Dead Perfect by Noelle Holten (DC Maggie Jamieson #3) @nholten40 @OneMoreChapter_ @KillerReads

Source: Review copy
Publication: 16 October 2020 in e-book and 24 December 2020 in paperback
PP: 448
ISBN-13: 978-0008383664

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

A murdered woman…

When the body of a young woman is found in a local park, DC Maggie Jamieson knows she’s dealing with no ordinary killer.  The murder victim has been disfigured; her outfit changed to resemble someone else.  Someone Maggie knows all too well…her close friend Dr Kate Moloney.

A determined detective…

Maggie is determined to keep her friend safe, but with Kate already struggling with a threatening stalker, Maggie now fears Kate’s life is in real danger.  Who else would want to harm Kate and why else would the killer be turning his victims into exact replicas – his living dolls?

Can Maggie find the depraved killer?  Or will Kate become his next living doll?

It is my huge pleasure to help celebrate the launch of this excellent thriller and I wish the author, Noelle Holten every success with this book, she certainly deserves it. Happy Publication Day, Noelle!

Now…to my review…

It’s my own fault, I know that. If I just hadn’t googled that instrument mentioned in the prologue, I’m sure my stomach would not have squicked quite so much reading this book. But I did, and the feeling of dread and apprehension that the prologue left me with didn’t really go away for the rest of the book.

I was so keen to read Dead Perfect. At the end of Dead Wrong, we knew Dr Kate Maloney was in trouble, but how much trouble we learn quite quickly in this novel. The body of a young woman is found and Staffordshire Police quickly realise that she has been carefully dressed and her appearance changed so that her appearance becomes horribly close to that of one of their own – Dr Kate Maloney, the psychiatrist who often works with the team. Is this the stalker that has Kate so worried? Maggie is convinced that Kate is in danger and the team agree.

Moreover, it soon seems that the stalker’s actions are escalating when another body is found, dressed and mutilated and with a tattooed mark similar to that found on the first victim. What does it all mean and why?

Maggie is beside herself with worry. Her burgeoning friendship with Kate is impacting on her professional competence and she is short with colleagues and impetuous in her actions. You’d expect that, in a this kind of situation, her bosses would not be too impressed with this kind of behaviour, and you’d be right. Kate is slapped down hard more than once by her boss, the recently promoted DS Nathan Wright who tells her that she’s close to being taken off the case if she can’t keep her emotions in check.

Not only that, but the circumstances of this case mean that she’s forced to work with Julie Noble, the sly and pushy journalist who has given her such grief and who previously publicly impugned her capabilities .

In a fast paced and decidedly dark police procedural, Noelle Holten is not afraid to show us a team of competent officers sifting carefully through the evidence but being frustrated at every turn as their suspects alibi out.  The tension is palpable and the nerves fraying as this team know that keeping Kate Maloney safe is their paramount concern along with catching the perpetrator, but Kate isn’t good at handling close supervision.

I love the way that Holten plays across the whole integrated multi-agency team from social care and domestic abuse through to probation, psychology and the Police. It gives hera broad canvas to work across and an excellent team of characters to choose from. Each book can be read as a stand-alone, but now we are beginning to get a real sense of characters and character development, it will pay off to read these books in order.

In this book, we not only learn more about Maggie, but aspects of Kate Maloney’s past are also revealed; things Kate wanted to stay in the past and which show us that she is more vulnerable than we might have imagined as we looked at her goth like appearance and the veneer of her confident and assertive approach to her work.

I also really like that Noelle Holten doesn’t have everything go the way her characters would like. Here you will not find easy answers or convenient clues, but you will find solid police work and a morass of evidence that leads the team in circles until they work out what they have missed.

It feels authentic and that in turn leads to a greater excitement when, once they know they are on the right track, the team are quickly able to piece together the story. And what a story! Though I knew pretty early who the perpetrator was likely to be, I had no sense at all of why and what their motivation might be.

Verdict: Holten is full of surprises and this really helps to distinguish this book from the standard police procedural. Another tension filled cracker from the Staffordshire team in a series that is fast becoming unmissable.

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Noelle Holten is an award-winning blogger at http://www.crimebookjunkie.co.uk. She is the PR & Social Media Manager for Bookouture, a leading digital publisher in the UK, and was a regular reviewer on the Two Crime Writers and a Microphone podcast. Noelle worked as a Senior Probation Officer for eighteen years, covering a variety of cases including those involving serious domestic abuse. She has three Hons BA’s – Philosophy, Sociology (Crime & Deviance) and Community Justice – and a Masters in Criminology. Noelle’s hobbies include reading, attending as many book festivals as she can afford and sharing the booklove via her blog.

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Stolen Children by Michael Wood (DCI Matilda Darke #6) @MichaelHWood @0neMoreChapter_ @HarperCollinsUK

Source: Review copy
Publication: 2 October 2020 in e-book from One More Chapter
PP: 400
ISBN-13: 978-0008374860 (paperback 10 December 2020)

Some cases won’t die.
A young boy walks into a police station in France. He claims to be Carl Meagan – a missing child from Sheffield whose name is still whispered as a warning to kids who stay out after dark.

Some children won’t be found.
On her way home from the supermarket, nine-year-old Keeley Armitage vanishes without trace. Her family is overcome with shock and DCI Matilda Darke can’t help but focus on memories of the Carl Meagan case that almost ruined her career.

Some killers won’t be stopped.
As Matilda investigates, she peels back the layers of grief and sadness that surround Keeley’s family. Until she is left with an unimaginable choice: betray those closest to her or let a violent killer walk free…

The DCI Darke series has quickly become a favourite in my reading schedule and I now actively look forward to finding out when the next in the series is due. Michael Wood produces an excellent combination of great characters with well fleshed out personal and professional lives and crime thriller stories that stand out.

DCI Matilda Darke is a great character; a good copper who has that one case that haunts her and who , in this book, is wavering somewhere between wanting a relationship and actually having one. This team is an ensemble though and we see them working together and having each other’s backs, even when the stakes are dangerously high.

The subject matter of this book is a difficult one and Wood gives it an uncompromising, dark treatment. Already torn apart by what she believes were her own failures in trying and failing to recover Carl Meagan when he went missing some three years ago, Matilda Darke is determined that nine year old Keely Armitage, who disappeared after a trip to the shops with her sister, will be returned to her family.

The Armitages are distraught. Their son, Riley is severely disabled and Craig, the father has to work seven days a week to make sure the family can care for him and their two daughters. So when a ransom is demanded, their world just caves in.

Matilda can’t believe that a second child has been kidnapped in Sheffield – it is her worst nightmare. As she pulls out all the stops to search for Keely, her attention is somewhat derailed by news from France with developments on the Carl Meagan kidnap.

The team start their investigation and it is a tense and suspenseful journey as new developments keep them busy and our pulses race as Wood takes us on a perilous journey where the truth is darker than you could imagine.

I loved the fast and steady pace of this novel and the way that the plot took us backwards and forwards again, hinting at possible truths but leaving the final devastating facts to emerge in the most exciting and suspenseful way.

I was on the hook from early on in this novel and couldn’t let go until the end. What a dark and tension fuelled journey!

Verdict: One of the darker books in this series it is a hugely enjoyable and suspense filled read. Great characters and a good team to draw on make sure that there is lots of human interest and interaction in these stories. An all-round excellent police procedural series, which I will most certainly read more of.

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Michael Wood is a crime writer based in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, which is the setting for his thriller series featuring DCI Matilda Darke. He spends his days writing and researching new and inventive ways of killing people off for future DCI Darke novels as well as other projects he has up his sleeve.

Betrayal by Lilja Sigurðardóttir trs Quentin Bates @lilja1972 @OrendaBooks @graskeggur @AnneCater

Source: Review copy
Publication: 1st October 2020 from Orenda Books
PP: 276
ISBN-13: 978-1913193409

My thanks to the publisher for an advance review copy

Burned out and traumatised by her horrifying experiences around the world, aid worker Úrsula has returned to Iceland. Unable to settle, she accepts a high-profile government role in which she hopes to make a difference again.

But on her first day in the post, Úrsula promises to help a mother seeking justice for her daughter, who had been raped by a policeman, and life in high office soon becomes much more harrowing than Úrsula could ever have imagined. A homeless man is stalking her – but is he hounding her, or warning her of some danger? And why has the death of her father in police custody so many years earlier reared its head again?

As Úrsula is drawn into dirty politics, facing increasingly deadly threats, the lives of her stalker, her bodyguard and even a witch-like cleaning lady intertwine. Small betrayals become large ones, and the stakes are raised ever higher…

There are many, many things to admire about Iceland, which from the outside, looks like it has got women in public life completely sussed. Not if Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s novel is anything to go by! In fact there will be a strong chord of recognition in many women when our protagonist, Úrsula takes her first steps into public political life and is immediately stymied by a bureaucracy that knows exactly how to frustrate what Ursula wants and the forces of darkness don’t want her to have.

Ursula has an excellent track record of standing up for the poor and the forgotten as an international aid worker. But she burned out in that role and has come back home to Iceland to reconnect with her husband and family and to recover from the brutalising impact of everything she has experienced.

She has accepted a temporary role as Minister for the Interior hoping that she can use her skills for good but in a much less stressful environment. Ah, if only! In her naivety, Ursula is unprepared for the harsh realities of political life. The cut-throat world of politics is laid bare in a fast paced novel that doesn’t hesitate to show the craven nature of political wheeling and dealing where power is everything and women in particular are expendable.

This is a different kind of war zone; one where the velvet gloves are worn, but the determination to thwart Úrsula’s desire for progress is just as real as if a soldier were holding her up at gunpoint. In promising a distraught mother justice for her daughter, she finds the patriarchy putting obstacles in her way at every turn.

Not only that but her new profile is seemingly putting her at risk from a shady stalker and she’ll soon realise that even on the safe streets of Reykjavik, she needs constant security, provided in the form of Gunnar, her dedicated driver and personal security.   All of this takes its toll on Úrsula and she finds herself taking risks that she would not normally contemplate.

Though she struggles to connect with her colleagues and she still can’t quite find the right relationship with her husband, Úrsula nonetheless is alive to those with much less privilege than herself and thus she notices and shares some quiet smoke breaks moments with Stella, a cleaner in the Parliament offices.

Stella has her own problems and how these two women intersect has an important role to play in Sigurðardóttir’s nicely layered plot.

Aptly named, Betrayal is everywhere in this novel. Ursula herself is both betrayed and betrayer. Those in power are betraying the very people who elected them to protect them. A rape victim is betrayed by the justice system that should be pursuing her rapist. Through all of this, Ursula has to find a path that enables her to be true to herself and yet lets her do a decent job.

I loved Lilja’s Sigurðardóttir’s portrayal of these characters and the wholly authentic way in which the worlds of politics and journalism are mixed to produce a heady story with lots of fake leads, lies and corruption. It is a thrilling and tense read that kept me wholly engaged and wondering how it might be resolved.

Verdict: With multiple threads and a number of potential suspects, this fast paced and enthralling political thriller is right up my street. Hat tip, too, to Quentin Bates for his impeccable translation skills.

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Icelandic crime-writer Lilja Sigurðardóttir was born in the town of Akranes in 1972 and raised in Mexico, Sweden, Spain and Iceland. An award-winning playwright, Lilja has written four crime novels, including Snare, Trap and Cage, making up the Reykjavik Noir trilogy, which have hit bestseller lists worldwide. The film rights have been bought by Palomar Pictures in California. She lives in Reykjavík with her partner.

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The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton @Stu_Turton @BloomsburyRaven

Source: Review copy
Publication: 1st October 2020 from Raven Books
PP: 576
ISBN-13: 978-1408889640

It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported from the Dutch East Indies to Amsterdam, where he is facing trial and execution for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Travelling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent, while also on board are Sara Wessel, a noble woman with a secret, and her husband, the governor general of Batavia.

But no sooner is their ship out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. A strange symbol appears on the sail. A dead leper stalks the decks. Livestock are slaughtered in the night.

And then the passengers hear a terrible voice whispering to them in the darkness, promising them three unholy miracles. First: an impossible pursuit. Second: an impossible theft. Third: an impossible murder.

Could a demon be responsible for their misfortunes?

With Pipps imprisoned, only Arent and Sara can solve a mystery that stretches back into their past and now threatens to sink the ship, killing everybody on board.

Murder, mystery, magic and mayhem on the high seas from Stuart Turton. What more could you possibly want? This rich tale is impeccably told. It is bold, dazzling, full of derring-do and impossible puzzles. With strong echoes of Conan Doyle in his two principal detectives, Arent Hayes and Samuel Pipps, Turton brings us a 17th Century swashbuckling story replete with characters with missing body parts and strange and fearsome tales to tell.

Is there a devil on the ship? It certainly seems so. With his brilliant partner Pipps locked up in a dank hole below decks, can steadfast Arent Hayes solve this mystery solo? Sara Wessel is travelling with her husband from Batavia to Amsterdam where their fortunes are to be seriously enhanced, but from the outset it is clear that that there is the devil’s work afoot to ensure the voyage of the Saardam is not successful.

Turton does not stint in using his rich, descriptive powers to give us an olfactory tour of the lower decks in this wondrously atmospheric, historical murder mystery. A ship, of course, provides the same opportunities as a locked room when it comes to murder and Turton absolutely makes the most of each and every opportunity to deceive and deflect as his beautiful character populated novel embarks on a most dangerous journey.

As with The Seven Deaths, it is the depth and quality of the characterisation that shines through in this book and there are sufficient intricately drawn characters here to keep our minds busy even as we try to work out which are good and which may be the devil incarnate.

Even as we get nowhere near the solution, this doom laden ship is sailing towards a dramatic event. The motley crew are threatening mutiny when they’re not knifing each other and something nasty is whispering in the ears of anyone who will listen. As an exercise in mass hysteria, it is brilliant to behold.

Turton builds up an enviable cast of characters, some of whom are quite grotesque, complete with backstories, motivation by the bucketful and all in all it feels like we are in the midst of a Matthias Grünewald painting.

You can’t help but be drawn to the principal protagonists though and before the first chapter has ended you are already half in love.

Fantastic prose that I just wanted to wallow in creates a luscious novel that winds itself round your heart and may just squeeze the life out of you before you know you’re caught.

Verdict: Can you tell I loved it? Turton has a delightfully dark and delicious mind that paints in colourful oils all over his pages. This book is rich, vivid and fiendishly clever. Buy it, you will not regret it.

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Stuart Turton’s debut novel, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, won the Costa First Novel Award and the Books Are My Bag Readers Award for Best Novel, and was shortlisted for the Specsavers National Book Awards and the British Book Awards Debut of the Year. A Sunday Times bestseller for three weeks, it has been translated into over thirty languages and has also been a bestseller in Italy, Russia and Poland. Stuart lives near London with his wife and daughter.

STONE COLD TROUBLE by Amer Anwar @ameranwar @dialoguebooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 24 September 2020 from Dialogue Books
PP: 464
ISBN-13: 978-0349700342

Set in the heart of West London’s Asian community, this is the latest instalment in the unmissable ZAQ & JAGS series . . .

Trying – and failing – to keep his head down and to stay out of trouble, ex-con Zaq Khan agrees to help his best friend, Jags, recover a family heirloom, currently in the possession of a wealthy businessman. But when Zaq’s brother is viciously assaulted, Zaq is left wondering whether someone from his own past is out to get revenge.

Wanting answers and retribution, Zaq and Jags set out to track down those responsible. Meanwhile, their dealings with the businessman take a turn for the worse and Zaq and Jags find themselves suspected of murder.

It’ll take both brains and brawn to get themselves out of trouble and, no matter what happens, the results will likely be deadly. The only question is, whether it will prove deadly for them, or for someone else . . . ?

Amer Anwar is a born storyteller. His characters are people you care about; histories laced with danger, action, intrigue and humour and his plotlines carefully crafted.

I adored Brothers in Blood, (Western Fringes when I read it) the first in this series, but I think Anwar has taken his characters a step further this time and I feel as if I am getting to understand Zaq a little better.

Zaq Khan spent 5 years in prison after a fight led to an unintended death. Since his release, he has been working as a delivery driver for a construction company run by Mr Brar whose sons were caught up in Zaq’s first skirmish after his release. Zaq’s best friend is Jags; they’ve been friends since childhood and Jags is a rather good cook, and Anwar always makes my taste buds fire up when I’m reading. Stone Cold Trouble is set in the heart of West London’s British Asian community and Zaq lives in Southhall, sharing a house with a bunch of young Sikh men.

When Zaq’s brother, Tariq, is severely beaten while DJ’ing at a wedding, Zaq is determined to track down the guilty party/ies, and at the same time, Jags has asked him to help retrieve a valuable heirloom belonging to his Uncle Lucky, which he stupidly used as collateral for a gambling bet and which he now can’t get back from its holder.

Amer Anwar shows us the different sides of Zaq in this book. A good friend, but one who doesn’t hesitate to draw Jags into actions he may not have 100% signed up for. A good son and brother, who, even though he and Tariq haven’t always got on, spends every night at his hospital bedside while he lies in a coma.

There are burgeonings of a romantic interest, too but these very definitely take second place to what is a seriously macho response to the events with which Zaq is faced. A distrust of the police – and Anwar has some very pertinent things to say about the demise of community policing – and a fear that he could be sent back to prison are what drives Zaq to take the actions that he does.

Stone Cold Trouble is a darker book than the first and that means that there are times when, much as I wanted to like Zaq, his determination to seek revenge had me looking at him through fresh eyes. 

Anwar has a light touch with Zaq though and this book, with its thrills, fights and genuinely suspenseful heart-in-the-mouth moments, is a riveting read. Interspersed with some good laughs and a load of hugely entertaining banter, it’s easy to fall in love with Zaq and Jags.

But Zaq is treading a very fine line and I’m worried for him and for his lifelong friendship. The consequences of following a road paved with natural justice are not always foreseeable and I’ll be interested to see where Amer Anwar goes with this in the future. There’s only so long you can go on getting away with being the young macho man with good boxing skills, even if it does come with oodles of charm.

Verdict: An excellent read, well-plotted and full of fast paced thrills and spills and intelligent, intriguing plotting. Zaq and Jags are a fantastic pair; let’s hope they can stay that way!

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Amer Anwar  grew up in West London. After leaving college he had a variety of jobs, including; warehouse assistant, comic book lettering artist, a driver for emergency doctors and chalet rep in the French Alps. He eventually landed a job as a creative artworker/graphic designer and spent the next decade and a half producing artwork, mainly for the home entertainment industry. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London and is a winner of the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award.  More here.

The Seven Doors by Agnes Ravatn trs Rosie Hedger @OrendaBooks @annecater @rosie_hedger

Source: Review copy
Publication: 17th September 2020 from Orenda Books
PP: 276
ISBN-13: 978-1913193386

My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review

When the tenant of a house that university professor Nina owns with her doctor husband goes missing after an uncomfortable visit, Nina starts her own investigation … with deeply disturbing results. The long-awaited new thriller from the bestselling author of The Bird Tribunal

It’s funny the impression you can get from what you read about books before you pick them up to read for the first time. In my head I had the thought that this might be a bit heavy going…all Nordic gloom and slow going literary theory, but in fact it is a proper page turner with a splash of real wit.

From the outset we find characters who don’t endear themselves. Nina is a Professor of Literature at the local University. She’s really hacked off because her childhood home that she and her long standing husband, Mads have lived in since they were married is the subject of a compulsory purchase order by the Council – the same Council for which Mads, a doctor, is an elected politician, so he has had to stand back and take no part in the decision. Thus Nina has been unable to fight the order and must watch the home she loves being demolished – and in double quick time.

When she teaches she finds her students devoid of intellectual curiosity and she wonders why she’s bothering at all to teach them. Nina and Mads have one child, Ingeborg, herself the mother of a small child, and she is a woman completely devoid of empathy.  

Mads owns a house not far away, inherited from an aunt, and when Ingeborg announces that her house has silverfish and she needs to move straight away, she insists on going with Nina to view the house that Mads owns, without even giving its tenant any warning of their visit. Mari Nilsen is a young single mother and is very much taken aback when the entitled Ingeborg stipulates that she must see the house and then demands to know how quickly she can move out. Nina is also taken aback and aghast at her daughter’s behaviour.

So when she hears not long after that Mari has gone missing and has left her son with his grandparents, Nina can’t help but worry that Ingeborg’s abrasive behaviour might have been in some way responsible.

As time passes and there’s no sign of Mari, Nina, who has by now realised that she knows a little of Mari’s history, feels that she has to inquire further into her life and her disappearance.

Ravatn writes reasonably short chapters and her prose is taut and precise. Against the backdrop of a Norwegian winter she tells her story with care and precision. As Nina slowly pieces together pieces of Mari’s life she uses leaps of judgement and makes some sweeping deductions based on her literary skills and psychological principles to reach a conclusion that has consequences she could not have foreseen and which have a profound impact on her extended family. Just like Judith in Bluebeard’s Castle, every time Nina opens another door, the atmosphere gets that little bit more chilling.

I adored this story, with its use of fables and opera to create allegories around Mari’s story and what she has experienced. Agnes Ravatn’s clever use of these stories builds up quite an oppressive, tension laden atmosphere which keeps the reader on edge as Nina gets closer to uncovering a devastating truth.

She will soon find that everything she believes in, everyone she thought she knew, is not quite who they appear to be. This is a family whose lives are full of untold secrets and Nina’s investigations will leave them exposed and vulnerable.

Verdict: A taut, beautifully crafted story written in immaculate prose which teases apart layers of family secrets. The harsh Norwegian winter adds a special atmospheric bite to an already tense and chilling story. Skilfully translated by Rosie Hedger, The Seven Doors is a beautifully crafted, chilling psychological thriller that completely riveted me.

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Agnes Ravatn (b. 1983) is a Norwegian author and columnist. She made her literary début with the novel Week 53 (Veke 53) in 2007. Since then she has written three critically acclaimed and award-winning essay collections: Standing still (Stillstand), 2011, Popular Reading (Folkelesnad), 2011, and Operation self-discipline (Operasjon sjøldisiplin), 2014. In these works,Ravatn revealed a unique, witty voice and sharp eye for human fallibility. Her second novel, The Bird Tribunal (Fugletribuanlet), was an international bestseller translated into fifteen languages, winning an English PEN Award,shortlisting for the Dublin Literary Award, a WHSmith Fresh Talent pick and a BBC Book at Bedtime. It was also made into a successful play, which premiered in Oslo in 2015. Agnes lives with her family in the Norwegian countryside.

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A Song of Isolation by Michael J. Malone @MichaelJMalone1 @Orendabooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: Sept 17th 2020 from Orenda Books
PP: 300
ISBN-13: 978-1913193362

Film star Amelie Hart is the darling of the silver screen, appearing on the front pages of every newspaper. But at the peak of her fame she throws it all away for a regular guy with an ordinary job. The gossip columns are aghast: what happened to the woman who turned heads wherever she went?

Any hope the furore will die down are crushed when Amelie’s boyfriend Dave is arrested on charges of child sexual abuse. Dave strongly asserts his innocence, and when Amelie refuses to denounce him, the press witch hunt quickly turns into physical violence, and she has to flee the country.

While Dave is locked up with the most depraved men in the country and Amelie is hiding on the continent, Damaris, the victim at the centre of the story, is isolated – a child trying to make sense of an adult world.

Breathtakingly brutal, dark and immensely moving, A Song of Isolation looks beneath the magpie glimmer of celebrity to uncover a sinister world dominated by greed and lies, and the unfathomable destruction of innocent lives … in an instant.

I’m delighted to review Michael Malone’s A Song of Isolation and to wish him the best for his superb novel. My thanks to the publisher for an early review copy. I first ran this review in July and am re-sharing it as part of the blog tour now that the paperback has been published.

There’s one overwhelming question in my head when I finish this outstanding novel. Why isn’t Michael Malone better known? Why has he not been showered with awards and nominations? It isn’t anything to do with the quality of his prose which is, as it is here, delicate, nuanced, finely crafted and in places, quite lyrical.

The only conclusion I can come to is that he is not a conventional crime writer in the sleuth solving sense. But that’s surely a strength in an overcrowded genre? To be able to stand out from the crowd should be an asset. Certainly as I think about this book with a smile on my face and a tender heart, I’m inclined to think the book world is a little mad…

In A Song of Isolation, Michael J. Malone uses his unconventional approach to look at the crime from the perspective of the girlfriend of a man accused of one of the very worst crimes; child sexual abuse.

Amelie Hart has been keeping a low profile for years, ever since she was subjected to intense stalking and a nightmare experience that left her unwilling to ever again be in the public eye. She’s settled now with her boyfriend Dave and though she loves him, there’s a bit of her, she knows, that will forever hold back. Trust is such a hard thing to recover once it has been lost and Amelie lost hers the night she was attacked.

Malone tackles his subject sensitively but there is no escaping the devastating impact on this couple of an accusation of child sexual abuse. Swiftly and without compunction, Amelie’s boyfriend Dave is taken away by the police and locked up. She realises that he may not be allowed back into their home, even if he is granted bail.

The papers, who were only too keen to speculate about her disappearance from the acting world are now hot on Amelie’s trail again….digging into her private life, asking lurid questions and speculating on what she knew and when.

Meanwhile, the child, an innocent in the midst of a ferment of lies, greed, manipulation and breath-taking selfishness is left. Damaris wants only to be loved; to have human contact, friendship and companions but is a lonely soul caught up in a whirlwind that is none of her making – isolated and confused.

As Dave negotiates a brutal and uncompromising prison system which assumes his guilt before a trial is initiated, the only question is whether he lives long enough to make to trial.

Malone’s humanity shines through in these characters, he has developed rounded and believable individuals whose feelings and emotions are so tangible that you can feel them, too – which makes their experiences stand out all the more.  

A Song of Isolation is certainly the story of several crimes, but it is also a study in psychology, looking at the impact of a significant accusation on the lives of three people. He peels back the layers of show business glitz to show us a tawdry and tarnished world in which no-one comes out well and which is as destructive as it is seemingly glamorous.

Each of these three characters – Dave, Damaris and Amalie has their own song of isolation as the charm and innocence of their early lives is lost in a welter of poison, accusations and counter claims in which no-one comes out unscathed.

For Amelie, who escapes to France, the answer lies in a simpler life, but not even in France can she be truly untouched by what has gone before. Malone’s emotive and beautiful writing strikes a poetic note as he shows us Amelie struggling to understand how she might find a way to again experience an unfiltered joy in human relationships.

Verdict: Beautifully written, harrowing and sometimes brutally shocking, this is a complex, nuanced story that is utterly compelling. A stand-out read from a writer whose work is remarkable for its depth and sensitivity. I ask again, why is he not more seriously lauded?

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Michael Malone is a prize-winning poet and author who was born and brought up in the heart of Burns’ country, just a stone’s throw from the great man’s cottage in Ayr. Well, a stone thrown by a catapult.He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. His career as a poet has also included a (very) brief stint as the Poet-In- Residence for an adult gift shop.Blood Tears, his bestselling debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize from the Scottish Association of Writers. Other published work includes: Carnegie’s Call (a non-fiction work about successful modern-day Scots); A Taste for Malice; The Guillotine Choice; Beyond the Rage and The Bad Samaritan. His psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie, was a number one bestseller. Michael is a regular reviewer for the hugely popular crime fiction website http://www.crimesquad.com. A former Regional Sales Manager (Faber & Faber) he has also worked as an IFA and a bookseller.

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Anxious People by Fredrik Backman @Backmanland @MichaelJBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 20 August 2020 from Michael Joseph
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-0718186616

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

In a small town in Sweden it appears to be an ordinary day. But look more closely, and you’ll see a mysterious masked figure approaching a bank…
Two hours later, chaos has descended. A bungled attempted robbery has developed into a hostage situation – and the offender is refusing to communicate their demands to the police.
Within the building, fear quickly turns to irritation for the seven strangers trapped inside. If this is to be their last day on earth, shouldn’t it be a bit more dramatic?
But as the minutes tick by, they begin to suspect that the criminal mastermind holding them hostage might be more in need of rescuing than they are . . .

I realised a while ago that, without any great fanfare, Fredrik Backman has slipped effortlessly into my short ‘must read whatever they write’ list. It was the Beartown books that did it, but there’s something about Backman’s writing that pierces any armour you might be wearing and cuts straight to the heart of your emotional core.

Not that his books are romantic or soppy, not at all. Rather they are beautifully told portraits of ordinary people, their relationships and insecurities and how those impact on the people around them.

His special power is to draw people we recognise and then show us what lies beneath the surface Doubts, fears, love and losses all come under his gaze in a way that is both warm and compassionate and always makes you think he sees the best in people.

 That he can do this with a touch of the absurd and a lot of humour, without laughing at his subjects, is a tribute to the depth and quality of his writing. Backman makes you want to know his characters, to understand them and to laugh with them, and at the same time to understand that their quirks are part of who they are and that knowing that is what makes us human.

In Anxious People Backman gives us a father and son at odds with each other, both in the same Police Department involved in a case where a would-be bank robber inadvertently holds a group of people hostage when the escape route diverts into a real estate apartment viewing, and the viewers and estate agent become the robber’s hostages.

Backman takes these people: two couples, two women a man dressed as a rabbit and the estate agent and as he introduces them and slowly unrolls their stories, they become not the awkward people we first saw them as, but individuals with their own sadness, histories and insecurities.

The genius of Backman is that you don’t get a cloying sweetness. These people are often difficult, sharp and not terribly bright in how they go about living their lives. He tackles some big themes – a fractured society, loneliness and the isolation of modern living – but the way he does that is with a light touch and a lot of wry observation tinged with a touch of the absurd and a lot of humour.

Verdict:  A beautifully told story. There is something deeply comforting about showing us that the worst things about people on the surface are driven by their own fears, experiences and insecurities. Somehow, in the midst of this pandemic, that is both hopeful and strangely comforting.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

Fredrik Backman, born in June 1981, is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here, Beartown, as well as a novella, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer. Fredrik Backman, Swedish author, journalist, and blogger, was voted Sweden’s most successful author in 2013.
Backman grew up in Helsingborg, studied comparative religion but dropped out and became a truck driver instead. When the free newspaper Xtra was launched in 2006, the owner reached out to Backman, then still a truck driver, to write for the paper. After a test article, he continued to write columns for Xtra.In spring 2007, he began writing for Moore Magazine in Stockholm, a year-and-a-half later he began freelancing, and in 2012 he became a writer for the Metro.His books are published in more than thirty-five countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children.

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

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

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

Francine Toon. photo: Libby Earland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what was in the box?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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