Thirty Days of Darkness by Jenny Lund Madsen  by Jenny Lund Madsen  translated by  Megan E. Turney @JennyLundMadsen @OrendaBooks @meganeturney @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: May 25th from Orenda Books
PP: 300
ISBN-13: 978-1914585616

My thanks to Orenda Books for an advance copy for review

A snobbish Danish literary author is challenged to write a crime novel in thirty days, travelling to a small village in Iceland for inspiration, and then the first body appears…

Copenhagen author Hannah is the darling of the literary community and her novels have achieved massive critical acclaim. But nobody actually reads them, and frustrated by writer’s block, Hannah has the feeling that she’s doing something wrong.

When she expresses her contempt for genre fiction, Hanna is publicly challenged to write a crime novel in thirty days. Scared that she will lose face, she accepts, and her editor sends her to Húsafjöður – a quiet, tight-knit village in Iceland, filled with colourful local characters – for inspiration.

But two days after her arrival, the body of a fisherman’s young son is pulled from the water … and what begins as a search for plot material quickly turns into a messy and dangerous investigation that threatens to uncover secrets that put everything at risk … including Hannah…

I absolutely loved this book and I commend it to all lovers of crime fiction. It is refreshingly different, wonderfully witty and has a great plot as well as terrific characters.

Hannah Krause-Bendix is an author and has penned several notable volumes of literary fiction which have garnered critical acclaim, if not huge sales. She has a disdain for purveyors of popular commercial fiction, keeping her serious scorn for that most popular of genres, the crime novel.

She’s fed up doing the rounds of bookshop readings where the publicist clearly hasn’t even read her works. Finally, spotting a well-known best-selling crime author, Jørn Jensen, in her audience at one of these events, she finally cracks and says directly to him that writing crime fiction is so easy she could write a crime novel in a month. It’s a public pronouncement that gains some attention and so her agent, seeing the potential for more publicity for his clients, sends her to the small and isolated Icelandic town of Húsafjöður to write her first crime novel.

Hannah needs her props around her to work – most notably red wine and cigarettes – but even then she finds that starting her crime novel is nowhere near as easy as she thought it would be.

Her landlady, Ella, is taciturn; the two communicate in Pidgin English, and there’s really very little to distract Hannah as she stares at her blank pages, lost for words.

Then a local young man is found drowned – a teenager who hated the water – and Hannah believes he has been murdered. Suddenly she has a plot and she can at least begin to write what she knows. She becomes the detective in her own crime novel. Except that she can’t speak Icelandic and no-one really wants to talk to her. She’s not the most sympathetic of characters and so she takes to mithering Viktor, the local policeman, and then knocking on the doors of local people in a less than subtle attempt to find out more about the young man.

Hannah, you quickly realise, is not a happy woman, neither is she a particularly pleasant one. She has to get this drowning to be a murder and then she has to solve it or she has no book. And that’s really all that matters to her; she has to win her bet in order to prove her superiority.

The Icelandic setting works really well for atmosphere and a small character cast and Hannah lurches from house to house, stirring up trouble and poking her nose where it really is not welcomed.

For all that she is a pestering busybody in the eyes of the Húsafjöður householders she’s bothering, she does come to need to know why this crime has been committed and by whom. And that redeems her in so many ways as her disdain for anything that is not cosmopolitan and artistic gives way to a more burning need to understand the humanity that lies behind this cruel deed.

As Hannah becomes more interested in the human relationships involved in this case, so the case becomes darker and tenser and Hannah’s own safety is put in jeopardy.

Verdict: A terrific read, full of wit and yet beautifully dark and atmospheric. Hannah is a great character and I really thoroughly enjoyed this sparkling debut.

Orenda Books                                  Waterstones                           

Jenny Lund Madsen is one of Denmark’s most acclaimed scriptwriters (including the international hits Rita and Follow the Money) and is known as an advocate for better representation for sexual and ethnic minorities in Danish TV and film. She recently made her debut as a playwright with the critically acclaimed Audition (Aarhus Teater) and her debut literary thriller, Thirty Days of Darkness, first in an addictive new series, won the Harald Mogensen Prize for Best Danish Crime Novel of the year and was shortlisted for the coveted Glass Key Award. She lives in Denmark with her young family.

The Last Passenger by Will Dean  @willrdean  @HodderBooks @AlainnaGeorgiou

Source: Review copy
Publication: 11 May 2023 from Hodder & Stoughton
PP: 496
ISBN-13: 978-1529382822

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

Caz Ripley, a cafe owner from a small, ordinary town, boards the RMS Atlantica with her boyfriend Pete and a thousand fellow passengers destined for New York.

The next morning, she wakes to discover that everyone else on board has disappeared.

And that’s just the beginning. Caz must prepare for a crossing that will be anything but plain sailing …

If you’re a devotee of crime thrillers and suspense novels, chances are you’ve already read some of Will Dean’s work. He’s the author of the intensely atmospheric Tuva Moodyson series about a deaf journalist in the remote rural Swedish town of Gavrik. So you’ll know he writes characters really well and can develop stories that have warmth and compassion as well as spine tingling murderers.

But it is in his stand alone works that the depths of the harshness and cruelty of which he is capable really come to the fore. The Last Thing to Burn was one of my top books of the year because it combined that harshness so beautifully with understanding and compassion.  But in this stand-alone novel, The Last Passenger, Dean has shown that he is capable of understanding great cruelty and of bringing to life the lengths to which people will go in order to survive.

Caroline Ripley (Caz) is on the luxury cruise liner RMS Atlantica bound for New York. Caz owns and runs a popular teashop and this trip is a treat from her boyfriend Pete who is with her on their first real holiday together.

After a fabulous first evening, Caz and Pete retire to their cabin and sleep. When Caz wakes up the next morning she finds that Pete isn’t in the cabin. In fact, as she walks along the corridors, she can’t find any signs of any living person.  All the cabins are empty, each has its door wedged open; there’s no-one in the communal areas and even the bridge is deserted. The liner, it seems, is running on autopilot.

Caz is alone on a huge ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Now, if you read a lot of fiction you may see where this is going. I had an inkling and I was partly right. But nothing prepared me for what Caz has to ensure.

As she searches through the ship, she discovers that she is not totally alone. There are three other people on board and we gradually get to meet them. Daniel is a Korean-American who loves to travel. He is fit, good with tools and has a young daughter from whom he is estranged.

Frannie is a 21-year-old Welsh girl. Travelling with her parents on their anniversary cruise, Frannie comes across as weak and dependent. Then there’s Smith, an acerbic older American with an entitled attitude who believes that if you paid for it, you should damned well have it and his Diamond tier status with this cruise line already has him reaching for his lawyers to begin legal action.

These four are going to have to work together to figure out what’s going on and how to handle it.

Will Dean has written a shocking and incredibly immersive, pulsating chiller of a book which is somewhere between horror and a chilling look at the contemporary  trend for manipulation and voyeurism for profit that is more than ever prepared to cross the line.

As food stocks rapidly disappear and even drinking water becomes scarce, what will these four be prepared to do to stay alive?

The Last Passenger is an ocean going nightmare. It is vicious and venal; unforgiving and relentless; without pity or mercy, this is a cold and heartless journey that delivers pain and fear in equal measure.

It is structured in short, fast-paced chapters, full of action and suspense. Dean makes it so that you can’t trust anyone in this astonishing scenario.  Which brings me back to Will Dean, the amiable writer who lives in a cabin in the woods. Here is a man who goes out of his way to help other writers and whose love for his family and his big softy St. Bernard is not hard to see. Yet here is also a man whose mind has envisioned the most visceral of cruel ideas and has turned them into a compelling, propulsive theatre of agony with the kind of twists that burn like a knife cutting through flesh.

And just when you think it’s safe to land in dry dock, Dean delivers the most unkindest cut of all.

You can go off some people, you know.

Verdict: A breath-taking, harsh and utterly compelling thriller that left me all at sea. If this doesn’t leave you questioning this society’s twisted appetites, I’ll be very surprised. This is a corker of a book which is exceptionally suspenseful. I’d urge you to read it, but be warned, this five star read is not for the faint-hearted.                                  Waterstones                                     Hive Stores

Will Dean grew up in the East Midlands and had lived in nine different villages before the age of eighteen. After studying Law at the LSE and working in London, he settled in rural Sweden where he built a house in a boggy clearing at the centre of a vast elk forest, and it’s from this base that he compulsively reads and writes. His debut novel, Dark Pines, was selected for Zoe Ball’s Book Club, shortlisted for the Guardian Not the Booker prize and named a Daily Telegraph Book of the Year. Red Snow was published in January 2019 and won Best Independent Voice at the Amazon Publishing Readers’ Awards, 2019. Black River was shortlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Award in 2021. The Last Thing to Burn was released to widespread acclaim in January 2021. First Born was published in 2022.

The Twenty by Sam Holland (Major Crimes #2)  @samhollandbooks @FictionPubTeam @HarperCollins

Source: Review copy
Publication: 11 May 2023 from Harper Collins
PP: 464
ISBN-13: 978-0008461645

My thanks to Harper Collins for an advance copy for review

The countdown has begun. Who will die next?

A shocking crime scene…

DCI Adam Bishop has never seen anything like it. Five murder victims – all with numbers written above. And the spray-painted daubs reveal a horrific truth: the killer is counting down…

A case that twists and turns…

When Dr Romilly Cole learns of the murders, they trigger memories of a traumatic past she has tried hard to forget. But getting involved with the case is a bad idea. She and Bishop have history – and working together could never end well.

A race against time to stop a killer…

Adam and Romilly soon realise the truth lies in a decades-old case, and only Romilly holds the key. But they must act quickly, because with every passing day, there are more victims. And as the numbers edge toward zero, the murders get closer to home…

I’ve never really understood why I enjoy a really good serial killer book, but this is one and I loved it.  From the outset the pace and tone is set with a gruesome, bloody crime scene which leaves you in no doubt that this is a killer with serious issues.

Following on from her successful novel, The Echo Man, this book can very easily be read as a stand-alone.

A grotesque crime scene awaits D.C.I. Adam Bishop and DS Jamie Hoxton as they are pulled away from a rare night off to a dark and violent crime scene. The killer has spray painted a Roman numeral above the victim and just as the pair fear, this proves to lead to a number of other murder victims. We’re looking at a macabre countdown, and the main question is whether Jones and Hoxton can catch this killer before the final victims are revealed?

Holland’s short, sharp chapters punctuate the urgency that this gives to the plot. Told from multiple perspectives, the plot is interspersed with chilling chapters told in the voice of the serial killer – a clearly angry and unhinged individual whose motivation provides the key to detecting this killer, if only our detectives can discern it.

Dr. Romilly Cole was once married to Adam Bishop and she believes she recognises some traits from these current killings. Does she hold the key to finding our murderer?

Holland’s characterisation is very good and her willingness to dispose of her characters helps to make this a surprising and tense read as we have to discard our suppositions and find that the plot is much more twisted than we at first envisaged. News cuttings, autopsy and psychiatric reports all help to embed the reader in the heart of the story.

Verdict: A brilliantly fast paced and very chilling serial killer thriller that is so propulsive it will have your heart pounding and leave your mouth dry and gaping.                                  Waterstones                                     HiveStores

Having always been fascinated with the dark and macabre, Sam Holland studied psychology at university then spent the next few years working in HR, before quitting for a full-time career in writing. A self-confessed serial killer nerd, her debut novel, The Echo Man, shocked and enthralled readers and reviewers alike with its sinister depiction of a serial killer copying notorious real-life murderers of the past. The Twenty is her second novel.

No One Saw A Thing by Andrea Mara @AndreaMaraBooks @transworldbooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 11 May 2023 from Bantam Press
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-1787636507

My thanks to Bantam Press for an advance copy for review

Two children get on the train. Only one gets off…

No one saw it happen.

You stand on a crowded tube platform in London. Your two little girls jump on the train ahead of you. As you try to join them, the doors slide shut and the train moves away, leaving you behind.

Everyone is lying.

By the time you get to the next stop, you’ve convinced yourself that everything will be fine. But you soon start to panic, because there aren’t two children waiting for you on the platform. There’s only one.

Someone is to blame.

Has your other daughter got lost? Been taken by a passing stranger? Or perhaps the culprit is closer to home than you think? No one is telling the truth, and the longer the search continues, the harder she will be to find…

I can’t imagine what it must be like having to manoeuvre two children and a buggy through the tube system in London. I can barely tolerate the tube and I’m allegedly a fully functioning adult. No One Saw A Thing is the first of Andrea Mara’s books that I have read and on this showing, it certainly will not be the last.

Mara makes great use of pace in this domestic thriller that keeps you guessing all the way through.

Sive, a journalist and her husband Aaron, a high profile criminal barrister, have brought their three children to London from Dublin for a reunion with Aaron’s old flatmates.

But one morning at Bond Street Station their lives are completely disrupted when Sive tries to take her son Toby in his buggy and both her daughters, Faye (6) and Bea (2) on the tube. Momentarily distracted, Sive loses sight of her daughters until she sees them on the train which is leaving the station. Her stomach plummets and she has many very anxious moments as she waits for news from the next station. While her 2 year old, Bea is found there safe and well, there is no news at all of Faye.

Andrea Mara’s nail-biting psychological thriller plays on this nightmare scenario as the couple frantically search for answers about what could have happened to Faye – and why?

With a tight cast of characters Andrea Mara’s novel takes us back to that flatmate reunion and Aaron’s former flatmates, Dave, Scott, Maggie and Nita. As with any tight knit group of friends, there are secrets, there is competition and in this case, a huge helping of one-upmanship.

Mara weaves the story of this friendship throughout the search for Faye and she does not hesitate to load her plot with so many false leads and suspicious activities that everyone becomes a suspect.

Mara does great job of showing Sive’s increasing levels of panic and the frantic search for answers as she and a journalist try to work out why Faye has disappeared. Sive here is vulnerable and Aaron fails to come across as sympathetically as he would like. No-one escapes scrutiny, however, and as deadly secrets are revealed it becomes a race against time to find the perpetrator and rescue Faye.

I read this on holiday and enjoyed the break-neck pace and the layered plotting which leads to an understanding of the past in order to inform the present.

Verdict: A fast-paced psychologically thriller that tugs at the heartstrings while twisting and turning every few minutes. Great holiday fare.                                Waterstones                                     Hive Stores

Andrea Mara is a Sunday Times and Irish Times top ten bestselling author, and has been shortlisted for a number of awards, including Irish Crime Novel of the Year. She lives in Dublin, Ireland, with her husband and three young children, and also runs multi-award-winning parent and lifestyle blog, Hide and Seek, her second thriller to be published in the UK and internationally, became an instant top ten bestseller.

Moscow Exile by John Lawton @AtlanticBooks @shotsblog

Source: Review copy

Publication: 4 May 2023 from Grove Press UK

PP: 448

ISBN-13 : 978-1804710098

My thanks to Ayo Onatade and Grove Press for an advance copy for review.

Charlotte is a British expatriate who has recently settled in Washington, D.C. with her second husband, but enviable dinner parties aren’t the only thing she is planning. Meanwhile, Charlie Leigh-Hunt has been posted to Washington as a replacement for Guy Burgess, last seen disappearing around the corner and into the Soviet Union. Charlie is surprised to cross paths with Charlotte, an old flame of his, who, thanks to her gossipy parties, has a packed pocketbook full of secrets she is eager to share.

Two decades later, in 1969, Joe Wilderness is stuck on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, held captive by the KGB, a chip in a game way above his pay grade – but his old friends Frank and Eddie are going to try to spring him out of the toughest prison in the world. All roads lead back to Berlin, and to the famous Bridge of Spies…

We begin in Berlin at The Bridge of Spies in 1969. The Glienicke Bridge was a restricted border crossing between the Eastern Bloc and the American sector of West Berlin. The Americans and Soviets used it for the exchange of captured spies during the Cold War. An exchange is to take place. Lord Freddie Troy, ex-Scotland Yard, and currently British Ambassador to the Soviet Union, is leading this transaction to get Jo Wilderness back on the right side of the Iron Curtain.

John Lawton’s book is replete with vivid characters who leap off the page. Not least of these is the serial marrier, the charming, multi lingual Charlotte Mawer-Churchill, who is first married to Hubert, a cousin of Winston Churchill. Then the future prime minister makes Charlotte’s husband his private secretary. Charlotte, who has not married for love, gets bored and falls for an American named Avery Shumacher, a Clark Gable lookalike, working for Franklin Roosevelt. After getting a divorce, Charlotte weds Avery and becomes the belle of Washington, where she becomes ‘Coky’ Schumacher, the socialite hostess with the mostest. Invitations to her soirées are highly sought after.

Charlie Leigh-Hunt knows Coky of old. He’s been sent to Washington to to replace Guy Burgess, recently defected to Russia. Charlie is finding that the cold shoulder of Washington has been firmly aimed at him after both Burgess and Donald Maclean were found to have been spying for the Soviets. The American view is that the British could and should have been a bit more careful about their choice of Embassy appointees – and they may have a point!

But Coky is not just an old friend, she is Charlie’s means of entry to Washington Society and all the insider gossip. The more so after Schumaker dies tragically and Coky remarries, this time to an odious ‘reds under the beds’ type, whose activities mirror those of McCarthy and the House of UnAmerican Activities Committee.

Lawton’s book is probably best read after reading a few in the series as there are clearly recurring characters whose backstory it would be useful to understand. But underneath the smart, snappy language and the gaiety of the Washington scene in particular, lie some interesting questions.

Why do people spy and who on earth ever thought half of these people would make competent spies? Some of these characters are reprehensible and their motives suspect, to say the least. And in truth, many of those rooting out such spies were less than competent.

Indeed Philby’s own story is so strange as to be hardly credible and it is no wonder the Americans were so livid when he was finally unmasked as the traitor he had been for half his life. The British class system simply could not accept that one of their own was a traitor despite being called out as the third man in the triangle that was Burgess, MacLean and Philby.

Some spy for idealistic reasons, but many are doing so for the opportunities it throws up to make money or to undermine the class system in their own country. Some get bullied into it whilst others do it for family reasons.

Whatever the reason, this is a rich seam for mining by Lawton who shows us the inter-connectedness of class and the easy acceptance of those with the right introductions. People can so easily work under the radar if they have attended the right parties and know the right people. Being a spy, or indeed, a double agent, was never been easier than during the Cold War

John Lawton explores the path that led to Freddie Troy picking up the cudgels for H.M.Government and becoming the Moscow Ambassador in order to get Joe Wilderness safely out of Soviet hands. The British class system is in full play here as Joe, whose war service and rise to prominence was largely achieved through the dodgy dealings that first brought him to the attention of the Secret Service and made him a useful slippery eel in a pool of hunting sharks.

The Soviets, too have their own ways of working the system. Joe’s exchange is being offered by General Volga Vasilievna Zolotukhina for a price and the case that Freddie Troy is carrying holds £25,000.

But where is Joe?

I confess to enjoying the women in Moscow Exile who do rather make a better fist of espionage than many of the men involved. Lawton does a terrific job of mixing fact and fiction to really ground this book in real world events and the atmosphere he conjures works so well. His dialogue sparkles, and he brings the era alive, especially in Washington, but also capturing the Soviet standards of living at the time so well.

Verdict: I’m going back to read the two series which brought these characters together. John Lawton’s writing is so easy to read and his characters stand out as colourful and three dimensional. Moscow Exile is a very vivid portrayal of a remarkable time in our history and of some of the frankly hard to believe – but true- shenanigans that went on during that time. Lawton brings it all to life in an excellent plot with humour and intrigue. I enjoyed it. Waterstones. HiveStores

John Lawton has written three previous novels starring Joe Wilderness–Then We Take Berlin, The Unfortunate Englishman, and Hammer to Fall–as well as eight Inspector Troy thrillers, one standalone novel, and a volume of history. His novels have been named Best Books of the Year by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and New York Times Book Review. He lives in England and Italy. Photo c. Nick Lockett

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Killing Jericho by William Hussey @ZaffreBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 27 April 2023 from Zaffre
PP: 400
ISBN-13: 978-1804181164

My thanks to Zaffre for an advance copy for review


Scott Jericho thought he’d worked his last case. Fresh out of jail, the disgraced former detective is forced to seek refuge with the fairground family he once rejected.

Then a series of bizarre murders comes to light – deaths that echo a century-old fairground legend. The police can’t connect the victims. But Jericho knows how the legend goes; that more murders are certain to follow.

As Jericho unpicks the deadly mystery, a terrifying question haunts him. As a direct descendant of one of the victims in the legend, is Jericho next on the killer’s list?

From the award-winning author of The Outrage comes Killing Jericho, the gothic, helter-skelter thriller debut that introduces crime fiction’s first ever Traveller detective, Scott Jericho.

I was excited to read Killing Jericho and my excitement only increased the deeper into this twisty and surprising thriller I got. Scott Jericho is a fresh and delightful character. He comes laden with a set of familiar tropes. He is a disgraced former CID detective who has served a prison sentence for violent behaviour. Haunted and damaged by his past, he is dependent on medication and alcohol to help him get through the days and nights, with some casual sex thrown in. His former partner in the force is sending him case files in the hope that it will stimulate his interest, but he can’t raise the energy.

Scott is also a Traveller, returned to his dad’s fair to earn his keep. Now he’s back with his family, he soon finds himself in the midst of a serial killer story that puts his family’s carnival at the heart of the most serious of threats. This is an aspect of the story that I really loved. The Traveller community has been -and still is – the subject of so much prejudice that it is great to gain insight into this world which William Hussey imbues with lots of colour and great dialogue.

David Mark did that to some extent with his character, Roisin McAvoy, the Romany wife of his protagonist, Aector McAvoy, but I can’t think of any actual traveller detectives before.  As an ex-cop Scott is regarded with some suspicion by his fellow travellers, so this is a detective who walks alone – though that may be about to change.

Scott is finally roused into action when he is commissioned by a convicted paedophile to look into three grotesque murders.  It is clear from the nature of the murders that each is connected in some way, but Scott will have to find out what that connection is.

At the same time, the carnival is about to travel to the small town of Bradbury End, where they are preparing to commemorate a 150 year old tragedy that has reverberation for Scott and his family.  What Scott is not expecting when he travels to Bradbury End is to find people whose lives have significantly impacted on his own.

Someone he hates with a vengeance is on his doorstep taunting him and doing his best to goad Scott into the rage that simmers just below his surface. That person also seems to be engaged in a campaign of hatred against the Muslim community with a team of thugs and bully boys at his heels.

Scott also finds someone he thought he would never see again. In this sleepy town there is a confluence of coincidences that cannot bode well for Scott’s investigations.

As the temperature rises and more murders occur, can Scott keep on an even keel long enough to work out how everything is connected and find the serial killer?

William Hussey has written a dark and disturbing novel with lots of layers and in the middle a twisting puzzle that needs to be pieced together to get to the truth. His writing is propulsive and compelling, but it also carries a real depth of emotion which is what makes Jericho a three dimensional character.

Verdict: Scott Jericho is an interesting and refreshing addition to the detective genre and I enjoyed this dark and twisted serial killer chiller. So much so that I am very keen to read the next book in the series. I’d welcome a little bit of dialling back on the tropes though.                                  Waterstones                                     HiveStores

William Hussey is the award-winning author of over a dozen novels, including the Crime Fest award-nominated Hideous Beauty and The Outrage. Born the son of a travelling showman, he has spent a lifetime absorbing the history, folklore and culture of fairground people, knowledge he has now put to work in his Scott Jericho thrillers. William lives in the seaside town of Skegness with his faithful dog Bucky and a vivid imagination.

Looking Glass Sound by Catriona Ward @Catrionaward @ViperBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 20 April 2023 from Viper Books
PP: 352
ISBN-13:  978-1800810976

My thanks to Viper Books for an advance copy for review

Writers are monsters. We eat everything we see…

In a windswept cottage overlooking the sea, Wilder Harlow begins the last book he will ever write. It is the story of his childhood companions and the shadowy figure of the Daggerman, who stalked the New England town where they spent their summers. Of a horror that has followed Wilder through the decades. And of Sky, Wilder’s one-time friend, who stole his unfinished memoir and turned it into a lurid bestselling novel, The Sound and the Dagger.

Looking Glass Sound is a bit of horror genius wrapped in a literary tribute and dusted with meta-fiction. It is a parcel to be unwrapped with care; a delicious puzzle to piece together telling a horror story that never really ends.

We begin with a tribute. We are on the edge of the cliff in Whistler Bay looking out at the wild Maine seascape. 16 year old Wilder is a strange boy. Pale, with large ‘bug’ eyes, he has no friends and is miserable at school. He is staying at his late uncle’s house with his parents who do nothing but argue – except when his father disappears for long periods at a time.

Then Wilder meets Nat and Harper and for the first time he finds the bonds of friendship. This, then, is a coming of age story set beside the bleak and angry sea, under which very bad things lie.

Very Stephen King.  But this is also a book about the act of writing; about who can tell a story and whether the stories belong to those who experience them, or are better told by those who can place some objectivity between events and those to whom they happened.

We follow Wilder from those days of early friendship through the horrors of The Daggerman, a serial killer who first takes Polaroids of his victims, posing them while they sleep with a dagger at their throat or ear before taking them and then sending the families their photograph.

Wilder helped to expose the true horrors of The Daggerman and it has haunted him ever since, alongside what it did to the only true friends he has ever had.

In college he tries to write about it. A memoir that he desperately needs to write, but which he can’t find the words for. His notes and the news clippings from that time keep him calm. They are his solace when he can’t sleep.

His college roommate Sky Montague becomes a close friend.  A somewhat pretentious young man who carries Proust ad writes in green ink. If he used a computer to write, it would surely be in comic sans.  Sky helps Wilder to get his emotions out and encourages him to write and to face some of his demons – in one case literally. But Wilder is betrayed by one he trusts the most.

So Wilder decides he will write the real story and in the process he will expose Sky for the fraudulent storyteller that he was. He is still hurting from Sky’s betrayal and from losing what he believed was a real love. But Wilder’s eyesight is failing and although he finds a way to put Sky into his story, he fears that he is losing his mind. He keeps seeing a woman drowning in the cove – a woman no-one else can see. Then notes in green ink start appearing in the periphery of his vision. What is going on?

Verdict: Looking Glass Sound is a multi-layered story with some truly horrific elements and an intricate plot. It has some wonderful characters but what makes it so special is the way that it creates massive empathy for the characters while treating writing as the real monster. One story told in different ways by different people. Who really owns a story?  This one is slippery; it keeps changing, like a dynamic entity. The full story will not become clear until the end and even then it will surprise you and break your heart. It is a beautifully vivid horror story, with real depth and full of wonderful imagery you want to get lost in. This is literary fiction wrapped in horror and it is such a deliciously dark read. I loved it.                                  Waterstones                                     Hive Stores

Catriona Ward was born in Washington, DC and grew up in the US, Kenya, Madagascar, Yemen, and Morocco. Her debut Rawblood won Best Horror Novel at the 2016 British Fantasy Awards, and was a WHSmith Fresh Talent title. Little Eve won the Shirley Jackson Award, was a Guardian best book of 2018 and won the Best Horror Novel at the 2019 British Fantasy Awards. She lives in London and Devon.

Death of A Bookseller by Alice Slater @alicemjslater @HodderBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 27 April 2023 from Hodder & Stoughton
Narration: Emma Noakes and Victoria Blunt
Listening Time: 11hrs 58 minutes

My thanks to Hodder Books for an advance copy for review


Roach – bookseller, loner and true crime obsessive – is not interested in making friends. She has all the company she needs in her serial killer books, murder podcasts and her pet snail, Bleep.

That is, until Laura joins the bookshop.

Smelling of roses, with her cute literary tote bags and beautiful poetry, she’s everyone’s new favourite bookseller. But beneath the shiny veneer, Roach senses a darkness within Laura, the same darkness Roach possesses.

As Roach’s curiosity blooms into morbid obsession, it becomes clear that she is prepared to infiltrate Laura’s life at any cost.

Alice Slater clearly knows and loves her bookshops. The daily lives of booksellers are here for everyone to enjoy. Death of A Bookseller centres on two booksellers, Brogan Roach and Laura Bunting who work in the Walthamstow branch of Spines, a major book retailer.

Brogan is universally referred to as ‘Roach’.  She is a lover of true crime and she uses her job to feed her enthusiasm, ordering true crime books from the States and elsewhere under fake names just so that she can read them. She listens to podcasts, too.  It’s a bit of an obsession, to put it mildly.

Roach is a goth and she’s quite happy looking after ‘her’ true crime section. Then  Laura Bunting transfers into the Walthamstow branch. Laura ios everything Roach is not. She is perky, nice as ninepence to the customers and an upward pleaser, sucking up to the manager. She is stylish, writes poetry and her perfume smells of roses.  She is a daisy to Roach’s bindweed.

Told in alternate voices and beautifully narrated by Emma Noakes and Victoria Blunt, Death of A Bookseller is a dark psychological thriller that deals with the nature of obsession and the impact of true crime on today’s society.

It is beautifully written. This is a slow burn of an audiobook but each chapter is pitch perfect and you can visualise both of these women as they tell their stories. It’s not only a brilliant depiction of workplace dynamics and working in a bookshop in the run up to Christmas; it is also a very dark and creepy look at what obsession can do to people.

Roach is by nature someone who rifles through other people’s belongings and it is when she does with to Laura that she discovers Laura’s secret. That’s what triggers her and so her need to know more about Laura begins. They have a common interest, Roach believes and so she sets out to befriend Laura and so learn more about her.

But Laura is horrified by Roach’s interests and wants nothing to do with her. As the novel progresses we find that Laura is not as sweet as she purports to be. Neither of these women is especially likeable and both are emotionally compromised.

Alice Slater’s book is so deliciously dark and so brilliantly observed that it feels like we are living in our own true crime story. She uses short, sharp chapters to keep our attention focussed, and the cast of characters is tight and so well observed. Moments of wry humour help to alleviate the darkness and the addition of Roach’s pet snail just seals the deal.

Verdict: This is a really accomplished psychological thriller, delivered exceptionally well in audiobook and it grips the attention like a vice. I found it hard to credit that this is a debut novel. It is so clever, so disturbing  and so well conceived that I can’t help but recommend it.


Alice Slater spent six years working as a bookseller with Waterstones. She started as a Christmas temp in Manchester Deansgate and worked her way up to bookshop manager of Romford, then Gower Street’s fiction section, and eventually Notting Hill Gate, lending a hand in 20 different branches across the UK on the way. Now a London-based writer, she is a co-host of literary podcast “What Page Are You On?” and writes about short stories for Mslexia.

Dark Angel by John Sandford  (Letty Davenport #2) @canelo_co @J_Sandford

Source: Review copy
Publication: 13 April 2023 from Canelo Action
PP: 352
ISBN-13: 978-1804362495

My thanks to Canelo Action for an advance copy for review

Letty Davenport’s days working a desk job are behind her. Her previous actions at a gunfight in Texas – and her incredible skills with firearms – draw the attention of several branches of the US government, and make her a perfect fit for even more dangerous work.

The Department of Homeland Security tasks her with infiltrating a hacker group that is intent on wreaking havoc nationwide. Letty and her reluctant partner from the NSA pose as free-spirited programmers for hire and embark on a cross country road trip to the group’s California headquarters.

But soon they begin to suspect that the hackers are not their only enemy. Someone within their own circle may have betrayed them, and has ulterior motives that place their mission – and their lives – in grave danger.

You know you’re getting old when you start reading about the sons, or in this case, daughters of your favourite investigators and they now have series in their own right. I have long been a fan of John Sandford’s Prey series with the main character Lucas Davenport. Dark Angel is the second in the Letty Davenport series, following The Investigator.

Letty Davenport is the adopted daughter of Lucas Davenport. Her background is one that is both dark and violent and Letty herself is now no stranger to the use of lethal firearms.  She is a Stanford graduate with a master’s in economics and she ostensibly works for Republican U.S. Senator Colles. In reality though, Colles has her doing investigative work the Department of Homeland Security.

Dark Angel could hardly be more contemporary and as fast paced action thrillers with a contemporary edge go, this one is right up there. This time she is on a joint investigation with the Department of Homeland Security and the NSA.  Her job is to infiltrate a hacker group known as Ordinary People who create havoc and make money from demanding ransoms after hacking corporate websites.  Intelligence tells them that this group is planning to cut off gas supplies in the midst of a freezing winter.

Letty isn’t a computer expert, but they pair her with Rod Baxter, a real Twinkie eating computer geek for this job.  Although they don’t take long to make contact and begin to make inroads into the group, Letty does not take long to suspect that she isn’t being told the whole truth.

When the real story emerges, it becomes clear that Letty and Baxter are in a fight for not only their lives, but for freedom and democracy.

There’s lots of quite gungo-ho politics in this, so you just have to go with the flow here in what is a very fast moving, thriller with lots of action and some great characters. I loved Letty’s Peacemaker colleagues and Barb Cartwright in particular; who I am sure we will see more of in future episodes.

There’s some good wry humour in this action packed thriller that’s as contemporary as it can be and Sandford writes a taut and fascinating thriller with plenty of shoot-outs to keep the pace flowing.

Verdict: A great new series with a kick-ass female protagonist. I lapped it all up. Thank goodness for guns and America.                                  Waterstones                                     Hive Stores

John Sandford is the pseudonym for John Camp, the award-winning journalist and bestselling author of the Prey series, the Kidd series and the Virgil Flowers series. Sandford won the Pulitzer Prize in journalism in 1986, and has published over 50 novels, most of which have appeared, in one format or another, on the New York Times best-seller lists

Death Under a Little Sky by Stig Abell @StigAbell @fictionpubteam

Source: Review copy
Publication: 13 April 2023 from Harper Collins
PP: 352
ISBN-13: 978-0008517014

My thanks to Harper Collins for an advance copy for review

A detective ready for a new life…

For years, Jake Jackson has been a high-flying detective in London. But then one day he receives a letter from his reclusive uncle – he has left Jake his property in the middle of the countryside. For Jake, it is the perfect opportunity for a fresh start.

A rural idyll the stuff of dreams…

At first, life in the middle of nowhere is everything Jake could wish for. His new home is beautiful, his surroundings are stunning, and he enjoys getting back to nature.

A death that disrupts everything…

But then, what starts as a fun village treasure hunt turns deadly, when a young woman’s bones are discovered. And Jake is thrust once again into the role of detective, as he tries to unearth a dangerous killer in this most unlikely of settings.

I’d like to think that there are still places like that described in Stig Abell’s debut crime novel. Abell’s detective, Jake Jackson has inherited a large but very basic farmhouse and accompanying land from his uncle Albert.  The house has no internet, no landline, no washing machine and no hot water. It’s literally in the middle of nowhere. No real neighbours, no roads to speak of near the property. This is a hamlet with one shop that has a cellar which serves as a place to drink alcohol on occasion.

For Jake it is a timely answer to his problems. He was a policeman, but has burnt-out. He was a husband, but his marriage has foundered amid the heartbreak of failure to conceive a child. Jake’s experience of working the land or building things is nil, but he needs to sequester himself away and try and find some sense of self again, so this bequest is a godsend.

Jake’s new home is in a rural backwater, beautiful and unspoiled. Jake spends his days running and wild water swimming in a lake while working out how to cook, clean and develop the land he has inherited. His evenings are spent in the one room in the house that is well stocked – the library which houses his uncle’s impressive collection of detective fiction.

He does meet some of the locals, including the local vet, a single mother whom Jake finds both attractive and good company. He is inveigled along to participate in a local tradition akin to a treasure hunt where the treasure is ‘ a bag of bones’. On this occasion though, the sticks that normally stand in for the traditional bones in this annual hunt have been replaced by actual human bones and so the mystery begins.

Jake and his attractive vet begin an investigation and as they dig into what has happened, they uncover deeply buried secrets, and soon danger is closer to the surface than anyone is comfortable with. What looked to be a cold case has clearly stirred up a lot of local feeling and soon Jake has more enemies than people he has actually met since he moved in. Abell’s characters are well described and blissfully unromanticised.

Stig Abell clearly has a love for the detective fiction genre and that shines through in his writing. He has a clean writing style that captures both the beauty and the cruelty of the countryside as well as highlighting the very real drawbacks of rural life. This is a place where everyone knows your business and few will interfere if they perceive it to be none of their business. In this ‘live and let live’ culture, evil finds it easy to breed.

Though there is a formal police presence here, it is light of touch due to the pressures of low resources in rural policing and the calculation (wrongly as it turns out) of the absence of any current threat to the community.

That allows Jake to both flex his detective muscles again and more importantly, to be the isolated figure investigating wrongdoing whilst coming to a sense of peace within himself. Though I really enjoyed the slow burn that this novel benefits from and loved the laid back feel and beautifully atmospheric descriptions, some of the dialogue did feel a little stilted and that produced an oddly strange, out of kilter experience – so much so that I wondered if it was a deliberate way to show Jake’s disassociation from societal norms.  It is odd because this book is otherwise very well written.

Overall though, I enjoyed Death Under A Little Sky which is a satisfying murder mystery embedded in a love of the genre that really does shine through. It seems that this is the first in a series and I will certainly look out for the next one.                                  Waterstones                      Hive Stores

Stig Abell presents the breakfast show on Times Radio, a station he helped to launch in 2020. Before that he was a regular presenter on Radio 4’s Front Row and was the editor and publisher of the Times Literary Supplement. At one time or another he has written for almost every newspaper in Britain, and one or two in America as well. Stig’s book How Britain Really Works was published in 2018, in November 2020 he released his second book What to Read Next. Death Under A Little Sky is a detective novel set in the countryside. He lives in London with his wife, three children and two independent-minded cats called Boo and Ninja (his children named them, obviously).

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