The Party House by Lin Anderson  @Lin_Anderson @panmacmillan @PipsMcE

Source: Review copy
Publication: 4 August 2022 from Pan Macmillan
PP: 368
ISBN-13: 978-1529084511

My thanks to Philippa McEwan and Pan Macmillan for an early copy for review

Devastated by a recent pandemic brought in by outsiders, the villagers of Blackrig in the Scottish Highlands are outraged when they find that the nearby estate plans to reopen its luxury ‘party house’ to tourists.

As animosity sparks amongst the locals, part of the property is damaged and, in the ensuing chaos, the body of a young girl is found in the wreck. Seventeen-year-old Ailsa Cummings went missing five years ago, never to be seen again – until now.

The excavation of Ailsa’s remains ignites old suspicions cast on the men of this small community, including Greg, the estate’s gamekeeper. At the beginning of a burgeoning relationship with a new lover, Joanne, Greg is loath to discuss old wounds. Frightened by Greg’s reaction to the missing girl’s discovery, Joanne begins to doubt how well she knows this new man in her life. Then again, he’s not the only one with secrets in their volatile relationship . . .

I’m a huge fan of Lin Anderson’s series featuring forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to read her first stand-alone novel, The Party House.

This is a super involving read and I was glued to this book for the best part of two days. Ghillie of the Greg Taylor is in London to promote the re-opening of the Blackrig Estate now owned by Global Investments Holdings. He’s there with very mixed feelings. He wants to keep his job in one of the most beautiful parts of the Highlands where wildlife flourishes and the landscape is fantastic. But, at the same time, re-opening the estate means bringing sore wounds, which have not had time to heal, right up to the surface where they may lie open and festering.

For Blackrig is home to The Party House, a big modern house equipped with every luxury and used by Global Investments for tourists and shooting parties as the main source of income for the estate. It was different when the old Laird, Main owned the estate. Then he had wanted to focus on developing the woodlands as a site of natural beauty. But then he died and the estate was sold on.

Now the villagers have come to hate Ard Choille, or the Party House as it is known to all. Because during lockdown a party of tourists came to the Party House bringing with them a deadly virus and soon after CoVid raged through the village, killing 5 children and the District Nurse.

Now resentment simmers, barely under the surface, and the locals are very clear that it is far too soon to re-open the Party House but the deeply arrogant and repugnant Aidan Stratton who looks after the Party House is adamant that this activity must resume now that lockdown restrictions are over.

So Greg is reluctantly in London attending a Game Fair to help attract new custom and that’s where he meets journalist and blogger Joanne Addington.  The pair hit it off and soon Joanne is turning up at Blackrig to take up Colin’s offer to stay at Beanach, his cottage home.

Both Joanne and Greg are keeping secrets from each other; secrets that threaten to destroy an emerging relationship. They’re not the only ones. This is a village with many secrets and it is holding them all close.

When a body is found under the recently vandalised hot tub of The Party House, there’s no doubt in Greg’s mind that it is Ailsa Cummings, a 17 year old young woman who disappeared from Blackrig village some 5 years earlier.

A police investigation led by DI Snyder leads police to a number of suspects and harks back to a time when the Party House was in full on excess mode. As a number of villagers come under scrutiny, things are looking black for Greg and for his relationship with Joanne

Lin Anderson creates a fantastic picture of life in a beautiful area of Scotland with a close knit village community where everyone knows the business of their neighbours and doors are seldom locked. The scenery is vivid and gorgeous and the village itself has that vivid sense of marrying tradition with contemporary values and the clash of cultures that can bring.

The sense of anger over Covid rule breaking feels very real and raw as does the Global corporation’s hold over local employment and the resulting resentment that brings. Lin Anderson reveals and exploits these divisions in a novel that is suspenseful, twisty and compelling.

Verdict: The Party House has tension, pace and interesting characters. It is a psychological thriller with many secrets simmering in a fabulously idyllic Highland setting.  Though it’s not too much hard work to work out who the murderer is, there is more than one villain here on which to focus one’s thoughts as neighbour starts to turn on neighbour in this suspenseful thriller.  A most enjoyable read.

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Lin Anderson is a Scottish author and screenwriter known for her bestselling crime series featuring forensic scientist Dr Rhona MacLeod. Four of her novels have been longlisted for the Scottish Crime Book of the Year, with Follow the Dead being a 2018 finalist. Her short film River Child won both a Scottish BAFTA for Best Fiction and the Celtic Film Festival’s Best Drama award and has now been viewed more than one million times on YouTube. Lin is also the co-founder of the international crime writing festival Bloody Scotland, which takes place annually in Stirling.

Power Play (Joe Dempsey/Michael Devlin #3) by Tony Kent  @TonyKent_Writes @eandtbooks @AmyGreaves63

Source: Review copy
Publication: 4 August 2022 (this edition)
PP:  496
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1783964918

My thanks to Elliott & Thompson for an advance copy for review

A plane explodes over the Atlantic Ocean, killing hundreds of passengers, including controversial US presidential candidate Dale Victor. It appears to be a clear-cut case of terrorism. But as criminal barrister Michael Devlin is about to discover, everything is not as it seems.

Also suspecting there are shady forces at work, intelligence agent Joe Dempsey is driven to investigate. Who would have wanted this potential new president out of the way – and who would commit mass murder to do it?

All the way to the top of the US government, someone is determined to stop Dempsey and Devlin from discovering the truth. At any cost.

I love this series and somehow managed to miss this latest instalment when it originally came out during lockdown. So I am delighted that the publishers have updated the cover and issued a brand new edition, because this is a political thriller spanning continents that I just loved and which earns every single one of its five stars.

If you haven’t come across Dempsey and Devlin before, I urge you to do so soonest. They are an unusual but very exciting pairing. Joe Dempsey works for the UN’s security services in the States; Michael Devlin is a London based criminal barrister.

Power Play starts with an explosive opener and does not let up thereafter. Tony Kent writes fast and furious thrillers without stinting on his characterisation. This book has more of Joe Dempsey in the forefront but it is Michael Devlin we start with as a terrorist explosion rips apart the democracy of the United States of America.

A bomb has gone off on a plane killing all 534 passengers on board, including presidential candidate, Dale Victor. It seems unquestionable that this is a terrorist attack, originating in London, and though they can scarcely believe it themselves, the police have a suspect in custody remarkably quickly.

Nizar Mansour is a baggage handler at Heathrow and he confesses to placing the bomb almost as soon as he arrives at the Police Station. But something isn’t right. DCI Bruce Bull, a counter-terrorism expert, can feel it as soon as he meets the Syrian. He also knows that he doesn’t have long before the Americans stride in and demand control of this case. So he does what his instincts tell him to do; he gets Nizar the best criminal representation he can in the form of Glaswegian solicitor, Will Duffy, who, in turn, instructs criminal barrister, Michael Devlin. And just in the nick of time, because FBI Agent Romeo Myer turns up expecting to remove their suspect and extradite him without so much as a piece of paper.

Meanwhile, in New York, Joe Dempsey’s boss, UN International Security boss, Elizabeth Kirk is formulating her own theories but she has to be very careful; there are few people to whom she can voice her suspicions. Fortunately Dempsey is one of them. And as Joe Dempsey begins his investigative trail it isn’t long before he finds himself the target of some seriously dangerous people. Someone wants to keep their secrets and they are prepared to kill anyone who gets in the way of that.

Tony Kent has written a taut, thrilling, novel with a number of excellent characters and some seriously inventive, twisty moments. His main characters are well developed and we can empathise with them as we have by now come to know them quite well. These are characters you care about and their relationships develop and change as the series progresses.

Crossing continents, Kent takes us on an explosive, thrilling journey which reaches to the very core of the US democratic system and as we have come to learn only too well, what might once have seemed plausible only in the pages of a novel now seems scarily plausible.

Verdict: Power Play is both thrilling and exciting. It races along, keeping the reader gripped and breathless as revelations come at them fast and furiously. It’s a complex thriller told well and it offers a serious look at how independence of thought can be the target for those who seek to control the levers of power. Power Play is big on conspiracy, but as we know, that doesn’t make it less likely to be true. Altogether it is a fascinating, explosive and gripping read.

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Tony Kent is a thriller writer who also happens to be a top criminal barrister and a former heavyweight boxing champion, and he draws on that unique legal and physical experience to bring a striking authenticity to the fast-paced, high-octane and action packed books set in his ‘Killer Intent universe’: Killer Intent, Marked for Death, Power Play and No Way To Die. Prior to embarking on his legal career Tony was a successful boxer, competing internationally and winning a host of national titles, only retiring when he discovered that black eyes and missing teeth did not sit well next to his wig and gown. Once he quit fighting himself, Tony began to train white collar boxers and ultimately founded the country’s most successful white collar charity boxing event – The Floats Like A Butterfly Ball – which to date has raised over £1,000,000 for Caudwell Children. He lives just outside of London with his wife Victoria, their young son Joseph and Jack Russell terrier Maximus.

The 6.20 Man by David Baldacci @davidbaldacci @laurasherlock21 @panmacmillan

Source: Review copy
Publication: 4 August 2022 from MacMillan
PP: 432
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1529061956

My thanks to Laura Sherlock and Macmillan for an advance copy for review

A journey that took him to hell . . .

Having survived combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and been decorated with medals, Travis Devine mysteriously leaves the Army under a cloud of suspicion. And at thirty-two years old, he’s swapping fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda for a different kind of danger in the cut-throat world of high finance.

His daily commute on the 6.20 a.m. train into New York’s financial district, to his new job as an analyst at the minted powerhouse investment bank Cowl and Comely, takes him into a world where greed, power, jealousy and ambition result in the financial abuse of the masses and the enrichment of an elite few. But it is on this daily journey that he passes a house where he sees something that sounds alarm signals he cannot ignore.

A close friend of Devine’s, Sarah Ewes, is the first victim and the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death at Cowl and Comely compel him to investigate further. As he digs deeper, he discovers strange coincidences and unnerving truths. As the deaths pile up, and the major players show their hands, he must question who he can trust and who he must fight.

Well hello Travis Devine! I am mightily pleased to meet you.  Travis is the 6.20 man. Once a Captain in the Rangers, our 32 year old handsome protagonist has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan but for reasons of his own quit the Army and went into Wall Street as a low level number cruncher with the firm Cowl and Comely.

Though unencumbered by any romantic or marital attachment, Devine prefers to live in the suburbs outside of NYC where he can at least see small patches of green when he’s not got his nose to the Cowl and Comely grindstone.

His daily commute consists of taking the 6.20am train from Mount Kisco into Manhattan. Devine has a preferred seat on the way in and another for the way home. That’s because there’s a point in the journey where the train pauses every day and through a gap in the trees he can catch a glimpse of an attractive woman who works out by the pool every morning.  She’s obviously wealthy, or at least the house owner is – it looks like more of a mansion than anywhere Travis could ever hope to afford.

In fact he shares a house with 3 other young professionals, each of whom is making their own way up the corporate ladder. Helen Speers, a lawyer; Will Valentine, a Russian computer whizz and white-hat hacker; and Jill Tapshaw, owner of a start-up online dating agency business.

He’s just got into work when he receives an anonymous email telling him that his colleague Sarah Ewes, whom he briefly dated, has died. She has been found in a storage cupboard in the Cowl and Comely building, hanging from a pipe. Though they only briefly dated and told no-one about their relationship, Devine knows he’s taking a risk if he doesn’t disclose it. And then – who sent him the e-mail and why?

Travis then finds himself trapped between the proverbial rock and hard place. On the one side, the Police want to question him and find out how well he knew Sarah. On the other is Homeland Security. They pick him up and using information about his previous Army career, strong-arm him into looking into Cowl and Comely. They’ve had their eye on the firm for some time and they believe that Sarah’s death is not suicide but murder. Sarah, they tell him, was murdered for what she knew about their illegal and dangerous operations which threaten the security of the United States. And so now Travis must be their inside man, looking into the firm and its founding partner, Brad Cowl.

It’s a role he’s decently equipped to handle. He has the financial skills from his analysis work and the physical and mental fortitude from his time in the army. But the more he pokes around the firm’s business, the murkier the business looks. While he tries to stave off the close interrogation of NYPD Detective Carl Hancock, he finds that there is no-one he can trust in this web of corruption, money laundering and murder.

With his life threatened more than once, Travis has to take risks and make judgements about who to trust. He asks for help from Will Valentine and what he uncovers is a devastating conspiracy.

Baldacci’s thriller is dark and suspenseful. He puts his finger neatly on the conjunction between financial fraud and the subversion of democracy in a tale that is a page-turning, shocking thriller. As ever, his characters are immensely likeable and the plot line, though complex and layered, is well laid out and easy to follow as Travis navigates his way through the mire that is corrupt financial wrongdoing and murder for profit.

Every time you think you know what’s going on, Baldacci pulls the rug out from under your feet with yet another plot development. It’s a wild and thrilling ride with a protagonist you’ll come to like a lot.

Verdict: Unpredictable, surprising and with a new character who shows every sign of lasting beyond book one, The 6.20 Man is an action packed political thriller with great characters and lots of entertainment value.

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David Baldacci is one of the world’s bestselling and favourite thriller writers. With over 130 million copies in print, his books are published in over eighty territories and forty-five languages, and have been adapted for both feature-film and television. David is also the co-founder, along with his wife, of the Wish You Well Foundation®, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting literacy efforts across the US.

From The Ashes (DI Eve Hunter Book #3) by Deborah Masson @deborah_masson @RandomTTours @HJ_Barnes

Source: Review copy
Publication: 18 August 2022 p/back from Penguin. Out now in e-book
PP: 368
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0552178259

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

As the house burns, the hunt for a killer begins…

In the dead of night someone starts a fire in a home for underprivileged children in Aberdeen. The flames spread quickly, and one person doesn’t make it out alive.

But the victim wasn’t found in their bedroom; they were discovered locked inside a secret basement underground. As DI Eve Hunter and her team search the blackened ruins, the case takes them into even darker territory.

Soon Eve unearths a horrific discovery at the heart of the property – one that turns the whole investigation on its head. Everyone in this home has something to hide, but who has a secret worth killing for?

I enjoy Deborah Masson’s D.I. Eve Hunter series. With each book you learn a little more about Eve’s team and the focus this time is on D.C. Scott Ferguson. This time the Aberdeen based D.I. Hunter is faced with a truly awful crime.

A child is dead and the cause of that death is wilful arson. Someone has set fire to a Wellwood, a privately run Children’s Home and now 11 year old Lucas Fyfe is dead – found in a disused basement where he had no reason to be.

Wellwood’s owner, Stephen Alderton is distraught but as Eve and her team dig into the home and those who live and work in it, it seems that Alderton is just one of many hiding things from the Police.

The children, too have secrets; secrets that they have sworn to each other they won’t reveal, but as Eve Hunter and her team dig deeper into this case, they face a shocking discovery that is even more horrifying than finding Lucas Fyfe’s body.

DC Scott Ferguson is on his way into work when he witnesses a bad road accident in which a teenage boy is knocked down, suffering severe injury. The boy can barely speak when Ferguson reaches him, but he implores Scott to stay with him and Scott feels compelled to do so. This boy has triggered something in Ferguson and he is driven to find out more about the lad, leaving his team mates in the lurch as he prioritises this case above the work that Eve Hunter has assigned to the team.

Though she does her best, DS Jo Mearns can’t cover for Ferguson indefinitely and soon he is putting his job on the line as he openly defies her authority and makes some bad judgement calls in so doing.

Eve and her team are under huge media scrutiny and it appears that there’s one journalist who is better at getting to the facts before the Police which isn’t helping Turner’s boss to invest confidence in her or her team.

The more they investigate his case, the more it seems that the answers lie in the past and the secrets that lie buried will soon rise from the ashes. It’s a heart-rending story that echoes only too well some of the terrible stories that we have heard about residential children’s homes and what can happen in them behind closed doors where the most vulnerable have no-one to look out for their interests.

Masson sets this gritty book a lively pace which is kept up throughout. Her characters feel authentic and there’s a credible team dynamic that works really well. The inter-connecting plot, told through three characters moves from past to present. It is neatly put together and the storyline well-researched.

From the Ashes is a sometimes traumatic read but it also offers a serious look at the long term impact of neglect and abuse on children’s lives and the way that can follow them through to adulthood. By utilising the character of D.S. Scott Ferguson to offer a different angle, Masson shows us that not all crime is inevitable.

Verdict: Though I had a good inkling of what and who, this did not affect my enjoyment of a book that has a number of surprises, a deal of tension and excellent characterisation.

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Deborah Masson was born and bred in Aberdeen, Scotland. Always restless and fighting against being a responsible adult, she worked in several jobs including secretarial, marketing, reporting for the city’s freebie newspaper and a stint as a postie – to name but a few. Through it all, she always read crime fiction and, when motherhood finally settled her into being an adult (maybe even a responsible one) she turned her hand to writing what she loved. Deborah started with short stories and flash fiction whilst her daughter napped and, when she later welcomed her son into the world, she decided to challenge her writing further through online courses with Professional Writing Academy and Faber Academy, where she wrote her award-winning debut novel Hold Your Tongue, first in the DI Eve Hunter series. Since then she has published two more books in the series, Out For Blood and From the Ashes.

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Where Demons Hide by Douglas Skelton (Rebecca Connolly #4)  @Douglas_Skelton1 @IsisAudio @PolygonBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 1 August 2022 from Isis Audio
Narrator: Sarah Barron
Listening Time: 10 hours 20 minutes
ASIN: B09ZBJRY1G

My thanks to RC Blog Tours and Isis Publishing for an advance copy for review

Something scared Nuala Flaherty to death. When her body is found in the centre of a pentagram on a lonely moor, Rebecca is determined to find out what. Was she killed by supernatural means, or is there a more down-to-earth explanation?

Rebecca’s investigation leads her to a mysterious cult and local drug dealings. But what she doesn’t know is that crime matriarch Mo Burke still has her in her crosshairs. Mo wants payback for the death of her son, and after one failed attempt to hurt Rebecca, she is upping the ante. And this time, it could be lethal.

I’m a big fan of this series which has a great protagonist in the form of agency journalist Rebecca Connolly whose instincts are generally good, even if her taste in boyfriends has previously proved to be a bit suspect.

In the 4th book, Rebecca returns once more to Stoirm, the fictional island which was the setting for the first book in this series, Thunder Bay.

Rebecca is heading back to Stoirm for the wedding of two close friends, Chas and Alan; a wedding which is proving a touch controversial.  Stoirm is not a big island and it doesn’t draw many visitors. Its inhabitants tend to be a little insular and it holds its secrets close. It’s an island steeped in atmosphere with a history shrouded in dark deeds and a sometimes tempestuous climate.  

Chaz Wymark is a freelance photographer and he and Rebecca have worked together, forming a strong friendship. And it is Chaz who is on the scene when the body of a woman is found in the centre of a pentagram on the moors. Nuala Flaherty was renting a cottage and there’s a touch of the supernatural about her death.

Stoirm is home to the commune that is Sanctuary, belonging to a group called Children of the Dell. Delia has found Sanctuary there herself and enjoys the peace and calm and has had no real qualms about giving up the material world in order to live a simpler, more peaceful life. But Delia believes that there is something not quite right about Sanctuary’s business dealings and she feels it’s her duty to find out what that is.

Rebecca meanwhile is in Inverness. Leaving Chaz to do some rooting around on Nuala Flaherty, she is interviewing a woman whose uncanny intuition has been responsible for finding a young boy who went missing. Rebecca feels it’s all a bit ‘hocus pocus’ but the young woman is friendly and persuasive and seems to have some insight into Rebecca’s own situation. She warns Rebecca that there is anger surrounding her and to be careful.

What Rebecca doesn’t know is that Mo Burke, matriarch of a local crime family, is still nursing her wrath after the death of her son and there’s only one person she sees as responsible.

Douglas Skelton juggles his light and shade very well here. Sometimes dark and foreboding, this novel is also balanced by warmth, laughter and friendliness as we get to know our characters better and enjoy their badinage.

I really enjoy the way in which Douglas Skelton marries contemporary topics and criminal activity with a strong atmosphere and dark sense of foreboding coming from an island steeped in history and the bloody conflicts of the past.

Sarah Barron’s mellifluous narration is beautifully done. Her understated Highland lilt combined, on occasion,  with some elongated vowels and her soft reading voice all come together to produce an enjoyable and thrilling listen.

Verdict: A nicely constructed and well-plotted tale with danger, malevolence, rage and an all-consuming desire to manipulate and exploit wherever money is to be made. Where Demons Hide combines the relevance of today’s criminal activities with themes of the past to produce a stunning crime thriller that grips the imagination and keeps you listening through to the very end. Highly recommended.

Where Demons Hide – The Reading House

Where Demons Hide: Audible

Douglas Skelton was born in Glasgow. He has been a bank clerk, tax officer, taxi driver (for two days), wine waiter (for two hours), journalist and investigator. He has written eleven true crime and Scottish criminal history books but now concentrates on fiction. His novel Open Wounds (2016) was longlisted for the McIlvanney Award. Douglas has investigated real-life crime for Glasgow solicitors and was involved in a long-running campaign to right the famous Ice-Cream Wars miscarriage of justice.

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BLOODY SCOTLAND PITCH PERFECT SESSION SEEKS ASPIRING CRIME WRITERS @BloodyScotland @Brownlee_Donald

Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival first launched Pitch Perfect in 2012. The winner was Joseph Knox whose book went on to be a Sunday Times bestseller. In 2016 the winner was Alison Belsham who travelled all the way from London to participate and found herself an agent and a publisher:

‘I stumbled across a post on Facebook about a pitching event at a crime-writing festival in Scotland. I’d never heard of Bloody Scotland or the Pitch Perfect event. I hadn’t written a crime novel and I wasn’t Scottish. In theory, I should have scrolled right on past. But two little words caught my eye: ‘professional feedback’… Jenny Brown chaired the Pitch Perfect panel and offered to represent me the same week.’

Everyone who has won the prize has been picked up by an agent and most have had books published, as have many of the other Pitch Perfect participants. This year the Festival would like to encourage aspiring authors from diverse backgrounds to apply. If book festivals are to become more diverse we need more diverse crime writers in the first place. Pitch Perfect is a great place to start.

Previous winners of Pitch Perfect are:
2012 Joseph Knox
2013 Alex Cox
2014 Margaret Stewart
2015 Matt Wesolowski
2016 Alison Belsham
2017 Mark Wightman
2018 C O Vollmer (David Bishop)
2019 Suzy Aspley
2020 Kate Foster
2021 Kris Haddow

In the interest of inclusivity a number of the pitchers will have the option to pitch on-line. Chaired by literary agent, Jenny Brown, the 2022 panel includes Toby Jones, editorial director at Headline, Katherine Armstrong, deputy publishing director at Simon & Schuster and Robbie Guillory, agent at Underline Literary Agency. They will listen to eight aspiring authors pitching their ideas for a crime novel, offer constructive feedback and select a winner.

Applications: https://bloodyscotland.com/take-part/pitch-perfect/

Sponsored by The Open University in Scotland

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bloody Scotland is Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival, providing a showcase for the best crime writing from Scotland and the world, unique in that it was set up by a group of Scottish crime writers in 2012. Full information at bloodyscotland.com
The festival takes place in various venues (including The Albert Halls, The Tollbooth and the social hub of the festival, The Golden Lion Hotel) in the historic town of Stirling from 15-18 September 2022.

All I Said Was True by Imran Mahmood  @imranmahmood777  @BloomsburyRaven

Source: Review copy
Publication: 21 July 2022 from Raven Books
PP: 320
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1526647559

When Amy Blahn was murdered on a London office rooftop, Layla Mahoney was there. She held Amy as she died. But all she can say when police arrest her is that ‘It was Michael. Find Michael and you’ll find out everything you need to know.’

The problem is, the police can’t find Michael – there is no evidence that he exists. And time is running out before they have to either charge Layla with Amy’s murder, or let her go.

As a lawyer, Layla knows that she has only forty-eight hours to convince police to investigate the man she knows only as ‘Michael’ instead of her. But the more she attempts to control her interviews with police, the more the truth leaks out – and how much of that truth can Layla risk being exposed?

You have to be a very good writer to keep your reader on tenterhooks, wondering what on earth is going on and what the point of this story is for several chapters. Fortunately Imran Mahmood is just that and he really pulls it off in this book which will keep you guessing all the way.

All I Said Was True shifts between the aftermath of a woman’s murder and the time before that event as we hear from Layla, being questioned for Amy Blahn’s murder,  but clearly not telling all she knows. Her situation looks grim, the evidence all points to her guilt. Layla is a civil lawyer. She was arrested, on the rooftop of her husband’s workplace with a dead woman in her arms and no-one else around but she insists she is innocent.

This is a dual timeline story, split between Then, which is six weeks before the live police interview, and Now. Layla is the most unreliable of narrators, pointing the police to a mysterious man whose name she barely knows ; offering them only the suggestion that if they find Michael, they’ll find out everything they need to know.

It’s a risky strategy for a woman being questioned under caution for murder and Layla’s story is, to say the least, a bit fantastical. How much, if any, is true, is difficult to determine and what it all adds up to is really fuzzy. Imran Mahmood is an expert at building up those really knotty string puzzles where it’s almost impossible to find the one string that offers the clue to unravelling the whole and you end up down many wrong turnings before you are even close to unravelling the whole.

Layla in chapters interleaved with the interview chapters, takes us back some 6 weeks before the murder to show us what happened and how it was she ended up cradling Amy Blahn’s dead body.

Fortunately Mahmood can really pull this off; his writing is sharp and beautifully constructed. When, quite far into the book, the rationale for all this becomes clear, it is a delight to know that the reader’s perseverance has been rewarded by a clear and logical explanation of what has transpired.

Layla is an enigma. Clearly not disclosing the truth, yet maintaining her innocence. Pointing to a perpetrator whose full name she does not know. She is obfuscating, but why is unclear. Whatever the reasons, she seems only to be succeeding in making herself look more desperate and by omission, guilty. As she tries to explain the concept of Free Will to the Police she succeeds only in making it look as if she’s trying to establish a mental health defence.

As we learn more about Layla and her background, it’s possible to understand how she found herself in this position. But the mysterious Michael remains an enigma and while you can speculate about what exactly is going on, this is not one you’re solve early on.

Verdict: This beautifully constructed, clever plot and it really delivers on suspense. I was guessing and second guessing myself all the way along. This was such a propulsive book for me I read it in one sitting, eschewing everything else so that I could find out what was going on. For me, that’s the mark of a real page-turner and this one has it all. It is unpredictable, intriguing, suspenseful and highly enjoyable.

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Imran Mahmood is a practicing barrister with almost 30 years’ experience fighting cases in court. He hails from Liverpool but now lives in London with his wife and daughters. His debut novel You Don’t Know Me was chosen by Simon Mayo as a BBC Radio 2 Book Club Choice and longlisted for Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year and for the CWA Gold Dagger, and has now been adapted into a four part drama series for the BBC. He is also the author of I Know What I Saw. When not in court or writing novels he can sometimes be found on the Red Hot Chilli Writers’ podcast as one of the regular contributors.

Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Weird Sisters by Olga Wojtas @OlgaWojtas @SarabandBooks

Source: Purchased copy
Publication: 17 March 2022 from Saraband
Listening Time: 9 hours and 4 minutes
ASIN: B09N994MNZ

Fifty-something librarian Shona is a proud former pupil of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls but has a deep loathing for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which she thinks gives her alma mater a bad name. Impeccably educated and an accomplished martial artist, linguist and musician, Shona is selected by Marcia Blaine herself to travel back in time for a crucial mission involving Macbeth, the weird sisters and a black cat.

Unsure which version of history she’s in, Shona tries to figure out who she’s here to save. But between playing the Fool and being turned into a mouse, things don’t always go her way. Shona’s expertise in martial arts is put to the test as family tensions rise and fingers are pointed for murder. Can Shona unravel the mystery in time to complete her mission?

While I would not by any means subscribe to the view that authors are always the best readers of their works, for Olga Wojtas I will always make an exception.  This is a series I really enjoy as I follow the misadventures of Shona McMonagle, alumni of Miss Blaine’s School for Girls and our time travelling librarian.

Olga’s rendition of these tales is sheer joy to listen to as she captures the bewilderment of Shona who finds herself cast back in time into the midst of the Scottish play, but without any idea of exactly what it is that Marcia Blane wants her to do.

As she progresses through the story, meeting Macbeth, his wife Gruoch, the three Weird Sisters witches and a black cat called Frank she will find that Miss Blaine has provided some tools in her reticule to help her find her way to the heart of whatever her mission is.

First she meets the three Weird Sisters Ina,  Mina and the youngest, Mo. Mo is the more approachable and in trying to help Shona, she inadvertently casts a transformation spell on her, turning her into a mouse. This isn’t great news as she tries to talk her way around Frank the Cat and a particularly hungry owl…

Olga Wojtas Miss Blaine books are full of fascinating (and real) facts, loaded with humour, very silly and enormous fun. They are the perfect antidote to anyone feeling down in the dumps and listening to Shona introducing the concept of Knock -Knock jokes to the Macbeth household is a real delight.

You’ll meet all sorts of historical characters from the era, find out what is the real story behind King Duncan’s death and you’ll learn a lot of esoteric facts into the bargain.

Verdict: If you’re in need of a giggle or even a few belly laughs, this is the literary vehicle to hop onto. It’s witty and erudite and a whole heap of fun. I loved it

Audible

Olga Wojtas is an unconventional – and very witty – writer of postmodern crime fiction whose surrealist humour has been compared to the likes of PG Wodehouse, Jasper Fforde and the Marx Brothers. Her debut novel, Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar, has been published in the UK and US to great critical acclaim – being longlisted for the inaugural Comedy Women in Print Prize 2019, shortlisted for a CrimeFest Award, and named as one of the best mysteries and thrillers of the year by Kirkus. A journalist for more than 30 years, Olga was Scottish editor of the Times Higher Education Supplement before she began adding creative writing to her portfolio. She won a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award in 2015 and has had numerous short stories and several novellas published. Olga’s second novel, Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Vampire Menace, was published in 2020. The third book in the Miss Blaine’s Prefect series, Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Weird Sisters, was published in 2022. She lives in Edinburgh, where she once attended James Gillespie’s High School – the model for Marcia Blaine School for Girls, which appears in Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the novel that inspired the Miss Blaine’s Prefect series.

The Island of Lost Girls by Alex Marwood  @AlexMarwood1 @TheCrimeVault @BooksSphere

Source: Review copy
Publication: 7 July from Sphere
PP: 480
ISBN-13: 978-1408725498

My thanks to Sphere for an advance copy for review

Sun-drenched glamour and obscene wealth hide the darkest of secrets and lost girls in this ripped-from-the-headlines thriller.

1985
For twelve-year-old Mercedes, La Kastellana is the place she calls home. It is an island untouched by the modern world, with deep-rooted traditions – though that is all about to change with the arrival of multimillionaire Matthew Meade and his spoiled young daughter, Tatiana. The Meades bring with them unimaginable wealth, but the price they will all pay is far darker than Mercedes and the islanders could ever have imagined.

2016
Robin is desperately searching for her seventeen-year-old daughter Gemma, who has been missing for over a year. Finding herself on La Kastellana, the island playground of the international jet set, Robin is out of her depth. Nobody wants to help and Robin fears she is running out of time to find her child.

But someone has been watching, silently waiting for their moment to expose the dark truth and reveal to the world what really happens on the island of lost girls.

This book is heart-breaking and full of loathsome things that will have your stomach heaving. It is also strong, affirmative and bloody brilliant. It completely blew me out the water.

I’m a massive fan of Alex Marwood’s writing and here she brings her subjects alive, every single repugnant wart glistening on the face of sheer, loathsome evil. Set on a sunny Greek Island, Marwood takes us deep into shadows and crevasses of the rocks where sharp and rough edges lie ready to pierce the skin with every mis-step.

The Island of Lost Girls will unquestionably remind you of one family and one recent series of criminal revelations, but readers should be in no doubt that this is behaviour that is replicated throughout the world, wherever money talks and men wield it as a weapon of power.

Set over two timelines on the island of La Kastellana, a beautiful, unspoilt island where the inhabitants follow their religion and fealty and deference are due to the old Duke whose family has ruled the island for generations.

But things are changing. A new Duke, the crapulous Matthew Meade, has radical ideas about the Island and he and his daughter Tatiana are determined that their super yacht, globe-trotting lifestyle will now encompass La Kastellana and they bring with them a host of rich and powerful men whose appetites are varied and all too easily jaded. So Tatiana and her father supply what others cannot.

Robin is on La Kastellana, desperately looking for her teenage daughter, Gemma. Gemma has run away from home and her mother, increasingly anxious for her welfare, has been following snippets of her whereabouts from Gemma’s friends’ social media accounts and has seen that Gemma talked of attending a party on La Kastellana.

Mercedes works in her family’s local restaurant and she and her parents, together with her beautiful sister Donatella, work morning, noon and night to make it a success. When Tatiana and her father arrive in on their super yacht and Tatiana spots Mercedes, she decides that Mercedes will be her friend for the duration of their stay. And what Tatiana wants, she gets, courtesy of Daddy’s dosh.

The Island of Lost Girls follows Gemma’s story alongside that of Robin and Mercedes, with a pretty big cast of characters along the way. Marwood shows us all too clearly how well money talks and how easy it is to wield the power that it brings and in so doing, to bring more power and influence into the orbit of the wielder.

Marwood shows us the corruption of an entire island as the old feudal system kicks in hard and when bad things start to happen it is always the women who are blamed, even by those who would see themselves as the most religious. A free spirit in a woman is a thing to be crushed and bowed to the will of men. That attitude of complicity plays well into Matthew Meade’s agenda and both Mercedes and Donatella will soon find themselves being unwillingly crushed under the pressure.

This is, however, a nuanced story and though it is hard to find compassion for Tatiana, nevertheless we can come to see this spoiled and vicious socialite as a very distinct product of her upbringing and horrendous parenting. It is very hard not to draw parallels with contemporary cases and to shudder as you realise exactly what has gone on at some of Tatiana’s parties where would be young ‘models’ are paraded in the modern day equivalent of a slave auction.

It’s a painful and deeply abhorrent story made bearable by the strength and tenacity of some of the women who feature. Mercedes may change a great deal throughout this book but she never loses her capacity for real love, nor her absolute determination to set things as right as they can be.

Verdict: This is riveting, fearsome fare that should and does make you flinch. It is disturbing and involving and it is heart-breaking. It also, I believe, makes you review what you think you know about recent events and that makes it incredibly challenging and thought –provoking, too…

As ever, Marwood’s writing is brilliant and intense and her plotting is immaculate. A first class must read novel of our times.

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Alex Marwood is the pseudonym of a journalist who has worked extensively across the British press. She is the author of the word-of-mouth sensation The Wicked Girls, which won a prestigious Edgar Award, The Killer Next Door, which won the coveted Macavity Award, The Darkest Secret and The Poison Garden. She has also been shortlisted for numerous other crime writing awards and her novels have been optioned for the screen. Alex lives in south London.

The Woman on the Bridge by Holly Seddon @hollyseddon @orionbooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 7 July 2022 from Orion
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-1409195528

My thanks to Orion for an advance copy for review.

How far would you go to save a perfect stranger?

Maggie is trapped. Dumped on her wedding day, rejected by her family and hounded by a man determined to make her suffer.

Charlotte is desperate. Double-crossed by her only friend and facing total ruin, she will go to any lengths to save what matters.

Two women, one night. A decision that will change everything.

The Woman on the Bridge requires some suspension of disbelief, but once you’ve accepted that, it is easy to slip into the story of toxic friendships, betrayals and the secrets that lie behind every façade that purports to be a happily family.

Charlotte Wilderwood is having a really, really rough day. It might be the worst day of her life. Everything she thought she knew about her friendship with her only real close friend Anne lies in tatters and she’s facing an uncertain future.

Only Maggie is having a worse day. She’s standing on a bridge wearing a tired and dirty wedding dress that has been trampled in the mud. She’s clearly planning to throw herself off the bridge and when Charlotte sees her, she risks her life to save Maggie from drowning.

A tearful Maggie tells Charlotte all about her wedding day turned nightmare day as a stalker ex stepped up to ruin her life using his lies to tarnish her forever in the eyes of her now ex-fiancée. Lonely and miserable, feeling she has nothing left to live for, Maggie is still grateful to Charlotte for rescuing her and allows Charlotte to take her home to Charlotte’s cottage and look after her.

Holly Seddon’s The Woman On The Bridge is a character driven psychological thriller that fairly rattles along uncovering lots of unsavoury secrets and providing a twisty, unpredictable journey all the way through.  This is a cautionary tale that takes the reader back to Charlotte’s relationships with her family and provides us with a distinctly jaundiced view of how trusting can lead to having that trust thrown back right in your face.

If only, Seddon seems to be saying, if only you were not kind to strangers; if only you had looked twice at why your best friend turned on you; if only you had asked why your boyfriend shrugged you off- then maybe, just maybe, you wouldn’t be in this mess.

The milk of human kindness does not abound in this rather savage novel. There’s so much double dealing and dodgy behaviour that my head was spinning trying to work out exactly what was going on.

Though it can present a harsh portrait of what trusting too easily leads to, it is still a book in which you feel for both the main characters, for they are each suffering from a lack of love and care which has moulded them into becoming the characters they are today. And without the compassion that each has a chance to show, the book would indeed be bleak.

The novel spans a number of different timelines and it is not until you are able to put the whole picture together like a patchwork quilt that you can see what lies behind all the events in the book. It’s not a new technique but it is particularly effective here.

Verdict: An engaging tale of lies and betrayals with a sting in the tail, The Woman on the Bridge contains multiple surprises which Seddon lobs in like bombs right up until the end. Just when you think you know where you’re going, something disrupts your expectations. This makes this read entertaining, surprising and very twisty indeed.

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Holly Seddon is the international bestselling author of TRY NOT TO BREATHE, DON’T CLOSE YOUR EYES, LOVE WILL TEAR US APART, THE HIT LIST and THE WOMAN ON THE BRIDGE. After growing up in the English countryside obsessed with music and books, Holly worked in London as a journalist and editor. She now lives in Kent with her family and writes full time. Alongside fellow author Gillian McAllister, Holly co-hosts the popular Honest Authors Podcast.

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