house party on Willow Walk, can Gray piece together the puzzle in time to stop the sleepy town of Banktoun being rocked by tragedy once more?

Having opened her series with Black Wood the first of the Banktoun trilogy, SJI Holliday transports us back to this seemingly ordinary town in Willow Walk, where dark deeds and murder are afoot. In a delicious mash up of Twin Peaks meets Take The High Road, Holliday once again traps us in the claustrophobic confines of this small town, and draws us into the lives of its singularly twisted inhabitants…

Opening with what is probably the creepiest prologue I have encountered for some time, Willow Walk quickly establishes a chilling air that draws the reader in instantaneously. What Holliday balances so beautifully is the very ordinariness of this small Scottish town, with the extraordinary dark secrets and emotional tribulations that exist within the lives of its inhabitants. Consequently, she can draw in characters to a greater or lesser degree as the story unfolds, and how the events impact on the wider community. Indeed, with a flourish of authorial brilliance, Holliday has used a character that made only a fleeting appearance in the first book as one of the main characters in this one. Her characterisation is consistently superb, and shows great skill in playing with the sympathies of the reader throughout. Like Black Wood, there is a curious mix of likeable and dislikeable characters, and there’s a wonderful sense of a grey area in their motivations and desires, demonstrating how far ‘ordinary’ people can have their own morality tested by the bad situations they find themselves in.

The stalwart figure of Sergeant Davie Gray is at the epicentre of the book, ruefully observing the downsizing of his police team, and grappling with affairs of the heart in his fledgling relationship with the secretive, and obviously, emotionally damaged Marie. With an escaped mental patient on the run, of which Marie knows more than she’s telling, and the nefarious activities taking place when a travelling fair pitches up in Banktoun, Gray certainly has his work cut out in this one, but manages to retain the air of decency and professionalism that defines his character so markedly. He’s a safe pair of hands as the evils of the outside world begin to encroach on the community that he works tirelessly to protect.

The characterisation of Marie was terrific, and desperate to avoid spoilers as usual, this is a woman who undergoes the brunt of the darkness that lies within the book. I loved the way that her character veers from moments of emotional tenacity, to the depths of despair and fear, and it’s fair to say that Holliday really puts her through an emotional wringer. As we, as readers, begin to realise the weight of emotional turmoil that her former years placed her under, through the clever use of correspondence from a damaging figure in her past, her story is utterly enthralling, as is how she can possibly extricate herself again from a position of extreme danger and threat. Throughout the book, Holliday uses the other characters in a cameo form, to unveil a tale of teenage angst and the dangers of legal highs, so topical in Britain at the moment, and the protagonists ebb and flow in the book as a whole, but not to the detriment of the main narrative. It will be interesting to see which of the minor players will come to the fore in the next book, as even in a fleeting mention there are people within this book that I really want to know more about.

Once again, Holliday has weaved a tenebrous tale which is no ordinary tale of small town folk. As the extent of the depravity that Marie has experienced in her early life comes to the surface, the book attains an air of claustrophobic, psychological darkness that is both disturbing and voyeuristically intriguing, and which ultimately just keeps you reading. The extraordinary nature of Marie’s experiences work harmoniously with the very ordinary preoccupations of some of the town’s other inhabitants, and it is this balance of plot, and sterling characterisation, that makes Willow Walk such a deliciously dark and compelling read. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Black & White Publishing for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

 

March 2015 Round Up and Raven’s Book of The Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)As usual, a busy month of new releases- I love this time of year! In fact, so many new releases to read, that I have not kept up the pace with the reviews. However, this round-up gives me an opportunity to include a quick round-up on a theme. Inspired by the brilliant reports at Crime Fiction Lover from Marina Sofia at the Quais du Polar French crime fiction festival, I have also been reading a few French crime fiction novels this past month.

camilleHaving already waxed lyrical about Pierre Lemaitre in reviews for Alex and Irene, I can safely report that the third in the series, Camille, featuring diminutive detective Camille Verhoeven is a more than satisfying addition to the series. After the violent events of the previous two books, Camille is on more of an even keel with a new love interest, Anne, but following a brutal heist in which Anne is seriously injured, Camille’s world is rocked to its core. Is Anne all that she appears to be, and will Camille attain the happiness and satisfaction in his life and career he is seriously overdue? I found this a much more meditative read than the previous two books, and with the extreme focus on the emotional struggle Camille experiences, the book was packed with poignancy and uncertainty as to how his relationship with Anne and the implications for his long term career would play out. I felt this book did slightly lack the wow factor of the previous two, due to the change of tone, but even so Lemaitre still provides an emotionally rich and engaging crime thriller. Highly recommended.

bussiI suspect that I may be a lone voice in the wilderness but the hugely hyped After The Crash by Michel Bussi, left me distinctly non-plussed. I don’t know if this was due to my lack of emotional engagement with what I perceived as a cast of distinctly disagreeable characters, or my innate irritation at the composition of the book, using the trope of a diary as the central narrative strand. I felt unfulfilled by the plot generally, and to be honest it was a real struggle to finish this one.

I also re-read The Prone Gunman by Jean- Patrick Manchette, and discovered the delights of a previously unknown to me novella by him, Fatale. Outside of my crime reading, I am a huge fan of foreign fiction in translation, particularly  those little jewels of novellas running at less than 200 pages, so Manchette is a delight. Taut, concise, and bluntly observed, his writing is so precise and powerful that it never fails to amaze me how he so easily runs through a gamut of emotions in such a condensed form. Both books are violent, and tinged with a bleakness that is sometimes hard to stomach, but I think his writing provides a hell of a punch. Buy these and read them. You won’t regret it.

And so forwards to April, where there are a couple of blog tours coming up, and a whole host of great new releases. It’s going to be a good month! And I will be posting a review for a possible contender for my book of the year…you’re intrigued now…

Books read in March:

Mari Jungstedt- A Dangerous Game

Steve Cavanagh- The Defence

Glen Erik Hamilton- Past Crimes

SJI Holliday- Black Wood

Ben McPherson- A Line of Blood (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Luke Delaney- The Jackdaw (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Raven’s Book of the Month:

glenIt’s got to be Glen Erik Hamilton’s debut Past Crimes. As I said in my review, the split timeline, the pared down style, and the assured plot structure, was an absolute delight throughout. It’s also great to encounter a debut author, that so compliments your existing favourite authors. With shades of Lehane and Pelecanos, I think there will be more to come from Hamilton… and I can’t wait. Excellent.

BLOG TOUR: SJI Holliday- Black Wood Review and Extract

Blog-Tour-URLs[3]Raven Crime Reads is delighted to be the first stop on the SJI Holliday Black Wood blog tour- a debut crime novel that more than lives up to the promise of being a dark and extremely compelling psychological thriller. Inspired by a disturbing incident in the author’s own childhood, Black Wood explores the lives of two young women, Jo and Claire, deeply affected by an event that happened to them in their younger years in the local woods. This distressing incident left Claire paralysed and Jo with deep mental scars, but due to Claire’s memory loss, how much is Jo’s version of what happened to be trusted? Twenty-three years later, a familiar face walks into the local bookshop where Jo works, dredging up painful memories and rekindling her desire for revenge. At the same time, popular local police officer, Sergeant Davie Gray is investigating a man who is attacking women near the disused railway, shocking the sleepy village of Banktoun. But how is this man connected to Jo’s unwelcome visitor, and will the dependable Gray unravel the tangled web of secrets and lies to keep Jo safe and give her justice? And just who will survive the violence that must surely follow?

blI should really start by saying how much I applaud Holliday in taking the decision to present us with a cast of characters who are all so singularly dislikeable. They range in character from self-absorbed, to screwed-up, from emotionally crippled to inherently evil, and all the worst points in-between. If I were to encounter any of them in real life, I would not seek their company again, but within the confines of this book, I liked them all immensely. I loved the premise of having this collection of oddball personalities, whether shaped by unfortunate experience or just as a result of their natural weirdness, in this claustrophobic community, and the fact that as a reader you could remain largely unaffected by their trials and tribulations. I was very much put in mind of a brilliant drama series from years ago, Cape Wrath, which instilled a similar feeling as to the largely nasty characters within it, but remained compulsive viewing. I liked the feeling of being unencumbered by empathy with Jo, in particular, and rather enjoyed the fact that she inhabited the role of victim, but had a rather unpleasant and manipulative streak to her. She seemed to wield some strange hypnotic effect over most of the male characters, including the dogged Sergeant Gray who was probably the only character registering at all on the niceness scale. The assured characterisation of such a cast of dark and twisted people was a real strength of the book overall, and as much as I disliked them, I derived great satisfaction from seeing into their lives- the good and the bad.

I liked the unfolding complexity of the characters connections to one another within the central plot. I did read quite a way into the book with not the faintest clue as to how it would pan out, and I thought Holliday’s control of reveals was incredibly well-handled, keeping my interest throughout, as we became further embroiled in the nasty dark secrets and lies at the heart of this community. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the explosion of violence towards the end of the book, but no matter, as what proceeded it was more than satisfying. Oh- and there is a good twist right at the end of the book. I love it when that works, and this one did. All in all, a good debut, that contains all the necessary tension, and unwelcome surprises of a thoroughly enjoyable psychological thriller. Seek this one out and you won’t be disappointed I’m sure. Here’s an extract to tempt you further…

THE WOODS

He spots the two girls through the cracked screen of beech, sycamore and leg-scratching gorse: a flash of red skirt and a unison of giggles.

He waves a hand behind him, silently gesturing for the other boy to stop walking.

They hunker down behind a giant felled oak, and watch. The one with the red skirt sits astride a rusty water pipe that juts out through the hard-packed mud on either side of the burn. Her long, skinny legs dangle like the branches of a weeping willow, her sandalled feet almost skimming the water that bubbles beneath.

‘Come on, scaredy-cat!’

Her face is turned in the direction of the far bank, watching the path that runs down the side of the neat little row of square seventies housing where all the nice families live with their panel-fenced back gardens and their rabbit hutches and their Swingball sets. Where the other girl stands: shorter, plumper and dressed in denim dungarees and a pair of blue wellingtons.

‘I can’t. It’s too fast.’

The water is high from the rain that has barely stopped for weeks. The ground is soggy, and the boys’ footsteps have disturbed the mulch on the floor of the wood, releasing a stink that reminds him of clothes that’ve been left too long in the washing machine mixed with the tang of fresh grass from the bucket on his dad’s lawnmower.

He hears the snap of a twig close behind him and whirls round.

‘Ssssh, you idiot. Don’t let them hear us.’

The other boy mumbles a sorry.

The girl with the red skirt turns back to face the wood and he holds his breath, desperate not to make a sound. She frowns and shakes her head and dark little curls bob around her face. She is younger than he is. A couple of years. Maybe the same age as the pudgy-faced one in the dungarees, but even from this distance he can tell she’s going to be a heartbreaker before long. He stares at the long bare legs straddling the pipe and feels the stirring in his trousers that’s becoming increasingly familiar.

The other girl takes a tentative step towards the pipe.

‘I’m not going over it like you,’ she says haughtily. ‘I’ll get my dungarees dirty.’

The other girl lets out a dirty little laugh and shuffles over to the end of the pipe, then leans forward and grabs the protruding roots of the ancient oak that overhangs the waterway. As she pulls herself up, the front of her baggy T-shirt gapes open and he strains his eyes to see what’s concealed beneath. The other one steps onto the pipe and, with arms outstretched like a tightrope walker, slowly makes her way across, until she is close enough to grab onto her friend’s outstretched hand.

He waits until they are both safely away from the bank before he grabs the sleeve of the other boy and they both stand up. The smaller girl sees them first and she lets out a strange little squeak and jumps back, grabbing onto the other girl’s T-shirt, revealing a flash of milky-white shoulder.

He grins.

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(With thanks to Black & White Publishing for the ARC)