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The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware @ruthwarewriter @HarvillSecker @BethanKJones @DeadGoodBooks #TheDeathOfMrsWestaway #NetGalley


Source: Netgalley

Publication: 28th June 2018 from Harvill Secker

Pp:  400

ISBN-13: 978-1911215035


When Harriet Westaway receives an unexpected letter telling her she’s inherited a substantial bequest from her Cornish grandmother, it seems like the answer to her prayers. She owes money to a loan shark and the threats are getting increasingly aggressive: she needs to get her hands on some cash fast.

There’s just one problem – Hal’s real grandparents died more than twenty years ago. The letter has been sent to the wrong person. But Hal knows that the cold-reading techniques she’s honed as a seaside fortune teller could help her con her way to getting the money. If anyone has the skills to turn up at a stranger’s funeral and claim a bequest they’re not entitled to, it’s her.

Hal makes a choice that will change her life for ever. But once she embarks on her deception, there is no going back. She must keep going or risk losing everything, even her life…


I loved this book which took me right back into the reasons I love crime fiction so much. All the way through I was incredibly impressed by the fact that although I knew I was reading a contemporary novel, nevertheless the setting and the prose were so reminiscent of an Agatha Christie old house mystery that my mind would deceive me into thinking I was in the past.

Hal Westaway lives in a small Brighton flat. Up to her ears in debt, she had to give up all hopes of college after the death of her mother in a hit and run accident and so she slid into her mother’ role as a tarot reader on Brighton pier. Pursued by thugs from the local loan shark, she is barely eking out a living when a letter from heaven drops in her lap. Well, maybe not heaven, but from a solicitor promising her an inheritance, and that’s as close as Hal is going to get to heaven. Because Hal’s talent is in reading people from cold and that’s what makes her tarot business tick over with repeat customers.

So when she gets the letter saying her deceased grandmother has left her money, she’s pretty clear that it’s not meant for her, but she can use the money and she reckons she can carry off an impersonation if there’s money in it for her.

Now Hal, or Harriet as she was christened, is not a bad young woman, merely pretty desperate. So  to avoid the thugs, she sets out for the deceased’s family home, Trepassen House in Cornwall.

If she can convince the solicitor and the family of the deceased woman that she is entitled to a bequest, she will take the money and run as quickly as she can.

Trepassen House turns out to be huge, crumbling and very cold. It is a gloomy house of gothic proportions that fairly shrieks of ghosts and secrets.  Trepassen House is ruled over by Mrs Warren, a woman with strong overtones of Mrs Danvers from Du Maurier’s Rebecca. Hardly welcoming, she shows Hal into an attic bedroom under the eaves which is colder than the grave her so called grandmother is buried in.

The others from the Westaway family she meets are hardly more welcoming, though her new ‘family’ are outwardly friendly though bemused by her existence. Sadly for Hal, who begins to have second thoughts about her deception once the size of her inheritance is revealed, it is clear that she’s going to have to stay around for a while whether she wants to or not.

A combination of unavoidable delays and atrocious weather maroons her in Cornwall and leads her into dangerous territory as she tries to find out what her connection to the Westaway family really is at the same time as carrying off her impersonation.

Ruth Ware manages to build up a magnificent suspenseful atmosphere which beautifully conveys the creepiness of the house and the menace that lies within it. The pace is slow but a beautifully paced slow so that the burn creeps up on you and you are on fire before you realise it.

Dark, creepy, gothic, contemporary, this is a story of families, secrets and horribly dark doings that should belong in the Victorian era but sadly are all too real and contemporary.

Sharply drawn, beautifully nuanced and with a heroine in Hal that you absolutely root for, this is a terrifically good novel with slight supernatural undertones and a definite gothic twist.

Verdict: Not to be missed. A dark and dramatic contemporary thriller with a gothic twist.


About Ruth Ware



Ruth Ware grew up in Lewes, in Sussex and studied at Manchester University, before settling in North London. She has worked as a waitress, a bookseller, a teacher of English as a foreign language and a press officer.

Her début thriller In a Dark, Dark Wood was an instant New York Times bestseller in the US, and a Richard and Judy pick and Sunday Times bestseller in the UK. It was optioned for film by New Line Cinema with Reese Witherspoon attached to produce.

The follow up, The Woman in Cabin 10 was a number one New York Times bestseller.

Since then her books have appeared on bestseller lists around the world, and all three have been optioned for either film or TV.

Follow her on Twitter at @ruthwarewriter.




#Blogtour #Bookreview Billionaire’s Banquet by Ron Butlin @RonButlinMakar @saltpublishing #Lovebooksgrouptours


Source: Review copy

Publication: 15 April 2017 from Salt Publishing

Pp 304

ISBN-13: 978-1784631000


1985, Edinburgh. Thatcher’s policies are biting deep – fat cats and street-kids, lovers, losers and the rest struggle to survive. Hume sets up a business catering for the rich and their ever-growing appetites. But by the new millennium, these appetites have become too demanding . . .

Powerful, challenging and very funny, Billionaires’ Banquet is an immorality tale for the 21st century.

I wanted to join the blog tour for Billionaire’s Banquet because Ron Butlin has been a figure in Scottish literary life for as long as I have been around and yet it is really only his poetry that I know.

So I was happy to dive straight into this rather witty and decidedly pointed political satire. Billionaire’s Banquet centres around 4 students in a 1985 Edinburgh that is instantly recognisable, from Morningside to Sandy Bell’s. This is a glorious evocation of Edinburgh and its well-trodden paths.

Our 4 are archetypal students. Hume, the philosopher (of course) whose philosophical dreams are mostly about becoming famous and rich, not necessarily in that order, as long as they get him the women his heart desires and preferment into the ranks of the political classes. In the meantime, though, he’s living in a cupboard with his 2 flatmates, in a flat owned by Electric Boy and which they call Barclay Towers.

The Cat is a pure mathematician. She carries the weight of the world on her shoulders as a result of an accident she was responsible for as a child. Now she studies pure maths and enjoys the kind of liberated sex, light drugs and pot noodles life we all thought we had invented when we were students.

St Francis was going to be a priest, but rather lost his calling. Now he plays with his furniture in an OCD kind of way and longs to be good, or to have sex, whichever works best.

Though no strings sex is the agreed order of the day, when Hume spends the night with ‘Damned Diana’ as D.D. calls herself in preference to her parents preferred, ‘Delightful daughter’, the Cat sees no way forward and quite literally disappears in front of their eyes.

Cat never reappears and Hume realises that he’s never going to cut that esteemed academic figure he dreamt of. Worse, D.D. expects him to fend for himself and to earn a crust. Fortunately, one day, whilst pondering quite how to achieve employment, a find in a charity shop shows him the way forward.

Move forward 20 years and we are just past the Make Poverty History marches and awaiting the arrival of George Bush to attend the G8 summit in Gleneagles. Political ferment and turmoil is rife, but surprisingly our key protagonists are still together and still part of Barclay Towers.

Hume is running a very successful Executive Services company with his now wife, D.D. St. Francis has done his bit for the homeless and is now living in Barclay Towers with his waif, Megan. Barclay Towers itself has undergone a refurbishment and is now a private club and, as we come to realise, a front for some serious money laundering.

On the eve of his biggest success yet, the Billionaires Banquet, which will see Hume raise a fortune for Making Poverty History, he is ready to stand back and contemplate what he really wants from life if it’s not making money. It’s probably the first philosophical thought he has had in 20 years.

But fate has other ideas and Hume is about to find that leading this lifestyle will have consequences he should have forseen.

Billionaire’s Banquet is certainly a witty, satirical and sometimes laugh out loud look at how easily dreams turn to venality when money becomes a ‘thing’ in one’s life.  The humour is laden though with bleakness that belies the upbeat tone. What has capitalism done to those who would be followers of a more helpful and supportive path through life if not destroy them and make them more venal? What use is intellectualism is if doesn’t teach you to be street smart?

Are things really as bleak as Ron Butlin makes out?  Sadly, I think he may well be right.

Just as well then that he raises this thought and interlaces it with the biting humour we have enjoyed throughout the book, though in the end, the aftertaste is still quite bitter.

Verdict: Witty but damning look at society


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About Ron Butlin


With an international reputation as a prize-winning novelist, Ron is a former Edinburgh Makar / Poet Laureate.
Before becoming a writer,he was a pop-song lyricist (3 records and a brief appearance in a justly-neglected film.He was also a footman attending parties for the great and good, the rich and bad, a barnacle-scraper on the Thames and a male model. His work has been widely translated, and ‘The Sound of My Voice’ has been twice been awarded a ‘Best Foreign Novel’ prize as well been made into a rather short film.
He is a novelist, poet, children’s author, opera librettist, playwright – one of these, on a good day. He has been auctioned twice for charity, and put in a cage outside parliament for The Day of the Imprisoned Writer. All very character-building. He has given readings world-wide including at the House of Lords, John Knox’s pulpit in St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, and an Arab tent in Bahrain.
He lives in Edinburgh with his wife, the writer Regi Claire, and their dog (Note – Nessie, as she’s called in the book, features in Ron’s first novel for early teens, ‘Steve & FranDan Take on the World’ which is due out this spring. She is great fun on paper and in real life).

See what others think of Billionaire’s Banquet. Look out for the blog tour.

#Blogtour #BookReview The Dead Ex by Jane Corry @JaneCorryAuthor @HannahLudbrook @PenguinUKBooks #DeadEx

Source: Review Copy

Publication: 28 June 2018 from Penguin

Pp: 432

ISBN-13: 978-0241981740

Vicki’s husband David once promised to love her in sickness and in health. But after a brutal attack left her suffering with epilepsy, he ran away with his mistress.

So when Vicki gets a call one day to say that he’s missing, her first thought is ‘good riddance’. But then the police find evidence suggesting that David is dead. And they think Vicki had something to do with it.

What really happened on the night of David’s disappearance?

And how can Vicki prove her innocence, when she’s not even sure of it herself?

Jane Corry has proven herself to be very adept at the clever interweaving of different stories which fuse together at the critical moment, and The Dead Ex is no exception. This means that the reader needs to pay attention to each character’s story line, because it is only when you put all the parts of the puzzle together that you can see what a compelling storytelling this is. It ramps up the tension and keeps you guessing right to the last page.

Vicki is an aromatherapist living in Penzance. Suffering from epilepsy after a brutal attack in a previous job, she is trying to make a new life for herself after her husband, David, left her for another woman just as she was trying to recover from her attack. What a gent, eh? Vicki’s heart is broken as her husband beds and then weds his P.A. Tanya (men are such clichés) and now the pair live in Vicki’s old house and lead the life that Vicki used to have.

Vicki struggles with her epilepsy, not just because she has the condition, but also because the meds she is on make her prone to blanking out and forgetting things, so aromatherapy is just the kind of stress free, herbal remedy job she needs.

Then one day the Police arrive at her door. David is missing, presumed dead. The trouble is that Vicki hasn’t entirely kept away from David’s new life and now she has blanks in her memory that make it difficult for her to remember what she might have done.

Vicki’s first person narrative is complemented by another plot line, that of Scarlett.  Scarlett is a wee girl, living in poverty and used by her mother as a drug mule in transactions with men she is required to call ‘uncle’. Scarlett has a terrible life and it’s not long before she ends up in the care system while her mother is locked up. This is such a heart-breaking story  that you do need to have a strong constitution to read it without shedding a tear.

Then we have our third narrator, Helen Evans; a young and ambitious photographer who seeks out an internship with David, and whose agenda will prove to be the catalyst that has a profound impact on everyone involved in this story.

One of Jane Corry’s strengths is that she is able to fully flesh out her characters and whilst they are not always likeable, they are compelling and persuasive. We don’t know who is the most reliable narrator, but we want to know how these stories interleave.

As Vicki tries to plug the gaps in her memory in order to prove both to herself and to the police that she is not responsible for David’s disappearance, a chain of events will be set in motion that will end up in death and a fight for freedom.

The Dead Ex is a complex character driven narrative of mothers and daughters, love loss and betrayal.

Verdict: Complex and twisted psychological thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat.

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About Jane Corry


Jane Corry is a former magazine journalist who spent three years working as the writer-in-residence of a high security prison for men. She had never been inside a jail before and this often hair-raising experience helped inspire her Sunday Times bestselling psychological thrillers, Blood Sisters and My Husband’s Wife.

Jane is a regular life story judge for the Koestler Awards given to prisoners for art and writing. Until recently, Jane was a tutor in creative writing at Oxford University, and she now runs writing workshops in her local area of Devon and speaks at literary festivals all over the world. She has three grown up children and until recently wrote the ‘Diary of a First-Time Grandmother’ column for the Daily Telegraph.

Follow Jane Corry on Twitter: @JaneCorryAuthor

See what others are saying about The Dead Ex. Follow the blog tour here:

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It All Falls Down by Sheena Kamal (Nora Watts #2) @BonnierZaffre @ImoSebba #ItAllFallsDown

Source: Review copy

Publication: 28 June 2018 from Bonnier Zaffre

Pp 352

ISBN-13: 978-1785764097


Nora Watts is being hunted . . .

When Nora Watts is approached by a man claiming to know her late father, she is thrown into turmoil. Struggling with the imminent death, from cancer, of her friend and mentor Sebastian Crow, she is unprepared for the memories that this encounter brings back. What happened to her father that made him kill himself and abandon Nora and her sister?

Heading to Detroit to try and find some answers about his life there, Nora expects to discover a reason behind his suicide. Instead, she finds more questions than answers.

But trouble always follows Nora, and it’s found her in Detroit, a city that is as broken as she is.


I had not realised that this was book 2 in a series, and that whilst you can read this as a stand-alone, I’m pretty sure you will get a great deal more from it if you have first read Eyes Like Mine. That’s because our protagonist has had quite a life, and it is in understanding who she is and everything that she has been through, that we appreciate the relationships – or lack thereof – that she has today.

It All Falls Down is a tough, sometimes brutal, novel with a badly mentally and physically damaged protagonist. Written in an uncompromising tone of voice it is dark and atmospheric and deals with some pretty strong social issues among the mean streets of Vancouver.

Nora Watts only ever knew her father. Her mother abandoned her and her sister early on and when her father blew his brains out she felt herself alone. She is spiky, sharp and quick to anger. For years she shielded her younger sister, Lorelei, from suffering too much of the burden of having a tough childhood, but now the sisters are pretty much estranged.

Nora doesn’t seek out friendship, preferring to stand alone but her character is somewhat redeemed by a tendency to self–deprecating humour and  despite how hard she tries, her difficulty in fully having us believe that she doesn’t care what she has been through.

Now she’s a recovering alcoholic with a death toll behind her. An encounter with a veteran who knew her father raises disturbing questions about his life that demand answers.

She sets out to Detroit, where her father Sam, grew up, far away from his people and the place of his birth as a result of the terrible Sixties Scoop policy. In Detroit, what Nora discovers about Sam’s death has far reaching consequences that she could never have imagined.

In Vancouver former police detective turned private investigator Jon Brazuca is looking into the overdose death of billionaire Bernard Lam ’s great love, Clementine. His search uncovers a ruthless drugs gang, who also have a less than healthy interest in Nora, though he has no way of letting her know what he has discovered.

As Nora tries to get to the bottom of her father’s past, the action is lively and unpredictable with lots of attacks and assaults which place anyone who knows Nora directly in harm’s way.

The closer Nora comes to the truth, the more danger she is in, but as the pieces slowly fall into place, more people will die before Nora gets the answers she needs.

It All Falls Down is well written with strong tension and a good plot. Strong and uncompromising, it packs a really strong punch and is worth reading for that alone.

Nora is a fractured protagonist that you can’t help liking after all she has been through. It is clear that this is a 3 book narrative curve and then I will be interested to see what Kamal does with this character once Book 3 has been completed.

Verdict: Fascinating protagonist with disturbing insight into the social policies and practices of past and present Vancouver – but read Book One first.

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About Sheena Kamal


Sheena Kamal was born in the Caribbean and immigrated to Canada as a child. She holds an HBA in political science from the University of Toronto, and was awarded a TD Canada Trust scholarship for community leadership and activism around the issue of homelessness. Kamal has also worked as a crime and investigative journalism researcher for the film and television industry— academic knowledge and experience that inspired this debut novel. She lives in Vancouver, Canada.

Butterfly Ranch by R.K.Salters @Descend_Orpheus @AnneCater #ButterflyRanch #blogtour #bookreview


Source: Review Copy

Publication: Matador on 5 Dec. 2017

Pp: 264

ISBN-13: 978-1788039963

 Tristan Griffin is a household name and the author of a universally popular detective series. For the past few years he has lived in self-exile in a remote jungle lodge nestled in the Mayan hills of Southern Belize, with his partner Hedda. The novel begins as he attempts suicide and Hedda disappears. Altamont Stanbury, an old Kriol police constable posted to the local backwater of San Antonio, rushes to the scene with his daughter Philomena, the village nurse.

Philomena saves Tristan but he remains unconscious. Altamont, a bumbler and long-time reader of crime novels, launches a half-hearted search for Hedda by radio but decides to remain at the lodge. In truth his reverence for Tristan the writer consumes all else, and he becomes obsessed with the Griffin books he finds at the lodge.

When Tristan comes to, he is distraught and at times delirious, haunted by flashbacks of his uncompromising, cursed love for Hedda and the dark secret behind her disappearance. His anger and increasingly erratic behavior only find respite in the presence of Altamont’s innocent daughter. But he feels nothing but spite for Altamont himself, and the relationship between the two threatens to have fatal consequences for one or both.


The Butterfly Ranch is a real gem of a find. A treasure trove of atmospheric setting, strange characters and some pretty spot on writing that draws you right in to the heart of the book.

Altamont Stanbury is a Kriol police constable in the small backwater of San Antonio, in the Mayan jungle, where nothing much ever really happens. He spends his days locked in his office, reading and sometimes re-reading detective novels. When he re-reads them he looks for clues he had missed first time round and spends a lot of thought on working out how to detect these crimes efficiently. Locked in his drawer he has a pistol he has never used; a pistol that recently replaced the last pistol he never used.

Surrounded by cacao plantations farmed by Mopan Mayan farmers and the rainforests of Belize, the air is full of the sound of birds, insects and animals and the vegetation in the forests fills the warm damp air with both signs of life and rotten decay.

Altamont and his wife Dee moved from the coastal town of Punto Gorda in the expectation that this was a path to Altamont’s promotion, but that never materialised. Their youngest daughter, Philomena is training to be a nurse and already is the unofficial medic in the area. Altamont and his daughter have an interesting relationship. He calls her Miss and she calls him Sir, but of the two, it turns out to be Philomena who has the stronger authority. Where he is bumbling and somewhat comical, she is intelligent and assured, it is clear that she respects him, but she also has a will of her own.

Things in San Antonio change one day when out of the forest a gas delivery man comes to report a dead body of a ‘Britisher’ up at the peak of the mountain at Butterfly Ranch. The British couple who live at the ranch are known to the villagers, this is where they buy their supplies, but otherwise they stay in splendid isolation; keeping entirely to themselves, save for a local woman, Emiliana Cho, who travels up to housekeep for them 3 days a week.

Tristan Griffin and his partner Hedda live off the proceeds of Tristan’s respectably known detective novels, but not much more is known about the couple. What we come to learn of them is told in flashbacks and from the recollections of Hedda’s twin sister, Grethe Johansen.

When Altamont and his daughter Philomena arrive at the ranch they discover Tristan Griffin, not dead, but lying on the floor after taking an overdose of diazepam. There is no trace of Hedda anywhere. With Tristan too ill to be moved, Altamont and Philomena have no choice but to stay at the ranch and hope that Philomena’s nursing will be able to get him fit to travel.

Altamont uses the radio to ask the police station to get word out that Hedda is missing, but eventually all that comes back is word that Hedda’s sister, Grethe, is on her way to them from her home in Norway, but there is no trace of Hedda anywhere.

In the midst of what is about to become a hurricane, this is a highly charged atmosphere in which four people are stranded in a house with time to reflect on what may have happened and for the reader to understand the relationship between Tristan and Hedda.

For this is in many ways an anthem to doomed love. Amidst the heat and the heavy atmosphere, these two have countenanced no others, yet it has made neither of them truly happy. As we learn more of their relationship, it becomes clear that this was always going to be a traumatic pairing, albeit one with real depth and passion.

A story of love, pain, loss and tragedy, this novel is both dramatic and almost operatic in its setting and plot line. In fact, it would make a fine opera, requiring only a sparse libretto with lots of bass and drums, thunder and lightning.

The writing is really very good and though you can’t honestly say that any of the characters are likeable, save perhaps for Philomena, they certainly stand out as real people.

Verdict: a fascinating read and writing that pulls you in.



About R.K.Salters

RK Salters - Author Picture

RK Salters grew up in Paris in the 1970s to an Irish émigré father and French mother. He is himself an exile of sorts, having left the roost to study abroad and subsequently lived in a number of countries. His approach to writing is eclectic, drawing influences from classic and contemporary, genre and literary fiction alike, across both sides of the Atlantic.

He is now settled in Lithuania (Baltics), where he earlier met his future wife while exploring the collapsing Soviet Union. He is a passionate traveller and an expedition in Belizean jungles provided the setting for Butterfly Ranch, his first novel.

Follow R.K.Salters on Twitter: @Descend_Orpheus.


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Where The Missing Go by Emma Rowley @Emma_Rowley @AlexxLayt @Orionbooks @orion_crime #WhereIsSophie?


Source: Review copy

Publication: 14 June 2018 from Orion

Pp: 320

ISBN-13: 978-1409175773



I volunteer at a missing persons helpline – young people who have run away from home call me and I pass on messages to their loved ones, no questions asked.

I don’t get many phone calls, and those I do are usually short and vague, or pranks.

But today a girl named Sophie called.

I’m supposed to contact her parents to let them know their child is safe.

The problem is, Sophie isn’t safe.



Well, if this is a debut novel, all I can say is watch out, all you domestic psychological thriller writers, because Emma Rowley has aced this one.

Kate Harwood’s 16 year old daughter Sophie disappeared from school two years ago and all she has had since are a handful of postcards with the same brief message that she is OK and not to worry.

In that 2 years, a lot has happened. Kate went to pieces, stopped working, had her marriage fall apart and is now doing voluntary work for a charity that maintains a helpline for missing children to pass messages on to their parents in confidence. Kate is still a mess. She can’t move on, she can’t sleep and she takes too many pills. Her husband Mark and her dad and sister all think it’s time that she moved on and accepted that Sophie isn’t coming back. Mark has certainly moved on.

But Kate just can’t let go. And one day, whilst on the helpline, she takes a call. It’s Sophie’s voice on a very crackly line. And Sophie tells her that she is still here.

But has Kate finally snapped? Is she looking for clues where there are none? The police, everyone around her, even her doctor think she’s a bit delusional.

Where The Missing Go, is told in three sections. The first is Kate’s voice and everything we see and hear is from the perspective of a distraught mother. In the second and third sections Kate and Sophie’s voices alternate, and we learn from Sophie what Kate still does not know about her disappearance.

There is a real strength of feeling and raw grief and emotion that pulsates from Kate’s narration. The bond between a mother and her child is palpable here and that really makes this an engaging and propulsive story.

Though it took a little while to get into it, once I did, the book moved at a breakneck speed, offering numerous alternate theories about what has happened to Sophie and whether Kate is as unreliable a narrator as she at first seems.

Jam packed with false leads, loads of tension and some very twisty scenarios, this is a one sitting read, the very definition of can’t put it down.

I didn’t see the end coming and I’d say overall this one is bound to be a winner.

Verdict: A sure fire summer success.

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About Emma Rowley

emma rowley

Emma Rowley is a writer, ghostwriter and editor with a background in newspaper journalism. A graduate in Classics and English at Oxford University, she trained as a journalist at City University. Emma has spent considerable time in the courts and covering major crime stories. She lives in London.

Follow Emma on Twitter: @Emma_Rowley

The Quaker by Liam McIlvanney @LiamMcIlvanney @JaimeFrost @HarperFiction @fictionpubteam @CottonFinn


Source: Review copy

Publication: June 28th 2018 from Harper Collins

Pp: 400

ISBN-13: 978-0008259914


A city torn apart.

Glasgow, 1969. In the grip of the worst winter for years, the city is brought to its knees by a killer whose name fills the streets with fear: the Quaker. He takes his next victim – the third woman from the same nightclub – and dumps her in the street like rubbish.

A detective with everything to prove.

The police are left chasing a ghost, with no new leads and no hope of catching their prey. DI McCormack, a talented young detective from the Highlands, is ordered to join the investigation. But his arrival is met with anger from a group of officers on the brink of despair. Soon he learns just how difficult life can be for an outsider.

A killer who hunts in the shadows.

When another woman is found murdered in a tenement flat, it’s clear the case is by no means over. From ruined backstreets to the dark heart of Glasgow, McCormack follows a trail of secrets that will change the city – and his life – forever…


When you start to read The Quaker, it is so easy to believe you are reading about the infamous and never caught serial killer, dubbed ‘Bible John’ by the media. Were it not for the fact that the names of the victims have been changed, everything else feels so very like that time in 1969 when Glasgow was selling the dream of new housing conurbations in idyllic sounding places like Easterhouse and Castlemilk. When the notion of moving from your red sandstone tenement with a cludgie on the stairheid to a place with an inside lavvy was the biggest dream many folk had.

But this is no fact into fiction rehash. Loosely based on the murders of the real – and never caught – serial killer “Bible John”, who is believed to have raped and strangled three women after meeting them in the city’s Barrowland Ballroom, quoting passages from the bible to them as he danced with them. This novel goes much deeper into the fictional realm to create a classy and atmospheric novel that is redolent with the fear that gripped Glasgow during that time, when newspapers could sell thousands of copies by putting a murderer on Page 1.

Many theories abound to this day about the existence of Bible John (or not) but McIlvanney isn’t chasing that story; rather he has created a distinctive and beautifully written fiction from the genesis of the facts.

DI Duncan McCormack, a gently spoken Highlander and shinty player, stands slightly apart from his colleagues. He is brought in from the flying squad by the bosses who are fed up with being pilloried in the press for failing to catch the killer. McCormick has a great track record in catching villains, but he’s not welcomed into the arms of Glasgow C.I.D. who have spent well over a year of their lives trying and failing to identify their man. Thousands of witnesses have been interviewed; the cops have even taken to mingling with the young mean and women in the Barrowlands Ballroom in the hopes of spotting the predator, but to no avail. They have no leads and identified no pattern.

These cops resent McCormack, rightly believing that his review will be about identifying their failures as a prelude to shutting down their investigation.

McCormack himself isn’t wholly delighted at his task. He wants to continue his previous task of putting away the henchmen of notorious Glasgow gangster John McGlashan through identifying and jailing his lieutenants.

Meanwhile, known ‘peterman’ Alex Paton, has come up from London to take part in the robbery of an auction house and these two stories run in parallel as the novel progresses.

Two things are striking about this book. The figure of D.I. Duncan McCormick, always an outsider, at odds with pretty much everyone at one point or another, is an intriguing figure for a detective. There is sufficient in his persona to create a character at odds with his time and yet as dogged and determined as it gets and with a quiet intelligence and analytical mind that can seek out patterns where others have failed.

The other is that whilst this is a dark, chilling and sometimes very gritty book that does not hesitate to dwell on the particularly unsavoury aspects of these murders, the women are not mere female cypher victims. McIlvanney gives each of them their own voice, so that we see them as individuals, with hopes, dreams and fears, not simply victims and this makes their deaths all the more tragic.

With rich characterisation and once into the story, a strong pace, McIlvanney’s rich prose takes us on a journey through Glasgow’s deprived working class areas and out into the contrasting nearby Loch Lomond countryside, considering along the way the pervasive sectarian divide, the prejudices of the time and the all too prevalent freemasonry of the police force. With a clear and multi-layered plot and dialogue that is sharp and often quite lyrical, McIlvanney weaves a strong story into a propulsive powerhouse of a book.

I’d be keen to read more of his protagonist, too.

Verdict: Atmospheric, authentic, and compelling, this is a powerful and expressive addition to the ‘tartan noir’ canon.

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About Liam McIlvanney


Liam McIlvanney was born in Scotland and studied at the universities of Glasgow and Oxford. He has written for numerous publications, including the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement and the Guardian. His debut, Burns the Radical, won the Saltire First Book Award, and his most recent book, Where the Dead Men Go, won the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. He is Stuart Professor of Scottish Studies at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He lives in Dunedin with his wife and four sons. The Quaker has been longlisted for Bloody Scotland’s 2018 Crime novel of the year.


Follow Liam on Twitter @LiamMcIlvanney



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