Everything Happens for a Reason by Katie Allen @KtAllenWriting @OrendaBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 10 April 2021 in ebook and 10 June 2021 in paperback from Orenda Books
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-1913193614

My thanks to Orenda Books for an early copy for review.

Mum-to-be Rachel did everything right, but it all went wrong. Her son, Luke, was stillborn and she finds herself on maternity leave without a baby, trying to make sense of her loss.

When a misguided well-wisher tells her that ‘everything happens for a reason’, she becomes obsessed with finding that reason, driven by grief and convinced that she is somehow to blame. She remembers that on the day she discovered her pregnancy, she’d stopped a man from jumping in front of a train, and she’s now certain that saving his life cost her the life of her son.

Desperate to find him, she enlists an unlikely ally in Lola, an Underground worker, and Lola’s seven-year-old daughter, Josephine, and eventually tracks him down, with completely unexpected results…

Both a heart-wrenchingly poignant portrait of grief and a gloriously uplifting and disarmingly funny story of a young woman’s determination, Everything Happens for a Reason is a bittersweet, life- affirming read and, quite simply, unforgettable.

On the face of it, this isn’t the kind of book I’d normally pick up. It’s not crime, it’s about something intensely personal, dealing with a mother’s grief after the death of her stillborn baby boy. But the fact that it comes from Orenda makes it interesting and so I picked it up. I find that in a Covid world, my emotion is much closer to the surface than it used to be and I wasn’t sure that I was going to welcome that intrusion into my life.

What I found was a bit of a revelation. Katie Allen’s book is touching and quirky. It is funny and uplifting and even as she makes you laugh and you find yourself enjoying the madness of the characters her protagonist, bereaved mother Rachel, meets on her journey, Allen will deliver a sudden sucker punch that is a huge moment of grief that entirely takes the wind out of your sails.

Written in the form of a series of emails to her stillborn son, Luke, Rachel tells Luke of her days, while charting the progress he should have been making in his development. It should be maudlin, but it most certainly isn’t. There were times when I gasped at the sheer crassness of people’s responses, especially from Rachel’s family, to Rachel’s and her husband, Ed’s loss. From the titular ‘everything happens for a reason’ to unbelievable suggestions that its time she got over it, the difficulty people have in knowing what to say is very well portrayed.

So too is the impact on Rachel’s marriage. Not through direct exploration, but by the way we see how Rachel and Ed react differently to the decisions they have to make, including just the most awful discussion, if you can call it that, over whether or not to have a funeral. Honestly I think it’s one of the best explorations of how men and women think differently that I have seen in a book.

Katie Allen writes of grief with a light touch and Rachel’s need to find the reason that her son lost his life takes us on a journey that introduces us to some colourful characters as Rachel throws herself wholeheartedly into chasing down that reason (he’s called Ben) and then making sure that Ben lives a meaningful life. Into Rachel’s life comes Lola, the London Underground employee who helps Rachel find Ben, and Lola’s daughter, Josephine, who charms and enchants.

Allen writes with a dry humour mixed with wit and acute observation. And then sometimes she will put in a line that is so honest it takes your breath away as you contemplate the scale of grief she is dealing with. Sometimes it’s just a small thing, but it resonates like someone striking a gong in a room full of silence, because a moment earlier you were laughing with Rachel and now you’ve stopped in your tracks, remembering.

Everything Happens for a Reason is heart-breaking and emotional. It is laugh out loud funny and has wonderful moments where the reader gets lost thinking about hot men and sausage dogs as Rachel tries to transform Ben into living a life that is good enough to compensate for her baby dying. It’s mad, of course, but chasing down that idea at least keeps her mind focussed on something other than interminable grief.

Verdict: I’m not sure I’m doing a great job of explaining why this book works so well or is so warm and uplifting. I think it is that mixture of honesty, of humour, of Katie Allen’s ability to write characters that have depth and charm and sometimes brusqueness, coupled with scenes that linger in the memory because they are so powerful. Katie Allen has written a portrait of a woman in the midst of profound grief that is raw, truthful and immensely powerful but which makes you laugh even as you cry and which ultimately leaves you with hope. I really liked Rachel and I loved this book.

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Katie Allen used to be a journalist and columnist at the Guardian and Observer, and started her career as a Reuters correspondent in Berlin and London. She grew up in Warwickshire and now lives in South London with her husband, children, dog, cat and stick insects. Everything Happens for a Reason is her first novel.

Edge of the Grave by Robbie Morrison @robbiegmorrison @panmacmillan

Source: Review copy
Publication: 3 March 2021 from Pan MacMillan
PP:
ISBN-13:

My sincere thanks to Pan Macmillan for a review copy.

Glasgow, 1932. When the son-in-law of one of the city’s wealthiest shipbuilders is found floating in the River Clyde with his throat cut, it falls to Inspector Jimmy Dreghorn to lead the murder case – despite sharing a troubled history with the victim’s widow, Isla Lockhart.

From the flying fists and flashing blades of Glasgow’s gangland underworld, to the backstabbing upper echelons of government and big business, Dreghorn and his partner ‘Bonnie’ Archie McDaid will have to dig deep into Glasgow society to find out who wanted the man dead and why.

All the while, a sadistic murderer stalks the post-war city leaving a trail of dead bodies in their wake. As the case deepens, will Dreghorn find the killer – or lose his own life in the process?

In a strange act of serendipity, I recently re-read Laidlaw for the new Bloody Scotland Bookclub , having just finished the excellent Alan Park’s novel, The April Dead, the 4th in his Harry McCoy series which is a must read for me. Denise Mina’s The Long Drop remains an era defining crime novel for 1950’s Glasgow and Craig Russell’s Lennox series captures post war Glasgow perfectly. So the bar is set pretty high when it comes to historical crime fiction set in Glasgow and I wasn’t looking for interlopers.

But pretty quickly it became apparent that Robbie Morrison has achieved something very special with his 1930’s detective, Jimmy Dreghorn. 1930’s Glasgow is a grim place. The depression has set in. Unemployment is rife, the shipyards lie idle, razor gangs patrol the streets with a strict demarcation for which gangs own what territory. Corruption is rife, especially with the esteemed elected members of the Council, where being a Bailie just means you have more chance of pocketing a few bob from making the right decisions. No wonder discontent is rife in the streets and it is fuelled by religious bigotry and sectarianism. Mosely has just formed the British Union of Fascists and is making headway in England.

Corruption isn’t just confined to business either. The Police themselves are not immune and bent police officers contribute to the force being unable to handle the war on the streets. Percy Joseph Sillitoe, an Englishman has been appointed by Glasgow Corporation to bring some order into this chaos and sets up specially selected police teams, of which Dreghorn and McDaid are part. They are to be the public facing side of a reformed service that will embrace modern methods of crime detection. That won’t stop Dreghorn busting a few heads on his way to getting the information he needs though. Sometimes you have to fight violence with violence.

Jimmy Dreghorn is a bit of an anomaly. A Catholic in an almost wholly Protestant force. Dreghorn served in the First World War and it is an experience that hangs over him, as it does so many others, like a suffocating cloud of despair, ready to smother him at any time.

Dreghorn, or ‘shortarse’ as his partner ‘Bonnie’ Archie McDaid calls him used to be a boxer. McDaid is a Highlander and as a former Olympic wrestler, resembles a large mountain bear. He adds much needed good humour to the pair’s outings.

Morrison’s sense of time and place is pitch perfect. His language absolutely spot on and he captures the slang and cracking one liners perfectly, which sets the seal on what is an authentic and resonant portrait of a city and its people post WW1. His brush strokes are bold and vibrant but attention to detail is acute and the violence cuts through as sharply as the razors that wielded so brutally in the mean streets of the city.

When Charles Geddes, son-in-law of Sir Iain Lockhart – one of Glasgow’s wealthiest shipbuilders – is found floating in the River Clyde with his throat cut from ear to ear in a Glasgow ‘smile’, his widow Isla asks for Dreghorn to lead the investigation. He and Isla have history from Dreghorn’s time as one of Lockhart’s sponsored young boxers when he was younger and he also served under Lockhart’s son, Captain Rory Lockhart, at the Somme.

Morrison weaves a narrative that moves between the past and the present day as we follow young Dreghoen, bullied at school and taken under Lockhart’s wing to train as a boxer, getting to know his daughter Isla as he does so.

That background now plays into the Geddes case. Dreghorn knows that to get to the truth of who murdered Geddes and why, he will need to strike a deal with the devil, in this case, the leader of the ‘Brigton Billy Boys’ – Billy Grieveson. Grieveson is looking for his sister, Sarah who disappeared some time ago and Dreghorn agrees to look for her in return for information about who was after Geddes.

Two cases, a murder and a disappearance, are followed assiduously by Dreghorn, very much a loner in contrast to his partner McDaid who is a family man. As the story moves back and forth between exclusive businessmen’s clubs and the back streets of the city, Morrison blends fact and fiction to give us a dark, rich and intense sense of Glasgow and its brooding, simmering violence, sitting just under the grim poverty and despair. His characters are very well drawn and the story line itself breaks into dark and unpleasant territory not for the faint of heart.

Weaving in historical characters such as ex-footballer turned pathologist Willie Kivlichan, and Benny Parsonage from Glasgow Humane Society whose house on Glasgow Green was positioned to allow him to rescue the living and gather dead bodies from the Clyde, provides a realistic backdrop to what rapidly becomes a story about a vicious killer responsible for more than one death. It’s also a story about women in the 1930’s and the truly dreadful ways in which they were dealt with should they be unfortunate enough to land themselves in trouble. There’s room for more stories to be told about the women in this book from brothel keeper Kitty Fraser to the engaging and loyal WPC Ellen Duncan and I hope we see that in future books.

Verdict: There’s a sadness to Dreghorn that is almost melancholic, aided by the plotline which gets blacker the further the story develops. Morrison’s writing is sharp, evocative and rather beautiful, if somewhat bleak at points. I found myself immersed in this novel and unable to tear myself away. Morrison has depicted a wholly recognisable world that is evocative, intensely visceral and feels very real. I am impatient for the next book in the series. Readers, if you have not yet read this book, do so now, because when you’ve finished you will want to read the next one, I guarantee it! This is a MUST READ in my book.

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Robbie Morrison was born in Helensburgh, Scotland, and grew up in the Renton, Coatbridge, Linwood and Houston. On both sides, his family connection to shipbuilding in Glasgow and the surrounding areas stretches back four generations and is a source of inspiration for the Jimmy Dreghorn series. He sold his first script to publishers DC Thomson in Dundee at the age of twenty-three. One of the most respected writers in the UK comics industry, Edge Of The Grave is his first novel.

The Plague Letters by V.L. Valentine @valentinevikki @viperbooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 1st April 2021 from Viper Books
PP: 416
ISBN-13: 978-1788164535

My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review

WHO WOULD MURDER THE DYING…

London, 1665. Hidden within the growing pile of corpses in his churchyard, Rector Symon Patrick discovers a victim of the pestilence unlike any he has seen before: a young woman with a shorn head, covered in burns, and with pieces of twine delicately tied around each wrist and ankle.

Desperate to discover the culprit, Symon joins a society of eccentric medical men who have gathered to find a cure for the plague. Someone is performing terrible experiments upon the dying, hiding their bodies amongst the hundreds that fill the death carts.

Only Penelope – a new and mysterious addition to Symon’s household – may have the skill to find the killer. Far more than what she appears, she is already on the hunt. But the dark presence that enters the houses of the sick will not stop, and has no mercy…

Reading the Plague Letters, one can’t help but wonder if this is the author’s political satire upon the current pandemic. It isn’t, but there are parallels you can draw if you want to venture down that rabbit hole. The Rev Symon Patrick is a hapless buffoon, engaged in helping to find the cause of the deadly Great Plague that is laying waste to London in 1665, but he has not a clue and he and his doctor and apothecary acquaintances are foundering in the dark, trying all manner of bizarre remedies even as the better off move their families out of London. This plague is enduring and all told will kill a third of Londoners. There is fame and fortune to be had should one be the medical genius who discovers how to bring the Great Plague to an end.

As the plague ravages and spreads across London, we learn that it is not just disease that is killing off Londoners. For there is a serial killer in their midst. A killer, hiding in plain sight, in streets where the stench of death prevails above all the other smells of urine, rank decay and unwashed bodies.

Vikki Valentine’s book is not just a gruesome walk through pestilence and death; it has a sharp comedic edge to it that will have you laughing even as you shake your head at the ineptitude of our would-be hero. Interspersed with short extracts from Pepy’s diary and with Plague maps showing the spread of the plague at the top of each chapter,  Valentine brings the weekly death toll into a horrible perspective.

Symon Patrick is the Rector of St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden and is most hapless sleuth you will ever come across. This holy man is spending his time writing somewhat plaintive and slightly obfuscated romantic letters to Lady Elizabeth Gauden, a flirtacious married woman whose husband is often in town on business.

When the Rev Patrick should be caring for the sick and ensuring decent burials for the dead, his mind is taking him to a country estate where the object of his affections has most recently given birth to a son.

Symon’s maid goes missing, and though he fails at first to do enough to find her, despite the beseeching of his staff, he feels bereft when her body turns up, her blonde hair all cut off, her body burnt in places and marked with a grid and her wrists and ankles showing she has been bound. She has died of plague but has clearly been tortured.

Into this household Penelope arrives. She is a young woman who is clearly seriously unwell. She is filthy and clothed in rags. They think she is probably dying and take her in. But Penelope has stamina and determination and as she pulls through, she starts to have an impact on Patrick’s household.

She realises as a result of her own horrible experiences, what is important in life, and she knows that for Patrick, his calling is not being fulfilled by his mooning around after a woman he can never have.

With all the energy of a piece of wet lettuce, he allows Penelope to point out that there is a real and present danger in their midst and that there are more bodies turning up that bear the same marks as Patrick’s maid. It appears that someone is experimenting on live bodies that are plague infected.

Penelope has been through a great deal in her young life and she has learnt to live on her wits. This makes her very observant. She also, perhaps as a result of everything she has experienced, sees ghosts. She can’t talk to them, but they are ever present around her and she feels acutely that she has a duty to stop what is happening. In order to do that she has to harness the attention of Syimon Patrick; a task that does not prove easy.

Once she has alerted him to what is going on, he begins to see that the killer might well be one of the Plague Society. A doctor, surgeon or apothecary looking for a cure and prepared to anything to find one. He stumbles his way around suspecting his best friend, his colleagues, everyone he meets without applying sense or judgement.

It is left to the ever brave and resilient Penelope to lead Symon Patrick, often by the nose, on a journey that will lead him to the answers, though not without disasters and danger at every turn.

Vikki Valentine’s book  has a great cast of memorable characters, some with wonderful names,  and she beautifully evokes a London that is putrefying and carrying the stench of death through its streets.

I love the character of Penelope, whose lack of airs and graces contrasts so beautifully with the selfishness and greed of the men she meets, including most of the medical profession. She is a woman of action, when the men just stand around arguing about where to get the bodies from to experiment on in search of a cure.

Verdict: There are levels of satire and laugh out loud humour from cracking one liners here that lift this book above the mere historical whodunit. V.L. Valentine has a great sense of place and atmosphere and her plague infested London is dark and putrefying. Funny and fierce, this is a fab read.

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V.L. Valentine is a senior science editor at National Public Radio in Washington, D.C., where she covers infectious disease outbreaks such as the coronavirus pandemic, Ebola and the Zika. She has a master’s in the history of medicine from University College London. Her non-fiction work has been published by NPR, The New York Times, The Smithsonian Channel and Science Magazine.

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Last Seen (D.I. Bernadette Noel #1) by Joy Kluver @JoyKluver @bookouture @nholten40

Source: Review copy
Publication: 23 March 2021 from Bookouture
PP: 344
ISBN-13: 978-1800193604

My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review

‘A little girl is missing from under her mother’s nose. She’ll be scared and vulnerable – if she’s still alive. But no one is helping us search. No one wants to give us information. No one even seems surprised. What’s going on?’

Detective Bernadette Noel came to this quiet rural corner of south-west England from London to lie low after a high-profile prosecution led to death threats against her family. But she has barely settled in when the call comes. A woman’s voice, shrill with terror and thick with tears: ‘Help – it’s my daughter, Molly – I only had my back turned for a minute… She’s gone!’

A child abduction is about as far from lying low as it gets, and her boss wants to assign a different detective. But there’s no way Bernie’s not taking the case – she can’t miss this chance to prove herself.

Five-year-old Molly Reynolds has been snatched from the playground in the village where she lives. Normally in cases like this the community is an asset – eager to help search and full of local knowledge. But although Molly’s mother Jessica is in anguish, the other villagers don’t seem to want to know.

As details emerge, Bernie discovers a possible link to a shocking crime that has never been solved, and which the locals have never forgotten. But what exactly is the connection to Molly’s abduction? Cracking a cold case is the only way to find out – and meanwhile time is running out for Molly.

Last Seen is Joy Kluver’s debut novel and on the strength of this book I am really looking forward to reading more of this series.

Detective Bernadette Noel was on a fast track programme with the Metropolitan Police when a case she was working on forced her to leave London. Now she is in rural Wiltshire and keeping a low profile so as not to attract attention. She’s achieved her promotion to Detective Inspector and suddenly finds herself in charge of a case that is as awful as it is puzzling. A 5 year old child has disappeared from a children’s playpark in the small village of Otterfield and it looks like abduction.

There’s no obvious motive, but one thing is really strange. As you’d expect, Bernie is organising house to house questioning and search parties to look for little Molly – but it’s clear that no-one in either her village, nor the neighbouring one, want anything to do with the police investigation.

Bernie is puzzled. Apparently Molly hadn’t made any friends at school either. Her mother is at a loss as to why she might have been taken and is distraught. She doesn’t know why the village is so unfriendly.

Largely told from Bernie’s perspective, Last Seen presents a convincing portrait of an intelligent police officer in charge for the first time and seeking to solve a serious case into the bargain. Bernie is still grieving for her grandfather, recently laid to rest, and with a lot on her plate her confidence is not reassured when her boss tells her that she may not yet be ready to command such a high-profile case.

Joy Kluver does a great job of introducing us to the investigations team of Detective Sergeant Kerry Allen and Detective Constable, Matt Taylor with whom she is already establishing a great relationship.  There’s a fly in the ointment though when her boss foists on her a new team member, DS Dougie Anderson, transferred in from Birmingham and who is hardly in the door before he starts doing things his own way instead of taking his orders from Bernie. That’s the last thing Bernie needs on this case and she has to work hard to keep him in line. Not only that, but it looks like the force’s Press officer for the area is no ally and is pushing Bernie to accept her view of how she should handle the public facing side of this disappearance.

When her boss tells her that if she doesn’t get results soon he is handing the case over to a more experienced officer, Bernie is determined that her team will find Molly before that happens.

The imposition of a deadline adds urgency to an already pressing case and as Bernie and her team race against time to work out who has taken Molly and why, we get a real sense of D.I. Noel’s shrewd and extremely capable thinking processes. She’s not flawless, but she is a good detective and that comes across as she handles this investigation.

As the team battle to find Molly the tension is high and there are many false leads and wrong paths to go down. As Bernie comes to realise that the silence of the villagers is a clue to what has happened to Molly she has to re-think her whole understanding of this case if she is to find Molly before it is too late.

Though perhaps a little slow to start as Kluver establishes the scene and her characters, the pace and tension ramps up mid-way through the book and holds the reader’s attention well and there are many pieces to this puzzle which all fit neatly together in the end.

There’s a great deal we still have to learn about this team and their backstories before they become fully fleshed, but that just adds to the intrigue in this book and makes us want to read more about the team. Joy Kluver drops just enough nuggets of information to make us curious and want more.

Verdict: A strong start to a new police procedural series with well thought through puzzles and characters that intrigue. I really enjoyed reading this knotty case and am actively looking forward to the next in the series.

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Joy Kluver has been an avid reader and writer since childhood. More recently she’s been escaping the madness of motherhood by turning her hand to crime novels. A book blogger, she’s also part of the First Monday Crime team and if you’ve been to any of their events it’s likely you’ve eaten one of her cookies. She also organises author talks for her local library. Joy lives in SW London with her husband and three children. ‘Last Seen’ is her debut novel and the first book in the DI Bernadette Noel series.

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Bound by Vanda Symon (Sam Shephard #4) @VandaSymon @OrendaBooks @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 18 March 2021 from Orenda Books
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-1913193522

My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review

The New Zealand city of Dunedin is rocked when a wealthy and apparently respectable businessman is murdered in his luxurious home while his wife is bound and gagged, and forced to watch. But when Detective Sam Shephard and her team start investigating the case, they discover that the victim had links with some dubious characters.

The case seems cut and dried, but Sam has other ideas. Weighed down by her dad’s terminal cancer diagnosis, and by complications in her relationship with Paul, she needs a distraction, and launches her own investigation.

And when another murder throws the official case into chaos, it’s up to Sam to prove that the killer is someone no one could ever suspect.

I don’t think I have ever loved Sam Shephard more. I feel like a proud godmother who has watched her god-child turn to adulthood; looking at her and thinking ‘our little girl has grown up and what a fine woman she has become’.

Oh she still enjoys a glass of wine, a good video and a serious Toffeepops snack with her bestie flat-mate Maggie, but a combination of personal and professional events has matured her somewhat and though she has lost none of her gumption, there’s a definite tinge of maturity to her these days.

Newly promoted to Detective in Dunedin, she’s still seeing her boyfriend, Paul who is working in the same team. She’s not getting on any better with her boss, D.I. Johns and since his accident, Smithy whom she got on with really well, has been remote and bad-tempered. So she’s lost an ally and as a result feels a bit more isolated.

Family problems and a fractious relationship with her mum aren’t helping and the case the team are working on is really nasty.  A local businessman, John Henderson, has been shot dead and his wife Jill left injured, both discovered at home by their teenage son, Declan. Sam is family liaison duties trying to get information from Declan and the injured wife. 

Sam’s torn between sympathy for the wife and needing to get as much detail as possible, all the while knowing that at the same hospital her family are sitting at her dad’s bedside. The trouble is that when she visits him, her mum is constantly biting her ear; tearing her off a strip. Sam feels isolated and emotional, so she pushes all her efforts into her work and solving the case.

There are two suspects who fit the bill nicely, and the team are convinced that they have the evidence they need to tie this case up neatly. But Sam’s not quite so sure and she is prepared to burn her bridges with D.I.Johns to get to the truth.

This is the Sam we know and love. Determined, prepared to stand her ground and brave enough to say what she thinks even if that opens her up to ridicule. She is in the police because she believes in justice and she’s going to make sure that’s what she delivers. Sam is nothing if not tenacious.

As ever Vanda Symon’s sense of place and atmosphere creates a vivid mental picture for the reader and you can picture Dunedin and feel its vibrancy and the lush varied nature that abounds. Even a short trip to Auckland provokes the contrast that we need to understand how Dunedin contrasts with a larger city. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to be anywhere as much as I want to visit Dunedin right now.

After a stunning opener to hook you right in, short, sharp chapters keep you fixed on the narrative and a tight, twisty plot coupled with Sam’s own emotional journey engages and consumes the brain to the exclusion of anything else.

Verdict: I loved Bound. It feels like Sam has reached a really interesting crossroads in her personal and professional development and I can’t wait to find out where she chooses to go next.

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Vanda Symon is a crime writer, TV presenter and radio host from Dunedin, New Zealand, and the chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The Sam Shephard series has climbed to number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and has also been shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger. She currently lives in Dunedin, with her husband and two sons

The April Dead by Alan Parks (Harry McCoy #4) @AlanJParks @BlackthornBks@RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 25th March 2021 from Black Thorn Books
PP: 400
ISBN-13: 978-1786897190

My thanks to the publisher and Random Things Tours for an early copy for review

NO ONE WILL FORGET . . .

In a grimy flat in Glasgow, a homemade bomb explodes, leaving few remains to identify its maker.

Detective Harry McCoy knows in his gut that there’ll be more to follow. The hunt for a missing sailor from the local US naval base leads him to the secretive group behind the bomb, and their disturbing, dominating leader.

On top of that, McCoy thinks he’s doing an old friend a favour when he passes on a warning, but instead he’s pulled into a vicious gang feud. And in the meantime, there’s word another bigger explosion is coming Glasgow’s way – so if the city is to survive, it’ll take everything McCoy’s got . . .

April is the cruellest month and that’s pretty much how Harry McCoy is finding it. Newly diagnosed with a peptic ulcer and advised to give up smoking, drinking and fried foods, McCoy isn’t in the best of tempers to begin with. It’s 1974 and a bomb has gone off in a tenement flat. It looks like it’s gone off by mistake, killing its maker, but who was building the bomb and why?

Though this investigation will touch on what’s been happening in Northern Ireland, Scotland has been mercifully spared much of the terror of the Irish bombing campaigns and not even Special Branch thinks this one is worth adding to their caseload. Still, it’s very worrying and McCoy needs to find out what’s behind it.

McCoy meets an American, Alan Stewart, who is desperately looking for his missing son, Danny, gone AWOL from the US naval base at the Holy Loch. Stewart himself is an ex-Navy Captain and McCoy takes him on a trip to Aberdeen to help keep him company and to hear more about the missing lad.

McCoy has gone to pick up his childhood friend, gangland boss Stevie Cooper, newly released from Peterhead Prison after a six month stretch. Stewart and Cooper hit it off over a mutual love of boxing, Cooper’s newest money laundering exercise, but even so, McCoy can tell that not everything is well with his old friend from their children’s home days.

Nothing stays static and there are those who sought to take over Cooper’s territory while he was inside. Now Stevie wants to root out the corrupt and re-establish his prominence. This is a game where weakness destroys and he can’t afford to give any quarter.

There are myriad reasons to love Alan Parks writing and Harry McCoy. His attention to detail beautifully evokes 1970’s Glasgow from the glorious dingy pubs to the boxing and the young lads on street corners freezing in their wee bomber jackets and flapping wide trousers, looking for trouble. It doesn’t matter who you are in this city; it’s where you came from and who you grew up with that counts.

Down these mean streets McCoy must travel and as he goes he straddles the very fine line between being a decent cop and a corrupt cop at one and the same time. It is this pushing of the boundaries that makes McCoy so interesting and yet there isn’t really any moral ambiguity; when push comes to shove, you know you want McCoy on your side.

Parkes is slowly revealing more about what bonds Cooper and McCoy together. Some bonds are so well forged they are nigh on impossible to break, yet these two come close to extreme violence on occasion as things get sticky.

This time Wattie, McCoy’s sidekick and now a brand new dad is struggling to make his mark on a case of his own. Closely watched by Chief Inspector Murray, Wattie has to solve the murder of gangland boss Jamesie Dixon but the word on the street is clear: this one was down to Stevie Cooper. It’s a poisoned chalice, and sleep-deprived Wattie is way out of his depth.

As another bomb goes off – this time at the Cathedral – Harry has to find who is responsible and what is driving them. His travels will take him to a hippy commune headed up by a famous actress and thence to a country house where the heart of the British establishment is laid bare in the guest book for all to admire.

In his darkest and most gritty narrative yet, Parks gives us a murdering psychopath targeting pubs; a mind-set driven – or at least fuelled – by terrible atrocities. This is fascinating because what we see are the repercussions – here in Glasgow and in the Irish bombings – of a hundred years and more of British Imperialism coming home to roost. The crime wave sweeping McCoy’s Glasgow streets is more than just home grown poverty striking back; it is the result of years of deliberate and planned invasion and suppression of peoples without a backward glance and all in the name of the British Empire.

Little wonder that nationalism is on the rise in places where Britain once ruled the roost. We reap what we sow, it seems. This is a much bigger canvas than Parks has previously offered and his revelations about McCoy and Cooper’s experiences as children is just one part of that.

Verdict: This is noir at its bleakest. Hard edged, gritty and uncompromising, this is Parks’ best yet. It’s thought provoking in all the right ways without being grandiose and his setting and characters gleam with authenticity. Parks does that really clever thing of being absolutely riveting, hard and forensic with the violence that’s riddled throughout this book and yet somehow, without ever playing on it, he catches your emotions, too. Put simply, this series is unmissable

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Alan Parks has worked in the music industry for over twenty years. His debut novel Bloody January was shortlisted for the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière. He lives and works in Glasgow. The April Dead is the fourth Harry McCoy thriller

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Before the Storm by Alex Gray (DSI William Lorimer #18) @Alexincrimeland @TheCrimeVault @BooksSphere

Source: Review copy
Publication: 25 March 2021 from Sphere
PP: 400
ISBN-13: 978-0751580006

My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review

Inspector Daniel Kohi of the Zimbabwean police force returns home one night to find his worst nightmare has been realised. His family dead, his house destroyed, and in fear for his life, he is forced to flee the country he loves.

Far away in Glasgow, DSI William Lorimer has his hands full. Christmas is approaching, the city is bustling, and whilst the homicide rate has been relatively low, something much darker is brewing. Counter-Terrorism have got wind of a plot, here in Lorimer’s native city, to carry out an unspeakable atrocity on Christmas Eve. They need someone with local knowledge to help them root it out and who better than the head of the Scottish Major Incidents Team.

But the investigation is complicated by a spate of local murders, and by the rumours that someone is passing information to criminal organisations from inside the police force. Soon Lorimer finds himself in desperate need of assistance. Then he meets an extraordinary man – a refugee from Zimbabwe whose investigative skills are a match for Lorimer’s own . . .

My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review.

Its ages since I read a William Lorimer novel and I’d forgotten how warm and welcoming they are. This one especially, amid the murders and bombings is full of the warmth of human kindness and is all the better for it.

Sometimes it’s good to read a police procedural where the cop in question isn’t riddled with angst, hard drinking and hiding a deadly secret. Bill Lorimer is a senior policeman, happily married to Maggie and after an eventful career, is now heading up the Major Incident Team and idly musing on whether or not it is time to think about retiring.

First though, he has a serious problem to resolve. Someone has been leaking the identity of his undercover agents, placing them in jeopardy and forcing them into stepping back from that work.

Daniel Kohi used to be an Inspector in the Zimbabwean Police but has now fled Zimbabwe after the murder of his wife and child, following his refusal to join in corrupt activities. He is now a refugee, hoping to achieve settled status and eventually be allowed to work. He’s just arrived in Glasgow, knowing no-one but has at least been allocated a flat to stay in.

On his way to find his accommodation, he witnesses something suspicious in a lane just off Hope Street and his police instinct kicks in. He wants to know more, but first he must find his bearings and get to his accommodation.

As Lorimer seeks to discover who is the leak in his department he is also hearing from Acting Chief Constable David Mearns that there is covert intelligence about a possible terrorist attack in Glasgow and that makes finding the leaker even more pressing business. When the body of a murdered man, first stabbed and then burned,  is discovered and it turns out he was an employee of a law firm which Lorimer has under observation and into which he has put an undercover agent, he knows he has to make this a high priority.

DS Sylvie Maxwell is the undercover agent at Thomas Bryson solicitors, put there because the firm is suspected of handling funds that are being channelled into terrorist activities. DI Graham Brownlee is the lead officer on the case of the murdered man and can’t understand why Lorimer is taking such an active interest in his case.

Meanwhile Daniel has found his new accommodation and though it’s a bit grim, to put it mildly, it has the benefit of being next door to the wee Glasgow wifie that is Netta. All patter and welcome, she has Daniel in and on his first cup of tea before he knows what’s happening.

Alex Gray’s novel takes us on a journey that encompasses the experience of refugees, loan sharking, terrorism and the extraordinary danger that police personnel are sometimes placed in when seeking to prevent atrocities. It’s an exciting mix that makes for thrilling reading.

Knowing that he has a clearly well-placed leak inside the higher echelons of Police Scotland, Lorimer takes an unorthodox route into making sure his enquiries are kept on the down-low and thus it is that once their paths have connected, both Daniel Kohi and the redoubtable Solly Brightman are drafted in by Lorimer to assist. It may not be strictly by the book, but Lorimer knows who he can trust and puts his faith in these men.

As a date is put on the most likely timing for a bombing, the pressure is on Lorimer to quickly gather the intelligence he needs and it is a tense and dramatic time which is only exacerbated by a vicious attack that strikes at the heart of Lorimer’s fears.

Alex Gray does an excellent job of portraying Daniel Kohi as an intelligent, likeable and perceptive policeman and it would be a real delight if her were to gain his settled status and find a role in future books. Daniel has clearly made a positive impact on Maggie and Netta, as he does on all the women he meets, and its time we had a bit of love interest around!

Verdict: A police procedural infused with great characters and a fine sense of place. It is an engaging read which, while it deals with some quite terrible subjects, nevertheless leaves the reader with an overwhelming sense of warmth and humanity. And goodness knows we all need some of that right now!

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Alex Gray was born and educated in Glasgow. After studying English and Philosophy at the University of Strathclyde, she worked as a visiting officer for the DHSS, a time she looks upon as postgraduate education since it proved a rich source of character studies. She then trained as a secondary school teacher of English.  Alex began writing professionally in 1993 and had immediate success with short stories, articles and commissions for BBC radio programmes. She has been awarded the Scottish Association of Writers’ Constable and Pitlochry trophies for her crime writing.  A regular on the Scottish bestseller lists, her previous novels include Five Ways to Kill a Man, Glasgow Kiss, Pitch Black, The Riverman, Never Somewhere Else, The Swedish Girl and Keep the Midnight Out. She is the co-founder of the international Scottish crime writing festival, Bloody Scotland, which had its inaugural year in 2012.

The Other Emily by Dean Koontz @deankoontz @AmazonPub @sophieglorita

Source: Review copy
Publication: March 23rd 2021 from Thomas & Mercer
PP: 362
ISBN-13: 978-1542019958

My thanks to Sophie Goodfellow of FMcM  and Thomas &Mercer for the opportunity to review

A decade ago, Emily Carlino vanished after her car broke down on a California highway. She was presumed to be one of serial killer Ronny Lee Jessup’s victims whose remains were never found.

Writer David Thorne still hasn’t recovered from losing the love of his life, or from the guilt of not being there to save her. Since then, he’s sought closure any way he can. He even visits regularly with Jessup in prison, desperate for answers about Emily’s final hours so he may finally lay her body to rest. Then David meets Maddison Sutton, beguiling, playful, and keenly aware of all David has lost. But what really takes his breath away is that everything about Maddison, down to her kisses, is just like Emily. As the fantastic becomes credible, David’s obsession grows, Maddison’s mysterious past deepens―and terror escalates.

Is she Emily? Or an irresistible dead ringer? Either way, the ultimate question is the same: What game is she playing? Whatever the risk in finding out, David’s willing to take it for this precious second chance. It’s been ten years since he’s felt this inspired, this hopeful, this much in love…and he’s afraid.

Successful novelist David Thorne has never got over losing his muse and the love of his life 10 years ago. Emily Carlino is thought to have been one of the victims of Ronny Lee Jessup, now incarcerated in Folsom after admitting the kidnapping and of 27 women. 14 of Ronny’s victims were never found, despite a thorough trawl of the very creepy basement his ‘house of horrors’. But Jessop believes he can come out of Folsom and bring these women out again so he is divulging nothing.

Motivated by grief and a healthy dose of guilt, Thorne has continued to visit Jessup in the hope that he can get him to divulge information about where Emily’s body is, so that he can lay her to rest. Jessop thrives on other people’s emotional vulnerabilities and so to get information, Thorne has to give of himself in order to get information. He believes that will help him atone and give some solace to Emily’s mother, Calista Carlino, whom he also visits regularly.

David lives on the East Coast, but writes in California; the place where he can best remember Emily. He’s there, dining in his regular restaurant, when a young woman walks in and just like that, into his life. For Maddison Sutton is the spitting image of Emily as she was 10 years ago. It is as if time had stood still. And Maddison is attracted to him as he very quickly finds out. It’s as if Emily has come back to him and he falls hard, all the while wondering how this can be possible. Before long, they are in bed together and though Maddison remains enigmatic, she is holding out the possibility of a lifetime relationship with him, if Thorne will just be patient.

But patience isn’t Thorne’s thing. He needs explanations and he isn’t about to give up his search for Emily’s body. It is both the possible explanations for Emily’s doppelganger and Thorne’s search for Emily’s body that the bulk of this novel explores. It is hard to pin this book down to any one genre but it is definitely full of suspense.

David uncovers more information about supposedly dead people who have subsequently been seen. There’s a nasty piece of work who now owns Jessup’s House of horrors and who charges Thorne to go round it as well as selling off souvenirs to ghouls who collect crime memorabilia.

There are definite hints of the horror that we know from Koontz’ work alongside some of the other-worldliness that permeates his work. But there are other elements, too that don’t fit quite so neatly into the box. Is Maddison in fact Emily, or some kind of contrived substitute? Koontz takes us down a path that we don’t recognise; this is not a predictable novel and in doing so he creates a tense and pacy novel that keeps the reader guessing.

There is horror, there are ghouls and there is certainly mystery galore. Every time you think you know what’s coming, Koontz wrong foots you.

Thorne needs to understand what is going on because he hasn’t felt this much in love since Emily disappeared. He needs to know what’s going on, but he is terrified to find out. The answer, when it comes, is surprising and you’ll have to make up your own mind about whether you love it.

Verdict: Fast paced storytelling with suspense, twists and thrills and a trip into the unknown with an enigma at the centre that will keep you guessing all the way to the end.

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Dean Koontz, the author of many #1 New York Times bestsellers, lives in Southern California with his wife, Gerda, their golden retriever, Elsa, and the enduring spirits of their goldens, Trixie and Anna.

The Night Gate by Peter May (The Enzo Files #7) @authorpetermay @riverrunbooks @midaspr @SophMidas

Source: Review copy
Publication: 18 March 2021 from riverrun
PP: 496
ISBN-13: 978-1784295042

My thanks to Riverrun and Midas PR for the opportunity to read and review this book

In a sleepy French village, the body of a man shot through the head is disinterred by the roots of a fallen tree. A week later a famous art critic is viciously murdered in a nearby house. The deaths occurred more than seventy years apart.

Asked by a colleague to inspect the site of the former, forensics expert Enzo Macleod quickly finds himself embroiled in the investigation of the latter. Two extraordinary narratives are set in train – one historical, unfolding in the treacherous wartime years of Occupied France; the other contemporary, set in the autumn of 2020 as France re-enters Covid lockdown.

And Enzo’s investigations reveal an unexpected link between the murders – the Mona Lisa.

Tasked by the exiled General Charles de Gaulle to keep the world’s most famous painting out of Nazi hands after the fall of France in 1940, 28-year-old Georgette Pignal finds herself swept along by the tide of history. Following in the wake of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa as it is moved from château to château by the Louvre, she finds herself just one step ahead of two German art experts sent to steal it for rival patrons – Hitler and Göring.

What none of them know is that the Louvre itself has taken exceptional measures to keep the painting safe, unwittingly setting in train a fatal sequence of events extending over seven decades.

Events that have led to both killings.

The Night Gate spans three generations, taking us from war-torn London, the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, Berlin and Vichy France, to the deadly enemy facing the world in 2020. In his latest novel, Peter May shows why he is one of the great contemporary writers of crime fiction.

The Night Gate is a sweeping historical novel with a dual timeline, France in the present day (2020) and Scotland, Berlin and France in the early 1940’s.

This is the 7th and, we are told, final book in the Enzo Files, the series about the somewhat flirtatious pony tailed lover of women, wine and good food, Enzo McLeod – one time Professor of Forensic Science at Toulouse University and now retired. Enzo lives in rural France with his wife Dominique, and is anxiously awaiting the arrival of his daughter Sophie’s baby. He is called in by his friend, forensic archaeologist Professor Magali Blanc, when a body is discovered in a village that neighbours Enzo’s own. The body is dated back to WW2 and Enzo is intrigued.  He does love to work on cold cases but this one suddenly becomes a deal more urgent when a prominent art critic is murdered in the same village.

Peter May’s story is an epic tale which weaves together apparently separate stories but which contain one important link. Taking us from Germany to occupied France in the 1940’s via London and The Outer Hebrides, May delivers a passionate story of art, love, murder and betrayal set around the safeguarding of the most famous painting in the world, La Joconde – the Mona Lisa.

There are many points of view in this book, but the main strands focus on Enzo’s contemporary investigation and on the story of Georgette Pignal, a young woman personally tasked by De Gaulle to prevent the Mona Lisa falling into enemy hands. Georgette is at character you can really root for. Young but with a well-developed sense of self; she has massive courage and determination. She is full of gumption and determined to do her bit for her country.

As always May’s sense of place is strong and his knowledge of this part of France – Carennac in the Dordogne – shines through. His research is meticulous and the strength of the historical veracity adds to the authentic feel of the book. Rose Valland, for example, who features in the book as Georgette’s boss, was the curator of the Jeu de Paum, and she saved a lot of art from the Nazis after the war by listening to their conversations when in the gallery about where they were having it sent.

Carennac

He easily mixes past and present as the past carries the clues to the present murder and Enzo has to use all his knowledge and research to get to the truth of what happened in the past in order to solve the present killing.

It is the mix of history, thriller; characters that you root for intermingled with historical figures and references that that make for a heady mix which carries this book through. At almost 500 pages it is a little sprawly, but May knows how to tell a big tale and carries it off with aplomb.

It feels strangely natural too for Enzo, at his age, to be taking the French Co-Vid protocols especially seriously and after the initial surprise of reading about these, the freshness slipped into the background and became as natural as breathing.

Though you can easily read this book as a stand-alone, there’s plenty, too for followers of this series and – as is fitting for the final book in the series – some previous strands are closed off.

Verdict: A fine conclusion to the Enzo series and characters we have come to know and love. The thriller element works well and the background of Vichy France together with Hitler and Göring’s ambitions lends scale and weight to an epic story.

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PETER MAY was an award-winning journalist at the age of just twenty-one, winning ‘Young Journalist of the Year’. He left newspapers for television and screenwriting, creating three prime-time British drama series and accruing more than 1,000 television credits. May is published in 32 languages, has sold several million copies worldwide as well as winning numerous awards. His novel I’ll Keep You Safe (2018) was no.1 and his next novel, The Man With No Face, no.2 in The Times charts. His most recent novel Lockdown was in The Sunday Times bestseller lists for 6 weeks. In recent years, Peter has won the Best Crime Novel Award for The Blackhouse at Bouchercon in the US, Entry Island won the Deanston Crime Book of the Year and Specsavers ITV3 Crime Thriller Book Club Best Read Award.  @authorpetermay

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Hotel Cartagena by Simone Buchholz trs Rachel Ward @ohneklippo @OrendaBooks @ForwardTranslations @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 4 March 2021 from Orenda Books
PP: 276
ISBN-13: 978-1913193546

My thanks to Orenda Books for this advance copy for review

Twenty floors above the shimmering lights of the Hamburg docks, Public Prosecutor Chastity Riley is celebrating a birthday with friends in a hotel bar when twelve heavily armed men pull out guns, and take everyone hostage. Among the hostages is Konrad Hoogsmart, the hotel owner, who is being targeted by a young man whose life and family have been destroyed by Hoogsmart’s actions.

With the police looking on from outside their colleagues’ lives at stake and Chastity on the inside, increasingly ill from an unexpected case of sepsis, the stage is set for a dramatic confrontation and a devastating outcome for the team all live streamed in a terrifying bid for revenge.

Crackling with energy and populated by a cast of unforgettable characters, Hotel Cartagena is a searing, relevant thriller that will leave you breathless.

Nobody writes quite like Simone Buchholz. Her prose is whip smart, taut, poetic and hard-boiled all at once. Her protagonist, Chastity Reilly is fierce, feminist and always looking to challenge conformity – an interesting position for a public prosecutor.

Chastity Reilly is a woman in a man’s world and she’s giving no quarter. Uncompromising, she values her friends and their loyalty above all and brooks no opposition. She won’t be told what to do or how to behave and she lives her life on her own terms, whatever that costs her.

Hotel Cartagena can be read as a stand-alone, but do yourself a favour and read the whole series because there is character development and one or two things that happened in previous books will enhance your understanding.

An adrenalin fuelled thriller, Hotel Cartagena also has some pretty deep social observations to make that cut through the cool that is normally Chastity, because when she burns, she is incendiary.

As this novel opens, Reilly and her tight knit group of friends, many of them police, are gathering in the panoramic bar of a splendid new hotel on the Hamburg waterfront. Only Ivo Stepanovic is not with them. He intends to go there to help celebrate Faller’s 65th birthday, but first he has to steel himself. He doesn’t really want to be in a room with Chastity and other men, especially when he knows she has recently been close to at least one of them, and one is a former lover. He doesn’t want to feel this way, but he just can’t help himself. And then suddenly they are in the midst of a spectacular hostage-taking: a dozen armed men hold everyone in the bar hostage. What they want isn’t clear. Knowing it would be madness to reveal themselves, Chastity and her colleagues can only watch and wait.

Utilising a dual timeline, Buchholz lays out the genesis of the siege and tells us the story of a young man, who travels to Colombia and Curacao after being drawn into the drugs trade because that’s the only way he can ever hope to make any money. It’s a tragic story in the course of which the young man loses everything, though never once has he stopped to consider the impact of those drugs on other families, but that’s another story.

Now though, revenge is the order of the day and as Chastity eyes up the hostage takers and wonders which would be good lovers, she is unwittingly slipping into sepsis as a result of a cut to her hand from a particularly razor-sharp piece of pineapple leaf. So her usually sharp mind is in overdrive now and her brain is processing differently, sometimes speaking to her in verse, but never losing the point, just throwing things into technicolour relief.

Chastity’s inner monologues are riveting as she speculates about the hostages and her carousel ride harks back to the important things that have happened in her life and those of her friends, too. It’s a moment of reckoning, even if hallucinatory.

But this is not an episode of Die Hard, whatever the Alan Rickman dedication will have you thinking, and Ivo is not Bruce Willis (though the Number One gunman may well have attributes akin to Rickman judging by his impact on Chastity). As Stepanovic desperately tries to think up ways to rescue Chastity who by now he knows is really unwell, he is prepared to risk everything to get inside and come to her aid.

As events come to a horrifying climax, there’s a reckoning to take place and you just know that these events are is going to impact big time on Chastity and those she loves. Some injuries never heal.

Buchholz’s writes like she is firing bullets and Rachel Ward’s stunning translation is a thing of wonder and beauty. Even the chapter headings have an arresting, poetic quality.

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

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SimoneBuchholz was born in Hanau in 1972. At university, she studied Philosophy and Literature, worked as a waitress and a columnist, and trained to be a journalist at the prestigious Henri-Nannen School in Hamburg. In 2016, Simone Buchholz was awarded the Crime Cologne Award as well as runner-up in the German Crime Fiction Prize for Blue Night, which was number one on the KrimiZEIT Best of Crime List for months. She lives in Sankt Pauli, in the heart of Hamburg, with her husband and son.

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