The People Watcher by Sam Lloyd @samlloydwrites @ThomasssHill @TransworldBooks

Source: Review Copy
Publication: 8 June 2023 from Bantam Press
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-1787636224

My thanks to Thomas Hill and Transworld Books for an advance copy for review

Meet Mercy Lake. She likes to fix things: broken toys, old appliances. People.

She watches them in the dead of night, identifies what their lives are lacking and gives it to them . . . quietly. So quietly, they don’t even know she exists.

Then Mercy meets Louis. He believes some of these people deserve punishment, not help. Joining up with him to dispense a little harmless justice feels good – at first. But when people start getting hurt, Mercy must decide if the ends can ever justify their increasingly violent means.

And soon, their interventions draw the attention of the very person Mercy embraced her nocturnal existence to evade. Someone who will go to extreme lengths to make her pay for knowing their secret . . .

For quite a bit of The People Watcher I was getting some pretty chilling vibes as if I were reading Dean Koontz or Stephen King. The People Watcher is, ultimately, a crime novel, but it carries with it antecedents of horror tinged with a suggestion of something other worldly.

It starts with a series of good deeds. Mercy Lake, a physically damaged soul, only comes out at night. A while ago Mercy suffered a traumatic brain injury which has left her with a damaged skull, poor balance and occasional black outs.

Travelling through her neighbourhood on an electric trike, with her trusty binoculars, she waits and watches and sees so much of the pain that other people go through. Then, with stealth, she sets out to give them small, anonymous, random acts of kindness. It helps her to feel that she’s doing something good to redress the cruelty in the world.

But there’s one family she watches daily and with whom she has to take special care. Ollie is just a child but he loves his visits from the woman who comes to him dressed as a fairy and who leaves him presents with the admonition that these visits are to stay a secret between them.

We learn that Mercy has previously been charged with kidnapping this child and has only recently completed a two year probationary period. She is of course, forbidden from going anywhere near Ollie and his family.

Mercy’s life isn’t full, but as long as she can see Ollie and carry out her small kindnesses, she feels she’s doing something positive in the world. Then Louis comes into her life and suddenly everything is ratcheted up a gear.

Louis rescues Mercy for the unwanted attention of some local boys and in the process he gets to know Mercy and helps and encourages her in her endeavours. But Louis is embracing Mercy’s mission perhaps a little too wholeheartedly and as she falls under his spell, she fails to ask herself who Louis is and what he wants with a damaged young woman like her.

Sam Lloyd’s writing effortlessly draws you into Mercy’s life, enjoying her night time adventures, and making you wonder about her past. The night time comes alive as we follow Mercy in her missions. This is a book that creeps up on you and takes you completely by surprise – in the best of ways.

Mercy is such a distinctive character and Louis, who travels in his classic, handsomely furnished campervan, seems made for Mercy – until he clearly isn’t. Sam Lloyd creates a breath-taking tension that makes us hold our breath as we watch Mercy and Louis’s actions change in temperature. The gradual reveal of what happened to Mercy answers some, but not all our questions and it is not until the final, shocking denouement that we understand fully what has gone before.

Verdict: This is a really propulsive, compelling read. Mercy is a great character and Sam Lloyd’s plotting is beautifully twisty, sinister and ultimately surprising. I really enjoyed this superb storytelling and beautifully put together plot.                                  Waterstones                                     Hive Store

Sam Lloyd grew up in Hampshire, where he learned his love of storytelling. These days he lives in Surrey with his wife, three young sons and a dog that likes to howl. His first thrillers, The Memory Wood and The Rising Tide, were published to huge critical acclaim in 2020 and 2021.

All The Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby @blacklionking73 @headlinepg @lararosetamara

Source: Review copy
Publication: 6 June 2023 from Headline
PP: 352
ISBN-13: 978-1472299130

My thanks to Alara Delfosse and Headline for an advance copy for review



Titus Crown is the first Black sheriff in the history of Charon County, Virginia. In recent decades, Charon has had only two murders. After years of working as an FBI agent, no one knows better than Titus that while his hometown might seem like a land of moonshine, cornbread, and honeysuckle, secrets always fester under the surface.

But a year to the day after Titus’s election, a school teacher is killed by a former student. The student is then fatally shot by Titus’s deputies.

As Titus investigates the shootings, he unearths terrible crimes, and a serial killer who has been hiding in plain sight, haunting the dirt lanes and woodland clearings of Charon. With the killer’s possible connections to a local church and the town’s harrowing history weighing on him, Titus tries to project confidence about closing the case while concealing a painful secret from his own past. At the same time, he also has to contend with a far-right group that wants to hold a parade in celebration of the town’s Confederate history.

Charon is Titus’s home and his heart. But where faith and violence meet, there will be a reckoning.

It’s publication day for S. A. Cosby’s All The Sinners Bleed and I’m here to recommend this blisteringly good book to everyone.

All the Sinners Bleed is the fourth of Shawn Cosby’s books that I have read and absolutely unequivocally loved. The power and poetry in his writing is undeniable and it has a solid core of truth and a depth of knowledge about growing up dirt poor, discriminated against and written off in Southern rural America.

Titus Crown used to be an FBI agent and now he has come home to Virginia where he has been elected as the first Black Sherriff in Charon County. There are those who wish he had never been elected but by and large the town subsists without too much serious crime to worry about, though simmering tensions bubble up under the surface.

Titus knows he straddles a fine line in his divided home town. He’s taken this role because he believes in justice and fairness for all and he wants to set the tone for the future. But in this role he is looked upon with suspicion by many in his own community as well as those who still wish the Confederacy had prevailed and still, not so secretly, hope that one day it might.

Until the day that there’s a school shooting and a popular white history teacher named Spearman is killed while the gunman, Latrell Macdonald, a troubled black teenager, is shot dead by Titus’ deputies. It’s a scenario that must strike fear into the heart of every American parent and while Titus worries about the haste in gunning down this boy, he knows it will be recorded as a good shooting.

Then Titus uncovers information about Spearman that leads him to the realisation that there has been a series of horrific crimes taking place in Charon involving young black children. Latrell seems implicated, as is Spearman but there is a third perpetrator and it is this person, a serial killer, whom Titus must identify and deal with.

All around him are the badges that symbolise rural Virginia. The killer is leaving religious messages and there are six churches in Charon, Black and White, including one bible thumping congregation that has the whole snake wrangling paraphernalia. His own deputies are a mixed bunch and he doesn’t entirely trust them all.

There’s so much in this densely packed novel to think about. A divided community; the question of why there was no outcry about so many missing black children – but then we all know by now the answer to that one, it’s just that we don’t actually do anything about it.

And why do we still allow racist (and for that matter sectarian) marches in our towns? There’s free speech and there’s stirring up hatred. Why is so much violence carried out in the name of religion? It’s all a matter of perspective – or is it?

Cosby gives us all this to think about as part of his serial killer police procedural. I loved the character of Titus Crown. He has his own love interests, including an ex with a true crime podcast to deal with and his relationship with his Pentecostal Baptist father is a joy to listen in on.

But it is the steeped, knowing, descriptive atmosphere of Charon that grips and makes you feel you know this part of rural Virginia. He paints a picture so profound that you can hear the possum shuffling across the road and the tensions simmering around the Confederate statue in the town square.

All the Sinners Bleed is a powerful and thought provoking police procedural with a fantastic character in Titus. It asks some profound questions and shows up some difficult truths, but it’s also a beautifully written sometimes heart-breaking story that has both power and humanity.                                  Waterstones                                     Hive Stores

S. A. Cosby is an Anthony Award-winning writer from Southeastern Virginia. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Razorblade Tears and Blacktop Wasteland, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, was a New York Times Notable Book, and was named a best book of the year by NPR, The Guardian, and Library Journal, among others. When not writing, he is an avid hiker and chess player.

Flesh and Blood (DS Aector McAvoy #11) by David Mark @davidmarkwriter @severnhouse

Source: Review copy
Publication: 6 June 2023 from Severnhouse
PP: 256
ISBN-13: 978-1448309375

My thanks to Severn House for an early copy for review

DS Aector McAvoy is on a well-deserved family holiday when the news reaches him that he’s been attacked and left for dead on one of Hull’s most well-to-do streets.

It comes as something of a shock. But not as much as the discovery of who’s really been attacked – and his growing realization it’s no coincidence he’s far from home, in an isolated, rural campsite, on today of all days.

McAvoy’s superior officer – and best friend – DS Trish Pharaoh has been keeping secrets. Secrets that are catching up with her.

Secrets that could kill them all . . .

Regular readers will know that I am a fan of David Mark’s writing and though I was late to his police procedural series with Aector McAvoy and Trish Pharaoh as the crime fighting duo, I honestly think it is one of my favourites.  

Flesh and Blood is less of a police procedural and more of a serial killer on a revenge trail. I recently read Lars Kepler’s The Spider and this has the same vibe, but I enjoyed this more. In part that’s the allegiance to these characters and in part due to the wonderful quality of the writing which veers from dark and intense to blissfully poetic with flashes of terrific humour running through the narrative.

Aector is a big, red headed bear of a man (albeit going a little grey now). He adores his wife Roisin and their two kids and he pretty much idolises his boss, Trish Pharaoh.  He has the soul of a poet, while Trish is a busty 5’0 and smart as a whip. She’s turned down the top job, preferring to say in charge of her unit. But in doing so, she has left a path free for the corporate mannequin, Detective Chief Superintendent George Earl. He’s the kind of policeman who always looks perfectly groomed and is constantly concerned with managing upwards. Jargon flows from him like a waterfall into a pool and he is a misogynist with a penchant for coercive control. Trish is a thorn on his flesh because he was second choice to a woman and her very presence rubs that in his face every day.

In Flesh and Blood Trish is in bed with her Icelandic policeman lover, Thor – a man who bears rather an uncanny physical appearance to Aector – when her car alarm goes off. Thor gallantly goes to investigate only to be struck down viciously in the street.

Aector is on leave, staying off grid in a Romany Vardo with Roisin and his kids when he’s called to hear about his own death.  Thor was at first mistaken for Aector and not only that, but Trish has fled the scene.

Flesh and Blood is a fast paced read that is genuinely edge of the seat. I loved the return of serial killer Reuben Hollow whom we first met in Dead Pretty (#5). He is a clever, deeply charismatic man whom Aector caught. A true crime podcast is currently looking at the life and convictions of Reuben Hollow who still has many women writing to him.  

As Trish’s former mentor is also brutally murdered, she is frantically trying to piece together the clues from what she knows – but one thing is clear – her secrets are coming back to haunt her.

With both Trish and inevitably Aector in very real danger, David Mark cleverly brings together the threads of this gruesome spider’s web and in the process some very bad people will be unmasked.

It’s beautifully done and I really enjoyed it. Great characters, fantastic writing and a plot that held me gripped for hours. A five star read for me.

Waterstones                                     Hive Stores                                        Amazon

David Mark spent seven years as crime reporter for the Yorkshire Post and now writes full-time. The first novel in his DS McAvoy series, Dark Winter, was selected for the Harrogate New Blood panel (where he was Reader in Residence) and was a Richard & Judy pick and a Sunday Timesbestseller. Dead Pretty was longlisted for the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger in 2016. He lives in Northumberland with his family.

Ritual of Fire (Cesare Aldo #3) by D.V. Bishop @davidbishop @panmacmillan

Source: Review copy
Publication: 1st June 2023 from MacMillan
PP: 416
ISBN-13: 978-1529096484

My thanks to Pan Macmillan for an advance copy for review

Florence. Summer, 1538.

A night patrol finds a wealthy merchant hanged and set ablaze in the city’s main square. More than mere murder, this killing is intended to put the fear of God into Florence. Forty years earlier, puritanical monk Girolamo Savonarola was executed the same way. Does this new killing mean his fanatical disciples are reviving the monk’s regime of holy terror?

Cesare Aldo is busy hunting thieves in the Tuscan countryside, leaving Constable Carlo Strocchi to investigate the killing. When another merchant is burned alive in public, the rich start fleeing to their country estates. But the Tuscan hills can also be dangerous.

Growing religious fervour and a scorching heatwave drives the city ever closer to madness. Meanwhile, someone is stalking those powerful men who forged lifelong bonds in the dark days of Savonarola.

Unless Aldo and Strocchi work together, all of Florence will be consumed by an inferno of death and destruction.

This fascinating historical crime series is fast becoming a favourite and I was eager to read the third book in the series which features Cesare Aldo, an officer of the Otto in Renaissance Florence.

D.V. Bishop takes us into the sweltering dry summer heat of Florence, where the citizens are toiling under the harsh glare of the sun and tempers are running short. At the end of the last book, Cesare Aldo had agreed with Carlo Strocchi that following Strocchi’s inability to forgive what he sees as Aldo’s transgressions, he would take himself out of the city, leaving Strocchi to work Florence on his own.

He has been as good as his word and he now lives and works in the Tuscan countryside where rich citizens have their summer mansions and the peasants toil on the land. Aldo has, however, caught a thief and he therefore makes the journey back to the city where justice will be served on the man.

Returning to Florence, and looking forward to calling in on his friend Saul,  he learns of the horrifying public immolation of a man in a way that conjures up memories of the Dominican friar and puritan fanatic Girolamo Savonarola who was hanged and then burned at the stake.

Carlo Strocchi meanwhile is struggling at home; he has a new baby and it is keeping him and his wife awake all night. The burning of this rich merchant, as the body turns out to be, has his superior, Bindi breathing down his neck to find the culprit. Bindi is an arch politician, determined to keep his place running the Otto the Otto di Guardia e Balia, the city’s most feared criminal court.

Florence is ruled by the young Duke Cosimo de Medici and Bindi is ever fearful that he will be replaced as the Duke’s adviser on matters of justice and criminality, so he is a hard taskmaster in a city where conspiracies are part of the life blood and Cosimo must be seen to be effective in the face of older and more experienced noblemen and rich merchants.

So when the first murder is quickly followed by a second and proclamations begin appearing suggesting that Savonarola has returned, there are those in Florence only too willing to give succour to such a suggestion.

Strocchi finds himself promoted, but expected to deliver results and deliver them quickly. There is, however, not a great deal to go on. While Aldo quickly realises that there is a link between the victims – who are known to him, Strocchi struggles to take his advice and Bindi, never Aldo’s greatest fan, takes the opportunity to humiliate him further.

But as another murder takes place, it becomes clear that the Aldo and Strocchi will have to work this case, albeit from different angles, as religious fervour sweeps the city and riots break out, seemingly spontaneously.

D.V. Bishop does an excellent job of steeping us in the politics and skulduggery of 16th Century Florence and his descriptions of the heat in the city and in the parched countryside leave us in no doubt of the size of the task that Cosimo has in ruling this part of Italy.  Bindi is his usual conniving self, looking after No.1, and Ruggerio, one of the rich merchants, is as narcissistic as they come.

All of this firmly roots us in a place of intrigue and turmoil and the reader can feel the heat blazing as the sweltering city refuses to give up its murderer. With pace and an excellent sense of both place and time, Bishop spins a fascinating tale that engrosses and creates a heady brew of mystery, murder and political conniving.

Verdict: A thoroughly enjoyable historical murder mystery that beautifully blends historical figures of the past with rich, descriptive detail and a scorchingly excellent plot. I’m really enjoying this series. I just hope Aldo finds a way back to Florence soon.

Waterstones                      Hive Stores

D. V. Bishop is the pseudonym of award-winning writer David Bishop. His love for the city of Florence and the Renaissance period meant there could be only one setting for his crime fiction. The first book in the Cesare Aldo series, City of Vengeance, won the Pitch Perfect competition at the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival and the NZ Booklovers Award for Best Adult Fiction Book. It was also shortlisted for the Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize. Bishop was awarded a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship while writing that novel. He teaches creative writing at Edinburgh Napier University.

Keep Her Secret by Mark Edwards @mredwards @AmazonPub @Katrina_Power @FMcMAssociates 4×4

Source: Review copy
Publication: 30th May 2023 from Thomas and Mercer
PP: 333
ISBN-13: 978-166250893

My thanks to FMCM Associates for an advance copy for review

I am delighted to be joined today by the 4 million copy bestselling author Mark Edwards whose addictive, suspenseful thriller was published yesterday. It’s bound to be a huge success and I’m beyond thrilled that Mark has agreed to join me today and take the 4×4 challenge.

First, a little about Mark’s book, Keep Her Secret :

After twenty years apart, Matthew and Helena have rekindled their college romance and are away in Iceland on their first holiday together. Swept up in the romance on a mountain hike, one moment they are taking the perfect photo, the next Helena is hanging from the cliff edge…

Terrified, Matthew almost misses Helena’s sudden and shocking confession―but what he hears chills him to the bone. And when Helena reveals the full truth Matthew is horrified, not only by what she’s done, but why she did it. Does he really know her at all?

His shock turns to horror when, back in England, they discover that someone not only overheard Helena’s confession but plans to blackmail her. Now Matthew must decide whether to go to the police or help Helena keep her secret―and as events spiral out of control, how far is Matthew willing to go to protect his ‘perfect’ girlfriend?

Doesn’t that sound perfectly chilling? And it starts in Iceland, home of one of the world’s best crime festivals, Iceland Noir. I’m so excited for this one and can’t wait to get stuck into the pages. Without more ado, let’s handover to Mark to learn more about his twisty, suspenseful thriller:

Please tell me about 4 key characters in Keep Her Secret and why they are important.

Keep Her Secret has a small cast of six or seven characters, but the four most important are:
Matthew. He’s our everyman narrator who gets sucked into a nightmare that he can’t get out of. He starts the book at a low ebb, lonely and going nowhere, then meets Helena, his girlfriend from university, at a reunion party. They get back together and Matthew can’t believe he ever let her go. And when she reveals her big secret on a trip to Iceland he discovers he’ll do anything to protect her.

Helena. She is the possessor of the titular secret. She’s been through a lot and is able to keep a cooler head than Matthew – most of the time. It’s been really interesting to see early readers grapple with the question of whether they can trust Helena. I’m not saying anything…

Devon. A young woman who Matthew and Helena meet on their trip to Iceland, and who plays an important role in the story. Devon also has secrets of her own. I think Devon is this book’s ‘love to hate’ character.

Lee. A truly nasty piece of work, Lee, Helena’s former husband, is just the ‘hate’ character, who appears through flashbacks from Helena’s point of view. Matthew remembers him from university and is shocked to learn Helena married him. But he’s even more shocked when he finds out what happened to him.
Can you please choose 4 pieces of music that suit the mood of this book?

Human Behaviour by Bjork. The book opens in Iceland so of course we need some Bjork here. This song perfectly captures what we psychological thriller writers grapple with: making our characters do things most people will never have to do and making it believable.

Femme Fatale by The Velvet Underground and Nico. Helena is a huge Andy Warhol fan and has a cat named Drella, which was the nickname given to Warhol by Lou Reed and John Cale. She also has some of the ‘femme fatale’ qualities found in classic noir, although she’s a more modern, three- dimensional version of those objects of male fantasy. I find it interesting to play with those tropes – and am also a big Warhol/Velvets fan.

Cruel World by Lana Del Rey. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a Lana fan. Best songwriter of the twenty-first century. In the early days of her career, she also played with the femme fatale trope and the woozy, chaotic sound of this track compliments the madness that grips our characters in the second half of my novel. ‘I’m so happy now you’re gone,’ Lana sings, which is exactly how Helena feels about Lee.

No Body No Crime by Taylor Swift. The second best songwriter of the twenty-first century has many talents, including the ability to plot out a pretty great crime story. Someday someone will make a movie of this song. The lyrics are pertinent to Keep Her Secret, but we’re straying into spoiler territory!
Please tell me about 4 places you associate with Keep Her Secret

Reykjavik, Iceland. I decided to set the opening of this book in Iceland while visiting this city in 2021, where I attended Iceland Noir. It’s such a strange, beautiful place; a perfect location for the spilling of secrets.

Saltdean, East Sussex. I grew up just along the coast from this village on the outskirts of Brighton and decided it was the perfect location for my novel. Secluded beaches. Cliffs. And something else that is revealed later in the book…

Wolverhampton. There are only really two locations in Keep Her Secret, but this is where I wrote it!

The USA. I’m choosing America because of its absence in this novel. My last three books were set in America and in this one I am very firmly back on British soil.
Can you suggest 4 films that convey the atmosphere you are writing about in your book?

Bonnie and Clyde. I’ve long been fascinated by ‘deadly duos’: couples who get together and commit crimes or get themselves tangled up in terrible situations, driving each other on and heading inexorably towards their own doom. This is still the standard in that genre. Faye Dunaway is so insanely cool as Bonnie in this movie.

Body Heat. Another deadly duo in this 1981 movie which was heavily inspired by Double Indemnity. Kathleen Turner and William Hurt (who died while I was writing this book) are magnificent together in this steamy, sweaty slice of noir featuring yet another femme fatale, who convinces her bewitched lover to murder her husband.

A Simple Plan. Based on the book by Scott Smith, which is actually better than the movie, this is the story of some friends who find a suitcase full of money in a crashed plane and how it destroys their lives. This film had exactly the kind of feeling I tried to capture in Keep Her Secret: that growing sense of panic, of events spiralling out of control. Good people doing terrible things.

The Shawshank Redemption. One of my favourite films – but you’ll have to read Keep Her Secret to find out why it’s relevant!

My huge thanks to Mark Edwards for agreeing to join me today to take the 4×4 challenge. I loved his answers and the music choices, especially, have really whetted my appetite for Keep Her Secret. It’s out now, so you can read it for yourself and soak up all the atmosphere that Mark reflects in his choices here.                                  Amazon                              Hive Store

Mark Edwards writes psychological thrillers in which scary things happen to ordinary people. He has sold over 4 million books since his first solo novel, The Magpies, was published in 2013 and has topped the bestseller lists numerous times. His other novels include Follow You HomeHere To Stay and The House Guest. He has also published six books co-authored with Louise Voss. His most recent book is The Hollows, published in July 2021. Mark lives in the West Midlands, England, with his wife, their three children and two cats. He tweets at @MrEdwards
Photo:Tim Sturgess

To Die in June by Alan Parks (Det. Harry McCoy #6) @AlanJParks @CanongateBooks @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 25 May 2023 from Canongate Books
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-1805300786

My thanks to Canongate and Random Things Tours for an advance copy for review

A woman enters a Glasgow police station to report her son missing, but no record can be found of the boy. When Detective Harry McCoy, seconded from the cop shop across town, discovers the family is part of the cultish Church of Christ’s Suffering, he suspects there is more to Michael’s disappearance than meets the eye.

Meanwhile reports arrive of a string of poisonings of down-and-outs across the city. The dead are men who few barely notice, let alone care about – but, as McCoy is painfully aware, among this desperate community is his own father.

Even as McCoy searches for the missing boy, he must conceal from his colleagues the real reason for his presence – to investigate corruption in the station. Some folk pray for justice. Detective Harry McCoy hasn’t got time to wait.

You know when you’re in love with a series and you found the last book so good that nothing could top it? Well, that was how I felt about May God Forgive last year which won the Bloody Scotland McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached To Die In June. I should really have more faith, because this instalment of the life and times of Harry McCoy is just as dark, gritty, emotive and engaging as any of the books that have gone before. It’s also kind of weird for me, because this is the Glasgow that I knew in my 20’s and re-visiting it gives me little shivers as I read.

Detective Harry McCoy has a lot on his mind. It is 1975, McCoy and Wattie have been transferred to Possil Police Station by DCI Hector Murray but only Harry knows why. He’s been told to keep the real reason from Wattie, but Wattie isn’t stupid and he’s digging his heels in until McCoy comes clean.

McCoy is stepping out with a well-known actress, Margo Lindsay, who has links to one of McCoy’s past cases. Margo makes for an interesting change from his usual indifferent associations with women which were more convenient than committed.

Just in case he is getting ideas above his station, McCoy’ is brought down to earth by a series of horrible deaths among Glasgow’s rough sleepers, about which he is becoming increasingly concerned. It’s personal for McCoy and he’s constantly on the look for his dad as he tries to get to the bottom of who is targeting this vulnerable community.

A child is reported missing. His mother, Judith West, is tearing her hair out. Her husband is the Pastor of the Church of Christ’s Suffering, but he is adamant that there is no child and never was and that his wife is suffering from a breakdown.

McCoy can smell something is off, but the size of the problems on his plate is increasing exponentially. Small time villain Malky McCormack has been brutally murdered and the nature of his injuries suggests that he was tortured for information.  What information he might have though is a complete mystery.

Then there’s McCoy’s pal and the heart of his moral ambiguity, Stevie Cooper. This pair is joined at the hip as a result of their brutal upbringing in a children’s home, but Cooper is a violent gangster with no compassion who has seen an opportunity to finally become the top gangland dog. He needs McCoy’s help to achieve his goal and he expects McCoy to do his bidding as an act of loyalty.

McCoy tries to toe the fragile line between his professional and personal loyalties, resulting in the kind of fancy footwork that Margo Lindsay would expect to see on the dance floor.

It all adds up to a nightmare for McCoy and for us dedicated fans. It’s great to see Wattie standing up to McCoy and making him realise that Wattie is the one good man who always has his back. Wattie is his moral compass and McCoy will piss him off at his peril.

There is such accuracy in Parks portrayal of Glasgow that I find incredibly evocative.  This is Glasgow on the cusp of change where sophistication is struggling alongside gangland violence to turn a great, but grim city into a valued destination. I find myself incredibly glad that there’s a way to go yet before that happens – because it means there’s room for more books in this remarkably excellent series.

Verdict: I really love this series. McCoy is a complex character who tries to keep his emotions dampened but there is an emotionally turbulent volcano at his core and it’s slowly killing him. To Die in June is a strong and welcome addition to this series which just goes from strength to strength. Harry McCoy is a great character beautifully written with depth and complexity.                                  Waterstones                      Hive Store

Alan Parks was Creative Director at London Records in the mid 1990’s, then at Warner Music, where he created ground-breaking campaigns for artists including All Saints, New Order, The Streets, Gnarls Barclay and Cee Lo Green. He was also Managing Director of 679 Recordings, a joint venture with Warner Music. His debut novel BLOODY JANUARY propelled him onto the international literary crime fiction scene immediately and his work has been hailed by contemporary writers and critics alike. Alan was born in Scotland and attended The University of Glasgow where he was awarded a M.A. in Moral Philosophy. He still lives and works in the city that is so vividly depicted in the 1970s setting of his Harry McCoy thrillers.

No Sweet Sorrow (DCI Daley #11) by Denzil Meyrick @lochlomonden @PolygonBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 1 June 2023 from Birlinn
PP: 400
ISBN-13: 978-1846976377

My thanks to Denzil Meyrick and Polygon for an advance copy for review

A potent new drug has hit the streets of Kinloch, and DCI Daley and Scott are struggling to catch the notorious gang behind this evil trade.
After a party of Oxford students arrives in town for a camping trip before a Himalayan expedition, one of the group seeks out an illegal high and is violently assaulted. However, these students are well connected, and this brings further unexpected problems for Daley. Ultimately, he and Scott will discover crimes as disturbing in nature as anything they have ever confronted.

I’m always surprised by how real Kinloch feels to me. I can see the fishing boats in the water; I am sure I’ve drunk in the County Hotel with its dark wood and swirling red carpet, and of course the stunning countryside and coastline can’t be bettered.

But what I really like about Kinloch is that it is never idealised. Denzil Meyrick’s fictional town suffers from all the same ails as any place and feels them perhaps more acutely because of its sense of community. These novels always deal with the contemporary issues that afflict all of us, wherever we live. I think that’s why they work so well for me; this is no cosy crime series. Rather it highlights the crime we face on a day to day basis and brings the impact of those crimes closer precisely because we have got to know elements of this community so well.

In No Sweet Sorrow, the 11th in this outstanding series, a group of Oxford University students have come to Kinloch to hone their mountaineering skills and teamwork prior to embarking on a Himalayan climb.

Being from Oxford, there is at least one insufferably snotty student and more than one set of well-connected parents. The students are having a high old time until one of their group is violently assaulted. It appears that drugs are at the core of this assault. Kinloch is not immune from the scourge of drug dealing and being on the coast, has had its fair share of smuggling too. This case is destined to become even darker and more demanding of police time and this will add to the general air of impending doom that seems to be hanging over Kinloch.

DCI Jim Daley is grumpier than usual. His back is giving him gyp, and he’s needed to keep a closer watch than usual on DS Brian Scott, who is now drinking in The Last Chance Saloon, though Ella has, in her own inimitable fashion, found the perfect way to keep an eye on him. The ACC is less than enamoured with the recent goings on in the Kinloch station and one of the team is very unhappy – all of which adds to Jim’s unsettled dourness.

Jim Daley isn’t the only one who is unsettled either – Hamish feels an oppressive weight on his shoulders and his depressed demeanour is forcing him into making life changing decisions. He knows all is not well in Kinloch – he can feel it – and we all know that Hamish’s gloomy predictions are ignored at the risk of peril.

Each of these elements could offer a recipe that feels too dark, but the interactions between the characters intersperse the gloom and lift the narrative; Meyrick allows us to sense the deep-rooted connections among the characters in this close knit community and that raises the spirits. The banter between Brian, Ella and Jim is as priceless as ever and that, coupled with the ever delightful joy that comes with Brian Scott trying once again to deal with his fear of getting on a boat, brings some much needed light relief to shine a light through the winter gloom.

Verdict: No Sweet Sorrow creates a dark and suspenseful atmosphere into which Meyrick weaves multiple storylines, each with its own unique twists and turns, resulting in a louring, emotive narrative which is both complex and gripping. The tension is palpable and the strain on Daley feels all too real. It’s not easy being a an under-resourced police officer these days and it’s taking its toll.

Tense, exciting, rooted in the very real issues faced by rural communities, No Sweet Sorrow will keep you guessing ‘til the end. Reader, I inhaled it!                                  Waterstones                      Hive Stores

Denzil Meyrick is one of Scotland’s biggest-selling crime writers. He hails from Campbeltown and life has taken him from studying politics to a varied career including time spent as a police officer, freelance journalist and director of several companies in the leisure, engineering and marketing sectors. His global best-sellers include the D.C.I. Daley thrillers and much-loved stand alone novellas. Denzil lives on Loch Lomondside.

The Spider (Joona Linna #9) by Lars Kepler trs Alice Menzies @ZaffreBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 30th May 2023 from Zaffre Books
PP: 496
ISBN-13: 978-1838777869

My thanks to Zaffre for an advance copy for review

Three years ago, Detective Saga Bauer received an ominous postcard describing a gun and nine white bullets – one of which was intended for her partner, Detective Joona Linna. The sender alleged that Saga was the only person who could save him. But as time passed, the threat faded.

Until now.

A sack with a decomposing body has been found hanging from a tree in the forest. A milky white bullet casing turns up at the scene. When the body count begins to rise, the police realise that the killer is sending riddles, offering them the chance to stop the murders before they happen.

But the police always seem to arrive a moment too late. As they begin to close in, the case becomes more and more tangled. Someone is spinning a fiendishly intricate web, pulling Joona ever closer to a trap he may not be able to escape.

This is the 9th book in the always dark Joona Linna series and I recommend that you read the others in the series as it does have some recurring characters other than the police duo. Lars Kepler (actually a husband and wife duo) specialises in complex mysteries, innovative and deeply creepy murders and pretty disturbing serial killers.  

In The Spider, Detective Superintendent Joona Linna of Sweden’s National Crime Unit is working with his colleague, Saga Bauer. Saga plays a leading role in this book and we see that, just as a spider weaves a gossamer thin web to trap his flies, so this Spider is setting out to entrap our intrepid duo.

An old threat, almost forgotten, suddenly comes to the fore.  A series of figurines arrive suggesting a string of victims and it is not long before a violent and macabre murder is committed and the body displayed in graphic style. Through a series of complex riddles, our perpetrator appears to give the police the opportunity to stop this series of murders. It does not take long to discover that an enemy we thought had long gone has reappeared and is bent on vengeance.

Joona Linna and Saga Bauer are caught in a deadly battle to stop this murderer, but in this web of deceit, has the spider already woven his silver threads around this pair? Just like the predatory spider, this murderer is leaving a trail designed to ensure that Joona and Saga will walk straight into his trap and his lure is the series of gruesome and lurid murders that lead straight to this sticky web.

The inventiveness of the serial killer, the complexity of the riddles and the pace of the story deliver plenty of action and excitement as a deadly psychological game plays out.  This killer is both cruel and cunning; he knows exactly how to draw Saga and Joona into his lair.

This is a very well-conceived race against time, with the threat to each victim seemingly offering another step forward on the path to finding the killer. Kepler uses innovative killing methods married with an insight into the mind of this loathsome protagonist – a killer who plays on the fears of each of the victims, leading to a scary and nightmare inducing read. Each of these murders resonates hard with Joona and Saga and every time they fail to stop the next murder, they lose a little of their confidence in their ability to catch this most heinous of killers.

The speed of the violence strikes hard, and the series of puzzles lead the reader down a path that ends in yet more dramatic and very graphic displays of death. This is evil personified and he’s not going to stop until he has our duo in his pincers. This trail is chilling, surprising, and leads down a path of no return.

Verdict: The pace is incredibly strong and the puzzles complex. The plot relies on the fast pace and the graphic, almost cinematic, style of the murders to carry the momentum forward and keep the reader on the hook. It is the increasing despair of Saga and Joona Linna though that makes this book as taut as a zip wire as our duo become increasingly frantic in their search to stop this monster. Not for the faint-hearted.                                  Waterstones                      Hive Store

Lars Kepler is the pseudonym of critically acclaimed husband and wife team Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril (b. 1966) and Alexander Ahndoril (b. 1967), authors of the No. 1 internationally bestselling Joona Linna series. With nine instalments to date, the series has sold 17 million copies in 40 languages. The Ahndorils were both established writers before they adopted the pen name Lars Kepler, and have each published several acclaimed novels.

The Seventh Victim by Michael Wood @MichaelHWood @OneMoreChapter

Source: Purchased copy and review copy
Publication: 30 May 2023 (e-book) and 8 June (p/back) from One More Chapter
PP: 416
ISBN-13: 978-0008618544

My thanks to One More Chapter for an advance copy for review

On a cold February afternoon in 1990, seven-year-old Danny Redpath disappeared from his home. Four months later, his body was found in the nearby forest, wrapped in a sheet and washed clean of all evidence.

Apprehended while attempting to abduct another child, Jonathan Egan-Walsh was charged with the murders of more than a dozen boys. Convicted on all counts, he received life in prison and went unrepentant, still refusing to reveal the whereabouts of one of his victims, Zachery Marshall.

Twenty-five years later, Zachery’s mother Diane is still searching for his body. When Jonathan dies in custody, she realises she will never know its location – until she receives a letter he left in his cell, in which he admits he was guilty of all the crimes of which he was accused, except the murder of her son…

I was only one page into this review copy when I realised I knew this story. In fact I realised I had bought and listened to the audiobook when it came out in 2020. Only now is it being released in paperback and e-book though.

Like Michael Wood’s D.C.I. Matilda Darke series, this is a really fast and easy read with terrific characters, a strong storyline and a seriously horrible villain.

Diane Marshall’s son Zachery disappeared over 25 years ago and his body has never been found. The police believe he was the victim of a serial killer, Jonathan Egan Walsh, convicted of killing thirteen other boys whose bodies were discovered, wrapped in a white sheet. Egan Walsh has been in prison since his conviction but will not disclose where Zachery is buried, nor will he confess to his murder.

All Diane wants is to be able to bring her son’s body home and bury him in peace. Since Zachery’s disappearance her marriage has broken up and she is also estranged from her other son – all because she has been unable to move on from the grief of losing Zachery.

Now Jonathan, who has terminal cancer, has written to Diane confessing to the murder of thirteen children but saying he did not murder Zachery.

The police aren’t inclined to investigate: Jonathan was notorious for messing with the minds of his victims parents and this is likely just another example of his specialty cruelty.

But Diane can’t let it go and so she enlists the help of the now retired DI Caroline Turner, who originally investigated the case and is now running a dog walking business. Caroline gave up working for the police after a bad experience while working this case.

Caroline teams up with Alex Frost, Jonathan’s biographer who now wants to write a second book on Jonathan Egan Walsh and together they set out to find the truth by re-investigating this case from the beginning.

Michael Wood does an excellent job of creating the character of Diane and of conveying the anguish and interminable pain that she feels. His understanding of the way in which a series of murders, or indeed any murder, can impact on all those involved is really well done and the emotional impact resonates well with each of these characters.

This is a deeply disturbing story and Wood creates palpable tension alongside heart-breaking pain as more revelations come to light.

The conclusion, though not hard to detect, comes after a slew of more disturbing revelations and leaves the reader feeling heart-broken for everyone involved.

Verdict: A tense and emotional read with strong characterisation.                                  Waterstones                      Hive Stores

Michael Wood is a freelance journalist and proofreader living in Newcastle. As a journalist he covered many crime stories throughout Sheffield, where his DCI Matilda Darke series is set, gaining first-hand knowledge of police procedure. He also reviews books for CrimeSquad, a website dedicated to crime fiction.

The Last Dance by Mark Billingham (Detective Miller #1) @MarkBillingham @BooksSphere @laurasherlock21

Source: Review copy
Publication: 25 May 2023 from Sphere
PP: 400
ISBN-13: 978-1408717127

My thanks to Laura Sherlock and Sphere Books for an advance copy for review

Meet Detective Miller: unique, unconventional, and criminally underestimated…

He’s a detective, a dancer, he has no respect for authority ­- and he’s the best hope Blackpool has for keeping criminals off the streets. Meet Detective Declan Miller.

A double murder in a seaside hotel sees a grieving Miller return to work to solve what appears to be a case of mistaken identity. Just why were two completely unconnected men taken out?

Despite a somewhat dubious relationship with both reality and his new partner, can the eccentric, offbeat Miller find answers where his colleagues have found only an impossible puzzle?

I saw Mark Billingham on Saturday at Glasgow’s Literature Festival, Aye Write. He is, of course,always interesting. And he has a special brand of humour that really resonates with me.

It’s that brand of humour, that voice, that I can hear coming through in Detective Declan Miller, a brand new protagonist from a master of crime fiction.

There’s something immensely endearing about this character of Declan Miller. If you are a Coronation Street fan, as I am, you will remember the immensely poignant scene in Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom that resonates as our lasting memory of the sheer love and happiness that was Roy and Hayley.

I think Mark Billingham must have been channelling that scene when he wrote The Last Dance. Detective Declan Miller’s wife, Anna – also a Detective, was murdered. It is just six weeks before he decides he can no longer stand his pet rats Fred and Ginger as his only company and returns to work. Anna’s death is being investigated by another team and Miller’s frustration at being excluded from their thinking is driving him to distraction. Anna and Declan were ballroom dancers and they had built up a small but select group of fellow enthusiasts as friends. It is this group that sustains Miller through his very raw grief.

He is given a new partner, Detective Sergeant Sara Xiu – pronounced ‘jus’ and Miller instantly gives her a nickname. While others investigate the murder of Miller’s wife, he and Xiu are sent to investigate a double murder in a Blackpool hotel. Two men in adjacent rooms, have been shot in what looks like an execution style hit. One of the men, Adrian Cutler was a local gangster, while the other, Barry Shepherd worked as an IT Consultant. At first glance, it seems that they have nothing in common and Miller suggests that perhaps the killer first went to the wrong room before finding Cutler who surely must have been the intended victim? To add to the mystery, Declan’s wife Alex was investigating the Cutler family before she was killed.

Partly as a means of grief deflection and partly just his nature, Declan Miller wisecracks his way through this book to the consternation of both his new partner and the rest of his squad. I liked Xiu. She gives as good as she gets and she isn’t going to sit back and just let Miller run the show. Their partnership is one of opposites but they are learning to work together and the beginnings are promising. Declan Miller is a character that is going to live in my mind for a long time.

As for the case – well it has some great characters and the rival gangs that are working in Blackpool add to the tension of what is already and explosive situation. Everyone is a suspect and Billingham throws in red herrings so copiously you will worry about the price of fish going up. At the same time, Miller is not so subtly looking into his wife’s death and his actions have disturbing repercussions.

Verdict: A cracking start to a brand new series. The Last Dance is funny, emotional, thrilling and leaves you needing more. Billingham is such a strong storyteller. I loved it.                                  Waterstones                      Hive Store

Mark Billingham has twice won the Theakston’s Old Peculier Award for Crime Novel of the Year, and has also won a Sherlock Award for the Best Detective created by a British writer. Each of the novels featuring Detective Inspector Tom Thorne has been a Sunday Times bestseller. Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat were made into a hit TV series on Sky 1 starring David Morrissey as Thorne, and a series based on the novels In the Dark and Time of Death was broadcast on BBC1. Mark lives in north London with his wife and two children.

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