Shiver by Allie Reynolds @AuthorAllieR @headlinepg

Source: Review copy
Publication: 21 January 2021 from Headline
PP: 432
ISBN-13: 978-1472270245

My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review

When Milla is invited to a reunion in the French Alps resort that saw the peak of her snowboarding career, she drops everything to go. While she would rather forget the events of that winter, the invitation comes from Curtis, the one person she can’t seem to let go.

The five friends haven’t seen each other for ten years, since the disappearance of the beautiful and enigmatic Saskia. But when an icebreaker game turns menacing, they realise they don’t know who has really gathered them there and how far they will go to find the truth.

In a deserted lodge high up a mountain, the secrets of the past are about to come to light.

This is the perfect time of year to read Shiver and given that it is that most enjoyable of things – a locked room mystery, it seems very fitting for our #lockdown reading, too! Told in alternate chapters – harking back 10 years and in the present day, it tells the story of six friends who were once highly competitive snowboarders, vying for prizes and sponsors until one of them disappeared.

Since then, their lives have taken different paths and ten years later each receives an invitation to return to the Alpine Lodge in Le Rocher, where they were last all together. Our storyteller is Milla and it is her first person perspective that guides us through the story of both past and present. But even as she does so, we are aware that we may not be getting the whole truth….how reliable a narrator is Milla?

The friends compete in an especially dangerous Winter Olympic sport – the Half Pipe – a U-shaped high-sided ramp or runway used in snowboarding, where any loss of focus can mean disaster and serious injury or worse. With walls of ice as high as 22ft and snowboarders competing to do the highest jumps, twists and turns, competitors have to be at the top of their game.

Milla had not really wanted to come back to Le Rocher but she has always regretted not becoming closer to Curtis, Saskia’s brother and a man for whom she has always harboured strong feelings. And this invitation has come from Curtis, just weeks after Saskia has been declared legally dead after going missing in the Alps that last time, ten years ago. So she understands his need to say goodbye and wants to be there for him.

But when she gets there, it is only to find that each of the five has received an invitation purportedly from the one who would most make them want to attend, yet none of them will confess to sending any invitation at all. And so the cat and mouse games begin..

Shiver paints a fascinating picture of the cut and thrust world of professional snowboarding and the athletes who compete in it. The sheer threat of taking on the Half Pipe every day and risking life and limb makes them intense and focussed, living life to the max against the cold, pristine white Alps – an amazing backdrop for this story to play out on. Reynolds own experience makes this element of the book sing with authenticity and the danger adds a real element of fascination to this exhilarating and polished read.

The Alpine Lodge, when they reach it, is devoid of staff and they are asked to give up their mobile phones before an ‘icebreaker’ session. And that’s where it all starts to go wrong.

Imagine that deserted place, winds whistling outside, a glacier waiting to claim them and your hairs will stand on end with echoes of The Shining in the back of your mind.

As these five friends look askance at each other, not knowing who to trust, wondering who invited them and why, danger is present in every room and corridor and with no-one trusting anyone else, it is inevitable that bad things are going to happen. And they do!

Verdict: Reynolds tells a great story and the past comes alive through Milla’s descriptions of what went before.  She keeps the reader on tenterhooks, offering up suspects and cleverly laying clues only to have you second guess yourself as matters develop. A chilling and spine-tingling, page-turning read and an accomplished debut.

Bookshop.org                                Waterstones                    Foyles

Allie Reynolds was once a freestyle snowboarder in the UK top ten at halfpipe. She spent five winters in the mountains of France, Switzerland, Austria and Canada. She’s had many jobs including nanny, barmaid, London primary school teacher, bookshop assistant and French teacher/translator. In 2003, she swapped her snowboard for a surfboard and moved to Gold Coast Australia, where she taught English as a foreign language for fifteen years.Allie became a full-time writer in 2018. Her short fiction has been published in women’s magazines in the UK, Australia, Sweden and South Africa. She has two young children and a cat who thinks he’s a dog.

Into The Woods by David Mark @davidmarkwriter @HoZ_Books

Source: Review copy
Publication: 21 January 2021 in e-book from Head of Zeus
PP: 448
ISBN-13: 978-1800246362

My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review

If you go into the woods, you’re in for a dark surprise.

Thirty years ago, three girls followed a stranger into the woods. Only two returned. The surviving pair have never been able to remember what happened or what the fate of the third girl was. Local rumours talk of hippies and drugs and mystic rituals, but no one has learned the truth.

This story is just what Rowan Blake needs. He’s in debt, his journalistic career is in tatters – as well as his damaged body – and he’s retreated to the Lake District to write. Yet even Rowan isn’t prepared for the evil he is about to unearth, for the secrets that have been buried in that wood for far too long…

I’m a fan of David Mark’s writing. His brain never fails to come up with an intriguing plot, some fascinating and often dark characters and usually a good helping of dark and gruesome. He is good at levelling this style with dark humour and a bit of the ordinary in life which brings it all together in a believable way.

Our protagonist is Rowan Blake, a journalist with a bit of a moral vacuum. With one moderately successful true crime book behind him (critics liked it, didn’t make mass sales) he is now bereft of ideas and his publisher is biting his ear off for the book whose advance has long since been spent on drink and other necessities of life.

When we meet him, he is nursing badly injured hands as a result of an encounter with someone who really didn’t like his last book and Rowan has retreated to his sister’s cottage in the Lake District, the biliously named Bilberry Byre, ostensibly to write his next, now very late, book, but in fact to lie low and hope no-one finds him.

It doesn’t hurt that he can live rent free, either. Having left journalism to write books, he has no source of income to fall back on. Just as well his sister, Serendipity (Dippy) is a decent woman who though she despairs of her brother, still doesn’t have the heart to see him on his uppers without helping.

Dippy’s 12 year old daughter, Snowdrop is entranced by her uncle. She dreams of becoming a journalist and is determined to help him with whatever his next project is. In fact, she has an idea that he might want to explore.

Dippy has a friend, Violet Sheehan, who is a member of the local library book club. Three decades ago, she was a pupil at the Silver Birch Academy, an alternative, slightly hippy school in Wasdale with new age ideas and a holistic approach where the teaching was relaxed and pupils were encouraged to express themselves and to explore alternative cultures.

Violet had two friends then: Catherine Marlish, the local vicar’s daughter and Freya, a new girl at the school whose father was away on business so much of the time that she really just lived at the school. 

Mr Sixpence, was the school healer; something of a shaman, he worked with the unhappy and troubled pupils sent there by harassed and troubled parents who didn’t have any ideas about how else to find help for their children. Mr Sixpence was a gentle, friendly soul whose treatments may have been unorthodox, but who listened and seemed to get results.

It all came adrift after one night when these three friends went into the woods with a stranger and though no-one can remember exactly what happened, only two came out again and Mr Sixpence was never seen again.

Now Violet has been trying to piece together bits of her fragmented memory and to write it down, hoping to make sense of it. But Violet, who was never the most likeable of children, prone to selfishness and bouts of rebellion, has suddenly gone off on her travels to ‘find herself’.

Still, Rowan sees the kernel of a story here. At the very least, it is something he can sell to his publisher to keep him off Rowan’s back; at best it will turn out to be a story worth pursuing. With Snowdrop ready at his side to push him when he loses heart, Rowan begins to investigate.

David Mark writes a slow burn of a novel that creeps into your soul and slowly wraps its evil tentacles round your heart squeezing roughly as it finds the weak spots and starts to exert its horrific hold on you.  The dank weather and the bleak, sparse woods with their old mine workings hold horrors that you wish you hadn’t discovered.

There is real malevolence here; a madness in the air and as Rowan looks more deeply he finds a trail of menace, violence, evil and corruption that some have worked hard for years to keep buried.

Mark’s characterisation is spot on. Rowan Blake is a fascinating character – a mix of rascal and intrepid journalist. Blake is a charming rogue and a man with no moral compass and no hesitation when it comes to getting a story.

With this book you want to give yourself time to soak in the atmosphere and consider the complexity of all the characters. Mark’s writing drips with atmosphere and the sense of menace and real evil is palpable even leavened as it is by some fantastic darkly humorous moments.

I’ve become a huge David Mark fan over the course of several of his books and I loved this one for its atmosphere, characters and the way in which he magically captures the intensity of the story.

Verdict: Utterly compelling reading, it held me in its grasp and squeezed ‘til I was breathless.

Bookshop.org                                Waterstones                    Forum Books

David Mark spent more than 15 years as a journalist, including seven years as a crime reporter with The Yorkshire Post – walking the Hull streets that would later become the setting for the internationally bestselling Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy novels.His writing is heavily influenced by the court cases he covered: the defeatist and jaded police officers; the inertia of the justice system and the sheer raw grief of those touched by savagery and tragedy

The Dressmaker of Paris by Georgia Kaufmann @GeorgiaKaufmann @JennyPlatt90 @HodderBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 28 January 2021 from Hodder & Stoughton
PP: 368
ISBN-13: 978-1529336023

I need to tell you a story, ma chère. My story.

Rosa Kusstatscher has built a global fashion empire upon her ability to find the perfect outfit for any occasion. But tonight, as she prepares for the most important meeting of her life, her usual certainty eludes her.

What brought her to this moment? As she struggles to select her dress and choose the right shade of lipstick, Rosa begins to tell her incredible story. The story of a poor country girl from a village high in the mountains of Italy. Of Nazi occupation and fleeing in the night. Of hope and heartbreak in Switzerland; glamour and love in Paris. Of ambition and devastation in Rio de Janeiro; success and self-discovery in New York.

A life spent running, she sees now. But she will run no longer.

Rosa Kusstatscher is every inch the poised, sophisticated fashion plate. This is what you might expect of a woman who helped inspire one of the most famous Paris couturiers and whose own reputation as a highly successful businesswoman in the fashion industry is second to none.

Rosa is a woman who understands the value of clothes and dressing and whose make up tips begin every chapter of this glorious book. Tonight, though, as the book opens, she is getting ready for the most important meeting of her life and her usually implacable confidence has given way to a nervous doubt.

Georgia Kaufmann’s sweeping historical novel covers Rosa’s life from her beginnings as a young girl waiting tables in an inn in the mountains of Italy, where everything changed with the Nazi occupation and the influx of soldiers that brought to the small village. Rosa’s circumstances were such that she was left with no option but to escape in the dead of night to Switzerland where she threw herself on the mercy of a man she did not know but whom she hoped would be kind to her.

Rosa begins to settle in Switzerland. It is here that she discovers she has a flair for fashion and knows instinctively what cut of a cloth will most flatter a woman and sobegins her lifelong love of dressmaking. But it is also in Switzerland that she has to make the worst decision of her life – one that allows her to pursue her dream but to give up all that she holds most dear including her security and the love for the family that she has built.

She travels to Paris, begging for work at every atelier she can find, sewing until her fingers bleed until she finds a friend in the atelier of new young fashion designer, Christian Dior.  One of the strengths of this novel is the fierce strain of female friendship that runs through it, While Rosa’s fortunes often rise and fall with the men she encounters, it is some of the women she meets who remain her strongest and most steadfast friends throughout her life.

Rosa learns a lot at Dior and after meeting a renowned chemist with a ‘nose’ for perfume she and her new husband move to Brazil where she embarks on her own path to success as a noted fashion designer in her own right.

There’s a sadness that follows her though and as her success grows, so her heart misses what she has left behind.   

As we follows Rosa’s career and she takes a journey that crosses continents, spans decades and covers a number of significant relationships you can’t help but be drawn to a woman who gives everything she has in pursuit of her dream and yet whose heart is constantly punctured by those who let her down.

Yet Rosa has learnt to be resilient and the matched she once made for love she now makes for business in an effort to ensure that those puncture wounds will no longer reach her heart. And yet, it is these very barriers she has put up that make her more vulnerable than ever and my own heart reached out to her as she finally finds what she has been looking for ever since she fled Italy.

Georgia Kaufmann’s book is entrancing. It draws you in and makes you care about Rosa. Her journey is a mixture of inspiration and dedication and you can’t help but admire what she has achieved even as you wish more for her. I used to love the dynastic northern sagas of Barbara Taylor Bradford. The Dressmaker of Paris has that same feel about it.

Verdict: I let myself get swallowed up and carried away by The Dressmaker of Paris and I’m not a bit sorry. Lush, sweeping, deliriously good, it enchants and delights. Perfect lose yourself, #lockdown reading. I loved it.

Bookshop.org                           Waterstones                    Foyles

Georgia Kaufmann studied Social Anthropology and Demography at Cambridge, LSE and Oxford. She currently lives within cycling distance of central London with her husband, two daughters and a cat. The Dressmaker of Paris is her debut novel

The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor @cjtudor @MichaelJBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 21 January 2021 from Michael Joseph
PP: 400
ISBN-13: 978-0241371305

My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review.

500 years ago: eight martyrs were burnt to death
30 years ago: two teenagers vanished without trace
Two months ago: the vicar committed suicide

Welcome to Chapel Croft. For Rev Jack Brooks and teenage daughter Flo it’s supposed to be a fresh start. New job, new home. But, as Jack knows, the past isn’t easily forgotten. And in a cose-knit community where the residents seem as proud as they are haunted by Chapel Croft’s history, Jack must tread carefully. Ancient superstitions as well as a mistrust of outsiders will be hard to overcome. Yet right away Jack has more frightening concerns. Why is Flo plagued by visions of burning girls? Who’s sending them sinister, threatening messages? And why did no one mention that the last vicar killed himself? Chapel Croft’s secrets lie deep and dark as the tomb. Jack wouldn’t touch them if not for Flo – anything to protect Flo.

But the past is catching up with Chapel Croft – and with Jack. For old ghosts with scores to settle will never rest . . .

C. J. Tudor knows how to tell a creepy story that is going to make the hairs on your neck bristle and send shivers down your spine. Dark, spine-tingling and absolutely mesmeric, this is a 21st Century ghost cum horror story that absolutely works today.

It is deliciously dark and thrilling and kept me riveted for hours at a time. Jack and her teenage daughter Flo have come to the ancient Sussex village of Chapel Cross where Jack is to be the temporary vicar. Nether really wanted to come here from the bustling Nottingham city where Jack had previously worked, but Jack is out of options and this is where she has been sent. A fresh start is always good, right?

Chapel Croft has quite a history. In the 16th Century Protestants Martyrs were burned to death in the churchyard and local folklore has it that two of them, young girls named Abigail and Maggie now haunt the churchyard, warning of impending doom.

More recently the village has been preoccupied with the disappearance of another two young women. In 1990, two teenagers Merry and Joy, disappeared and never been found. Disconcerting enough, but when Jack learns that her predecessor did not die a natural death and then is given the creepiest of gifts, you know she is in for a bumpy ride.

Central to the success of this book is the relationship between mother and daughter. Flo is fed up and a bit rebellious but she and Jack understand each other well and their relationship is strong and though at times it can be combative, it is a loving one.

As they try to settle in to their new home Flo finds that not everyone is welcoming and she is the target of a couple of unpleasant teenage bullies. Fortunately though she has a friend in Wiggly, a young man she met while taking photographs in the churchyard. Wiggly has  a disability but he is kind and Flo is drawn to him.

This being C. J. Tudor, it is not long before creepy things start to happen and once they do the action is unrelenting and furious. Tudor weaves an intricate plot where the threads intersect and as she pulls tightly on the ends, the whole thing comes together to form a tapestry that really holds the interest as you watch the picture unfold, open-mouthed.

A recurring motif in the book is the image of stick figures left menacingly on Jack’s doorstep and in other places where they are guaranteed to sopok people. These are reminiscent of Twanas, which readers may recall are are a recurring nightmarish theme in the Blair Witch Project. They are mysterious, humanoid stick figures that is the signature symbol of the Blair Witch and they were used in her unholy black magic rituals. All of which just adds creepiness to this already ultra creepy story.

Told mainly from Jack’s first person perspective, there is also a third person narrative for Flo and an outsider who creeps around the fringes of this book intent on finding Jack for reasons of his own, until it is time for him to take centre stage. The pacing is strong and quickens every time danger approaches (which it does – a lot!).

Verdict: Excellent characters, hugely atmospheric settings, sinister goings on and murderous intent all combine to create a tense and chilling ghostly atmosphere where you fear for the lives of characters you have come to both like and respect. A fabulous blend of crime, horror and psychological thriller which will have you cowering under the duvet and not just because it is winter! Highly recommended.

Bookshop.org                                Waterstones                    Goldsboro Books

C. J. Tudor was born in Salisbury and grew up in Nottingham, and has recently moved to Kent with her partner and young daughter.Her love of writing, especially the dark and macabre, started young. When her peers were reading Judy Blume, she was devouring Stephen King and James Herbert.Over the years she has had a variety of jobs, including trainee reporter, radio scriptwriter, dog walker, voiceover artist, television presenter , copywriter and now, author.

The Survivors by Jane Harper @janeharperautho @GraceEVincent @LittleBrownUK

Source: Review copy
Publication: 21 January 2021 from Little Brown
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-1408711989

My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review

Kieran Elliott’s life changed forever on a single day when a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences. The guilt that haunts him still resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal town he once called home.

Kieran’s parents are struggling in a community which is bound, for better or worse, to the sea that is both a lifeline and a threat. Between them all is his absent brother Finn.

When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge in the murder investigation that follows. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away…

It is the fantastic writing that draws me to Jane Harper’s books and in this one the writing is exceptional. The Survivors is all about the characters; the lives they have led, the secrets they share, the guilt they feel and the need to bring old wounds to the surface to be healed.

The Survivors is a beautifully drawn, detailed study of four friends, Kieran, Olivia, Ash and Sean who once played and swam together until tragedy struck and Kieran lost his brother. Mia’s best friend Gabby disappeared that day and Sean’s brother, Toby also died. Time moved on and Kieran moved away. Now he his partner Mia and their baby daughter have come back to Evelyn Bay on the rugged Tasmanian Coast. Kieran’s father Brian has dementia and he has come home to help Verity, his mother, pack up the house and move him into a care home.

Coming home brings a welter of emotions for Kieran. Returning to Evelyn Bay brings back so many memories, not the least being the night his brother died – a night he has always blamed himself for. For Kieran had gone out 12 years ago to a cave he knew he should not be in and when the storm blew up two men, one of them Kieran’s brother, took the boat out and went looking for Kieran and perished in the sea while Kieran survived. Kieran knows that people still blame him for the lives lost that night.

Heading into the bar that has stood in Evelyn Bay since their youth, Kieran and Mia meet Olivia and find that she and Ash are now together. Sean’s nephew Liam is working there, along with Bronte Laidler, an art student who has taken temporary work to bring her close to the sea which is the focus of her artistic endeavours.

Liam especially bears a grudge against Kieran. He blames him for the loss of his father that night and his anger has been smouldering just under the surface every day of the last 12 years.

When the young waitress Bronte is found murdered on the beach, the memories of that unforgettable day resurface and all the emotions, too.

Harper does not so much write as paint her characters. The chiaroscuro gives a vivid impression of these characters, adding to the drama and imbuing them with strong emotional overtones. The suspicion hangs heavy in the air, the sly suggestions swirl around as Sean struggles to assert himself as an adult male and Kieran wrestles with his guilt so palpably.

Central to the success of this book is the seascape dominated by the tide, by rough waves and storms. Here the cruel sea reigns and the birds seemingly harbingers of doom as the cold deadly water lashes against the rocks and the caves gape their dark open mouths wide the better to swallow up travellers. No-one does atmosphere like Jane Harper.

Chilling then, in more ways than one, The Survivors is a brilliantly told story of complex characters struggling with truth, lies and guilt. Told mainly in Kieran’s voice, The Survivors starts slowly and draws you in, alternating present day with some flashbacks to give you a hint of what happened from Kieran’s perspective until he reveals everything from his memory.  Tension suffuses this novel and as it builds to a crescendo, you wonder whether the waves will dash everything to dust or whether there will be survivors once again.

Verdict: Jane Harper’s best book yet. Atmospheric, intense, chilling and so beautifully and powerfully descriptive it’s like clinging adrift in a tiny boat as the seas buffet you around. So good.

Bookshop.org                  Waterstones                    Hive.co.uk

Jane Harper is the author of international bestsellers The Dry, Force of Nature and The Lost Man. Her books are published in more than 35 territories worldwide.
Jane has won numerous top awards including the CWA Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel, the British Book Awards Crime and Thriller Book of the Year, the Australian Book Industry Awards Book of the Year and the Australian Indie Awards Book of the Yea

Exit by Belinda Bauer @BelindaBauer @PenguinAudio @PenguinUKBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 21 January 2021 from Penguin Audio
Narrator: Tim McInnerny
Length: 9 hrs 42 minutes
ASIN : B083P71FXG

IT WAS NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE MURDER . . .

Pensioner Felix Pink is about to find out that it’s never too late . . . for life to go horribly wrong.

When Felix lets himself in to Number 3 Black Lane, he’s there to perform an act of charity: to keep a dying man company as he takes his final breath . . .

But just fifteen minutes later Felix is on the run from the police – after making the biggest mistake of his life.

Now his world is turned upside down as he must find out if he’s really to blame, or if something much more sinister is at play. All while staying one shaky step ahead of the law

Belinda Bauer’s Exit is a delightful listen. It is darkly comic, full of wonderful characters and the plotting is exquisite – every time you think you understand what is going on, Bauer wrong foots the reader and things turn out to be not at all what they seem.

The crux of the story centres on Felix Pink a 75 year old widower from Devon and member of a group who call themselves ‘the Exiteers’, a bunch of (largely) elderly people who, without actually breaking the law, act in support of those who are terminally ill and wish to end their own suffering.

We meet Felix as he is preparing to embark on an outing with a new recruit, Amanda, younger than most members, but whose own experience of a suffering relative has, she tells Felix, made her understand the importance of the Exiteers cause.

Together they arrive at No 3, Black Lane, the house of Charles Cann, an elderly man whose cancer has taken hold and who has contacted the Exiteers for their help in ensuring an orderly end to his suffering. They key is where it should be and they let themselves in. Felix knows this could be tough for Amanda so he is prepared for her to be upset. But when she breaks the cardinal rule to not actually help a patient Felix is determined that she should not be blamed. She will need to learn, but now is not the time. However, when it transpires that the wrong man has died, things are very much murkier indeed!

Felix is determined to shoulder the blame for what has happened and determines to hand himself over to the police. But wait! First he to make sure Mabel his dog is taken care of. So he hot foots it over the back fence and heads for home just as young pc Calvin Bridge arrives with his partner to investigate after an anonymous tip off.

Calvin is a lovely lad. He’s just finished a spell in plain clothes where his boss, DCI Kirsty King, thought he displayed talent and initiative. But Calvin harbours a terrible secret. He comes from a family whose criminal activities are well known in this neighbourhood and despite changing his name, Calvin knows that his connection to them could end his police career were it to become known. So he sits on his ambition and goes back to on the beat work without a murmur.

Belinda Bauer’s book has a light and quirky touch that belies its body count and controversial subject matter.  It is a beautifully plotted and elegantly constructed novel that offers us two charming if slightly sad protagonists in Felix and Calvin both of whom are in search of the real answers as to what exactly is going on. Our joy as readers in following their paths as they converge and diverge again is in seeing how both find a renewed sense of self and a refreshing interest in the people around them.

Bauer’s book is full of wonderful characters and in this audiobook, beautifully narrated by Tim McInnerny.  The dialogue is sharp and witty, the characters endearing and the hilarious sets of misunderstandings and fantastic plot points lead to a brilliantly funny murder mystery I think everyone will enjoy.  Tim McInnerny cleverly reigns in the irony to give free range to a wonderfully oddball set of characters and his pitch perfect dialogue is a joy to listen to.

Verdict: A fantastic listen. This is a moving and often poignant novel that has real heart, a spritely humour and lots of really clever twists. It celebrates its characters in a way that makes you feel as if you know them. By the time you finish listening, you will both know and love them and that makes this a real wonder of a book and a great listen.

Audible               Waterstones                    Bookshop.org

Belinda Bauer grew up in England and South Africa and now lives in Wales. She worked as a journalist and a screenwriter before finally writing a book to appease her nagging mother. With her debut, Blacklands, Belinda was awarded the CWA Gold Dagger for Crime Novel of the Year. She went on to win the CWA Dagger in the Library for her body of work in 2013. Her fourth novel Rubbernecker was voted 2014 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. Her books have been translated into 21 languages.

Smoke Screen by Jorn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger (Blix &Ramm #2) @LierHorst @EngerThomas @meganeturney @OrendaBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: Out now in e-book and in paperback on 18th February 2021 from Orenda Books
PP: 276
ISBN-13: 978-1913193560

When the mother of a missing two-year-old girl is seriously injured in a suspected terrorist attack in Oslo, crime-fighting duo Blix and Ramm join forces to investigate the case, and things aren’t adding up The second instalment in the addictive, atmospheric, award-winning Blix & Ramm series

I love this series with a passion! It has fantastic plotting, excellent police detecting work, great characters and storylines that are as engaging as they are puzzling. Coupled with dramatic scenarios and a breath-taking, atmospheric backdrop, there really is nothing to lose by going in.

From the outset the tension is high. It is New Year’s Eve in Oslo and a party atmosphere prevails. Emma Ramm the online news journalist decides that the start of a New Year is the time to face up to her fears which have been really worrying at her following the events of the last book, Death Deserved.

 So she goes to the fireworks display in the city centre in time for the midnight celebrations. But that decision is a costly one because her worst fears, rather than being quelled are fuelled when a bomb goes off and many die or are injured.

Alexander Blix is on duty that night and nearby when the bomb explodes. He attends to the injured and discovers that one of those who has died has been identified as Ruth-Kristine Semplass, the mother of Patricia Semplass a young girl reported missing a decade ago and never found. It’s a case that has haunted him ever since.

But there are things about this event that worry Blix over and above the deaths and injuries and examination of the CCTV only deepens those concerns. And for Emma, who now feels terrible guilt on top of the fears she was already carrying, there can only be one answer and that is to try and find out who caused this devastating tragedy and why.

So in this case, Ramm and Blix are on parallel paths. Not working together, but finding their own leads and with Emma using anything she can to find out information from Blix, often in an unorthodox fashion.

I love that about Emma Ramm. Once she has decided to follow a story nothing stops her and she will use every technique at her disposal to find a lead. Blix, on the other hand, while he has a soft spot for Emma and knows they will always have a connection because of how they met, is not inclined to help Emma by putting her in harm’s way and so he is not encouraging her to pursue this one.

We see them working alone but their investigations cross each other all the time. This case has tension and drama but it is hard to predict just how it will be resolved and that makes it utterly fascinating. Each of the players in this drama has been impacted by tragedy and the impact of that tragedy on them has determined what happened next.

For Emma, this case is so personal. For Blix, it is an opportunity to finally resolve a case that has always concerned him. Both of them are so wrapped up in this tragedy that their sadness is palpable and I feared for the impact that it will have on Emma Ramm.

Meanwhile Blix’s partner, Kovic has the opportunity to take the lead on a case of her own and it is good to see her gaining more confidence as she takes a leading role in a murder case. Kovic is calm and level headed and Blix has real confidence in her, she just needs to believe in herself a little more.

Written in short, snappy chapters, Smoke Screen is a crime thriller that captures the attention and holds it well. The sense of place is vivid and compelling and the characters grow on the reader as the novel progresses. I wanted to hug Emma close; she’s been through so much for such a young woman yet she is strong and determined and ready to face down her fears, whatever the cost.

The plot is taut and beautifully woven with every piece slotting perfectly into place as this thrilling jigsaw comes together. Tracking Emma, then Blix just adds to the tension as each has their own pieces of the complex puzzle to add to the whole picture.

The translation by Megan Turney allows for a seamless read that perfectly captures the chilling atmosphere and lets the depth of characterisation shine through. The more we learn about these characters, the more drawn to them we become. This is a rapidly addictive series.

Verdict: Smoke Screen is an addictive and thrilling read that keeps the reader guessing while enjoying an intricate puzzle that requires excellent police procedural work to unravel it. Highly recommended

Bookshop.org                                Waterstones                    Dulwich Books

Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger are the internationally bestselling Norwegian authors of the William Wisting and Henning Juul series respectively. Jørn Lier Horst first rose to literary fame with his No. 1 internationally bestselling William Wisting series. A former investigator in the Norwegian police, Horst imbues all his works with an unparalleled realism and suspense. Thomas Enger is the journalist-turned-author behind the internationally acclaimed and bestselling Henning Juul series. Enger’s trademark has become a darkly gritty voice paired with key social messages and tight plotting. Besides writing fiction for both adults and young adults, Enger also works as a music composer.

The Coffin Maker’s Garden by Stuart MacBride (Ash Henderson #3) @StuartMacBride @HarperCollinsUK @fictionpubteam

Source: Review copy
Publication: 7th January 2021 from Harper Collins
PP: 496
ISBN-13: 978-0008208318

A village on the edge…

As a massive storm batters the Scottish coast, Gordon Smith’s home is falling into the North Sea. But the crumbling headland has revealed what he’s got buried in his garden: human remains.

A house full of secrets…

With the storm still raging, it’s too dangerous to retrieve the bodies and waves are devouring the evidence. Which means no one knows how many people Smith’s already killed and how many more he’ll kill if he can’t be found and stopped.

An investigator with nothing to lose…

The media are baying for blood, the top brass are after a scapegoat, and ex-Detective Inspector Ash Henderson is done playing nice. He’s got a killer to catch, and God help anyone who gets in his way.

The Ash Henderson series is not for the faint hearted. Our protagonists carry battle scars, not all of them visible, though many are. But years of dealing with the scum of society has taken its toll. Loved ones have been lost; scars have covered over but left their mark on the brain as well as the body. Battle weary cops subjected to brutality over and over have found their own ways of coping. The Oldcastle mob are a bunch of misfits – more akin to the Slough House rejects of Mick Herron’s books than the modern outfit that is Police Scotland.

Former DI Ash Henderson and his partner Dr Alice McDonald of the Lateral Investigative Review Unit find themselves in the midst of two distinct cases. Ash and Alice are working on the abduction and murder of a number of young boys from around the Oldcastle area, which is half way between Aberdeen and Dundee,  most recently in the quiet sea front village of Clachmara.

As a helicopter flies over the village seeking to rescue the crew of a fishing boat in difficulty, part of the headland gives way and the helicopter’s spotlight reveals a devastating sight as the coastal erosion which has exacerbated in recent years, claims another cliff top dwelling.

The sight was one of human bones, bones that clearly belonged to more than one person. It doesn’t take long before Ash and Alice are clear that this house, now cleaved in two, one half already in the sea, was the scene of several tortures and subsequent murders.

DI Malcolmson, ‘Mother’, and her team are investigating and as Ash and Alice discover a collection of ‘before and after’ Polaroids in the basement the rest crumbles into the sea. The only thing they have left to work with are the photographs of the victims.

Gordon Smith, owner of the house is nowhere to be seen and Leah, the daughter of Smith’s next door neighbour, Helen McNeill is also missing.

MacBride knows how to write a dark, gritty and disturbing book full of violence and dark intent. His characters jump out of the page and it is all too easy to feel their pain and anguish. MacBride brilliantly tempers this with acerbic dialogue that fizzes, biting wit and black, black humour that make the pages sing, even when they are dealing with the bleakest of subject matter.

Beautifully plotted and with spell-binding tension, MacBride never lets you forget for a second that murder is a dark and violent obsession that never ends well. Brilliantly paced with cracking wit and laugh out loud moments of genius, there are even little nuggets of gold left for the assiduous crime reader to spot, whether references to Bute Noir and a hilarious visit to the Crime Fiction Bookclub, or to a renowned former Scottish Professor of Anatomy and Forensic Anthropology.

But loss is always on the cards in these books and this time that danger is front and centre as Ash takes on his deadliest case yet. Even poor Henry is at risk!

Verdict: Intense, dramatic, thrilling and sparking with the kind of antagonistic, pugilistic characters and black humour that MacBride excels in. I loved it!

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Stuart MacBride is the No.1 Sunday Times bestselling author of the Logan McRae and Ash Henderson novels. He’s also published standalones, novellas and short stories as well as a children’s picture book. Stuart’s novels have won him the CWA Dagger in the Library, the Barry Award for Best Debut Novel, Best Breakthrough Author at the ITV3 crime thriller awards and a Dead Good Reader’s Award. He has been shortlisted for the Barry Award, and twice for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. Stuart lives in the northeast of Scotland with his wife Fiona, cats Grendel, Gherkin, Onion, and Beetroot, some hens, horses, and a vast collection of assorted weeds.

Without A Trace by Mari Hannah (DCI Kate Daniels #7) @mariwriter @orion_crime

Source: Review copy
Publication: 7th January 2021 from Orion (paperback)
PP: 400
ISBN-13 : 978-1409192374

A FATAL CRASH

A plane on route from London to New York City has disappeared out of the sky. This breaking news dominates every TV channel, every social media platform, and every waking hour of the Metropolitan Police and US Homeland Security.

A PRIVATE TRAGEDY

The love of DCI Kate Daniels’ life was on that aircraft, but she has no authority to investigate. This major disaster is outside of her jurisdiction and she’s ordered to walk away.

A SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH

But Kate can’t let it lie. She has to find out what happened to that plane – even if it means going off book. No one is safe.

And there are some very dangerous people watching her…

I adore Kate Daniels and in this book she is back with a bang, all guns blazing – and nothing and no-one is going to strand in the path of the whirlwind she creates as she refuses to give up looking for the woman she loves.

Without A Trace gives Hannah a huge canvas to play with as transatlantic flight 0113  goes down with a mix of US, British and international travellers and Homeland Security is involved alongside the Met. Kate is reeling from the news that Jo Soulsby was on that flight, but she won’t accept that until she has seen the concrete evidence for herself. First though, there’s the slight difficulty of inveigling herself onto the investigation.

Using sheer determination and taking her boss’s name in vain, she blags her way onto the investigation leaving DCS Philip Bright no option but to back her up. He’s furious with her and really furious that Hank her second in command has gone with her, but he knows that there’s no point in arguing; nothing but nothing is getting in Kate’s way on this one.

As Kate goes undercover with the blessing of Homeland Security, she realises that the lax security and petty thefts that permeate airport security have created the ideal conditions for terrorist activity to slip a bomb onto a plane.

Kate is a woman on a  mission though and she is prepared to do whatever she has to to find out exactly what happened to Jo – and that means she’s taking risks and breaking rules left, right and centre. She’s on dodgy ground with every move she makes but this time she doesn’t give a monkey’s.

Mari Hannah’s plot is fast paced and thrilling. The action never lets up and you can feel the shock, guilt and determination roll off Kate Daniel in waves as she puts herself at serious risk in pursuit of the truth. Fortunately she has Hank, steadfast and loyal to a fault at her side.

Full of shocks and explosive moments, Kate is at the heart of an international investigation but events take a different turn when an old ‘friend’ appears to point her in a different direction. There are shocks, twists and heart-stopping moments in this book which will change the Northumbrian team forever in a roller coaster of a thrilling police procedural where all the rules are broken and many tears will be shed before the terrible truth is revealed.

Verdict: If you’re looking for a fast-paced emotionally engaging thriller with real heart then you’re in for a huge treat. Without a Trace is chilling and powerful, emotional and heart-stopping. What a wild ride!

Forum Books
Bookshop.org
Waterstones

Mari Hannah is the author of the Stone & Oliver crime series, the Ryan & O’Neil series and the DCI Kate Daniels series.In July 2010, she won a Northern Writers’ Award for Settled Blood. In 2013, she won the Polari First Book Prize for her debut, The Murder Wall. She was awarded the CWA Dagger in the Library 2017 as the author of the most enjoyed collection of work in libraries. In 2019, she was awarded DIVA Wordsmith of the Year. In that same year, Mari was Programming Chair of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Festival. In 2020 Without A Trace was awarded Capital Crime’s Crime Book of the Year. Her Kate Daniels series is in development for TV with Sprout Pictures, a production company owned by Gina Carter and Stephen Fry.  She lives in Northumberland with her partner, a former murder detective.

There’s Only One Danny Garvey by David F. Ross @dfr10 @OrendaBooks @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 21st January 2021 from Orenda Books
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-1913193508

Danny Garvey was a sixteen-year old footballing prodigy. Professional clubs clamoured to sign him, and a glittering future beckoned.

And yet, his early promise remained unfulfilled, and Danny is back home in the tiny village of Barshaw to manage the struggling junior team he once played for. What’s more, he’s hiding a secret about a tragic night, thirteen years earlier that changed the course of several lives. There’s only one Danny Garvey, they once chanted … and that’s the problem.

A story of irrational hopes and fevered dreams – of unstoppable passion and unflinching commitment in the face of defeat – There’s Only One Danny Garvey is, above all, an unforgettable tale about finding hope and redemption in the most unexpected of places.

It’s hard to know where to begin with #OneDannyGarvey. There are many levels to this book; and it offers a great deal to those who venture beyond its grass roots football theme. I’m not a football fan, but the love for the game in its purest form shines through this book. Interlaced throughout this story is the shared joy that the poorest of communities can show when they come together through their love of ‘the beautiful game.’

And Barshaw is a poor community. It’s the end of the Thatcher era and unemployment is high. Traditional industries are dying and the service sector economy hasn’t yet reached Barshaw. The village is buzzing because Danny Garvey has come home and it looks like he’s going to take on the junior team that he once was the star of – leaving to join professional football – and though as a result of injury, he didn’t make the heady heights, he’s still a famous son of the village and they are looking to Danny to show them that the team can be great again. They have forgiven him for walking away on the eve of their cup final chances and now they need him to lift the chances of Barshaw Bridge once again.

Danny’s fortunes have been falling significantly of late and that’s why he is back at Barshaw Bridge; but he is ready to put everything he has into his old club. Coming back to Barshaw though, is more than just confronting his old football hopes and dreams. His brother Raymond is in prison; his mother is dying and his ‘uncle’ Higgy has convinced him to come home and rescue the team while making his peace with his mother.

Barshaw Juniors are at the bottom of their league – so much so that they’re lucky to be playing. And when Danny meets the players it is clear that they don’t really have any further to fall. So he sets about introducing a training schedule and trying to instil some discipline into the players; getting them to work as a team.

As he does so he settles into Higgy’s flat and slowly begins to make contact again with those he knew in Barshaw including Raymond’s wife Nancy and her son, his nephew, Damo. Damo takes to his uncle Danny and it’s clear that he loves the game of football and is something of a statistical whiz when it comes to the game. The team are impressed and Damo becomes a lucky touchstone; the team’s belief in his luck-inspiring presence is important to them all.

But even as Danny tries to settle back into Barshaw, there’s a cloud that hangs over his head every day. We know that something happened to Danny thirteen years ago and that something has caused him pain and regret ever since. Is that the cause of the black dog that hangs over him? Being back in Barshaw is causing Danny to revisit old memories.

David Ross draws a superb portrait of Barshaw and the characters that populate the village. He does so with warmth, vitality and humour and perhaps because of that we realise that Danny is the outsider; still not fitting in, not quite one of them. As David Ross uses music to introduce us to the soundtrack of these different lives, it is harder to work out quite where Danny is coming from.

This is a community that knows and looks after its own; a village where the success of the local football team is life and death and something tangible to hope for amidst a welter of broken promises and impossible dreams. This team gives the village hope and heart and something to be proud of. As Danny builds up the team and has some small successes, so we can see the pride and the hope return, reflecting the political change that is in the air; reflecting the intangible belief that ‘things can only get better’.

There’s love and laughter in this village alongside rivalry and passion and pride and in the middle of it all is a slightly off-centre Danny Garvey. David Ross writes beautifully and with real heart. His passion for this village and its people is writ large and his cast of beautifully observed characters carry their humour and their scathing wit with them to great effect.

As the team grows in confidence and makes its way up the league towards the final, we realise that Danny Garvey may not be the most reliable narrator of his own life. As the village comes together to cheer on the team, so we become more concerned for Danny and his understanding of what has gone before.

Verdict: I don’t really want to say much more but urge you to read this book for yourselves. It is raw and emotional; it packs a huge punch and it is authentic, poignant and devastating. It is as if everything David Ross has written before was leading up to this book, such is its power, strength and characterisation. There’s Only One Danny Garvey is fantastic.

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David F. Ross was born in Glasgow in 1964 and has lived in Kilmarnock for over 30 years. He is a graduate of the Mackintosh School of Architecture at Glasgow School of Art, an architect by day, and a hilarious social media commentator, author and enabler by night. His debut novelThe Last Days of Discowas shortlisted for the Authors Club Best First Novel Award, and received exceptional critical acclaim, as did the other two books in the Disco Days Trilogy:The Rise & Fall of the Miraculous VespasandThe Man Who Loved Islands. David lives in Ayrshire.

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Rosie Amber

Book Reviewer, Avid Reader and Bookworm. Campaigning to link more readers to writers. People do not forget books that touch them or excite them—they recommend them.

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