BLOODY SCOTLAND McIlvanney Prize #blogtour @BloodyScotland @Brownlee_Donald @FrancineElena

I’m delighted to have the opportunity to showcase one of the authors who has been shortlisted for the Bloody Scotland McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year 2020.

I reviewed Francine Toon’s Pine at the start of the year and you can see my review here.
The judges said of Pine: ‘an impressive and atmospheric novel, with a portrait of remote rural Scotland, bringing in issues of school bullying, mental health and alcoholism. Very readable and engaging, It’s also beautifully written.’

Francine Toon. photo: Libby Earland

Francine Toon grew up in Sutherland and Fife. Her debut novel, Pine is shortlisted for the 2020 McIlvanney Prize and the Bloody Scotland Scottish Crime Debut of the Year and longlisted for the Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award. Her poetry, written as Francine Elena, has appeared in The Sunday Times, The Best British Poetry 2013 and 2015 anthologies (Salt) and Poetry London, among other places. She lives in London and works in publishing.

I am thrilled that Francine has kindly agreed to join me on the blog for a chat, so without further ado, let’s dive in!

How does it feel to have a debut novel shortlisted in both the Debut category and for the McIlvanney Scottish Crime Novel of the Year? Did you think you were writing a crime novel when you started?
To be shortlisted for both feels absolutely incredible. I am so grateful to the judges. I really hoped that Scottish readers would connect with Pine, so being recognised by Bloody Scotland, of all places, made me feel quite emotional, to be honest.

I have always loved crime and thrillers, so I set out to write a book that would be page turning, with a dark mystery at its centre.

How long did Pine take you to write and what prompted you away from poetry and into prose?
Pine took me about five years to write, on and off. I am a fiction editor by day, so was always drawn to writing a novel, I just felt as though I had to psych myself up for it. Writing poetry was like getting good at sprinting while I was planning a marathon.

How much of Pine was informed by your growing up in Sutherland and do you lean towards a belief in the mystic yourself – do you, for example read the Tarot?
A lot of Pine is informed my childhood in Sutherland, in terms of the places and small details. The local town is a darker, beach-less version of Dornoch, the last place in the UK to execute a person for witchcraft – Janet Horne. I named the town in Pine, Strath Horne, after her. The forest is an even bigger version of the sprawling pine woods by my old house in Clashmore (a happier version of Clavanmore, where Lauren and her father live). Like the children in the book I used to play in the woods with my friends, every chance I had, building dens, reading the Beano and daring each other to eat dog biscuits. We also used to tell a lot of ghost stories, Scottish myths and urban legends that inspired me to give Pine a creepy, supernatural twist. I also paid homage to tropes in urban legends, such as the Vanishing Hitchhiker, babysitters, mysterious dripping sounds . . . I love all that stuff, maybe in a Stockholm Syndrome sort of way. 

I learnt tarot while writing Pine and the tarot reading scene in the book is the result of a ‘live’ reading I did as I wrote it and dreamt up the characters spontaneous reactions’ to the cards I pulled.

Pine works on a number of levels – as a coming of age novel; with Gothic overtones full of folklore and mysticism – but at the same time it’s a contemporary novel about darkness and sexual violence and about women staying strong amidst a small patriarchal community. What was your starting point?
My starting point was imaging a house I lived in when I was nine and the empty road at the end of my drive that stretched into the mountains, a wild place of pine trees and wild goats. On that empty road, I imagined a woman walking, wearing an oversized man’s dressing gown that she had grabbed as she fled, escaping danger. I started imagining who this woman was and where she came from. I knew that her story was going to be painful and dark, but I wanted it also to be cathartic for female readers and ultimately – without giving too much away – I wanted there to be a sense of power and revenge.

You work in publishing and have given advice to writers on what is important when writing a book. Are you good at taking your own advice?
I will just take a moment to laugh ruefully. I tried hard to take my own advice, but I think that editing your own novel is a lot like cutting your own fringe (something I have done a lot over lockdown). You ideally want someone else who has a bit of distance, because they’re going to do a much better job. One thing I did do was keep my cast of characters small and make them work hard for the narrative. I only wrote a new character if the story really needed it. But you can read all the creative writing books and listen to all the advice and writing, when it comes down to it, is just a real slog. I have more sympathy than ever for the writers I publish and their conscientiousness.

Tell us about a typical writing day – what’s your process and are you a plotter or a pantster?
As I work full time, I don’t really have a typical writing day, I just grab weekends, early mornings and evenings where I can. I find it hard to switch into the right imaginative mindset, so while I was writing Pine I listened to music to evoke a mood or place – everything from traditional fiddle playing to the Nine Inch Nails. I also listened to the true crime podcast My Favorite Murder religiously. I am obsessed with how women tell stories about things that scare them. I am also 100% a plotter. Writing by the ‘seat of my pants’ makes me nervous just thinking about it. But just because you have plotted something to the nth degree, doesn’t always mean it’s right for the novel and you have to be open to change.

Any plans for a second novel?
Yes, I have just started to write another book. I came up with what I thought was a completely different scenario to Pine, but then realised I am particularly drawn to themes of small communities, power, strong young women and a big, dark mystery.

My thanks to Francine for joining me. Pine by Francine Toon is published by Doubleday (£12.99)

The winners of both The McIlvanney Prize and the Debut Prize will be announced in the evening of Friday 18th September. The Bloody Scotland Festival is online this year and the programme and tickets (free of charge but please make a donation) can be found here: Bloody Scotland 2020

Read about the other finalists and see them interviewed; follow the blog tour

Capital Crime Book Club – Unboxed! @CapitalCrime @LizzieCurle @David_Headley @adamhamdy

To say I was excited when I received my very first Capital Crime Book Club Subscription Box would be an understatement. You sign up for a box of 2 crime and thrillers to be delivered every month and Capital Crime selects what you’re going to get. They’d e-mailed a couple of days in advance to let me know what it would contain, but nothing beats the thrill of unboxing the goodies and holding them in your hands!

So what was in the box?

Now, a hardback of one of this month’s most anticipated books, at your door, just 4 days after publication is immense, especially when accompanied by a paperback from the soaraway success that is Mark Edwards. The Capital Crime Book Club only promise two paperbacks per month, so a hardback is a real bonus. But there’s more…

My copy of The Thursday Murder Club is signed by the author! And Mark Edwards’ The House Guest also has a signed card accompanying it. That’s way more than a tenner’s worth in anyone’s money.

And…to round off the subscription box, there’s also a Mark Edwards limited edition pen that doubles as a torch. Cool stuff to go with the fantastic books! I do like a bit of merch with my crime.

So, for a first outing I am well impressed. Along with the subscription box, the Capital Crime Book Club also offers subscribers access to exclusive author content, competitions & prize giveaways, via their website and, of course, membership of a community that’s passionate about crime fiction.

It’s £10 a month if you sign up for a year, but if you want to try for a shorter period, you can pay a little bit more and have a three or a six month trial. Of course I checked prices and the cheapest current discounted price for The Thursday Murder Club that I could find is £10 (unsigned), so this subscription box offers seriously good value for money.

Want to find out more? Visit the Capital Crime Website where you’ll find all the information and an FAQ page to answer your questions.

Disclosure: I received this month’s box as a gift for review purposes

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman @richardosman @EllieeHud @VikingBooksUK

Source: Review copy
Publication: 3rd September 2020 from Viking
PP: 400
ISBN-13:  978-0241425442

My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy of this book for review purposes

In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders.

But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case.

Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it’s too late?

What a delight this book is! I’m not usually drawn to the gentler edge of crime, but I have to tell you that this is sublime. A sort of literary New Tricks with baking – and this time it’s not the cops who are the smartest interpreters of human behaviour. That talent belongs to Elizabeth who used to be…well, I don’t have to tell you, we all know what business Elizabeth was in before she came to Cooper’s Chase, the retirement village she now calls home.

Joyce is new to Cooper’s Chase. She used to be a nurse and after a discussion over lunch of knife wounds and the length of time it might take to bleed out, Elizabeth has inducted her into the gang of four, with Ibrahim, a retired psychiatrist and Ron, a former trade union leader, once dubbed, of course, ‘Red Ron’. Ron has a son who is no stranger to the law, and not in a good way. The Thursday Murder Club was originally set up by Elizabeth and her close friend Penny who used to be a DCI, to take a second look at some of Penny’s cold cases. Now Penny is in her final stages of an illness that has confined her to bed and so Elizabeth has selected Joyce to take her place in the Club.

Joyce writes daily in her journal and that is the mechanism through which we learn much of what transpires in the peaceful surroundings of the Kent countryside. As Elizabeth finds a companion soul in Joyce, she is soon meeting up every Thursday to discuss old cases.

Then property developer Tony Curran is murdered and the Club decide this is a case that is worthy of their talents. But first they have to find a way to access the police information. Enter PC Donna de Freitas. Recently arrived in Kent from the Met, she is sent to do an ‘old dears’ talk on security at the retirement village, only to find herself skilfully manoeuvred and utterly played by the four.

It isn’t long before they have wangled Donna onto the Kent Police murder team run by DCI Chris Hudson, a man who lives to work because he has no other life. The judicious use of lemon drizzle cake soon brings DCI Hudson into line and the Club members secure themselves a hotline to the investigation.

There’s a lovely flow to this crime novel, aided by some wonderful characters and the sense of adventure and spirit that these octogenarians display, even though in some cases their bodies let them down, or they need to write things down to remember them.

Osman’s characters are easy to like and to identify with and his wit is gentle and sometimes laugh out loud funny as we see our Club members use their wiles and deductive reasoning to get to the truth.

I defy you not to like these characters and I certainly came to like them a great deal. Though this is undoubtedly cosy crime, it is also crime with wit and flair and a nicely layered plot that stands up well against any of the golden age crime writers.

 A complex plot with lots of red herrings and some real villains, what makes this a stand out read is the combination of characters you come to like a great deal and the interweaving of the realities of their lives with some fabulous crime solving capers.

Verdict: This is a joy to read and hugely entertaining. Wit, warmth and compassion abound in this lovely book. Brilliant humour and pathos combine to produce a great read that had me smiling most of the way through. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to anyone. A must read and bring on the next case!

Buy the Thursday Murder Club

Richard Osman is a British television producer and presenter. The Thursday Murder Club is his first and, so far, best novel.

Truth Be Told by Kia Abdullah @KiaAbdullah @HQStories

Source: Review copy
Publication 3rd September 2020 from HQ
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-0008314729

My thanks to the publisher for the opportunity to read this novel in advance of publication


Kamran Hadid feels invincible. He attends Hampton school, an elite all-boys boarding school in London, he comes from a wealthy family, and he has a place at Oxford next year. The world is at his feet. And then a night of revelry leads to a drunken encounter and he must ask himself a horrific question.

With the help of assault counsellor, Zara Kaleel, Kamran reports the incident in the hopes that will be the end of it. But it’s only the beginning…

Powerful, explosive and important, Truth Be Told is a contemporary courtroom drama that vividly captures today’s society. You will not stop thinking about it for a long time to come.

WOW! Kia Abdullah is a really powerful writer and I loved this book. I really like courtroom dramas anyway, but this one is something special. Zara Kaleel, a qualified solicitor, is now working as a women’s sexual violence counsellor following a difficult case which profoundly impacted her life – as narrated in Abdullah’s first book, Take It Back.

When Kamran Hadid comes to see her, she feels strongly that this 17 year old boy really needs her help. Despite the fact that she is working in a women only space, Zara takes leave of absence to help Kamran, who sought her out because she is Muslim.

Kamran is a bright young man, destined for the glittering spires of Oxford and thereafter to a substantial job, where he is expected to excel. His family are affluent. They live in a pristine house in Belsize Park and his mother is associated with many charitable works while his father, a real traditionalist likes women to know their place and enjoys the recreational slaughter of wild animals from time to time.

 Kamran and his brother Adam (his parents are traditionalists but also aware of the status they want for their sons, so  their names have been chosen to blend in) attend the same male only London Hampton boarding school, where the pupils all share that blend of money and power in their backgrounds. They’re the Tom Ford boxer-clad class.

Then one night, everything changes for Kamran when, after a party where he has drunk too much, he finds himself in a position he would not ever have contemplated.

When he decides to seek help from Zara, he sets his life on a course that is going to turn the world he lives in upside down.

With sensitivity and forensic skill, Abdullah sets out to show us how this confident, privileged young man is persuaded to go to the law and what happens to him thereafter.  Around that, however, she examines the whole culture of toxic masculinity, how pervasive it is, how it is exploited by those with power and the devastating impact it can have on people’s lives.

By bringing Kamran’s family circumstances in, we can see where and how his values are formed and how those values are perpetuated by the school he attends and the classmates he mixes with. She explores the transgressive nature of sexual assault and the stigma of male rape and shows us its impact on everything Kamran does and on his family.

The school wants it dealt with internally – kept quiet, indeed. And Kamran will have to face a trial that will question the issue of consent.  

Abdullah’s exploration of these issues is deep and impactful whilst being sensitive and carefully done. There’s a deal of compassion here alongside an absolutely riveting storyline that avoids the stereotypical approaches and considers, family, faith and upbringing.

Its an emotive and highly charged read which also shows us the impact of this trial on Zara, whose own history suggests that taking this case might not have been her wisest course of action.

Verdict: An intelligent, powerful, emotive and intense read that absolutely blew me away. Kia Abdullah’s writing is absolutely on point. I felt for all the well-drawn key characters and her careful de-layering of all the issues is skilfully done. There are shocks and surprises to keep the reader engaged on a visceral level at the same time as we marvel at the sheer power of the dissection of the impact of toxic masculinity on this family and Kamran in particular. A must read.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

Kia Abdullah is an author and travel writer from London. She has contributed to The New York Times, The Guardian, BBC and Lonely Planet, and is the founding editor of outdoor travel blog Atlas & Boots, read by 250,000 people a month.

A TOMB WITH A VIEW The Stories and Glories of Graveyards by Peter Ross @PeterAlanRoss @headlinepg @Bookywookydooda

Source: Review copy
Publication: 3rd September 2020 from Headline
PP: 368
ISBN-13: 978-1472267795

My thanks to the publisher for the opportunity to read this book in advance of publication

Enter a grave new world of fascination and delight as award-winning writer Peter Ross uncovers the stories and glories of graveyards. Who are London’s outcast dead and why is David Bowie their guardian angel? What is the remarkable truth about Phoebe Hessel, who disguised herself as a man to fight alongside her sweetheart, and went on to live in the reigns of five monarchs? Why is a Bristol cemetery the perfect wedding venue for goths?

All of these sorrowful mysteries – and many more – are answered in A Tomb With A View, a book for anyone who has ever wandered through a field of crooked headstones and wondered about the lives and deaths of those who lie beneath.

So push open the rusting gate, push back the ivy, and take a look inside…

I am a huge fan of Peter Ross’s work and of his writing in particular. He is a writer who loves to seek out human stories, especially those that are warm and full of life and hope. He has always struck me as a journalist whose interest is in finding thre joy in life. A Tomb with a View is a perfect illustration of that. It is beautifully written, full of humanity and his great stories are told with understated flair.

Peter Ross spent some considerable time travelling across Britain and Ireland wandering round graveyards, talking to those who visit them, those who work in them, going on tours and gathering stories as he went.

In his introduction, Ross talks movingly about the book in the context of the Covid pandemic. Not just of lives lost, but of graveyards as a place of solace and a place to retreat to when parks became so crowded as to mitigate against social distancing. He tells us ‘ The coronavirus outbreak intensified this feeling I have that we are always in the company of the dead; that the outstretched palm is only a handspan away’. Ross is naturally empathetic. Here you will not find the hard edge of the journalist, humanity hidden under a veneer of cynicism. His curiosity and interest in people shines through; you feel he really does want to know as much as is possible about the lives of the people who are buried in our cemeteries and what befell them. And such stories there are a plenty! From the women from Wigtown who were tied to stakes and drowned for refusing to give up their Protestant faith to Hannah Twinnoy, who lies in a grave in Malmesbury Abbey and who became the first person in England to be killed by a tiger.

He spends time with Sheldon Goodman, the founder of Cemetery Club, which offers tours of London’s burial grounds, including one, Queerly Departed, a tour of Brompton Cemetery exploring the history of gay and lesbian Londoners buried there.

But what really interests Ross are the small stories, tales he says, that are everywhere ‘lying beneath the moss and leaves’. Tales like Douglas Crosby of Dundrennan, who died aged 7, it is said of a broken heart. A remarkable story that, whether true or not, still lingers.

Saddest, I found, are the forgotten graves. Those in York, on a patch of grass between two busy roads which house cholera victims from an outbreak in 1832, or the ‘Navvies’ Graveyard which marks the graves of 37 unnamed Irish workers who died of typhus in 1847 while building the Caledonian Railway.

There are touching stories too, a love story of a couple who lived for 80 years and had 12 children and who died within hours of each other; one could not exist without the other.

So many stories, from Muslim burials by Britain’s oldest firm of Muslim funeral directors to grand monuments, from Whitby Goths to tiny unmarked graves; each has a story and Ross accords each with the same degree of care and interest. There’s humour and there is also profound sadness.

You will not easily pass by the forgotten graves of unbaptised children in Ireland; graves which had to be dug by their parents because the church would have nothing to do with them. Ross also speaks to Mohamed Omer of the hugely difficult task he had of dealing with the profound bereavement of relatives of the Grenfell fire – a bereavement made so much more difficult because the bodies could not be buried for some considerable time. The pain of such deaths hangs heavy in the air.

Don’t though, take the impression that this is a gloomy or depressing book. It is quite the contrary. It is very much a celebration of the lives it contains. An appreciation of lives lived and of the stories within them and a tribute to those whose business is dealing with the dead.

Ross’s journey takes him to all manner of places, but perhaps the one that speaks to us today is the  most contemporary. Sharpham Meadow is a natural burial ground by Totnes in Devon. A secular place, with slate stones for markers, it is a place of calm and beauty where the bodies of those gone are put into the earth to become part of it. Bridget has buried Wayne there and often visits to chat to him. Ross’s conversation with Wyne’s funeral arrangers is fascinating. The Green Funeral Company offers an alternative path to the traditional funeral directors; one that urges creativity and is elemental in approach. It spoke to me of a way of doing things that felt less rigid and pompous and was for the living as much as the dead.

Verdict: There are so many stories in this book, it is one I will be dipping in and out of for some time. Beautiful prose, and fascinating stories told with compassion and genuine interest. Ultimately, this is a warm and thoughtful book, both intimate and poignant, that stays with you. In the midst of death, Peter Ross bring light and life to a subject that we should all talk more about.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

PETER Ross has worked as a journalist in Scotland since 1997. He is a six-time winner at the Scottish Press Awards and a fellow of the Orwell journalism prize. He is also the author of two collections of journalism. The first, Daunderlust, came out in 2014. The second, The Passion Of Harry Bingo: Further Dispatches From Unreported Scotland was published in 2017 by Sandstone Press.


The annual McIlvanney judges lunch was a virtual Bank Holiday breakfast this year with Karen Robinson in London, Stuart Cosgrove in Glasgow and James Crawford in Edinburgh.

All were impressed by the variety and diversity of the finalists, with titles of dark humour, historical research, ambitious and innovative writing which demonstrate the sheer range of the crime genre and continuing strength of Scottish crime writing.

The list includes two who were finalists / bemused winners last year when Manda Scott announced that she was sharing the prize (Ambrose Parry & Doug Johnstone); an author who is also shortlisted for the 2020 Bloody Scotland Debut Prize (Francine Toon) and someone who provided and operated the audio, lighting and staging for the first Bloody Scotland Festivals and only started writing three years ago (Andrew James Greig). When he heard he was a finalist he said: “As a sound engineer I pinned a lapel mic on William McIlvanney at what was to be his last appearance at Bloody Scotland in 2014. I never imagined that in six years time I’d become a writer myself and be a finalist for the prize that bears his name.”

Andrew James Greig

The judges praised WHIRLIGIG by Andrew James Greig (Fledgling Press) for an ‘ambitious, innovative concept and the most intricate modus operandi for killing the victims of any book this year…a real page turner’

Francine Toon

They described PINE by Francine Toon (Transworld) as ‘an impressive and atmospheric novel, with a portrait of remote rural Scotland, bringing in issues of school bullying, mental health and alcoholism.  Very readable and engaging, It’s also beautifully written.’

Doug Johnstone photo: Paul Reich

It’s the third time in five years that Doug Johnstone has been a McIlvanney Finalist. A perennial favourite at the Festival his latest book, A DARK MATTER (Orenda) was described by the judges as ‘a brilliant idea, a heartwarming portrait of a family with three generations of women set in an undertakers.  A confident, entertaining novel with dark humour, pace and energy.’

Ambrose Parry photo: Paul Reich

THE ART OF DYING is the second collaboration by husband and wife team, Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman. Chris won the McIlvanney Prize in 2016 with Black Widow and as Ambrose Parry they were finalists for the McIlvanney Prize last year. The judges loved the ‘original setting in Victorian Edinburgh’ and praised the ‘fascinating medical research’ and the ‘implicit love affair building between the two main characters – the medically trained man, and the untrained women (who is clearly the smarter of the two).’

The winner will be revealed from Stirling on Friday 18 September at 7pm and all the finalists are involved over the festival weekend. Andrew James Greig is on The Never-Ending Panel as is Doug Johnstone and Ambrose Parry; Chris Brookmyre (50% of Ambrose Parry) and Doug will also be participating in The Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers – Behind the Music and Crime at the Coo Online and Francine Toon has contributed to the debut short story in association with new sponsors of the two prizes, the Glencairn Glass. 

Marisa Haetzman (the other 50% of Ambrose Parry) summed it up when she said “It’s little surprise to say that this is the best news we’ve had all year.”

The McIlvanney prize is sponsored by The Glencairn Glass with match funding from Culture & Business Fund Scotland

The Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival takes place virtually this year from 17-20 September 2020. Full details and (free but please make a donation) tickets at

The Innocent Dead by Lin Anderson (Rhona MacLeod #15) @Lin_Anderson @panmacmillan

Source: Review copy
Publication: 6th August 2020 from MacMillan
PP: 416
ISBN-13: 978-1529033649

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this book

Mary McIntyre’s disappearance tore the local community apart, inflicting wounds that still prove raw for those who knew her.

So when the present-day discovery of a child’s remains are found in a peat bog south of Glasgow, it seems the decades-old mystery may finally be solved.

Called in to excavate the body, forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod uses the advances made in forensic science since Mary’s vanishing to determine what really happened all those years ago . . . and who was responsible.

One key person had been Karen Marshall who was devastated by her best friend’s abduction. Questioned by the police at the time had led to a dead end and the case soon went cold.

Now the news of the discovered body brings the nightmares back. But added to that, memories long-buried by Karen are returning, memories that begin to reveal her role in her friend’s disappearance and perhaps even the identity of the killer . .

You can read The Innocent Dead as a stand-alone, but I strongly recommend that if this series is new to you, you start from the beginning, because these are characters that you will grow to love and care about.

Rhona MacLeod is a forensic scientist, based in Glasgow though her heart lies in the Isle of Skye. DS Michael McNab is her foil, friend, sparring partner and there’s been a frisson between them for quite some time though their stars never seem to quite align – apart from that one time. There are similarities between the two. Though both are in relationships, neither seems to want a serious long term commitment sufficient to warrant, say, moving in together. And though Rhona is more sought after than seeking, McNab is never slow to spot a pretty woman.

One of the reasons I love this series is that, terrific characters apart, there’s a huge amount to be learnt from these pages about the nature and process of forensic science. Anderson wields this knowledge lightly, but it is integral to solving the cases and is clearly extremely well researched, utilising some of the best forensic brains in Scotland – as witnessed in the acknowledgements.

In this book, Rhona is newly returned to work. A previous case, and years of dealing with some truly terrible murders, had bestowed on her the gift of PTSD and only a combination of therapy and a long sojourn on Skye had get her to the point of feeling she is ready to go back to work.

It’s not long before her first case is brought to her. A child’s body has been discovered by a couple of wild swimmers in a lochan, buried in a peat bog at the side of the loch. A supermarket plastic bag on scene, helps establish some parameters for a timeline and it is soon established that the timeline fits the disappearance of 11 year old Mary McIntyre some 45 years ago.

Now the police and forensic team assemble to look at this cold case afresh. Rhona and her assistant, Chrissy; McNab, still a bit chippy after his demotion, and his partner, DS Janice Clark, a woman who knocked back his advances at the start of their partnership, but didn’t let that impact on their working relationship. Also involved are Professor Magnus Pirie, whose interview with a newly released paedophile who lived in the area has thrown up possible leads, and the former Detective turned author, DI Jimmy McCreadie who investigated the original disappearance of Mary McIntyre all those years ago.

I love the different interactions between these characters and their respective partners. Lots of personal chat, food related moments and some gentle socialising all help to establish these characters as real life personalities and the reader gets to know and form opinions about them all.

In this book, Rhona’s ex, the father of her son, Liam makes a re-appearance and from the outset we know that he’s up to something, though we’ll have to wait and find out what that is. It won’t be good though, that much we can already tell.

A key character to the case is Karen Marshall, Mary’s best friend. But Karen has never been the same since her husband, Jack died, and she still talk to him even as she sees portents that lead her into thinking that she really does need to try and remember exactly what she knew all those years ago. But is Mary a reliable narrator?

Anderson has taken what is quite a complex case and offers up a series of suspects for our inspection. Mary and Karen came from different sides of the religious divide in quite a small community where folk were used to knowing their neighbours and understanding how to deal with them. Children were seen and not heard and that’s how the police dealt with them, too. Mary’s disappearance has always been a source of concern and now with the discovery of the body and developments in forensic science, it looks like answers may be finally forthcoming.

The emotive nature of this case makes the reader wonder how Rhona will react to it and though the death of a child and the potential issues around it are awful, Anderson handles this element well, with care and without resort to unnecessary detail. The solution when it comes is as tense and dramatic as you’d expect and makes perfect sense.

Verdict: Another well-plotted and fascinating case for my favourite forensic scientist. The depth of characterisation, the humour and the interpersonal banter and relationships make this series come alive. The cases are always interesting and I love that sense of place comes through strongly in everything Anderson writes. The Innocent Dead is another winner.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

Lin Anderson is a Scottish novelist and screenwriter best known for her bestselling series featuring forensic scientist Dr Rhona MacLeod of which there are currently fifteen novels, five of which have been long listed for the Scottish Crime Book of the Year, with Time For The Dead being a 2020 finalist.
Lin is co-founder of the international crime writing festival Bloody Scotland which takes place annually in Stirling, Scotland, mid September.

Details of participants in the blog tour

The Diver and the Lover by Jeremy Vine @CoronetBooks @hodderbooks @JennyPlatt90

Source: Review copy
Publication: 3 September 2020 from Coronet
PP: 368
ISBN-13: 978-1529308433

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this novel

Soaked in sunlight, love and the mysteries surrounding a famous artist The Diver and the Lover is a novel inspired by true events.

It is 1951 and sisters Ginny and Meredith have travelled from England to Spain in search of distraction and respite. The two wars have wreaked loss and deprivation upon the family and the spectre of Meredith’s troubled childhood continues to haunt them. Their journey to the rugged peninsula of Catalonia promises hope and renewal.

While there they discover the artist Salvador Dali is staying in nearby Port Lligat. Meredith is fascinated by modern art and longs to meet the famous surrealist.

Dali is embarking on an ambitious new work, but his headstrong male model has refused to pose. A replacement is found, a young American waiter with whom Ginny has struck up a tentative acquaintance.

The lives of the characters become entangled as family secrets, ego and the dangerous politics of Franco’s Spain threaten to undo the fragile bonds that have been forged.

A powerful story of love, sacrifice and the lengths we will go to for who – or what – we love.

I knew I had to read this book as soon as I knew that the painting that inspired it was Dali’s St John of the Cross. This painting had such a massive impact on me growing up. It was the one painting my parents took me to see, such was its fame and such had been the ruckus about the cost of its purchase.

It loomed above me at the top of a grand staircase in Kelvingrove and the sheer luminosity of the painting is amazing; so it was not really surprising to me that Jeremy Vine should also be captivated by it – and by its story.

Though there are some small parts of the actual story as related by Vine that I think aren’t quite right, that doesn’t get in the way of what is an amazing true story and which Vine has built on to give us some depth and background to the reign of terror that was Franco’s Spain and to Dali – himself a Fascist sympathiser.

Ginny and Meredith are sisters, though they have not been brought up together. Meredith suffers from mental health problems as a result of a traumatic upbringing and Ginny, her younger, teenage half-sister, is really the one who takes the lead. They have travelled to Catalonia from Hull for a holiday and to help Meredith overcome the terrible things she has lived through. Meredith loves modern art – something she shared with her long deceased mother and so has chosen Catalonia because of her fascination with Dali who is then living in Port Lligat not far from the hotel where they are staying.

Also in the hotel is American stuntman Russell Saunders. He’s being paid a significant sum to be a model for Dali, and he is chaperoned by the most awful PR woman, Siobhan Lynch, there to make sure that Dali’s requirements are adhered to so that her firm can earn their share of Saunders’ fee.

A young waiter called Adam is also living and working in the hotel as a waiter. He comes to Ginny and Meredith’s attention because it is his habit to make the most beautiful and stunning dive from a high cliff every morning.

From these characters Vine creates a carefully woven narrative that brings in Dali, his partner Elena Dmitrievna Diakonova (known as Gala)  and Dali’s passion and art; Franco’s Spain and the resistance movement and an overwhelming story of love, art, secrets and grand passions that spans half a century.

The reader will learn of Dr Tom Honeyman’s purchase of the Christ of Saint John of the Cross for the City of Glasgow Corporation – a purchase which, at the time, was very controversial. Vine takes real characters and weaves them into a fictional narrative that offers a story of danger, love, sacrifice and betrayal.

Meredith’s love of art will be the catalyst for bringing together all these characters and over the course of time the sisters will understand the nature of what it is to be exploited and betrayed and will come to learn about art and passion and true sacrifice.

Verdict: It is the sweep and the dark passion of this novel that makes it work for much of the time, though there is a slight tendency towards melodrama. There are elements of the story that seem out of their time, and this is a bit distracting. I was also a little unsure of Vine’s depiction of a young girl in a foreign country and how she might behave. But I gloss over these for the good of the story, which does work and which helpfully has Dali’s own flamboyant and unconventional behaviour to assist in establishing a base for this, also sometimes flamboyant, narrative.

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Jeremy Vine is one of the UK’s best-known broadcasters. He presents a weekday show on Radio 2, radio’s most popular news programme. He also presents Jeremy Vine on Channel 5, a daily current affairs programme, and he fronts Eggheads, one of the longest-running quiz shows in British TV history. Jeremy is an accomplished journalist and writer and has previously published two works of non-fiction. He lives in Chiswick with his wife and their two daughters.

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Fifty Fifty by Steve Cavanagh @SSCav @OrionBooks @Orion_Crime

Source: Review copy
Publication: 3rd September 2020 from Orion
PP: 368
ISBN-13: 978-1409185864

My thanks to the publishers, Orion, for a review copy of this book.

Two sisters on trial for murder. They accuse each other.

Who do YOU believe?

‘911 what’s your emergency?’

‘My dad’s dead. My sister Sofia killed him. She’s still in the house. Please send help.’

‘My dad’s dead. My sister Alexandra killed him. She’s still in the house. Please send help.’

One of them is a liar and a killer.

But which one?

Do you know what? Just away and buy this book, will you? I know you won’t be sorry. It’s FANBLOODYTASTIC! Honestly, I ripped through it, loving every single minute.

I am a huge fan of the Eddie Flynn books anyway. There’s something about this conman turned lawyer that is a little bit cheeky and I love that he is never knowingly on the side of the bad guys.

But this one is a cut above even the most excellent of these books. This one is a humdinger. First we have the fantastic premise. Alexandra and Sofia Avellino are the daughters of a wealthy former New York Mayor, Frank Avellino, who now lies dead – stabbed 53 times in a house occupied by only his daughters.  Two sisters, in the same house, both have called 911 and each is claiming the other sister has murdered her father.

Neither woman likes the other. Both have had difficult lives and neither presents the best side of themselves – assuming they both have a good side. Every time Flynn thinks he’s found a weakness, it is closed up by a contrary piece of evidence from the other side.

Eddie’s biggest issue comes with having to decide which client he will take on. He likes to be convinced of their innocence from the outset, but with this one a balance of probabilities is required in the absence of any other obvious evidence.

It’s a tricky situation and in true Flynn form it’s only going to get more convoluted. Things are not helped by the fact that prosecuting this case is a man who would like nothing better than to lock up both women and throw away the key – and he wouldn’t mind at all bringing Eddie and the other sister’s Counsel down with them.

Kate Brooks is the other Counsel. For good reasons, she shafted her firm Levy, Bernard and Groff to get this case and now the firm’s senior partner is prosecuting it. Kate, too, believes in her client’s innocence – so much so that she has pitted herself against Eddie Flynn to win it.

Cavanagh sets up his scenes with so much tension and twistiness that each has you reeling from one sister to another as you hear the latest revelations. With his trusted team of former judge, Harry Ford and investigator Harper, Eddie uses all his wiles to ensure that his client gets the innocent verdict she deserves.

As we follow the case, we are also treated to the murderer’s perspective. Known only as ‘She’ we learn a little of what was going through her mind as the trial progresses. The net result is that it feels like you in a fast paced game of table tennis – only you are the ball, being batted backwards and forwards between the accused sisters.

Once again, Cavanagh nails the whole aspect of a courtroom drama and in doing so in this book he offers us more of a glimpse into the life and world of Eddie Flynn and offers the reader some serious character development opportunities that I hope to see further explored in future novels.

Verdict: Top class, twisty, engaging and completely compulsive reading. Fantastic characters and a SUPERB plot. I adored this book. Steve Cavanagh is at the top of his game and long may that continue. An absolute MUST READ. Go, buy it…NOW!

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Steve Cavanagh is a critically acclaimed, best-selling, award-winning author of the Eddie Flynn series. His third novel, The Liar, won the CWA Gold Dagger for Crime Novel of the year 2018. He is also one half of the Two Crime Writers and a Microphone podcast. His latest novel, Twisted, is a Sunday Times Bestseller.

The Hit List by Holly Seddon @hollyseddon @alexxlayt @trapezebooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 28th August 2020 from Trapeze
Narrators: Stephanie Racine, Damian Lynch, Chris Reilly, Tuppence Middleton, Perdita Weeks
Length: 11 hours 13 minutes

Congratulations, someone wants you dead.

When Marianne’s husband, Greg, is knocked off his bike and killed on the way to work, she must unpick the life he left behind. Numb with grief, Marianne consoles herself by scouring Greg’s laptop, finding comfort in reading his old emails and tracing his footsteps across the web. Until one day, she discovers that he had been accessing the dark web. Why was Greg, a principled charity worker and dedicated husband, logging on to a website that showcases the worst of humanity’s cruel impulses and where anything is available for a price? Marianne steels herself and logs on. After tentative searching, she discovers her name on a hit list.

In this fast-paced, powerful and exceptionally plotted novel, Marianne must figure out whether Greg was trying to protect her or whether he was complicit in the conspiracy for her murder. As she is pulled deeper into the depths of the underworld that Greg was seemingly hostage to, she gets closer and closer to coming face to face with Sam – the assassin hired to kill her. The dark truths that Marianne uncovers speak volumes about the dark underbelly of our society and forces us to question how far we would go to protect those we care most about.

It’s just as well that Holly Seddon’s The Hit List has multiple narrators because this book is so twisty and moves about so much, you do need to understand who is talking at any given point.

The initial scenario is riveting: a grieving young widow is taking what comfort she can by trying to keep close to her dead husband. She re-reads his e-mails, looks at the photos he keeps on his laptop and generally just spends hours tracing him though his online activity for no other reason than to know he made footsteps in the sand that she can look at.

In the first part of this twisty thriller our protagonists are Marianne, Greg’s widow and Sam. Marianne is spending the anniversary of Greg’s death looking for his footsteps. Only this time, she discovers that Greg had been active on the dark web, using a Tor browser. Now Greg was a gentle soul; a charity worker whose raison d’être was to help people. She cannot imagine what he could possibly have been doing on the dark web and is really worried. What concerns her deeply though is that she finds a webpage with ‘hit-lists’ on it and her name is on one such list.

She begins to question everything she ever thought she knew about her husband as she desperately tries to rationalise how on earth this could have happened. There are four other names on the list alongside hers – so she will begin by researching each of them. None of them are people she knows.

Having completely hooked me and reeled me in, Seddon then takes us to our second narrator, Sam. Sam is the person charged with carrying out the executions on the hit list that Marianne features on.

I love that we get Sam’s story alongside those of the others and slowly begin to understand something of what is going on and how Greg was drawn in to the dark web.

Seddon knows how to ramp up the tension and she certainly loves a great cliffhanger; often I was left holding my breath as another surprising moment came up unannounced. There’s a wonderful sense of geography in this book too. There are multiple locations and each is meticulously described in a way that enables the reader to ‘see’ them and that makes the tension more palpable when a killer is in the same place as their potential victim.

That’s good because by the time you have been dragged down into the well of iniquity that is the dark web and have discovered what is behind the hit list and what savage acts have been committed, you’re going to understand that all these things have happened in the plain light of day as people go about their ordinary business in the places that you have just seen and understood in your mind’s eye. Somehow, everything hits that much harder as a result.

Seddon weaves a dark web…ok, Seddon uses the dark web to weave an ever darker tale made the more terrifying because it has ordinary people caught up in it with nowhere to turn. By the time you have heard Greg’s story and then some of the others, you will realise what a terrible tangle he was in.

It’s a complex plot and fortunately very well narrated by an excellent cast making it easy to follow as the pace hots up and the tension grips and you realise just who is behind everything and why this has happened.

Verdict: I enjoyed and was entertained by The Hit List. I did sometimes want to smack a couple of the characters because their actions made me stop and suspend my disbelief, but this is fiction after all and a beautifully structured, nicely twisted tale at that!

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Holly Seddon’s first book, TRY NOT TO BREATHE, was published in 2016 and went on to be a bestseller in the UK, Ireland, Germany and Australia. A USA Today bestseller, it was also an audiobook, paperback and e-book bestseller in various countries. Her second novel, DON’T CLOSE YOUR EYES, was published in July 2017 in the UK, USA and in many other countries. In May 2o18, it hit number one in the audiobook charts. LOVE WILL TEAR US APART was published in June 2018. She is one half of the Honest Authors, co-hosting a fortnightly podcast on the realities of life as a published author.

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