Conviction by Denise Mina @DameDeniseMina @vintagebooks @styx_hope #Conviction #ReesesBookClub #blogtour

Source: Review copy
Publication: 20th February 2020 from Vintage
PP: 384
ISBN13: 978-1784704865

It’s just a normal morning for Anna McDonald. Gym kits, packed lunches, getting everyone up and ready. Until she opens the front door to her best friend, Estelle. Anna turns to see her own husband at the top of the stairs, suitcase in hand. They’re leaving together and they’re taking Anna’s two daughters with them.

Left alone in the big, dark house, Anna can’t think, she can’t take it in. With her safe, predictable world shattered, she distracts herself with a story: a true-crime podcast. There’s a sunken yacht in the Mediterranean, multiple murders and a hint of power and corruption. Then Anna realises she knew one of the victims in another life. She is convinced she knows what happened. Her past, so carefully hidden until now, will no longer stay silent.

This is a murder she can’t ignore, and she throws herself into investigating the case. But little does she know, her past and present lives are about to collide, sending everything she has worked so hard to achieve into freefall.

I’m delighted to be re-sharing my review of one of my favourite reads of last year. Now it has been published in paperback and is a Reese Witherspoon and Hello Sunshine Book Club Pick!

The overwhelming feeling I got from Conviction – one of my must read books of 2019, was of deliciously enjoyable light and shade. This is a writer having fun and there’s a delicate touch to the writing that allows Mina to deploy her dark humour while wrapping us in an engrossing story that carries us on journeys across Europe (thank goodness there’s no Brexit here yet) in search of a stunning denouement.

Anna McDonald is our protagonist. She lives well in Glasgow’s comfortably corniced West End with her husband, Hamish and her two daughters, Jess and Lizzie. A light and uneasy sleeper, Anna loves having the early mornings to herself when she uses her solitary time to listen to true crime podcasts.

Death and the Dana is her current listen. A six-episode series about the sinking of the Dana, a yacht moored on an island off the west coast of France, near La Rochelle. One night, the ship slipped out of the harbour with its navigation lights off and using no and radio communication. It crossed the shipping channel, suffered an explosion below decks, and sank in the Bay of Biscay.  Aboard were a father and his two grown children, Mark and Violetta. The crew had been paid and sent ashore, and the chef had boarded a plane to Lyon. Yet she was charged with and convicted of the murder of al three. Podcast producer Trina Keany is having trouble making sense of this judgement. The sinking of the Dana and the deaths of these three are surrounded by intrigue and have all the hallmarks of a great story;  a tragic event, money, a reclusive heiress, ghosts and too many secrets to uncover in one episode.

As the novel begins, Anna’s life is about to be turned upside down. Her best friend, Estelle arrives at the door and as she does so, husband Hamish leaves with her, taking her daughters and leaving her without so much as a backward glance. Hamish and Estelle are off to Portugal with the girls, generously allowing Anna a week to get used to her new situation, and then they’ll be back to live in the house. Hamish leaves Anna a wad of cash – ‘re-settlement money’ – so that she can find somewhere else to go. He’s a peach, isn’t he?

Overwhelmed by shock and struggling to understand what has been going on under her nose, Anna’s hold on reality is obtained by her focus on the true crime podcast, mostly because she recognises a name from her past in connection with the crime. Anna met Leon Parker years ago, when she was working as a maid at the chic and exclusive Skibo Castle, where Parker was a guest. They used to chat over a clandestine cigarette by the bins and Anna liked the way that Leon neither patronised nor pawed at her but simply enjoyed sharing stories and the odd joke.

When Fin Cohen, Estelle’s husband, turns up on her doorstep, it’s clear he is in a worse state than Anna. Fin is a rock star, one who had a meteoric rise to fame and then couldn’t handle the pressure; now he is an anorexic and quite fragile. Estelle’s decision to leave him has hit him hard.

Anna and Fin launch decide to take a trip to get away from the wreckage of their lives. As they travel, Anna plays the Dana podcast and Fin, too gets caught up in the mystery. The two set off to work together to solve the mystery behind the sunken Dana – as much a diversion therapy as anything else, but why not? After all, Anna has this wad of cash burning a hole in her pocket.

It isn’t long before we realise that there is more to Anna than we were at first led to believe. Mina spins a compelling first person story narrative – a web within a spider’s web, where the threads are intertwined and to solve one set of murders we will first have to understand what lies behind Anna’s own story and to conquer the dragon that has been breathing fire on Anna’s heels for years.

Anna is stronger than she knows and her resilience will inspire Fin to create their own podcast, a narrative on solving the Dana crimes. Fin’s celebrity status means their podcast jumps high in the ratings from the outset, attracting not only fascinated listeners but also agents of destruction bent on stopping Fin and Anna.

Denise Mina has written a brilliant, character driven, edgy and relatable crime thriller that combines the best characterisation with compelling story telling. There’s so much too this exceptional, layered crime thriller that the reader will be captivated and enthralled by the deft plotting, stunning secrets and rich characters that populate the pages.

Inside this true crime podcast is an even truer story. An everyday story of rape, trauma, persecution and privilege prevailing.  A shocking, unhinging tale of how money talks loudest of all.

In Anna, Mina has given us an astonishingly rich character. Anna is a resilient sharp and focussed protagonist whose clear sight and determination can move mountains, when you thought you were getting a story about castles and ghosts. She ought not to be likable. From the beginning of this novel she has been clear that she’s no big fan of the truth. ‘Lie and lie again’ is her motto. Yet despite her penchant for lying and her deceitful behaviour, there’s something about Anna you can’t help but like even before you know her story.

Mina takes her readers on a fascinating journey across Europe in search of the truth. In doing so she articulates the power in speaking the truth and in being heard. Amidst this undeniably gripping crime story there is another story that stands true and proud and calls out its name unashamedly.

This is the power of Conviction, a novel with two stories and two meanings. Amidst the luxury yachts of France’s coastline and glamorous European locations taking us into the world of international finance, Mina spins her pacey tale with dark humour, sordid deeds and fabulously described characters.

Verdict: There’s enough here for every reader with twists and turns to delight and confound.  What lingers, though, is the impact of Anna’s ability to finally stop sheltering behind the lies. To feel the impact on her relationships of being able to come out and speak the truth. To finally hear her own story in her own words, told with conviction. That’s a story to be proud of, too.

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After a peripatetic childhood in Glasgow, Paris, London, Invergordon, Bergen and Perth, Denise Mina left school early. Working in a number of dead end jobs, all of them badly, before studying at night school to get into Glasgow University Law School. Denise went on to study for a PhD at Strathclyde, misusing her student grant to write her first novel. This was Garnethill, published in 1998, which won the Crime Writers Association John Creasy Dagger for Best First Crime Novel.

She has now published 12 novels and also writes short stories, plays and graphic novels. In 2014 she was inducted into the Crime Writers’ Association Hall of Fame. Her novel The Long Drop won the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year in 2017.

Denise presents TV and radio programmes as well as regularly appearing in the media, and has made a film about her own family. She regularly appears at literary festivals in the UK and abroad, leads masterclasses on writing and was a judge for the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction 2014.

BEAST by Matt Wesoloski @ConcreteKraken @orendabooks @annecater #Beast #SixStories #DeadFamous

Source: Review copy
Publication: 6th February from Orenda Books
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-1913193133

Elusive online journalist Scott King examines the chilling case of a young vlogger found frozen to death in the legendary local ‘vampire tower’, in another explosive episode of Six Stories…

In the wake of the ‘Beast from the East’ cold snap that ravaged the UK in 2018, a grisly discovery was made in a ruin on the Northumbrian coast. Twenty-four-year-old Vlogger, Elizabeth Barton, had been barricaded inside what locals refer to as ‘The Vampire Tower’, where she was later found frozen to death.

Three young men, part of an alleged ‘cult’, were convicted of this terrible crime, which they described as a ‘prank gone wrong’

However, in the small town of Ergarth, questions have been raised about the nature of Elizabeth Barton’s death and whether the three convicted youths were even responsible.

Elusive online journalist Scott King speaks to six witnesses – people who knew both the victim and the three killers – to peer beneath the surface of the case. He uncovers whispers of a shocking online craze that held the young of Ergarth in its thrall and drove them to escalate a series of pranks in the name of internet fame. He hears of an abattoir on the edge of town, which held more than simple slaughter behind its walls, the tragic and chilling legend of the ‘Ergarth Vampire…

Both a compulsive, taut and terrifying thriller, and a bleak and distressing look at modern society’s desperation for attention, Beast will unveil a darkness from which you may never return…

I’m a fan of the fabulous podcast style Six Stories series. Matt Wesolowski has mined a rich seam of stories in a format that works incredibly well and each successive book has been stronger than its predecessor.

Beast, though, is something else; it is in a class of its own. I’m writing this the day after a young woman has died in very sad circumstances and because of who she was, has been in the news and all over social media. Nothing really prepares you for how vile people can be on social media, or the levels of hypocrisy that such a thing brings to the surface.

Beast deals with the notion of being famous; looks at the culture of celebrity and does so in the context of young people in Ergarth – a grim, disenfranchised town in the North of England; a town that has had the life sucked out of it.

Scott King, our podcast host, is more open now after the revelations of the last podcast investigation in Changeling.  Now he is in Ergarth to look into the horrific death of a young vlogger, Elizabeth Barton.

She was taking part in a popular social media challenge known as ‘Dead In Six Days’  in which she must fulfil six challenges supposedly set by the vampire, Vladlena, or by the sixth day she will be dead. Elizabeth, who has steadily been cultivating a substantial social media presence, has seen that effort rewarded by a growing following and the patronage of a number of brands, is vlogging these challenges.

Beast plunges straight in with the first story and immediately I was struck by the contrast between the warm, northern dialect and the chilling stories of the Crimean ship and its vampiric legend. For this is 2018 and for the residents of Ergarth, the Beast from the East has two meanings.

When Scott King enters the story Elizabeth Barton is dead; murdered and decapitated by three men in the local landmark, the Tankerville Tower. It is a black, crumbling ruin with no aesthetic features which is still standing because the Council can’t afford to tear it down. Some locals believe that this tower hosts the Ergarth Vampire or, as local teens know it, ‘The Beast from the East’ in tribute both to the 2018 storm they were experiencing and because the legend has Vladlena coming to Ergarth on a ship from the Crimea.

Wesolowski paints a grim portrait of Ergarth, a town whose industry has long since vanished and which is struggling.    Jobs are few and far between and teens have no hope and no ambition. Elizabeth is working in the Orwellian named pet shop but her real chance of escape lies in her vlog. Elizabeth is bucking the trend through her vlogging, aided by her middle class upbringing and parents who are prepared to lavish the best of everything material on her. She is becoming an Ergarth celebrity. Elizabeth is the girl who has it all. She is pretty, kind, increasingly popular, and always has time for the less fortunate. So why has been murdered and what does the legend of the Ergarth Vampire have to do with her death?

This is the subject of Scott King’s podcast. Wesolowski’s chilling story brilliantly marries local folklore and legend with contemporary societal changes – themselves casting a grey gloom over the country and forces us to ask ourselves which we should fear the most.

There’s a cold anger in these comparisons and as I read I could feel myself questioning Elizabeth’s choices and motives; asking myself if it is possible that someone could be so perfect. It is a sad fact of 21st century life that altruism will always be questioned because there is so little of it that we have become inured to thinking the worst of people.

Three men are now in prison, convicted of Elizabeth’s brutal murder, but none of them have ever spoken of that night, other than to admit their guilt. Scott King wants to understand what led to this horrific event and his podcast interviews add depth and layers to a story previously written off as ‘a prank gone wrong’; a story that has never before been told.

In between the interviews with Elizabeth’s friends and family we are treated to excerpts from Also from Elizabeth’s vlog where we see her bubbly personality exhorting us to like and follow and watch the next video. Her sweet smile and wonder as she unboxes her latest brand gift or shows us her most recent cheeky challenge is calculated to draw us into her orbit, to make us want to share in her success and to be part of the charmed life she is leading; a charmed life that no-one else in Ergarth could possibly aspire to.

As Scott will discover, this story has been all about Elizabeth. The three young men who are now imprisoned for her murder have not warranted stories of their own, until now.

Beast is a dark and deeply chilling story and Wesolowoski tells it superbly. In a story that is both tense and spell-binding, he explores the consequences of our excessive consumerism and the ceaseless quest for 15 minutes of fame. He compares and contrasts that with the reality of what is happening in some of our towns, where ambition and hope are absent friends and local services fail to afford or even understand the mental health consequences of living hand to mouth with no nurture.

Verdict: Beast is a towering, exceptionally well plotted and intricately layered book. Creepy and ingenious, it also carries an important message. A message that brings me back to where I began this review. Be kind; be human and learn to listen before you judge. An absolute must read.

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Matt Wesolowski is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the UK. He is an English tutor for young people in care. Matt started his writing career in horror, and his short horror fiction has been published in numerous UK- an US-based anthologies such as Midnight Movie Creature, Selfies from the End of the World, Cold Iron and many more. His novella, The Black Land, a horror set on the Northumberland coast, was published in 2013. Matt was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in 2015. His debut thriller, Six Stories, was an Amazon bestseller in the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia, and a W.H. Smith Fresh Talent pick, and film rights were sold to a major Hollywood studio. A prequel, Hydra, was published in 2018 and became an international bestseller.

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The Memory Wood by Sam Lloyd @SamLloydwrites @ThomassHill @TransworldBooks #TheMemoryWood

Source: Review copy
Publication: 20th February 2020 from Bantam Press
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-1787631847

Elijah has lived in the Memory Wood for as long as he can remember. It’s the only home he’s ever known.

Elissa has only just arrived. And she’ll do everything she can to escape.

When Elijah stumbles across thirteen-year-old Elissa, in the woods where her abductor is hiding her, he refuses to alert the police. Because in his twelve years, Elijah has never had a proper friend. And he doesn’t want Elissa to leave.
Not only that, Elijah knows how this can end. After all, Elissa isn’t the first girl he’s found inside the Memory Wood.

As her abductor’s behaviour grows more erratic, Elissa realises that outwitting strange, lonely Elijah is her only hope of survival. Their cat-and-mouse game of deception and betrayal will determine both their fates, and whether either of them will ever leave the Memory Wood . . .

This book is a bobby dazzler. It is an exceptional, chilling, utterly compelling and propulsive psychological thriller. Sometimes a book will just grab you from the off and never let go and that’s how The Memory Wood was for me.

Elissa Mirzoyan is a seriously bright 13 year old who is a talented competitive chess player and her voice is one of three telling this story. Elissa lives with her mother Lena in Salisbury and together they attend the chess tournaments she plays at.

They are attending one such in Bournemouth when Elissa is snatched by an unknown assailant. Hooded, drugged and thrown in the back of a white van, Elissa wakes to find herself manacled and confined in an old stone cellar, cold, dirty and very thirsty.

When her captor visits her, he wears a torch attached to his head so that the light hits her straight in the eyes and blinds her. His instructions are clear. Do what you are told and you will be rewarded. Fail to comply and you will be punished.

Elissa is terrified, but she also wants to find a way home, so she sets her methodical mind to working out strategies for just how to do that. She starts by trying to remember everything that has happened to her, and then she maps out her cell like the squares in a chess board so that she can remember where everything is.

Her heart lifts when she has a visitor. 12 year old Elijah lives in the Memory Wood. He wants desperately to make friends with Elissa, but he knows that she is not the first he has tried to befriend and fears she will not be the last. Elijah only has his brother Kyle and Magic Annie, who lives in a caravan on the estate that he calls home, to keep him company. Elissa knows Elijah is her best chance of a way out, but Elijah knows how this ends and while he tries to offer her advice, he can’t do what she asks of him, though he will continue to visit her.

Together, they construct a fantasy world; Elissa is Gretel, Elijah is Hansel and the cell is their Gingerbread House. The abductor is the ghoul. This makes the abduction scenario all the more nightmarish; a children’s fairy story that turns into something more akin to Nightmare on Elm Street.

Apart from the voices of Elissa and Elijah, the third storyteller we hear from is the lead detective. Detective Superintendent Mairead MacCullagh, is the S.I.O. on this case. She is in the midst of her own tragedy and personal pain which only serves to enhance her empathy for Lena as she sees the close bond between mother and daughter.

Sam Lloyd’s book cleverly weaves together elements of fairy tales with a much darker, infinitely eerier atmosphere. A sense of place is everything as The Memory Wood holds the memories of everyone who has ever died here and Elijah immortalises them by leaving notes in the branches of specific trees he has dedicated to their memory.

But the shining star of this book is Elissa, a young woman whose sense of danger is elevated by her clever and ingenious mind. Operating partly on instinct and partly on her intellect, she realises that she will have to be the architect of her own freedom plan if she is to stand any chance of survival and so she begins a game of cat and mouse in which only one can be the winner.

Verdict: The Memory Wood is a strong and visceral read, capturing the strongest and most fearsome aspects of fairy tales and turning them into a chilling nightmare with little chance of redemption. The pacing is perfect for a story which has many layers and more than a few surprises.  Characterisation is spot on; Elissa and Elijah are exceptional characters and Sam Lloyd’s disturbing story captures the reader and holds them hostage all through the many twists and turns of this read. Highly recommended.

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Sam Lloyd grew up in Hampshire, making up stories and building secret hideaways in his local woods. These days he lives in Surrey with his wife, three young sons and a dog that likes to howl. The Memory Wood, his debut thriller, has sold in fifteen international territories.

Bury them Deep by James Oswald @SirBenfro @jenniferleech1 @Wildfirebks #BuryThemDeep

Source: Review copy
Publication: 20th February 2020 from Wildfire
PP: 464
ISBN-13: 978-1472249968

When a member of the Police Scotland team fails to clock-in for work, concern for her whereabouts is immediate… and the discovery of her burnt-out car in remote woodland to the south of Edinburgh sets off a desperate search for the missing woman.

Meanwhile, DCI Tony McLean and the team are preparing for a major anti-corruption operation – one which may raise the ire of more than a few powerful people in the city. Is Anya Renfrew’s disappearance a co-incidence or related to the case?

McLean’s investigations suggest that perhaps that Anya isn’t the first woman to have mysteriously vanished in these ancient hills. Once again, McLean can’t shake the feeling that there is a far greater evil at work here…

In this, the 10th Inspector Tony McLean novel, James Oswald lets his deliciously dark mind delve deep. The opening chapter plays around with the ancient Scots folklore character of Sawney Bean, a man who earned his living by ambushing travellers then murdering and eating his victims so that there was never any evidence of his crimes.

As only he can, Oswald then connects this to Operation Caterwaul (a glorious name); a top secret police operation. Tony is part of this operation, though he doesn’t know all the details, as this op is a closely guarded secret.  The National Crime Agency and American Agencies are involved in investigating senior business leaders for the crimes of fraud and money laundering.

Edinburgh is in the midst of a heat wave and tempers are short, not least Tony’s who is mired in paperwork, his least favourite thing, when all he really wants to do is to get out and do some proper policing.

Then police support officer Anya Renfrew goes missing. Always reliable, and with excellent security clearance, this administrator’s disappearance creates serious concern among the Caterwaul personnel, worried that the entire operation may have been compromised.

Concern for Anya increases when her burnt-out car is found in the remote Gladhouse woods in the south of the city.  Then a fire in the woods uncovers a hidden pile of human bones. This is very worrying for this is an area where women have gone missing before.

As Tony looks into Anya’s disappearance he uncovers some surprising information about a woman he’s worked alongside for years but never really knew at all.

I was drawn into this book from the start. I love the way Oswald’s mind works. Who else could combine a cannibal from Scots folk tales with Edinburgh’s dogging scene and a police operation involving technology titans? His dark mind goes darker than usual in a story that is propulsive and fascinating and which I found really hard to put down.

There’s the re-appearance too of Tony’s childhood friend from A Prayer for the Dead; Norman Bale.  Norman is locked up for life in Bestingfield Secure Psychiatric Hospital, so how can he possibly know anything about Anya?

Interspersed with Operation Caterwaul and Anya’s disappearance, we are treated to more information about how Tony and his partner Emma are faring and it’s always a delight when Grumpy Bob Laird chooses to grace an investigation with his presence.

Oswald’s trademark slightly surreal investigations into dark deeds give rise to this reader’s fears that something is out there just waiting for the balance to tip in evil’s favour. Each dark discovery; each psychotic killer who leaves a malevolent discovery for McLean to find, is merely adding to the likelihood of that day coming faster.

Oswald’s has the ability to weave these complex elements together in a gripping and spell-binding tale which combines tension with well-paced writing and an overarching sense of the ancient battleground of good versus evil.

Verdict: Taut prose and excellent plotting plays on our collective fears, leading to a twisty, dark and propulsive story populated with terrific characters which is impossible to put down. Another cracking read in the Tony McLean series, which only serves to create an insatiable appetite for more!

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James Oswald is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling Inspector McLean series of detective mysteries, as well as the new DC Constance Fairchild series. James’s first two books, NATURAL CAUSES and THE BOOK OF SOULS, were both short-listed for the prestigious CWA Debut Dagger Award. BURY THEM DEEP is the 10th book in the Inspector McLean Series.
James farms Highland cows by day and writes disturbing fiction by night.

Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Vampire Menace by Olga Wojtas (Miss Blaine #2) @OlgaWojtas @SarabandBooks @LoveBooksGroup #MissBlaine'sPrefect

Source: Review copy
Publication: 14th February from Contraband
ISBN-13: 978-1912235506

The intrepid librarian Shona McMonagle, erstwhile Marcia Blaine Academy prefect and an accomplished linguist and martial artist, finds herself in an isolated French mountain village, Sans-Soleil, which has no sunlight because of its topography. It’s reeling from a spate of unexplained deaths, and Shona has once again travelled back in time to help out. Forging an uneasy alliance with newly widowed Madeleine, Shona is soon drawn into a full-blown vampire hunt, involving several notable villagers, the world-renowned soprano Mary Garden – and even Count Dracula himself. Will Shona solve the mystery, secure justice for the murder victims and make it through a deathly denouement in the hall of mirrors to return to present-day Morningside Library?

I am really thrilled to be starting off the blog tour for the welcome return of Shona McMonagle, librarian extraordinaire and graduate of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls.This is a return is to be feted. This time our intrepid librarian is in fin de siècle rural France, in the dark village of Sans-Soleil.

Shona has been sent on another time-travelling mission by the school’s eponymous matriarch, though she is on a warning. Her principal mission, to keep *that book* out of the library has been compromised by her attention to alcohol and subsequent hangover and horror of horrors, Miss Blaine herself has found her out. So Shona has been despatched post haste, and in no doubt that she must complete her mission satisfactorily, whatever that mission is….

Shona soon finds herself in the small-town of Sans-Soleil. Climbing out of the wooden box in which she has landed she quickly meets the local mayor and what seem to be the village elders, though their behaviour towards the mayor is somewhat confrontational. Fortunately, Shona’s education has prepared her not only to understand the lingua franca, but also to be able to diffuse any situation, and so, she wades in with her trusty Dr Martens and introduces herself as a tourist come to visit the village.  

The very idea of a tourist in Sans-Soleil is overwhelming and as the festival of Sans-Soleil is approaching, the Mayor can see an opportunity to really put the village on the map.

Shona is billeted with Madeleine, the widow of a local policeman who, she constantly proclaims, is not dead. Is finding him Shona’s mission? Or perhaps it is to find the reason that there’s never any milk for Shona’s tea and why everyone in the village is obsessed with cheese.

Sans-Soleil is dark because it is surrounded by a dense, dark forest, which has been ruled out of bounds by the town’s trustees. That isn’t of course, going to stop Shona, a woman whose curiosity could open a shop. It is not long before she meets the occupant of Slain Castle, Dracula himself.

Dracula is not quite what Shona had been led to believe and she and the Count bond over a shared understanding of what literature can do to ruin reputations if it is badly handled.

As she settles in to Saint-Soleil, determined to find and succeed in her mission, Shona takes the opportunity to offer the benefits of her classical education to the local schoolchildren, whose academic learning seems to have given way to more practical lessons.

The genius of Olga Wojtas’ writing is that she is able to combine fact and fiction to delightful effect. Wojtas wears her erudition very lightly and uses it to charm and delight the reader in a whole host of laugh out loud moments, even as she is teaching me things I did not know. The Toulouse Lautrec example was one I had to check for myself and was thrilled when I found it to be true.

Though Ms McMonagle is indeed very well educated, that does not stop her from leaping to conclusions and it is always more by accident than design that she is able to solve the mysteries she is sent to investigate.

Folklore, legends and historical figures are all used to fabulous effect in a magnificent time-travelling oeuvre that delights and entertains never failing to endear us to the hapless Shona.

The humour is especially good in this book. Shona may consider herself to be a Scot and an internationalist, but none of that stops her from trashing the parts of Scotland that are not Edinburgh.  From Aberdeen to her favourite bete-noir, Glasgow, she always has something to say about the customs and mores of these places that compares them in an unfavourable light to her beloved Morningside.

Verdict: For those who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they will love. Shona McMonagle is fast becoming a national treasure to be wheeled out every time we are in need of a good laugh and a stiff dose of classical erudition. No-one writes quite like Olga Wojtas and the sheer brio and delicacy of her writing is a real joy to read. It’s warm, original, funny and irredeemably Scottish without losing its wider appeal. Go. Buy it.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

Olga Wojtas is writer of postmodern crime fiction whose surrealist humour has been compared to the likes of PG Wodehouse, Jasper Fforde and the Marx Brothers. Her debut novel, Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar, has been published in the UK and US to great critical acclaim – being longlisted for the inaugural Comedy Women in Print Prize 2019, shortlisted for a CrimeFest Award, and named as one of the best mysteries and thrillers of the year by Kirkus. A journalist for more than 30 years, Olga was Scottish editor of the Times Higher Education Supplement before she began adding creative writing to her portfolio. She won a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award in 2015 and has had numerous short stories and several novellas published. Olga lives in Edinburgh, where she once attended James Gillespie’s High School – the model for Marcia Blaine School for Girls, which appears in Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the novel that inspired the Miss Blaine’s Prefect series.

Granite Noir 20 -23 February 2020 Less than a week to go. Do you have your tickets yet? @GraniteNoirFest @APArachel

With the very best in home grown and international crime fiction, a courtroom drama, poison cocktails, music and murder mystery escape games, Granite Noir, Aberdeen’s International Crime Writing Festival, returns to the city next week.   Now in its fourth year, Granite Noir is inspired by the Granite city – its history, its atmosphere and its strong sense of place – and events run from Thursday 20 to Sunday 23 February in interesting, quirky and unusual spaces across the city offering an arresting line-up for all crime fans.

Crime fiction’s popularity lies in its ability to tackle many topical issues and prick our social conscience.   Headlining Granite Noir 2020 are the legendary American author Sara Paretsky, Norway’s best-selling female crime writer Anne Holt, Ben Aaronovitch, author of the hugely popular Rivers of London urban fantasy series and Scotland’s own Ian Rankin who makes his first appearance at the Festival in conversation with comedian Phill Jupitus.   The North of Scotland’s connection with Scandinavia is reinforced with appearances from Norwegian, Swedish and Icelandic writers and home-grown talent includes conversations with Denise Mina, Helen Fitzgerald and Ambrose Parry

Crime Fiction is only one element of the exciting events in a packed Granite Noir Programme.    Non-fiction events include conversations with three of Britain’s most renowned forensic scientists who advise both the Police and crime writers and Robert Jeffrey who explores the remarkable story of Peterhead Prison, a truly grim institution with a fearsome reputation.  Using original records from Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives, Outcasts: Women, Crime and Society, a free exhibition at the Music Hall and Lemon Tree, examines our morbid fascination with female criminals and looks as far back as the witchcraft paranoia around Aberdeen during the 1590s.

Criminally good music events include Phill Jupitus and Ian Rankin spinning tunes from their own collections and David Holmes, a Belfast-born DJ and composer and the winner of a BAFTA for his score for the Killing Eve BBC TV series, who is joined by journalist Tom Morton to discuss his life and work and Stuart Cosgrove who discusses the surprising link between soul music and murder.    

The fun and games continue with The Locked Door: Murder at the Movies escape room where participants revisit the crime scene, collect clues and solve puzzles to crack the case.  Film screenings, performances of Dial M For Murder starring Tom Chambers and Christopher Harper, writing workshops, an evening of Gin and Sin, local history walks and talks, a Poison Cocktail Party and Poisoned High Tea complete the line-up of events for adults. 

Little Detectives can enjoy Monstrously Funny Adventures with Justin Davies and his adventurous character Alice MacAlister as she meets some hilariously scary monsters – and learn how to howl like a werewolf (in English, French and maybe even Doric) or join the CSI:  Crime Squirrel Investigators with author and CBeebies screenwriter Emily Dodd as she explains how to identify different animals, and invites children to take part in the woodpecker hip hop track as she sings, raps and plays guitar.

Go here for the full programme

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano @napolitanoann @VikingBooksUK #DearEdward

Source: Review copy
Publication: 20th February 2020 from Viking
PP: 352
ISBN-13: 978-0241384077

One summer morning, a flight takes off from New York to Los Angeles. There are 192 passengers aboard: among them a young woman taking a pregnancy test in the airplane toilet; a Wall Street millionaire flirting with the air hostess; an injured soldier returning from Afghanistan; and two beleaguered parents moving across the country with their adolescent sons, bickering over who gets the window seat. When the plane suddenly crashes in a field in Colorado, the younger of these boys, 12-year-old Edward Adler, is the sole survivor.

Dear Edward depicts Edward’s life in the crash’s aftermath as he struggles to make sense of the meaning of his survival, the strangeness of his sudden fame, and find his place in the world without his family. In his new home with his aunt and uncle, the only solace comes from his friendship with the girl next door, Shay. Together Edward and Shay make a startling discovery: hidden in his uncle’s garage are sacks of letters from the relatives of the other passengers, addressed to Edward.

As Edward comes of age against the backdrop of sudden tragedy, he must confront some of life’s most profound questions: how do we make the most of the time we are given? And what does it mean not just to survive, but to truly live?

Dear Edward is the story of a 12 year old boy who is the sole survivor of a terrible plane crash. Anne Napolitano’s novel deals with how he processes existence; what happens when everyone you love has been taken away from you and how it feels to be the one left behind.

Dear Edward works because it is beautifully written, treading just on the right side of the potential mawkishness of this situation. Napolitano intersperses telling the story of Eddie’s life after the crash with scenes from the plane before it gets into difficulty.

Thus we get to meet some of the passengers; to know a bit about who they are and why they are flying; to understand a little of their hopes, fears and dreams.

Eddie’s family were flying from Newark to L.A. because Eddie’s mum, Jane, is a screenwriter. Right now she’s working on stuff that makes her money, but her dream is to write the script she’s been thinking about for years. Eddie’s dad, Bruce home-schools Eddie and his elder brother, Jordan because he doesn’t think schools teach kids to be sufficiently independently minded or to ask searching and difficult questions.

Eddie is 12; Jordan 15. Jordan is everything to Eddie and it is Jordan that creates the biggest hole in Eddie’s heart, because they were the closest they could be.

After the crash, Eddie goes to live with Jane’s sister, Lacey and her husband, John. Of course they take Eddie in, though now he has left Eddie behind; that was for pre-crash, now he is Edward. Lacey and John are nursing their own heartache and Eddie can feel that as soon as he walks into the house. It’s a crushing burden for a 12 year old boy who has lived through what Edward has experienced.

So as we get to know more about Edward, we are also up close and personal with the passengers – an eclectic range of people squeezed into a metal tube thousands of feet up in the air. The ailing old man, the gay veteran, the air stewardess and the jangling re-incarnation lady and most poignant of all, the woman who has just discovered she is pregnant. Each individual life matters to someone, even if just to themselves.

In an age where everything is public and Twitter and Instagram make people feel they have a right to access everyone’s lives, John and Lacey understand that Edward just isn’t going to be able to cope with the attention he is going to get and set out to shelter him as much as they can.

Edward has to get on with life; to learn how to put one foot in front of the other, but for him it is all by rote. He can’t sleep, he doesn’t feel anything and he has neither appetite nor any interest in anything. His life has to be lived, that much he knows, but he lacks interest in knowing how to do that. So it becomes about getting through each day; about not upsetting John and Lacey and about recognising that his status allows him latitude no other 12 year old boy would get.

It is his next door neighbour’s daughter, Shay, who helps him through. She finds a way to make him consider his situation and to give expression to at least some of what he is feeling, in a way that his psychiatrist has never achieved. She’s a straight talker and Edward finds he appreciates that, especially since she’s not going to let him mess her around – and Edward’s life is full of people who don’t know how to say ‘no’ to him.

As Edward recovers from his physical injuries and goes to school, Shay is by his side every step of the way. But Edward is not really living his life; he’s just going through the motions and that much is made clear by the juxtaposition with the scenes from the plane where we are let in to the intimate secrets of the passengers and understand what each has lost when the plane goes down.

Dear Edward is about how Edward learns to live with almost unbearable grief to make a start towards recovery. Part of that is finding a sense of purpose and learning all over again how to connect with people and how to let emotion back into his life. A sprinkling of dry humour keeps the overly sentimental at bay.

Verdict: Beautifully written, poignant and utterly compelling, Dear Edward is a sometimes heart-wrenching and powerful exploration of what it means to lose everyone and how the human spirit can re-connect and find a way to heal. Ultimately uplifting, it has the benefit of prompting this reader to ask ‘what is my purpose in this world?’ which can’t be a bad thing. Highly recommended.

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Ann Napolitano is the author of the novels A Good Hard Look and Within Arm’s Reach. She is also the Associate Editor of One Story literary magazine. She received an MFA from New York University; she has taught fiction writing for Brooklyn College’s MFA program, New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies and for Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Dear Edward currently has fifteen international publishers.

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Requiem for a Knave by Laura Carlin @HodderBooks @HodderFiction

Source: Review copy, Netgalley
Publication: 6th February 2020 from Hodder & Stoughton
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-1473661424

After the death of his mother, young Alwin of Whittaker leaves the only home he has ever known to seek answers about his unknown father through a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.

On the journey, Alwin falls in with a band of violent and marauding soldiers and is witness to their terrible crimes. When Alwin later joins up with a group of pilgrims, he must hide his identity . . . but he is not the only one with secrets to keep. Rosamund, a young woman travelling the same path, has much to conceal too.

The journey to discovering who he really is will lead Alwin into great danger and great passion. These are dark times, and through them, Alwin must shine a light.

Will the revelations to come destroy everything that came before?

Requiem for a Knave takes us to 14th Century Derbyshire where Alwin, a young farmer is tending to his dying mother. Her last wish, alongside an apology he does not understand, is that he go on a quest for knowledge of his father by embarking on a pilgrimage to Walsingham, after first seeking the help of the local Priest, Father Oswald.

For Alwin this will be a physical and mental journey that will help him to discover who he really is and along the way will challenge and change everything he thought he knew about himself and the world around him.

Laura Purcell writes beautifully and the medieval setting works brilliantly with the lyrical prose she adopts. Alwin is an innocent young lad, not wildly experienced in the ways of the world and Purcell makes his voice loud and clear drawing you in to the manners and mores of the time without hesitation.

I was carried along by the writing and by Alwin’s literal voyage of discovery as he unwittingly becomes the enabler of horrific violence and meets two people who will change his life. It’s not always clear to Alwin who is on his side and who may be plotting against him, as he somewhat stumbles his way towards the goal of his pilgrimage, but he is fortunate to meet Rosamund, a healer, who helps to keep him focussed.

With a nicely thought through take on gender politics in the Middle Ages, Requiem for a Knave is a gentle story with occasional flashes of extreme violence, and rather reminded me, in tone, of an Ellis Peters Cadfael story.

Verdict: A fine medieval voyage of discovery for a teenager searching for the truth of his ancestry. Well-written and researched, it is Alwin’s voice that carries the story and wraps the reader in a bygone age whilst simultaneously playing out some surprisingly modern sexual politics. I was engaged by it and enjoyed it.

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Laura Carlin’s first novel was The Wicked Cometh. Having left school at 16, she turned to writing after 28 years of working for a local bank. She lives in Derbyshire with her civil partner, two children and a Siamese cat called Antigone.

The Wreckage by Robin Morgan-Bentley @rmorganbentley @TrapezeBooks #TheWreckage

Source: Review copy
Publication: 6th February 2020 from Trapeze
PP: 336
ISBN-13: 978-1409194170

One fatal crash

Ben is driving on the motorway, on his usual commute to the school where he works. A day like any other, except for the crash.

Two colliding worlds

Adam has left his home for the last time. In his final despairing act, he jumps in front of Ben’s car, turning the teacher’s world upside down.

Three wrecked lives

Wracked with guilt, Ben seeks out Alice, Adam’s widow, and her 7-year-old son Max. But as he tries to escape the trauma of the wreckage, could Ben go too far in trying to ease his conscience?

Told primarily in the voices of Alice and Ben, The Wreckage starts out as a straightforward story about Ben, who accidentally kills Alice’s husband with his car. It’s such an easy thing to have done. over in the blink of an eye and Ben is, of course, traumatised. If you’ve ever had a car accident, you’ll know that any accident is in itself traumatic, never mind if, as a driver, you have been involved in an accident that has caused injury to someone.

This book made me relive those accidents I have had and made me ask myself what I would do if I were ever to be responsible for someone’s death. I can’t imagine what that might be like or whether I would cope. For sure, it would be something I could never get away from.

Ben is that driver. He’s a careful driver, as befits a schoolteacher. Always drives on the inside lane and never goes above 50. Yet he hits Adam who is at first in a vegetative coma and then dies. Ben feels so guilty. Visiting Adam in hospital, he feels a connection and a responsibility to Alice, the woman whose husband he has brought down and to her seven year old son, Max.

Ben is a bit of a fusspot, slightly old-fashioned in his ways, a tentative individual with no real close friends and little in the way of a social life, though he is liked as a teacher.

The accident impacts heavily on him and it’s not too long before we see that he is becoming a little fixated on Alice.  She seems to welcome having Ben to talk to and I wondered if their shared grief might bring them together.

Alice is an interesting quandary. She clearly loved Adam, but her behaviour is just a little off. She doesn’t seem to be nurturing of Max, has an acerbic tongue and is drinking just a little too much right now.

Robin Morgan-Bentley’s writing puts just the right amount of edge into these characters. Enough so that we can see that something’s not quite right, but not quite enough for us to discern exactly what lies behind their behaviour.

What starts out as an understandable connection, develops into something a bit more sinister and the tension that existed from the moment they met starts to hit home more clearly, causing us to worry about where this is all heading. The ability to see events from both characters perspectives adds bite to an already uneasy situation.

Terrific plotting means that Bentley carefully lays out all his surprises in a way that I did not see coming and it’s no exaggeration to say that I watched in horror as this book went from disturbing scenario to full on psychological shock.

What’s also good about this book is the way the writer has put an emphasis on the mental health of the male characters and understanding their internal monologues really helps to underline the impact of their actions.

Verdict: An assured debut with complex characterisation and excellent plotting which allows the immersive narrative to drive a dual viewpoint story which we quickly come to see cannot end well. Well-crafted and precise prose adds a level of class and distinction to this above average intelligent and thought-provoking psychological thriller.

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Robin Morgan-Bentley was born in London in 1987and has been making up stories since he was very little. After graduating from Cambridge University with a First Class degree in Modern and Medieval Languages, he worked at Google in London, Madrid and New York. Since 2014, he has worked with authors and actors at Audible. For the Audible Sessions podcast, he has interviewed many thriller writers, and it was his conversations with them that inspired him to start writing his stories down. Robin lives in north London with his husband, Pauly.

Death Deserved by Jørn Lier Horst & Thomas Enger (Blix &Ramm #1) trs Anne Bruce @EngerThomas @LierHorst @OrendaBooks @annecater @annembruce

Source: Review copy
Publication: Available now in e-book and on 2Oth February 2020 from Orenda Books
PP: 276
ISBN-13: 978-1913193003

Police officer Alexander Blix and celebrity blogger Emma Ramm join forces to track down a serial killer with a thirst for attention and high-profile murders, in the first episode of a gripping new Nordic Noir series…

Oslo, 2018. Former long-distance runner Sonja Nordstrøm never shows at the launch of her controversial autobiography, Always Number One. When celebrity blogger Emma Ramm visits Nordstrøm’s home later that day, she finds the door unlocked and signs of a struggle inside. A bib with the number ‘one’ has been pinned to the TV.

Police officer Alexander Blix is appointed to head up the missing-persons investigation, but he still bears the emotional scars of a hostage situation nineteen years earlier, when he killed the father of a five-year-old girl. Traces of Nordstrøm soon show up at different locations, but the appearance of the clues appear to be carefully calculated … evidence of a bigger picture that he’s just not seeing…

Blix and Ramm soon join forces, determined to find and stop a merciless killer with a flare for the dramatic, and thirst for attention.

Trouble is, he’s just got his first taste of it…

Sometimes you open a book and within a few paragraphs you know that this one was made for you. This is that book and I’m convinced, that series.

Regular readers will know that I am a fan of Jørn Lier Horst’s William Wisting series – where he uses painstaking, careful police work in his police procedural series to unravel the perpetrators of the crime. I’ve often said that Wisting is the policeman I’d want to investigate any crime against me. I’m also a huge Thomas Enger supporter; his prose is sublime and he has the capacity to infuse strong emotional resonance into strong, three dimensional characters and to couple this with acute observation of social issues.

So when two of my favourite Nordic writers join forces what would we get? The answer is both surprising and delightful, in a macabre way. Way more than the sum of their parts, that’s for sure. Death Deserved is a brilliantly paced, devastatingly plotted, crime fiction work with a contemporary slant, as a policeman and a blogger work together to unmask a lethal serial killer.

Emma Ramm has made a name for herself as a blogger by interviewing celebrities. Sonja Nordstrom has just written an explosive book entitled Always Number One, about her time as a top athlete. Emma has arranged to interview Sonja, but when she turns up at her house she realises that something isn’t right. The door is open; there are signs of disturbance and Sonja can’t be found.

Enter Alexander Blix, a policeman who still bears the scars of a hostage situation he was involved in years earlier. He and his new partner, Sofia Kovic are put onto the case of finding out what has happened to Sonja.

It isn’t long before celebrities start turning up dead all over the city and without an obvious link the police are baffled as to what is motivating their killer. Emma has theories though; celebrities are her bread and butter and as Alexander has zero interest in today’s media personalities, she is the one who can help inform the case.

Alex and Emma are unlikely collaborators, but there is a thread that links them that is stronger than it first appears and it’s good to see both Emma and Blix’s partner, Sofia looking out for the detective as he seeks to work out what is going on and why these celebrities are dying on his watch.

As Blix and Emma begin to pool their information Blix realises that Ramm is an intelligent, tough and very useful ally. Blix is still somewhat emotionally paralysed and more than a bit vulnerable while Ramm, who has had a difficult life, does not bond easily, preferring to channel her energies into her work. What begins as an uneasy alliance grows into a strong and fascinating partnership of these exceptionally well-drawn, three dimensional characters as the story gains pace and the drama intensifies.

A trail of puzzling clues scattered across Oslo has the police running about like headless chickens in an enthralling serial killer chiller that delivers excitement and intriguing mystery in an explosive countdown package designed to keep you reading into the wee small hours of the night.

Nicely encapsulating the ideas of today’s celebrity culture, Death Deserved is a fast paced and well fashioned depiction of what living in the media spotlight means for today’s shallow celebrity culture. In the dash for their fifteen minutes of fame, have these so called celebrities on a quest to be the most famous, brought about their own demise? Have they deserved their deaths?

Verdict: Death Deserved has it all. Superb tension and terrific plotting offers a suspenseful, chilling read. As befits a Nordic Noir novel, the atmosphere is superb as the reader is drawn into the heart of the action lending a deep frozen edge to this nail-biting serial killer novel. What makes it sing though is not just the terrific storytelling and the intense, macabre murders. It is that meshing of human lives and frailties with the psychological thriller elements of a demented killer that gives the reader an all too human drama that leaps off the page and makes you want more from this beautifully meshed pair of writers.

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

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