We Begin At The End by Chris Whitaker @WhittyAuthor @ZaffreBooks @Tr4cyF3nt0n

Source: Review copy
Publication: 2 April 2020 from Bonnier Zaffre
PP: 464
ISBN-13: 978-1785769627

‘You can’t save someone that doesn’t want to be saved . . .’

Thirty years ago, Vincent King became a killer.

Now, he’s been released from prison and is back in his hometown of Cape Haven, California. Not everyone is pleased to see him. Like Star Radley, his ex-girlfriend, and sister of the girl he killed.

Duchess Radley, Star’s thirteen-year-old daughter, is part-carer, part-protector to her younger brother, Robin – and to her deeply troubled mother. But in trying to protect Star, Duchess inadvertently sets off a chain of events that will have tragic consequences not only for her family, but also the whole town.

Murder, revenge, retribution.

How far can we run from the past when the past seems doomed to repeat itself?

If you are a book lover, it is likely that you will have heard of this book. It will undoubtedly be one of this year’s runaway successes, if not THE runaway success. Deservedly so, because whatever you may have read about this book is true. Forget hype, this book towers above the crowd.

Chris Whitaker’s writing is delicate, poignant and absolutely spot on. His characters are riveting. Well-drawn, realistic, palpably human. None more so than our protagonist, 13 year old Duchess Day Radley. What a voice to front a novel! She is a character so beautifully written, so strong in personality that this book is bound to become a classic. If it isn’t made into a film I will eat my hat and everyone else’s too.

Reader, Chris Whitaker’s book made me cry. Wet sloppy tears that ran down my face like an unstoppable waterfall, such is the power of this writing.

We Begin At The End is set in sleepy Cape Haven, California – the epitome of small town America. Duchess Radley is sister to 6 year old Robin, and in reality she is, to all intents and purposes, in loco parentis. Duchess and Robin’s mother is Star – a troubled woman who has more than once tried to end her life, leaving Duchess to deal with the consequences.

Star and Robin never knew their father – or fathers – Star has never said – and she has had a number of unhappy acquaintances with unsuitable men. She can sing, and sometimes will do so for drinks and cash at a nearby bar, where Duchess will be her minder.

Duchess is a heart-breaking character. She has styled herself an Outlaw, a protector and she will do whatever it takes to protect her brother. Duchess can’t afford to be vulnerable, or even to look too clever;her job as she knows it has to be, is to make herself invisible until the time comes when she emerges from the shadows and makes sure no-one can harm Robin.

She has woven for herself a cloak of armour and nothing and no-one is going to penetrate it. Duchess is front and centre of this book and the things that happen do so because of her. She is fierce, full of courage and yet embattled in a way that no 13 year old should be. It is doubtful whether she has had a carefree day in her life. She trusts no-one; has no friends and rebuffs anyone who seeks to be a friend.

Vince Walker is released from prison after serving 30 years. He killed Star’s 7 year old sister, Sissy, and Star was never quite the same again. Many lives were changed that day, not least Walk’s. Now Chief of Police, Walk was Vince’s best friend and he loved him like a brother. Now Walk’s health is failing and when, only days out of jail, Vince is arrested for murder, he will do what he can to make sure his friend is not sent away again – even if Vince will do nothing to help him.

Dickie Darke is a property developer. A tall, looming man, he owns the bar Star sings in and he hangs round Star in a way that creeps out Duchess. She knows he is bad for her mother and brings nothing but ill when he comes to visit.

When Sissy was killed, her father Hal made his feelings clear to Vince; suffering was nowhere near good enough for him. And when Duchess starts a chain of events from which it is impossible to draw back, Walk knows it is to Hal’s home in Copper Falls, Montana that he must send Duchess and Robin, even though they do not know him.

Whitaker’s impeccably plotted novel, which is indeed a murder mystery, is so much more than that. It is a brilliantly written study of characters all of whom are flawed; mostly scarred and damaged people whose intentions are good but whose actions let them down. There’s a truth to these characters that shines through and makes them real; makes them people that you need to care about because they have suffered hardship; because they, too, care.

There’s such an emotional core to this story that it resonates long afterwards. There are many things to love about it not least the spectacular writing. More than anything it is a book about love and how much people are prepared to sacrifice for those they truly love.

There’s so much more I could tell you, but you should just buy the book and find out for yourself.

Verdict: Whitaker’s understanding of what drives people, of the essence of human nature, has created an astonishing and vividly told story that shines like a freshly cut diamond amid a heap of coal.

Waterstones                    Amazon            
(though if you local independent bookshop stocks it, please buy it there)            

Chris Whitaker was born in London and spent ten years working as a financial trader in the city.
His debut novel, Tall Oaks, won the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger.
Chris’s second novel, All The Wicked Girls, was published in August 2017. He lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and two young sons.

Wild Dog by Serge Joncour trs Jane Aitken and Polly Mackintosh @BelgraviaB @sergeJoncour

Source: Review copy
Publication: 2 April 2020 from Gallic Books
PP: 372
ISBN-13: 978-1910477793

Franck and Lise, a French couple in the film industry, rent a cottage in the quiet hills of the French Lot to get away from the stresses of modern life.

In this remote corner of the world, there is no phone signal. A mysterious dog emerges, looking for a new master. Ghosts of a dark past run wild in these hills, where a German lion tamer took refuge in the First World War…

Franck and Lise are confronted with nature at its most brutal. And they are about to discover that man and beast have more in common than they think.

Wild Dog is set in an isolated part of the Auvergne, France. The novel is set in two distinct time zones and told in chapters which mostly alternate. The 1914/15 sections are very strong, a mixture of historical fact as the author depicts the impact of the Great War on a poor farming community and what happens when they lose not only their men, but also their animals to the cause of the war.

Joncour paints a grim and realistic picture of life at that time and in the chiascuro of the lives of these villagers he brings in a slightly fantastical figure who literally lives above the villagers, in the abandoned mountains, almost as if he is towering over them. The German animal trainer, a former circus performer, has brought his lions and tigers to the Auvergne to hide them away, and though he is seldom seen, the impact of his presence is felt every time the beasts roar.

His presence is a troubling one for the villagers. For one thing he is German and in hiding. He keeps himself to himself and the villagers, who are themselves hiding a flock of sheep in the mountains, know that at least his beasts will deter the wolves that roam there. But when it becomes clear that the Doctor’s widow, 30 year old Josephine, whose husband is presumed lost in the war, has formed a bond with the German, tongues are set alight.

The second time zone is contemporary, set in the summer of 2017. Lise is no longer an actress. Recovering from cancer, she has sought out a place for a three week holiday where she can commune with nature; a place where she can stay without the need for intrusive technology, or mobile phones or any of the contemporary white noise that accompanies so much of modern living. She wants a simpler, healthier environment and this cottage she has found, high in the hills amid a swathe of trees, is both hidden from sight and far enough away from the village to be pretty inaccessible. There is no noisy industry, no pollution, just nature.

Lisa is delighted. Her husband Franck, a film producer, no longer as successful as he once was, has just gone into partnership with two young men from the games industry and is finding all their talk of ‘content’ and streaming a bit of an anathema to his love of art house cinema and celluloid. He is appalled at the thought of spending three weeks without a landline, a mobile signal or wifi or any way of connecting with his business.

This part of the French Lot is wild and uninhibited in nature and all around they are surrounded by the signs of wildlife, some distinctly wilder than others.

Wild Dog connects these two time zones through the nature that mainly unchanging, surrounds these characters. Lise and Franck are looking for different things, but living close to nature without technology will bring them closer together and though the impact on Lise is beneficial, the more startling impact is on Franck who begins to understand what it is to rely on the wild for everything you need to survive.

Joncour’s very real strength is in the way he portrays the landscape, nature and the wild beauty of the countryside that surrounds them. This is nature at its most alive; wild, noisy, unforgiving. It has the effect of making soft city dwellers understand what they have lost and to begin to restore the raw power that nature can bestow.

A large dog connects the two timelines as Joncour shows us all too clearly how much we have forgotten about our basic natures and how we used to connect to animals and the nature that surrounds us. Evolution, he seems to be saying, may not be everything it’s cracked up to be.

Joncour writes well and sumptuously. His pace is slow and rhythmic, in tune with a less frenetic way of life and a deeper connection to nature. Yet he also highlights the inherent danger of such wildness and as we watch Franck deserting his vegetarian lifestyle and reverting to a carnivore, we are prompted to reflect on the thin line between man and beast, between nature’s sinister side and so called sophistication.

Verdict: Wild Dog is a well-structured, tense and deeply atmospheric novel. I enjoyed it, especially the earlier time period, though I did find some of the contemporary story line a little much. But this is a beautifully written novel, rich in language and allegory and most definitely worth spending time on.

Waterstones                                  Amazon

Serge Joncour is a French novelist and screenwriter. He was born in Paris in 1961 and studied philosophy at university before deciding to become a writer. His first novel, Vu, was published by Le Dilettante in 1998. He wrote the screenplay for Sarah’s Key starring Kristin Scott Thomas, released in 2011. His 2016 novel Repose-toi sur moi won the Prix Interallié.
Wild Dog (Chien loup), winner of the Prix Landerneau des Lecteurs, is the first of his novels to be published in English.

Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan @SVaughanAuthor @JessBarratt88 @SimonSchusterpr

Source: Review copy
Publication: 2 April 2020 from Simon & Schuster
PP: 432
ISBN-13: 978-1471165030

You think you know her…

But look a little closer

She is a stay-at-home mother-of-three with boundless reserves of patience, energy and love. After being friends for a decade, this is how Liz sees Jess.

Then one moment changes everything.

Dark thoughts and carefully guarded secrets surface – and Liz is left questioning everything she thought she knew about her friend, and about herself.

I was late to read Anatomy of A Scandal and loved it, so was very keen to read Sarah Vaughan’s next novel. All the things I loved about Anatomy of A Scandal are present here, too. The taut prose, the ability to get inside characters and to really understand what drives people is all present.

Excellent characterisation, an immersive and believable plot line, and a strong, resonating emotional core combined to draw me in and hold me fast.

Liz Trenchard is a pediatrician and mother of two boys. She’s working an A&E shift when Jess Curtis turns up with her ten month old baby girl. The baby has head injury that Jess doesn’t seem to be aware of, and Jess herself is telling a story that makes little sense.

Liz knows Jess. They were in the same ante natal classes and became friends, though they have not seen much of each other since Jess’s third child, this baby girl, Betsey, was born. Jess was always the composed, stylish one who made everything seem effortless, from dinner parties to personal grooming, everything she did was immaculate.

This Jess, though, is a different woman; one Liz hasn’t met before. Jess is vague, somewhat evasive and withdrawn and not at all like the Jess that Liz knew, the one who was always in control.

Liz herself is frazzled; lumbered with a bully of a consultant who has never forgiven her for taking maternity leave and as we will discover, she is also is also deeply conflicted about her relationship with her mother. Her mother’s neglect led to a terrible accident involving her brother and as she thinks about Jess she finds herself about remembering another child from thirty-five years ago.

Examining Betsey, Liz follows established protocol asking questions about what exactly happened, where and how long ago and whether Betsy has exhibited any other symptoms. These are routine questions, but Jess’s answers feel shifty and somewhat evasive and Liz realises to her horror that she doesn’t quite believe her.  Because they are friends, Liz has to recuse herself from the case, but not before her consultant has torn a strip off her for not already have called in both the Police and Social Services.

This is a really difficult choice for Liz to make. A choice that goes against everything she knows about Jess and what a good mother she is. They have shared a lot as mothers and Liz has always admired Jess – a mother who has everything sussed. And yet, she knows, she can feel in her bones, that something is wrong.

When it is determined that Betsey has a fractured skull, everything that Liz believed is thrown into doubt. Nothing can be the same as Jess’s marriage, husband and her whole life come under scrutiny. Secrets are revealed and more than one life will be thrown into disarray as the pressure is piled on Jess and her husband, Ed find their lives put under the microscope.

Vaughan delicately explores themes of gender and parenting roles, with Liz expressing the view that what she really wants is a wife to do all the things she needs while she is at work. Jess’s husband Ed is a hedge fund manager whose parenting seems only to involve a little child play on a Saturday afternoon when he has time.

Verdict: Vaughan skillfully deploys her knowledge of parenting and the fears that parents bring to child rearing to build a compelling portrait of a woman in crisis which is both beautifully observed and full of humanity. The layered plot holds its tension well and is utterly believable. The fear is palpable and the pain all too real.  Themes of isolation and mental health sit well across a plot in which pretty much everyone nurses a secret and which carries more than a few surprises.  This is a psychological thriller that is suspenseful and emotive. Highly recommended.

Waterstones                                                 Amazon

Sarah Vaughan is a former Guardian journalist – news reporter and political correspondent – who always wanted to write fiction. Her third novel, Anatomy of a Scandal, was an instant international bestseller, a top 5 Sunday Times bestseller, number 1 in the Kindle charts, long-listed for the Theakston Old Peculiar crime novel of the year 2018 and shortlisted for the Audible Sounds of Crime Award, GoodReads Jury’s Out award and French Elle’s Prix des Lectrices. Translated into 22 languages, the TV rights have been bought by a US producer and writer with filming anticipated this year.
Photo: © Phil Mynott

Deep Dark Night by Steph Broadribb @crimethrillgirl @OrendaBooks @AnneCater #TeamLori #IAmLori

Source: Purchased copy
Publication: Published in e-book on 5 January 2020 and on p/back on 5 March 2020
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-1913193171

A city in darkness. A building in lockdown. A score that can only be settled in blood…

Working off the books for FBI Special Agent Alex Monroe, Florida bounty-hunter Lori Anderson and her partner, JT, head to Chicago. Their mission: to entrap the head of the Cabressa crime family. The bait: a priceless chess set that Cabressa is determined to add to his collection.

An exclusive high-stakes poker game is arranged in the penthouse suite of one of the city’s tallest buildings, with Lori holding the cards in an agreed arrangement to hand over the pieces, one by one. But, as night falls and the game plays out, stakes rise and tempers flare.

When a power failure plunges the city into darkness, the building goes into lockdown. But this isn’t an ordinary blackout, and the men around the poker table aren’t all who they say they are. Hostages are taken, old scores resurface and the players start to die.

And that’s just the beginning…

I read this the day it came out in e-book. I had lost my reading mojo and wanted something that would not be a difficult read, but which would spark me up and help reclaim my love of reading. Deep Dark Night did just that for me, and so I am delighted to reprise my review here, in grateful thanks for giving me back my love of reading.

You can read Deep Dark Night as a stand-alone, but readers of the Lori Anderson series will recognise this book as a direct follow on from Deep Dirty Truth, which I loved almost as much as this 4th book in the Lori series.

Broadribb is on fire in this latest sizzling story. Caught between a rock and a hard place by Agent Monroe of the FBI, she has very reluctantly agreed to do one last job for this man whom she does not trust at all.

Lori was mentally ripped apart by her last encounter with Monroe, in which way too many innocent people died just so that he could make his case, and more importantly, his name. So she’s more than wary when he calls in the debt he claims she owes him. Reluctantly she agrees to co-operate, but makes it clear that after this, all debts are paid and she and her partner JT can walk away free and clear.

Lori heads to Chicago to play in a high stakes poker game in a swanky penthouse apartment with JT as her close protection. The plan is to entrap Mafia boss Cabressa and gain sufficient evidence to enable Monroe to lock him up for life.

Everything is at stake for Lori who is outside her comfort zone when she realises that she is the only female player in the room and that JT, along with other personal security guards are to be sequestered in a different room in the building.

In a fresh and exciting take on the quintessential locked room mystery. Broadribb gives Lori her biggest challenge yet as she faces enemies on all fronts and JT is left unable to help and protect her.

Lori has to utilise every ounce of her trademark grit and determination to make her way through the traps that have been set for her, and every moment is spent wondering if she will ever see her little girl and J.T. again. With only her moral compass for guidance, Lori has to plough a path out of that dark and deadly room in order to stay alive long enough to pay her debt.

Verdict: This is Broadribb firing fast and furiously on all cylinders as we take a massive thrill ride into Chicago’s criminal elements and find that not everyone is playing a straight game. It’s dark (in more ways than one), violent and full of tension and suspense. An electrifying read that will have you on the edge of your seat praying for Lori to succeed.

Hive Books                       Kobo                   Amazon

Steph Broadribb was born in Birmingham and grew up in Buckinghamshire. Most of her working life has been spent between the UK and USA. As her alter ego – Crime Thriller Girl – she indulges her love of all things crime fiction by blogging at http://www.crimethrillergirl.com, where she interviews authors and reviews the latest releases.
Steph is an alumni of the MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) at City University London, and she trained as a bounty hunter in California. She lives in Buckinghamshire surrounded by horses, cows and chickens. Her debut thriller, Deep Down Dead, was shortlisted for the Dead Good Reader Awards in two categories, and hit number one on the UK and AU kindle charts.
My Little Eye, her first novel under her pseudonym Stephanie Marland was published by Trapeze Books in April 2018.

Our Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent @lizzienugent @PenguinUKBooks #OurLittleCruelties

Source: Review copy
Publication: 26 March 2010 from Penguin
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-1844883950

Three brothers are at the funeral. One lies in the coffin.

Will, Brian and Luke grow up competing for their mother’s unequal love. As men, the competition continues – for status, money, fame, women …

They each betray each other, over and over, until one of them is dead.

But which brother killed him?

Nobody writes dysfunctional families and maladjusted personalities better than Liz Nugent. She has the capacity to understand what makes people cruel and unforgiving and to really flesh those characters out. It’s as if she crawled inside their heads then slowly pushed out the festering pus she found there until it spilled onto the pages of her manuscript.

This book is about the Drumm family, pretty well to do Dubliners. There are three brothers, William, Brian and Luke and their mother, Melissa, an ageing showband singer. The book opens with a funeral. One of the brothers is in a coffin, though we don’t know which one. As we read, we will find ourselves changing our minds about which one we hope it is.

The story is told from the perspective of each of the brothers. The narrative moves back and forwards in time to offer up reminiscences, and a completely compelling and quite horrifying look at three young men who grew up competing for their mother’s love; something that was in ever diminishing supply.

This is sibling rivalry taken to extremes. Not one of the brothers seems capable of empathy. Will is the first born and feels entitled. Dominant, not unattractive, he will forge his way into a successful career as a film-maker.

Brian is the middle son and has something of an inferiority complex and a bit of a hang up over his crooked nose. He goes into teaching but scuppers that career and ends up as a talent manager. Maging the career of his youngest brother, Luke, a pop star.

As the youngest, Luke battled in vain for his mother’s love and has always been a physically fragile waif as well as having a damaged psyche.

Melissa is self –absorbed and plays favourites without concern for the consequences. Will takes Brian’s would-be girlfriend, seduces and marries her, never for a moment considering how Brian might feel about this. Brian becomes godfather to their daughter, Daisy.

Luke craves his mother’s love but constantly rejected, he first turns, somewhat maniacally, to the Church and then substituting that obsession for the more normal addictions of drugs and alcohol. Somewhat stumbling into a pop career, he weaves in and out of addiction and lets himself be taken advantage of by all and sundry, but especially by his brothers.

Liz Nugent crafts each of these characters very carefully and by allocating the narrative to each of the brothers what we get is a deeply partial, three sided account of a number of life changing incidents where the reader is left to extrapolate exactly what has occurred.

But goodness me these characters are toxic. Full of self-importance and without a hint of self-awareness. William is a cheating, sexist bully. Brian is a mean and spiteful thief and Luke is a fragile ego with a weak mind and a pale, skinny body.

There is no sense of a family together here. Rather each knows the weaknesses of the other and they pinch, poke and prod at those weaknesses trying to get their victims to react.

This is very powerful writing and Liz Nugent builds up the picture in such a way that the reader is fascinated and horrified simultaneously, watching, like a fly on the wall as these men torture and torment each other in the name of family.

And the ending…..OMG that ending. Just thanking my lucky stars I was never caught in an isolation lockdown with these guys!

Verdict: Liz Nugent is an extraordinary writer at the top of her game. This is a propulsive, transfixing portrait of a family that should be on everyone’s must have list.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

Liz Nugent was born in Dublin, where she now lives with her husband, musician and sound engineer Richard McCullough. Before becoming a full-time writer, Liz Nugent worked in Irish film, theatre and television. Her three novels – Unravelling Oliver, Lying in Wait and Skin Deep have each been Number One bestsellers in Ireland and she has won four Irish Book Awards (two for Skin Deep). She lives in Dublin with her husband.

Author Guest Post – ANDY GRIFFEE @AndyGriffee @OrphansPublish #crimefiction #Guestpost #CanalNoir #RiverRats

I am delighted to welcome author Andy Griffee to Live and Deadly. I really enjoyed his debut novel, Canal Pushers and knowing that the follow up, River Rats is due to be published shortly, I asked Andy to write a piece for me on writing that all-important second novel.

Before he does, let me share with you, the blurb for River Rats, out next week.

Jack Johnson has a talent for trouble – wherever he goes on his narrowboat, it seems to follow him. Moored up on the River Avon in the beautiful Georgian surroundings of Bath, he’s working at the local paper when a prominent magistrate and heritage campaigner is attacked and drowned. Could it be a serial killer copying the Canal Pusher? Or a biker gang who swore revenge on the magistrate?

Against his wishes, Jack is pulled into the investigation by his ambitious editor who wants the scoop. Jack and his friend, the war widow, Nina, have also been drawn into another struggle.

The moorings of a small settled boating community sit alongside a huge former industrial site that property developers want to fill with luxury housing. Nearby residents are enlisted to petition against the boat people, and as the campaign spirals out of control, lives are threatened. Who is helping their enemies? Another gripping tale of corruption and intrigue from the riverbank, full of dark waters and deadly secrets.

Sounds thrilling, doesn’t it! Now over to Andy.

At the end of my last blog for the wonderful Live and Deadly, I described how my publishers had demanded the outline of a second book before they would give me a contract for the first one, Canal Pushers. And so, having written my debut crime thriller as a ‘pantster’ (ie by the seat of my pants over the previous two and a half years), I was forced to become a ‘plotter’ with a carefully planned chapter-by-chapter outline of the sequel, River Rats.  Well, it is now a year later, River Rats will be launched this April 2nd and boy, have I learned a lot in the process.

Once again, our intrepid hero, a divorced and largely unemployed journalist called Jack Johnson takes to the UK’s waterways on his live-aboard narrowboat Jumping Jack Flash. And once again, he is accompanied by a mysterious young war widow called Nina Wilde who he met by chance on a towpath in the Midlands. This time, however, the action moves on to the West Country and the city of Bath.

Pulteney Bridge and city centre weir in Bath at night

I know Bath well having been a young newspaper reporter on the Bath Evening Chronicle in the late 1980s. It may be a UNESCO World Heritage site, tourist honeypot and boast eye-watering house prices, but there has always been a seamy underside to this city. Its undercurrents of crime and homelessness provided me with plenty of news copy at the time. So, it seemed a perfect location for my latest story about a small community of narrowboats who come into conflict with violent and unscrupulous property developers and corrupt Councillors and council officials.

I was also very familiar with the River Avon, the location of my hotly contested fictional moorings, and the Kennet and Avon canal where growing numbers of boat owners seek a toehold to live their alternative lifestyles on the fringes of this most expensive of cities. Last May, I hired a 68 foot long narrowboat for a weekend jaunt out to Bradford on Avon and back to research a trip that is mirrored in River Rats. This coincided with my father’s 80th birthday and so it turned into an extended 12-strong Griffee family event.

Captain Griffee and some of his crew

The weather was hot and sunny, the canal was crowded, the boat was very long (but cramped) and tiredness led to short tempers and ill-judged words from the skipper (me). In the event, it was perhaps fortunate that a real murder didn’t take place!

However, further research trips to my old newspaper’s stomping ground became a real pleasure as I rediscovered old drinking haunts and patrolled the banks of the Avon. I was looking forward to returning to one of the city’s best independent bookshops, Mr B’s Emporium, for the official launch of River Rats but sadly the coronavirus has put paid to that.

When it came to actually writing the book, my outline plot proved invaluable and the process sailed by in about 3 months flat. There was no extended period of writers’ block like last time and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. And yet…the doubts crept in almost as soon as I sent off the first draft to Debbie Hatfield, my editor at Orphans Publishing. And these doubts multiplied as I walked my dogs and thought it through further. I could do better, I told myself. Why were the police being so slow to agree with Jack’s suspicions about the motive for a murder of a leading magistrate? Was someone from the tiny boating community secretly helping the unscrupulous developers? How could I introduce some more exciting set-piece incidents? The questions crowded in, and slowly I thought them through so that when the first draft came back, with Debbie’s perceptive suggestions and line-by-line comments, I decided to set to work on a wholesale rewrite.

And this time, it was much more organic. I focused on better character development and a deeper level of relationship between Jack and Nina. I replaced too much ‘tell’ with much more ‘show’ and I deliberately replaced many long descriptive passages with shorter, sharper sections of dialogue. I also incorporated a substantial new plot-line about a fictional Hells Angels gang called the Bristol Bulldogs and used them to inject more humour into the book.

And so, having striven to be a good ‘plotter’ for River Rats – and garnered the benefits of knowing how it would end before I started it – the final book has become a blend of the two techniques and I think it is all the better for it. I think this makes it the work of a ‘plantster’ – a combination of plotting and pants-flying! I hope readers will agree and the many kind reviews of Canal Pushers on Amazon and Good Reads seem to suggest there are many waiting for the next instalment in the Jumping Jack Flash series.

As a former journalist and BBC executive, I still have much to learn about this new industry I find myself in. Sadly, my planned schedule of launch events, lectures, talks, literary festivals and book-clubs which were crowding into my diary have been cancelled and I am trying to replace them with social media activity including a virtual launch party on Facebook Live. My nerves about the reaction to the latest book are under slightly more control than they were last time, but I am still puzzling how a 58-year-old debut crime thriller writer gets to be noticed by the immensely powerful reviewers of the national press. At least other writers who link up with me on Twitter’s #WritingCommunity and #AmWriting are supportive.

Oh…and I am also busy working on the plot outline for the third book in the series. It doesn’t yet have a title, but I do know that Jack is moving his boat onto the Isis at Oxford and many happy research trips are now beckoning me to the city and its dreaming spires. I recently returned from a week’s writing retreat in Budapest where I worked through the book’s plot – but I also know to leave plenty of room for the creative imagination as well when I come to writing the damn thing.

River Rats is published on April 2nd and is available for pre-order now as a hardback and e-book. It is available directly from www.orphanspublishing.co.uk, and we are also asking readers to support Mr B’s independent bookshop by ordering it directly from them at this difficult time via https://mrbsemporium.com/shop/books/river-rats

Andy Griffee is a former BBC journalist and media consultant with a fascination for stories. He began his journalism career at the Bath Evening Chronicle, and then spent twenty-five years at the BBC, culminating in his role as Editorial Director of the redevelopment of Broadcasting House. Andy lives in Worcestershire and, when he isn’t writing, rears rare breed pigs, struggles to keep a 1964 Triumph Spitfire on the road and enjoys hiring narrowboats with his wife Helen.

Please support an independent bookshop by ordering River Rats from Mr.B’s emporium of reading delights

The Boy from the Woods by Harlan Coben @HarlanCoben @arrowpublishing #TheBoyFromTheWoods

Source: Review copy
Publication: 19th March 2020 from Century
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-1529123821

Thirty years ago, a child was found in the New Jersey backwoods. He had been living a feral existence, with no memory of how he got there or even who he is. Everyone just calls him Wilde. Now a former soldier and security expert, he lives off the grid, shunned by the community – until they need him. A child has gone missing. With her family suspecting she’s just playing a disappearing game, nobody seems concerned except for criminal attorney Hester Crimstein. She contacts Wilde, asking him to use his unique skills to find the girl. But even he can find no trace of her. One day passes, then a second, then a third. On the fourth, a human finger shows up in the mail. And now Wilde knows this is no game. It’s a race against time to save the girl’s life – and expose the town’s dark trove of secrets…

Harlan Coben is one of those exceptional guys. Really nice when you meet him; he has a great sense of humour, is a family man and a belter of a novelist. This is a man whose books I have been reading for years and who never fails to offer interest and excitement even, like now, in the most distracting of times. Simply put, he knows how to tell a good story.

Our protagonist is Wilde, who as a young boy lived in the woods of Ramapo Mountain State Forest, N.J. foraging for himself and knowing nothing about where he came from or what his parentage is, until he was found and looked after.

Now Wilde is a grown man with a distinguished service history who is now a partner in a security firm with his ‘sister’ who was in the home he was brought up in. Wilde still lives in the woods, in an eco-pod, and he still has the restless spirit that doesn’t like to be confined in any place for too long. As a boy, alone in the woods, he had been David’s invisible best friend and that friendship stuck until David was killed in a road accident on the mountains. Now Wilde looks out for his godson, David’s son Matthew Crimstein and his mother, Laila.

Naomi Pine is ‘that girl’ at Matthew’s school. The one who isn’t popular; the one who sits alone and is bullied for the sheer affrontery of being different.  When she disappears, Matthew, who likes her but has never had the courage to openly side with her, asks his grandmother Lawyer and TV personality, Hester Crimstein what can be done to find her.

Crash Maynard is the polar opposite of Naomi. He’s the cool, rich guy. His parents are documentary film makers and their friends are all involved in the movers and shakers world of celebrity, film making and politics.

When Crash goes missing, despite the Maynards top notch security, Wilde is called on for help. Have Naomi and Crash’s disappearances got something in common?

Harlan Coben’s skill is in creating vivid, memorable characters and putting them into exciting situations fraught with danger and full of secrets and lies. He takes real life and skews it just enough to have a truth based foundation for some spectacular story spinning and gosh, but it doesn’t half work well.

His understanding of social media manipulation is a brilliant expose of how to manage a reputational crisis and bend the masses to your will.

Best of all, Coben has left a distinct clue that there will be more to come from his Wilde character, and that’s great news for his millions of fans.

Verdict: Exceptional story-telling, well drawn and  vivid characterisation and a fast-paced and riveting plotline carry the reader along open mouthed as layer upon layer is peeled back to reveal the truth. I needed this diversion from grim reality and now feel much better for it. Highly recommended.

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Harlan is the creator and executive producer for the Netflix television dramas THE STRANGER, SAFE and THE FIVE . With over 60 million books in print worldwide, Harlan Coben’s last seven consecutive novels, MISSING YOU, SIX YEARS, STAY CLOSE, LIVE WIRE, CAUGHT, LONG LOST and HOLD TIGHT all debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and lists around the world. His books are published in 43 languages around the globe.

Coben is the winner of the Edgar Award, Shamus Award and Anthony Award – the first author to win all three – and he has received an eclectic variety of honors from all over the world. His novel TELL NO ONE has been turned into a hit French film of the same name. His essays and columns have appeared in many top publications.

Harlan was born in Newark, New Jersey. He still lives in New Jersey with his wife, Anne Armstrong-Coben MD, a pediatrician, and their four children.

The Dangerous Kind by Deborah O’Connor @deboc77 @ZaffreBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 19th March 2020 in paperback from Zaffre
PP: 528
ISBN-13: 978-1785762093

What if the people you trust are the ones you should fear most?

We all recognise them: those who send prickles up the back of our necks. The charmers, the liars, the manipulators. Those who have the potential to go that one step too far. And then take another step.

Each week Jessamine Gooch broadcasts a radio show about convicted killers. But when she is approached for help in solving a current case, around a troubled missing woman, she fails to realise there is a dark figure closer to home, one that threatens the safety of her own family . . .

Shamefully, I have had this book on my TBR pile for a long time. That’s because I did not realise how close to home it was going to hit and I stopped reading it for quite a while. Unlike Deborah O’Connor, I have worked for the BBC and while this review isn’t about me, you need to know that my response has been conditioned by some of the close parallels between real life and this book.

The central protagonist Jessie Gooch is a 50 something single mother and radio presenter whose programme has been running for years, investigating the background of what she calls PDP, or potentially dangerous people. What that means is that she takes criminal cases and together with an ex-policeman and a psychologist, analyses people who have been dangerous and suggesting ways in which they could have been marked as dangerous and perhaps stopped before they committed their crimes. Jessie also volunteers for a Domestic Violence hotline, so her world is full of the worst of humanity.

As you may imagine, this is a dark book and the focus on child exploitation, abuse and grooming is not a subject everyone will be comfortable with. The atmosphere is dark and oppressive and this is not a book for the faint hearted.

Leaving Broadcasting House after her programme one day, Jessie is stopped by Marnie Clark. Marnie wants Jessie to look into the disappearance of her friend, Cassie Scolari, whose husband, she knew, was abusive.

Jitesh is working as an intern at the BBC, training to be a sound engineer. Academically bright and intending to take up a place at Cambridge he is using his job to scope out opportunities at the BBC. Jitesh is an accomplished hacker, and Jessie ropes him in to helping her look into Cassie’s disappearance.

O’Connor utilises a dual timeline approach to good effect as we follow 13 year old Rowena Garbutt whose care home fails to stop her from taking up with an older man, Sunny, who she thinks loves and who exploits her mercilessly.

The narrative flows back and forwards as Jessie investigates Cassie’s disappearance, uncovering devastating information and putting her own life in jeopardy.   Utilising multiple voices, each chapter is told in the present through Jessamine, her adopted daughter Sarah and Jitesh or via Rowena in early 2000. The flashback chapters are the most difficult to read.

Though the subject matter is very dark indeed, this is not a graphic book but O’Connor manages to create a very real atmosphere of fear where the young women in this book are faced with the most awful things that they never anticipated.

Anyone who has followed some of the more recent cases of child exploitation will recognise the inherent truth in O’Connor’s writing and I found some of it too close to home for comfort, which may be the point.

Verdict: Though there were some moments where coincidence or a bit of odd behaviour left me questioning, overall this is a gripping and compelling read for those who like their subject matter on the dark side. I’m off to look at photos of kittens and puppies.

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Deborah O’Connor is a writer and TV producer. Born and bred in the North-East of England, in 2010 she completed the Faber Academy novel writing course. She lives in London with her husband and daughter. She has not worked at the BBC.

To Kill A Man by Sam Bourne (Maggie Costello #5) @Freedland @QuercusBooks #ToKillaMan

Source: Review copy
Publication: 19th March 2020 from Quercus
PP: 448
ISBN-13: 978-1787474956

Natasha Winthrop is a rising star in American politics, strongly tipped as a future candidate for president. One night she is violently assaulted in her home by an intruder. She defends herself and minutes later, the intruder lies dead. Winthrop is hailed as a #MeToo heroine: the woman who fought back.

But inconsistencies emerge in Winthrop’s story, suggesting that the attack might not have been as random as it first seemed.

When former White House troubleshooter Maggie Costello is drafted in to investigate, she finds intriguing gaps, especially over Winthrop’s early life. She likes this woman, who she believes could – and should – be president. But she can’t shake off the question: who exactly is Natasha Winthrop?

A cat-and-mouse conspiracy thriller of rare intelligence, To Kill a Man explores an unsettling world in which justice is in the eye of the beholder and revenge seems to be the only answer.

I love the Maggie Costello series from Sam Bourne, aka Jonathan Freedland, and To Kill A Man is a terrific read that works perfectly as a stand-alone. Bourne takes real life contemporary events and weaves them into politically charged thrillers that are perfect for keeping the reader hooked and which are intelligent and utterly compulsive.

Maggie Costello, our protagonist, is a foreign policy expert, but these days her skills are far more in demand as a fixer; a skilled PR expert who can anticipate and defuse crises before they happen.

Maggie is being courted by the front runner for President of the United States of America, but though he is a popular candidate, Maggie doesn’t take to him. He is slightly too familiar and yet he won’t pin down his offer to Maggie and all that is combining to make her feel uneasy.

Natasha Winthrop is a human rights lawyer who has recently been quoted as a potential Presidential candidate. A high-flyer, her recent performances in front of a Senate committee have led to her being widely tipped as a candidate for the Presidential race. It doesn’t hurt that she is both young and attractive.

Then Natasha is violently attacked in her own home by a masked intruder. In the process of defending herself she kills her attacker. In this age of #MeToo it does not take long before she is being hailed as something of a heroine which only ramps up when it is revealed that her would-be rapist was wanted for multiple rapes and murder. Then leaks start appearing all over the media that can only have come from inside the investigation and none of them reflect well on Natasha. She drafts Maggie in to help her manage the process and her profile. The unspoken aim is to make sure she is still able to run for President if she chooses to do so.

With a narrative that is both tense and fast paced, this is a brilliant thriller that goes inside the murky world of political campaigning, data mining and fake news all wrapped up in the horrifying truth that is the real statistical evidence of rape in the Unites States.

This is one of Bourne’s real strengths. He builds on a base of actuality to extrapolate a thesis that becomes all too plausible and that makes his novels all the more thrilling and not a little frightening. The reader will recognise similarities to real life events when reading this explosive thriller.

As Maggie investigates Natasha’s life and background, she finds a lot to trouble her and make her re-evaluate her first impressions. What she finds out leads her to a fascinating moral dilemma and will certainly keep the reader poised on tenterhooks.

Sometimes the book will take a slightly fantastical turn, but that just makes it the more exciting and I’m more than happy to let it carry me away, because as we have recently learned, today’s fantasy is tomorrow’s horrible reality.

Verdict: This book carried me with it all the way. I love this series and Maggie Costello is a brilliant character and this book is one of the best political thrillers I have read. Intelligent, plausible and thought provoking, it’s a must read for me.

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Sam Bourne is the pseudonym of Jonathan Freedland, an award-winning journalist and broadcaster. He has written a weekly column for the Guardian since 1997, having previously served as the paper’s Washington correspondent. Jonathan Freedland was named Columnist of the Year in the annual What the Papers Say Awards of 2002 . His first novel, ‘The Righteous Men,’ was a Richard and Judy Summer Read and a Number 1 bestseller. His next two novels, ‘The Last Testament’ and ‘The Final Reckoning’ were both top ten bestsellers. He lives in London with his wife and their two children.

The Man on the Street by Trevor Wood @TrevorWoodWrite @QuercusBooks @ellakroftpatel #TheManonTheStreet

Source: Review copy
Publication: 19th March 2020 from Quercus
PP: 432
ISBN-13: 978-1787478367

It started with a splash. Jimmy, a homeless veteran grappling with PTSD, did his best to pretend he hadn’t heard it – the sound of something heavy falling into the Tyne at the height of an argument between two men on the riverbank. Not his fight.

Then he sees the headline: GIRL IN MISSING DAD PLEA. The girl, Carrie, reminds him of someone he lost, and this makes his mind up: it’s time to stop hiding from his past. But telling Carrie, what he heard – or thought he heard – turns out to be just the beginning of the story.

The police don’t believe him, but Carrie is adamant that something awful has happened to her dad and Jimmy agrees to help her, putting himself at risk from enemies old and new.

But Jimmy has one big advantage: when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.

I’m very pleased indeed to have been able to read Trevor Wood’s accomplished debut novel, The Man on the Street. His protagonist is one of the best new characters I have read in a while. Jimmy Mullen is a veteran of the Falklands War where he was a leading regulator in the Royal Navy Police. Now though, he is suffering from PTSD, has a broken marriage and a daughter he never sees and has a prison record to boot. He’s living on the streets with only his dog for company and a couple of mates named Gadge and Deano with whom he tends to hang out. Drinking used to help help him control his flashbacks but now he’s knocked that on the head and he’s refused the psychiatric help he’s been offered, so when he witnesses an argument and what looks and sounds like it might have been a murder, he can’t be sure that what he saw was real.

Jimmy is on parole and the last thing he wants is to cause trouble. He has an instinctive dislike of the police so, all things considered, he decides to let sleeping dogs lie. Then he sees the story of a young woman, Carrie Carpenter, in the local newspaper, desperately seeking information about her missing father. Jimmy thinks she looks like his estranged daughter, Kate and reaches out to her to tell her what he saw.

Trevor Wood really makes Jimmy spring to life from the page. His character feels authentic and his flaws and strong points are really well portrayed. The choice of a homeless protagonist enables Wood to show us what life on the streets is like for the invisible underclass who, often through no fault of their own, find themselves with no other alternative.

The banter between the three street wise characters is excellent and Newcastle comes through as a great character in its own right. Jimmy is tenacious and intelligent and he doesn’t back down when it comes to a fight, so when he is pursued, he doesn’t back down. Often the subject of unprovoked violence, Jimmy and his pals have learned that taking the kicks is part of what their lives are about when you are homeless. Though he writes it lightly, the social commentary and bleak depiction of the life of the homelessness is very well depicted.

Verdict: I found this to be a great and completely propulsive read. Brilliant characters, a fascinating and unpredictable mystery and unflinching violence combine with a warm emotional core that make this a terrific read. The plot is excellent and nicely twisted and overall this is an assured and accomplished book with characters that beg for a second outing. I’ll be first in the queue when that happens, as it surely must.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

Trevor Wood has lived in Newcastle for twenty-five years and considers himself an adopted Geordie. He’s a successful playwright who has also worked as a journalist and spin-doctor for the City Council. Prior to that he served in the Royal Navy for sixteen years. Trevor holds an MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) from UEA. The Man on the Street is his first novel.

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