Quicksand of Memory by Michael J Malone @michaeljmalone1 @OrendaBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: Out now in e-book and in paperback on 14 April 2022
PP: 300
ISBN-13: 978-1913193966

My thanks to Orenda Books and Michael J. Malone for an advance copy for review

Scarred by their pasts, Jenna and Luke fall in love, brimming with hope for a rosy future. But someone has been watching, with chilling plans for revenge …

Jenna is trying to rebuild her life after a series of disastrous relationships.

Luke is struggling to provide a safe, loving home for his deceased partner’s young son, following a devastating tragedy.

When Jenna and Luke meet and fall in love, they are certain they can achieve the stability and happiness they both desperately need.

And yet, someone is watching.

Someone who has been scarred by past events.

Someone who will stop at nothing to get revenge…

Quicksand of Memory….an intriguing title that would not be out of place on a Bond movie.  But this is no Bond movie. It is, however, a beautifully written, riveting piece of fiction that has many of the thrills and chills you’d experience watching the same.

What Michael Malone does so well is to take a dark story and make it super creepy, but at the same time imbuing his characters with emotions that touch the reader and make them so three dimensional that you feel as if you know them.

What you get are rounded characters to whom you can’t apply a straightforward black and white, good and bad analysis. None of these characters is perfect. Each is a product of their background, but each has handled that background differently.

Luke came out of prison and is working hard to re-build his life and to do something worthwhile. His past is dark and despite his best efforts, full of tragedy and he feels shame and remorse for the events that led him to be incarcerated. Now released, he is serious in his intent to make a good life and he is spurred on to achieve that by Nathan, a young lad whose mother sadly died, leaving Luke to bring him up.

Jenna works in a bookshop. She got led astray by a handsome but reckless and dangerous young man and has been paying the consequences ever since. When Luke and Jenna meet, the attraction is instant and the pair begin a tentative relationship. But both are concealing their own dark secrets, so what chance do they have of making a lasting relationship?

Someone is watching and that someone is determined that will never happen. Who they are and why they feel that way is something Malone handles with care and sensitivity, but the result is raw, shocking and full of emotion.

The one who waits in the dark and watches is compulsive and not a little obsessed, but even that is only a part of the story. What they have suffered; the losses they have experienced has left deep scars that do not heal, but remain to be picked at until they hurt some more. As you listen to that voice, the malice burrows its way into your brain.

Quicksand of Memory is a thriller, but it is also so much more. It burrows into the psyche of characters revealing toxic masculinity; a desire for revenge so hot it burns and a recognition that the building bricks of what makes you the person you become can be layered in different ways and the choices you make will influence the final design.

There’s intensity to Malone’s writing that sends chills down your spine. His characters feel and they let their feelings spill over into action. Not always wise, but each action and its consequence has its roots in what went before and Malone lays out the back story with compassion and understanding, so you can’t help but feel sorry for all those whose lives have been blighted by the past.

Verdict: Quicksand of Memory is a tautly written revenge tragedy about secrets, lies and the past coming back to haunt you.  It is a beautifully conceived and brilliantly plotted exposition of the fact that in order to move forward, you first have to examine the past, confront it and make peace with it. You won’t forget these characters on a hurry. A highly recommended must read.

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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. He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. Blood Tears, his bestselling debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize from the Scottish Association of Writers. Other published work includes: Carnegie’s Call; A Taste for Malice; The Guillotine Choice; Beyond the Rage; The Bad Samaritan; and Dog Fight. His psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie, was a number-one bestseller, and the critically acclaimed House of Spines and After He Died soon followed suit. Since then, he’s written two further thought-provoking, exquisitely written psychological thrillers In the Absence of Miracles and A Song of Isolation, cementing his position as a key proponent of Tartan Noir and an undeniable talent. A former Regional Sales Manager (Faber & Faber) he has also worked as an IFA and a bookseller. Michael lives in Ayr.

The Undiscovered Deaths of Grace McGill by C.S.Robertson @HodderBooks @CraigRobertson_

Source: Review copy
Publication: 20 January 2022 from Hodder & Stoughton
PP: 368
ISBN-13: 978-1529367645

Death is not the end. For Grace McGill, it’s only the beginning.

When people die alone and undiscovered, it’s her job to clean up what’s left behind – whether it’s clutter, bodily remains or dark secrets.

When an old man lies undetected in his flat for months, it seems an unremarkable life and an unnoticed death. But Grace knows that everyone has a story and that all deaths mean something more.

Author C.S. Robertson has created a distinctive voice in Grace McGill. A cleaner who takes care of the dwellings of the recently deceased, she takes an exceptional pride in her work. Grace is a fabulous character and one who does not always make the best choices.

Original and immersive, this is a book that messes with your head and confounds your expectations. The Undiscovered Deaths of Grace McGill is the story of what happens when Grace McGill thinks she has found a similarity between the most recent houses of the dead that she has cleaned.

Robertson’s central character is lonely, dedicated, sometimes a little obsessive about creating perfection in her work. Bleach is her friend.  In her life there is only George, her cat and a father who is both abusive and needy and to whom she attends with the penance of a dutiful daughter who resents each and every task she undertakes for this poor excuse of a man. Grace leads a solitary life, alone and a little damaged, we feel, but with a real sense of purpose in her life as she makes the lost found again – she sees them and that comforts her.

It’s not a happy life that Grace leads, but she takes a kind of contentment from honouring the dead through her work. And it is that need to honour the dead that drives her to consider the link between her last three death cleans. These were lonely people, too. Each left undiscovered for some time. Grace hates that there was no-one to visit these people; no-one to know that they had died and to mourn them. So she often goes to their funerals, too.

And when she discovers that link, she is compelled to see where it leads her and the result is a dark, compelling mystery that fascinates and absorbs the reader in the mystery and puts Grace in real danger.

I absolutely loved this character. So well-drawn, with such a distinctive voice, Grace is unlike any other character I have met. Robertson’s story is a dark, psychological thriller that drops surprise bombs all the way through the narrative. The characters are down to earth and richly drawn and the plot line absolutely riveting.

The sense of place is fabulous, especially the parts of the book set in Bute, which sing with the pleasure that this island brings to all those who visit.

Verdict: Distinctive, compelling, rich and surprising, this is a beautifully plotted book that delivers in all the right ways and Grace McGill is a character you will not forget. Dark and delicious, like the best chocolate this book will melt a little when it reaches your heart. Highly recommended must read.

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A former journalist, Craig Robertson had a 20-year career with a Scottish Sunday newspaper before becoming a full-time author. He interviewed three Prime Ministers, reported on major stories including 9/11, Dunblane, the Omagh bombing and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. He was pilloried on breakfast television, beat Oprah Winfrey to a major scoop, spent time on Death Row in the USA and dispensed polio drops in the backstreets of India. His first novel, Random, was shortlisted for the 2010 CWA New Blood Dagger, longlisted for the 2011 Crime Novel of the Year and was a Sunday Times bestseller. He has been both longlisted and shortlisted for writing prizes. He now shares his time between Scotland and California and can usually be found on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic.

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett @JaniceHallett @ViperBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 13 January 2022 from Viper Books
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-1788165310

It’s time to solve the murder of the century….

Forty years ago, Steven Smith found a copy of a famous children’s book by disgraced author Edith Twyford, its margins full of strange markings and annotations. Wanting to know more, he took it to his English teacher Miss Iles, not realising the chain of events that he was setting in motion. Miss Iles became convinced that the book was the key to solving a puzzle and that a message in secret code ran through all Twyford’s novels. Then Miss Iles disappeared on a class field trip, and Steven has no memory of what happened to her.

Now, out of prison after a long stretch, Steven decides to investigate the mystery that has haunted him for decades. Was Miss Iles murdered? Was she deluded? Or was she right about the code? And is it still in use today?

Desperate to recover his memories and find out what really happened to Miss Iles, Steven revisits the people and places of his childhood. But it soon becomes clear that Edith Twyford wasn’t just a writer of forgotten children’s stories. The Twyford Code has great power, and he isn’t the only one trying to solve it….

The Twyford Code is the perfect book to kick-start the year. Our protagonist is Steven Smith, ex-con, dyslexic, father to Colin, though they are estranged. Smith has recently been released from jail and has vanished without trace. The only information we have from him is in the form of audio recordings on Colin’s old iPhone 4. The transcription software isn’t perfect though, so you have to pay close attention….

Now Colin, Smith’s son – an academic mathematician, has been sent the audio files by the police in the hope that he can make some sense of them. It appears that Smith has been on a journey of recollection, determined to resolve the mystery of what happened to his old Primary School teacher, Miss Isles some 40 years ago.

By all accounts a dedicated and empathetic young woman, Miss Isles taught a remedial English class in which Smith was a pupil. The interest of the class was engaged by a book that Smith found on a bus and brought in to Miss Isles, who read it to the class.

Written by Edith Twyford, this book is akin to the Famous Five novels of Edith Blyton, and like that author, Twyford has since fallen out of favour, cancelled through a casual racism tinged with xenophobia that runs through the books.

Reading this is a bit like following a true crime podcast. What you get is a mixture of past and present as Smith reconnects with old classmates and as he investigates, we learn a great deal about his own background and upbringing and the criminal endeavours that led to his stretch in prison.

The Twyford Code is both a fabulous secret squirrel mystery with hidden codes, mysterious symbols and espionage with a second world war conspiracy to steal treasure.

You’ll follow the clues as Smith sets out his journey, aided by the local librarian and various of his classmates, remembering always to keep his probation officer clued in to what he’s up to. He is nothing if not a model ex-con.

Janice Hallett leads her readers on a fabulous, merry jaunt through the English countryside, with hidden tunnels, visits to old houses and some serious sleuthing to solve the puzzles. But what is it all in aid of? With references to other puzzles in other books, the reader begins to wonder just how reliable Colin’s narration is? For sure someone is not telling the whole story…

The Twyford Code is great fun. Full of humour, fast on its feet and keen to exploit every possible misdirection and misinterpretation, it contains both a terrific mystery and a serious message.

Verdict: The Twyford Code is an exciting and innovative book for bibliophiles with a sense of fun. It is a terrific mystery; a great exercise in misdirection and a novel that both delights and satisfies. A great start to the New Year!

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Janice Hallett studied English at UCL, and spent several years as a magazine editor, winning two awards for journalism. After gaining an MA in Screenwriting at Royal Holloway, she co-wrote the feature film Retreat. The Appeal is inspired by her lifelong interest in amateur dramatics. Her second novel, The Twyford Code, is published by Viper this month. When not indulging her passion for global adventure travel, she is based in West London.

Demon by Matt Wesolowski  @concretekraken @Orenda Books

Source: Review copy and purchased copy
Publication: 20 January 2022
PP: 320
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1913193980

Scott King’s podcast investigates the 1995 cold case of a demon possession in a rural Yorkshire village, where a 12-year-old boy was murdered in cold blood by two children. Book six in the chilling, award-winning Six Stories series.

In 1995, the picture-perfect village of Ussalthwaite was the site of one of the most heinous crimes imaginable, in a case that shocked the world.

Twelve-year-old Sidney Parsons was savagely murdered by two boys his own age. No reason was ever given for this terrible crime, and the ‘Demonic Duo’ who killed him were imprisoned until their release in 2002, when they were given new identities and lifetime anonymity.

Elusive online journalist Scott King investigates the lead-up and aftermath of the killing, uncovering dark stories of demonic possession, and encountering a village torn apart by this unspeakable act.

And, as episodes of his Six Stories podcast begin to air, and King himself becomes a target of media scrutiny and the public’s ire, it becomes clear that whatever drove those two boys to kill is still there, lurking, and the campaign of horror has just begun…

Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories series is something quite special and it really is worth reading all of them. Each can be read as a stand–alone, (though there is some gradual revelatory stuff about the interviewer, Scott King, if you read them sequentially).

Each story is presented as six interviews with people who are connected to the story under investigation. Those interviews are conducted by Scott King whose interested and empathetic voice seems to draw out his interviewees and get the most from their contributions so that you, as a reader, feel that you are getting real, in-depth information that is new.

 In Demon, Wesolowski tackles perhaps his most difficult case yet. Certainly it’s the one that will cause the most hesitancy before the reader embarks on it. For that reason there is a trigger warning. But this is a book that you should read. The case is awful, but this book is about finding the truth behind the assumptions, speculation and gossip. It is also as much about the aftermath and how the public, the media and others react when bad things happen in a community.

Matt Wesolowski creates a spooky moorland backdrop in the Kilns at Ussel Back and imbues them with centuries of folklore and legend to give them a sense of lingering ghosts and malevolence which lends credence to the outlying suggestions of supernatural interference in this story.

But the real horror is in the tragedy itself. That children could be caught up in such an awful crime. That a young life was lost. This is in so many ways a heart-breaking story but we see so clearly how much more heart-breaking we have made it through our own desire to have a perspective on something we really know so little about.

And that desire is what fuels the media to fulminate and spout the ire and venom that always characterises such sad cases. Do we ever stop to ask ourselves why these things sell papers or garner listeners?

Verdict: Wesolowski is so good at making us think; insisting we examine all the angles and at what is really driving the judgements we make. Demon does all this and more. It’s a compelling and horrifying book, made all the more so by its crystal clear ring of authenticity. A must read.

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Matt Wesolowski is an author from Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the UK. He is an English tutor for young people in care. Matt started his writing career in horror, and his short horror fiction has been published in numerous UK- and US-based anthologies, such as Midnight Movie Creature, Selfies from the End of the World, Cold Iron and many more. His novella, The Black Land, a horror set on the Northumberland coast, was published in 2013. Matt was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in 2015. His debut thriller, Six Stories, was an Amazon bestseller in the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia, and a WHSmith Fresh Talent pick, and film rights were sold to a major Hollywood studio. A prequel, Hydra, was published in 2018 and became an international bestseller. Changeling, the third book in the series, was published in 2019 and was longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. His fourth book, Beast, won the Amazon Publishing Readers’ Independent Voice Book of the Year award in 2020. Matt lives in Newcastle with his partner and young son. Chat to him on Twitter @ConcreteKraken.

The Devil’s Advocate by Steve Cavanagh @SSCav @Orion_Crime @AlexxLayt

Source: Purchased copy and Review copy
Publication: H/back 5 August 2021 P/back 6 Jan 2022 from Orion
PP: 416
ISBN-13: 978-1398700178


They call him the King of Death Row. Randal Korn has sent more men to their deaths than any district attorney in the history of the United States.


When a young woman, Skylar Edwards, is found murdered in Buckstown, Alabama, a corrupt sheriff arrests the last person to see her alive, Andy Dubois. It doesn’t seem to matter to anyone that Andy is innocent.


Everyone in Buckstown believes Andy is guilty. He has no hope of a fair trial. And the local defense attorney assigned to represent him has disappeared.


Hot shot New York lawyer Eddie Flynn travels south to fight fire with fire. He plans to destroy the prosecutors case, find the real killer and save Andy from the electric chair.

But the murders are just beginning.

Is Eddie Flynn next?

Steve Cavanagh is on fire!!! The Devil’s Advocate is a truly impressive book. Cavanagh takes Eddie Flynn out of his New York comfort zone and into the deep south – to Buckstown, Alabama for his first ever capital murder trial. The stakes don’t get any higher than this and for Eddie, who never knowingly takes on a guilty client, losing would be genuinely unbearable.

But even though the gentle young black man, Andy Dubois did not murder attractive Skylar Edwards, he doesn’t really have a hope in hell. Because Buckstown is hell and the devil reigns there.

The thing that first struck me about this thrilling, ingenious and compelling novel is the way that Cavanagh suffuses this book with real evil.  Reading it, all the way through, I had echoes of Stephen King’s The Stand in the back of my head. Not because of plot similarities – this is an outstanding, original piece of work, but because the horror is real and it is embedded in Cavanagh’s characters and he has given us a primal battle to the death between good and evil. I don’t know whether the use if Randall for the Prosecutor’s first name was deliberate, but I am guessing so, because the chilling vibes from this antagonist work from the outset.

It’s all the more chilling because there is foundation in reality for the premise of this book, as Cavanagh makes clear in his afterword. But this is also a thrilling work of fiction with some exceptional moments showcasing Eddie Flynn’s remarkable talents and bringing #TeamFlynn right to the fore. It’s delightful to watch Kate in action in court and adding in her investigator, the redoubtable Bloch and Eddie’s friend ex-judge Harry Ford also bring a lot more skin to this game.

It feels right that there is now a unified #TeamFlynn and together they are a formidable foursome. Just as well, because they need all their exceptional talents to tackle a seemingly unwinnable case where all the odds are, quite deliberately, being stacked against them.

The Devil’s Advocate is everything a good thriller should be and the book shivers with tension and suspense. We care, not just about Eddie and his team, but for the stitched-up plaintiff, Andy Dubois and his mother Patricia – and ultimately for the people of Buckstown who live in such a fetid, corrupt and poisonous atmosphere.

Steve Cavanagh has taken the most pernicious of crimes – racial hatred and played it into a scenario which, sadly, is not so difficult to envision in an America tainted by corrupt leadership, where division reaps rewards and hatred rules by fear.

That he does so incredibly successfully and still manages to infuse the book with Eddie’s dazzling humour and sleight of hand to amuse and surprise us, is testament to how good a writer he is. I think this is his best book yet – and that is saying something!

Verdict: Absolutely unmissable. A must read book that sings out from every page; luring you in and making you forget anything else exists. I was captivated, horrified, spellbound. This is a brilliant, explosive and beautifully plotted thriller that will leave you gasping.

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Steve Cavanagh is a critically acclaimed, Sunday Times best-selling author of the Eddie Flynn series which has sold a million copies in the UK. His third novel, The Liar, won the CWA Gold Dagger for Crime Novel of the year 2018. Thirteen won the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime novel of the year 2019. FIFTY FIFTY was a Richard and Judy Book club choice, and the BBC Between The Covers book club choice. His latest novel, The Devil’s Advocate is released in August 2021.

To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara @PanMacMillan @picadorbooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 11 January 2022 from Picador
PP: 729
ISBN-13: 978-1529077476

In an alternate version of 1893 America, New York is part of the Free States, where people may live and love whomever they please (or so it seems). The fragile young scion of a distinguished family resists betrothal to a worthy suitor, drawn to a charming music teacher of no means. In a 1993 Manhattan besieged by the AIDS epidemic, a young Hawaiian man lives with his much older, wealthier partner, hiding his troubled childhood and the fate of his father. And in 2093, in a world riven by plagues and governed by totalitarian rule, a powerful scientist’s damaged granddaughter tries to navigate life without him – and solve the mystery of her husband’s disappearances.

These three sections are joined in an enthralling and ingenious symphony, as recurring notes and themes deepen and enrich one another: A townhouse in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village; illness, and treatments that come at a terrible cost; wealth and squalor; the weak and the strong; race; the definition of family, and of nationhood; the dangerous righteousness of the powerful, and of revolutionaries; the longing to find a place in an earthly paradise, and the gradual realization that it can’t exist. What unites not just the characters, but these Americas, are their reckonings with the qualities that make us human: Fear. Love. Shame. Need. Loneliness.

To Paradise is a fin-de-siecle novel of marvellous literary effect, but above all it is a work of emotional genius. The great power of this remarkable novel is driven by Yanagihara’s understanding of the aching desire to protect those we love – partners, lovers, children, friends, family and even our fellow citizens – and the pain that ensues when we cannot.

I read To Paradise between Christmas and New Year as more Covid restrictions were kicking in and many of the themes in this book were resonating and rattling round as questions in my head.

To Paradise is an epic work. In three sections, Yanagihara tackles some immense topics which ultimately lead you to question notions of freedom and freedom of choice and what we as society do to each other in that name. Though this book is about love, family, protection and choices, it is also – especially in the third section – a pandemic novel, so be warned.

To Paradise spans three centuries and centres around one house in Washington Square. In an opening reminiscent of Henry James’ The Ambassadors and Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, this mannered society is one in which arranged marriages are the norm, though there’s a moment when you realise that this society is one in which gay arranged marriages are completely accepted, and that makes you blink.

David Bingham lives with his wealthy grandfather, Nathaniel. A sickly child, his illnesses are not spoken of and must be concealed from potential suitors. Gay marriage may be welcomed in this 1893, but class and wealth play just as strong a role as ever they did and the suitability of eligible partners is still paramount. This part of free America is racist though; it does not non-Europeans as citizens except and former black slaves from the South are encouraged to move on to the North or the West. And so we follow David, torn between pleasing his grandfather by contracting to marry Charles and inheriting all that he holds dear and holding out for the most unsuitable of matches which everyone but David can see will end in tears.

The second section, set in 1990’s New York is poignant and takes us to a group of affluent men gathering to say goodbye to a dear friend, now dying of terminal cancer but who is mightily relieved not to be dying of a disease which is rife amongst their friends. This disease, characterised by skin lesions, often burned off in an attempt to avoid the stigma, is all too clearly Aids. David Bingham a paralegal, (not the same one, names are repeated in this triptych) is having an affair with his firm’s senior partner Charles.  David is a young Hawaiian man whose father, descended from royal blood,  is dying in an institution on the island and this is his story, sometimes told by him and at others it is his father’s monologue which drives the narrative. Yanagihara shows us an uncompromising America colonising Hawaii, oppressing its peoples and stealing the land and customs.  In doing so it has created a society in which the people are conflicted, angry and suffer greatly from no longer knowing or understanding their rich heritage. The darkness suffered by the Hawaiians is suffused through their mental health and disintegration of collective memory.

Cue then, the third section of this triptych, taking place in2094 with flashbacks, in an America which is scarily recognisable. This is the pandemic section and strikes a chord with all of us who have lived through three lockdowns so far. Here is a society which has been crushed by a series of viruses and whose efforts are now entirely directed at predicting and curing the next wave.

Everything is directed in pursuit of these aims and in the process Yanagihara portrays a totalitarian regime in which any joy has been removed and freedom no longer exists. Charlie lives in New York with her remote husband. Partners each have a free evening and Charlie is curious about where her husband spends his.  As she tells her story, we learn about her background and through her grandfather Charles’ letters to Peter, a member of the UK Government.  A promising scientist he allows the virus to corrupt his ideals from mass protection of the public to the creation of internment camps for the sick and their families. Soon it is only the well-connected in Government and the wealthy that are likely to survive. And so procreation becomes important as the population diminishes, leading to an eradication of every freedom that Americans have enjoyed. His son, though, cannot ignore his stirrings of discontent and becomes a vocal dissenter.

This America is one in which a combination of lack of freedoms because of inequality, climate change and pandemics has produced a society in which life holds little joy or freedom and life is brutal because of the ‘national emergency’. It is not at all difficult to extrapolate today’s world from the futuristic warnings in To Paradise, and though I cannot go along the logical trajectory that Yanagihara lays out, the warnings are clear

What the reader is left with is that thought about possibilities. What are the choices we make along every road? How could one small decision change the course of society and the worlds we live in? Because she has used the same names, the possibilities are counterpointed and each of these Davids and Charlies have cause to question what could have been different. What has been sacrificed in the cause of so called safety and what freedoms are they prepared to give up – and why?

Verdict: I said at the start of this review that this book had echoes of James and Wharton. By the end though, it felt a bit more like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Looking backwards to examine choices made and forwards to see the consequences of those choices. To Paradise is a massive, dizzying work on a huge scale that asks some very big questions pertinent to the choices we make for the future. It’s immersive, complex, finely layered, sometimes repellent and utterly absorbing. It’s rather beautifully and compellingly expressed and is one you’ll be thinking about for years to come.

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Hanya Yanagihara won the Kirkus Prize for her second novel, 2015’s A Little Life, a sweeping tale of male bonding and childhood trauma. A 1995 graduate of Smith College, Yanagihara settled in Manhattan and worked as a publicist and then a travel writer. Still an editor with T: The New York Times Style Magazine, she published her first novel in 2013. Although it didn’t sell all that well, The People in the Trees earned critical praise for its audacity and depth of emotion. Yanagihara has said it took 18 years to write her first novel, and 18 months to write her second. A Little Life became a late summer hit in 2015, and was named as a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award.
Photo: c. James Watkins/WENN.com

Betrayal by David Gilman @davidgilmanuk @HoZ_Books @AriesFiction @soph_ransompr

Source: Review copy
Publication: 6 January 2022 from Head of Zeus
PP: 544
ISBN-13: 978-1838931438

Dan Raglan, former Foreign Legion fighter, alias The Englishman, returns. The new high-octane international thriller from David Gilman.

Someone’s trying to start a war. And Raglan’s just walked into the kill zone.

It has been many years since Dan Raglan served in the French Foreign Legion, but the bonds forged in adversity are unbreakable and when one of his comrades calls for help, Raglan is duty-bound to answer.

An ex-legionnaire, now an intelligence officer at the Pentagon, disappears. He leaves only this message: should he ever go missing, contact Raglan. But Raglan’s not the only one looking for the missing man. From the backstreets of Marseilles, Raglan finds himself following a trail of death that will lead him to Florida, to the camaraderie of a Vietnam vet in Washington D.C., and into the heart of a bitter battle in the upper echelons of the US intelligence community.

Pursued by both the CIA and a rogue female FBI agent, Raglan’s search will place him in the cross hairs of an altogether more lethal organisation. Tracking his old comrade, he finds himself in the midst of deadly conspiracy, and on a journey to a fatal confrontation deep in the Honduran rainforest.

I am delighted to bring you an extract from David Gilman’s explosive international thriller, Betrayal. Easily read as a stand- alone, Betrayal is the second book in a series which begins with The Englishman. Of that book, critics said: ‘The pace is relentless, the action and fight scenes superbly choreographed and Raglan is nicely complex: an action man with inner depths… The Englishman is a cracking, finely crafted thriller’ Financial Times.
The Englishman is electrifying proof that high-tension international thrillers are back – and with an absolute vengeance’ William Shaw, author of Deadland.
‘Fight scenes, car chases, sex scenes, lots of foreign locations and dead goons, and even a bondesque escape by snowmobile… Vivid and inventive’ Sunday Times.
‘Full of thrills’ Literary Review.
‘The pulse-pounding pace just never lets up’ Peter May, author of Lockdown.
‘A sweat-inducing tour de force’ The Times.
‘Verve, pace, shocks and intrigue, this is spy thriller writing by an author at the zenith of his powers’ — Peter James

So , it’s no wonder that we are champing at the bit to see how he surpasses that in Betrayal, which publishes tomorrow!

I’m giving you a sneak preview here and am confident that once you have read this extract, you’ll be searching out more pretty quickly.


Marseilles, France

Raglan walked along the narrow street that separated the single-storey terraced houses from the city’s main railway station. Rich people didn’t live on this side of the tracks. Streets were barely wide enough to manoeuvre a car through their labyrinthine one-way system, so Raglan stayed on foot. The Rue du Petit Sol lengthened behind him. Plenty of scope to watch for anyone tailing him. The call for his help had come through his former French Foreign Legion friend, Serge ‘Bird’ Sokol. Contacting the Russian ex-legionnaire was the only way for anyone to find Raglan. Especially when they needed help. And Jacques Allard had made the call. One veteran to another. Could Raglan meet him today?

As he walked past the only small tourist hotel in the street, he smelt the wafting temptation of a small patisserie at the end of the road. The sole shop and bakery in the area would do a steady trade. And they would know what there was to know about the locals. Better to hear if there was anyone other than Jacques in the house before he stepped through the door.

The house he sought was less than fifty paces away from where the narrow street bellied out into a small square. Hardly a square. More like a lay-by which gave access to a nondescript backstreet garage workshop. The house was next to it. He feigned disinterest in the glossy, green- painted sheet of iron that served as a gate to the rundown building. His knowledge of the area told him it was likely to be only three rooms and a bathroom. He kept walking towards the bakery, keeping his peripheral vision on the house. Overgrown shrubbery clambered for daylight above the wall. A dog barked. He checked behind him. No one. It seemed that in every street of France a chained dog barked. But it wasn’t in the target house. There, nothing moved. Not even a breeze to lift the torn lace curtain that he could just make out behind a cracked windowpane.

He bought a fresh croissant. The woman smiled, thanked him, wished him a pleasant day. French civility ruled.

Madame,’ he said, taking his change from a ten, ‘I’m looking for an old friend who lives in these parts.’

‘Oh, then you’ve come to the right place. My husband and I have run our business for over thirty years. We know all our customers.’ She hesitated and took a second look at the tall, stubble-faced man dressed in jeans and a weatherproof oiled cotton jacket. ‘Your accent. It’s not from around here.’

‘No,’ Raglan answered. There was no need to tell her anything more. Fifteen years in the Foreign Legion’s specialist commando unit and since then his work as a freelance asset for intelligence services could twist an accent this way and that. ‘His name is Jacques Allard.’

French civility disappeared.
Her lip curled. ‘You’re not welcome here. You and your kind. Get out before I call the police. We’re sick of drug dealers. You shame us. Go on.’

Madame, I apologize but I have nothing to do with drugs. My friend and I served in the army together,’ he said to placate her. If the elderly woman was correct and Jacques was dealing or using, then he was already implicated in the woman’s mind. She was a perfect police witness if trouble erupted.

She shouted after Raglan as he left the bakery: ‘Soldiers! You’re good for nothing! Better you should get yourselves killed than come back home and disturb decent people.’

Raglan was already out of sight. The half-eaten croissant tossed for the foraging birds. There was no other crumb of kindness to be had in these backstreets.


The sheet-metal gate was locked from the inside. Raglan checked over his shoulder. The street was empty. He climbed over. The broken canopy across the front of the house flapped forlornly. The old door hadn’t seen a lick of paint since Napoleon Bonaparte had stopped for a mouthful of abuse at the corner bakery. Raglan wiped a layer of grime away from the frosted glass set in the door. There was no bell, no door knocker. He pressed his palm against the wood and, with little effort, felt it give. Someone had already forced the door and eased it closed behind them.

If an intruder was still inside and this was drug-related, then odds-on he was armed. Raglan reached inside his pocket and took the four two-euro coins the woman in the bakery had given him as change. Big coins. Decent weight. Pressing aside the door, he stepped into the gloom of the narrow entrance hallway. Most houses like this had a room on either side and another at the back that served as a kitchen and place to eat. The first of the two rooms had a bed and enough detritus to make it look like a squat. The second room was worse. The whole house stank.

He stepped down the passageway, rolling his feet to lessen any chance of hitting a creaking floorboard. Someone was moving in the back room. A muted grunt of exertion and then the sound of a drawer being wrenched open. There was another small door on his left at the end of the passageway, but he was too close to the intruder to open and check it. Pressing his back against the wall opposite the door, he dared a glance around the corner. A man was bent over, rummaging in a low chest of drawers. He wore a leather jacket, jeans and trainers. Dark-haired. Stocky.

Lying on a threadbare sofa, whose springs had long since gone, was Jacques Allard, wearing only a pair of boxer shorts. Impervious to the cold. Dead.

Raglan was about to step into the room when the door to his left opened. A burly man, head down, struggling with his shirt tails caught in the trouser zip.

‘It doesn’t flush…’ he muttered, and then he looked up.

Raglan hit him in the throat. A short savage blow that crushed the man’s larynx. He crashed back into the toilet. Raglan stepped into the back room as the second intruder turned on his heel and flicked open a folding knife with a curved blade, the crescent moon gap cut in its tempered steel to accommodate blood flow. He was a pro. Raglan hurled the coins into the man’s face. He flailed, trying to protect himself from the metal striking his eyes. Raglan took two strides, levelled a kick at the man’s leg and heard the kneecap snap. As the man yelled in pain, leg folding, Raglan blocked the knife and struck him in the temple. He collapsed like a felled ox in a slaughterhouse.

Raglan stepped over him, checked the small lean-to kitchenette, saw there was a back door and then turned his attention to his friend. Either Jacques had already been dead from the syringe in his arm or they had made it look like an overdose – which made no sense if the unconscious men had wanted something Jacques had hidden. Perhaps the ex-legionnaire had overdosed and his interrogators had arrived too late. He checked the dead men. They carried no wallet. No driving licence. No credit cards. If caught by the authorities, they couldn’t be immediately identified. He turned the second man’s palm over. Acid burns had taken off his fingerprints. Organized-crime hitmen? Drug enforcers? What the hell did Jacques have that had scared him enough to call for help? What could have been so important? Raglan checked the man in the toilet. His head had cracked the toilet bowl. Neck broken. He was dead.

It took only a moment for Raglan to decide that whatever information Jacques held, it had either died with him or was hidden elsewhere. Raglan jammed shut the broken front door then made his way back into the kitchenette. As with many a drug addict’s home, there was little sign of food. He checked the cupboards. They revealed nothing more than a box of stale crackers and a bag of half-empty sugar. Sugar could help stave off the cravings. Maybe Jacques had been trying to get clean. There were some blackened rags dumped in a bowl. Raglan stepped back into the room and checked Jacques’s hands. They had been washed clean but were still ingrained with oil. He rolled the body over and pressed his hands down the crack between the sofa’s cushions. He found a small cheap mobile phone. He checked the calls and messages. There were few of them: all looked to be local. Two girls. Three or four men’s names. Maybe trying to score? He pocketed the phone.

In the bedroom, Raglan saw the mechanic’s oil-stained overalls. He slipped his fingers into the pockets and fished out a small key on a Foreign Legion fob. The motto was inscribed around its rim: Legio Patria Nostra. Damned right, Raglan thought. The Legion was their home and, for most veterans, it always would be. So many fell through the cracks after they had served their time. Indifference often replaced that camaraderie, and sometimes downright hostility. Unemployment and loneliness beckoned. The key looked as though it might fit a small padlock. There was no sign of any such lock on any of the cupboards or single wardrobe.

Raglan heaved aside the bed in case there was a loose floorboard that might hold a strongbox. There wasn’t. Nor in the second room. It took time to clear away the mess and shift the bed, but once again there was no sign of anything hidden. Chances were there was only one place left to look.

Raglan checked his watch. Almost twelve. The French close shop for two hours at midday so they can enjoy lunch. Very civilized. And convenient. He heard the doors being rolled shut on the garage next door. A car started. Then it fell quiet. He waited ten minutes then went through the kitchen door. The enclosed yard’s outside walls shared a common boundary with the garage. What better place was there for a mechanic to live than next to his place of work?

A raised corrugated asbestos roof, the rafters resting on the wall, allowed cool air to flow through the workshop. Raglan clambered on top of an abandoned washing machine and squeezed through the gap, dropping into the workshop. An old Renault stood over a pit, a toolbox on a workbench lay open. Everything pointed to an owner-garage that used an extra mechanic. Jacques Allard. Two lockers stood in a side room off the dingy office. Dirty tabletop, a grimy phone.

Finger-smudged papers and invoices. Raglan tried both of the padlocks. It was the second one. Inside the locker were a second pair of overalls, a pair of oil-slicked industrial shoes and a couple of photographs of when Jacques had served in the Foreign Legion’s 2nd Parachute Regiment. The lean, tanned and muscled man who grinned back at him was not the same person whose shell lay dead inside the house next- door. Reverse metamorphosis. A caterpillar pupa digests itself and emerges as a thing of beauty. Jacques Allard had been consumed from within by whatever despair had seized him. The result was ugly.

Various car and men’s magazines were stacked on the shelf. Raglan shuffled through pictures of aircraft and helicopters. Another photo from the past fell to the floor. A soldier mechanic stood with his arm around Jacques. Legionnaire buddies. The same man appeared in an article about an air museum in the USA in an aircraft enthusiast’s magazine; the page corner had been turned down. The man had left the regiment and returned home.

Raglan searched his memory. And remembered the man’s name. Rudi Charron. He tugged out the mobile phone he’d found in the sofa and scrolled down the names. But Charron wasn’t listed. And then Raglan realized that neither was Serge Sokol’s name. For anyone to contact Raglan, Sokol’s name was essential. There was nowhere left to search. As a final thought he patted down the overalls but there was nothing in the pockets. He bent down and lifted out the mechanic’s steel-capped shoes. Something black and shiny slid forwards into the toe. Raglan pulled out the second phone and switched it on. More than twenty names and faces stared back at him. This was the phone that Jacques did business with. In the time and date call list was the call made to Serge Sokol, seeking Raglan. Every legionnaire had the right to assume a new identity when he enlisted and there was a text from an American ex-legionnaire called Robert de Vere, who had been known as Rudi Charron. It was a simple message. Find the Englishman.


Wasn’t that fabulous? A brilliant start to a high octane thriller that I know is going to keep us engaged all the way to it’s explosive finale. You can buy Betrayal here:
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David Gilman has had an impressive variety of jobs – from firefighter to professional photographer, from soldier in the Parachute Regiment’s Reconnaissance Platoon to a Marketing Manager for an international publisher. He has countless radio, television and film credits before turning to novels. From 2000 until 2009 he was a principal writer on A Touch Of Frost and nominated for a BAFTA. The Englishman is a new thriller series introducing Dan Raglan, a contemporary knight errant who served in French Foreign Legion. The second book in the series, Betrayal will be published on January 6th, 2022.MASTER OF WAR is the first book of David Gilman’s series that follows the fortunes of Thomas Blackstone, a village stonemason in England sent to fight with King Edward’s army as an archer against the French in 1346. In the bloodiest of conflicts, he discovers friendship, love, and sacrifice but his destiny has yet to be played out. From humble beginnings this common man’s reputation becomes legend. Rich in historical detail, MASTER OF WAR propels the cast of characters on an epic journey through the violence and political intrigue of the 100 Years War.David is also author of two standalone novels for adults, The Last Horseman, shortlisted for the Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Award set during the Boer War and Night Flight to Paris, a WW11 novel that pits a reluctant hero against the Nazi forces in Paris in 1943. He has lived and travelled the world gathering inspiration for his exotic adventure series along the way. Now, David is based in Devonshire, where he lives with his wife, Suzy Chiazzari.

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My Books of the Year 2021

It’s hard, of course, to pick just ten, so I’m going to cheat slightly and give you 16 books and 4 audiobooks in the order in which I read them:

The Last Thing to Burn by Will Dean

This book is a triumph. Beautifully written with depth, power and an intense, emotional engagement it sears through you, engaging, captivating and holding you in its thrall until you can’t look away. I don’t think I have ever wanted a character to succeed more. In these Covid days it makes the need for human warmth so poignant and to stand out as the most important thing you will ever need.

One Danny Garvey by David Ross

It is raw and emotional; it packs a huge punch and it is authentic, poignant and devastating. It is as if everything David Ross has written before was leading up to this book, such is its power, strength and characterisation. There’s Only One Danny Garvey is fantastic.

Slough House by Mick Herron

An immense, brilliant book in a fantastic and beautifully written series. Herron is a razor sharp writer whose descriptions make you sit up and take notice and his wit is scathing and so well directed. And that prose: rich, dark, intense and utterly, completely, wonderful.  Just brilliant.

Daughters of Night by Laura Shepherd Robinson

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

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

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

Hotel Cartagena by Simone Bucholz

I fall in love with Simone Buchholz’s writing every time I pick up one of her books. It is stylish, very beguiling and yet incredibly honest and impactful. This series is utterly unmissable.

Fragile by Sarah Hilary

Fragile is a book full of menace and grim foreboding that is fully played out. These are fragile people; some cracked, just waiting to splinter apart, some broken already. An intense, complex, layered and beautifully drawn character driven novel, it will seep into your bones and cause you to feel profound loss and grief for these poor children whose lives should have been so different.

The Great Silence by Doug Johnstone

This is a series and a book infused with an ineffable sense of love. The main protagonists are three generations of women who together run a funeral business and a private investigations company. Here you will find mystery, violence, theft and cruelty, but also love. Love between generations. The pain of being young and knowing hurt, betrayal and cruelty, tempered by the love of family and friends. Love between lovers and between parent and child. Love for the craft of a job well done and love for science and reaching to the stars to ask some very big questions. Love for Edinburgh and its environs shines through here, too. The Great Silence has left me in awe of Johnstone’s immense talent, and I can’t wait for the return of Dorothy, Jenny, Hannah and Indy.

Hyde by Craig Russell

The language is glorious, the settings perfect. The rich layered storytelling is suspenseful, chilling and full of meaning. There’s so much deftly embedded in this story that you could go on discovering gems for some time. I love this outstanding book and give it all the stars for an absolute must buy – must read book.

Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby

Terrific plotting, dark, gritty and authentic, this by a masterly work by a brilliant voice whose prose is sharp as steel forged in fire and yet the middle is like liquid gold, soft and viscous as it flows through your veins when you are reading. Razorblade Tears is explosive and dynamic and is another absolute triumph from an author unafraid to tackle big questions head on.

Emily Noble’s Disgrace by Mary Paulson Ellis

This is a house where strange and frightening events have taken place and Mary Paulson Ellis makes her gothic story pulsate with life as she leads us into the dark and dusty interiors of the fly encrusted dwelling. Sometimes a difficult read because of the emotional impact, the prose is beguiling and I really liked it.

1979 by Val McDermid

I really loved this book. Val McDermid’s sharp and incisive writing brings the characters and the settings to life in vivid, three dimensional colour – so tangible you can smell it. 1979 has tremendous heart and a lot of wit. You care about Allie and Danny and Danny’s family difficulties tear at your emotions. Tense, thrilling, rich with atmosphere and crackling with authenticity, this is at once a shocking and thrilling mystery and a love letter to journalism, warts and all. This is a five star must read start to an unmissable new series

Piece of Mind by David Mark

Piece of Mind is an intense and very readable book. It is unquestionably a book I’d want everyone to read to enhance their understanding of how adverse mental health can impact on one individual. I know more about David Mark now than I wanted to and I hope that helps me to better understand the daily struggle he lives through as a writer, as a partner and as a father.

I think this is a brave book. It is certainly a brutally honest one and yes, it’s sometimes funny because only laughter will protect the raw and unvarnished truth. I really, really think everyone should read it.

The Rabbit Factor by Antti Tuomainen

The delightful Antti Tuomainen’s quirky, dry and understated humour is both visual and has that delicate and warm comedic touch that sets you off in an almost seemingly unintentional way. That’s such a clever writing technique. Special mention here to David Hackston who so perfectly captures Antti’s voice that you never, even for a moment, think that these are not his direct words. Perfect reading for these turbulent times.

The Shadows of Men by Abir Mukherjee

This is top class historical fiction with beautifully detailed oil painting- rich characterisation and atmosphere so thick you could drown in it. I learn a lot from these books too which is a genuine delight for me.  Buy it. READ THE SERIES. Highly, highly recommended.

You Need Me by Sharon Bairden

Sharon Bairden’s dark and penetrating novel brings home the harsh realities of what it means to be dispossessed and forgotten or let down by society and how easy it is for these forgotten outcasts to become the tools of those with malign intent.

You Need Me is not a gentle read. It is deep, twisted, dark and it grips the heart in a steel vice. But it is also a stark and bitter condemnation of the way we treat those less fortunate than ourselves.

Fall by West Camel

Immersive, beautiful, and haunting, Fall is a novel that will bear re-reading over the years. Each phrase is so well-judged; each character has their own place in a story that transcends its plot and the clarity and distinction of the writing is a joy to savour. I adored it.

Recommended Audiobooks

The Rabbit Hole by Mark Billingham read by Maxine Peake

This is a tour de force from both Mark Billingham and Maxine Peake.  Alice Armitage tells her story as a policewoman sectioned in a mental health hospital and investigating a murder.  Witty, surprising, irreverent and stunning!


The Malabar House series by Vaseem Khan read by Maya Saroya

There are two books in this series so far and they are beguiling and addictive. I love the character of Persis Wadia, India’s first female police detective. Midnight at Malabar House is a police procedural, set after the end of and Partition. Persis has been sent to Malabar House;  a dead-end district station for police officers unwanted elsewhere. She is a Parsee and disliked by her male colleagues who try to undermine her. She is driven, outspoken, and out to prove that a woman can be just as good and often better, than a man. It’s a terrific series with a great character set in a time of turbulence where being a female police officer who flouts convention is both startling and attention grabbing.



The Night Hawks by Elly Griffiths read by Jane McDowell

I never miss an installment of Elly Griffiths excellent Ruth Galloway series and I love Jane McDowell’s narration.

The Night Hawks, a group of metal detectorists, are searching for buried treasure when they find a body on the beach in North Norfolk. At first Nelson thinks that the dead man might be an asylum seeker, but he turns out to be a local boy, Jem Taylor, recently released from prison. Ruth is more interested in the treasure, a hoard of Bronze Age weapons. Nelson at first thinks that Taylor’s death is accidental drowning, but a second death suggests murder.


A Change of Circumstance: Simon Serrailler, Book 11 read by Steven Pacey

A good narrator makes all the difference to a series and I love Steven Pacey’s measured voice as he reads these tales of the Serrailler family in Lafferton. Simon Serrailler finds himself in devastating new territory as a sophisticated drugs’ network sets its sights on Lafferton and the surrounding villages.


Bitter Flowers by Gunnar Staalesen trs Don Bartlett @OrendaBooks

Source: Review copy:
Publication: ebook out now; p/back 20 jan 2022
PP: 276
ISBN-13: 978-1913193089

Fresh from rehab, Norwegian PI Varg Veum faces his most complex investigation yet, when a man is found drowned, a young woman disappears, and the case of a missing child is revived. The classic Nordic Noir series continues…

PI Varg Veum has returned to duty following a stint in rehab, but his new composure and resolution are soon threatened when a challenging assignment arrives on his desk.

A man is found dead in an elite swimming pool and a young woman has gone missing. Most chillingly, Varg Veum is asked to investigate the ‘Camilla Case’: an eight-year-old cold case involving the disappearance of a little girl, who was never found.

As the threads of these apparently unrelated crimes come together, against the backdrop of a series of shocking environmental crimes, Varg Veum faces the most challenging, traumatic investigation of his career.

This is the 9th in the Varg Veum series, though each can be read as a stand-alone. Translated into English for the first time, this is Veum in slightly more vulnerable mode. Fresh out of rehab with an anti-alcohol implant, Varg is looking forward to an easy job, taken so that he can recuperate at leisure. He’s going to caretake an architect’s house; a job he’s got through his massage therapist in rehab – a woman with whom he has struck up a platonic friendship – though he’d prefer more.

But as he’s touring the house with her for the first time, when they find a dead body – and then she disappears.

At the best of times Varg has an edgy relationship with the police, and this time is no exception, not least because he’s initially considered a suspect. Forging ahead on his own, he discovers information that leads to past crimes.

As always, Staalesen’s settings are gloriously distinctive. You revel in the cold air; feel the chilled waters of the fjords soak into your skin and enjoy the fantastic vistas from the mountains. As Veum investigates his questions lead him to environmental campaigners and a deadly cover up and his life is put in the line as he gets closer to the truth.

Varg Veum is a dogged, determined detective and at times you can’t help but feel sorry for him; at others you question his attitudes, especially towards women. But you can’t help but admire his steadfast refusal to settle for anything other than the truth; whatever the cost.

Verdict: A complex, layered plot in which human tragedy and mystery combine to play out beautifully in a classic Nordic noir with a touch of Christie to finish.

Orenda Books                                  Waterstones                                     Bookshop.org

Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen, Norway in 1947. He made his debut at the age of twenty-two with Seasons of Innocence and in 1977 he published the first book in the Varg Veum series. He is the author of over twenty-three titles, which have been published in twenty-six countries and sold over five million copies. Twelve film adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007, starring the popular Norwegian actor Trond Epsen Seim, and a further series is currently being filmed. Staalesen, who has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of Honour) and the Petrona Award, and been shortlisted for the CWA Dagger, lives in Bergen with his wife.

Opal Country by Chris Hammer @hammerNow @WildfireBks @Bookywookydooda

Source: Purchased audible copy
Publication: 28 September 2021 from Wildfire; Hardback  6 Jan 2022
Narration: Lockie Chapman
Listening Time: 14 hrs 37 mins


In the desolate outback town of Finnigans Gap, police struggle to maintain law and order. Thieves pillage opal mines, religious fanatics recruit vulnerable youngsters and billionaires do as they please.


Then an opal miner is found crucified and left to rot down his mine. Nothing about the miner’s death is straight-forward, not even who found the body. Homicide Detective Ivan Lucic is sent to investigate, assisted by inexperienced young investigator Nell Buchanan.

But Finnigans Gap has already ended one police career and damaged others, and soon both officers face damning allegations and internal investigations. Have Ivan and Nell been set up, and if so, by whom?


As time runs out, their only chance at redemption is to find the killer. But the more they uncover, the more harrowing the mystery becomes, and a past long forgotten is thrown into scorching sunlight.

Because in Finnigans Gap, nothing stays buried for ever.

I have taken to reading Chris Hammer on audiobook, ever since I worried that their size would slow down my ability to get to the ever burgeoning TBR list! It’s not a decision I regret as they make fantastic listening.

Opal Country is a stand-alone thriller (though there are references here to his series character, journalist Martin Scarsdale), and it has everything I look for in a strong crime thriller. The sense of place is tangible. You can feel the blistering heat of this dry and dusty mining community in the Australian outback.

Sydney homicide detective Ivan Lucic and a young local investigator, Narelle (Nell) Buchanan, are tasked with working together to solve this murder which takes place in opal country and specifically in the small town of Finnegan’s Gap. Opal mines offer dry, dusty and often unrewarding work, but when opals are found, the wins can be big.  And where there is gain to be had, there are people ready to take advantage. Opal thieves roam this land – called ratters by the locals; they come out at night ready to see what they can poach from others’ mines.

Opal Country is brutal. As the book opens we are confronted by the most gruesome of murders – so striking it looks like it may have been staged. The victim is miner Jonas McGee . His backstory is one of tragedy. He is estranged from his daughter, Elsie, as a result of an accident for which he was responsible and has served his time in prison as a result.

DS Ivan Lucic has a sterling record with the Sydney Homicide team, but he and his erstwhile partner, DI Morris Montifiore, have not achieved their reputation without upsetting the apple cart. Now Montefiore is being investigated by Professional Standards and Lucic knows he, too, is in their sights. Away from his home base, there’s a lot at stake for Lucic as he works with Buchanan to solve this crime.

Lucic has his own demons, not least a gambling habit and he finds that as a stranger, he is not welcomed into Finnegan’s Gap and has his own reasons for playing his cards close to his chest.  Nell Buchanan is young and inexperienced but she is tenacious and her local knowledge will prove invaluable to Ivan.

As they slowly find a way to work together in partnership, the number of potential motives and suspects grows. Opals are big business and with that comes all the usual motives for crime. Power in opal mining in this area is concentrated in the hands of two very rich men: Robert ‘Bullshit Bob’ Inglis, and, Delaney Bullwinkel, the owner of Cattamulla Coal. The men are longstanding bitter rivals. Alongside these big mining beasts there is ‘The Rapture’ a religious cult led by a despotic man known as ‘The Seer’.

Big business, politics, local secrets and revenge all play into this black, haunting crime. There’s corruption, dark forces at work and blackmail playing into what rapidly becomes an intense and enthralling mystery which will have you glued to the pages.

Hammer writes vividly with characters that leap from the page and a plot that has so many twists and turns you’ll get dizzy as you read. The partnership between Lucic and Buchanan is excellent as it moves from tentative to mutual respect, back to mistrust but always utilising a great skills match in pursuit of the truth.

Verdict: Gritty, intense with an outstanding sense of place and that dry, dusty heat permeating everything. This is fantastic writing that grips the imagination and enriches the genre. Highly recommended.

Bookshop.org                                  Waterstones                                     Hive Stores

Chris Hammer is a leading Australian crime fiction novelist, author of international bestsellers Scrublands, Silver and Trust. His new standalone novel, Opal Country, is published in January 2022. Scrublands was an instant bestseller upon publication in 2018, topping the Australian fiction charts. It was shortlisted for major writing awards in Australia, the UK and the United States. In the UK it was named the Sunday Times Crime Novel of the Year 2019 and won the prestigious UK Crime Writers’ Association John Creasey New Blood Dagger Award.Scrublands, Silver and Trust all feature troubled journalist Martin Scarsden and his partner Mandalay Blonde, while Opal Country follows Homicide detectives Ivan Lucic and Nell Buchanan. All four books are notable for their atmospheric Australian settings, range of colourful characters, intricate plots, descriptive language and emotional depth.Before turning to fiction, Chris was a journalist for more than thirty years. He reported from more than 30 countries on six continents for SBS TV. In Canberra, roles included chief political correspondent for The Bulletin, senior writer for The Age and Online Political Editor for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. Chris has written two non-fiction books The River (2010) – winner of the ACT Book of the Year – and The Coast (2012), published by Melbourne University Press.He has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Charles Sturt University and a master’s degree in International Relations from the Australian National University. He lives in Canberra, Australia.

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