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Edinburgh International Book Festival. Live and Deadly Blog #3. Sam Bourne aka Jonathan Freedland @EdBookFest

Sam Bourne, or as he is known in real life, Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland was interviewed by his long term friend Alan Little who began by asking him what the difference is between Jonathan Freedland and Sam Bourne?


Jonathan answered by saying that when he is writing as a journalist he can take an idea and see both sides of an argument, but when he begins to think about a subject and his mind takes him into ‘what if’ territory, then thanks Sam Bourne who pursues that angle.

The conversation very quickly turned to a discussion on truth and what truth is post 2016. Freedland talked about the journalists who are working to keep track of Trump’s lies and how one journalist he knows of at CNN is doing that full time and has worked out that he lies at the rate of 5.8 a day.

Then there is Britain and the Brexit bus. The Head if the Statistics Authority told them that the figure was wrong and asked them to change it, but the Conservatives decided to brazen it out regardless.


Vladimir Putin lied over troops in Crimea. Johnathan Freedland wrote columns about this for the Guardian. But Sam Bourne thought, ‘What if someone deliberately set out to erase historical truths by killing historians, holocaust survivors and librarians of note. That is the theme of his most recent book, To Kill The President.

Allan Little pointed out that politicians have always been less than truthful. Radavan Karavic lied over Kosovo; Antony Eden lied to the Cabinet over Suez, so what is different now?


Freedland agreed citing Clinton and Nixon as previous US Presidents who have lied. But, he says, their lies were carefully crafted around a form of words that they thought they might just get away with – more a linguistic stretching of the truth. He described it as looking for a needle of truth in that line between truth and a lie. It was no different with Nixon and Watergate.

But with Trump it is different. He just doesn’t care. He cited a story told by Anthony Senecal,the long term Butler at Trump’s Palm Beach estate, Mar a Lago. Senegal tells how Trump likes his visitors to be told that Disney tiles in the nursery were hand painted by Walt Disney himself. When guests asked Trump if that was true, he just shrugged and says ‘who cares?’

Putin is the same, says Freedland. Russia Today, Putin’s propaganda network broadcasts wild conspiracy theories because he wants people to be confused. You can, says Freedland, now believe anything you want by selecting items from the digital news supermarket. Nothing is true and everything is possible – that is the world we are now living in.

Sam Bourne/Jonathan Freedland. Photo: Philippa Gedge

Freedland talked about covering the David Irving libel trial in which David Irving sued Penguin Books and American author Deborah Lipstadt in the High Court of Justice in 1996, asserting that Lipstadt had libelled him in her book Denying the Holocaust by calling him a holocaust denier. Irving defended himself, and his whole case was based on the fact that he could not have denied the holocaust because it did not happen.

The defendants took a clear decision not to put holocaust survivors on the stand to spare them that indignity and in pursuit of his case Irving dismissed the written testimony of survivors as unreliable. He also dismissed the testimony of the Nazi perpetrators of these terrible crimes by saying that they were extorted by British intelligence under torture.
He claimed that photographs were doctored and written evidence was falsified, nit picking over every dot and comma.

Freedland told a rapt audience that he had sat in on these sessions and they had made him feel (unsurprisingly) physically queasy. Irving was, he said, showing us a world where the ground beneath our feet is not solid. A terrifying glimpse of a world where truth is unimportant. Now, the judgement of the courts was very clearly to find for the defendants in this case, but that relentless questioning of the facts has not gone away.

For Freedland that physical queasiness came back in 2016. That feeling of vertigo as history was weaponised. He describes the lies of Karavic as the canary down the mineshaft – an outlier for the perverting of truth.

So, in his book To Kill the President, he posits a world where the US has just elected a volatile demagogue. His protagonist, Maggie Costello, a seasoned Washington operator and stubbornly principled, discovers an inside plot to kill the President – and faces the ultimate moral dilemma. Should she save the President and leave the free world at the mercy of an increasingly crazed would-be tyrant – or commit treason against her Commander in Chief and risk plunging the country into a civil war?

Sam Bourne was writing about book burning and destroying libraries and then Christchurch happened; it was, he says, a truly chilling moment.
The truth, says Freedland is weak when not everyone believes it. Truth relies on shame and the shameless simply don’t care.

Freedland likes to make sure when writing his fiction that the factual things in the real world that he uses are accurate, however wild the fiction. He will do an authors note where he clearly lays out which are the factual elements and which the fictional.

He talked about technology and the fact that lying is be8ng weaponised by it. The rise of social media means that it takes no time at all for lies to speed around the world. Studies have apparently shown that a false story travels six t8mes faster and much further than a true story! It is a triumph of vitality over veracity.

It’s going to get worse, too. He told the audience about an Edinburgh lab which has put together a sound recording of a speech that JFK was due to make in Dallas the day after he got assassinated. It sounds, he says, very convincing. So what is to stop others doing the same thing for fake truth purposes?

Then there’s video. In the pornography world it is now possible to ‘deep fake’ the face of one person onto the body of another in a very convincing manner, catering to an audience who wants celebrity porn.
But if that is possible, soon it will also be possible to ‘prove’ a fake news story using audio and video recordings. This kind of thing is subtracting from the pile of real evidence.

So, asks Alan Little, can this kind of thing be regulated? And do the liars believe their own lies?

Freedland believes that awareness is key. Liars he says, set out to cause confusion. The tobacco industry model was to say ‘our product is in doubt.’. Climate change deniers will shrug and tell you that ‘no-one really knows’. No-one he says, ever mounted the barricades over confusion.

Asked if anything can be done to stem the spread of such false truths, he suggested that there are people working on a system that could provide early flagging of false stories. Something like a little warning that pops up to say to you that yes, you can share this story, but you may find you look like a total prat if you do…

A truly fascinating hour’s discussion and one that left me feeling very uneasy about how we manage to keep being able to tell the difference between true stories and false news. Journalism has never been in more danger from a fragile newspaper economy, yet never have we needed it more.

I bought the thriller, of course. But this session was about so much more than that, it was an important contribution to how we police our own understanding of facts and that for me, was exceptionally interesting.

What is Home? Chaired by Val McDermid with Robin Robertson, Linda Grant and Leila Abouela. @EdBookFest

Logo of Edinburgh Book Festival

The Edinburgh International Book Festival theme for 2019 is ‘We Need New Stories’. As part of that strand, there have been sessions on Homelessness, and I had the enormous privilege of attending two of those which have been both profound and educational in the broadest sense.

The first of these, chaired by Val McDermid, saw her asking each of the participants ‘What makes us feel we have a home?’

Robin Robertson, Leila Aboulela and Linda Grant

Robin Robertson is a distinguished poet. His book The Long Take was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, won the Goldsmiths Prize, The Roehampton Poetry Prize and the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. Robin hails originally from Aberdeen, but his book, written in verse,concerns Walker, a Canadian veteran suffering from PTSD after WW11. Walker, unable to go home to Nova Scotia, moves from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco chronicling the lives of the homeless including on Skid Row.

“We need new stories. We need to picture the reality; to penetrate fake news to offer a version of events we feel uneasy about. That is the importance of storytelling said Val in her introduction.

Linda Grant is a Jewish Liverpudlian. Her book, ‘A Stranger City’ is a story woven around ideas of home; how London can be a place of exile or expulsion, how home can be a physical place or an idea. She speaks of marginalised lives.

Leila Aboulela grew up in Sudan and moved, in her mid-twenties, to Scotland. Her book, The Bird Summons deals with stories of uncertainty.

For Leila, home is where you know the rules and customs around you. It is, she said, a blessing we take for granted and only notice when it is threatened. Moving to the UK triggered her writing and she was fascinated by the contrast between Scotland and the Sudan. She was surprised by the extent of the homesickness that she felt.

Linda Grant talked about moving home after 19 years and the feeling of loss after she had to lose things she had lived with all that time and compared that to young peo0le in London moving from flat share to flat share, all the time discarding their past. She finds that Brexit has had a profound effect on her sense of what home is. She has watched as neighbours have suddenly had the plug pulled from their lives. She has German neighbours whose future is now suddenly provisional.

For Val, home is a place where you feel safe to be yourself.

Robin is a son of the manse. He went to University in St Andrews to get away from the claustrophobia of the Church of Scotland and the manse. He was chasing someone else’s idea of home. He found that he had been looking for creative turbulence whilst at the same time trying to conform to being a professional Scot.

All three writers have written about forced exile. For Leila, fiction is the place where you go to talk about things you can’t talk about in polite society; to say the things you can’t say anywhere else. She says that immigrants never talk about homesickness when they get together; they work hard to block it out, and are in deep denial. She thinks that it would be a luxury to talk about it because so many people are struggling and talking about it would seem like wallowing.

Linda Grant came from a Yiddish home, so home for her was something different to her external environment. Her father didn’t become a UK citizen until he was 48, so in one sense he always had a provisional existence. Her parents moved constantly. Her father used to tell that that a Jew always has two passports and in that there was never a sense that they were here to stay, wherever they were, something that harks back to the experience of Jews in Eastern Europe.

Robin had a deep ambivalence about moving from Aberdeen to London in his early 20’s. He felt exhilarated by it but also terrified and appalled by what he saw and experienced, which informed his decision to write about movement through a series of cities. The landmass and the language might be the same, he says, but that does it mean they’re going to like you.

That movement from Scotland to London saw him lose about a third of his vocabulary – by which he meant losing his Scots words – and that felt to him like he was losing himself. He had a sense of depletion, of being erased into anonymity.

It was that sense that he put into his character’s head. Walker goes to New York, and Los Angeles, but only in Skid Row does he find people he can relate to. Vets who have fallen through the cracks. Skid Row has existed for 70 years – that is his character’s home.

The panel discussed how and whether it was possible to deliver a new sense of belonging. Linda Grant talked about generational betterment – the reason, after all, for most immigration, to start a new and better life. But how can you know your place when you don’t feel you have a place? The nature of modern London now means that sort of betterment is no longer possible and home is becoming more and more precarious. The opposite of home is fracture and displacement, of no longer feeling safe.

As a writer, Robin seeks out those feelings he says, and quotes Strindberg “I steer towards catastrophe and write about it”. Yet while there is, he thinks, something to be said for creative turbulence where as a writer you can see things at an angle, you still need the safety of home to be able to write about it.

So asked Val, do we have to reconsider form when dealing with a changing world?
Linda thinks so. Genres are melting and moulding, she says, barriers are breaking down. Writing about the present is now writing about the unknown, because of climate change and Brexit. The present is tense.

Robin reminds us that the long form narrative poem was the way we first told stories.
Leila suggested that home is more than just a place where you have confidence in the language. There are unspoken things like culture. Words themselves can mean different things to different people.
She talked about the need for immigrants to survive and do better, but the 2nd generation have less need to conform.

Linda talked about the first wave of immigrants into Britain who had to fit into an already established British identity. Who had to pretend to be ‘English’, but that is now changing and Britain is being 8 formed by immigration.

Leila reminds us that the children of immigrant parents are not born with a hard drive of memories, so there is a created distance between them and their parents memories of home. She says how you look matters as to whether you can fit in.

The panel discussed the difficulties that can occur when the dominant culture refuses to accept that there is another way to live.

Linda talked about an increasing sense of rage. A lack of tolerism and an illiberal approach. She thinks that there is an anger and into,erance simmering beneath the surface of our s9ciety that is neither understood not being written about.

This was a fascinating panel discussion which inevitably I haven’t been able to do justice to. But this is an important strand and a major contribution by the Edinburgh Book Festival to what is informing our contemporary writers in our changing and often dispiriting world.

Edinburgh International Book Festival – a Live and Deadly blog @EdBookFest

I adore the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The sheer volume of authors and ideas is so inspiring and every session sparks something in me that provokes a thought or makes me want to read something new.

This being a crime blog, it will come as no surprise to you that I will mostly be attending crime authors’ events. Yet although I have so far only attended three events, already my mind is buzzing and my book purchases are seriously weighing down my tote bag.

All photos courtesy of the Edinburgh International Book Festival

I started with a delightful visit to Alexander McCall Smith, interviewed by Jamie Jauncey. Resplendent in a striped jacket, which he said was his attempt to be less fussy, Dudu (his granddaughter once described his dress sense as ‘tragic’) McCall Smith was on ebullient form speaking to a packed house. With excellent fiddling by Ian Laing to play us in and to inject a musical interlude into the proceedings, this was a session for the McCall Smith faithful.

You always get the sense with him that he enjoys life to the full and that he can derive amusement from every situation; that sense of benevolent wickedness goes everywhere with him, as does his inherent belief that the world needs more kindness.

A great raconteur, Sandy, as he is known, began by chatting about his character, Bertie Pollock, resident of the bit of the world that is 44 Scotland Street. Seven-year-old Bertie is a universally popular child prodigy incapable of lying, but capable of so much else. Bertie is trapped in his mother’s regime of yoga, Italian lessons, saxophone exams and the politics of a Steiner education. He is the unwilling subject of the ‘Bertie Project’. A child whose life is blighted by his mother, says McCall Smith..

Mma Ramotswe from the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency is kind and very much a maternal figure of a different sort from Bertie’s mother. There are now 20 volumes of Ma Ramotswe and the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency. These are books about friendship. As McCall Smith has Ramotswe say “You can go through life and make new friends every year – every month practically – but there was never any substitute for those friendships of childhood that survive into adult years. Those are the ones in which we are bound to one another with hoops of steel.”

Asked by Jauncey if his fictional,worlds would ever collide, McCall Smith says that it has occurred to him that Isabel Dalhousie, his female sleuth who tackles murder, mayhem, and the mysteries of life among the cobblestones of Edinburgh, might well come across Bertie Pollock, but that bringing fictional worlds together does feel a bridge too far.

McCall Smith enjoys injuring his characters in creative ways. In 44 Scotland Street, Bruce is run over by a steamroller and Bertie’s mother, Irene has a flotarium accident. That doesn’t see her off, but McCall Smith has sent her to Aberdeen to study for a PhD with [or under??] Bertie’s psychiatrist, Hugo Fairbairn, leaving Bertie to be looked after by his granny.

Granny’s Portuguese wine merchant husband ran off and left her , but she is now sole owner of a small company which used to be called ‘Pies for Protestants’ and is now entitled ‘Inclusive Pies’. These pies contain extra grease and are marketed as ‘Pure Dead Brilliant Scotch Pies – nae messing’. Bertie is in heaven; no more yoga, no more psychotherapy and now extra greasy mutton pies!

McCall Smith says that the Bertie books are especially popular in India, where mothers are ambitious for their sons.

He also talked about his new ‘Scandi blanc’ series with Swedish protagonist Ulf Varg. Ulf in Danish means Wolf, as does Varg in Swedish. Ulf Varg works in the Dept of Sensitive Crimes, where there is no body Ulf is called upon to investigate cases which are considered especially strange and difficult.He also talked about his new ‘Scandi blanc’ series with Swedish protagonist Ulf Varg. Ulf in Danish means Wolf, as does Varg in Swedish. Ulf Varg works in the Dept of Sensitive Crimes, where there is no body Ulf is called upon to investigate.

Ulf has a dog named Martin who is deaf and suffers from depression, but can lip-read. I would love to put Alexander McCall Smith together with Gunnar Staalesen, to we what they make of each other’s protagonists

McCall Smith has a prodigious output. He writes 4 books a year as well as adapting his books into radio plays. He writes 6 adult series as well as 3 children’s series and has a huge stand-alone output.

Sandy gets up as early as 3.30 am to write, though goodness knows where that energy comes from. I think it must be all that emphasis on kindness!

Val McDermid interviewed by Craig Sisterson

It must be both very easy and quite difficult interviewing The Queen of Crime. Easy because Val McDermid is such a good storyteller and that carries into her interviews where she is funny, erudite and serious when it matters. Difficult, because what can an interviewer possibly ask that hasn’t been asked before?

Sensibly, Craig Sisterson decided to treat his session as more of a conversation between crime loving colleagues, which proved for a fluid and easy hours chat.

Craig introduced Val by referring to her 30 crime novels; her association with Raith Rovers and her association with the University of Dundee’s Val McDermid mortuary. The Val McDermid Mortuary followed a campaign from the university to raise £1m to build a new morgue, which the crime author backed, asking members of the public to vote for the writer for whom they would like the morgue to be named, and donate movney. McDermid came in first. (There is also the Stuart MacBride dissecting room).

Craig and Val started by talking about the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan novels, of which the latest, How the Dead Speak, is the 11th in the series. Val didn’t have an overall story arc for this series. When she started it with The Mermaids Singing, she thought that would be a stand-alone book and thereafter the series just evolved on a book by book basis as the characters there up new ideas for Val to explore. Val talked a bit about the audience expectation that through a series characters will grow and develop with a sense of self-reflection and forward movement and yet each book still has to stand on its own for new readers joining along the journey.

Stop reading now if you have not read Val’s last book and want to before you read the newest one.

Each chapter in Time for the Dead has a quote from the book that Tony Hill is writing in prison, ‘Reading Crime‘. For in the new book, Tony is in prison and. Carol is no longer with the cops following the cataclysmic ending of the last book, Insidious Intent.

McDermid says her publisher is keen to see Tony’s book coming out as a Christmas special, but judging from Val’s publisher at the thought, I would not hold my breath waiting.

So when, asks Craig, does Val decide which book she is going to write next? Val replies that she gets bored and the characters stop speaking to her. The Karen Pirie character started as a minor player in A Distant Echo then when she had an idea for a cold case story, she realised that she had already created a character who could investigate it, and so the Karen Pirie series was born.

With all the ideas in her head clamouring to be heard, how does Val choose which most excites her? Val says she has to be patient, to let an idea germinate until it’s ready-and then trust that it will develop. The shape of the story will then dictate whose series it belongs in, or whether it is a stand-alone. Val writes about the world as she sees it; about what plagues society and also what gives us hope

Talking about her early novels, she said she had never never described Lindsay Gordon, her first protagonist. Gordon is a ‘cynical socialist lesbian feminist journalist’ the Gordon series has never been out of print and its success was driven says Val, entirely through word of mouth. Val describes it as a classic Agatha Christie style mystery with lesbians, though the TV company looking at making the series, considers it period drama!’cynical socialist lesbian feminist journalist’ Talking about her early novels, she said she had never never described Lindsay Gordon, her first protagonist. A the Gordon series has never been out of print and its success was driven says Val, entirely through word of mouth. Val describes it as a classic Agatha Christie style mystery with lesbians, though the TV company looking at making the series, considers it period drama!

oking forward, Val is off to spend a few months every year for the next three years at the University of Otago in Dunedin, NZ as a visiting Professor. She has written a play for the Lyceum about the death of Christopher Marlowe and she has also written a new series, ‘Traces‘ about forensic science which is set in Dundee and will be on the Alibi Channel this November.

With all that and a cracking book every year, it’s clear to see that Val McDermid will be in demand for a long time to come!

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson @JoshilynJackson @PhilippaCotton @BloomsburyRaven #NeverHaveIEver

Source: Review copy
Publication: 8th August 2019 from Raven Books
PP: 352
ISBN-13: 978-1526611598

“Like DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES meets KILLING EVE”

It starts as a game at a book group one night. Never Have I Ever… done something I shouldn’t.

But Amy Whey has done something she shouldn’t. And Roux, the glamorous newcomer to Amy’s suburban neighbourhood, knows exactly what that is.

Roux promises she will go away – if Amy plays by her rules.

But Amy isn’t prepared to lose everything. She’s going to fight back, and in this escalating game of cat and mouse, there can be only one winner.

I read this in one straight sitting. I had to keep going to know what happened in the end and I wasn’t prepared to wait to find out.

Amy Whey is loving her life. She’s the epitome of a middle class mum. She lives in suburbia with her steadfast if unexciting husband Davis, their new son, Oliver and Davis’ daughter and her step-daughter, Maddy.  Amy teaches diving at the local school but is on maternity leave.

Her best friend Charlotte lives nearby and together they have a group of friends who get together at Amy’s house for a regular Book Club.

When we meet Amy it is Book Club night and she is looking forward to an evening with the girls. Then her world changes. A newcomer to the area, a single mother, renting a house locally arrives and asks to join the club. And just like that, it as if the Garden of Eden has been infiltrated by the poisonous snake.

Roux is slinky, dangerous and attractive. She has a certain something that makes men want her and women envy her. And she has an agenda. That agenda is Amy. Because Amy has secrets and Roux is going to make her pay to keep them quiet.

Told entirely from Amy’s perspective, Never Have I Ever is a fast paced thriller that takes two strong characters, both women, and pits them against each other in a battle of wills where only one can be the victor.

Jackson’s writing is spot on. Pacy, biting, and wholly character driven, she writes characters that get inside your head and whose actions you can’t predict but you can certainly understand.

This is sharp, focussed and intelligent prose that takes you in directions you didn’t know existed and thrills you all along the way.

In a fight for everything she holds dear, Amy must prove herself to be a stronger adversary than Roux, and it could cost her everything to do that. Caught between a rock and a hard place, she needs to pin that snake down and get rid of its poison.

Jackson’s plot is terrific; original and compelling it had me engrossed and I had no idea how it was going to end, though I guessed it would be explosive and goodness me, wasn’t it just!

Verdict: A terrific, exciting, thrill of a read that you won’t be able to put down.

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Joshilyn Jackson is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling novelist. You can check out her previous eight novels and other work here. Joshilyn’s books have been translated into a dozen languages, have won SIBA’s Novel of the Year award, have three times been #1 Book Sense Pick, have twice won Georgia Author of the Year awards, have three times been shortlisted for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, and have been a finalist for the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction.
Photo credit: Wes Browning

Nicola Sturgeon to take the stage with Ian Rankin at Bloody Scotland @BloodyScotland @beathigh @NicolaSturgeon @Brownlee_Donald

Bloody Scotland revealed today that the ‘special guest’ interviewing top crime writer Ian Rankin on Saturday 21 September will be First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

A self-confessed crime fiction fan, the First Minister was last seen at the Theakston’s International Crime Festival in Harrogate singing backing vocals with the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, hot from their appearance at Glastonbury, which was followed the next day by her splendid interview with Val McDermid.

Ian Rankin (photo:Paul Reich) and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon


Bloody Scotland can’t promise any singing but does promise a fascinating conversation between two of the most iconic figures in Scotland. Ian Rankin is the man who led the Tartan Noir charge to the top of international bestseller charts. At the last count he had sold some 30 million books that have been translated into thirty-six languages and have been bestsellers around the world. As a contemporary social commentator – and thrilling storyteller – Ian Rankin has few rivals.

The First Minister said:
“Ian Rankin is one of Scotland’s most celebrated crime writers, world-renowned for his page-turning thrillers – so it’s a real pleasure for me to interview him at the Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival.

“Now in its eighth year, Bloody Scotland is attracting writers and audiences from around the world with its excellent programme – and I look forward to attending this year’s festival.”

Ian Rankin said:
“I’ve probably done hundreds of events during my time as an author but this is a first for me. I’ve no idea what the First Minister will ask or where our conversation will lead. I just know she’s one of the best-read politicians currently gracing the world stage – and she definitely knows her crime fiction!”

Tickets are selling fast. 430 tickets had already been sold for the event prior to this announcement. Capacity for the Albert Halls in Stirling is 700. The event will take place at 8pm. They are in good company, also on the bill at the Albert Halls that day are Dr David Wilson with Lin Anderson, Chris Brookmyre and Michael Robotham, Alexander McCall Smith with Alex Gray, Denise Mina and Louise Welsh and Richard Osman with Mark Billingham which has already sold out.

More information and to book tickets see the Bloody Scotland website here

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware @RuthWareWriter @HarvillSecker #TheTurnoftheKey @BloodyScotland

Source: Review copy; Netgalley
Publication: 8th August 2019 from Harvill Secker
PP: 352
ISBN-13: 978-1787300439

I know you don’t know me but you have to help me. I didn’t kill anyone.

When Rowan stumbles across the advert, it seems like too good an opportunity to miss: a live-in nanny position, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when she arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten by the luxurious ‘smart’ home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare – one that will end with a child dead and her in a cell awaiting trial for murder.

She knows she’s made mistakes. But she’s not guilty – at least not of murder. Which means someone else is…

With echoes of Henry James, the title here is an homage to that author, and a fitting nod to the similarity of situations, if not to the plot overall.

Rowan Caine has a job as a childcare worker in a nursery in London. Recently passed over for promotion, she is fed up and one day when idly googling she comes across a job that seems too good to be true. Bill and Sandra Elincourt are architects. They live in the Highlands and are looking for a live-in nanny for their four children; teenager Rhiannon, who is at boarding school in Inverness during the week; Maddie and Ellie who are both at primary school and 18 month old Petra.

The pay is exceptional but as Sandra explains to Rowan when she invites her for interview, they have gone through quite a few nannies which has been disruptive for the children; the house itself is quite remote and both Bill and Sandra require to travel for their work which can mean they are both away from home for more than a week at a time. So they have determined to pay well, so that they get the best possible person for their children.

The house itself is a mixture of old Victorian and brand new glass and steel. In keeping with their trendy image, the house is served with the latest in smart technology with a ‘Happy app’ controlling everything from the lights to the food ordering to the door locks. Each room is monitored and though this should make life easier for Rowan. In reality it all feels a little too ‘big brother-ish’ to be comfortable for Rowan.

There are two other staff; Jack a gardener come all round handyman, who lives in the stable block across from the house and Jean who comes in from the nearby village twice a day to do a little housekeeping.

Needless to say, Rowan gets the job and almost immediately Sandra tells her that she and Bill have to leave for a European trade fair.

We know all this because Rowan is writing everything in a letter to a Scottish Solicitor Advocate, seeking his representation. She is on remand, in custody awaiting trial for the murder of a child.

She has no confidence in her court appointed solicitor and so has sought advice from the other inmates and is writing to the most recommended advocate to beseech him to take her case. Proclaiming her innocence, she sets down her whole case and her experiences leading up to the death of a child.

As we read her letters, we learn of her difficult start in the house; of the way the children are difficult with her and of the air of creepiness and sometimes downright malevolence that seems to intrude on Rowan at night. Ghostly noises, changes in temperature, creakings, all add up to a chilling and unsettling experience for a 24 year old girl left alone in an unfamiliar house with young children who neither like nor trust her.

Through her pleading letters, we learn of these occurrences and more. Of the house’s strange history and a physic garden that contains only poisons. We also learn something of Rowan’s own history and begin to understand that her version of events has not always been reliable.

Ruth Ware is always a fascinating writer and The Turn of the Key is both chilling and intense. The storyline is compelling and propulsive and the prose enjoys a slow build up that is deliciously wicked and suspenseful. Ware builds in some great creepy moments and there are many twists and turns to keep the reader awake into the small hours creeped out and guessing.

Verdict: A chilling, intense read that is wicked and compelling.

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Photo of Ruth Ware

Ruth Ware is an international number one bestseller. Her thrillers In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, The Lying Game and The Death of Mrs Westaway were smash hits, and she has appeared on bestseller lists around the world, including the Sunday Times and New York Times. Her books have been optioned for both film and TV, and she is published in more than 40 languages. Ruth lives near Brighton with her family. Visit www.ruthware.com to find out more.

Ruth Ware will be appearing at Bloody Scotland on Saturday 21st September at 10am. Find out details from the Bloody Scotland website.

The Escape Room by Megan Goldin @megangoldin @orion_crime #bookreview #TheEscapeRoom

Source: Review Copy
Publication: 25 July 2019 from Orion
PP: 368
ISBN-13: 978-1250219657

Welcome to the escape room. Your goal is simple. Get out alive.

In the lucrative world of finance, Vincent, Jules, Sylvie, and Sam are at the top of their game. They’ve mastered the art of the deal and celebrate their success in style–but a life of extreme luxury always comes at a cost.

Invited to participate in an escape room challenge as a team-building exercise, the ferociously competitive co-workers crowd into the elevator of a high-rise building, eager to prove themselves. But when the lights go off and the doors stay shut, it quickly becomes clear that this is no ordinary competition: they’re caught in a dangerous game of survival.

Trapped in the dark, the colleagues must put aside their bitter rivalries and work together to solve cryptic clues to break free. But as the game begins to reveal the team’s darkest secrets, they realize there’s a price to be paid for the terrible deeds they committed in their ruthless climb up the corporate ladder. As tempers fray, and the clues turn deadly, they must solve one final chilling puzzle: which one of them will kill in order to survive?

Four Wall Street high flyers.  They are used to playing a cut-throat game. They work hard and in their very sparse downtime, spend just as hard. They threaten, bully and cajole, and though one of them is a woman, misogyny rules in this team.

Vincent, Sam, Jules, and Sylvie are a close knit team, but of late their legendary success has been failing them; they’ve lost a couple of contracts; their golden touch has become tarnished and they are beginning to fear for their jobs.

The four are summoned via an HR e-mail to a Friday evening meeting at an office building under construction and find themselves trapped in a steel elevator, which has been kitted out to emulate an escape room.  At first they think this is some kind of harsh ploy to make them bond more closely as a team, because of their recent lacklustre performance.

But as the clues start to appear, it is soon apparent that this is no ordinary team building exercise. These four have secrets that someone clearly knows about – but who and what do they intend to do about it?

Fabulously atmospheric and horribly claustrophobic, this is a thriller that engages from the beginning and never gives up its vice-like grip.

The story is told in part through the eyes of Sara Hall, a new analyst at the firm. We learn of her background and struggles to find a job and what she is prepared to put up with in order to keep it. Then we are also up close and personal with the four in the elevator as their thin veneer of respectability turns to a tense animalistic desire to get out when they realise they are well and truly trapped. With alternating chapters set in the past and then the present, the reader learns the background to this nightmare scenario as the four try to work out what’s happening.

The Escape Room is immensely entertaining and very readable. It takes the classic locked room mystery and gives it a contemporary outing. It’s exactly the kind of book that I’d want to take on holiday with me. Entertaining, full of larger than life characters and with more than one moment to bring a tear to your eye, this is great entertainment, nicely plotted and well written.

There are no stunning twists or revelations, but that’s not a problem; rather this is a story where characters get their comeuppance, which is always satisfactory, though I did find the ending a little flat.

Verdict: Top notch enjoyable, escapist entertainment that’s perfect for holiday reading

HiveBooks                        Waterstones                    Amazon

photo of Megan Goldin

Megan Goldin is the bestselling author of “The Escape Room”, praised by Lee Child as “one of my favorite books of the year”, as well as “The Girl In Kellers Way”, a critically-acclaimed domestic noir thriller nominated for Australia’s leading crime fiction awards.
Megan worked as a journalist for Reuters, the Australian ABC and Yahoo! News before writing her debut psychological thriller The Girl In Kellers Way.

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