Canal Pushers by Andy Griffee (Johnson and Wilde #1) @AndyGriffee @OrphansPublish @AnneCater

Source: Review copy
Publication: 4th June 2020 from Orphans Publishing
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-1903360316

I was delighted to review Andy Griffee’s debut novel, Canal Pushers last year just before it came out in hardback and I’ve also had the pleasure of reviewing his second, newly released novel in the series, River Rats. So I am taking the opportunity to reprise my early review of Canal Pushers, the start of a fascinating journey into #canalnoir.

Jack Johnson, newly divorced ex-journalist with a talent for trouble, takes a stranger on board his new narrow boat … and is soon caught up in a hunt for a serial killer, tangling with organised crime and on the run from the media. New crime thriller series perfect for fans of Dick Francis.

Jack Johnson is a journalist. I doubt there is such a thing as an ex-journalist; those instincts never disappear and the need to tell a story is uppermost in whatever they do. Fresh from a break up with his wife, looking to start anew with a fraction of the capital he used to have and with no desire to re-mortgage into a life of solitary tedium, Jack decides to try another way of living.

With no experience and even less knowledge, he hires a narrow boat for a month, which he christens ‘Jumping Jack Flash’, with a view to living in it full time if he likes the ambience. It doesn’t take long before he’s at sea, and that’s before he’s even begun his canal journey. Fortune looks kindly on him though and as he struggles to get the measure of how to handle his temporary home, an obliging and attractive young woman steps up to the plate and shows him how it should be done.

When, at the last minute, Jack is let down by his promised travelling companion, a handsome, if roguish actor called Will, it looks like Jack’s been grounded before his journey has even started. Fortunately for Jack, the young woman Nina is prepared to be helpful for a bit longer and though she sets strict ground rules for him, she agrees to help navigate the narrow boat through the waterways for a few days until Jack gets the hang of things.

Nina is something of an enigma, and she won’t brook any enquiries into her private life. But she is a dab hand on the tiller and soon the two are making their way through the canal system to Stratford.

Part of the joy of this book is in the meticulous detail of the canals and waterways around the Midlands; from Worcester to Stratford and Birmingham and then through to Bath. It is so easy to visualise the surrounding countryside from Griffee’s vivid descriptions. His sense of place and of an alternate way of life suffuses the pages to great effect.

The waterways carry their own sense of rhythm; nothing here is hurried or too adventurous, at least in the beginning. Early in their journey together they pull up to have lunch and do a little light shopping and Jack encounters a scruffy young man begging by the side of a shop with his dog, Eddie. Taking pity on Sam, he buys him lunch and offers him the use of his shower to clean up.

When Sam is later found dead in the canal, in a presumed accidental drowning, Jack can’t help but remember the blue Land Rover he’d seen the young man get into not long after he left the boat.

What Jack doesn’t know is that there is a killer on the canal towpaths. Someone who is obsessed with showing how clever his killings are and how many victims he can dispose of without getting caught.  But is Sam the victim of a serial killer, or was he involved in something else that brought his young life to an abrupt end?

Jack and Nina begin to look into Sam’s life and their investigations lead them into in very murky waters where considerable danger lurks. Suddenly the calm and relaxed environment in which they have been travelling begins to unravel and their need to stay under the radar increases with every canal side stop they make.

Jack will need to make use of his journalistic experience if he is to ensure that he and Nina are not besieged the length and breadth of the waterways, something that would draw more than one set of unwelcome attentions to their door.

Neatly intertwining Nina’s personal story with the all too plausible impact of organised crime and an unexplained spike in canal side deaths, Griffee weaves a solid tale of nefarious doings which climax in a devastating game of cat and mouse. In so doing, he makes use of his own extensive journalistic experience to maximum impact.

Verdict: A welcome new voice in crime fiction imbued with a real sense of place. I look forward to the next instalment of Jumping Jack Flash.

Orphans Publishing                  Hive Books                                Amazon

Andy Griffee is a former BBC journalist and media consultant with a fascination for stories. He began his journalism career at the Bath Evening Chronicle, and then spent twenty-five years at the BBC, culminating in his role as Editorial Director of the redevelopment of Broadcasting House. Andy lives in Worcestershire and, when he isn’t writing, rears rare breed pigs, struggles to keep a 1964 Triumph Spitfire on the road and enjoys hiring narrowboats with his wife Helen.

Fair Warning by Michael Connelly @Connellybooks @alexxlayt @orionbooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 26 May 2020
Length: 10 hours 14 minutes
ASIN no: B082975V1M

Jack McEvoy is a reporter with a track record in finding killers. But he’s never been accused of being one himself.

Jack went on one date with Tina Portrero. The next thing he knows, the police are at his house telling Jack he’s a suspect in her murder.

Maybe it’s because he doesn’t like being accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Or maybe it’s because the method of her murder is so chilling that he can’t get it out of his head.

But as he uses his journalistic skills to open doors closed to the police, Jack walks a thin line between suspect and detective – between investigation and obsession – on the trail of a killer who knows his victims better than they know themselves…

I love the Jack McEvoy books and Fair Warning is a cracker. Both a love letter to journalism and an exciting serial killer thriller, Fair Warning is a must read.

Jack McEvoy, once LA Times reporter turned author, is working for an internet based, non-profit consumer news organisation called Fair Warning. Jack is an intrepid journalist and solver of crimes but all too sadly prone to self-sabotage in matters of the heart.

Fair Warning is a real news organisation; Connelly is on the Board and as a post-script he has a discussion with its editor, Myron Levin which explains what Fair Warning is and why it is important in an era of declining investment in newspaper journalism and a rising prevalence of fake news.

Jack works as a consumer investigative journalist at Fair Warning and when he is questioned by the police for having once been to the home of Tina Portrero, a woman he picked up in a bar – and that woman was subsequently murdered some time later- he starts to look into her case. What he discovers is a link to the murder of other women, and that link plays directly to his role as a consumer journalist.

Finding his way around the unregulated world of ancestry determination – involving DNA analysis, Jack discovers that we are all giving away knowledge of ourselves far too cheaply in a free for all world which chooses not to regulate this industry at all.

In his quest to find the serial killer Jack McEvoy does not miss his opportunity to bring in former FBI agent and profiler Rachel Walling, a woman who captured his heart in The Poet only for him to throw it away in a cloud of mistrust and self-doubt.  Jack, a fellow reporter and Rachel work together  to establish the existence of a pathological serial killer known as The Shrike.  As ever, Connelly has his finger on the pulse and he references the rise of pockets of Incel groups of men who are the worst kind of misogynists, fuelled by their hatred of women.

Fair Warning is Connelly at his best. Great characters, fast paced action, miles of authenticity and a brilliantly plotted story all come together beautifully.

Fair Warning is fascinating, intense and exciting. Connelly is such a brilliant writer that his plots never fail to surprise and delight. He can build the tension to such a peak that your heart races and you just have to know what’s coming next.

I love the Bosch/Ballard novels too, but there’s something about Jack McEvoy that makes me think this is Connelly going back to his roots – to what he loves best, and it shows in the way this book is crafted.

Easily read as a stand-alone, the audiobook is narrated by Peter Giles, who also read The Scarecrow and makes for a fabulous listen.

Verdict: Tense and thrilling with layered and detailed plotting, and masses of suspense, this is another terrific book from a writer at the top of his game.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

A former police reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Michael Connelly is the internationally bestselling author of the Harry Bosch series, and several other bestsellers including the highly acclaimed legal thriller, The Lincoln Lawyer. The TV series – Bosch – is one of the most watched original series on Amazon Prime and is now in its third season. He has been President of the Mystery Writers of America, and his books have been translated into thirty-nine languages and have won awards all over the world, including the Edgar and Anthony Awards. He spends his time in California and Florida.

Jeremiah’s Bell by Denzil Meyrick @lochlomonden @BirlinnBooks @PolygonBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 4th June 2020 from Polygon
PP: 400
ISBN-13: 978-1846975202

Teenager Alison Doig disappeared from Kinloch over thirty years ago under mysterious circumstances. Her reclusive family still live in a remote part of the Kintyre peninsula, amidst rumours of wrecking, smuggling and barbaric cruelty.

Now rich American hotelier Alice Wenger has arrived in town, determined to punish those who made her suffer in the past. But someone has vowed to keep hidden sins concealed for ever.

Daley’s team must race against time to expose long-held secrets and shameful lies before there are any more victims.

I’ve been having a major reading slump recently, taking ages to read a book, not able to focus as well as I normally do. All part of social isolation I guess. But to my huge relief, this book cut through all of that and I devoured it.

Any new Kinloch book is hotly anticipated but this one more than most. Regular readers of this series will know that Meyrick’s last book, A Breath on Dying Embers ended on a major cliff-hanger and we’ve all been holding our collective breath waiting to find out what happened.

Well, I can confidently tell you that I’m not about to divulge spoilers, but what I will say is that a funereal like pall is hanging over Kinloch. It’s everywhere you go, and not least in the County Hotel which is facing a death knell all of its own.

Brian Scott isn’t very cheery, either. Still on the ginger and limes, he’d really been hoping that he could hang up his shiny new D.I. uniform and get back to what he loves best, policing without the paperwork. But Carrie Symington needs him now so he has no choice but to get on with it.

Liz Daley is depressed and drinking too much and trying to get on with things for little James’ sake, and it’s really only a surprising friendship that helps her face the future.

Meanwhile, out on the bleak promontory, overlooking the jagged rocks, a solitary old woman is ringing a hand-bell calling her menfolk back from the sea.

Jeremiah’s Bell is a finely honed, dark work by Denzil Meyrick. One of the darkest I have read in this fine series. Even the dry humour of Hamish and the banter between Hamish, Annie and Brian are tinged with bleakness for the future. The humour is still there, as large as life and as funny as ever, but with an edge to it. All of which just adds to a sense of foreboding that hangs over this sometimes savage book. And I loved it!

The dark foreboding,  sleekit lawyers and an American woman who has come back to Kinloch to make sure her family face up to what they have done, all bring their own troubles to Kinloch and it’s not long before there’s a vicious attack, followed by a murder.

The deepest and darkest of family secrets, holding a fascinating and brutal story that is decades old and crosses continents, lie at the heart of this thrilling police procedural which caught me up in its story from the opening pages.  Meyrick excels in his astute characterisation, his ear for dialogue that sparkles and of course his beautiful and highly atmospheric settings. That sense of place is so important to these books and Meyrick uses it to maximum impact. It’s always fun to see the pompous having their bubbles burst and no-one does that better than this author. Coupled with a plotline that thunders like the sea against the rocks on a choppy day, and you have the perfect combination for a spellbinding, tense and completely propulsive read.

Verdict: There’s just the right proportions of light and shade in this gripping Scottish noir novel. I love the way Meyrick mixes fact and fiction to give readers a tense and thrilling story where the plausibility lies in well researched but little known facts. Another fabulous must read from a writer who understands his readership very well.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

Denzil Meyrick was educated in Argyll, then after studying politics, joined Strathclyde Police, serving in Glasgow. After being injured and developing back problems, he entered the business world, and has operated in many diverse roles, including director of a large engineering company and distillery manager, as well as owning a number of his own companies, such as a public bar and sales and marketing company. D. A. Meyrick has also worked as a freelance journalist in both print and on radio.

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner read by Richard Armitage @NatalieMJenner @RCArmitage @orionbooks @kate_moreton

Source: Review copy
Publication: 28th May from Orion
Length: 9 hours and 34 minutes

Can a village in need find hope after the devastation of war?

The Jane Austen Society is a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where she lived. There are eight main characters, all of whom are obsessed with Austen and conspire to create the society and turn the Austen cottage into a museum in her honour: a WWII war widow, a Farmer, a village Doctor, a local Solicitor, a House-Girl in the Knight estate, the anticipated heiress of that estate, an employee of Sotheby’s and a Hollywood Actress. Multiple social, romantic and cultural collisions ensue. Jenner brings all of these disparate characters vividly to life, and you’ll root for all of them to find their own happiness.

If, like me, you are a fan of Jane Austen and the 19th Century novel, then you will love The Jane Austen Society. I had no idea what to expect from this book, set in Chawton, shortly after the end of the Second World War.

Chawton is where Jane Austen spent the last few years of her life, and either wrote or revised most of her best loved novels. Jane lived in a cottage in the grounds of Chawton House, owned by her brother, Edward Knight. The Chawton cottage has been the home of the Jane Austen’s House Museum since 1946.

The book opens in St Nicholas Churchyard, where Jane’s mother and sister are buried, though Jane herself is interred in Winchester Cathedral.  This is where we begin the introductions to our characters; a farm worker, a doctor, an American actress, a maidservant, a school teacher and a spinster daughter of the local landowner.  The latter, Frances Knight, is related to Jane Austen and her house holds a major library of important literary works. Sadly Frances’ father does not value his spinster daughter and bemoans the lack of a male heir.

At the end of the war, the class system was still prevalent, but starting to break down. The role of women had changed forever, though some were slow to recognise that and this book gently reflects a changing world in which some things will forever be different and some still reflect the world that Jane Austen transcribed.  The changing nature of post-war England is portrayed well and the shock of the war to a sleepy village like Chawton is captured in the opening chapter set in that graveyard.

A chance meeting with Mary Ann Harrison in the churchyard led farm worker Adam Berwick to deviate from his usual diet of H.G. Wells and Dumas to read Pride and Prejudice, and then he knew he had to read Austen’s other books. Evie Stone, a servant at the house is entranced by the library. American actress Mimi meets Yardley Sinclair at an auction of some of Austen’s effects. Andrew Forrester is the Knight family solicitor.

Jenner’s book is about how a love of Austen’s literature is able to unite this disparate group of people, each of whom has suffered a great deal of pain and she shows how, in bringing them together over their shared love of Austen’s books, their grief is slowly assuaged.

Her style is gentle and she brings her characters vividly to life; sharing their inner turmoil and showing us the inter-dependency of this community even while they shield themselves from the pain of their respective losses.

This would not be a tribute to Austen though if it did not have its own dramas. Thus we have a bitter and uncaring father; a Hollywood producer who thinks everything and everyone can be bought and some misunderstandings over the nature of attraction. This is wonderfully portrayed in the interactions between the local physician, Dr Gray – a man who couldn’t save his own wife after a fall – and former schoolteacher, the widowed Adeline Grover, nee Lewis.

The audiobook is beautifully narrated by Richard Armitage. Though I was expecting a female narrator due to the Austen connection, in fact the choice of a man turned out to be perfect, and I was happily lost in the story as his rich, well-modulated tones carried me along.

Verdict: Natalie Jenner has given us in The Jane Austen Society a book that Jane Austen might herself have loved. It is a fabulous story in its own right, but for lovers of Jane Austen it is a must read.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

Natalie Jenner is the author of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY (St. Martin’s Press (NA) & Orion (UK), May 2020), a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen lived. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie is a former lawyer who also recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs. A lifelong devotee of all things Jane Austen, THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY is her first published novel.

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River Rats by Andy Griffee (Johnson and Wilde #2) @AndyGriffee @OrphansPublish #CanalNoir

Source: Review copy
Publication: 2nd April 2020 from Orphans Publishing
PP: 358
ISBN-13: 978-1903360415

Jack Johnson has a talent for trouble – wherever he goes on his narrowboat, it seems to follow him. Moored up on the River Avon in the beautiful Georgian surroundings of Bath, he’s working at the local paper when a prominent magistrate and heritage campaigner is attacked and drowned. Could it be a serial killer copying the Canal Pusher? Or a biker gang who swore revenge on the magistrate?

Against his wishes, Jack is pulled into the investigation by his ambitious editor who wants the scoop. Jack and his friend, the war widow, Nina, have also been drawn into another struggle. The moorings of a small settled boating community sit alongside a huge former industrial site that property developers want to fill with luxury housing.

Nearby residents are enlisted to petition against the boat people, and as the campaign spirals out of control, lives are threatened. Who is helping their enemies? Another gripping tale of corruption and intrigue from the riverbank, full of dark waters and deadly secrets.

I enjoyed the first book in this series, Canal Pushers, so was delighted to read River Rats. I’m delighted to say that this is another highly enjoyable read and, if anything, I think I liked this book even more as I got to know the characters better. River Rats is easy enough to read as a stand-alone, though, all the necessary background is there to enable the reader to jump straight in.

Jack Johnson, our divorced and largely unemployed protagonist, is a narrowboat dweller and this time he has moored his boat, Jumping Jack Flash, at a private mooring at the bottom of a wealthy entrepreneur’s garden in the heart of the city of Bath and the Kennet and Avon Canal.

Jack wastes no time in taking up some freelance shifts on the Bath Chronicle, whose Editor is a young man looking to make a name for himself, not always in a good way. So when a well-known local worthy is attacked and killed on the canal path, his editor wastes no time is asking Jack to write a substantive speculative piece suggesting that a copycat murderer may be emulating the deaths that Jack has written about in his book about the Canal Pusher.

Jack is less sure about this approach but interviewing the man’s widow, he realises there is another story going on which though perhaps less headline-grabbing, is an important local story that needs to be followed up.

Andy Griffee gives us another engaging mystery with a well-plotted storyline and characters that hold our attention. The relationship between Jack and attractive widow Nina is a slightly old-fashioned one, but in this context it works well and if Jack sometimes can’t work out whether Nina likes him or his dog best, that’s all to the strength of a complicated relationship. Jack’s insouciant actor friend, Will makes another enjoyable appearance, too.

Griffee’s sense of place is strong and deep and makes for a rich and atmospheric backdrop to this murder mystery as does his extensive knowledge of the world of both local and national journalism. So you believe wholeheartedly in the setting and the plot is all too believable, concerning dodgy property developers and their desire to ride roughshod over a group of canal dwelling residents.

Like the canals themselves, River Rats is a bit of a slow burner, and I liked that. Being able to take in the surroundings; getting to know the various characters and letting Jack and Nina bed in to their community is all done with a degree of elegance and the plot flows well as a result. River Rats explores the contrast between the affluence in the city of Bath and those who have difficulty in making ends meet and affording any kind of housing in a highly desirable marketplace as well as exploring Bath’s underbelly.

Verdict: A dramatic plot line with plenty of twists also carries a nice undercurrent of edge and humour in a story keeps the reader engrossed. Roll on Book Three!

Mr B’s Emporium                          Orphans Press                 Waterstones               

Andy Griffee is a former BBC journalist and media consultant with a fascination for stories. He began his journalism career at the Bath Evening Chronicle, and then spent twenty-five years at the BBC, culminating in his role as Editorial Director of the redevelopment of Broadcasting House. Andy lives in Worcestershire and, when he isn’t writing, rears rare breed pigs, struggles to keep a 1964 Triumph Spitfire on the road and enjoys hiring narrowboats with his wife Helen.

Grave’s End by William Shaw read by Jasmine Blackborow (DS Alex Cupidi#3) @william1shaw @JazziBlackborow @riverrunbooks #Audiobook review

Source: Purchased copy
Publication: 14 May 2020 from riverrun
Length: 11 hours and 21 minutes

A bizarre discovery.

An unidentified cadaver is found in a freezer in an unoccupied luxury house. No-one seems to know or care who it is or who placed it there. When DS Alexandra Cupidi is handed the case, she can have no idea it will lead her to a series of murderous cover-ups and buried secrets. Namely the discovery of the skeleton of public-school boy, Trevor Wood, beneath a housing development.

A historic crime.

His disappearance 25 years earlier had almost passed unnoticed. But as evidence surfaces that his fate was linked to long suppressed rumours of sexual abuse, Cupidi, her teenage daughter Zoe and her friend Bill South find themselves up against powerful forces who will try to silence them.

A buried life.

Digging deep into the secrets that are held underground leads to Cupidi’s realisation that crime and power are seldom far apart. There are dangerous connections between the two cases, which are complicated by Constable Jill Ferriter’s dating habits, a secret liaison and the underground life of Trevor Wood’s only friend.

I had this book as a review copy from Netgalley, but for various reasons I’m behind in my reading and because I’m a fan of William Shaw’s series I decided just to buy the audiobook and review that.

I love the relationship between D.S.Cupidi and her younger colleague, Constable Jill Ferriter. Shaw’s setting always play a pivotal role in these books and they are rich and atmospheric as a result

In Grave’s End, Shaw draws on the geography of the coastal headland of Kent to create a mystery that is rich in detail of the area and picks up on its conservation designations as a national nature reserve, a Special Protection Area a Special Area of Conservation) and part of the Site of Special Scientific Interest of Dungeness, Romney Marsh and Rye Bay.

Utilising an introduction, unique as far as I’m aware when it comes to crime thrillers, Shaw gives us life in the area from the perspective of an ageing badger. Once top of the heap, our badger has got slower and weaker and now avoids the inevitable fights with more aggressive dominant males as he digs new tunnels to keep himself safe, venturing out of the sett at night to forage for worms.

Our badger is living in an area which has been marked for a new housing development, unsurprisingly controversial and a local campaign has been building against the proposed new builds.

DS Cupidi’s  daughter Zoe is involved because of her passionate commitment to wildlife in the area; she and a friend have been watching for badgers at night, hoping to be able to show that this protected species needs the development stopped to protect their habitat.

The badger is having the territory available to it severely curtailed which is how he comes to be digging up some old human bones buried on the proposed Whitefields development. Bones that tell the sad story of Trevor Woods, a young boy who went missing 25 years ago.

First though, Shaw takes us to a rather grander environment; that of a converted Oast house where a young estate agent is trying to impress his girlfriend by inviting her in for a spot of the other, knowing the house is vacant while up for sale.

Looking for somewhere to chill their prosecco the couple find the body of a man in the freezer. Thus begins quite a complex case where the motives sometimes seem obvious, but nothing is quite as you would expect it to be. This murder victim is someone Zoe knows. Vinnie Gibbons is a fellow naturalist and he was involved in the protests against the housing development. He has been poisoned.

Alex begins her investigation of Vinnie’s death but the trail leads her in some unexpected directions, reaching back in time as well as involving contemporary local politics and takes Alexandra to Parliament and some high powered meetings.

Shaw builds in some well thought through plot points and soon we have a number of leads, but which is the most important? Frankie Collins was arrested for badger baiting. Is that arrest for a vicious crime connected to Vinnie’s death?

There’s also, as Alex discovers, to her peril, a connection between some of the individuals involved and the history of the Thornhead Boys Boarding School. As if all that was not enough to keep Alex’s mind swirling, it turns out that the fabulous Jill Ferriter has just started to date Harry French, a young man deeply involved in the Whitefields Development.

I do love Jill Ferriter. She’s screamingly funny and forthright, especially when she’s had a drink and she’s a great foil for the more straight laced Cupidi and the pair work really well together. Zoe too is developing as a character and her relationship with fellow campaigner Bill South, (who Alex was responsible for sending to prison in a previous book)  is creating an interesting triad.

As Alex’s investigations proceed apace she finds her own life in danger  and knows that she must solve this case if she is to survive.

Shaw has once again taken the remarkable wildlife living at Dungeness, with over 600 different types of plant: a third of all those found in Britain and made it a strong character in his novel. The third person narration of the badger’s thoughts works remarkably well as we learn of this badger’s life and the dangers it faces from cars to farmers with shotguns and badger baiters – in short as humans try to wipe out badgers through a host of hostile actions.

Credit to Jasmine Blackborow whose narration is clear and straightforward and whose reading of the badger and Jill Ferriter’s voices in particular are full of warmth and humour.

Verdict: Complex, tense, exciting and beautifully plotted, this is a class act from William Shaw whose books are rich in atmosphere and character and which offer many current social and political themes for the reader to ponder on, without once detracting from the thrilling police procedural. This is powerful and compelling storytelling.  I love this series.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

Photograph of author William Shaw by Kitty Wheeler Shaw

Before becoming a crime writer, William Shaw was an award-winning music journalist and the author of several non-fiction books including Westsiders: Stories of the Boys in the Hood, about a year spent with the young men of South Central Los Angeles, and A Superhero For Hire, a compilation of columns in the Observer Magazine.

Starting out as assistant editor of the post-punk magazine ZigZag, he has been a journalist for The Observer, The New York Times, Wired, Arena and The Face and was Amazon UK Music Journalist of the Year in 2003.

Photo:Kitty Wheeler-Shaw

Curse the Day (Michael North 2) by Judith o’Reilly @judithoreilly @HoZ_Books

Source: Review copy
Publication: 2nd April 2020 from Head of Zeus
PP: 400
ISBN-13: 978-1788548946

At a global tech gala hosted at the British Museum, scientist Tobias Hawke is due to unveil an astonishing breakthrough. His AI system appears to have reached consciousness, making Hawke the leading light in his field.

But when terrorists storm the building, they don’t just leave chaos in their wake. They seize Hawke’s masterwork, sparking a chain reaction of explosive events which could end the world as we know it.

Michael North, ex-assassin and spy-for-hire, must find the killers and recover the AI. But he can’t do it alone. Hawke’s wife, Esme, and teenage hacker, Fangfang, have their own reasons to help complete North’s mission – and together they unravel a dark and deadly conspiracy which stretches right to the top of the British elite.

Can North survive long enough to uncover the whole truth? Or is it already too late for humanity?

I knew when I reviewed the first book in the Michael North series, Killing State, that Judith O’Reilly was onto something quite special with her protagonist. Michael North is a brilliant character. He is a former spy; a reformed assassin, now walking around with a bullet in his head which could kill him at any time.

This alongside other more personal issues, makes him a man with very little to lose. The people he cares about are few and far between, but one of them is Fang Fang, a young, super bright technological whizz kid, who helped him on his last mission. Now she’s back and in Curse the Day, it is North’s turn to help her.

Judith O’Reilly’s fast and furious thriller absolutely races along from the beginning. Her plot is bang up to the moment, dealing with the rapidly growing advances in technology and especially in Artificial Intelligence, which is evolving rather faster than anyone realises.

With this as its central theme, O’Reilly builds an action packed, intelligent and thought provoking thriller that kept me captivated for hours. Curse the Day has that fabulous blend of political conspiracy, international espionage and backstabbing politics that makes for an irresistible combination.

Her female characters are strong and witty and that helps to ensure that the testosterone levels that fly around are kept at a decent pitch. Fang Fang, in particular is a young woman whose intellect belies her smart mouth, and you love her for both.

Easily read as a stand-alone novel, it’s clear that there’s a lot more mileage in Michael North and I really hope we don’t have to wait for too long before we can meet him again.

Verdict: An impressive and riveting high action thriller based on real advances in technology which should frighten everyone. Intelligent and exciting, this techno thriller is a superb and adrenaline-fuelled read.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

Judith O’Reilly is the author of Wife in the North, a top-three Sunday Times bestseller and BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week, and The Year of Doing Good. Judith is a former senior journalist with The Sunday Times and a former political producer with BBC 2’s Newsnight and ITN’s Channel 4 News. Her first Michael North thriller, Killing State was set in Westminster and was praised by thriller writers around the globe.

A Death in Mayfair by Mark Ellis #AuthorPost @MarkEllis15 @amberachoudhary.

I am delighted to welcome author Mark Ellis to Live and Deadly today. Mark is the author of the Second World War historical series, currently four books strong, which has protagonist Detective Frank Merlin investigating.

Mark grew up under the shadow of his parents’ experience of the Second World War. He has always been fascinated by the fact that while the nation was engaged in a heroic endeavour, crime flourished. His father served in the wartime navy and died a young man. His mother told him stories of watching the heavy bombardment of Swansea from the safe vantage point of a hill in Llanelli, and of attending tea dances in wartime London under the bombs and doodlebugs.

In consequence Mark has always been fascinated by WW2 and in particular the Home Front and the fact that while the nation was engaged in a heroic endeavour, crime flourished. Murder, robbery, theft and rape were rife and the Blitz provided scope for widespread looting.This was an intriguing, harsh and cruel world. This is the world of DCI Frank Merlin.

Mark’s books skillfully blend well -researched fact with his own fiction and today he is joining my blog to discuss his technique and what that adds to his books.

First, let’s take a look at the blurb for A Death in Mayfair, his most recent book.

December 1941.

On a bright Sunday morning in Hawaii, Japanese planes swoop down and attack the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbour. America enters the war and Britain no longer stands alone against Hitler.

Conditions on the home front remain bleak. In a city pulverised by the Blitz, with rampant crime and corruption and overstretched police resources, life for Scotland Yard detective Frank Merlin continues as arduous as ever.

In the week of Japan’s aggression, the shattered body of beautiful film star Laura Curzon is found on the pavement beneath her Mayfair apartment, an apparent suicide. A mile away, the body of a strangled young girl is discovered in the rubble of a bombed-out building.

Merlin and his team investigate, encountering fraudulent film moguls, philandering movie stars, depraved Satanists and brutal gangsters as they battle through a wintry London in pursuit of the truth.

Over to you, Mark

Mixing Fact and Fiction in my World War Two Detective Series

I am a crime author and the creator of Frank Merlin, a Scotland Yard detective in World War Two London. There are four books in the series so far and I’m currently working on the fifth. Merlin’s adventures are being followed in sequence as he works his way through the war. The first book in the series is Princes Gate, which is set in January 1940. Then comes Stalin’s Gold, set in September 1940. The action in Merlin At War, the third book, takes place in June 1941, and the most recent book, A Death In Mayfair, is set in December 1941.  My book in progress, the fifth, will be set in August 1942.

I try to place Merlin’s fictional adventures against a realistic background of the historical events of the war. I do a lot of research for every book, spending at least three months reading everything I can about the specific time setting of the story. My plots are often sparked  by things I learn in that research.

The Merlin stories feature real people and events alongside the fictional characters and crimes. I enjoy recreating some of the leading figures of the day. Princes Gate, book one in the series, features the patriarch of the Kennedy clan, Joseph Kennedy, who was US Ambassador to London at the time. January 1940 was part of the period which became known as ‘the Phoney War’. Churchill was several months from becoming Prime Minister, British forces were not yet in battle, and there was much talk of ‘appeasing’ Hitler and doing some sort of deal with him to avoid being invaded. Kennedy was one of the principal proponents of appeasement. In the story, Merlin investigates murders of members of the US Embassy staff against the historical background of these shifting political sands.

In Stalin’s Gold, Merlin’s investigations take place during the early days of the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. The plot involves Polish RAF pilots, the theft of a large amount of Russian gold and predatory Georgian gangsters. The story of the theft derives from a real mysterious pre-war disappearance of gold being shipped from Spain to the Black Sea port of Odessa. Stalin and his spy chief Beria are among the non-fictional characters who make an appearance in this book.

The plot of Merlin At War has several strands, one of which involves espionage among  French exiles in London. By June 1941, France was under Nazi occupation, and General De Gaulle’s Free French army had established a headquarters in London. Merlin investigates the murder of one of the French exiles against a background of vicious intrigue and treachery. De Gaulle himself features as a character in the book, as does Churchill.

 Merlin investigates the  violent death of a film star in the latest published book, A Death In Mayfair, which takes place against a background of the wartime British film industry. At the outset of the war there were as many as fifteen film studios in and around London and British films were very important for purposes of escapism and morale to their audiences. Although most of the producers, actors and actresses in the book are fictional, some have close resemblances to real people. Fictional film mogul Victor Goldsmith owes much to Alexander Korda, the dominant British film producer of his day. Goldsmith’s friend and fellow producer, Gus Cowan, has much in common with Sam Spiegel, the renowned producer of films like Lawrence of Arabia  and The Bridge on the River Kwai. Rex Harrison and George Formby were among the models for other characters in the book.

The as yet untitled fifth Merlin book in progress is set in August 1942. This was a period when, following US entry into the war, American troops were flooding into Britain to bolster Britain’s war effort and prepare for conflict with Germany in North Africa and Europe. My research told me that many white American troops coming  to Britain brought extreme racist attitudes with them. Part of the  story will deal with the difficulties this caused. The plot also involves the art world, and real characters who feature include Sir Kenneth Clark, the famous art historian, and the prodigious art collector Calouste Gulbenkian, then reputed to be the richest man in the world. Gulbenkian was living in neutral Lisbon in the summer of 1942. The Portuguese capital was a hotbed of international espionage and skullduggery throughout the war years, and related intrigues provide Merlin with some difficult problems to solve. The book will be out next year.


Thanks Mark for a fascinating look at your books and the way you have approached them. You can purchase A Death in Mayfair by clicking on any of the links below.

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Mark Ellis is a thriller writer from Swansea and a former barrister. He is the creator of DCI Frank Merlin, an Anglo-Spanish police detective operating in World War 2 London. His books treat the reader to a vivid portrait of London during the war. Mark Ellis’ books regularly appear in the Kindle bestseller charts. He is a member of the Crime Writers Association (CWA). Merlin at War was on the CWA Historical Dagger Longlist in 2018.

THE BIG CHILL (Skelfs #2) by Doug Johnstone COVER REVEAL @doug_johnstone @OrendaBooks

It is an absolute honour to be revealing the cover for Doug Johnstone’s The Big Chill. Isn’t it FABULOUS? Don’t you just want to order it straight away? Out in e-book on June 20th and in paperback in August it’s an absolute MUST READ.

The Big Chill follows the critically acclaimed A Dark Matter, featuring three generations of women in the Skelfs family … funeral directors and part-time private investigators…

The Big Chill     Reboots the classic PI novel while asking the big existential questions … all with a dose of pitch-black humour and hair-raising tension

· The Skelfs series has been  optioned for TV by Blazing Griffin

The Skelfs are back…

So what’s The Big Chill about? Here’s what the blurb says…

Haunted by their past, the Skelf women are hoping for a quieter life. But running both a funeral directors’ and a private investigation business means trouble is never far away, and when a car crashes into the open grave at a funeral Dorothy is conducting, she can’t help looking into the dead driver’s shadowy life.

While Dorothy uncovers a dark truth at the heart of Edinburgh society, her daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah have their own struggles. Jenny’s ex-husband Craig is making plans that could shatter the Skelf women’s lives, and the increasingly obsessive Hannah has formed a friendship with an elderly professor that is fast turning deadly.

But something even more sinister emerges when a drumming student of Dorothy’s disappears and suspicion falls on her parents. The Skelf women find themselves immersed in an unbearable darkness – but could the real threat be to themselves?

You can pre-order The Big Chill in e-book and paperback now, so clickety-click!
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Doug Johnstone is an author, journalist and musician based in Edinburgh. He’s had eight novels published, most recently Fault Lines. His previous novel, The Jump, was a finalist for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. Several of his other novels have been award winners and bestsellers, and he’s had short stories published in numerous anthologies and literary magazines.

His work has been praised by the likes of Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Irvine Welsh. Several of his novels have been optioned for film and television. Doug is also a Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow. He’s worked as an RLF Fellow at Queen Margaret University, taught creative writing at Strathclyde University and William Purves Funeral Directors. He mentors and assesses manuscripts for The Literary Consultancy and regularly tutors at Moniack Mhor writing retreat. Doug has released seven albums in various bands, and is the drummer for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of crime writers. He also reviews books for The Big Issue magazine, is player-manager for Scotland Writers Football Club and has a PhD in nuclear physics.

Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald @FitzHelen @OrendaBooks @AnneCater

Source: Review copy
Publication: 14th March in e-book from Orenda Books
PP: 210
ISBN-13: 978-1913193287

Single-mother Fran returns to her sleepy hometown to care for her dying father when a devastating bush fire breaks out. A devastating, disaster-noir thriller from the author of The Cry.

Fran hates Ash Mountain, and she thought she’d escaped. But her father is ill, and needs care. Her relationship is over, and she hates her dead-end job in the city, anyway.

She returns to her hometown to nurse her dying father, her distant teenage daughter in tow for the weekends. There, in the sleepy town of Ash Mountain, childhood memories prick at her fragile self-esteem, she falls in love for the first time, and her demanding dad tests her patience, all in the unbearable heat of an Australian summer.

As old friendships and rivalries are renewed, and new ones forged, Fran’s tumultuous home life is the least of her worries, when old crimes rear their heads and a devastating bushfire ravages the town and all of its inhabitants…

Simultaneously a warm, darkly funny portrait of small-town life – and a woman and a land in crisis – and a shocking and truly distressing account of a catastrophic event that changes things forever, Ash Mountain is a heart-breaking slice of domestic noir, and a disturbing disaster thriller that you will never forget…

Helen Fitzgerald is a writer like no other. With Ash Mountain she is at the top of her craft. Her writing is blistering; her characters vivid and totally authentic and they take her book by storm. Fitzgerald is an emotive writer but not ever in a saccharine way; quite the opposite. Fran Anderson is a survivor; toughened by all that life has brought her, ready to talk tough with anyone who stands in the way of her and her children, and living life on her own terms.

I loved this character. Returning home with her children, teenage Vonny and her older brother, Dante, to the small town that is Ash Mountain to care for her dying father, her first acts are to make sure he has a grip on what’s going on around him and that he can at least get the small pleasures he has in life. She does it in her own unique way that makes you laugh even as you see what a tough situation it is for them both. He is as demanding as she; both are strident, prickly characters.

She has such a loathing for what Ash Mountain brought her, but she faces her return with determination and she brooks no opposition to getting her own way, even when that riles the people she meets.

The book begins with the impending bush fires that will sweep through the town bringing chaos and leaving horrific devastation in its wake. The reader will feel the full horror of that fire, smell the burning, understand what a truly awful death it brings and Fitzgerald doesn’t flinch from showing us all of that.

We come to understand, through a journey that flits backwards in time, just what Fran has endured and why she has become the person that she is. Returning to Ash Mountain becomes for Fran a revisiting of her childhood and adolescence and makes her face up to her past; confronting it head on even as she races against time to find her children amid the flames that engulf large parts of the town.

Ash Mountain itself plays such a pivotal role in this book. It is the catalyst for everything that happens and it’s spartan and arduous environment is unforgiving. Returning to the town was something she had to do but she takes no pleasure from seeing familiar faces and her memories are tinged with the sour knowledge of her own past where crimes were committed and the perpetrators never brought to account.

Her attitude to the church whose influence in the town is pervasive, but Fran finds pernicious, is tainted by her youthful experiences and as she settles back in, small things bring back memories she has worked hard to try and expunge.  A near neighbour and old friend offers some relief; he at least has grown happily into his skin, but with the pleasure of renewing that acquaintance comes more complications. Vonny starts a new relationship and out of the blue, Dante’s estranged father is about to make a re-appearance. NOT something Fran wants to see happen at all.

As her story unfolds and the intensity deepens, Fran will face her demons and tackle the consequences.

Fitzgerald takes head on some of the most difficult subjects in a way that feels personal and so real and makes from this story an utterly raw and completely compelling and dark family drama set against the backdrop of a stifling heat and a burning orange and red sky. Her drama plays out in a way that had my heart pounding and my nerves fraying. And yet she still manages to extract a biting humour from the situation which adds to the realism she creates.

Verdict: Honestly, this is an intense and  compelling tour de force. It still gives me goose bumps to think about it. At once fierce and incredibly poignant, it packs a huge punch.  It is a towering inferno of a book. An absolute all the stars MUST READ.

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Helen FitzGerald is the bestselling author of ten adult and young adult thrillers, including The Donor (2011) and The Cry (2013), which was longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and is now a major drama for BBC1. Her 2019 dark comedy thriller Worst Case Scenario was a Book of the Year in both The Guardian and Daily Telegraph. Helen worked as a criminal justice social worker for over fifteen years. She grew up in Victoria, Australia, and now lives in Glasgow with her husband.

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