A Rattle of Bones by Douglas Skelton @DouglasSkelton1 @PolygonBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 5 August 2021 from Polygon Books
PP: 320
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1846975639

My thanks to the publisher and Douglas Skelton for an advance copy for review

In 1752, Seamus a’Ghlynne, James of the Glen, was executed for the murder of government man Colin Campbell. He was almost certainly innocent.

When banners are placed at his gravesite claiming that his namesake, James Stewart, is innocent of murder, reporter Rebecca Connolly smells a story. The young Stewart has been in prison for ten years for the brutal murder of his lover, lawyer and politician Murdo Maxwell, in his Appin home. Rebecca soon discovers that Maxwell believed he was being followed prior to his murder and his phones were tapped.

Why is a Glasgow crime boss so interested in the case? As Rebecca keeps digging, she finds herself in the sights of Inverness crime matriarch Mo Burke, who wants payback for the damage caused to her family in a previous case.

Set against the stunning backdrop of the Scottish Highlands, A Rattle of Bones is a tale of injustice and mystery, and the echo of the past in the present.

This is the third Rebecca Connelly book, though they can be read in any order, it’s worth starting at the beginning with Thunder Bay because the character development is brilliantly thought through in this series.

Rebecca Connelly, good journalist and getting better. Good friend and ally and not someone prepared to let the bad guys walk all over her – at least not any more. Since she left her job at The Highland Chronicle, she’s been crafting a decent role for herself in the small news agency she has joined and that’s giving her the job satisfaction and flexibility that an impoverished local paper reliant on click-bait just couldn’t any more. She’s on a one woman mission to show that journalism matters.

There are lots of reasons to love this series but one of the key ones is a brilliant evocation of the Scottish Highland landscape that permeates this book. It’s a land that is majestic but can be barren and bleak; a land steeped in history that Skelton conjures up before our eyes; a land drenched in the blood of our forefathers and a land where stories whisper to you down the centuries.

It is at one such site that the story feels altogether more contemporary. The site where the innocent James Stewart was hanged in 1752 after being wrongly convicted is now the focus of protest. Another James Stewart claims he has been wrongly convicted and is now languishing in prison.

Rebecca follows the story and in doing so she brings herself into conflict with more than one formidable adversary.

As befits any thriller, this one is chock full of bad deeds and dodgy characters, including the return of the formidable chain smoking Mo Burke who has more than one reason to want to see an end to Rebecca’s journalism. Back too, is Finbar Dalgleish, the enigmatic figure who is leader of the political party Spioraid nan Gael – Spirit of the Gael or SG as they have become known. Whether Finbar is also behind the break -away extreme New Dawn party is a moot point. Either way, neither of these people is likely to wish Rebecca well in her endeavours any time soon.

Douglas Skelton draws his characters really well. From the reserved Afua Stewart seeking justice for her son his book is populated with a brilliantly observed cast of characters.

Rebecca herself is a terrific character. She’s been through so much and she is still grieving – a weight hangs about her shoulders that she can’t get rid of though she’s trying by throwing herself wholeheartedly into her work. She’s developing, book by book, into an excellent investigator and though she still has a lot to learn, she’s getting there. One thing is for sure, she’s not anyone’s idea of a pushover these days.

Douglas Skelton’s dark thriller is leavened by some wry observations; ‘he was shaving gel handsome’ and some delightful moments of humour that offer moments of respite in a tension fuelled read.

The plotting is excellent and Skelton manages to make us second guess some of his less savoury characters by an injection of ambiguous morality into some of his murkier characters. It seems there may be some honour among some of these thieves after all.

Verdict: A deliciously atmospheric, tense and thrilling read. Goes straight into the must read category with the first two books in the series.

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

Reckless by R.J.McBrien @r_mcbrien @midaspr @welbeckpublish

Source: Review copy
Publication: 22 July 2021 from Welbeck
PP: 448
ISBN-13: 978-1787396180

My thanks to Welbeck and Sophie Ransom of Midas PR for an advance copy for review.

You think you’ll stay the same – you won’t. Infidelity will change you forever. There can be no going back.

Kirsten Calloway knows she should be grateful. She has a stable marriage, decent job, and a wonderful teenage daughter. But she also has a raging libido that won’t shut up, and a husband who’d rather go on a bike ride.

She bumps into an old friend at a school reunion who faces a similar problem. Dianne, though, has found the answer: a discreet agency which arranges casual sex for people just like them, people who want to keep their marriages but also scratch that itch.

Enter Zac: younger, handsome and everything Kirsten could hope for in bed. For a while, they seem to have it all. Kirsten even finds herself becoming a better wife and mother. But Zac wants more – a lot more, and he’ll stop at nothing to get it.

Kirsten Calloway is an occupational therapist. She and her husband Mark have one daughter, teenager Jess. Neither rich nor poor, they live a reasonably decent life in suburbia. Kirsten has one sister, who has recently gone through a bitter divorce leaving her to bring up her two young children and their mother is beginning to show the first signs of frailty in old age.

They are, then, a pretty standard couple. Mark keeps fit by riding his bicycle and Kirsten enjoys her job at the local hospital. And just like many married couples who have become set in their ways, sex is pretty much off in the background; seldom rearing its head. Mark doesn’t mind, really. Kirsten, on the other hand, misses both the excitement of sexual relations and the intimacy it brings. Not enough to change things, but enough for it to be an ache that never really goes away. ‘Is this all there is?’ seems to be her constant refrain.

She allows herself to be dragged by her sister to a school reunion on the promise of seeing an old heartthrob – the one who got away – but what she sees there opens up a world of possibility if only she can be brave enough to step into the unknown.

R.J. McBrien’s book is a first person narrative told from Kirsten’s perspective, but from the beginning the reader is treated to extracts from police reports in which it is clear that someone has died. Who that person is and what their connection to Kirsten might be we do not know. But we do know that there is a connection.

Utilising a dual timeline – the present day with flashbacks to the recent past, McBrien rolls out the story keeping the reader engaged with the police element whilst trying to work out how Kirsten has become involved. This makes for a tense read as we watch Kirsten take the first tentative steps into what we know is going to become a nightmare scenario.

Reckless is one of those books where you want to shout at the protagonist for making the wrong decisions, but at the same time, you don’t really blame Kirsten for wanting something that should not be beyond her experience.

How she goes after it is rather more the issue. R.J.McBrien has created an interesting an unusual plotline which brings an element of spice into this mystery. Short chapters and fast pacing give this thriller tension and the mystery of the unknown adds intrigue into the mix. I enjoyed the way the plot unfurled and found the ending worked well for the situation.

Verdict: Reckless is a great fast-paced read with some neat twists that is perfect summer beach reading material.

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RJ McBrien attended York University, the Sorbonne and graduated from the Yale School of Drama. He writes for TV (Wallander,Spooks andTrust for ITV) and has sold scripts to major Hollywood studios, for whom he regularly works as a script doctor.Reckless is his first novel.

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The Image of Her by Sonia Velton @Soniavelton @QuercusBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 22 July 2021 from Quercus
PP: 384
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1529406498

My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review

STELLA and CONNIE are strangers, brought together by two traumatic events – cruel twists of fate that happen thousands of miles apart.

Stella lives with her mother, a smothering narcissist. When she succumbs to dementia, the pressures on Stella’s world intensify, culminating in tragedy. As Stella recovers from a near fatal accident, she feels compelled to share her trauma but she finds talking difficult. In her head she confides in Connie because there’s no human being in the world that she feels closer to.

Connie is an expat living in Dubai with her partner, Mark, and their two children. On the face of it she wants for nothing and yet … something about life in this glittering city does not sit well with her. Used to working full time in a career she loves back in England, she struggles to find meaning in the expat life of play-dates and pedicures.

Two women set on a collision course. When they finally link up, it will not be in a way that you, or I, or anyone would ever have expected.

I really enjoyed Sonia Velton’s Blackberry and Wild Rose so was intrigued to see what Sonia Velton would write next. The Image of Her is a different book altogether, contemporary rather than historical, but the storytelling is just as compelling.

The Image of Her is about two women; Stella and Connie.  Two women, half a world away from each other with little in common or so you might think. Stella is our first person narrator. A teaching assistant who once had dreams of becoming more, but who, instead, ended up living with her bitter and controlling mother; a mother who has spent years taking out her frustrations on her only daughter, belittling her dreams and suffocating her spirit.

Connie on the other hand, is a happily married mother of two. She has recently agreed to park her successful career in order to facilitate her husband Mark’s career by moving to Dubai, where the opportunities for a better lifestyle are calling out. Connie should be content, but the life of an ex-pat isn’t for everyone and she feels a bit rudderless without a career and is less than happy about the course of her relationship with Mark which has felt less and less like a partnership since they relocated.

Stella’s story comes out slowly, in tantalising drips. In a funny way, hers is a story that I empathise with. She doesn’t go out. Her only relationship comes with the delivery man who brings her parcels and comes back days later to return them. As someone whose most intimate (i.e. face to face) and enduring relationship during lockdown was with my postman, I know how much she must have looked forward to that knock on her door.

Not that Stella looks him in the eye. She’s clearly had some medical procedure from which she is recovering, judging by the drugs she has to take, and she slides her parcels in through a gap in the door.

Stella is spending her time thinking about her past and reliving some of her relationship with her mother. As she does so, she is also looking at Connie’s life, searching her out on social media; seeing what she can piece together from her photographs and posts. The contrast between their lives could not be more different, but each woman feels herself caught in a prison from which escape seem increasingly impossible.

Both these women are beautifully realised by Sonia Velton. Both have stories that are compelling and the way she allows her characters to speak creates a tense and fractious feeling in the reader, sometimes so much that I held my breath waiting for the tension to appease.

In Connie’s story, Velton does not gloss over the harsh realities of living in Dubai and the compromises Connie has to make in all aspects of her life in order to live there. As with a recent read, Christy Lefteri’s Songbirds, the problems of economic migrants feature heavily.

But what is at the heart of this gripping and engaging novel are Velton’s wholly engrossing portraits of these two women whose sense of self has been eroded so far as to make them feel invisible. And what Velton achieves by framing her story in this way – by making the lives of these two women intersect in the most unusual way – is to highlight the importance of knowing your own worth, of finding a way to project your own image to the rest of society and of being able to hold your head up when all seems lost.

Verdict: The Image of Her is a taut, beautifully told and mesmerising story that touches on many relevant issues surrounding care, mental health and well-being. More than that though, it is a compelling portrait of two women whose stories are linked in the most unusual of ways. Tense, transfixing, thought-provoking, this is a book that will stay with me.

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Sonia Velton grew up between the Bahamas and the UK. After graduating from university with a first class law degree, she qualified as a solicitor at an international law firm, later going on to specialise in discrimination law. Sonia relocated to the Middle East in 2006. Eight years and three children later she returned to the UK and now lives in Kent. Blackberry and Wild Rose, inspired by real characters and historical events, was short-listed for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize as a work in progress, was longlisted for the Mslexia novel competition, and is Sonia’s first novel.

The Doll by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir trs Victoria Cribb (Freyja and Huldar #5) @YrsaSig @HodderBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 22 July 2021 from Hodder & Stoughton
PP: 464
ISBN-13: 978-1473693524

My thanks to Hodder and Stoughton for an advance  copy for review

It was meant to be a quiet family fishing trip, a chance for mother and daughter to talk. But it changes the course of their lives forever.

They catch nothing except a broken doll that gets tangled in the net. After years in the ocean, the doll a terrifying sight and the mother’s first instinct is to throw it back, but she relents when her daughter pleads to keep it. This simple act of kindness proves fatal. That evening, the mother posts a picture of the doll on social media. By the morning, she is dead and the doll has disappeared.

Several years later and Detective Huldar is in his least favourite place – on a boat in rough waters, searching for possible human remains. However, identifying the skeleton they find on the seabed proves harder than initially thought, and Huldar must draw on psychologist Freyja’s experience to help him. As the mystery of the unidentified body deepens, Huldar is also drawn into an investigation of a homeless drug addict’s murder, and Freyja investigates a suspected case of child abuse at a foster care home.

What swiftly becomes clear is that the cases are linked through a single, missing, vulnerable witness: the young girl who wanted the doll all those years ago.

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is no stranger to the world of disturbing images and somewhat evil, supernatural  goings-on so it’s no surprise that a creepy, barnacle-encrusted, one-eyed doll is at the heart of this complex Children’s House police procedural.

We begin with Huldar and Erla at sea, looking for body parts in the form of bones on the sea bed. For different reasons both are a little unwell and that situation does not improve when they find some of what they are looking for, but not all.

That’s not a massive problem though because there are other things that Huldar Jonas can be working on, including an historic child sexual abuse case which is where Freyja, a child psychologist and formerly Director of Children’s House, comes in – and he’s quite anxious to see her again and to see if there are bridges that can be built there.

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is a master of creating a complex series of mysteries and then dropping breadcrumbs to see if we can work out what might link them all. How does a creepy doll link to the woman who first took it found it on the sea bed and took it home? Where is Rosa, the missing teenager and key witness in the sexual abuse case and what does this have to do with the murder of two campers and the death of a drug addict in a container village?

Meticulously plotted and evenly paced, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s story  is dark and chilling, the more so for its pragmatic approach to the police procedural element of crime solving.  The central figure here is the missing teenager Rosa, though that’s not clear until Yrsa Sigurðardóttir starts to allow us to join some of the dots. What we do know is that she is a friend of Tristan, the young man making the sexual abuse allegations of a manager at the children’s home where both were staying, and now she is missing, just at the crucial point when evidence is being taken. The more we learn about Rosa, the more worried we become for her safety.

There are some lovely character driven opportunities that help develop the series as a whole. Huldar is still trying to impress Freyja while becoming more and more intrigued by what Freyja is keeping the spare room.  Freya can’t decide whether or not she wants to be impressed and has no intention of letting Huldar anywhere near the spare room. In any case she’s looking after her brother’s daughter while he is away being a tour guide, so her style is effectively cramped even if she were to be tempted. And no-one is paying much attention to police newcomer Lina who is smarter and more methodical than the rest of the station put together.

Verdict: Beautifully atmospheric, grim in parts, this is a fascinating and multi-layered story where the process of uncovering the stories is the important thing and the detailed police procedural elements are beautifully put together so that you can almost connect the dots yourself as you read. It is beautifully twisted and seriously intriguing. A slow burn of a book, it will keep you immersed and needing to know where to put those final dots as the case nears being tied up.

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Author of the bestselling Thora Gudmundsdottir crime series and several stand-alone thrillers, Yrsa Sigurdardottir was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1963 and works as a civil engineer. She made her crime fiction debut in 2005 with LAST RITUALS, the first instalment in the Thora Gudmundsdottir series, and has been translated into more than 30 languages. Her work stands ‘comparison with the finest contemporary crime writing anywhere in the world’ according to the Times Literary Supplement. The second instalment in the Thora Gudmundsdottir series, MY SOUL TO TAKE, was shortlisted for the 2010 Shamus Award. In 2011 her stand-alone horror novel I REMEMBER YOU was awarded the Icelandic Crime Fiction Award and was nominated for The Glass Key, and has been made intoa film starring Jóhannes Haukur by ZikZak Filmworks. In 2015 THE SILENCE OF THE SEA won the Petrona Award for the year’s best Scandinavian crime novel, and THE LEGACY, the first novel in the Freyja and Huldar series, was nominated for The Glass Key and won the Icelandic Crime Fiction Award. All of her books have been European bestsellers.

Black Reed Bay by Rod Reynolds @Rod_WR @OrendaBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 28 May 2021 in ebook; 2 September p/back from Orenda Books
PP: 300
ISBN-13: 978-1913193676

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

When a young woman vanishes from an exclusive oceanfront community in the middle of the night, Detective Casey Wray’s takes on a case that leads her in chilling, unexpected directions … A twisty, breath-taking police procedural. First in a heart-pounding new series.

Rod Reynolds is a marvellous writer. He isn’t flash, or showy, but what he writes is immaculately crafted, beautifully plotted and so well thought through that his characters blaze with authenticity. It is a remarkable talent and all the better for being understated.

So what you have in Black Reed Bay is a superb American Noir Police procedural with a great protagonist in Detective Casey Wray; pitch perfect, stylish and beautifully rendered.

Black Reed Bay is an affluent neighbourhood – you know the ones that you see in the movies, all glass aspects to the beachfront with lithe, tanned and most importantly, rich owners lording it over all they survey.  Tina Grace is neither rich nor entitled but she has been out to Black Reed Bay to visit Jon Parker. It is, he tells the police after she has gone missing, waking up half the neighbourhood in the process, just a casual relationship.

It was Tina Grace’s 911 call that brought the police to Black Reed Bay, but there the trail goes cold. Casey Wray’s antennae are prickling, though. There’s something off about the too smooth Jon Parker and his explanation of what happened does not ring true.

Though Tina made a lot of noise as she called the police, not one of the neighbours whose beautifully embellished doors she knocked on would answer. This is a neighbourhood that looks after its own, putting themselves first and allowing nothing to upset their tranquillity.

Casey Wray is angered and frustrated by the solid wall of unhelpfulness in Black Reed Bay but that just makes her more determined to get to the bottom of what at first appears to be no more than a domestic disturbance.

Reynolds beautifully contrasts the luxury lifestyle of Black Reed Bay with the lives of Tina Grace’s family. Her mother is a drunk; her brother has previous. If ever a family came with the label ‘wrong side of the tracks’ the Grace family is it. So what was Tina Grace doing in Black Reed Bay and why will no-one tell the truth about what they saw?

Casey gets close to Tina’s mother, trying to understand more about her daughter. The more she learns, the more she finds herself angered by the closed mouthed community in Black Reed Bay. Not only that but, back at base, Casey’s boss is under pressure and the department wants this case closed as soon as possible. She and her partner, Dave Cullen have their work cut out to solve this case.

Reynold’s setting is superb. The discreet rich community with its affluence and influence plays beautifully against the ‘down on their luck’ Grace family and that contrast highlights the dark secrets that play into this novel.

As Casey refuses to bow to pressure she will find herself in a dark situation that is both chilling and macabre and which will test both her mettle and her loyalties to the limit.

Verdict: A brilliant introduction to Detective Casey Wray – about whom we still have much to learn. This compelling mystery thrums with intrigue, dark doings and dirty politics in the most American way. Black Reed Bay simmers and crackles with tension and ultimately, shocks and surprises. This initial outing of a new protagonist has immediately turned into a top ‘must read’ series.

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Rod Reynolds is the author of four novels, including the Charlie Yates series. His 2015 debut, The Dark Inside, was longlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood Dagger), and was followed by Black Night Falling (2016) and Cold Desert Sky (2018); The Guardian have called the books ‘Pitch-perfect American noir.’ A lifelong Londoner, his critically acclaimed standalone thriller, Blood Red City, is the first book set in his hometown, but he’s crossing the ocean again, with his explosive new thriller, Black Reed Bay. Rod previously worked in advertising as a media buyer, and holds an MA in novel writing from City University London. Rod lives with his wife and family and spends most of his time trying to keep up with his two young daughters. Chat to Rod on Twitter @Rod_WR.

GIRLS WHO LIE by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir trs Victoria Cribb @evaaegisdottir @OrendaBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 22 July 2021 from Orenda Books
PP: 276
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1913193737

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

When a depressed, alcoholic single mother disappears, everything suggests suicide, but when her body is found, Icelandic Detective Elma and her team are thrust into a perplexing, chilling investigation.

Oh my goodness, Eva Ægisdóttir has done it again. After her chilling, award winning thriller, The Creak on the Stairs, she has brought back Detective Elma for a second case and this time Elma and her colleagues are faced with a complex problem.

Girls Who Lie is told in two timelines; the current police investigation and a parallel narrative told through an unnamed female narrator. A woman’s body has been found in a crevasse in the Grábrók lava fields. It has been there for some months but the police are able to determine that it is the body of missing Akranes woman, Marianna and that Marianna has been murdered. Marianna was a single mother of truculent teenager, 15 year old Hekla.

Marianna’s track record as a parent had not been sterling. As a troubled young single mother she had neglected Hekla, resulting in Hekla first being placed into care by Child Protection Services. Then she was placed into a foster family who had always wanted a child. They loved Hekla, treating her as if she were their own daughter. Better off than Marianna, this middle aged couple were able to give her the material comforts that Marianna’s circumstances lacked the ability to match.

Delving into Marianna’s missing person’s case, Elma realises that that investigation had been less than thorough; many assumptions having been made based on Marianna’s somewhat erratic lifestyle, the biggest of which is that she either ran away or more likely, committed suicide. As she investigates she is led deeper into family secrets, the lies that are told and the devastating consequences for all concerned.

It’s fascinating to consider this aspect of the police investigation. Because of the lazy assumptions made about Marianna, the police had paid scant attention to the job they should have been doing. Hekla has been let down by them and let down too by Child Protection services. The people that should be the grown-ups are self-obsessed and narrow minded. On the face of it their concern is for the child, but actually they only care about their own positions. Everyone is lying and the gatekeepers are no better. Ægisdóttir is clear in her condemnation and no-one escapes unscathed.

At the same time we are delighted to be let into a little more of Elma’s personal life. We hear about her relationship with her mother and sister; a new relationship that she is unsure about and her working partnership with Sævar which is now bedded in and going well. They are at ease with each other and their cheerful banter shows that with every exchange. This is a happier Elma, albeit still tinged with grief and sadness and she seems much more at ease with her life.

The police investigation does not go well. Every time they think they are getting somewhere, they are stymied. Someone is not telling them the truth. Is it Hekla, the reluctant daughter, or perhaps the protective and somewhat smothering foster mother who always knew that Hekla would have been better off being adopted by them rather than going back to her poor excuse of a mother?

Girls Who Lie switches between the past and the present investigation, showing us how each of the characters came to be who they are today and gradually allowing the reader to build a picture of the character’s perspective and their view of what happened. Sitting alongside Elma’s investigation, the reader has a twin track into this mystery and that helps build an understanding while ensuring that the mystery remains. With the building of this layered picture comes a slow, burning tension that is palpable. All the time we are left wondering who did this?  And if x did it, what was their motive? There’s a clever thing that Ægisdóttir does which is to lead us to make assumptions about characters which are simply not true – that trail of breadcrumbs does not at all go where you thought it was leading and that’s brilliant!

Verdict: Eva Ægisdóttir builds tension through both her brilliant characterisation and her atmospheric settings. She creates a chilling, gloomy sense of doom as we visit the lava fields and the long dark winters set in – all this bolstered by a small town sometimes claustrophobic atmosphere where gossip and the taunting of children can have the cruellest impact. But the real killer in this book is the way in which she diverts us all from the truth because we too are guilty of making the lazy assumptions that have had such terrible repercussions for Marianna.

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Born in Akranes in 1988, Eva moved to Trondheim, Norway to study my MSc in Globalisation when she was 25. After moving back home having completed her MSc, she knew it was time to start working on her novel. Eva has wanted to write books since she was 15 years old, having won a short story contest in Iceland.
Eva worked as a stewardess to make ends meet while she wrote her first novel. The book went on to win the Blackbird Award and became an Icelandic bestseller. The Creak on The Stairs, her debut novel was awarded The John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger by the CWA. Eva now lives with her husband and three children in Reykjavík, staying at home with her youngest until she begins Kindergarten.

Mimic by Daniel Cole @DanielColeBooks @Jude_owusu @Tr4cyF3nt0n @orionbooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 15 July 2021 from Trapeze
Length: 9 hours 21 minutes
Narrator: Jude Owusu
ASIN: B0916D7WXD

My thanks to the publisher and Compulsive Readers for an advance copy for review

In life she was his muse . . .

In death she’ll be his masterpiece

1989: DS Benjamin Chambers and DC Adam Winters are on the trail of a serial killer with a twisted passion for recreating the world’s greatest works of art through the bodies of his victims. After Chambers nearly loses his life, the case goes cold due to lack of evidence. The killer lies dormant, his collection unfinished.

2006: DS Marshall has excelled through the ranks of the Metropolitan Police Service, despite being haunted by the case that defined her teenage years. Having obtained new evidence, she joins Chambers and Winters to reopen the case. However, their resurrected investigation brings about a fresh reign of terror, the team treading a fine line between delivering justice and becoming vigilantes in their pursuit of a monster far more dangerous and intelligent than any of them had anticipated…

After his enthralling  Ragdoll series, I was intrigued to see what Daniel Cole would come up with next.  Mimic has the same dark tone and I still absolutely love Daniel Cole’s sardonic black humour which shines through in Mimic.

Beautifully read by Jude Owusu, this audio book was a delight to listen to. Owusu catches the irony in Cole’s writing splendidly and makes the most of the novel’s humour, contained in the interchange between characters, without ever overdoing it. His rich tonality adds warmth to a story that is sometimes very chilling indeed.

Mimic is told in two timelines, the initial murders in 1989 and the revival of the cold case in 2006.

In 1989, Detective Benjamin Chambers attends the scene of a murder in Hyde Park. In unusual circumstances he meets Winters, a rookie cop. The murder is a strange one. The body has been staged in the pose of a Rodin’s famous sculpture ‘The Thinker’. It turns out this is not the last of such murders and again Winters and Chambers team up to track down this deadly art lover. Together they go on a hunt to catch their killer but their theories are scoffed at by Chamber’s boss who prefers a convenient confession and Chambers is suspended from duty, much to the chagrin of his partner, Eve. Still, he can’t resist pursuing his ideas about who is responsible, despite receiving a warning from the killer. But his adversary is ready for him and Chambers almost dies trying to catch the killer.

Seven years later.  Detective Constable Jordan Marshall is a trainee and a rising star in the Met but in her spare time investigates cold murder cases as a result of something that has haunted her since she was a teenager. Full of piercings and well inked, she is brilliant and has a razor sharp mind. Reviewing the statues cases, she realises that Chambers and Winters were onto something with their theories about the killer and contacts Winters.

Winters no longer works for the police; he’s now a security guard at Sainsbury’s. He’s not the man he used to be and Chambers is also a shadow of his former self. But Marshall is determined and pulls the pair into her investigation only for them to find that the killings start up again.  

Chambers, Winters and Marshall make for an interesting trio. Marshall is focussed and driven; a repressed anger making her unrelenting in her quest to find a killer. Both Chambers and Winters are more cautious, understanding just how deadly this killer is. They made an unlikely couple, yet something in these opposites attracting just works and adding Marshall into the mix makes them a formidable, if odd, team.  As Marshall’s investigation gains momentum and becomes official, so they realise that this killer has more work to do and they are in a race against time to catch their perpetrator.  

Mimic is full of tension and Daniel Cole really does make the most of his delightful penchant for creating the most macabre murders. It’s that curious but eminently workable mix of serial killer, horror and humour that is the essence of much of Cole’s writing.

Where Cole excels is in the creativity of his murders and the excellent characters he brings to the table.  Mimic has tension and is a real thriller, even if we know fairly early on who the perpetrator is. That’s not an issue though, as the tension comes in the dangerous thrill of the chase and the creativity of the killer.

Verdict: Creative, dark, gritty and humorous, Mimic is a great listen. It didn’t grow on me quite as much as Cole’s previous trilogy, but these detectives work really well together and I can see that they might well have a future.

AUDIBLE

Daniel Cole has worked as a paramedic, an RSPCA officer and most recently for the RNLI, driven by an intrinsic need to save people or perhaps just a guilty conscience about the number of characters he kills off in his writing. He currently lives in sunny Bournemouth and can usually be found down the beach when he ought to be writing. Daniel’s debut novel Ragdoll was a Sunday Times bestseller and has been published in over thirty-five countries.

Songbirds by Christy Lefteri @Christy_Lefteri @ZaffreBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 8 July 2021 from Manilla Press
PP: 400
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1838773762

My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review

She walks unseen through our world.

Cares for our children, cleans our homes.

She has a story to tell.

Will you listen?

Nisha has crossed oceans to give her child a future. By day she cares for Petra’s daughter; at night she mothers her own little girl by the light of a phone.

Nisha’s lover, Yiannis, is a poacher, hunting the tiny songbirds on their way to Africa each winter. His dreams of a new life, and of marrying Nisha, are shattered when she vanishes.

No one cares about the disappearance of a domestic worker, except Petra and Yiannis. As they set out to search for her, they realise how little they know about Nisha. What they uncover will change them all.

If you have read The Beekeeper of Aleppo, you will already know that Christi Lefteri is a consummate storyteller with a passionate interest in migrants and refugees and their stories.

The Beekeeeper was a story about refugees forced to leave their homes as a result of war. Songbirds is also about refugees forced to travel from their homes, but these are economic migrants. Their reasons are just as urgent, but the driver is economic. This is the story of Nisha, a Sri Lankan domestic worker in Cyprus who looks after someone else’s child all day, whilst at night she reaches out to her own child through technology;never able to touch or hug her.

When one day she simply disappears, those few who thought they knew her are left wondering if they knew anything at all.

Songbirds is narrated by Petra, Nisha’s employer in Cyprus and by Yiannis, a man who has come to care deeply for Nisha but whose own economic circumstances have led him into an illegal money making enterprise  – trapping delicate songbirds to sell as food on the black market.

Beautifully written, Songbirds lays out some of the reasons people – often women with young children – leave their families, and travel thousands of miles in search of work. This is not a new story – we know it has been happening for years – but what Lefteri does is to let these invisible women be seen and to tell some of their stories.

Nisha has made a huge sacrifice leaving her daughter behind in Sri Lanka and coming to Cyprus for work. Working for Petra and caring for Petra’s daughter, Aliki, in a way her mother cannot, Nisha misses her own daughter, Kumari, more than ever.

Petra is emotionally distanced from everyone. Nisha is a worker, nothing more, but it’s such an inconvenience that she has disappeared. Who will look after her daughter now? As she and Yiannis search for her, it does not take them long to realise that the authorities could not give a toss about Nisha. Such workers are transient, they say. Migrants come and go in their thousands – why would they spend time looking for them when they leave?

Lefteri lays bare the casual institutional racism against such workers; the way in which they are treated as no more than bonded slaves and through Nisha’s story, shows us some of the truly awful traps and exploitative situations that women can be thrown into. Nisha’s job with Petra came through an employment agency. Except that agency, specialising in domestic workers from elsewhere, is in reality nothing more than a way to make money from Nisha while enslaving her to them for years to come.

Lefteri’s Songbirds gives us three people who are each captives in some way. Petra is emotionally frozen after losing her husband. Yiannis is caught in his black market activity and can’t get out. And Nisha has been no more or less than a bonded servant for the last nine years. Though Petra has not been cruel to her, she knows nothing at all about the woman who has lived in her house and cared for her daughter for the last 9 years.

Using the metaphor of beautiful songbirds, Lefteri’s lyrical and delicate prose emotively draws the comparison with Nisha. And even as you feel tremendous revulsion and sorrow for the treatment of these birds, so at the same time you pull yourself up and see the comparison with the inhuman treatment of migrant women. Lefteri has created Nisha’s story based on real disappearances of domestic workers in Cyprus and we should not forget that as we get caught up in her poignant and emotional story.

Verdict: Songbirds will both move and anger you. By leaving Nisha’s own voice until the end of this novel, Lefteri cleverly leaves the most important voice for last. Yet, for all that Songbirds is a story about loss, grief and cruelty, in the end Christy Lefteri has delivered a beautiful book that speaks to hope and how the ties of love and the bonds of friendship can prevail in the face of incredible adversity.

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Brought up in London, Christy Lefteri is the child of Cypriot refugees. She is a lecturer in creative writing at Brunel University. Her first book, The Beekeeper of Aleppo was born out of her time working as a volunteer at a Unicef supported refugee centre in Athens.

The Forevers by Chris Whitaker @WhittyAuthor @HotKeyBooksYA

Source: Review copy
Publication: 8 July 2021 from Hot Key Books
PP: 352
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1471410956

My thanks to the publisher for an opportunity to read and review in advance of publication

They knew the end was coming. They saw it ten years back, when it was far enough away in space and time and meaning.

The changes were gradual, and then sudden.

For Mae and her friends, it means navigating a life where action and consequence are no longer related. Where the popular are both trophies and targets. And where petty grudges turn deadlier with each passing day. So, did Abi Manton jump off the cliff or was she pushed? Her death is just the beginning of the end.

With teachers losing control of their students and themselves, and the end rushing toward all of them, it leaves everyone facing the answer to one, simple question…

What would you do if you could get away with anything?

Let’s forget labels for a minute. The Forevers is a Y/A book and I’m pretty sure that audience will devour it, but this is a book I’d recommend to anyone. If you have read We Begin At The End (if you haven’t, stop here and go and get it) then you will know that Chris Whitaker excels in characterisation and an exceptional ability to understand and get to the heart of what drives people; to take the essence of human nature and distil it into a story that is powerful and emotive, yet feels all too real as you read it.

So it is with The Forevers.  For the last ten years an Asteroid – Asteroid Selena – has been approaching Earth set on a course that will destroy the planet. There have been numerous attempts to divert it from its course, but all have ended in failure. There’s to be another attempt, but no-one now believes that will work. With a month to go before it hits, the end, as they say, is nigh.

Things have tried to stay as normal as they can be. Kids still go to school where they are taught about the previous failed attempts. Churches are fuller than they used to be and there’s as very big survivalist movement which has its own versions in this coastal town. Fear and panic sit side by side with an aura of false normality and suicides rise with the realisation that there is nothing that can help them now.

17 year old Mae Cassidy is a high school student.  She’s never really fitted in. Her parents died when we was 10 leaving her and her blind younger sister, Stella in the care of their grandmother who is now suffering from dementia.  Mae has to care for them both and find the resources to feed and clothe them. She’s become rather an expert housebreaker in the process.

It’s a harsh way to grow up and Mae, who is a brilliant big sister, does not go out of her way to ingratiate herself with her less burdened schoolmates.  So she finds herself the subject of bullying and tormenting from the clique that every school has – you know the ones – where there is a popular, attractive and generally more affluent girl who surrounds herself with adoring classmates and together they pour scorn and sarcasm on anyone who isn’t part of their privileged lives, calling them weirdos, creeps and spreading rumours about them that are even worse. In this school, the cheerleader is Hunter Silver. Even her name reeks of money and Hunter has a particularly good line in slut shaming that she uses mercilessly on those excluded from her circle.

Mae is torn apart when she discovers the dead body of Abi Manton, who used to be her best friend but who had been tempted over to Hunter’s clique. Abi’s death is considered a suicide – not that unusual now. It’s the third one they’ve had recently.  Abi and Mae together formed the first ‘Forevers’; their group of friends who, as misfits, know how much they want to belong.  

Though they had been apart, Mae discovers that Abi had tried to get in touch with her before she died and wants to know why and what really happened to her. As she tries to find out, Abi finds that she is attracting an ever larger group of misfits to ‘The Forevers’. There’s the funny Felix with his Barry White obsession and his unrelenting love interest in the unobtainable Candice, Fat Sally Sweeney and the enigmatic Jack Sail, to name a few.

One of the reasons this book resonates so much is that it comes after 18 months of living with a deathly pandemic. Whitaker’s themes of young people being robbed of their chances to grow up, of the opportunities lost to them and the hopelessness that brings feels very close to home just now. The usual rules for living have been tossed away and there is no future. If it wasn’t the pandemic, it could just as easily be climate change though. The sense that the earth is hurtling towards its doom is not a new one to young people today. The saddest thing of all is the way these young people prepare for their graduation ball, which they call ‘The Final’.   

The Forevers may be speculative fiction, but it feels very real.

Verdict: Whitaker’s book is emotive and poignant, funny and fearless. It asks some very big questions and digs under the surface at what is really going on in these teenagers’ lives. In doing so it does not miss some important themes surrounding mental health and well-being. The Forevers is a novel about coming to terms with who you are and what is important to you. It is about understanding and accepting yourself and standing up for who you are and what you need.  Beautifully, evocatively written, this is a book about love and acceptance of self. Characters are beautifully drawn and you are immersed in these lives and this world. I loved it and would unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone, even though, damn you, it made me cry.

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Chris Whitaker was born in London and spent ten years working as a financial trader in the city. His debut novel, Tall Oaks, won the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger. Chris’s second novel, All The Wicked Girls, was published in August 2017 and his third, We Begin at The End, which won the CWA Gold Dagger this year, was published in 2020. He lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and two young sons.

The Rising Tide by Sam Lloyd SamLloydwrites @ThomasssHill @TransworldBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 8th July 2021 from Bantam Press
PP: 400
ISBN-13: 978-1787631861

My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review

HOW DID IT COME TO THIS?

The news doesn’t strike cleanly, like a guillotine’s blade. Nothing so merciful. This news is a slovenly traveller, dragging its feet, gradually revealing its horrors. And it announces itself first with violence – the urgent hammering of fists on the front door.

Life can change in a heartbeat.

Lucy has everything she could wish for: a beautiful home high on the clifftops, a devoted husband and two beloved children.

Then one morning, time stops. Their family yacht is recovered, abandoned far out at sea. Lucy’s husband is nowhere to be found and as the seconds tick by, she begins to wonder – what if he was the one who took the boat? And if so, where is he now?

As a once-in-a-generation storm frustrates the rescue operation, Lucy pieces together what happened on board. And then she makes a fresh discovery. One that plunges her into a nightmare more shocking than any she could ever have imagined . . .

I was a big fan of Sam Lloyd’s The Memory Wood and so was intrigued to see what his second novel would deliver.  It is certainly steeped in atmosphere.  Sam Lloyd’s description of the South West coastal town of Skental is exemplary.

The Rising Tide is the story of Lucy Locke. Lucy owns the Driftnet, a hub for tourists and locals alike,. It is a place where arts and crafts are displayed, where music is made and where you can get the best coffee and baking for miles around.

Lucy is popular in the village. She and her husband Daniel live in a big house on Mortis Point (just a bit prophetic) and Daniel , together with his friend Nick, is co-owner of Locke-Povey Marine, a major employer in the town. Lucy and Dam have two children, Billie, 18 and Fin who is much younger. It’s a wonderful life and the couple seem very happy. Lucy had Billie before she met Daniel but they are a bonded unit.

Lock-Povey Marine is in some financial trouble, and Lucy is trying to find out what’s going on when the novel opens. She doesn’t think it’s really a major issue, though Nick is someone you would want to be careful around, especially if you are Lucy.

Our story is narrated by Lucy, a woman who seems settled and happy in her life with a husband she loves and children who complete her life. So when, suddenly it all goes very wrong, Lucy is left shocked and distraught.

Lucy has sent Fin off to school and Daniel off to work when she hears that their yacht, The Lazy Susan is in trouble in the midst of a storm. Worse, her children are not where they should be and her fears are rapidly rising as it looks possible, probable even, that Daniel has not only got into trouble on the increasingly wild and turbulent sea, but that he has Fin and Billie with him.

Lucy is physically and emotionally sick. She does not understand why this might have happened. Why Daniel would not have told her of his plans? Why the yacht was out at all in such a storm? She only knows she has to go out looking for them whatever the cost to her own safety.

The suspicions of the Police are aroused, though and when it transpires that Daniel took Fin from school using a trumped up excuse, an investigation is swiftly mounted.  DI Abraham Rose is sent to investigate. DI Rose is that rarest of men, a devout religious police officer who has never married; though as we will find later, he has regrets.

The Rising Tide is mainly Lucy’s story and is told with interspersed flashbacks which cut into what becomes an almost unrelenting tension as the storm rages and becomes almost biblical in its proportions. Sam Lloyd’s descriptive powers are used full force here and his depiction of the storm is beautifully involving as we hear the sea crashing against the rocks, feel the force of tempestuous waves and let the sea take us over so that it can thrash out its rage, wreaking havoc and destruction across the North Devon coast.

There’s a curious rhythm to this tempest too; its turmoil matching Lucy’s – both thrashing about as if searching for answers, both boiling with rage and unrelenting in their pressure. This is heart –pounding drama of Lear-like proportions.  Amidst the wild sea, Lucy is on the brink of madness. At the mercy of the natural world she cannot withstand this violent storm and that only serves to make us so aware of her own vulnerability.

There is something very raw and almost biblical in a storm like this and that is underlined by the devout nature of D.I.Rose, a strange detective for this time, but one whose function is to be the steadfast rock against which all human frailty can be measured.

As we begin to understand what is and has transpired, so Sam Lloyd does the unthinkable and again ratchets up the tension, leading to some strong heart-in-mouth moments.  When, finally this complex and twisted story is exposed, the cruelty of it leaves you gasping in a jaw dropping way.

I was in thrall to this book for its wonderful, edge-of-the-seat writing and the twisty layered plot as well as Lloyd’s imaginative creation of a storm beyond storms. I would have liked a little more of Lucy’s backstory to better lay the foundations for the denouement which I felt a bit unprepared for, but that’s a small gripe amidst a powerful and fantastically written book.

Verdict: Dark, unrelenting and exposing the nature of human weakness, this is a complex and layered read that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Powerful and evocative The Rising Tide is a turbulent read that catches you up in a maelstrom of emotions.

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Sam Lloyd grew up in Hampshire, where he learned his love of storytelling. These days he lives in Surrey with his wife, three young sons and a dog that likes to howl. His debut thriller, The Memory Wood, was published to huge critical acclaim in 2020. The Rising Tide is his second thriller.

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