Dead Man’s Creek by Chris Hammer @Bookywookydooda @hammerNow @Wildfirebks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 5TH January 2023 from Wildfire
PP: 496
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1472295668

Newly-minted homicide detective Nell Buchanan returns to her hometown, annoyed at being assigned a decades-old murder – a ‘file and forget’.

But this is no ordinary cold case, her arrival provoking an unwelcome and threatening response from the small-town community. As more bodies are discovered, and she begins to question how well she truly knows those closest to her, Nell realises that finding the truth could prove more difficult – and dangerous – than she’d ever expected.

The nearer Nell comes to uncovering the secrets of the past, the more treacherous her path becomes. Can she survive to root out the truth, and what price will she have to pay for it?

Dead Man’s Creek is the second book to feature Narelle (Nell) Buchanan and Ivan Lucic, following on from Opal Country, but can easily be read as a stand-alone. Nell takes front and centre stage in this story which turns very personal for her.

Newly promoted to Detective, Nell is miffed when her first assignment turns out to be a historic case in the backwater of New South Wales in what used to be her home. It feels to her like she is being palmed off with an easy case for a rookie detective and she’s not happy.

Environmental activists have been active in the area and after one has blown up a regulator on the Murray River, deep in a foresting area, skeletal remains are discovered. The remains are more than 80 years old and so Lucic lets Nell get on with it. Nell is hardly started on the identification of the skeletal remains when a second body is discovered; and intriguingly this one is also old, just not as old as the first one…

Dead Man’s Creek spans more than half a century, with much of this story harking back to two distinct time periods; World War 11 and the 1970’s and Nell will have to mine her family’s knowledge in order to see how the threads of the past connect through to the present.

I love the epic sweep of this book and the way in which he uses the geography of the area to create a magnificent backdrop to his murder mysteries.  This story is set along the Murray River and we learn about the impact of Worlds War 11 on the area and how Italian POWs were treated after being shipped in from to work at a prison camp. Hammer beautifully explores the impact of the war on those left at home, as well as on these POWs.

Chris Hammer takes us back in time and traces the history of a number of people who will turn out to be important to Nell and her family history. You get a sense of the vastness of the terrain and yet also the feel of a small town where everyone knows everyone else, the past is alive for most of them and secrets are kept close.

We hear about Tessa’s 70’s romance with the attractive young would be journalist, Tycho and the time they spent with great music on tape and the scent of young love in the air. But Tess’s life takes a turn for the worse when Tycho goes missing. Then there’s 90 year old Jimmy Waters with a story to tell. He grew up a bush cattle herder after his dad was sent to New Guinea in the Second World War.

But this novel is not all historical, though the root of these puzzles lies in the past; Dead Man’s Creek is also a compelling story of political terrorism today.

Nell has to gather all of these fragments of different information from across the decades, at the same time as she sees the information she is uncovering impacting on her family. How she manages to reconcile this with her role as a homicide detective is such a delicate balance and she proves she has the mettle to navigate this delicate territory as well as the courage to face armed and brutal gangsters.

Verdict: Chris Hammer’s novel is a beautifully layered, wonderfully described novel where the picture builds like a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle. The plotting is exceptional. He has a great knack for surprising you with things that seemed unimportant but suddenly come into focus as other pieces of information slot into place. His sense of place is remarkable and his characters authentic. I loved it.

Bookshop.org                                  Waterstones                                     Hive Stores

Chris Hammer was a journalist for more than thirty years, dividing his career between covering Australian federal politics and international affairs. For many years he was a roving foreign correspondent for SBS TV’s flagship current affairs program Dateline. He has reported from more than thirty countries on six continents. Chris’s non-fiction book, The River, published in 2010 to critical acclaim, was the recipient of the ACT Book of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the Walkley Book Award. Scrublands, his first novel, was published in 2018 and won the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award, as well as being shortlisted for Best Debut Fiction at the Indie Book Awards, and Best General Fiction at the ABIA Awards. It has also been longlisted for the Ned Kelly Best Crime Novel of the Year. Scrublands was optioned for television by Easy Tiger (a FremantleMedia company). Chris has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Charles Sturt University and a master’s degree in international relations from the Australian National University. He lives in Canberra with his wife, Dr Tomoko Akami. The couple have two children.

Peter May on Tour this January! @authorpetermay @soph_ransompr

Peter May is embarking on a UK tour with his new book, A Winter Grave – an engrossing crime thriller set in a near-future devastated by the climate crisis. You can read more about A Winter Grave below, but do make a note of the tour dates in your diary. A Winter Grave is published by riverrun on 19 January 2023.

Thursday 19th January – Hatchard’s, London

Monday 23rd January – Mitchell Library, Glasgow

Tuesday 24th January – Eden Court Theatre, Inverness

Wednesday 25th January – St. John’s Kirk, Perth

Thursday 26th January – Toppings, St Andrews

Friday 27th January – Toppings, Edinburgh

I’ve been a fan of Peter May’s writing since his fabulous Lewis trilogy that started with The Blackhouse and continued with The Lewis Man and finished with the explosive The Chess Men.

After reading those I went back and read all of his Enzo Files series, his China Thrillers series and his stand-alone novels, so it’s fair to say I am very excited about his upcoming book, A Winter Grave, due to be released on the 19th of January! I’ll be on the blog tour for this one, so will be saving my thoughts until then, but this one is deeply personal to Peter arising from his concern about the environment.

A Winter Grave is an engrossing crime thriller set in a near-future devastated by the climate crisis. Incredibly relevant given the COP27 climate change conference which took place recently, A Winter Grave incorporates Peter’s concern for the environment and skillfully uses his detailed research on the fossil fuel industry, big energy companies and climate change in general. Peter has always had an interest in the environment (as seen in his use of bees in Coffin Road) and his apprehension for the environment grew after reading about the COP26 summit last year.  Keen to bring this to people’s attention and wanting to put it in an accessible, readable format, he decided to weave it into a crime thriller.

Here’s what the blurb for the book says…

Set in 2051, warnings of climate catastrophe have been ignored, and Scotland has been hit by rising water levels and extreme snow and ice storms. It is against this backdrop that Addie, a young meteorologist checking a mountain top weather station, discovers the body of a man entombed in ice. The dead man is investigative reporter, George Younger, missing for three months, but not a hill walker and so his discovery on a mountain-top near the Highland village of Kinlochleven is inexplicable. Cameron Brodie, veteran Glasgow detective and only mountain climber in the force, sets out on a hazardous journey to the isolated and ice-bound village. He has his own reasons for wanting to investigate the murder case so far from his beat, but he has more than a murder enquiry on his agenda. Torn by a broken marriage and faced with a devastating medical prognosis, Brodie must lay to rest the ghosts of his past, as well as a killer determined to bury forever the secret that his investigation threatens to expose… 

I’m excited about this one. Not least because the more writers can do to highlight environmental concerns, the better as far as I am concerned. I read Paul Hardisty’s The Forcing over the holidays and was blown away by its power and relevance.

Do try to make one of the tour stops if you can – and follow the blog tour to see what bloggers make of Peter May’s A Winter Grave.

Bookshop.org                                  Waterstones                                    Hive Stores

Peter May was born and raised in Scotland. He was an award-winning journalist at the age of twenty-one and a published novelist at twenty-six. When his first book was adapted as a major drama series for the BBC, he quit journalism and during the high-octane fifteen years that followed, became one of Scotland’s most successful television dramatists. He created three prime-time drama series, presided over two of the highest-rated serials in his homeland as script editor and producer, and worked on more than 1,000 episodes of ratings-topping drama before deciding to leave television to return to his first love, writing novels. In 2021, he was awarded the CWA Dagger in the Library Award. He has also won several literature awards in France, received the USA’s Barry Award for The Blackhouse, the first in his internationally bestselling Lewis Trilogy; and in 2014 was awarded the ITV Specsavers Crime Thriller Book Club Best Read of the Year award for Entry Island. Peter now lives in South-West France with his wife, writer Janice Hally.

Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor @littlebrown @lucy_martin20

Source: Review copy
Publication: 3 January 2023 from Little, Brown
PP: 560
ISBN-13: 978-0708898888

This is the age of vice, where pleasure and power are everything, and the family ties that bind can also kill

New Delhi, 3 a.m. A speeding Mercedes jumps the kerb, and in the blink of an eye five people are dead. It’s a rich man’s car, but when the dust settles there is no rich man at all, just a shell-shocked servant who cannot explain the strange series of events that led to this crime. Nor can he foresee the dark drama that is about to unfold.

Deftly shifting through time and perspective in contemporary India, Age of Vice is an epic, action-packed story propelled by the seductive wealth, startling corruption, and bloodthirsty violence of the Wadia family-loved by some, loathed by others, feared by all.

Age of Vice is a big book and I hung on every word. This is a prime example of how crime and literary fiction merge together to create a huge story of political and social significance. Seen through the eyes of 3 people, it is told from the perspectives of Ajay, Sunny and Neda. A vast, sweeping narrative of politics, corruption and the power of gangsterism in India, it is uncompromising.  Ajay is the character who provides the central core of this novel and the story begins with him as he emerges from a fatal car crash and is taken to prison.

Born into poverty in Uttar Pradesh, Ajay and his family are conned out of what little they have until his mother has no choice but to sell Ajay to child traffickers in order to have enough to feed the rest of her family. Sonny keeps his head down and works hard, making himself indispensable until he finally attracts the attention of playboy Sunny Wadia.

Sunny loves to party and as the son of Bunty Wadia, a corrupt and venal politician whose tentacles spread throughout Delhi and further afield, he is never short of drugs, money and alcohol. Ajay becomes his servant, rolling his joints, procuring his drugs, cleaning up after his legendary parties, even taking care of the women Sunny so carelessly discards.

It’s a hedonistic lifestyle and Sunny is caught between wanting to please his father and yet realising that he needs to be his own man with a way to realise his own dreams and aspirations even though they do not accord with his father’s wishes.

Neda is a journalist. She comes into Sunny’s life and sees him for what he is. Yet she is also deeply attracted to him, perhaps because of his flaws as much as anything. She can see that he battles silently with his need to be his own man, though his father exerts an iron grip on Sunny, determined to mould him into his successor.

But Bunty Wadia is not the only villain of this piece. Vicky Wadia, his brother, has none of the social veneer that Bunty uses to present as a businessman in New Delhi. Vicky is an out and out gangster, operating in the shadows, ruling through violence and fear, clearing the way for the Wadia family to run every aspect of legal and illegal commerce throughout the region.

Age of Vice is a story of extremes; extreme poverty and child trafficking; extreme wealth and venality; corruption and terrible violence. It is the story of how power corrupts and offers evidence of how absolute power corrupts absolutely but political power is where the money is to be made. The capitalist dream lives large in India and however shallow and meaningless it often is for those who ‘succeed’.

Age of Vice depicts so clearly the consequences of what Sunny has to do to help his father gain and retain power, and how that impacts him and on those closest to him. It’s a heart-breaking, brutal story of epic proportions, told with a literary flair and a really searing philosophical undercurrent that exemplifies what really matters. It is also a story of friendship, loyalty and love and how easy it is to lose your way when all around you are lying not just to you, but to themselves.

Verdict: I adored this story. Deepti Kappor is a visual storyteller and her characters spring to life on the page. It is a story of how easy it is to be sucked into the middle of a vortex and how impossible it is to get free of the maelstrom. There’s something about this first car crash that symbolises everything that is to follow. Sunny’s life is a car crash just as India’s political and economic system is an accident waiting to happen. Age of Vice is a brilliant *must read* start to the New Year.

Bookshop.org                                  Waterstones                                     Hive Stores

Deepti Kapoor grew up in northern India and worked for several years as a journalist in New Delhi. The author of the novel Bad Character, she now lives in Portugal with her husband.

My Darkest Prayer by S. A. Cosby @blacklionking73 @headlinepg

Source : Review copy
Publication: 6 December 2022 from Headline
Narration: Adam Lazarre-White
Listening time: 9 hours and 23 minutes
ASIN: B0BLW6ZHCG

“I handle the bodies.”

Whether it’s working at his cousin’s funeral home or tossing around the local riffraff at his favorite bar, Nathan Waymaker is a man who knows how to handle the bodies. A former marine and sheriff’s deputy, Nathan has built a reputation in his small Southern town as a man who can help when all other avenues have been exhausted. When a beloved local minister is found dead, his parishioners ask Nathan to make sure the death isn’t swept under the rug.

What starts out as an easy payday soon descends into a maze of mayhem filled with wannabe gangsters, vicious crime lords, porn stars, crooked police officers, and a particularly treacherous preacher and his mysterious wife. Nathan must use all his varied skills and some of his wit to navigate the murky waters of small town corruption even as dark secrets of his own threaten to come to the surface.

Let me begin, unusually, with the narrator. I am smitten with Adam Lazarre-White’s voice, which is perfect for the narration of this book. Dark, gravelly, it instantly conjures up an image of Nathan Waymaker that sits perfectly with the story. Nathan Waymaker works at his cousin’s funeral home, so he is no stranger to death. A former Marine, he is also an ex-cop still burning from the injustice he knows was perpetrated when the local cops in the Sherriff’s department conveniently ‘lost’ the evidence that would have convicted the drunk driver who killed his parents.

I’m a huge fan of S.A. Cosby’s writing and this is the first book that he published, now re-issued after the runaway success of both Blacktop Wasteland and Razorblade Tears. I was so keen to read this and I wasn’t disappointed. Cosby’s writing is rich and authentic. He understands poverty and the travails of the working classes and couples this with a real feel for dialogue and a brilliant look at the way some religious proponents exploit the poorest in society. It’s raw and often violent but that enhances the power of this writing and at is gripping.

Waymaker is tasked by two religious parishioners to ask the police some questions about the death of their Pastor. With no love lost between Nathan and his former colleagues, he knows it’s not the easiest of asks, but how hard can it be to earn £2k just for asking questions?

Soon though, Nathan is up to his neck in gangsters but finds an unlikely ally in the daughter of the deceased who is now a well-known porn star and who has some enlightening information to share about her father.

In this dark Southern tale the atmosphere is claustrophobic and redolent with danger. Waymaker and his friend Skunk have to be prepared to take on the deadliest enemies and expose the dark underbelly of some of the County’s most respected religious leaders.

Cosby creates a compelling, violent scenario which plumbs the depth of sexual practices and exposes the moral hypocrisy surrounding these religious leaders. It’s dark, brutal and compelling. Brilliant writing, superb narration. I was transfixed.

Audible

S. A. Cosby is a writer from Southeastern Virginia. He won the 2019 Anthony Award for Best Short Story for “The Grass Beneath My Feet”, and his previous books include Brotherhood of the Blade, Blacktop Wasteland and Razorblade Tears. He resides in Gloucester, Virginia. When not writing, he is an avid hiker and chess player.

My top ten (and a bit) books of 2022

Honestly, it’s an impossible task. I tried hard to be ruthless and get down to just 10 books, but in the end, even cutting out some books I really loved, I could not hone it down to just 10.

So here are my top 13 books published for the first time in 2022 and at the end, I have selected my top book of the year.

The Undiscovered Deaths of Grace McGill by C.S.Robertson

Distinctive, compelling, rich and surprising, this is a beautifully plotted book that delivers in all the right ways and Grace McGill is a character you will not forget. Dark and delicious, like the best chocolate this book will melt a little when it reaches your heart.

The Gifts by Liz Hyder

An immersive, spell-binding, propulsive story with fabulous characters that allows you to get wholly drawn into the story of their lives which makes the violence perpetrated against them all the more devastating.  This is a glorious book that combines historical fiction with magical realism and yet carries huge contemporary resonance.

The Shot by Sarah Sultoon

Sarah Sultoon’s The Shot is an extraordinary, stunning story told brilliantly well. It offers a realistic and shocking insight into the incredible impact on journalists of working in war zones . It’s a masterclass in storytelling and cinematic in scope. A must read.

May God Forgive by Alan Parks

Alan Parks brilliantly re-creates 1970’s Glasgow and the divide between those who have and the have-nots. His violence is unremitting; the crimes are hard to stomach. But the characters are stand out brilliant, the plotting is superb and the sense of place second to none. Alan Parks asks some hard questions of his flawed protagonist and the answers do not come easily. Compelling, bleak and heart-breaking, this is a book not to be missed.

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

There’s something inherently beautiful in Stuart’s rich imagery and fabulous prose which sets this book firmly apart from others. The writing contrasts with the harshest of the violence and offers a richness that promises more than the abject miserableness of what we are reading. I found that a rare and wonderful thing. There are no easy answers, but Douglas Stuart’s, raw, brutal, unflinching story is a real heart-breaker and this character-driven novel is a beautifully wrought work.

Black Hearts by Doug Johnstone

I am running out of superlatives for this cracking, unmissable series. I adore the Skelfs, and am an unshamed #Skelfaholic. Black Hearts is outstanding. I loved it with a passion and Black Hearts is Johnstone’s best yet in this superb series which should be winning awards all over the place.

Fish Swimming In Dappled Sunlight by Riku Onda

Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight is more than a psychological thriller. It is an atmospheric, unsettling, deeply suspenseful book that deals with two people’s search for peace by finding the truth and it sometimes makes you forget to breathe. Terrific pacing, real clarity of prose and the drip-feed of revelations come together to build a truly breath-taking read.

The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly

Erin Kelly has delivered another massively compelling, beautifully imagined, page-turner full of richly drawn characters, secrets upon secrets in a book which is both fabulously original and so layered it falls into the millefeuille category. Beautifully written, full of seriously flawed characters and lots of toxicity, this book is both riveting and unmissable.

The Lost Man of Bombay (Malabar House #3) by Vaseem Khan 

Historical fiction doesn’t get much better than this. It is engrossing, entertaining, with vivid, atmospheric settings and rich in detail. The mysteries are terrific puzzles to solve and the characters are ones that you take to your heart. All in all the Malabar House series is one of the best crime series around.

An Honourable Thief by Douglas Skelton

Skelton’s writing is engaging and his characters leap from the page practically begging you to embrace them. There’s lots of intrigue, action and emotion in this historical novel which balances the personal and the historical rather beautifully to produce a rip-roaring novel

The Winners by Fredrik Backman

Intense, propulsive, shocking and sometimes pulsing with violence, this is a book that stirred all my emotions as the suspense mounted and the story took on a life of its own. This trilogy will always be on my must read list. You can feel the love with which they were written and the care that Backman has for his characters. I can’t recommend them highly enough. 

Dashboard Elvis Is Dead by David F. Ross

This is a massively perceptive and glorious novel. I was profoundly shocked as much as I was captivated by its scope and intensity. Ross’s novel is forceful and authoritative; it is a book that takes the personal journeys of his characters and brings them into blazing, colourful, life. The conclusion is so savage it took my breath away. I will be thinking about this book for a long time.

My book of the year is River Clyde by Simone Bucholz trs Rachel Ward

You don’t come to this novel looking for a traditional police procedural. This is the culmination of the combined experiences of a team who have seen some of the worst excesses of man’s inhumanity to man and we are seeing it play out now through the loss they have suffered which is hard for each of them to bear. There’s tremendous perceptiveness in this writing and still a good helping of that deadpan wit and sarcasm that keeps Chastity going through the dark times. Overall, though, this a raw, hurting Chastity whose silent screams I could hear down the Gare Loch, across the Clyde and into the East End where they bounced off my walls straight into my heart.

Have a great Christmas and let’s look forward to more wonderful books in 2023!

Photo credit main image: Toa Heftiba

A Deadly Covenant by Michael Stanley (Detective Kubu #8) @DetectiveKubu @OrendaBooks @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 8 December from Orenda Books
PP: 300
ISBN-13: 978-1-914585-42-5

While building a pipeline near the Okavango Delta, a contractor unearths the remains of a long-dead Bushman. Rookie Detective David ‘Kubu’ Bengu of Botswana CID and Scottish pathologist, Ian MacGregor, are sent to investigate, and MacGregor discovers the skeletons of eight more men.

Shortly after the gruesome discoveries, the elder of a nearby village is murdered in his home. The local police are convinced it was a robbery, but Kubu isn’t so sure … and neither is the strange woman who claims that an angry river spirit caused the elder’s death.

As accusations of corruption are levelled and international outrage builds over the massacre of the Bushman families, Kubu and his colleagues uncover a deadly covenant, and begin to fear that their own lives may be in mortal danger…

A Deadly Covenant takes us back in time to Detective David ‘Kubu’ Bengu’s early years in the Botswana CID. This makes an ideal entry point for new readers to this series. Eager, determined to learn from his mentor and superior officer, Assistant Superintendent Jacob Mabaku, Kubu is sent to a small village by the Okavango Delta where a contractor building a water pipeline has unearthed a skeleton. His travelling companion is the down to earth Scottish pathologist Ian MacGregor. The expectation of Kubu’s superiors is that this will be a straightforward case that will give Kubu some experience, but of course it doesn’t quite work out like that.

Soon Kubu is up to his neck in murder and at odds with the local police force who seem determined to pin the blame on Selelo, a local bushman, though there is absolutely no evidence to substantiate their belief that he is the perpetrator. But Bushmen are looked down on and he is the perfect scapegoat.

Michael Stanley beautifully describes the countryside and we get a real sense of the stunning visual scenery and of a village at a time of change when customs and history, tribalism and belief are vying with the onset of progress and the wielding of power for opportunistic reasons.

Into this turbulence comes the naïve Detective Kubu. A young man with good instincts and a healthy respect for the law, he is at the early stage of his career and these are the experiences that will inform his progress.

It’s lovely, too to see how his almost romance with Joy, an office colleague, is just beginning to burgeon and his hopes and aspirations are sweet and endearing.

As Kubu investigates it is clear that there are multiple threads to this case. A historic case hangs over this whole affair and it is not until the truth of that is uncovered that the rest will come into focus.

Michael Stanley shows us how Kubu, working with Jacob Mabaku slowly becomes confident enough to speak his theories out loud and to have some confidence in his own deductive processes. His mentor guides and prods him gently until he gets to the place in his head where he needs to be in order to process all the information and come to the right conclusions – or at least head off in the right direction.

I liked the respect and understanding Kubu gives to Selelo, knowing that coming from a different culture and tradition doesn’t make someone a suspect. There are themes here that are as relevant to us here and now as they were to Botswana then, including a strong environmental thread.

A Deadly Covenant is a textured, layered novel with a strong narrative arc that brings together many threads and weaves them into a rich and colourful tapestry.  It is simple in format, but complex in motivation and character and the authors deserve praise for handling those complexities so deftly.

Verdict: I do enjoy the Detective Kubu series, and this glimpse into his early years in the Police Force is a real delight as we see him grow in confidence on his way to becoming a brilliant detective.

Orenda Books                                  Waterstones                                     Bookshop.org

Michael Stanley is the writing team of South African authors Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. On a flying trip to Botswana, they watched a pack of hyenas hunt, kill and devour a wildebeest, eating both flesh and bones. That gave them the premise for their first mystery, A Carrion Death, which introduced Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu of the Botswana CID. It was a finalist for five awards, including the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger. The third in the series, Death of the Mantis, won the Barry Award for Best Paperback Original mystery and was a finalist for an Edgar award. Deadly Harvest was a finalist for an International Thriller Writers’ award. A Death inthe Family and Dying to Live are the latest in the Detective Kubu series, published by Orenda Books. A prequel to the Detective Kubu series, Facets of Death, was published in 2021 and A Deadly Covenant follows Kubu’s second case.

Cosies at Christmas: A Murder at the Castle by Chris McGeorge read by Ben Onwukwe @crmcgeorge @Isisaudio @UlverscroftLtd

Source: Review copy
Publication: 10 November 2022 from Isis Audio
Narration: Ben Onwukwe
Listening Time: 12 hours and 10 minutes
ASIN: B0B4TBNJKK

King Eric is dead. And when the motive is succession, murder is a family affair…

During a violent snowstorm, the Royal Family gather at the Castle for a traditional Christmas together. Amid rumours that he plans to name a new successor, King Eric stands to make his traditional after-dinner speech. He sips from a glass of his favourite whisky- and drops dead.

The king has been poisoned, and only one of the royals could have done the deed. Trapped by the raging blizzard, it is up to Eric’s beloved head chef, Jonathan Alleyne, to play detective and get to the bottom of this heinous crime.

Jon is determined to expose the truth, even if it puts him in grave danger, and threatens to shake the entire monarchy to its core…

Chris McGeorge’s A Murder at the Castle is a typical locked room mystery with added snow. It’s a hugely enjoyable murder mystery with numerous suspects, a host of distinctive characters and a setting to die for (literally).

It is Christmas Day and we are in Balmoral Castle where King Eric and his wife, the Princess Marjory, have sent most of the staff away so that they can have an intimate family Christmas for once. That leaves us in the capable hands of the King’s long-standing chef and trusted aide, Jonathan Alleyne. He is our narrator and from the first I was captivated by his beautiful, rich voice. Ben Onwukwe not only has a beautiful baritone depth to it, but his diction is impeccable. He is the perfect narrator for this tale and it’s fair to say I hung on his every word.

Chris McGeorge’s alternative Royal Family takes its premise by postulating that King Edward VIII did not abdicate and that this family are his direct descendants and therefore our alternative monarchy. With only the chef and the Head of Security, ex-special forces operative Tony Speck, remaining in Balmoral, the family can celebrate what is widely expected to be King Eric’s last Christmas as King. Everyone in the family believes that King Eric is preparing to abdicate and having changed the rules of succession, is now preparing to name his successor.

As the family gather for this Christmas dinner, the snow is falling heavily on the grounds of the Castle, effectively isolating those in the Castle from the outside world and Jon Alleyne is working hard to deliver them a Christmas lunch to remember.

There are some brilliant touches to this story that add laughter and some great twinkling moments to this fabulous murder mystery. Not least of which is the family’s current obsession with the popular television programme, The Monarchy, and the quest to find out who has been leaking stories to the makers of this programme.

As the family gather after lunch for King Eric’s traditional Christmas speech, King Eric falls to the ground, dead. What has caused this and why? As routes to and from the Castle are snowbound, it is to their trusted Chef, Jonathan Alleyne that the family turn, asking him to investigate and find answers.

This is a plump and juicy murder mystery liberally laced with alcohol in which there is a plethora of motives with a suspect matched to each one. It kept me guessing just as much as it kept me entertained.

Verdict: A Murder at the Castle is a fantastic murder mystery to listen to as the cold bites outside and inside you can wrap up warm and listen to Ben Onwukwe’s beautifully modulated tones as the fairy lights twinkle and glisten on the tree. A highly enjoyable tale.

Audible
The Reading House

Chris McGeorge has an MA in Creative Writing (Crime / Thriller) from City University London where he wrote his first crime novel Dead Room for this thesis. He constantly told stories from a young age, whether they took the form of comics, short stories or scripts. He is a lover of Golden Age crime, like Christie and Conan Doyle, leading his crime stories to be a mix of the old and the contemporary. He likes weird and wonderful plots, with plenty of intrigue and twists. 

Ben Onwukwe is a stage, screen, and radio actor from London. His heritage is Nigerian and Swiss. Ben has appeared in theatre productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Globe Theatre, Almeida, Old Vic, Young Vic, and many regional theatres throughout the UK. After several stints as a radio performer with the BBC radio drama repertory company Ben has found his métier through the medium of audio and oral acting. He has recorded countless audiobooks. Ben has recently specialized in literature from contemporary authors from Nigeria, a rich seam of astonishing work.

The Devil Stone by Caro Ramsay @CaroRamsayBooks @severnhouse

Source: Review copy
Publication: 6 December 2022 from Severn House
PP: 288
ISBN-13: 978-1448309740

In the small Highland village of Cronchie, a wealthy family are found brutally murdered in a satanic ritual and their heirloom, ‘the devil stone’, is the only thing stolen. The key suspects are known satanists – case closed? But when the investigating officer disappears after leaving the crime scene, DCI Christine Caplan is pulled in to investigate from Glasgow in a case that could restore her reputation.

Caplan knows she is being punished for a minor misdemeanour when she is seconded to the Highlands, but ever the professional, she’s confident she can quickly solve the murders, and return home to her fractious family. But experience soon tells her that this is no open and shut case.

She suspects the murder scene was staged, and with the heir to the family estate missing, there is something more at play than a mythical devil stone… As she closes in on the truth, it is suddenly her life, not her reputation that is danger! Will Caplan’s first Highland murder case be her last?

Wow! This one opens up with a dramatic scene and sets the pace for a fast moving, gripping drama with a protagonist you know you want to see so much more of.

DCI Christine Caplan has very clearly pissed someone off. She’s going through disciplinary action as a result of misplaced evidence and as she’s returning home after an evening out with her daughter she bravely foils a mugger – only to face accusations of excessive force. Under a cloud and facing demotion to D.I. she’s utterly fed up when she is sent to the small Highland village of Cronchie to help out. The long-standing DCI, Bob Oswald, has gone missing in the midst of a horribly brutal family slaying.

Oswald was in charge of a high profile macabre case in which 5 members of the wealthy and privileged McGregor family, the elderly Lady Charlotte, parents Stan and Barbara, and their children, Catriona and Gordon are discovered strangled, and posed next to each other.

The police investigation has focussed on the two lads who found the family, but Christine is less convinced. Her insertion into the team has, however, provoked some annoyance and she needs to get them on side if they are to be effective in investigating this horrendous crime. DI Garry Kinsella clearly resents her presence and she feels that she’s being kept at arm’s length from the information she needs.

Keen to restore her good name and equally keen to make sure she can return to her family which is giving her some cause for concern on a number of fronts, she puts herself under a lot of pressure.

Part of the joy of this book is the disparate cast of characters, especially in the local Cronchie police team. It’s difficult for her to work out whether they are being deliberately obstructive or are just struggling under a temporary leader in D.I. Kinsella.

Caro Ramsay establishes a wonderful sense of place and the contrast between the beautiful Highland scenery and the dark and dangerous going on there creates a wonderful threatening atmosphere and builds a tension that rapidly grows into a dangerous and life-threatening series of events. The plot line is tremendous; dark and sinister with a myriad of suspects. As Christine juggles with events and personalities at home in Glasgow and in the Highlands her life will be threatened and she will be driven to desperate measures to find the guilty party.

Verdict: Caro Ramsay has created a brilliant set of characters for this first in series police procedural. You want to know much more about Christine Caplan who is clearly a competent and professional officer despite the many personal and professional obstacles she faces. This is a brilliant start to a new series that is clearly going to be unmissable.

Waterstones                                     Hive Stores

CARO RAMSAY is the Glaswegian author of the critically acclaimed DI Anderson and DS Costello series, the first of which, Absolution, was shortlisted for the CWA’s New Blood Dagger for best debut of the year. The ninth book in the series, The Suffering of Strangers, was longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize 2018.

Dashboard Elvis Is Dead by David F. Ross @dfr10 @OrendaBooks @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 8 December 2022 from Orenda Books
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-1914585401

My thanks to Orenda Books for an advance copy for review

A failed writer connects the murder of an American journalist, a drowned 80s musician and a Scottish politician’s resignation, in a heart-wrenching novel about ordinary people living in extraordinary times.

Renowned photo-journalist Jude Montgomery arrives in Glasgow in 2014, in the wake of the failed Scottish independence referendum, and it’ s clear that she’ s searching for someone.

Is it Anna Mason, who will go on to lead the country as First Minister? Jamie Hewitt, guitarist from eighties one-hit wonders The Hyptones? Or is it Rabbit; Jude’ s estranged foster sister, now a world-famous artist?

Three apparently unconnected people, who share a devastating secret, whose lives were forever changed by one traumatic night in Phoenix, forty years earlier…

Taking us back to a school shooting in her Texas hometown, and a 1980s road trip across the American West; to San Francisco and on to New York; Jude’ s search ends in Glasgow, and a final, shocking event that only one person can fully explain…

David F Ross is an extraordinary writer. He keeps getting better and after the stunning and much praised There’s Only One Danny Garvey I couldn’t wait to see what he had in store for us.

The opening doesn’t offer too much of a clue to the sweeping epic to come. In fact, I thought it was a bit of a slow burn as I was reading until I learned to relax into Ross’s immersive prose and let this story carry me away.

In the 1980’s Jamie Hewitt is a Glaswegian musician and together with his pals Reef, Bingo, and Chic, they have formed the Hypetones, a band that is on the cusp of making something of themselves, largely aided by Annabelle Mason, daughter of the local gangland boss. Jamie is the lead singer and he is ill-equipped to handle the pressures of any kind of performance based career.

David Ross excels at this kind of character; a young working class lad who has dreams and aspirations but who lacks the mental stamina to drive himself forward. His decision making is poor; he’s the kind of young man who feels that bad things happen to him and when they do, he finds himself powerless to deal with them and runs away from the consequences faster than his legs can carry him.

Jude Montgomery is an American photo journalist from Texas. Brought up in a trailer park, her life has forever been tainted by two dramatic events in her life; a school shooting and an almost fatal mistake she made as a young woman. Taken in to a warm and loving house, she makes a terrible decision that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Although the mistake that she made compelled her to leave her place of love and safety, she owns that mistake so heavily that it is a weight that she carries with her wherever she goes. For all that she has a vivacity and a love of life that is captivating

Jude and Jamie’s lives will briefly intersect while the Hypetones is on a disastrous tour of the States, but it is a fleeting moment in what becomes an epic tale of the times. Ross’s book moves from the micro to the macro through fantastic characterisation and vivid dialogue that brings these moments and his characters to life in an explosive, evocative and authentic storyline.

David Ross creates a multiple timeline story, following Jude’s traumatic early life and charting the development of her love of photography that would become her career. We follow her quest to find the Scottish father she never knew and feel her desperate need to atone for the hurt she has caused. She has real guts and a self-awareness that grows as she makes her way through the world –shaking events that shape America as much as they shape her.

It is easy to like Jude and as you follow her life you become really invested in her quests. Jamie, on the other hand, starts off as a troubled and confused young man who you can’t help but like. But the more you understand what he has done and failed to take responsibility for, the more you see him retreat from ownership of his ills, the less he comes across as a sympathetic character. As the Hypetones begin their tour of the States, it becomes very clear that he does not have the emotional maturity or strength of character to handle it and as a result this tour is destined to fail. Ross paints a vivid and compelling portrait of all these characters and we follow their paths as the decades go by.

Ross combines these very personal stories and weaves them seamlessly into a bigger picture as each of these people intersects with some of the most memorable historic moments and people of our recent past in both Scotland the USA. He brings it all to life with detailed and remarkable observation and a grit that makes his dialogue sparkle with authenticity. These moments impact on our characters in different ways and none more so than on Jude whose photo journalism becomes a filter to look back on. She is the catalyst for much of the action in this story – the connection for everything.As a reader you are invested in these characters and there’s a strong emotional core that drives you on. You can see so clearly how the formative years of these striking and beautifully observed characters inform their decisions in later life and why things implode and impact the way they do.

This story culminates in Scotland during the Independence Referendum as Jude travels in search of her foster sister Rabbit, now an internationally recognised artist. Her journey brings everything to a head until the whole devastating truth is finally revealed.

Verdict: This is a massively perceptive and glorious novel. I was profoundly shocked as much as I was captivated by its scope and intensity. Ross’s novel is forceful and authoritative; it is a book that takes the personal journeys of his characters and brings them into blazing, colourful, life. The conclusion is so savage it took my breath away. I will be thinking about this book for a long time. David F. Ross is unquestionably a writer at the top of his powers and this book is a must read for me.

 Orenda Books                                  Hive Stores                         Waterstones

David F. Ross was born in Glasgow in 1964 and has lived in Kilmarnock
for over 30 years. He is a graduate of the Mackintosh School of
Architecture at Glasgow School of Art, an architect by day, and a
hilarious social-media commentator, author and enabler by night. His
debut novel The Last Days of Disco was shortlisted for the Authors
Club Best First Novel Award, and optioned for the stage by the Scottish
National Theatre. All five of his novels have achieved notable critical
acclaim and There’s Only One Danny Garvey, published in 2021 by
Orenda Books, was shortlisted for the prestigious Saltire Society Prize
for Scottish Fiction Book of the Year. David lives in Ayrshire.

So Pretty by Ronnie Turner  @Ronnie_Turner @OrendaBooks #OnestoWatch2023

Source: Review copy
Publication: 19 January 2023 from Orenda Books
PP: 320
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1914585593

When Teddy Colne arrives in the small town of Rye, he believes he will be able to settle down and leave his past behind him. Little does he know that fear blisters through the streets like a fever. The locals tell him to stay away from an establishment known only as Berry & Vincent, that those who rub too closely to its proprietor risk a bad end.

Despite their warnings, Teddy is desperate to understand why Rye has come to fear this one man, and to see what really hides behind the doors of his shop.

Ada moved to Rye with her young son to escape a damaged childhood and years of never fitting in, but she’s lonely, and ostracised by the community. Ada is ripe for affection and friendship, and everyone knows it.

As old secrets bleed out into this town, so too will a mystery about a family who vanished fifty years earlier, and a community living on a knife edge.

Teddy looks for answers, thinking he is safe, but some truths are better left undisturbed, and his past will find him here, just as it has always found him before. And before long, it will find Ada too.

Oh my goodness! Ronnie Turner’s So Pretty is an exquisitely written gothic novel set in Rye and it is both creepy and mesmerising. It reads like a malevolent Old Curiosity Shop, reminiscent of Dickens in its atmosphere and characterisation whilst modern in subject matter.

Teddy Colne comes to Rye hoping to make a new start. He finds a job in a strange shop called Berry and Vincent where Mr Vincent, the proprietor, is shunned by the townspeople. Vincent is a pale, silent figure and his whole aspect is both malign and very definitely squirm-making.

Ada, too, is hoping for a new start in life. She’s moved to Rye with her young son Albie and is looking to make friends in this small town after cutting herself off from her parents. But Ada is lonely and that makes her needy and there’s nothing that makes people nervous like being too close to needy people, so she finds it very difficult to make friends.

When Teddy and Ada meet it is the coming together of two bruised and fragile people and it will have devastating consequences. As they get to know each other Teddy introduces Ada and her son to Berry and Vincent, where he works, and to the strange man who runs it. It’s a shop with no customers, and the people of Rye go out of their way to avoid it. This shop is hiding some dark secrets and the skin on the back of Ada’s neck prickles when she enters. For Berry and Vincent is the refuge of an especially frightening character.

Ronnie Turner’s book is beautifully written and is totally creepy and so very intense. It is really unsettling and Turner manages to make even the Rye townspeople strange and somehow unpleasant. This is a book that gets under your skin and very quickly begins to squick you out.

It’s an amazing, gothic piece of writing that provides a great deal of food for thought. Themes of nature versus nurture combine with some provocative considerations of the relationship between parents and children and this is wrapped up in themes of coercive control with a dash of examination of how a small community can act in concert but never quite see what’s going on under their noses.

Written with a classical nod and containing dark and beautifully observed pen portraits, So Pretty is startling and incredibly intense and it engenders an atmosphere of fear and dread.

Verdict: A remarkable, beautifully gothic read that deals with old secrets and new. I’m overwhelmed by the intensity that Ronnie Turner creates. This is a seriously good piece of literary fiction that deals with fascinating questions around the nature of how personality and character are formed.  I loved this thought-provoking, deeply sinister read.

Orenda Books                                  Waterstones                                     Bookshop.org

Ronnie Turner grew up in Cornwall, the youngest in a large family. At an early age, she discovered a love of literature. She now works as a Senior Waterstones Bookseller and barista. Ronnie lives in the South West with her family and three dogs. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling and taking long walks on the coast.

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