The Cut by Chris Brookmyre @cbrookmyre @LittleBrownUK

Source: Review copy
Publication: 4 March 2021 from Little, Brown
PP: 416
ISBN-13: 978-1408712153

Millie Spark can kill anyone.

A special effects make-up artist, her talent is to create realistic scenes of bloody violence.

Then, one day, she wakes to find her lover dead in her bed.

Twenty-five years later, her sentence for murder served, Millicent is ready to give up on her broken life – until she meets troubled film student and reluctant petty thief Jerry.

Together, they begin to discover that all was not what it seemed on that fateful night . . . and someone doesn’t want them to find out why.

This is a terrific read. An excellent fast-paced crime novel with lots of personality, oodles of humour and some stand out, sheer brilliance. Part crime caper, part serious murder mystery, this book left me smiling at the most unlikely detective pairing this side of Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu.

Millie Sparks is 72 and depressed. She’s spent the last 25 years in prison for the murder of her lover Markus – a murder she doesn’t remember committing. Now she’s on parole and living on the charity and company of Vivian and Carla, two old friends in Glasgow. She’s had enough and is ready to take her farewells but she hasn’t reckoned on meeting Jerome.

Jerome or Jerry as he prefers to be known, is a young man whose troubled past should be behind him, but he can’t seem to shake it off. He’s taking a film course at university but he feels a bit unsettled. He doesn’t really fit in, even though he knows his subject very well, and he’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders leading to occasional rebellion and bouts of poor behaviour.

Millie and Jerry share one thing in common. Millie used to be a special effects make-up artist working on horror films and Jerry’s specialist film subject is horror movies, a passion fuelled by his grandmother’s video business. When Jerry finds lodgings with Vivien and Carla, he’s happy enough to be in decent digs at a low rent and the company of old women is fine for him,  a boy brought up by his grandmother.

But when the household go out for a ‘welcome and getting to know you’ meal one evening at a local hotel, Millie wanders off intending not to return. Looking for her, Jerry finds staring at a photograph on the walls of the hotel. Realising that this photograph contains the possibility of answers to what happened to her that night 25 years ago,  Millie becomes animated and a determination to find the truth flares up in her.

Told in a dual timeline, the present and flashbacks to 25 years ago we learn of the film that Millie was working on; a film that Jerry is also a bit obsessed with. Mancipium was a horror film that never made it to release, so beset by problems that it acquired a legend all of its own. It is said that evil lurked in the film and many who worked on Mancipium met a grisly end and Millie, of course, knows only too well that at least one person died.

Now though, Jerry and Millie find themselves in certain danger and have to get out of the country to escape and so that they can begin to track down those who might be able to offer some answers as to what happened to Millie and Markus all those years ago.

These two characters are genius. They spark off each other and their dialogue is sparkling, funny and peppered with film references. Brookmyre’s trademark black humour gets free range here and it is glorious.

Milie and Jerry travel through Europe in a flash car mingling with the rich and famous; film stars, artists and politicians as well as heavy metal movie sets and horror sets that owe more to sleaze than shock. Pursued by killers, they have to stay one step ahead if they are to remain alive long enough to solve the case. As they work together, they both realise that they have reasons to keep on living.

Verdict: The Cut is a delicious read, full of wit and dry observation, with great, honestly drawn characters you can’t help but like. The writing is crisp and sharp and Brookmyre isn’t afraid to skewer his targets. I really laughed out loud as much as I was drawn into the crime elements of this sometimes dark and twisted rollercoaster of a redemptive crime story.  This is peak Brookmyre and I loved it.

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Chris Brookmyre was a journalist before becoming a full-time novelist with the publication of his award-winning debut Quite Ugly One Morning, which established him as one of Britain’s leading crime novelists. His 2016 novel Black Widow won both the McIlvanney Prize and the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award. Brookmyre’s novels novels have sold more than two million copies in the UK alone.

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward @Catrionaward @ViperBooks @MirandaJewess

Source: Review copy
Publication: 18 March 2021 from Viper Books
PP: 352
ISBN-13: 978-1788166164

My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review

This is the story of a murderer. A stolen child. Revenge. This is the story of Ted, who lives with his daughter Lauren and his cat Olivia in an ordinary house at the end of an ordinary street.

All these things are true. And yet some of them are lies.

You think you know what’s inside the last house on Needless Street. You think you’ve read this story before. In the dark forest at the end of Needless Street, something lies buried. But it’s not what you think…

I am very impressed by the canny choices that Viper Books are making. They are quickly carving out a place in my library with a strong and varied range of must read books, characterised by strong and imaginative writing.

The Last House on Needless Street is one such book. A properly named psychological thriller, it is the very definition of layered. Immaculate storytelling, interlaced with beautifully constructed plotting provides the base layers for an atmospheric, eerie tale that had me hanging on every word.

This is an insidious book, it draws you in, letting you believe that it is a conventional tale, one perhaps that is not dissimilar to other crime novels you have read, but the deeper you read, the more you realise that there is nothing at all conventional about this story.

Ward’s characters are convincing and very well drawn and her descriptive abilities are such that at least one of her characters makes your skin crawl and give you nightmares. This story is told by multiple voices, at least one of them unconventional, which gave me pause for thought – but bear with it; it all makes sense in the long run.

An expert at making the reader feel they are constantly walking through shifting sands, the dark woods at the end of the road that is Needless Street sit like a brooding dark mass, threatening to reveal everything, unsettling, yet giving nothing away until they are ready.

Two characters are central to the story. Ted is a maladjusted adult and single father to Lauren, a child who visits his ramshackle house occasionally. Dee is the sister of a missing girl. She feels the police have let her down in the hunt for her sister’s abductor and is on a quest to find her sister where they have failed. Driven by guilt she seems to be the most obviously straightforward character, but her driven quest is obsessive and there is darkness around her that never lifts.

Catriona Ward expertly leads us into chilling territory, keeping us off balance, showing us some real moments of terror yet never quite revealing the whole picture.

I love the way she keeps the reader constantly out of kilter, never quite sure who and what to believe, constantly questioning what is going on. There’s real skill and sharpness  here and it shines through.

Verdict: Dark, original and disturbing this is also a book with enormous poignancy, heart-breaking moments and real tragedy. It’s ultimately very haunting and deeply thought –provoking and will sit in my brain for a long time to come. Absolutely recommended.

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Catriona Ward was born in Washington, DC and grew up in the US, Kenya, Madagascar, Yemen, and Morocco. Her debut Rawblood won Best Horror Novel at the 2016 British Fantasy Awards, and was a WHSmith Fresh Talent title. Little Eve won the Shirley Jackson Award, was a Guardian best book of 2018 and won the Best Horror Novel at the 2019 British Fantasy Awards. She lives in London and Devon.

Photo c. Robert Hollingworth

*COVER REVEAL* The Great Silence @doug_johnstone @OrendaBooks

I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am at the prospect of the third Skelfs book coming to bookshops this year! This has been one of the best series I have read in years and I love the way Doug Johnstone portrays this family of three generations of women who run a funeral home and a P.I. service.

The Great Silence is the third book in this trilogy which started with A Dark Matter and was followed by The Big Chill.

So what is The Great Silence about? Here’s the skinny:

Keeping on top of the family funeral directors’ and private-investigation businesses is no easy task for the Skelf women, and when matriarch Dorothy discovers a human foot while walking the dog, a perplexing case presents itself … with potentially deadly results.

Daughter Jenny and grand-daughter Hannah have their hands full too: The mysterious circumstances of a dying woman lead them into an unexpected family drama, Hannah’s new astrophysicist colleague claims he’s receiving messages from outer space, and the Skelf’s teenage lodger has yet another devastating experience. Nothing is clear as the women are immersed ever deeper in their most challenging cases yet. But when the daughter of Jenny’s violent and fugitive ex-husband goes missing without trace and a wild animal is spotted roaming Edinburgh’s parks, real danger presents itself, and all three Skelfs are in peril.     

Taut, dark, warmly funny and unafraid to ask big questions – of us all – The Great Silence is the much-anticipated third instalment in the addictive, unforgettable Skelfs series, and the stakes are higher than ever.

Doesn’t that sound MAGNIFICENT?!

Such a FANTASTIC book deserves an AMAZING cover, and that’s what this one delivers in spades! Isn’t it GORGEOUS? Designed by the wonderful Mark Swan who makes so many of Orenda’s special book jackets. I love this cover and can’t wait to read the book. So EXCITING!!

Here’s a bit about the author, the supremely talented writer and musician, Doug Johnstone.

Doug Johnstone is the author of twelve previous novels, most recently The BigChill (2020). Several of his books have been bestsellers and three, A DarkMatter (2020), Breakers (2019) and The Jump (2015), were shortlisted for theMcIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. He’s taught creative writing and been writer in residence at various institutions over the last decade, and has been an arts journalist for over twenty years. Doug is a songwriter and musician with five albums and three solo EPs released, and he plays drums for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of crime writers. He’s also player-manager of the Scotland Writers Football Club. He lives in Edinburgh.
Follow Doug on Twitter @doug_johnstone
Visit his website: dougjohnstone.com

Photo: c. Duncan McGlynn


The Great Silence is out in e-book on 19th June and in paperback on 19th August

Pre-order here:
E-book : The Great Silence
Paperback: The Great Silence

The Jigsaw Man by Nadine Mathieson @nadinematheson @HQstories

Source: Review copy
Publication: 18 February 2021 from HQ
PP: 448
ISBN-13: 978-0008359393

My thanks to HQ for an advance copy for review

There’s a serial killer on the loose.

When bodies start washing up along the banks of the River Thames, DI Henley fears it is the work of Peter Olivier, the notorious Jigsaw Killer. But it can’t be him; Olivier is already behind bars, and Henley was the one who put him there.

The race is on before more bodies are found.

She’d hoped she’d never have to see his face again, but Henley knows Olivier might be the best chance they have at stopping the copycat killer. But when Olivier learns of the new murders, helping Henley is the last thing on his mind . . .

Will it take a killer to catch the killer?

Now all bets are off, and the race is on to catch the killer before the body count rises. But who will get there first – Henley, or the Jigsaw Killer?

Nadine Mathieson’s The Jigsaw Man is notable for the way in which its characters come to the page fully formed with impressive back stories. It feels as if you are reading the third or fourth in a series and that the author is recapping for you. In different hands this could be clunky and irritating; here it feels assured and impressive.

Set in Deptford in South East London, this police procedural features a diverse set of characters who very clearly have a great deal to offer for future stories. D. I. Anjelica Henley is a driven police officer and wife to Rob, mother to Emma. She has recently returned to active duty in the Serial Crimes Unit after suffering severe injuries at the hands of a violent killer who is now in prison. That case got her promotion, but it also took a huge toll on her mentally and has put a strain on her marriage.

New to the station and to Deptford is DC Salmi Ramouter who was being mentored by Anjelica’s police partner, DS Paul Stanford and who is now to be put under Anjelica’s wing. He’s smart and enthusiastic but also nursing some difficult personal issues which are bound to put a strain on him as he progresses.

Mathieson builds a credible and pacy storyline with its fair share of darkness and grisly moments as a serial killer stalks the streets of Deptford. Is this a copy -cat killer? Someone who is killing in the manner of Peter Oliver, the vicious killer that DI Henley has put away?  And if so why are these killings happening?  Henley knows she has not made a mistake, the man she put away is the Jigsaw Killer – the one who tried to kill her and almost succeeded, and so what is going on now?

With a healthy complement of grisly body parts including severed heads, Mathieson’s serial killer is a tension driven, fast-paced novel that keeps the reader glued to the pages waiting breathlessly for the next revelation. There are some lovely twists and some great characters all of which adds to the enjoyment.  The last quarter of the book felt a little too drawn out for me and lost pace somewhat as a result, but I like these characters and will certainly return for more.

Verdict: If you like your serial killers dark and gory, tension-fuelled and surprising then this book will keep you riveted as you try and work out who is killing and why and then watch open mouthed as the Serial Crimes Unit team place themselves at the heart of the danger. Recommended.

Bookshop.org                                Hive Books                                     Waterstones

Nadine Matheson has always been passionate about writing and storytelling. She was born and lives in London and is a Criminal Solicitor. In 2016, she won the City University Crime Writing Competition and completed the Creative Writing (Crime/Thriller Novels) MA at City University of London with Distinction in 2018.

What Will Burn by James Oswald (Inspector McLean #11) @SirBenfro @antoniawhitton

Source: Review copy
Publication: 18 February 2021 from Wildfire
PP: 464
ISBN-13: 978-1472276148

My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review

The charred remains of an elderly woman are discovered in a burned-out game-keepers cottage, hidden away in woodland to the west of Edinburgh. Clearly no accidental fire, Detective Inspector Tony McLean suspects that neither is this simply a grim arson attack. There is far more to the victim than her humble surroundings might suggest, and something ritualistic to her horrific murder.

Nor will it be the only case of death by fire that Tony and his team will be faced with. This is only the beginning, and with such evil clouding the air, Tony begins to wonder what else will burn . . .

Whoop! Tony McLean is back with a bang. They’re all here in this 11th outing of our favourite unruly detective. After the events of the last book, Tony’s on suspension awaiting news of his fate and thus it is Acting D.S. Janie Harrison who is sent to a game-keepers cottage tucked away in the in the wooded grounds of Bairnfather Hall.

90 year old Cecily Slater has been burned to death but whether by accident or design is hard to tell. There’s little in the way of forensics and with staff shortages it’s not looking like a priority, though when it is discovered that Cecily Slater was the aunt of Lord Bairnfather, they realise that he will want to be kept abreast of the investigation.

Tony’s return to work coincides with the appointment of a new Chief Super. Gail Elmwood is smart, says all the right things and is clearly looking to get on Tony’s good side. She’s even made sure he only steps down one rank when his punishment is meted out. Now he’s back to plain D.I. and he’s more than happy that he can lose all that paperwork and get back to doing a job he loves.

When the post mortem reveals that Cecily Slater was badly hurt prior to her death, he realises that they’ve been slow to react and finding her killer is not going to be easy.

D.S. Janie Harrison, meanwhile, is attending to a bit of a rammy outside a major Edinburgh Hotel where the well-known and rather obnoxious lawyer Tommy Fielding is holding a conference on men’s rights. Women are protesting against the vile tactics used by this man in defending his clients against charges of rape and sexual assault.

That’s what’s going on on the surface. Underneath, however, there are much bigger ripples.

In a story where James Oswald employs his created universe to bring in one character we have met in his Con Fairchild series, we are also deliciously treated to Madame Rose and to a brief appearance by Jane Louise Safire, so you know that something is very definitely afoot. We also meet another intriguing character who feels more than fleeting and I have the sense that ripples from this story will continue to resonate across future books.

Cleverly interlacing past and present, Oswald draws clear parallels between what happened centuries ago and events of the present day. Atmospheric, intriguing and beautifully executed, this is Oswald on excellent form. There’s humour – not least in the visual image of Tony tootling round Edinburgh in Emma’s electric car and quite a lot of wry observation. We celebrate the reappearance of Grumpy Bob and the promotion of two women within the team. I loved seeing the character of Janie Harrison come into her own with excellent results.

As two investigations proceed in parallel and more deaths occur, it becomes clear that they are all related. But what the connection is and how their macabre deaths occurred is something that will require more than an obvious police approach. Oswald has written some excellent strong voices into this book, many of them women and while they’re not all likeable, that strength underpins the ripples of ‘otherness’ that permeate this book, drawing you into to a perfectly understandable and acceptable alternative version of what’s going on. The forces of good v evil are at work here, even though it’s not always obvious quite who is good and who is evil.

As Madame Rose tells Tony; “It annoys you when I speak of dark forces and the balance of things. It is out of kilter all the same, though, whether you believe it or not. I fear it will be up to us to put it right. Again.”

Verdict: I hung on every word of this delicious, pacy tale. I love the sense of supernatural forces that underpin this series and I’m delighted by the characters and even more pleased to see that Janie Harrison has learnt some maverick ways from McLean which are bound to stand her in good stead for what’s to come. A splendid addition to an unmissable series.

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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.

The Source by Sarah Sultoon @SultoonSarah @OrendaBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 15 February 2021 in e-book; Paperback April 15th 2021
PP: 263
ISBN-13: 978-1913193591

My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review


A young TV journalist is forced to revisit her harrowing past when she’s thrust into a sex-trafficking investigation in her hometown. A startling, searing debut thriller by award-winning CNN journalist Sarah Sultoon.

Every now and again a book comes along that touches the core. The Source is that book. Part of that lies in its veracity. I’ve spent a lot of my working life in and around newsrooms and when Sarah Sultoon writes about newsgathering and investigations, the authenticity of what she writes is so strong it gleams in the darkness.

That’s probably why I had this incredible feeling all through the book that what she was telling me was real, not fiction. That feeling is rare and that makes this book special. Chilling is a word we use a lot in relation to thrillers, but if what you mean is that cold dread; that slick of fear that stops you dead in your tracks; that lurch in your stomach as you know something of what is coming, then yes, this is chilling.

Reading about child abuse is always going to have a harrowing impact. Couple it with sex trafficking, abject poverty and neglect and line it with institutional corruption and cover-ups and you have a genuine, heart-wrenching scandal of major proportions on your hands.

Sultoon’s novel views all of this from the perspective of Marie, a young but talented journalist and through the eyes of Carly, a young girl brought up near an army base whose father is dead and whose mother is incapable of looking after herself, never mind her children. Carly’s sole aim in life is to protect her baby sister from neglect. The narrative comes through their stories intertwined with a ten year gap between. We experience events through these perspectives so what we get is the intensity of the feeling and emotion without any need for graphic exploration. Nonetheless, I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that it still feels pretty harrowing and emotionally raw.

Sultoon’s writing is crisp and spare. Her exposition of how abuse of power works and the devastating tendrils that institutional corruption can send out to all corners is brilliantly transmitted. Her dialogue is convincing and I felt very drawn to her characters.

The Source is not a big book, but it is an important one. This is why independent publishers exist – to tell stories like this one that have real impact and reflect a real world. Taking risks is what Orenda Books is all about and this one has paid off in spades.

Verdict: A white knuckle experience that offers an unflinching portrait  of the abuse that exists on our streets and those who trade in it. Sultoon uses her journalistic credentials to excellent effect, handling the subject matter with deftness, sensitivity and assured skill and creating characters we desperately care about. The Source is a tense, edge of the seat read that will have you biting your nails down to the quick. Thought provoking, emotional and sometimes brutal it is both thrilling and heart-wrenching.

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Sarah Sultoon is a journalist and writer, whose work as an international news executive at CNN has taken her all over the world, from the seats of power in both Westminster and Washington to the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan. She has extensive experience in conflict zones, winning three Peabody awards for her work on the war in Syria, an Emmy for her contribution to the coverage of Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, and a number of Royal Television Society gongs. As passionate about fiction as nonfiction, she recently completed a Masters of Studies in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge, adding to an undergraduate language degree in French and Spanish, and Masters of Philosophy in History, Film and Television. When not reading or writing she can usually be found somewhere outside, either running, swimming or throwing a ball for her three children and dog while she imagines what might happen if…..

Daughters of Night by Laura Shepherd Robinson @LauraSRobinson @MantleBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 18 February 2021 from Mantle
Narrator: Lucy Scott
Length: 15 hours and 29 minutes
ASIN No: B084Z2PHSV

My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review

From the brothels and gin-shops of Covent Garden to the elegant townhouses of Mayfair, Laura Shepherd-Robinson’s Daughters of Night follows Caroline Corsham as she seeks justice for a murdered woman whom London society would rather forget….

Lucia’s fingers found her own. She gazed at Caro as if from a distance. Her lips parted, her words a whisper: ‘He knows.’

London, 1782. Desperate for her politician husband to return home from France, Caroline ‘Caro’ Corsham is already in a state of anxiety when she finds a well-dressed woman mortally wounded in the bowers of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. The Bow Street constables are swift to act, until they discover that the deceased woman was a highly paid prostitute, at which point they cease to care entirely. But Caro has motives of her own for wanting to see justice done and so sets out to solve the crime herself. Enlisting the help of thieftaker Peregrine Child, their inquiry delves into the hidden corners of Georgian society, a world of artifice, deception and secret lives. 

But with many gentlemen refusing to speak about their dealings with the dead woman and Caro’s own reputation under threat, finding the killer will be harder and more treacherous than she can know….

You absolutely do not have to have read Laura Shepherd Robinson’s previous book, Blood and Sugar, but you will love it if you choose to do so. I liked it so much I read it then bought the audiobook to listen to it again such is the pleasure it offers.

So I was very keen to read Daughters of Night; so much so that this time I went straight to the audiobook. And I was utterly thrilled by it. Captain Harry Corsham was the central protagonist in Blood and Sugar. Now he is away in France on Government business and it is his wife, Caroline Corsham who takes centre stage in this rich and fabulous book.

It’s tiring for Caro being left alone in London with no-one to squire her around all the pleasures that London society has to offer. Set in 1782, when the American Civil war was raging, Daughters of Night is a beautifully rich tale of two societies and a fascinating exposition of how women were viewed at the time. Shepherd-Robinson’s prose is an absolute delight. Her storytelling is rich and sumptuous and she writes in such a descriptive way that you can picture everything as if you were there and sometimes even experience the deeply pungent smells of the streets.

As the book opens, Caro is in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens at night in search of her friend the Italian Countess, Lady Lucia whom she has met through her brother, Ambrose. Caro has arranged to meet Lucia because Lucia has promised to assist her with a problem that Caro cannot manage herself.

But when Caro reached the bower that is their pre-arranged meeting place, she finds Lucia dying, bleeding from numerous from stab wounds. Her dying words are “He knows…”

Utterly distraught, Caro presses the Bow Street Constables to pursue Lucia’s murderer, but when it is revealed that Lucia is not an Italian Countess, but a prostitute named Lucy Loveless, their concern to identify the perpetrator disappears like snow off a dyke.

But Caro is not so easily dismissed. Whether Lucy or Lucia, the woman was a friend and Caro is determined to see justice done. And so begins an investigation into the morals and mores of Georgian Society and the London ton with its political secrets and influences, the secret clubs, the scandals and above all the rank hypocrisy of the monied and titled classes.

Caro has to find her way through the beau monde of Georgian Society at the same time as she is learning about how the poorest women end up in prostitution.  To help her navigate the yawning class divide she employs the services of a thief taker, Peregrine Child (who also appears in Blood and Sugar) to help her investigations.

This is such a rich and layered story it is hard to do it justice. An absolutely compelling historical novel, with a fascinating and deeply twisty and surprising murder mystery at its heart, it is also a beautifully explored exposé of the treatment of women and especially of the sex trade; of the double standards employed by men and of how they subjugated women at every turn and of the yawning gulf between the classes. (Some things never change). Laura Shepherd Robinson’s use of language is robust and rings out loud and clear with verisimilitude, endowing her prose with another layer of sumptuous authenticity.

The characters here very much become people you care about, so much so that when one of them lets Caro down badly, you feel both their pain and so hurt that Caro puts her trust in someone who is not in the end worthy.

Exposing the vile and corrupted sex trade she also shows the resourcefulness of women and the strength they show in the face of adversity. Caro is one such woman and when all the chips are down she will take a courageous stand on behalf of all women, regardless of the personal cost. She is an early feminist in an age where such a thing is unthinkable.

A word here for the truly stunning narration by Lucy Scott. A narrator can make or break an audiobook and Lucy Scott’s narration is pitch perfect, her silken voice marching the pace and tone of the book perfectly.

Verdict: I adored this book. It’s rich, warm, layered and utterly fascinating. I have absolutely no hesitation in shouting about it from the rooftops. This is how historical fiction should be, drawing you in and making you feel part of that world; caring what happens to the people in it. Bravo!

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Laura Shepherd-Robinson is an author, born in Bristol in 1976. She has a BSc in Politics from the University of Bristol and an MSc in Political Theory from the London School of Economics.Laura worked in politics for nearly twenty years before re-entering normal life to complete an MA in Creative Writing at City University. She lives in London with her husband, Adrian. Blood & Sugar, her first novel, won the Historical Writers’ Association Debut Crown, was a Waterstones Thriller of the Month, and a Guardian and Telegraph novel of the year. It was also shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger and the Sapere Historical Dagger; and the Amazon Publishing/Capital Crime Best Debut Novel.

The Killing Choice by Will Shindler (DI Alex Finn #2) @WillShindlerAuthor @HodderBooks @JennyPlatt90

Source: Review copy
Publication: 11 February 2021 from Hodder & Stoughton
PP: 336
ISBN-13: 978-1529301755

My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review

Leave your daughter with me, or I will kill you both’

It felt like a normal Friday evening before Karl and his daughter Leah were ambushed by a figure in a blank mask. At knife point, Karl is forced to make an impossible choice. Stay and die, or walk away from Leah and take this thug’s word that they both will live.Should Karl trust a villain and leave his daughter with a knife at her throat? Could he ever live with himself if he did?

It’s not long before more seemingly unconnected and innocent people across London are offered a deal in exchange for their life. More blood is spilled, more families shattered, and more people are left to suffer with the consequences of their decisions.

DI Alex Finn and DC Mattie Paulsen must hunt for a killer that appears to have no face, no motive and no conscience before more victims are forced to make their choice.

The Killing Choice is the second in the DI Alex Finn series, following on from The Burning Man. It can happily be read as a stand-alone, though I’d urge you to read The Burning Man as there will be character progression cross the series and it’s always good to get in early. I believe this is a series that will stand the test of time as the characters are grounded in reality and Shindler’s sense of place is excellent.

Karl Suleman and his daughter Leah are on their way to a father/daughter date night at a London restaurant when they are ambushed by a lone figure with a strange, faceless visor, who is armed with a zombie knife. London is of course, the capital of knife crime and when the masked figure gives Karl a choice – leave and I’ll rape your daughter or stay and I will kill you both, Karl looks at his daughter who urges him to go and so he runs, looking for help in the hope that he can get it for Leah before the masked figure does his worst.

Haunted with guilt, Karl has difficulty coming to terms with the choice he was offered and the decision he made. Nor can his wife understand it. DI Alex Finn and his colleagues DC Mattie Paulson and DS Jackie Ojo investigate. Is this case somehow related to the problems they have been having with rival County lines drugs gangs which are prevalent on the housing estates in their patch? Turf wars are reaching new heights and violence is spilling into the streets.

Then another family is targeted and another choice is offered. DI Alex Finn is struggling. Though his team has his back, he knows he’s not operating at his best and worse, his boss knows it too. Struggling with the death of his wife Karin,  Finn’s thinking is clouded and he knows he should be spotting connections between the victims and their families but he just can’t get his head in the right space to think clearly.

Mattie Paulson takes more of a role in this book and it’s good to understand a bit more about the team and its individual players. She has her own troubled past and now new family troubles to deal with and we see her trying to deal with these family issues at the same time as she is trying out a new aspect of the job; being a family liaison officer where she can’t allow her emotions to come into play. Mattie’s always been a bit of a loner and this job is not really in her comfort zone. The press is having a field day, passing judgement on Karl for making his choice and Mattie who is not really comfortable where she isn’t wanted, finds herself second guessing her own actions and wondering what she could have done differently.

Paulsen and Finn have each other’s backs, but both find themselves struggling somewhat in a story that is all about family and the choices we make and how easy we all find it to pass judgement on others.  

Meanwhile, in the South East London Hope Estate the drug wars continue and as Finn struggles to see what connection with drugs if any there might be, another struggle is playing out between Isaiah Sims and his sons Hayden and Michael.

Shindler paces the book really well enabling the tension to build as the murders continue and the team, desperate to stop them, search for answers while not seeing or understanding where the connection and motivation lies.

Verdict: Well plotted with nicely drawn characters who feel believable, this is a tense and twisting novel that strikes just the right balance between plot and character, resulting in a well-honed book that captures the imagination and holds attention. Most enjoyable.

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Will Shindler has been a Broadcast Journalist for the BBC for over twenty-five years, spending a decade working in television drama as a scriptwriter on Born and Bred, The Bill and Doctors. His time on these leading prime time dramas has given him a rich grounding in authentic police procedure, powerful character development and gripping narratives. He currently combines reading the news on BBC Radio London with writing crime novels and has previously worked as a television presenter for HTV, a sports reporter for BBC Radio Five Live, and one of the stadium presenters at the London Olympics. He is the writer of The Burning Men and The Killing Choice.

The Art of Death by David Fennell @DavyFennell @BonnierBooks_UK

Source: Review copy
Publication: 4th February 2021 from Bonnier Zaffre
PP: 432
ISBN-13: 978-1838773427

My thanks to the publisher for the opportunity to read an early copy for review

London’s latest art installation is a real killer . . .

An underground artist leaves three glass cabinets in Trafalgar Square that contain a gruesome installation: the corpses of three homeless men. With the artist promising more to follow, newly-promoted Detective Inspector Grace Archer and her caustic DS, Harry Quinn, must race against time to follow what few clues have been left by a savvy killer. As more bodies are exhibited at London landmarks and live streamed on social media, Archer and Quinn’s pursuit of the elusive killer becomes a desperate search. But when Archer discovers that the killer might be closer than she originally thought – she realises that he has his sights set firmly on her

 . . . He is creating a masterpiece. And she will be the star of his show.

​Every now and then I get a tingle on the back of my neck that is the signal that I have found a book that is exactly what I wanted and needed to read. The last time was MW Craven’s The Puppet Show and the subsequent series of Washington Poe books has more than lived up to that initial frisson of excitement.

Now David Fennell has come forward with D.I. Grace Archer, the police inspector with a past to overcome and her steady DS, Harry Quinn who is himself carrying a burden that weighs heavily.  Archer has recently been promoted and is now based in Charing Cross Station, a station where a number of the detective team and her boss have good reason to resent her presence.

Flawed detectives with pasts to overcome are a trope of crime fiction, but how that is handled can make all the difference and here Fennell uses it lightly enough to make Grace interesting without letting it impinge too much on the plot and leaving sa lot to be revealed in what will hopefully be future books.

Right from the off we are in dark territory. An unknown man in a café is sitting, watching and choosing his victims from those who pass through after first identifying them though their social media profiles. Thus begins a process of catfishing, where our mystery man courts his victims by telling them what they need to hear and they, without much of a second thought, fall for the smooth charm. A slimeball stalker is on no-one’s list of desirable dates, but this one is clever.

Grace Archer’s first day at her new station is a bumpy one. She’s hardly got her coat off when an she is called out to an art installation in Trafalgar Square which is causing a commotion. When she sees it she realises straight away that this is a murder scene. Three men are on display and they are being live streamed across the world on social media.

The artist, self styled as @nonymous has called this gruesome piece, ‘The Forsaken’. So begins an intensely creep, chilling crime novel in which this artist embarks on a killing spree  using ever more ‘creative’ techniques for an audience that can’t get enough of it. Fennell’s use of social media shows us that in so many ways we lay ourselves open to abuse and are becoming accustomed to accept anything that is laid before us at face value. Nothing is shocking any more except the very shocking and then it is acceptable if labelled ‘art’.

More of these murderous installations appear and Archer finds herself drawn far more deeply into the investigation than she would have wished, and suffers in her role for that. Fennell gives us lots of suspects to consider many of them unsavoury characters but pleasingly, the victims here are more than cyphers, but are portrayed as family members, friends and partners   and their lives you know, counted for someone, making them authentically drawn.

Though many of the chapters are written from the perspective of D.I. Grace Archer, you also get a range of perspectives from some of the victims to the killer, adding to the character depth. Grace’s own closest relationship shows her humanity in a stark contrast to a violent, psychopathic killer.

The Art of Death ramps up the tension brilliantly, each gruesome murder building on the last until the final exciting and gripping denouement.  

Verdict:  I loved The Art of Death with its well-drawn characters, its fast pace and the layered, twisty plotting with loads of misdirection. With a compelling protagonist and a chilling and uber creepy antagonist this book has everything you need to keep you enthralled into the wee small hours. I really hope there’s more of Grace Archer to come.

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David Fennell was born in Belfast during the Troubles. Writing was his escape from Northern Ireland’s smothering political unrest. As a boy, he read Sherlock Holmes, Ian Fleming and Tolkien; books he still loves today. He left school at 16 and trained as a chef at Rupert Stanley College. With youthful dreams of a new life, he left Belfast for London in 1985 with £50 in one pocket and a dog-eared copy of Stephen King’s The Stand in the other. He worked in bars and restaurants and later worked as a writer in the software industry. David has played rugby for Brighton and was awarded the 2009 Player of the Year for the veteran’s team. He loves to cook and is learning to box. He lives in Brighton with his partner and their two dogs.

Find you First by Linwood Barclay @linwood_barclay @HQStories @fictionpubteam

Source: Review copy
Publication: 4th February 2021 from HQ
PP: 400
ISBN-13: 978-0008332044

My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review

One will change your life.
One will end it.
Who will … FIND YOU FIRST?

It’s a deadly race against time…

Tech billionaire Miles has more money than he can ever spend, and everything he could dream of – except time. Now facing a terminal illness, Miles knows he must seize every minute to put his life in order. And that means taking a long hard look at his past.

Somewhere out there, Miles has children. And they might be about to inherit both the good and bad from him – possibly his fortune, or possibly something more sinister.

So Miles decides to track down his missing children. But a vicious killer is one step ahead of him. One by one, people are vanishing. Not just disappearing, every trace of them is wiped.

Lockdown is a funny old thing and it certainly has an impact on my reading. I find that sometimes I crave an easy, fast, entertaining read that’s going to lift me out of my all-too-familiar surroundings and whisk me away somewhere else. Delightfully, Linwood Barclay’s Find You First does all that in spades.

So where have I been whisked away to? Pleasingly, I am in the world of billionaires, glass and chrome buildings, high tech houses and the foibles of the monied.   Miles Cookson made his fortune from the apps that grace every smart phone in America. He has more money that he can keep track of and though he is single, he is content to devote his energy to his company. Until that is, he receives unwelcome news that causes him to re-evaluate his priorities.

Miles employs his brother, Gilbert as a trusted colleague and family member, but he is less keen on Gilbert’s wife, Caroline, a woman he finds to be both greedy and manipulative.  As Miles looks back to a time when, in need of funds, he took steps to make money by selling his sperm, he determines that he will seek out those who carry his genes and make sure he looks after them.

But however determined Miles is to find the fruit of his loins, someone is equally determined that he will not do so, and thus young people start disappearing just as Miles tracks them down. All except Chloe, a 22 year old waitress and would-be documentary maker who has been documenting her family history and who has already submitted her DNA to a family tracing site.  Through this site she discovers she has a half–brother, Todd whom she visits in his trailer. When Miles finds Chloe and explains who he is, they go together to find Todd, only to find the Todd gone and the trailer completely empty of any of his belongings and reeking of bleach. As others disappear or turn up dead, it is obvious that something very nasty is going on. Chloe and Miles start to bond and soon they are in a race against time to track down the perpetrators of these disappearances.

Barclay weaves a well-plotted, fast paced rollercoaster-ride of a tale. He draws great characters it is easy to warm to and his villains are excellent too. He manages to get quite a bit of depth into his characters by creating light and shade and imbuing them with some interesting moral quandaries, so that, although this is sheer glorious, fantastic escapism, you are still drawn to and fascinated by those characters – though his villains are very clearly wrong ‘uns.

On form here with a plot that changes course in a series of captivating sharp twists and turns, Barclay creates great tension and surprise through unexpected and sometimes eye watering plot moments. Find You First held me in its grip and did not let go until it had squeezed the last drop of enjoyment from me.

Verdict: There’s a lot to be said for rip-roaring escapist entertainment right now and Linwood Barclay is a master of his art in this regard. Find You First is pure entertainment and all the better for it. It swept me up, carried me along and took my mind off the world as I read it. Just what the doctor ordered.  A great read.

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Linwood Barclay is an international bestselling crime and thriller author with over twenty critically acclaimed novels to his name, including the phenomenal number one bestseller No Time For Goodbye. Every Linwood Barclay book is a masterclass in characterisation, plot and the killer twist, and with sales of over 7 million copies globally, his books have been sold in more than 39 countries around the world and he can count Stephen King, Shari Lapena and Peter James among his many fans.
Many of his books have been optioned for film and TV, and Linwood wrote the screenplay for the film based on his bestselling novel Never Saw It Coming. He is currently working with eOne to turn the Promise Falls trilogy into a series. Born in the US, his parents moved to Canada just as he was turning four, and he’s lived there ever since. He lives in Toronto with his wife, Neetha. They have two grown children.

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