Clara and Olivia by Lucy Ashe @LSAshe1 @OneworldNews @PointBlankCrime @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 2nd February 2023 from Magpie
PP: 352
ISBN-13: 978-0861544080

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

“Surely you would like to be immortalised in art, fixed forever in perfection?”

Sadler’s Wells, 1933.

I would kill to dance like her.

Disciplined and dedicated, Olivia is the perfect ballerina. But no matter how hard she works, she can never match identical twin Clara’s charm.

I would kill to be with her.

As rehearsals intensify for the ballet Coppélia, the girls feel increasingly like they are being watched. And, as infatuation turns to obsession, everything begins to unravel.

Lucy Ashe’s novel is set in the world of ballet in 1930’s London. It was an exciting time for anyone interested in this art form. It was the beginning of something extraordinary – the leadership of two women combining the might of the Old Vic and its formidable leader, Lilian Baylis  who had been presenting accessibly priced drama and opera and Ninette de Valois, who ran her ballet school with the Vic while Bayliss brought her plans for Sadler’s Wells to fruition.

Lucy Ashe’s novel captures the atmosphere of excitement so well, populating her book with historical authenticity and with the names that went on to become so famous in this artistic world. I particularly enjoyed the introduction of the young Margot Fonteyn.

Clara and Olivia are identical twins, at least in appearance. They are in the corps de ballet and working on a production of Coppelia. Though the girls look identical, their personalities are a little different. Growing up, the girls have had to rely on each other and so are close. Clara is stepping out with pianist Nathan. Once a child prodigy, he now works at the ballet as a musician. Olivia has an admirer, too, albeit a silent one. Samuels‘s work brings him to the ballet regularly and he lives for the moments when he can see his favourite ballerina.

Lucy Ashe’s book brings us into the artistic world of ballet which means dedication, brutally hard work and single minded focus. It is what Olivia lives for, though Clara finds that her ambitions are a little broader. We get to know Clara and Olivia and to understand more about the different facets of their personalities and what they really care about. We also find out more about some of those whose work is indispensable to the ballet company and without whom there would be no dancing. Clara and Olivia has characters we can empathise with and whom we want to succeed, as well as some who feel decidedly cold and dangerously worrying.

I really enjoyed how Lucy Ashe did not fall into the clichéd trap that twins in novels can so often depict. This book is much more subtle and nuanced than that and it is the contrasting wishes of both these girls that are part of what’s important in this story. Instead Ashe focuses on artistic rigour, on theatrical superstition and on the thin line between artistic ego and obsession.

This produces a beautifully observed, authentic feel to the ballet elements of this story alongside a dark and fractured personality that brings an undercurrent of tension and fear to an excellent read.

Verdict: There is darkness, mystery and romance in this tense psychological thriller, alongside beauty, musicality and a little madness – just like the ballet. I really enjoyed this excellent read.

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Lucy Ashe trained at the Royal Ballet School for eight years, first as a Junior Associate and then at White Lodge. She has a diploma in dance teaching with the British Ballet Organisation. She decided to go to university to read English Literature at St Hugh’s College, Oxford (MA Oxon), while continuing to dance and perform. She then took a PGCE teaching qualification and became a teacher. She currently teaches English at Harrow School, an all-boys boarding school in North London. Her poetry and short stories have been published in a number of literary journals and she was shortlisted for the 2020 Impress Prize for New Writers. She also reviews theatre, in particular ballet, writing for the website Playstosee.com.

The Forcing by Paul E Hardisty @Hardisty_Paul @Orendabooks @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 16 February 2023 from Orenda Books
PP: 300
ISBN-13: 978-1914585555

My thanks to Orenda Books for an advance copy for review.

Civilisation is collapsing. Frustrated and angry after years of denial and inaction, a ‘government of youth’ has taken power in North America, and deemed all those older than a prescribed age responsible for the current state of the world, and decreed they should be ‘relocated’, their property and assets confiscated.

David Ashworth, known by his friends and students as Teacher, and his wife May, find themselves among the thousands being moved to ‘new accommodation’ in the abandoned southern deserts – thrown together with a wealthy industrialist and his wife, a high court lawyer, two recent immigrants to America, and a hospital worker. Together, they must come to terms with their new lives in a land rendered unrecognisable.

As the terrible truth of their situation is revealed, lured by rumours of a tropical sanctuary where they can live in peace, they plan a perilous escape. But the world outside is more dangerous than they could ever have imagined. And for those who survive, nothing will ever be the same again…

This book blew me away. It is powerful, brutal and its world building feels so real many of the events produce a visceral reaction. Paul Hardisty gives us a great deal to think about in relation to how we got to the world he has envisioned. I read this over Christmas and there’s a line in this book that is still making we ponder how things could be different. I’ll come back to that later in this review.

Paul Hardisty is well-placed to envision this future.(Honestly, take a look at his bio – I get tired just reading it) He has spent twenty-five years working all over the world as an environmental scientist and you can feel the anger in his writing as his words bite and savage the irresponsibility of those who allowed the climate crisis to develop.

The Forcing is told by Teacher. He is a rational man who spends a lot of time refusing to be drawn into conspiracy theories, disinformation and the fake news that every day confounds millions of people.  He and his wife May have one son who is now working for the new Government; a ‘government of youth’ that knows that the generation before is responsible for allowing the world to deteriorate to its current state and which is now holding them responsible by confiscating their property and assets and moving them out of their homes.

Where they are going is painted rather differently than it is in reality. Hardisty draws on previous terrible moments in the history of civilisation to show us how easy it is to re-invent the atrocities of the past.

But this is not a climate crisis book that preaches. It is a searing, tense and dramatic thriller that puts the reader into the position of Teacher and allows us to see what he sees and to experience the angst, pain and devastation that he witnesses and to make up our own minds about what these characters are living through.

Is this where the climate crisis will lead us? Paul Hardisty makes a compelling case based on facts and drawing on history and current events. It is no accident that big business has led us to see climate change activists as irresponsible nuisance makers while the pursuit of profit is what drives governments. Greed drives our progress to destruction just as it creates conflict and leads to wars.

Hardisty’s story is hard-hitting and sometimes very dark indeed. His writing is sharp and succinct and pulls you in to the story. He populates his story with characters that provoke profound emotions for good and bad, and his novel has real pace and verve as his characters try to escape a series of deadly regimes, some organised, others grown through self-serving ‘survival of the fittest’ battles. The adventures had me on the edge of my seat as much as the need to know what happens to the core team of characters he creates.

At the heart of this story is the paragraph that I am still thinking about today. “After the pandemic, there had been such hope around the world. Hope that perhaps, finally people would see the perils of ignoring science, the compounding dangers of inequality and global biodiversity loss, of delaying action on the really big challenges, the folly of putting the economy ahead of people, as if somehow we existed to serve the economy rather than the other way round.”

 That strikes such a strong chord with me that it seems self-evident that we are getting the fundamentals wrong. I believe that Paul Hardisty has, through this remarkable thriller, shown us that there are different paths we can take; that different futures are possible. The natural world can and will recover if we treat it as a priority. We have made so many mistakes, and continue to do so, but we can grasp that hope and try hard to do better. But first, we have to ensure that we make our law makers listen.

The Forcing is Teacher’s story. A story about what an ordinary man will do to protect his family and the importance of relationships that give us something to live for. There is love and a lot of loss in this engrossing, searing and very gripping thriller. But there is also hope and that’s what makes this so profound and so very moving. I love this book and have no hesitation in saying everyone should read it.

Orenda Books                                  Waterstones                                     Bookshop.org

Canadian Paul Hardisty has spent twenty-five years working all over the world as an environmental scientist and freelance journalist. He has roughnecked on oil rigs in Texas, explored for gold in the Arctic, mapped geology in Eastern Turkey (where he was befriended by PKK rebels), and rehabilitated water wells in the wilds of Africa. He was in Ethiopia in 1991 as the Mengistu regime fell, survived a bomb blast in a café in Sana’a in 1993, and was one of the last Westerners out of Yemen at the outbreak of the 1994 civil war. In 2022 he criss-crossed Ukraine reporting on the Russian invasion. Paul is a university professor and CEO of the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). The four novels in his Claymore Straker series, The Abrupt Physics of Dying, The Evolution of Fear, Reconciliation for the Dead and Absolution, all received great critical acclaim and The Abrupt Physics of Dying was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger and a Telegraph Book of the Year. Paul drew on his own experiences to write Turbulent Wake, an extraordinary departure from his high-octane, thought-provoking thrillers. Paul is a keen outdoorsman, a conservation volunteer, and lives in Western Australia.

The Only Suspect by Louise Candlish  @louise_candlish @simonschusterUK @LauraSherlock21

Source: Review copy
Publication: 2nd February 2023 from Simon & Schuster UK
PP: 432
ISBN-13: 978-1398509726

My thanks to Simon & Schuster UK and Laura Sherlock for an advance copy for review

Wrong time. Wrong place. Wrong man.

Alex lives a comfortable life with his wife Beth in the leafy suburb of Silver Vale. Fine, so he’s not the most sociable guy on the street, he prefers to keep himself to himself, but he’s a good husband and an easy-going neighbour.

That’s until Beth announces the creation of a nature trail on a local site that’s been disused for decades and suddenly Alex is a changed man. Now he’s always watching. Questioning. Struggling to hide his dread . . .

As the landscapers get to work, a secret threatens to surface from years ago, back in Alex’s twenties when he got entangled with a seductive young woman called Marina, who threw both their lives into turmoil.

And who sparked a police hunt for a murder suspect that was never quite what it seemed. It still isn’t.

No one else could have done it. Could they?

Louise Candlish’s The Only Suspect is a whole lot of enjoyment wrapped up in an intriguing domestic noir. This book has a dual timeline, switching between now and a period during the mid-1990’s. These two timelines are narrated by Alex and Rick respectively.

Louise Candlish does a great job of establishing her characters. Both Alex and Rick lead pretty dull lives; both are auditors. Rick is a trainee in a large firm and lives in a flat share. His life changes when he meets Marina, a temp who works in his building. After liking her from afar, he finally plucks up the courage to talk to her and they bond over some frozen yoghurt.

Alex lives in the suburbs with his wife. He’s happy enough, though the couple are coming to terms with the fact that they are destined to be childless and that’s hard – especially for Beth, Alex’s wife. But this comfortable life is threatened when Alex learns that a campaign his wife has been involved in, to create a nature trail close to their house, has been successful and that work is about to start on creating this trail.

Louise Candlish is excellent at creating normal, ordinary characters and then giving them dark and deadly secrets. Rick is a bit of a shy lad and as his relationship with Marina progresses and he falls ever more deeply for her, we can only watch with dread as it becomes more complex, tricky and then finally, fraught with danger.

What Candlish does really well is to make her characters ordinary and believable. I had empathy for hapless Rick, a love-struck young man and when things started to get tricky, I found myself urging him to think twice before getting further committed in this relationship as Marina starts to become ever harder to pin down.

Alex is less likeable. He is constantly on edge and his behaviour after he learns of this nature trail becomes ever more narky and erratic. It is very clear that he is hiding something and that whatever is going on he is caught up in something that is making him exceedingly antsy.

All this serves to ensure that both these central characters are caught up in increasingly tense situations. Rick takes on a new flatmate in Rollo – and while this seems to be a good thing for him, given Rollo’s easy, party going, approach to life, it still isn’t enough to distract him from Marina’s increasingly twitchy behaviour.

I love the way that Louise Candlish builds up a great rounded picture of her perfectly average characters and then she makes them jealous, gives them obsessions and finally pulls them ever deeper into dangerous situations. She fills her pages full of tense and tricky moments and leads her characters down dangerous paths and then makes those paths so twisty it’s no longer clear what direction we are headed in. Those ordinary people become more devious and grow ever closer to danger.

Verdict: If you read a lot of psychological thrillers as I do, you will see some of what is coming, but by no means all and even then, I found that I was so wrapped up in these characters that I needed to know how all this was going to end. And the ending, when it came was beautifully judged, damned surprising and altogether satisfying. The Only Suspect is a fabulously tense and surprisingly unpredictable read.

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Louise Candlish is the Sunday Times bestselling author of fourteen novels. Our House, a #1 bestseller, won the Crime & Thriller Book of the Year at the 2019 British Book Awards, was longlisted for the 2019 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and was shortlisted for the Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award. It is soon to be a major ITV drama made by Death in Paradise producers Red Planet Pictures. Louise lives in London with her husband and daughter.
Photo: Neil Spence

Exiles by Jane Harper   @janeharperautho @panmacmillan @laurasherlock21

Source: Review copy
Publication: 2 February 2023 from MacMillan
PP: 432
ISBN-13: 978-1529098440

My thanks to Laura Sherlock and Pan MacMillan for an early copy for review

A mother disappears from a busy festival on a warm spring night.

Her baby lies alone in the pram, her mother’s possessions surrounding her, waiting for a return which never comes.

A year later, Kim Gillespie’s absence still casts a long shadow as her friends and loved ones gather to welcome a new addition to the family.

Joining the celebrations on a rare break from work is federal investigator Aaron Falk, who begins to suspect that all is not as it seems.

As he looks into Kim’s case, long-held secrets and resentments begin to come to the fore, secrets that show that her community is not as close as it appears.

Falk will have to tread carefully if he is to expose the dark fractures at its heart, but sometimes it takes an outsider to get to the truth…

I don’t tend to take characters away with me when I have finished reading, but my goodness I make an exception for Aaron Falk. He’s the perfect man; intuitive, empathetic, a perfect gentleman. He is also romantic, in good physical shape and best of all he’s a terrific listener with a thoughtful inquisitiveness.

It is this last quality that makes him a great investigator. He knows when something isn’t quite right and he lets it simmer in his mind until he realises what it is that has disturbed his mind’s peace. In Exiles, Falk is taking a break from his all-consuming job as a financial investigator with the Australian Federal Police has travelled to Marralee, in the heart of South Australian wine country for the christening of Henry, the son of his friend and police colleague Greg Raco. Aaron is a godparent. The christening is due to take place during the annual food and wine festival. It should have happened a year ago, but was postponed when Kim, the ex-wife of Greg’s brother Charlie, disappeared. She had taken her young baby Zoe to the festival in the hopes of seeing her daughter Zara there. Kim was never seen again and young Zoe was found safe and sound, tucked up in her pram at the festival.

Now Henry’s christening is scheduled to take place and Kim’s daughter Zara is taking the opportunity to jog people’s memories by distributing fliers at the festival and making an appeal for information in the hope that new information will be forthcoming that will help lead to a better idea of what happened to her mother.

As ever, Jane Harper creates a beautifully observed picture of Marralee and the beautiful wine growing countryside which exudes a beauty and a peacefulness that is at odds with the mysteries in this book. I say mysteries because there are two. The disappearance of Kim is the first, but there is also a cold case – that of a hit and run driver who killed a local accountant, leaving behind a widow and her young son.

Marralee is the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else and so there are theories abounding, not least that Kim, who did suffer from depressive episodes has taken her own life. Zara though is adamant her mother would never have left Zoe alone.

Falk can see the sense in that, and he’s also inclined to believe the young man who was staffing one of the exits – the one that Kim is supposed to have disappeared through. Joel says he didn’t see her and Falk thinks he has good reasons to have been paying attention.

Jane Harper paints a fabulous picture of a bonded community in a lovely part of the country where life is lived at a relaxed pace and quality of life is what comes first. Her plot is multi-layered and Falk finds himself investigating two historical incidents as his minds slowly works through what it is he is seeing that does not quite add up.

Jane Harper’s characters are so vivid and well-drawn you can visualise them and there’s a sense of emotional peace that exudes from this book. This is no fast-paced thriller, but instead it is a beautifully judged slow burn of a book that carries you with it and delivers its answers in a way that leaves you fully engaged if a little sad.

This is, it seems, the last Aaron Falk book, though Harper has clearly left the door open should she change her mind. But if it is the last book, she has left loyal fans with an ending that certainly satisfies. But Aaron, I am going to miss you.

Bookshop.org                                  Waterstones                      Hive Stores

Jane Harper is the author of four internationally bestselling Australian mysteries, including The Dry. Her books are published in 40 territories and have sold more than 3 million copies worldwide. Jane has won numerous top awards including the CWA Gold Dagger, the British Book Awards Crime and Thriller Book of the Year and the Australian Book Industry Awards Book of the Year. The 2021 movie adaptation of The Dry, starring Eric Bana, is one of the highest grossing Australian films of all time. Jane worked as a print journalist for 13 years in both Australia and the UK, and now lives in Melbourne with her husband, daughter and son.

Peter May at Aye Write, Mitchell Library, Glasgow 23 January 2023   @authorpetermay @kapaterson @AyeWrite @riverrunbooks @soph_ransompr

Peter May was in fine form on the first leg of his Scottish tour last night. Discussing his latest novel, A Winter Grave, Peter was interviewed by journalist Kirsteen Paterson in front of a packed and engaged audience.

Questioned by Kirsteen on the motivation behind A Winter Grave, Peter explained that his firm intention had been to retire, relax and read what he wanted to – as well as enjoying the music that is a big part of his life. He had refused all offers of contract renewals, had said no at all commissions and was set for an easier life.

After 26 books, who could blame him?  But then, he explained to Kirsteen, he read the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued in the Autumn of 2021.  It was terrifying and warned that the world is set to reach the 1.5ºC level within the next two decades. It said that only the most drastic cuts in carbon emissions from now would help prevent an environmental disaster. He thought it was so terrifying that it was bound to move politicians to action. But when he saw that instead of being motivated to act, politicians across the world actually watered down their response.

Peter May got mad. He spent 3 solid months undertaking research into climate change to inform himself as well as he could. At end it was very was clear to him that we are on a path to destruction.

In this situation, you ask yourself what you can do, he says. So he decided to write about it. It is, of course, a huge and complex subject to tackle and Peter decided that his solution was to do what he does best and to write a thriller, but set in a world impacted by climate change. The research that he had undertaken gave him the confidence to envision our world just 30 years from now.

In Scotland, our climate is informed by the Gulf Stream. Because polar regions of the planet are warming faster than the mid-latitudes, the typical north-south temperature difference is lower. As the temperature difference decreases, it causes a slight drop in zonal winds in the jet stream — which, in turn, deforms the jet stream and a wave forms drawing down cold air from the polar vortex. These can suck air out of the weather system, lowering pressure and causing stormy weather.

So Peter used this research to re-envision some of the geography of Scotlans – notably in both Glasgow and the Kinlochleven area. He sees flooding in Hull, and London.  Calcutta is under water or Glasgow has levees along the Clyde to stop flooding. The South side goes under water and water taxis are a primary means of transport. The Clyde becomes a water motorway.

He also uses a new development in transport technology. eVTOL vehicles are electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft that use electric battery power to hover, take off, and land vertically. They will, Peter tells us, be used in the forthcoming Paris Olympics.

But of course, Peter is a terrific crime writer, so it isn’t vehicles or floods that are at the heart of this book – it is great characters. Cameron is an old school cop. A D.S. who trained at Tulliallan Police College in Dunfermline. His boss is a shiny graduate who has little actual policing experience but knows the jargon and has passed the exams. Cameron has a daughter with whom he has little or no relationship and she is a climatologist. It is she who finds the body of a missing journalist that starts the murder enquiry at the core of A Winter Grave.

Peter told the audience that he enjoyed envisioning Scotland’s future, 30 years from now. He has made Scotland independent at the stroke of his pen. Of course that has changed all the political and party structures too, and so Peter has envisioned a revival of the Auld Alliance with France helping smooth the path for Scotland to rejoin the EU and Scotland restructuring local government in a way more akin to France’s structures. It is a new Auld Alliance.

Peter May is clearly extremely well informed and very impassioned about climate change and its impact. When he talks about it you can see the passion and the anger bubbling away. He says that the fossil fuel industry has known about the impact of climate change for more than 4 decades.  And, he says, have been working to subvert it ever since. He says the strategy and tactics are exactly the same as that used by tobacco companies. So much so that big Oil companies even use the same PR companies to sow the seeds of doubt and create an atmosphere of distrust over whether climate change is real.  And what is worse, they admit it. Peter says that they are deploying a strategy that is prepared to sacrifice the future of our planet for profit today. No wonder climate change protestors are angry. And pehaps now we understand better why the forces of the establishment are lined up to discredit them.

Peter May’s book, A Winter Grave is an excellent, chilling thriller with great characters and a fantastic plot. But I hope I have given you a flavour of why it is also so much more.

Peter May’s tour continues:

Tuesday 24th January, 7pm – Eden Court Theatre, Inverness

Wednesday 25th January, 7.30pm – St. John’s Kirk, Perth

Thursday 26th January, 12 midday to 1pm – Signing at Waterstones Dundee

Thursday 26th January, 7.30pm – Toppings, St Andrews

Friday 27th January, 3pm to 4pm – Signing, Waterstones Edinburgh (West End)

Friday 27th January, 7pm – Toppings, Edinburgh

Weyward by Emilia Hart @EmiliaHartBooks @BoroughPress

Source: Review copy
Publication: 2nd February 2023 from
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-0008499082

My thanks to The Borough Press for an advance copy for review

KATE, 2019
Kate flees London – abandoning everything – for Cumbria and Weyward Cottage, inherited from her great-aunt. There, a secret lurks in the bones of the house, hidden ever since the witch-hunts of the 17th century.

VIOLET, 1942
Violet is more interested in collecting insects and climbing trees than in becoming a proper young lady. Until a chain of shocking events changes her life forever.

ALTHA, 1619
Altha is on trial for witchcraft, accused of killing a local man. Known for her uncanny connection with nature and animals, she is a threat that must be eliminated.

But Weyward women belong to the wild. And they cannot be tamed…

Three generations of women; each finding their circumstances more than challenging. Each has suffered at the hands of a man and each, through no fault of their own has been banished. It is Kate, in 2019, who will find out more about her ancestors and through what she learns, will finally find the means to deal with her situation.

Altha was tried as a witch in 1619 after a herd of cows trampled a neighbouring farmer. Violet was born into a strict household during the Second World War. Her mother dead, she found her father to be harsh and unrelenting and when her cousin Fredrick comes home from battle she ends up being

In 2019, Kate knows nothing of her female heritage, but she does know that her great aunt Violet has left her a cottage in Crows Beck, a village in Cumbria. She so badly needs to flee her home and so, keeping the existence of her inheritance a secret from her partner, she flees there. It is while she is making a home in Weyward cottage that she unearths some of the history of her great aunt Violet and discovers what binds these three women together.

Emilia Hart’s Weyward is a delightful read and the cottage that links each of these women provides a strong and enduring bond between the ages. Though born into very different circumstances, each woman finds herself in Weyward Cottage needing help and finding it through their connection to the land and the nature that surrounds them.

Weyward is a story of the resilience of women in the face of astonishing misogyny and is also an engrossing and well told story which holds the interest and keeps the reader wanting to know more. Told in different ways, through letters and diaries, first and third person narratives, the story is always clear about whose voice we are hearing from and that makes it a distinctively told story.

Weyward offers an alternative history to that told by the male victors. This is history as told by Gaia; a history of how women’s powerful connection to nature is the wheel that turns the earth and makes things flourish.

Verdict: Verdict: Emilia Hart’s Weyward tells a compelling story of the resilience and the power of women and of how, in the face of adversity, they find an inner strength and connection that is palpable; enough to overcome an adversity that we see all too clearly has not changed over centuries. It weaves its own spell on the reader and though elements of it are familiar and there’s not really any doubt as to whether Kate will prevail, this is still a satisfying and evocative read.

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Emilia Hart is a British-Australian writer. She was born in Sydney and studied English Literature and Law at the University of New South Wales before working as a lawyer in Sydney and London. Emilia is a graduate of Curtis Brown Creative’s Three Month Online Novel Writing Course and was Highly Commended in the 2021 Caledonia Novel Award. Her short fiction has been published in Australia and the UK. She lives in London.

A Winter Grave by Peter May @authorpetermay @riverrunbooks @soph_ransompr

Source: Review copy
Publication: 19 January 2023 from riverrun
PP: 368
ISBN-13: 978-1529428483

My thanks to riverrun and Sophie Ransom for an advance copy for review

A TOMB OF ICE
A young meteorologist checking a mountain top weather station in Kinlochleven discovers the body of a missing man entombed in ice.

A DYING DETECTIVE
Cameron Brodie, a Glasgow detective, sets out on a hazardous journey to the isolated and ice-bound village. He has his own reasons for wanting to investigate a murder case so far from his beat.

AN AGONIZING RECKONING
Brodie must face up to the ghosts of his past and to a killer determined to bury forever the chilling secret that his investigation threatens to expose.

I have travelled a long way with Peter May; from France to China and places in between. It feels like Scotland is where he is most at home. A Winter Grave is a terrific book. Set in Kinlochleven, a village in Lochaber in the Highlands, it takes place just a few decades from now,in the near future. This is not dystopian fiction; rather it is a small leap forward where most things are the same, only a bit worse. (though I might quarrel with Peter May’s optimism on how many newspapers we will be left with).

But that ‘bit worse’ includes the weather and the impact of 1 or two degrees is massive on different continents.

A Winter Grave is highly plausible and utterly terrifying. It is a tremendous, exciting and very chilling read and I absolutely inhaled it.

Addie is checking her mountain top weather station above Kinlochleven when she finds the dead body of a man encased in ice. DI Cameron Brodie is sent from from Glasgow pathologist to investigate and he picks up pathologist Dr Sita Roy on the way.

The dead man proves to be Charles Younger, an investigative journalist who went missing in August. The suggestion is that he lost his way while hill walking, but to do so why would he take the most difficult route while clearly unequipped for such a trip. That and the fact that he was a much feared investigative reporter makes this discovery more than worthy of an in depth look.

Peter May employs a dual timeline flitting from 2023 to 2051. This enables us to get a broad sense of who Cameron Brodie is and why he is prepared to follow this case through to the end despite the difficulties that poses.

There are many strands to this engrossing novel. There is the compelling murder mystery. We are also treated to a complex relationship story that unfolds throughout the course of the investigation, allowing us to better get to know the characters involved and their motivation. And then there’s the climate crisis element to the story which is both terrifying and horribly plausible.  All of these combine to give us a strong and incredibly compulsive story that strikes a terrible chord of recognition with every chapter.

Peter May has made a video to accompany his book. He says: “In 2022 I came out of retirement to write a thriller that would reflect my anger at the failure of the world to face up to the reality of climate change.  It is called A WINTER GRAVE, and is published on January 19th, 2023.  To go with it I wrote a song, in collaboration with Dennis McCoy, as an anthem for young people today pleading for their future.  It is performed by The Peter May Band.  This is the video we made to go with it, and the song itself is available to stream or download on all platforms from January 14th.  The song is not intended to make money, but in the unlikely event that it does, all proceeds will be donated to charity.”

May does not flinch from showing us some of the perhaps less considered impacts of climate change on our society and that makes this novel so much more than a story about ice and snow. This is a considered and highly plausible view of how society might change as climate concerns rise to the fore. It is also written from the perspective of an author who is very angry at the failure of the world to face up to the reality of climate change and Peter May has made this a strong and convincing story as a result.

Verdict: A Winter Grave is a terrific, thought provoking read that is both propulsive and a bone-chillingly explosive cracker of a book. I love it when Peter May comes home.

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Peter May is a Scot living in France.  Winner of two major French literary awards, May’s books have also won Crime Novel of the Year awards in France, Scotland, the UK, and the United States. With more than 4 million copies of his books sold, he is best known for his acclaimed “Lewis Trilogy“, set in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. His series of  six “China Thrillers” and six France-based “Enzo Files” are currently enjoying best-selling success in reprints. His most recent works have been the standalone stories: “Entry Island“, “Runaway“, “Coffin Road“ and “I’ll Keep You Safe“.
Peter May started his writing career as a journalist, winning a national award at the age of 21. Still in his twenties, he switched to writing drama for UK television. He created three major drama serials in the UK and has credits for scriptwriting or producing more than 1,000 episodes of ratings-topping shows. He quit TV in the 1990s to concentrate on his first love, writing books.

Peter May has a number of signings, most in Scotland over the coming week. See below:

Thursday 19th January, 6.30pm – Hatchard’s, London

Monday 23rd January, 6.30pm – Mitchell Library, Glasgow

Tuesday 24th January, 7pm – Eden Court Theatre, Inverness

Wednesday 25th January, 7.30pm – St. John’s Kirk, Perth

Thursday 26th January, 12 midday to 1pm – Signing at Waterstones Dundee

Thursday 26th January, 7.30pm – Toppings, St Andrews

Friday 27th January, 3pm to 4pm – Signing, Waterstones Edinburgh (West End)

Friday 27th January, 7pm – Toppings, Edinburgh

The Drift by C.J. Tudor @cjtudor @MichaelJBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 19 January from Michael Joseph
PP: 400
ISBN-13: 978-0241486245

My thanks to Michael Joseph for an advance copy for review

Survival can be murder . . .

Hannah awakens to carnage, all mangled metal and shattered glass. Evacuated from a secluded boarding school during a snowstorm, her coach careered off the road, trapping her with a handful of survivors.

Meg awakens to a gentle rocking. She’s in a cable car stranded high above snowy mountains, with five strangers and no memory of how they got on board.

Carter is gazing out of the window of an isolated ski chalet that he and his companions call home. As their generator begins to waver in the storm, the threat of something lurking in the chalet’s depths looms larger.

Outside, the storm rages. Inside each group, a killer lurks.

But who?

And will anyone make it out alive? . . .

The Drift is an apocalyptic, dystopian horror with a chilling murder mystery at its heart. Three groups of people in three different locations, each fighting for their lives. Who are they and how do they intersect?

In The Drift, C.J. Tudor brings together the horror and mystery elements of her writing in the strongest way yet. This is a genuinely horrific story, not least because it brings to the fore memories of the pandemic, which for some have barely faded.

This is dystopian fiction, but like a lot of dystopian fiction I am currently reading, it doesn’t feel all that far away. The horrors that C.J. Tudor is projecting may be fiction, but they are also all too believable.

The locations are freezing, presumably due to climate change. Two sets of people are trying to get to The Retreat. One group is on an upturned bus after an accident. They don’t know each other and the trust is low between them. Trust is also low in the cable car suspended by just one cable now and its occupants are stranded.

Getting out of these precarious situations would be difficult enough in any circumstances, but knowing that outside there are other serious challenges to life facing them, makes this a really tricky scenario. Pretty much no-one in The Drift is who they claim to be. Add a killer to the mix and the tension is ramped high and only gets more nail-biting as the book progresses.

The Drift is like a cross between Contagion and The Walking Dead. There are plenty of unlikeable characters and one or two who you really feel have had a really bad deal from life and that makes you want to root for them. But getting to their destination isn’t necessarily the great goal it seemed to be when they set out. In a well-paced novel, the snow is constantly shifting and what lies below is ever more horrific than the original landscape implied.

There is danger and duplicity in every scene and Tudor does not flinch from including some pretty grim scenes, making this an icy, disturbing story where your blood really will run cold.

Verdict: The Drift is dark, menacing and a true horror story. I would genuinely caution you if you have a nervous disposition, because this is a no holds barred C.J.Tudor and that makes this a scary and very brutal read, exceedingly well executed in plot and style.

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C. J. Tudor’s love of writing, especially the dark and macabre, started young. When her peers were reading Judy Blume, she was devouring Stephen King and James Herbert.Over the years she has had a variety of jobs, including trainee reporter, radio scriptwriter, dog walker, voiceover artist, television presenter, copywriter and, now, author. C. J. Tudor’s first novel, The Chalk Man, was a Sunday Times bestseller and sold in over forty countries. Her second novel, The Taking of Annie Thorne, was also a Sunday Times bestseller as was her third novel, The Other People. All three books are in development for TV. Her fourth novel, The Burning Girls, was a Richard and Judy Book Club selection and has been adapted for television by award-winning screenwriter Hans Rosenfeldt (creator of The Bridge and Marcella). It will debut on Paramount Plus in 2023. The Drift is her fifth novel and has also been optioned for the screen. C.J. Tudor is also the author of A Sliver of Darkness, a collection of short stories. She lives in Sussex with her family.

Those People Next Door by Kia Abdullah @KiaAbdullah @HQstories

Source: Review copy
Publication: 19 January 2023 from HQ
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-0008433680

My thanks HQ to for an advance copy for review

You can choose your house. Not your neighbours.

WELCOME TO YOUR DREAM HOME…

Salma Khatun is extremely hopeful about Blenheim, the safe suburban development to which she, her husband and their son have just moved. Their family is in desperate need of a fresh start, and Blenheim feels like the place to make that happen.

MEET YOUR NEW NEIGHBOURS…

Not long after they move in, Salma spots her neighbour, Tom Hutton, ripping out the anti-racist banner her son put in their front garden. She chooses not to confront Tom because she wants to fit in. It’s a small thing, really. No need to make a fuss. So Salma takes the banner inside and puts it in her window instead. But the next morning she wakes up to find her window smeared with paint.

AND PREPARE FOR THE NIGHTMARE TO BEGIN…

This time she does confront Tom, and the battle lines between the two families are drawn. As things begin to escalate and the stakes become higher, it’s clear that a reckoning is coming… And someone is going to get hurt.

I don’t read a lot of domestic noir, but Kia Abdullah is a writer whose work I really enjoy, so I dived into this one head first. OMG! From the beginning the tension is there between the next door neighbours and it only ramps up and up until I was holding my breath because in parts it is so unbearably tense you almost don’t want to know what is going to happen next.

The Khatuns have recently moved to this new estate, a blend of social and private housing where everything is well cared for and though the houses may lack character, the estate feels safe and quiet. Their next door neighbours are the Huttons. They too have a teenage son and everything feels like the omens are good for a new start for the Khatuns, especially when they are invited to a neighbourly barbecue just after they arrive.

Kia Abdullah slowly lets us into what lies behind the Khatuns need to move and that only starts to become clear when the somewhat passive aggressive behaviour of next door neighbour Tom Sutton starts to niggle away the family.

We all know people like Tom Hutton. He is a stickler for the rules; a man who will call you out if you have the temerity to park outside his house, despite the lack of any parking demarcation lines. A man who will do his share, but will point this out to others in the clear expectation that they will see they are failing to do theirs.

The Khatuns have moved, in part, so that their son Zain can have a new start. He was getting in with a bad crowd in their last place and they have high hopes for Zain who is currently failing to live up to their high aspirations. The Huttons too have a son, Jamie, who is of a similar age to Zain, so you hope that where the parents fail to gel, perhaps the kids can bring them together?

What’s brilliant about this book is that you can’t help but think ‘there but for the grace of God….’. There can’t be too many people who haven’t had neighbours that irritate them, or worse and Kia Abdullah has recognises how quickly that can become an all-consuming part of your emotional framework if you let it. Kia Abdullah shows how much the class divide can matter in a small neighbourhood and she shows how quickly racial tension can develop.

It is brilliantly done and so quickly develops into toxicity that it takes your breath away. Inevitably, what starts as a small irritation grows and then social media plays its part in fanning the flames of intolerance and prejudice. It is cleverly and plausibly done and I found it compelling.

Those People Next Door will have you taking sides, seeing the other person’s perspective and then switching your opinion back and forward. The tension in this book is palpable and at times, almost unbearable. It builds and builds to a massive crescendo, and culminates in a courtroom.

Verdict: This is such a convincing and compelling book that really has you caught up in the actions of the protagonists, Making judgements, taking sides, contemplating what is racism.. all these things and more go through your mind as events develop. As ever Kia Abdullah ends her story in a confrontation in the courtroom and it is only there and afterwards that we understand how the full picture comes together. Brilliantly done, Those People Next Door is a fantastic thriller and a sure fire winner I’ll be thinking about for some time to come.

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Kia Abdullah is an author and travel writer from London. She has written for The New York Times, the Guardian and the Telegraph, and is the author of Truth Be Told and Take It Back, which was named one of the best thrillers of the year by the Guardian and the Telegraph. Kia frequently contributes to the BBC, commenting on a variety of issues affecting the British Asian community, and is the founder of Asian Booklist, a site that helps readers discover new books by British Asian authors. Kia also runs Atlas & Boots, a travel blog read by 250,000 people a month.

The Things We Do To Our Friends by Heather Darwent   @HeatherDarwent @benmccluskey @VikingBooksUK

Source: Review copy
Publication: 12 January 2023 from Viking
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-0241538821

My thanks to Viking Books for an advance copy for review

Clare arrives at the University of Edinburgh with a secret. This is her chance for a blank slate: to find the right people and reinvent herself.

And then she meets Tabitha.

Tabitha is charismatic, beautiful and intimidatingly wealthy. Soon Clare is sucked into her enigmatic circle of friends and their dizzying world of champagne on rooftops and summers in France.

Her new life has begun.

Then Tabitha reveals the little project they’re working on, a project they need Clare’s help with. It’s reckless, possibly perilous and might finally allow Clare to become who she was meant to be…

But how much is an extraordinary life worth if others have to pay?

It’s a delight to welcome a new author into the crime and thriller world and I have no doubt at all that Heather Darwent will have a sparkling writing career. The Things We Do to Our Friends is a delightfully dark story of dangerous and toxic friendships. Clare has not had an easy life and has come to study at Edinburgh University, putting her old life behind her. This is her opportunity to reinvent herself; to become the woman she wants to be.

She finds herself a job in a bar and even begins a tentative relationship. But in her art class she meets Tabitha. Tabitha, for reasons Clare cannot fathom, pays court to Clare, drawing her slowly and inexorably into her tight, glittering circle. Their hedonistic lifestyle is seductive, but more than that, Clare enjoys a strong feeling of belonging and being wanted as part of this exclusive clique.

Heather Darwent beautifully creates the dark and twisty atmosphere of Edinburgh’s Old Town and the contrast with the glittering Georgian apartment that is Tabitha’s New Town abode. Her Clare is quiet and in need of nurture, and Tabitha’s flattery is insidious and persistent.

The Things We Do to Our Friends is a study in understanding character and showing how easy it is to play on the need for acceptance and inclusion. It is full of calculated manipulation and a perverted view of feminism that feels exciting and just dangerous enough, but is full of danger and poor intent.

The dynamics of the relationships in Tabitha’s inner circle are venal and unpleasant and Darwent beautifully draws this out with skill and intrigue

Verdict: I thought this was cleverly written with good pace and excellent plotting, conveying a dangerous atmosphere that the reader is constantly aware of in the background. You know something is not right with this disturbing friendship and that the power dynamics are seriously skewed, but Clare becomes like a fly trapped in Tabitha’s web. Beautifully executed, this is a dark and intoxicating read that is bound to do very well.

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Heather Darwent is based just outside of Edinburgh. Originally from Yorkshire, she came to Scotland to study History of Art at the University of Edinburgh, like her character Clare, and ended up never quite leaving. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her reading chaotic non-fiction about Silicon Valley and swimming in the sea . . . or being unbearably boring in conversation about swimming in the sea. The Things We Do To Our Friends is her debut novel.

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