Fifty Fifty by Steve Cavanagh @SSCav @OrionBooks @Orion_Crime

Source: Review copy
Publication: 3rd September 2020 from Orion
PP: 368
ISBN-13: 978-1409185864

My thanks to the publishers, Orion, for a review copy of this book.

Two sisters on trial for murder. They accuse each other.

Who do YOU believe?

‘911 what’s your emergency?’

‘My dad’s dead. My sister Sofia killed him. She’s still in the house. Please send help.’

‘My dad’s dead. My sister Alexandra killed him. She’s still in the house. Please send help.’

One of them is a liar and a killer.

But which one?

Do you know what? Just away and buy this book, will you? I know you won’t be sorry. It’s FANBLOODYTASTIC! Honestly, I ripped through it, loving every single minute.

I am a huge fan of the Eddie Flynn books anyway. There’s something about this conman turned lawyer that is a little bit cheeky and I love that he is never knowingly on the side of the bad guys.

But this one is a cut above even the most excellent of these books. This one is a humdinger. First we have the fantastic premise. Alexandra and Sofia Avellino are the daughters of a wealthy former New York Mayor, Frank Avellino, who now lies dead – stabbed 53 times in a house occupied by only his daughters.  Two sisters, in the same house, both have called 911 and each is claiming the other sister has murdered her father.

Neither woman likes the other. Both have had difficult lives and neither presents the best side of themselves – assuming they both have a good side. Every time Flynn thinks he’s found a weakness, it is closed up by a contrary piece of evidence from the other side.

Eddie’s biggest issue comes with having to decide which client he will take on. He likes to be convinced of their innocence from the outset, but with this one a balance of probabilities is required in the absence of any other obvious evidence.

It’s a tricky situation and in true Flynn form it’s only going to get more convoluted. Things are not helped by the fact that prosecuting this case is a man who would like nothing better than to lock up both women and throw away the key – and he wouldn’t mind at all bringing Eddie and the other sister’s Counsel down with them.

Kate Brooks is the other Counsel. For good reasons, she shafted her firm Levy, Bernard and Groff to get this case and now the firm’s senior partner is prosecuting it. Kate, too, believes in her client’s innocence – so much so that she has pitted herself against Eddie Flynn to win it.

Cavanagh sets up his scenes with so much tension and twistiness that each has you reeling from one sister to another as you hear the latest revelations. With his trusted team of former judge, Harry Ford and investigator Harper, Eddie uses all his wiles to ensure that his client gets the innocent verdict she deserves.

As we follow the case, we are also treated to the murderer’s perspective. Known only as ‘She’ we learn a little of what was going through her mind as the trial progresses. The net result is that it feels like you in a fast paced game of table tennis – only you are the ball, being batted backwards and forwards between the accused sisters.

Once again, Cavanagh nails the whole aspect of a courtroom drama and in doing so in this book he offers us more of a glimpse into the life and world of Eddie Flynn and offers the reader some serious character development opportunities that I hope to see further explored in future novels.

Verdict: Top class, twisty, engaging and completely compulsive reading. Fantastic characters and a SUPERB plot. I adored this book. Steve Cavanagh is at the top of his game and long may that continue. An absolute MUST READ. Go, buy it…NOW!

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Steve Cavanagh is a critically acclaimed, best-selling, award-winning author of the Eddie Flynn series. His third novel, The Liar, won the CWA Gold Dagger for Crime Novel of the year 2018. He is also one half of the Two Crime Writers and a Microphone podcast. His latest novel, Twisted, is a Sunday Times Bestseller.

The Hit List by Holly Seddon @hollyseddon @alexxlayt @trapezebooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 28th August 2020 from Trapeze
Narrators: Stephanie Racine, Damian Lynch, Chris Reilly, Tuppence Middleton, Perdita Weeks
Length: 11 hours 13 minutes
ASIN:  B08BTXYS1X

Congratulations, someone wants you dead.

When Marianne’s husband, Greg, is knocked off his bike and killed on the way to work, she must unpick the life he left behind. Numb with grief, Marianne consoles herself by scouring Greg’s laptop, finding comfort in reading his old emails and tracing his footsteps across the web. Until one day, she discovers that he had been accessing the dark web. Why was Greg, a principled charity worker and dedicated husband, logging on to a website that showcases the worst of humanity’s cruel impulses and where anything is available for a price? Marianne steels herself and logs on. After tentative searching, she discovers her name on a hit list.

In this fast-paced, powerful and exceptionally plotted novel, Marianne must figure out whether Greg was trying to protect her or whether he was complicit in the conspiracy for her murder. As she is pulled deeper into the depths of the underworld that Greg was seemingly hostage to, she gets closer and closer to coming face to face with Sam – the assassin hired to kill her. The dark truths that Marianne uncovers speak volumes about the dark underbelly of our society and forces us to question how far we would go to protect those we care most about.

It’s just as well that Holly Seddon’s The Hit List has multiple narrators because this book is so twisty and moves about so much, you do need to understand who is talking at any given point.

The initial scenario is riveting: a grieving young widow is taking what comfort she can by trying to keep close to her dead husband. She re-reads his e-mails, looks at the photos he keeps on his laptop and generally just spends hours tracing him though his online activity for no other reason than to know he made footsteps in the sand that she can look at.

In the first part of this twisty thriller our protagonists are Marianne, Greg’s widow and Sam. Marianne is spending the anniversary of Greg’s death looking for his footsteps. Only this time, she discovers that Greg had been active on the dark web, using a Tor browser. Now Greg was a gentle soul; a charity worker whose raison d’être was to help people. She cannot imagine what he could possibly have been doing on the dark web and is really worried. What concerns her deeply though is that she finds a webpage with ‘hit-lists’ on it and her name is on one such list.

She begins to question everything she ever thought she knew about her husband as she desperately tries to rationalise how on earth this could have happened. There are four other names on the list alongside hers – so she will begin by researching each of them. None of them are people she knows.

Having completely hooked me and reeled me in, Seddon then takes us to our second narrator, Sam. Sam is the person charged with carrying out the executions on the hit list that Marianne features on.

I love that we get Sam’s story alongside those of the others and slowly begin to understand something of what is going on and how Greg was drawn in to the dark web.

Seddon knows how to ramp up the tension and she certainly loves a great cliffhanger; often I was left holding my breath as another surprising moment came up unannounced. There’s a wonderful sense of geography in this book too. There are multiple locations and each is meticulously described in a way that enables the reader to ‘see’ them and that makes the tension more palpable when a killer is in the same place as their potential victim.

That’s good because by the time you have been dragged down into the well of iniquity that is the dark web and have discovered what is behind the hit list and what savage acts have been committed, you’re going to understand that all these things have happened in the plain light of day as people go about their ordinary business in the places that you have just seen and understood in your mind’s eye. Somehow, everything hits that much harder as a result.

Seddon weaves a dark web…ok, Seddon uses the dark web to weave an ever darker tale made the more terrifying because it has ordinary people caught up in it with nowhere to turn. By the time you have heard Greg’s story and then some of the others, you will realise what a terrible tangle he was in.

It’s a complex plot and fortunately very well narrated by an excellent cast making it easy to follow as the pace hots up and the tension grips and you realise just who is behind everything and why this has happened.

Verdict: I enjoyed and was entertained by The Hit List. I did sometimes want to smack a couple of the characters because their actions made me stop and suspend my disbelief, but this is fiction after all and a beautifully structured, nicely twisted tale at that!

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Holly Seddon’s first book, TRY NOT TO BREATHE, was published in 2016 and went on to be a bestseller in the UK, Ireland, Germany and Australia. A USA Today bestseller, it was also an audiobook, paperback and e-book bestseller in various countries. Her second novel, DON’T CLOSE YOUR EYES, was published in July 2017 in the UK, USA and in many other countries. In May 2o18, it hit number one in the audiobook charts. LOVE WILL TEAR US APART was published in June 2018. She is one half of the Honest Authors, co-hosting a fortnightly podcast on the realities of life as a published author.

IMPERFECT WOMEN by Araminta Hall @AramintaHall @orionbooks @FrancescaPear

Source: Review copy
Publication: 20th August 2020 from Orion
PP: 352
ISBN-13: 978-1409196082

Nancy, Eleanor and Mary met at college and have been friends ever since, through marriages, children and love affairs.

Eleanor is calm and driven, with a deep sense of responsibility, a brilliant career and a love of being single and free – despite her soft spot for her best friend’s husband.

Mary is deeply intelligent with a love of learning, derailed by three children and a mean, demanding husband – she is now unrecognisable to herself and her friends.

Nancy is seemingly perfect: bright, beautiful and rich with an adoring husband and daughter – but beneath the surface her discontent is going to affect them all in terrible ways.

When Nancy is murdered, Eleanor and Mary must align themselves to uncover her killer. And as each of their stories unfold, they realise that there are many different truths to find, and many different ways to bring justice for those we love…

Everyone wants a perfect life. But there is no such thing…

There’s a reason everyone is talking about this book. It’s quite simple really, it is a fabulous read. Though it has a murder at its core, the book is actually much more about the relationships between these women and sometimes about the relationships between these women and the men they loved and/or married.

Nancy Hennessy, Eleanor Robert, and Mary Smithson are different types of women who forged a bond from the time they first met in that first week at University when everyone and everything was new and exciting and life was full of possibilities.

Somehow, despite the fact their lives evolved and took different directions, they managed to hang on to that friendship, though sometimes it was fractious, caused anxiety and even jealousies and rivalry.

Each, in truth, would like some of what the others have and perhaps that’s really what keeps them bound together?

Moving between the past and the present, the book explores the character’s relationships and what led to the murder of Nancy, as well as what followed it. Now well into mid-life, we wonder what if anything they have learned from their experiences.

When they meet, they gloss over the difficult bits of their lives, presenting their best faces. They may not want their flaws to show to their friends, but they are all too ready to pick themselves apart privately.

Two of the women have married and have children. One has pursued an academic career and eschewed a family life. One of them has a fantastic job but the others have settled for less. Are any of them actually happy? Each is secretly tinged with just a bit of desire for what they lack and the others have.

The mothers love their children, but children in and of themselves do not complete the lives they once had.

The structure of the book works perfectly. Eleanor’s story is told around the discovery of Nancy’s murder. Nancy’s story is the time leading up to her murder and Mary’s story deals with the aftermath. So the reader is able to understand the complex relationships that exist between these women and find out about their relationships with their partners and lovers.

What we find is a well of unhappiness; sometimes genuine loneliness, that is concealed as they strive always to show their best faces. Hall does such a good job of showing us how much each woman feels constantly a secondary being to their relationships; how they are lied to and badly treated by men and yet how prepared they are to open themselves up and become vulnerable for small displays of affection – even to the extent of committing the ultimate betrayal.

As a character study it is immensely powerful and quite clearly recognisable. I want to be clear that just as these are imperfect women, they are women I know. They are my friends and they are me and that’s what makes this book work so well – it carries a truth in it that is hard to deny.

Verdict: Nancy’s death is the catalyst for this book, but the tension and even at times a horror, come from the feeling that each woman has walked into a splendidly laid trap and that once she has done so, she is no more than a caged bird, singing for her supper. Beautifully written, Hall executes the complexity of the storytelling incredibly well and her three dimensional characters leapt from the pages. I liked this book so much I went back and listened to the audiobook version, flawlessly narrated by Helen Keeley. This enhanced my reading of the book and let me sink into the character’s voices. Altogether a first class read and listen!

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Araminta Hall has worked as a writer, journalist and teacher. Her first novel, Everything & Nothing, was published in 2011 and became a Richard & Judy read that year. Her second, Dot, was published in 2013 and her third book, Our Kind of Cruelty, was published in 2018. She teaches creative writing at New Writing South in Brighton, where she lives with her husband and three children. She is the great niece of Dodie Smith and great granddaughter of Lawrence Beesley, who survived the Titanic and wrote a bestselling account of the tragedy in the book, The Loss of the SS Titanic.

Cover Your Tracks by Claire Askew @OneNightStanzas @HodderBooks @JennyPlatt90

Source: Review copy
Publication: 20th August 2020 from Hodder & Stoughton
PP: 336
ISBN-13: 978-1529327359

My thanks to publishers Hodder & Stoughton for a review copy

‘What if I told you,’ he said, ‘that I believe my mother’s life to be in danger?’

Robertson Bennet returns to Edinburgh after a 25-year absence in search of his parents and his inheritance. But both have disappeared. A quick, routine police check should be enough – and Detective Inspector Helen Birch has enough on her plate trying to help her brother, Charlie, after an assault in prison. But all her instincts tell her not to let this case go. And so she digs.

George and Phamie Bennet were together for a long time. No one can ever really know the secrets kept between husband and wife. But as Birch slowly begins to unravel the truth, terrible crimes start to rise to the surface.

I’ve been a fan of Claire Askew since her debut novel, All The Hidden Truths. In this, her third novel, D.I. Helen Birch has a potential abuser on her hands and a deal of family troubles to contend with.

It begins when Helen is called down to reception at Fettes Police Station to deal with a voluble American demanding to speak to a ‘someone senior’ about two missing persons. When Helen enquires further, it transpires that Robertson Bennett is trying to locate his parents, George and Phamie MacDonald with whom he has been out of contact for more than 30 years. Bennett had left the family home then, absconding with his parents’ savings and headed to the States, where he built up a successful business.

Now though, things are a little financially tight, and he’s as interested in getting any inheritance he is due as he is in finding his parents. When Helen isn’t keen to do his PI work for him, he ups the ante by suggesting that his father, who has form in the domestic violence department, may have caused injury to his mother.

A visit to the MacDonald’s elderly next door neighbour convinces Birch that there is a case to pursue and she sets about doing so doggedly, even in the face of opposition from her boss, the irascible bean counter, DCI McLeod.

As she sets Amy off to make enquiries, Helen turns her attention to her brother Charlie. Charlie’s serving a prison sentence but an incident means he may well be looking at having to serve more time than originally anticipated. His solicitor, Anjan, is Helen’s partner, and a lovely chap. Something else is weighing on Helen’s mind, too. While her current case involves missing parents, her personal life is quite the opposite. Someone she hasn’t seen or heard from for years has just got in touch and she’s not at all sure what she wants to do about it.

I like Askew’s characters. Helen Birch is a good copper who gets a little caught up in her cases, often acting on instinct and playing out hunches which often have the results she’s looking for. But when she’s wrong, it takes her a while to see it. She and the dependable Kato make an excellent team, with Kato helping to make sure Helen covers all her bases. Helen’s a less good domestic partner though – too often getting so caught up in work that she forgets about Anjan and she’s constantly having to apologise for missing drinks – or leaving him to find dinner for them.

This case takes over all of Helen’s time and energy. Following her instincts she tracks Bennet’s father George’s movements through his trainspotting activities and following one of her hunches, she uncovers a secret more devastating than anything she could have suspected and the case takes on a momentum no-one could have anticipated.

Amy has also made an important discovery and she is soon deeply involved in reading Bennet’s mother’s diaries which are deeply affecting. Helen and Amy are deeply affected by what they know, and the search for Bennet’s parents becomes an urgent one.

The Edinburgh setting is fabulous and Askew’s characterisation and dialogue are excellent.

Askew uses historical newspaper reports as punchy additions to an already dramatic story and these help add to the sense of tension and urgency. As the novel progressed and the search for George Bennet intensifies, I was pretty sure I knew where the book was heading, but that didn’t in any way detract from my enjoyment. I liked that I had the same hunch as Helen, with a little more of an idea about what was going to be discovered!

Verdict: A nicely complex, well-plotted book with a good pace and excellent characters. Claire Askew tells a good story very well. Easily read as a stand-alone, this is an excellent addition to the Helen Birch series.

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Claire Askew is a poet, novelist and the Writer in Residence at the University of Edinburgh. Her debut
novel in progress was the winner of the 2016 Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, and longlisted for the 2014
Peggy Chapman-Andrews (Bridport) Novel Award. Claire holds a PhD in Creative Writing from the
University of Edinburgh and has won a variety of accolades for her work, including the Jessie Kesson
Fellowship and a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award. All The Hidden Truths was longlisted for two
CWA Daggers: Gold (best novel) and John Creasey (best debut).
Her debut poetry collection, This changes things, was published by Bloodaxe in 2016 and shortlisted for
the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award and a Saltire First Book Award. In 2016 Claire was selected as a
Scottish Book Trust Reading Champion, and she works as the Scotland tutor for women’s writing
initiatives Write Like A Grrrl! and #GrrrlCon. Cover Your Tracks is her third novel.

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The Killings at Kingfisher Hill by Sophie Hannah Narrated by Julian Rhind-Tutt #Audiobookreview @HarperCollinsUK

Source: Review copy
Publication: 20th August 2020 from Harper Collins
Length: 8hrs 54’
ASIN: B0844ZGZGP

The world’s greatest detective, Hercule Poirot – legendary star of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile – returns to solve a fiendish new mystery.

Hercule Poirot is travelling by luxury passenger coach from London to the exclusive Kingfisher Hill estate. Richard Devonport has summoned him to prove that his fiancée, Helen, is innocent of the murder of his brother, Frank. There is one strange condition attached to this request: Poirot must conceal his true reason for being there from the rest of the Devonport family.

On the coach, a distressed woman leaps up, demanding to disembark. She insists that if she stays in her seat, she will be murdered. A seat-swap is arranged and the rest of the journey passes without incident. But Poirot has a bad feeling about it, and his fears are later confirmed when a body is discovered in the Devonports’ home with a note that refers to ‘the seat that you shouldn’t have sat in’.

Could this new murder and the peculiar incident on the coach be clues to solving mystery of who killed Frank Devonport? And can Poirot find the real murderer in time to save an innocent woman from the gallows?

I’ve not read any of Sophie Hannah’s Hercule Poirot books before, though I do have another audiobook in my library to try, so I was intrigued to see what it might be like, as Poirot novels are among my favourite Christies.

Poirot and his Scotland Yard companion Inspector Edward Catchpool, who, like Captain Hastings before him, is our narrator, are on their way to Sussex. It’s quite difficult to imagine Poirot on a coach, but we must suppose he had no other means of getting to his destination.

The coach is full and of course there are a number of occurrences which pique Poirot’s curiosity, not least of which is a woman who boards the bus and who claims she has been warned she will be murdered if she sits in a specific seat.

Poirot and Catchpoole are on a mission and an undercover one at that. Poirot has been asked by Richard Devonport to investigate the murder of his brother, Frank, a murder for which Davenport’s fiancée Helen Acton is currently in Holloway Prison, having confessed to his murder.

Devonport is convinced of Helen’s innocence. The Devenports live in a large mansion in an exclusive Sussex estate. Patriarch Stanley is a bull-headed man and his wife, Lilian is seriously ill. Poirot and CatchPoole endeavour to maintain their disguised personae – that of  board-game enthusiasts – but it is not long before that pretence has to be cast aside as events somewhat overtake them. When another murder takes place the pair are then in a position to mount an official investigation. So now we have the large affluent country house, the cast of characters many of whom are related to each other and a potentially innocent woman languishing in prison having confessed to a murder her fiancée believed she could not possibly have committed. So far, so very Christie.

Hannah builds a complex, twisted and labyrinthine plot with many red herrings and lots of clues dropped and partners swapped. It’s enough to make the little grey cells swim. Catchpoole doesn’t seem all that much brighter than Hastings, which is a tad worrying given that he is a Police Inspector; however that gives Poirot the opportunity to show off his skills in a teacher to pupil fashion.

It is, I think, a decent homage to Christie and faithful to the spirit. What really makes this audiobook work though, above all, is the fantastic narration of Julian Rhind-Tutt who is a master at voices and inflexions and really brings the whole book alive. It’s worth it just for his narration alone. I’m in awe of his skills – as I was when he played Rumpole in the BBC dramatisations – and he’s a terrific actor.

Verdict: Though perhaps a little overly convoluted, plot-wise, Sophie Hannah does a decent job of re-creating all the classic elements of a Christie novel and building in the types of character we have come to know and love. It is clear that she knows her Christie novels well and this is reflected in what we read and hear. I enjoyed the audiobook a great deal and will certainly be back to listen to more Poirot’s in this form.

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Sophie Hannah is a Sunday Times and New York Times bestselling writer of crime fiction, published in forty-nine languages and fifty-one territories. Her books have sold millions of copies worldwide. In 2014, with the blessing of Agatha Christie’s family and estate, Sophie published a new Poirot novel, The Monogram Murders, which was a bestseller in more than fifteen countries. She has since published two more Poirot novels, Closed Casket and The Mystery of Three Quarters, both of which were instant Sunday Times Top Ten bestsellers.
In 2013, Sophie’s novel The Carrier won the Crime Thriller of the Year Award at the Specsavers National Book Awards.  She has also published two short story collections and five collections of poetry – the fifth of which, Pessimism for Beginners, was shortlisted for the T S Eliot Award. Her poetry is studied at GCSE, A Level and degree level across the UK. Most recently, she has published a self-help book called How to Hold a Grudge: From Resentment to Contentment – The Power of Grudges to Transform Your Life.Sophie has recently helped to create a Master’s Degree in Crime and Thriller Writing at the University of Cambridge, for which she is the main teacher and Course Director. She is also the founder of the DREAM AUTHOR coaching programme for writers. She lives with her husband, children and dog in Cambridge, where she is an Honorary Fellow of Lucy Cavendish College.

STILL LIFE by Val McDermid @valmcdermid @LittleBrownUK @laurasherlock21 @GroveAtlantic

Source: Review copy
Publication: 20 August 2020 in the UK from Little Brown and 6th October 2020 in the US from Grove Atlantic
PP: 448
ISBN-13: 978-1408712283

My thanks to publishers Grove Atlantic for a digital copy of this book for review purposes.

‘The bodies never stay buried forever . . .’

On a freezing winter morning, fishermen pull a body from the sea. It is quickly discovered that the dead man was the prime suspect in a decade-old investigation, when a prominent civil servant disappeared without trace. DCI Karen Pirie was the last detective to review the file and is drawn into a sinister world of betrayal and dark secrets.

But Karen is already grappling with another case, one with even more questions and fewer answers. A skeleton has been discovered in an abandoned campervan and all clues point to a killer who never faced justice – a killer who is still out there.

In her search for the truth, Karen uncovers a network of lies that has gone unchallenged for years. But lies and secrets can turn deadly when someone is determined to keep them hidden for good . .

I’ve read and really enjoyed all the Karen Pirie books to date, but none as much as this one. The stars seemed to have aligned for Still Life and the prose in this novel flows like a sparkling stream with dazzling flashes of light as the sun bounces off the water.

It’s a pre-Covid19 novel, but only just, and McDermid uses the lightest of fleeting touches to acknowledge what’s coming, which makes this book feel bang up to date, without burdening us with the awfulness of the actuality, which feels spot on to me.

DCI Karen Pirie has two cases to deal with in this novel, both with an artistic element to them. The first is the case of a skeleton found in a camper van in the garage of a douce Perth house, hidden under a tarpaulin.

The owner has recently died; she lived alone, her partner, an artist, having left her for another woman some years ago. Karen and the lovely but slightly dim but utterly loyal D.C. Jason ‘The Mint’ Murray are investigating when Karen’s boss, the fearsome Chief Inspector Merkle (or The Dog Biscuit as she is universally known at Gayfield Square station) decides to also hand her this month’s hot potato.

The body of a man has been found in the Firth of Forth and it looks like murder. Not a cold case, Karen protests, but it transpires that although the deceased lived in France and was a French national, he has links to the disappearance of a senior Scotland Office civil servant who vanished ten years ago, so there may be political fall-out from this one. The Dog Biscuit is deeming it a cold case and putting it into Karen’s jurisdiction for that reason.

Karen is still enjoying her relationship with the affluent hipster, Hamish though she still isn’t able to give herself 100% to that relationship. It isn’t helped by the release of her partner Phil’s killer from prison.

As Jason takes point on the Perth case, chasing down leads on two women, Karen recruits the rather splendid DS Daisy Mortimer from Fife Police to go with her to France to find out more about their jazz loving dead French national.

I loved the breadth of knowledge that McDermid displays in this book. It’s fascinating to learn about aspects of forensic pathology and technical wizardry which is so important for solving cases and McDermid uses her extensive contacts and knowledge of in this field to add layers and depth to her investigations.

The cases are interesting and nicely complex. The danger that runs through the book feels real and so there is a nice tension that unsettles the reader as much as it engrosses. The banter is top notch and it feels as if Karen’s team is coming together really well now. I adore the way that Edinburgh comes to life as Karen makes her way from her favourite Syrian café to other equally delicious eating places. McDermid always builds in a smattering of what’s going on in Scotland and the world alongside some pithy commentary and that puts the reader in the same frame as Pirie, adding to the authenticity.

I love that Pirie stands up for her team, but also for herself. She won’t let herself be riled or cowed by Merkle and she is committed to making sure Hamish knows exactly where she stands as far as he is concerned.

I have come to admire Pirie and would want her as a friend. That she feels quite so three dimensional is a testament to McDermid’s characterisation and I’m bit of a fan girl as a result. As the cases reach their conclusion we are on the eve of lockdown. What’s next for Karen Pirie? I can’t wait to find out!

Verdict: In a beautifully plotted and very well told tale, Karen, Daisy and Jason put together the solutions to two murders in journeys which take them from Perth to Stockport and Fife to France and Ireland with a few Brexit barbs built in. A well-paced, flowing narrative entertains and propels and this is a novel I’d unhesitatingly recommend.

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Val McDermid is a number one bestseller whose novels have been translated into more than thirty languages, and have sold over sixteen million copies. She has won many awards internationally, including the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year and the LA Times Book of the Year Award.
She was inducted into the ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame in 2009, was the recipient of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger in 2010 and received the Lambda Literary Foundation Pioneer Award in 2011. In 2016, Val received the Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival and in 2017 received the DIVA Literary Prize for Crime, and was elected a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Val has served as a judge for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Man Booker Prize, and was Chair of the Wellcome Book Prize in 2017. She is the recipient of six honorary doctorates and is an Honorary Fellow of St Hilda’s College, Oxford. She writes full-time and divides her time between Edinburgh and East Neuk of Fife.

KNIFE EDGE by Simon Mayo @simonmayo @DoubledayUK

Source: Review copy
Publication: 20 August 2020 from Doubleday
PP: 432
ISBN-13: 978-0857526595

6.45am. A sweltering London rush hour. And in the last 29 minutes, seven people have been murdered.

In a series of coordinated attacks, seven men and women across London have been targeted. For journalist Famie Madden, the horror unfolds as she arrives for the morning shift.

The victims have one thing in common: they make up the investigations team at the news agency where Famie works. The question everyone’s asking: what were they working on that could prompt such brutal devastation?

As Famie starts to receive mysterious messages, she must find out whether she is being warned of the next attack, or being told that she will be the next victim…

This is really quite a timely novel. Right now, journalists are under attack as never before. The rise of social media, fake news and the ability to instantly trash anyone whose opinions don’t reflect your own is taking its toll on the role of a free press and those who work for it. And that in turn is having a greater impact on the physical attacks on journalists than we have ever known. So far this year 21 journalists have been killed whilst on assignment, 9 of them murdered.

Frankly, it is worrying. And if freedom of speech is under threat, believe me when I tell you that democracy goes right under thereafter.

So, when Simon Mayo writes about seven journalists being targeted and killed within minutes of each other, the really sad truth is that I could see that happening. Just consider that for a moment. Fortunately, this is fiction and rather good fiction at that.

At the centre is journalist Famie Madden. She works for a large new bureau with an international reach – The International Press Service – a kind of alternative Reuters, if you will. Famie is really good at what she does, but she is really fed up at having to do it with fewer and fewer resources. Just as newspapers these days contain much less news and are produced by a handful of journalists, so the money to use news agencies to bring in strong stories has also diminished. Restructuring and ‘downsizing’ are now annual events and Famie has had it up to here.

Then seven of her colleagues are slain in separate knife attacks in London, within minutes of each other. It’s clearly a co-ordinated attack, but why? This team were in the midst of an investigation, and as is their norm, they kept the detail of that to themselves until they were ready to write it up. So there’s nothing in the system to help point the way to why this atrocity has occurred. Terrorism seems like a probable motive, but for Famie, these are her friends and colleagues. She also fears she could be targeted. It’s too much for her to bear and she’s had enough.

But someone is out there who wants her to investigate. Someone is sending her messages she has to try and make sense of. Because these killers haven’t stopped yet.

In an intense and thrilling read, it’s fair to say Mayo ‘s writing really caught me up in the story and as we learned more about the characters, both alive and those who were murdered, the motives got muddier before clarity was bestowed. As Famie starts to follow the sparse trail left by her unknown communicator, her own life and that of her daughter is put under threat and she has to keep moving to have any chance of feeling safe. Nor can the police protect her; their advice to stay put is clearly useless once she discovers that her flat has been ransacked when she should have been at home had she followed their advice.

In the main the pace is good, though it is slow to start and dips somewhat in the middle section, but the story is compelling and the subject matter fascinating as Famie thinks her way round the various terror groups across the world.

As well as Famie’s perspective, we get another, very different view of what is going on. One that is at the heart of the group that instigated these actions. That perspective lends a really chilling element to the book and as the plot develops we are left in no doubt as to the serious intent behind the responsible individuals. The plot becomes even more tense and as the action centres on Coventry and all the principal characters take their places, the stage is set for a stunning and violent climax that carries with it some surprises.

Verdict: This is the first Simon Mayo book I have read and I thought it was both gripping and exciting as well as having that strong and chilling contemporary slant on domestic terrorism. I’d certainly read another. Recommended.

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Simon Mayo is a writer and broadcaster. He is the presenter of the podcast Simon Mayo’s Books of the Year, a daily host on Scala Radio and co-presenter of Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review for the BBC. His previous books include Mad Blood Stirring, Blame and the Itch trilogy, filmed for TV by ABC. Knife Edge is his debut contemporary thriller.

The Less Dead by Denise Mina @DameDeniseMina @DeadGoodBooks @HarvillSecker @Jade__Chandler

Source: Review copy
Publication: 20th August 2020 from Random House UK; Harvill Secker
PP: 352
ISBN-13: 978-1787301726

When Margo goes in search of her birth mother for the first time, she meets her aunt, Nikki, instead. Margo learns that her mother, Susan, was a sex worker murdered soon after Margo’s adoption. To this day, Susan’s killer has never been found.

Nikki asks Margo for help. She has received threatening and haunting letters from the murderer, for decades. She is determined to find him, but she can’t do it alone…

Goodness me, gentle reader, but this book is a cracker! Want to know how good it is? Though it is very different, it reminds me in many ways of The Long Drop and that was OUTSTANDING! I read it from cover to cover in one day. I was so engrossed in the story and everything Mina was telling me that I did not want to stop – and believe me, that’s been a rare experience in this lockdown.

Margo Dunlop is mourning the death of her adoptive mother and is vulnerable with many changes in her life right now. Margot is a doctor, pregnant and on bereavement leave and has just split from her partner, Joe.

As we meet her, she is in the offices of an adoption agency waiting to meet her aunt, having discovered that her mother, Susan Brodie, died not long after giving birth to Margo.  Nikki is Susan’s sister and she is very late to the meeting; held up as a result of a trial she is involved with. (Mina fans will enjoy the wee Easter egg she throws in for us at the courthouse). When Nikki finally appears, just as Margo is about to leave, she is taken aback by how much Margo looks like her birth mother.

Nikki tells Margo that Susan was a prostitute and an addict and that she was murdered at the age of 19, by a serial killer who murdered 9 women but was never caught. Nikki was also an addict, also working the streets – and part of the richness of this book is embodied in the way in which Mina explores middle class attitudes to sex, drugs and violence and the delicacy with which Margo tries to engage with Nikki, all the time just a wee bit at sea as to how to relate to her.

Indeed, after their first meeting she gives her false contact details, so unsure is she as to whether she wants Nikki anywhere near her life. Nikki shows her threatening letters she’s  received over the years which she believes come from the killer, containing scraps of evidence that come from the site where Susan’s body was found, a bus stop in Easterhouse.

Mina conveys so well the Glasgow of the 80’s, a time when heroin was really the drug of ‘choice’ on the streets of the city and more women entered the world of selling sex than ever before, to be able to get their fix.

Nikki believes she knows who was responsible for the deaths of Susan and the other women and when Margo finds that a similar letter is waiting for her, she is driven to find out what’s going on.

What makes this book work so incredibly well is the fragile relationship between these women and the way that they dance around each other, not quite knowing how to relate, despite the fact that they are blood relatives. But who hasn’t been there, right? The notion of family and what it is, how it works is explored through the relationships of all the women in this book, as is the unremitting question of male violence and how that so easily transcends any notion of class distinction.

Margo has difficulty in dealing with the sex worker side of Nikki’s life, her past drug addiction and the violence that is a part and parcel of the life of a sex worker but at the same time she is appalled by the casual and brutal attitude of the Police to these women’s deaths. Because they were sex workers, their deaths were treated as some kind of work related accident; they were disposable – or in the title of the book, the ‘less dead’, women whose deaths were less significant because they were not part of polite society. And because they were in the main, poor and working class, they was no moral outrage; they had no-one who would speak up for them and demand justice. They were disposable in a world where you can always get another one where that one came from. It is only Diane Gallagher, a woman cop in a sea of men who is prepared to be more human and even she is holding back.

There is a strong and menacing plot running through this book, as Margo is threatened by our unseen killer, the tension rising as she tries to find the killer, her suspicion falling on more than one many man she encounters with a propensity to use his fists. Margo may think she’s getting to the truth, but the killer is always one step ahead and she’s really not seeing the wood from the trees.

Mina’s love of true crime comes through in the form of Jack Robertson, a rather sleazy author who has written about Susan’s and the other women’s deaths and is now being sued for pointing the finger. He is obviously is keen to have his theories validated.

The core of the story, though, is the relationships between all the women in the book, from Margo’s friend Lilah to the women who stand up in solidarity for each other in court.

Glasgow takes centre stage as a character, of course, and is richly and graphically depicted from the wonderful Mitchell Library to the two sides of the Saltmarket; one striving to get to Bohemia but not quite making it; the other populated by men tumbling out of pubs looking for a fight and not caring where they get it.

Verdict: The Less Dead on one level is a suspenseful, menacing thriller and pitch perfect at that. But it is also about the bond between women; about friendship; about how you choose which family you want to belong to and the power dynamics that play out in all families. The writing is fabulous. This is prose you can happily drown in, like a warm bath reaching for you and drawing you in.

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After a peripatetic childhood in Glasgow, Paris, London, Invergordon, Bergen and Perth, Denise Mina left school early. Working in a number of dead end jobs, all of them badly, before studying at night school to get into Glasgow University Law School. Denise went on to study for a PhD at Strathclyde, misusing her student grant to write her first novel. This was Garnethill, published in 1998, which won the Crime Writers Association John Creasy Dagger for Best First Crime Novel.She has now published 13 novels and also writes short stories, plays and graphic novels. In 2014 she was inducted into the Crime Writers’ Association Hall of Fame. Her novel The Long Drop won the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year in 2017.Denise presents TV and radio programmes as well as regularly appearing in the media, and has made a film about her own family. She regularly appears at literary festivals in the UK and abroad, leads masterclasses on writing and was a judge for the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction 2014.

Clean hands by Patrick Hoffman @pdchoffman @groveatlantic

Source: Review copy
Publication: 6 August 2020 from Grove Press
PP: 288
ISBN-13: 978-1611856408

Corporate lawyer Elizabeth Carlyle is under pressure. Her prestigious New York law firm is working on a high-stakes case, defending a prominent bank accused of fraud. When Elizabeth gets the news that one of her junior associates has lost his phone – and the secret documents that were on it – she needs help. Badly.

Enter ex-CIA officer Valencia Walker, a high-priced fixer who gets called in when wealthy people, corporations and governments need their problems solved discreetly. But things get complicated when the missing phone is retrieved: somebody has already copied the documents and blackmail is underway.

Mysterious leaks to the press and an unlikely suicide further complicate the situation. With billions of dollars on the line, Elizabeth and Valencia must outmanoeuvre their tormentors, all the while keeping their hands clean.

I really enjoyed this New York set thriller which attention grabbed from the very first page and never let go.  Chris Cowey is a lawyer at the very prestigious law firm of Carlyle, Driscoll and Hathaway. The firm is acting on behalf of the Calcott Bank in a big and financially very worthwhile action against another bank. The litigation has come about because both sides are arguing over whose fault it was that their planned merger did not succeed.

Elizabeth Carlyle, Senior Partner, is in charge of the case and so when it transpires that junior lawyer Chris Cowey has had his phone pick-pocketed and that it contained sensitive documents relating to the trial, Elizabeth has to get those documents back. She knows it is imperative to ensure they don’t fall into the hands of their client’s adversaries, so she brings in a troubleshooter – Valencia Walker.

Valencia is ex-CIA and one of the best fixers out there. But although Valencia has the staff and the know- how to figure out who took the phone and how to track it down, things are not quite as straightforward as they at first appeared.

In a fast moving and complex thriller, Hoffman leads us on a tangled journey that goes from street thieves to mid-level organised crime to the Russian mafia and even a black-ops set up. As the vital documents change hands, and the price of their keeps going up, Elizabeth see her future crumbling and Valencia has to use all her resources to work out who has them and what they intend to do with them.

It’s great to read a financial thriller with two strong female protagonists who lead from the front and whose resourcefulness and intelligence is unquestionable. What starts as a story about a mobile phone turns out to be something altogether much bigger and the spider’s web that Valencia needs to negotiate is threaded around some unexpected places. Full of intrigue and deft use of smoke and mirrors, Hoffman shows us that there are all too plausible connections between corporate and criminal America and with billions of dollars on the line, the stakes are so high that for Elizabeth and Valencia nothing is off limits. The trick is to make sure that at the end, their hands are clean.

Verdict: A strong and intelligent thriller with a fast pace and an intriguing and diverse set of characters, fronted by two powerful female players. The action is intense and Hoffman’s New York legal and financial setting is just right for this well-crafted and believable thriller.

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Patrick Hoffman is a writer and private investigator based in Brooklyn, NY. His first book, THE WHITE VAN, was a finalist for the Crime Writers’ Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award and was named a Wall Street Journal and San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year. His highly anticipated follow-up, EVERY MAN A MENACE, came out in 2016, and was again named one of the ten best of the year by the Wall Street Journal.
Photo: DeSean McClinton-Holland

Death in the East by Abir Mukherjee @radiomukhers @VintageBooks @styx_hope #DeathintheEast

Source: Review copy
Publication: 6th August 2020 from Vintage Books
PP: 432
ISBN-13: 978-1784708535

Calcutta police detective Captain Sam Wyndham and his quick-witted Indian Sergeant, Surrender-not Banerjee, are back for another rip-roaring adventure set in 1920s India.

1905, London. As a young constable, Sam Wyndham is on his usual East London beat when he comes across an old flame, Bessie Drummond, attacked in the streets. The next day, when Bessie is found brutally beaten in her own room, locked from the inside, Wyndham promises to get to the bottom of her murder. But the case will cost the young constable more than he ever imagined.

1922, India. Leaving Calcutta, Captain Sam Wyndham heads for the hills of Assam, to the ashram of a sainted monk where he hopes to conquer his opium addiction. But when he arrives, he sees a ghost from his life in London – a man thought to be long dead, a man Wyndham hoped he would never see again.

Wyndham knows he must call his friend and colleague Sergeant Banerjee for help. He is certain this figure from his past isn’t here by coincidence. He is here for revenge . . .

Abir Mukherjee’s Sam Wyndham/ Surendranath Banerjee series is one of the best crime series around and I loved Death in the East so much that I am re-sharing my original review to celebrate the paperback publication. Death in the East is another sure fire hit.

Mukherjee’s writing has grown throughout this series and here he shows confidence in his characters by giving Sergeant Surendranath Banerjee lead status in the locked room mystery that poses a real conundrum for our two investigators.

The case this time has its origins in Sam Wyndham’s past. As a young Police Constable, Wyndham came up against a rich and vicious thug whom he suspects of being behind the death of Bessie Drummond, a young woman whom Sam had once had feelings for. The narrative switches between the young P.C. in 1905 where he is stationed in the heart of London’s deeply impoverished East End and 1922, where a seriously opium addicted Wyndham is determined once and for all to throw off his addiction. He travels to Assam for treatment from a Hindu holy man who treats addictions through a strict regime which brooks no recidivism.

Wyndham is travelling when he sees someone that he thought long gone; a foe he will never forget.   That sighting brings alive all his memories of Bessie Drummond and her murder in a locked room that Sam knows was wrongly attributed to someone else. So when that man whom Sam knows to be the murderer is found dead, also in a locked room, it is clear that Sam cannot be an impartial investigator. Fortunately, he has already called on Sergeant Banerjee for assistance.

Mukherjee draws attention to the decades of prejudice and ill treatment meted out to those who arrive in Britain as immigrants; poor and in need of refuge. In 1905 it is the Jews who are the brunt of prejudice and racism; in later decades it will be the Bengalis and then the Serbs and Romanians. Britain’s history is one of deeply ingrained prejudice against those who seek asylum and to make their living in our country and Mukherjee shows us how deeply ingrained it is in out psyche when he portrays the relationship between Sam and Surendranath. Because Sam is not a bad man, but he is simply unable to get over his own sense of cultural superiority and ingrained racism to Surendranath, a man whose name he has never bothered to learn to pronounce, despite calling him a friend.

But this book is set predominantly in 1922 and in India things are changing and changing rapidly. The move towards self-rule is gaining pace thanks to the adoption of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s policy of non-violence and civil disobedience, and the days of the Raj, while by no means over are beginning to look at least numbered.

This is reflected in the way that Surendranath and Sam interact in this book. Sam, because of his previous experience with the dead man, is deemed inappropriate to lead on the case, and so Surendranath finds himself in the position of being the lead police investigator in the death of a rich Englishman, working from a member’s club in Jatinga which would never allow any Indian to be a member.

It was terrific to see Surendranath taking more of the centre stage, albeit towards the end of the book. His relationship with Sam is changing, just as India’s relationship with the British is changing. The British see no irony at all in being incomers to India and yet asserting their (self-perceived) authority, while simultaneously doing all they can to suppress immigrants to Britain’s shores.

Mukherjee is beginning to assert Sergeant Banerjee’s character more now and as the Sergeant gains confidence so we should see the relationship between Sam and Surendranath shift to one which is more based on equals than the previous ‘enlightened colonialism’.

Oh, and the locked room mystery is a good one, which is solved neatly and with style. But this book is about so much more and Mukherjee’s characters grow in depth and complexity with every book. I think this is the best one yet and can’t wait for more.

Verdict: An elegant double locked room mystery layered with complex characterisation, atmospheric descriptions and conveying messages which resonate from 1905 through to the present day. This is top class storytelling of importance in a series not to be missed.

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Abir Mukherjee grew up in the west of Scotland. At the age of fifteen, his best friend made him read Gorky Park and he’s been a fan of crime fiction ever since. The child of immigrants from India, A Rising Man, his debut novel, was inspired by a desire to learn more about a crucial period in Anglo-Indian history that seems to have been almost forgotten. A Rising Man won the Harvill Secker/Daily Telegraph crime writing competition and became the first in a series starring Captain Sam Wyndham and ‘Surrender-not’ Banerjee. It went on to win the CWA Historical Dagger and was shortlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award. Abir lives in Surrey with his wife and two sons.

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