Red As Blood (Áróra Investigation #2) by Lilja Sigurðardóttir trs Quentin Bates @lilja1972 @graskeggur @OrendaBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication:  13 October 2022 from Orenda Books
PP:  276
ISBN-13: 978-1914585326

My thanks to Orenda Books for an advance copy for review

When entrepreneur Flosi arrives home for dinner one night, he discovers that his house has been ransacked, and his wife Gudrun missing. A letter on the kitchen table confirms that she has been kidnapped. If Flosi doesn’t agree to pay an enormous ransom, Gudrun will be killed.

Forbidden from contacting the police, he gets in touch with Áróra, who specialises in finding hidden assets, and she, alongside her detective friend Daniel, try to get to the bottom of the case without anyone catching on.

Meanwhile, Áróra and Daniel continue the puzzling, devastating search for Áróra’s sister Ísafold, who disappeared without trace. As fog descends, in a cold and rainy Icelandic autumn, the investigation becomes increasingly dangerous, and confusing.

This is a series that is rapidly getting in to its stride. Easily read as a stand-alone, Red as Blood is the second in the Áróra Investigates series, on the heels of Cold as Hell. The more I learn of Áróra, the more I like her. She is a muscular protagonist in all senses of the word. She knows her own mind, works out daily, has no qualms about confronting danger but equally does not take stupid risks and above all, she is an intelligent, forensic investigator who knows just how to follow the money trail in any investigation.

And yet for all the doggedness and ability to weigh up all the evidence, she is an investigator with a strong emotional core and it is nice to see her wavering slightly as she recognises the impact that the Police Detective Daniel has on her.

Áróra is still searching for her missing sister, Ísafold, but when she is asked to help handle the case of Gudrun, a missing Icelandic woman who disappeared from her home while making dinner she is happy to earn some money to help her continue her search.

Written in fairly short chapters the narrative pace is good as Áróra brings the police into the case, ensuring that the kidnappers are not aware of any police involvement through various subterfuges. To do this she has to enlist Daniel’s help. There is nothing obviously remarkable about the missing woman and the assumption is that she has been taken because her husband, Flosi, is a wealthy man with sufficient funds at his disposal to pay a hefty ransom. When Gudrun disappeared, a letter left on the kitchen table says that if Flosi doesn’t pay, Gudrun will be killed.

As Áróra investigates, a lot is uncovered about the life of this family and it seems as if this investigation is going to go along traditional lines. But then there is a gear change and the case takes on new life and a new direction, increasing the danger quotient and ramping up the tension as it becomes clear that more is afoot than was originally suspected.

This is a case in which the Police investigation plays as large a role as Arora’s own enquiries and she and Daniel must work hand in hand. It was good to meet more of Daniel’s colleagues in the police too and I especially enjoyed the new character, Helena whose personal life is as complex as Áróra’s. This type of joint working makes the case so much more interesting than just the lone detective narrative, though the search for Ísafold still leaves her working a lonely trail and increasingly sure that it is a body she is looking for.

Plotting is tight, the pace is strong and my interest was never less than focussed intently on how this compelling tale would pan out. Lilja Sigurðardóttir writes stories with strong contemporary relevance and her crimes are the kind that takes a contemporary sleuth with strong analytical skills to unravel. That makes her protagonist both fascinating and incredibly relevant and Áróra’s instincts are both intuitive and trustworthy, leading her into a dogged pursuit of the truth. In a cold and damp autumnal Iceland, the weather seeps into every corner of this investigation, though the shivers come more from the nature of the heinous crimes committed.

Verdict: A brilliantly told, suspenseful murder mystery with superb and engaging characters. Atmospheric with a strong sense of place and a sharp, contemporary edge this is excellent storytelling that will leave you excited and full of anticipatory desire for the next in the series.

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Icelandic crime-writer Lilja Sigurdardóttir was born in the town of Akranes in 1972 and raised in Mexico, Sweden, Spain and Iceland. An award-winning playwright, Lilja has written five crime novels, including Snare, Trap and Cage, making up the Reykjavik Noir trilogy, and her standalone thriller Betrayal, all of which have hit bestseller lists worldwide. Snare was longlisted for the CWA International Dagger, Cage won Best Icelandic Crime Novel of the Year and was a Guardian Book of the Year, and Betrayal was shortlisted for the prestigious Glass Key Award and won Icelandic Crime Novel of the Year. The film rights for the Reykjavik Noir trilogy have been bought by Palomar Pictures in California. She lives in Reykjavík with her partner.

Sometimes People Die by Simon Stephenson @TheSimonBot @BoroughPress @MidasPR

Source: Review copy
Publication: 1st September from The Borough Press
PP: 350
ISBN-13: 978-0008547622

My thanks to The Borough Press and Midas PR for an advance copy for review

The year is 1999. Returning to practice after a suspension for stealing opioids, a young Scottish doctor takes the only job he can find: a post as a senior house officer in the struggling east London hospital of St Luke’s.

Amid the maelstrom of sick patients, over-worked staff and underfunded wards a darker secret soon declares itself: too many patients are dying.

Which of the medical professionals our protagonist has encountered is behind the murders? And can our unnamed narrator’s version of the events be trusted?

Sometimes People Die is entirely a first person narrative. It is written by an unnamed junior doctor who, to be fair, is unlikely to make anyone’s list of top doctor of the year. Deeply flawed, he struggles by with the bare minimum of medical knowledge and working in St Luke’s, a place of last resort where recruitment is largely drawn from the medical register of ‘who is left who couldn’t get a job anywhere else?’

With a known opiate addiction for which he is undergoing mandatory psychotherapy, our doctor‘s narrative is reminiscent of Adam Kay, but with less anger and more resignation towards the very real difficulties of working in the under-resourced NHS where mistakes are always going to happen and by some miracle they don’t happen nearly as often as they might.

This narrative very much carries the ring of authenticity. It is clear that Simon Stephenson knows whereof he speaks when it comes to the life of a house officer in a hospital. Utilising a somewhat sardonic tone, our unnamed doctor takes us on a tour of the sick and the dying, recounting the saves and the near misses as he goes.

Soon, though, it becomes clear that not all is well in St Luke’s, beyond the obvious lack of resources. Patients are dying of things that they should not die from and the number of patients that are passing without a clear cause is growing.

As he relates this story to his readers, he intersperses his narrative with tales of famous cases of medical murders. From so called Angels of Death to Harold Shipman, we are treated to the most notorious of medical murders over the past several decades.

It all lends additional plausibility to out protagonist’s narrative and serves to add a more chilling tone to his often witty telling of this tale. Unsurprisingly, given his background, it is not long before our doctor becomes a suspect in what evolves into a serial murder enquiry. Though he is interrogated, there’s not really enough evidence to charge him and he returns to work, though the killings do not stop.

Speculation is rife throughout the hospital about what is going on and who might be responsible and the doctors even mock up a murder board in their mess room with their own darkly humorous suggestions.

As our doctor, who is at least improving his medical skills as he learns on the job, begins to investigate who might be responsible his investigations lead him into more trouble and he suffers badly when a housemate fails his exams and falls by the wayside.

I found this to be a fresh and captivating tale, told well and with credibility and conviction. It is a refreshing take on medical murder mysteries and held my attention well throughout. It makes sense that a doctor is best placed to find out what’s going on than the police, whose instincts are always to look for those with flawed pasts.

Verdict: An entertaining, credible and informative medical thriller with a difference. I loved the tone and enjoyed our narrator’s perspective. The conclusion was both fascinating and surprising. I really enjoyed it.

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Simon Stephenson originally trained as a doctor and worked in Scotland and London. He previously wrote Let Not the Waves of the Sea, a memoir about the loss of his brother in the Indian ocean tsunami. It won Best First Book at the Scottish Book Awards, was a Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4, and a Daily Telegraph Book of the Year. His first novel, Set My Heart to Five was a Bookseller Book of the Month and was described by the Daily Mail as ‘Funny, original and thought-provoking.’ It has been optioned by Working Title Films to be directed by Edgar Wright from Stephenson’s screenplay. He currently lives in Los Angeles, in a house where a famous murder took place. As a screenwriter, he originated and wrote the Benedict Cumberbatch starrerThe Electrical Life of Louis Wain and wrote the story for Pixar’s Luca. He also contributed to everybody’s favourite film, Paddington 2.

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The Last Girl to Die by Helen Fields @Helen_Fields @AvonBooksUK @ElliePilcher95

Source: Review copy
Publication: 1st September 2022 from Avon Books
PP: 384
ISBN-13: 978-0008379360

My thanks to Avon Books for an advance copy for review

In search of a new life, seventeen-year-old Adriana Clark’s family moves to the ancient, ocean-battered Isle of Mull, far off the coast of Scotland. Then she goes missing. Faced with hostile locals and indifferent police, her desperate parents turn to private investigator Sadie Levesque.

Sadie is the best at what she does. But when she finds Adriana’s body in a cliffside cave, a seaweed crown carefully arranged on her head, she knows she’s dealing with something she’s never encountered before.

The deeper she digs into the island’s secrets, the closer danger creeps – and the more urgent her quest to find the killer grows. Because what if Adriana is not the last girl to die?

Helen Fields has an uncanny ability to write particularly addictive murder mysteries, usually characterised by especially brutal murders wrapped up in good character studies and in fabulous settings. In this stand-alone novel set on the island of Mull, Sadie Levesque is our tenacious Canadian protagonist, brought over to find a missing teen.

Helen Fields writes unputdownable books that make you want to keep on reading as she draws you in to her tense and thrilling plots and captures your imagination with her vivid characters and enthralling mysteries. Her sense of place is excellent and you can feel the cold shoulders of the Tobermory community as Sadie begins to unravel their secrets.

Adriana Clark’s parents have emigrated from the United States to Mull and when they bring Sadie in Adriana has been missing for 11 days. Sadie is a Private Investigator who specialises in missing teens and though she doesn’t know Mull, she can recognise very quickly when a Police investigation is half-hearted and failing to do what is required.

Looked upon with suspicion by the islanders, very clearly not wanted by the local police, Sadie further compounds her unwelcome status by discovering Adriana’s body, gruesomely mutilated.

The Police only view her with more suspicion, though she finds some common ground with the forensic pathologist on the mainland, Nate Campbell.  Absorbing, atmospheric and full of red herrings and twisted pathways, Fields book takes us on a journey that encompasses an historical killing with connections to Adriana’s murder, pagan rituals, witchcraft and another, equally brutal, murder.

Sadie’s investigations lead to her to discover that it is not only the Islanders who are keeping secrets, but the real winner here is the sense of darkness and foreboding that hangs over Mull as Sadie navigates her way through a community that looks after its own and uncovers some secrets that should stay buried forever.

Verdict: With a real sense of danger and some startling secrets uncovered, Helen Fields novel brings a startling ending to a book that grabs your mind and captures your heart, leaving you breathless and bereft. Another sure fire winner from the mistress of twisty, suspenseful, Scottish noir.

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An Amazon #1 best-selling author, Helen Fields is a former criminal and family law barrister. The last book in her Scottish set crime series, Perfect Kill, was longlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger in 2020, and others have been longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize, Scottish crime novel of the year. Helen also writes as HS Chandler, and wrote legal thriller Degrees of Guilt. In 2020, Perfect Remains was shortlisted for the Bronze Bat, Dutch debut crime novel of the year. Now translated into 20 languages, and also selling in the USA, Canada & Australasia, Helen’s books have won global recognition. Her historical thriller These Lost & Broken Things came out in May 2020. Her first standalone thriller – The Shadow Man – was published in 2021. She lives in Hampshire with her husband and three children.

CAPITAL CRIME LAUNCHES THE FINGERPRINT AWARDS CELEBRATING THE BEST IN INTERNATIONAL CRIME WRITING @CapitalCrime1 @FMcMAssociates



Capital Crime has launched the inaugural Fingerprint Awards, designed to champion the very best in crime writing from across the globe published in 2021, as voted for by readers.

Authors both new and established are represented across the categories, which are Crime Novel of the Year, Thriller Novel of the Year, Historical Crime Novel of the Year, Debut Novel of the Year, Audiobook of the Year, and Genre-Busting Book of
the Year.

On the Crime Book of the Year shortlist, heavyweights Val McDermid and Mick Herron are up against debut novelists Janice Hallett, author of The Appeal and Sarah Pearse, author of The Sanatorium; and the critically acclaimed Icelandic novelist Eva Björg Ægisdóttir for her second novel Girls Who Lie, which won the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger.

Bestsellers Lisa Jewell and Paula Hawkins lead the Thriller Novel of the Year shortlist, with the critically acclaimed authors S. A. Cosby and Will Dean also in contention. Gold Dagger-winning M. W. Craven rounds up the shortlist with his latest Washington Poe thriller, The Botanist.

Multi-award winner Abir Mukherjee is shortlisted for the Historical Crime Novel of the Year for The Shadows of Men, his latest Wyndham & Banerjee novel, alongside the critically acclaimed Daughters of Night by Laura Shepherd-Robinson. Also shortlisted are The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell, A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago and A Comedy of Terrors by Lindsay Davis.

CWA John Creasey Dagger shortlisted-Welcome to Cooper by Tariq Ashkanani and How To Kidnap the Rich by Rahul Raina are both shortlisted for the Debut Crime Novel of the Year, alongside Girl A by Abigail Dean, Edge of the Grave by Robbie Morrison and Greenwich Park by Katherine Faulkner.

The Genre-Busting Novel of the Year shortlist, set up to recognise a book that defies
traditional genres and boundaries of crime fiction, features How To Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie, The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi, The Burning Girls by C. J. Tudor and What Abigail Did That Summer by Ben Aaronovitch.

Leading the Audiobook of the Year shortlist is global bestselling sensation Anthony
Horowitz, for his new Hawthorne & Horowitz thriller A Line to Kill. Also shortlisted are the critical successes True Crime Story by Joseph Knox, I Know What I Saw by Imran Mahmood, The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jónasson and People Like Her by Ellery Lloyd.

The Advisory Board, consisting of authors, bloggers, journalists and leading industry figures have chosen a shortlist of five nominees for each category. Crime and thriller fans will now be given the power to decide who should be recognised for their work via the Capital Crime website.
In addition, two further categories will be selected solely by the Capital Crime Advisory Board; the Industry Award of the Year – recognising the best marketing campaign, editorial work, or publishing strategy; and the Thalia Proctor Lifetime Achievement Award – marking an outstanding contribution to the crime writing industry.

Capital Crime co-founder and Goldsboro Books managing director, David Headley, said: ‘My vision for Capital Crime was always to make it a festival for readers, and what better way to celebrate the readers who make it all worthwhile, than to give them the power to decide the winners of the Fingerprint Awards. Narrowing down the incredible body of work published last year to 6 categories of 5 books was no mean feat, but with the brilliant, well-informed advisory board we’ve gathered together, I’m confident that these shortlists represent the very best of crime and thriller writing from around the world.’

Readers can vote for their preferred winners here by 19th September 2022. The winners will be then announced from 7.30pm on Thursday 29th September, at a special ceremony as part of Capital Crime 2022, at the festival’s fantastic new home in the shadow of the iconic Battersea Power Station.

Across three days, Capital Crime 2022 promises a weekend full of fun, innovation and celebration of crime fiction, bringing together readers, authors, industry figures and the local community for the first major literary festival held on the site. Over 164 authors and journalists will be taking part in a range of panel events for attendees, including Richard Osman, Bella Mackie, Paula Hawkins, Rev Richard Coles, Dorothy Koomson, Kate Mosse, Anthony Horowitz and Robert Harris. Goldsboro Books will be setting up a pop-up bookshop in the iconic Pump House Gallery, alongside an array of London’s tastiest local street food vendors and bar area.

The full Capital Crime programme can be found here.

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell @TinderPress @PublicityBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 30 August 2022 from Tinder Press
PP: 448
ISBN-13: 978-1472223845

My thanks to Tinder Press for an advance copy for review

‘Someone swore that, as a little girl, he once saw you touch a tiger. And that the tiger didn’t harm you, it let you stroke it. It was always said that you had charmed the beast.’

Winter, 1561. Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara, is taken on an unexpected visit to a country villa by her husband, Alfonso. As they sit down to dinner it occurs to Lucrezia that Alfonso has a sinister purpose in bringing her here. He intends to kill her.

Lucrezia is sixteen years old, and has led a sheltered life locked away inside Florence’s grandest palazzo. Here, in this remote villa, she is entirely at the mercy of her increasingly erratic husband.

What is Lucrezia to do with this sudden knowledge? What chance does she have against Alfonso, ruler of a province, and a trained soldier? How can she ensure her survival.

The Marriage Portrait is an unforgettable reimagining of the life of a young woman whose proximity to power places her in mortal danger.

This is the story of 16 year old Lucrezia, the third daughter of Cosimo de’ Medici, who is suddenly propelled into marriage to a man she has never met after her older sister, Maria dies on the eve of her marriage to Alfonso d’Este, about to become Duke of Ferrara. Lucrezia who is the wayward sister, having little interest in boys and even less in jewels or clothes, preferring to spend time with her painting and enjoying the delights of nature. She especially loves animals and is in awe of her father’s newest acquisition to his menagerie.

But her father, Cosimo believes in creating diplomatically advantageous marriages for his daughters to bolster his position and ensure his lands are secure from hostile invaders or usurpers. So when Maria dies and Alfonso d’Este requests the hand of Lucrezia in marriage instead, he is quick to agree.

Lucrezia’s story is immortalised in Robert Browning’s famous poem, My Last Duchess set in 1564 and is based on the real-life Duke Alfonso II who ruled Ferrara, Italy in the latter half of the 16th century. In the poem, he’s talking about his first wife Lucrezia de’ Medici, 3 years after she died under suspicious circumstances shortly after marrying the Duke.

I was really interested to see what story Maggie O’Farrell would lay behind this famous portrait and I was not disappointed. She writes with such skill and empathy that it is impossible not to fall for this fabulous character who is both naïve and tenacious as she comes to terms with realising that the man she married is interested in only one thing from her.

The novel opens in the winter of 1561. Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara, has been unexpectedly taken to a country villa, which more resembles a fortress than a place of rest and recuperation, by her husband, Alfonso. None of their usual entourage is in attendance and Lucrezia does not even have a maid with her. As they sit down to dinner it dawns on Lucrezia that Alfonso has created the perfect conditions for getting rid of her with no witnesses.

Maggie O’Farrell’s novel moves backwards in time to show us Lucrezia as a young child in the sheltered environment of the Medici Palace in Florence and overshadowed by the more conventional beauty of her sisters.

We learn about her childhood, and how her life was so suddenly altered by early marriage. Her only example was that of her parents who had very much a loving marriage of equals when it came to ideas and affairs of state, but for Lucrezia no such potential for growth exists in her marriage to Alfonso. He is a man of two sides; sometimes loving and tender, seeing his wife in a way that both pleases and surprises her while at the same time shutting her out of all his concerns and any matters of court.

O’Farrell’s prose is lively, engaging and enchanting. Her Lucrezia springs off the page like a delighted faun seeing the world for the first time, delighting in nature and with no idea that the woods are full of huntsmen with rifles.

Lucrezia de Medici poss by Bronzino

As Lucrezia takes her place at the Court and is at all times accompanied by Alfonso’s sisters, we see this wild faun become tamed and increasingly feeling caged as she is constrained by her husband’s insistence on adherence to his customs of manners. And when she is called upon by him to sit for her marriage portrait – to be painted by the impressive artist Bronzino,  we feel the shivers of a woman realising that she is the subject of coercive control. We care about what happens to Lucrezia and that’s because O’Farrell has brought a fully realised woman onto the page and into our hearts.

Verdict: Maggie O’Farrell’s writing is rich and full of empathy for Lucrezia. She paints a wonderful picture of a young woman out of her time, constrained at every turn and unable to grow her considerable potential. This book is a dream to read and is a book to lose yourself in. My time flew by and I could read it all again, so much did I enjoy it. A hugely enjoyable, fascinating and immersive read.

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Maggie O’Farrell, FRSOL, is the author of HAMNET, Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020, and the memoir I AM, I AM, I AM, both Sunday Times no. 1 bestsellers. Her novels include AFTER YOU’D GONE, MY LOVER’S LOVER, THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US, which won a Somerset Maugham Award, THE VANISHING ACT OF ESME LENNOX, THE HAND THAT FIRST HELD MINE, which won the 2010 Costa Novel Award, INSTRUCTIONS FOR A HEATWAVE and THIS MUST BE THE PLACE., and THE MARRIAGE PORTRAIT. She is also the author of two books for children, WHERE SNOW ANGELS GO and THE BOY WHO LOST HIS SPARK. She lives in Edinburgh.

The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly @mserinkelly @HodderBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 1st September 2022 from Hodder & Stoughton
PP: 512
ISBN-13: 978-1473680883

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

THIS REUNION WILL TEAR A FAMILY APART …

Summer, 2021. Nell has come home at her family’s insistence to celebrate an anniversary. Fifty years ago, her father wrote The Golden Bones. Part picture book, part treasure hunt, Sir Frank Churcher created a fairy story about Elinore, a murdered woman whose skeleton was scattered all over England. Clues and puzzles in the pages of The Golden Bones led readers to seven sites where jewels were buried – gold and precious stones, each a different part of a skeleton. One by one, the tiny golden bones were dug up until only Elinore’s pelvis remained hidden.

The book was a sensation. A community of treasure hunters called the Bonehunters formed, in frenzied competition, obsessed to a dangerous degree. People sold their homes to travel to England and search for Elinore. Marriages broke down as the quest consumed people. A man died. The book made Frank a rich man. Stalked by fans who could not tell fantasy from reality, his daughter, Nell, became a recluse.

But now the Churchers must be reunited. The book is being reissued along with a new treasure hunt and a documentary crew are charting everything that follows. Nell is appalled, and terrified. During the filming, Frank finally reveals the whereabouts of the missing golden bone. And then all hell breaks loose.

Erin Kelly is one of my ‘go to’ authors when I am looking for compelling, intelligent story telling that leaves a lasting impression. The Skeleton Key does all of that and more. It is rich, full of character, intricately layered and absolutely excels in the richness of dysfunctional family dynamics and toxic relationships.

I’ve said before that I admire good plotting, enjoy dark mysteries and love a good thriller, but nothing puts me more in awe of an author than the ability to make characters live and breathe on the page. Erin Kelly has that ability in spades and it is what draws me back to her books every time. She is an understated writer, but her books are full of nuance, layered and complex with characters whose lives you feel you understand because they are so well drawn. She especially does bohemian characters really well and that always makes me smile.

The Skeleton Key is the story of two close dysfunctional families, the lies they tell, the casual neglect of their children and the monstrous ego of at least one of their number.

This story belongs to Eleanor, the daughter of Frank and Cora Churcher. Frank is a famous artist, his fame having come from sales of a best-selling book, The Golden Bones, a richly illustrated treasure hunt based on an old folk song, which offers clues to a golden, jewel encrusted treasure in the form of a skeleton, parts of which are buried across the British Isles. Kit Harrington’s Masquerade was such a book, but the mystery of The Golden Bones has endured now for 50 years and become almost mythological.

Over the years many pieces have been found, but one piece, the pelvis, has remained elusive. A cult has built up over the years, drawing fanatics and sometimes dangerous and violent obsessives to its core, alongside genuine treasure hunters, passionate about finding all the pieces and ensuring the skeleton can be put back together again.

It is a quest which has put Eleanor (Nell) in danger more than once and which led both to her estrangement from her family and to Nell living life as much off the grid as she is able.

Now the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Golden Bones draws near and Nell has come back to finally see the pieces reunited and the treasure hunt brought to a close. No-one is more relieved than Nell.

But the path to Nell’s peace of mind is of course not straightforward and as events unfold in the lead up to this ‘Golden Anniversary’ many disturbing secrets will come to light and two close families will be riven apart. In a dual timeline story which moves effortlessly between past and present, Kelly brings every character to life so brilliantly.

Verdict: 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 Skeleton Key is undoubtedly a top ten book of 2022.

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Erin Kelly is the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Poison Tree, The Sick Rose, The Burning Air, The Ties That Bind, He Said/She Said, Stone Mothers/We Know You Know, Watch Her Fall and Broadchurch: The Novel, inspired by the mega-hit TV series. In 2013, The Poison Tree became a major ITV drama and was a Richard & Judy Summer Read in 2011. He Said/She Said spent six weeks in the top ten in both hardback and paperback, was longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier crime novel of the year award, and selected for both the Simon Mayo Radio 2 and Richard & Judy Book Clubs. She has worked as a freelance journalist since 1998 and written for the Guardian, The Sunday Times, Daily Mail, New Statesman, Red, Elle and Cosmopolitan. Born in London in 1976, she lives in north London with her husband and daughters.

The Manhattan Girls by Gill Paul @GillPaulAUTHOR @WmMorrowBks @AvonBooksUK

Source: Competition prize
Publication: 18 August 2022 from Avon
PP: 400
ISBN-13: 978-0008530945

My thanks to Gill Paul for the opportunity to read this book in advance of publication

NEW YORK CITY, 1921

An impossible dream.

The war is over, the twenties are roaring, but in the depths of the city that never sleeps, Dorothy Parker is struggling to make her mark in a man’s world.

A broken woman.

She’s penniless, she’s unemployed and her marriage is on the rocks when she starts a bridge group with three extraordinary women – but will they be able to save her from herself?

A fight for survival.

When tragedy strikes, and everything Dorothy holds dear is threatened, it’s up to Peggy, Winifred and Jane to help her confront the truth before it’s too late. Because the stakes may be life or death…

Gill Paul’s book is set during the1920’s Prohibition era in New York. These were the days of Lucky Luciano, bootleg booze, flapper girls and the rise of speakeasies. Amidst this is the Algonquin Round Table, or the ‘Gonk’ as its habitués refer to it; home to the literary set that includes Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and other New York City writers, critics, actors, and those with sufficient wit to enjoy the chatter.

The Manhattan Girls tells the story of four of these women whose lives were connected by the Algonquin. Dorothy Parker is certainly the best known, but the others have strong stories too and together they are a formidable force. Jane Grant is a reporter for the New York Times; the first they have had. She covers women’s issues for The NYT and she is bright, organised and driven. Winifred Linehan is an actress, best known for playing the title role in George Bernard Shaw’s premiere Broadway production of Joan of Arc. She would go on to become the first director of the Theater Guild’s School of Acting in New York. Peggy Leech is a would-be writer, working on ad sales at a women’s magazine. She will go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for her history books not once, but twice.

Through the mechanism of a weekly bridge club, Gill Paul tells the story of these women, their friendship, their partners and spouses and the difficulties they had in making their way as women in a largely men’s world.

Dorothy Parker struggles in her marriage to Eddie, a drinker and an abuser. No stranger to drink herself, Dorothy finds it hard to be alone and her fragile mental health is always something the women have to watch out for.  Jane Grant is married to Harold Ross and they are great friends with the theatre critic Alexander Woollcott, a thoroughly waspish and unpleasant man. Jane and Harold dream of founding a magazine for New Yorkers. Peggy Leech wonders if she’ll ever find a relationship in which she can be treated as an intellectual equal and Winifred Linehan epitomises the problems faced by women in the arts long before the Me Too era.

Gill Paul beautifully blends fact and fiction together (the afterword does make it clear which is which) to create a glitzy, glamorous and dramatic portrait of these women and their lives, underscored by some seedy moments and a bunch of badly behaved and often undesirable men.

It’s a well done blend of what did happen and what could have without too many liberties and it offers great insight into what the ‘Round Table’ must have been like. At the centre, Dorothy Parker perches like a thin Raven, brilliantly witty, fragile and unstable, just wanting to be loved.

Verdict: I really loved reading about these fabulous women, their friendship, goals and aspirations in one of the most evocative eras of our time. It’s easy to get caught up in this book and Gill Paul makes the 1920’s come alive through the eyes and perspectives of each of these four women for whom their friendship was an anchor that kept them afloat.

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Gill Paul’s historical novels have reached the top of the USA Today, Toronto Globe & Mail and UK kindle charts, and been translated into twenty languages. She specializes in relatively recent history, mostly 20th century, and enjoys re-evaluating real historical characters and trying to get inside their heads. Gill also writes historical non-fiction, including A History of Medicine in 50 Objects and series of Love Stories. Published around the world, this series includes Royal Love Stories, World War I Love Stories and Titanic Love Stories. Gill was born in Scotland and grew up there, apart from an eventful year at school in the US when she was ten. She studied Medicine at Glasgow University, then English Literature and History (she was a student for a long time), before moving to London to work in publishing. Her first novel was written at weekends, but she has now given up the ‘day job’ to write fiction full-time. She also writes short stories for magazines and speaks at libraries and literary festivals about subjects ranging from the British royal family to the Romanovs, and about writing itself. Gill swims year-round in an open-air pond – “It’s good for you so long as it doesn’t kill you”– and loves travelling whenever and wherever she can.

The Lost Man of Bombay (Malabar House #3) by Vaseem Khan  @VaseemKhanUK  @HodderBooks  @HodderPublicity

Source: Review copy
Publication: 18 August 2022 from Hodder & Stoughton
PP: 384
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1529341102

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

Bombay, 1950

When the body of a white man is found frozen in the Himalayan foothills near Dehra Dun, he is christened the Ice Man by the national media. Who is he? How long has he been there? Why was he killed?

As Inspector Persis Wadia and Metropolitan Police criminalist Archie Blackfinch investigate the case in Bombay, they uncover a trail left behind by the enigmatic Ice Man – a trail leading directly into the dark heart of conspiracy.

Meanwhile, two new murders grip the city. Is there a serial killer on the loose, targeting Europeans?

I have become a massive fan of this series, set in India just a few years after partition. Our protagonist is Persis Wadia a Police Inspector based in Malabar House, Bombay. Malabar House is to the Bombay Police what Slough House is to M15, a place where the disgraced, idle or politically unwanted are sent to serve and where the politically difficult or sensitive cases are sent so as not to ruin the careers of rising Indian Police Officers in other stations. None of this is really applicable to Persis. Her crime is to be a woman – and a woman with brains, and an independent train of thought into the bargain.

Already somewhat notorious for having solved a difficult crime, Persis likes her job, though she faces discrimination from her male colleagues on a daily basis. The time is an unsettling one in Bombay as everyone comes to terms with post-colonial rule and the impact of partition.

Added to the day to day struggles of being a bright woman in a fairly dull man’s Police station, Persis has some personal stuff on her mind. She can’t help the attraction she feels to a colleague, Archie Blackfinch, a British man and Metropolitan Police Criminalist, but Indian society is not yet ready for such a relationship and Persis fears that even if it were, the job she loves would be put in jeopardy by such a relationship.

Then there’s her father, Sam. In a wheelchair since the car accident that killed her mother, Sam has been her rock, running a fabulous bookshop and looking after Persis. Now he has other interests in his life and Persis cannot help but feel abandoned by the only parent she has.

The first case that crosses Persis’ desk is the discovery of the long dead body of a white man in a Himalayan mountain cave.  Dubbed ‘The Ice Man’ his frozen body is discovered by a couple of climbers, but there is nothing on his body to indicate who he might be or where he came from. All that is found is a notebook with just one word. Just being white, though, is enough for pressure to be exerted to find out who he was and what happened to him.

As if that were not enough, Persis is asked by her boss, Superintendent of Police, Roshan Seth, to work with her colleague, the unpleasant bullying sexist, Hemant Oberoi on the case of a well-known couple who have been found dead in their bed at home.

Stephen Renzi, an Italian has been beaten to death, and Leela Sinha, his wife has her throat slit. Not too long afterwards, another body is found, killed in the same way as Renzi, and Persis feels the two deaths are connected. Hemant Oberoi though is having none of it. He has his eye on the guilty party and he’ll make sure he gets a confession.

Vaseem Khan weaves a brilliant interconnected series of mysteries and like peeling back an onion, the reader enjoys each and every clue that Persis uncovers on her (and our) way to enlightenment.  As she painstakingly follows the clues her skills and persistence, teamed with more than a dollop of bravery and occasional recklessness, bear fruit.

The Lost Man of Bombay is a brilliant mystery and I loved trying to crack the code that ties each of these murders together. Persis is such a great character, too. That fierce independence and cleverness teamed with a real sense that she can’t afford to show her softer side less she be taken advantage of leads the reader only to love her more. You don’t know what’s in store for her and Archie, but your heart goes out to both of them as it’s clear Archie would do anything for Persis.

You should read this series for its brilliant characters and great mysteries, but what really makes this series sing is its atmospheric setting with all it conveys about the times. The dawn of Independence in India, the rituals and the very real significance of religion, even to those who have little observance is demonstrated so well, as is the slowly burgeoning role of women in society as championed by Persis. Indeed, in this book we see a glimpse of what she may have trail-blazed as she is asked to take on a young mentee. Seema Desai is part of the Bombay Slum Rehabilitation Programme and she has specifically requested that Persis be her mentor, a role that Persis herself feels ill-equipped to deliver.

Verdict: 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 and if you haven’t, you should begin reading it now. (It is also exceptionally good in audiobook).

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Vaseem Khan is the author of two crime series set in India, the Baby Ganesh Agency series set in modern Mumbai, and the Malabar House historical crime novels set in 1950s Bombay. His first book, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, was a Times bestseller, now translated into 15 languages. The second in the series won the Shamus Award in the US. In 2018, he was awarded the Eastern Eye Arts, Culture and Theatre Award for Literature. Vaseem was born in England, but spent a decade working in India. Midnight at Malabar House, the first in his historical crime series, won the CWA Historical Dagger 2021, the pre-eminent prize for historical crime fiction in the world. His latest book is The Dying Day about the theft of one of the world’s great treasures, a 600 year old copy of Dante’s The Divine Comedy, stored at Bombay’s Asiatic Society.

Run Time by Catherine Ryan Howard @CorvusBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 11 August 2022 from Corvus Books
PP: 448
ISBN-13: 978-1838951665

My thanks to Corvus Books for an advance copy for review

Movie-making can be murder.

The project

Final Draft, a psychological horror, being filmed at a house deep in a forest, miles from anywhere in the wintry wilds of West Cork.

The lead

Former soap-star Adele Rafferty has stepped in to replace the original actress at the very last minute. She can’t help but hope that this opportunity will be her big break – and she knows she was lucky to get it, after what happened the last time she was on a set.

The problem

Something isn’t quite right about Final Draft. When the strange goings-on in the script start to happen on set too, Adele begins to fear that the real horror lies off the page…

I always enjoy a book by Catherine Ryan Howard. Each is different and certainly Run Time (a nice play on words)  is a departure from her previous stories, but none the worse for that. This one is more akin to a spooky horror story and is a deliciously wicked read as Howard embeds her protagonist inside a story within another story with many levels. This is meta fiction with a creepy edge.

Adele Raffery is an Irish actress best known for her role in a soap opera in her home country. Things went badly wrong though and she fled to Los Angeles to start again, but has ended up as so many aspiring actors do, working in a run-down Hollywood motel. There she spends her time going to auditions where she is faced with competition in the form of so many young Californian leggy blondes that success seems very far away.

She’s on her uppers and making no headway so she’s both thrilled and astonished to receive a call from a production company back home who are interested in using her on a low budget film they’re making in the west of Ireland. They’ve just lost their lead actor and they want Adele to step in.

The money is terrible, but they’ll pay for decent travel. Best of all, this production is being shot in secret and mostly at night so Adele won’t have to socialise with anyone or indulge in the actor gossip sessions that so plagued her life the last time she was acting in her home country – when things went to badly wrong.

Cross Cut Productions is run by Steve Dade and Daniel O’Leary and has an up and coming strong reputation for excellent, edgy work. A chance to work with a rising director of good reputation is the clincher for Adele who agrees to take the role. She’s sworn to secrecy which suits her down to the ground.

Final Draft is the story of Kate. Kate is a woman who is reading a book and slowly begins to realise that the characters and actions in the book bear a remarkable resemblance to her own life. And just as Kate begins to realise this, so Adele starts to realise that the action in her film script is remarkably similar to what is happening to her.

She’s in a cabin in the middle of dark woods in a remote location with no idea how to get out and no clear idea of exactly where she is and no means of transport, having been picked up by car from the airport. The woods are dark and foreboding, the paths are laden with obstacles. Thereafter things take a decidedly spooky and horror related turn. Adele tries to find out what’s happening to her but she doesn’t have the whole script and slowly she realises that she has no idea who, if anyone, she can trust. Is someone gaslighting her or is history repeating itself?

Verdict: Run Time is peppered with extracts from the script and it is this which makes it a longer than usual page turner. But a page turner it is. It’s one I read in one sitting. It is a fun read and the ‘B’ horror movie vibe comes across well. Ultimately though, it is not difficult to work out the gist of what is going on, but it is still a pleasant and enjoyable read with some lovely moments of tension and a deal of ‘B’ movie spookiness.

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Catherine Ryan Howard is an award-winning, internationally bestselling crime writer from Cork, Ireland. Her debut thriller, Distress Signals, was published on both sides of the Atlantic in 2016. It was an Irish Times and USA Today bestseller, and was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards Crime Fiction Book of the Year and the CWA John Creasey/New Blood Dagger. Her subsequent work has been shortlisted for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger and the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best Novel. She has had two No. 1 Irish bestsellers, her novels have been translated into 17 languages and a number have been optioned for screen.

Whisper of the Seals (Detective Moralès # 3) by Roxanne Bouchard trs David Warriner @Rbouchard72  @givemeawave  @OrendaBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: ‎ 18 August 2022 from Orenda Books
PP: 300
ISBN-13: 978-1914585241

My thanks to Orenda Books for an advance copy for review

There’s only one thing more deadly than the storm…

Fisheries officer Simone Lord is transferred to Quebec’s remote Magdalen Islands for the winter, and at the last minute ordered to go aboard a trawler braving a winter storm for the traditional grey seal hunt, while all of the other boats shelter onshore.

Detective Sergeant Joaquin Moralès is on a cross-country boat trip down the St Lawrence River, accompanied by Nadine Lauzon, a forensic psychologist working on the case of a savagely beaten teenager with Moralès’ old team in Montreal.

When it becomes clear that Simone is in grave danger aboard the trawler, the two cases converge, with startling, terrifying consequences for everyone involved…

The award-winning author of The Coral Bride returns with an atmospheric, race-against-the-clock thriller set on the icy seas in the midst of a brutal seal hunt, where nothing is as it seems and absolutely no one can be trusted.

Ohmy goodnessRoxanne Bouchard can write in a way that wholly encompasses the reader in her story. From the exquisite setting of the Gaspé Peninsula , Quebec to the remote Magdalen Islands there is a sense of deep foreboding and dark jeopardy.

DS Joaquin Moralès is having a break though that inevitably means he’s dabbling his toes in work, too. His mind is on his divorce but his thoughts also stray to his recent time with Fisheries Officer Simone Lord, to whom he has a strong attraction.

Much of this story focuses on Simone Lord, a strong woman doing a very difficult job in the most stretching of conditions. She has been sent by her bosses on a seal hunting trip aboard the Jean-Mathieu. The skipper is Bernard Chevrier, an old hand at the seal hunt and it’s a an all-consuming job that his family has practised for generations.

His crew are rough and know only too well the dangers of hunting seals in icy conditions. They are in no mood to have a Fisheries Inspector on board, far less a woman. From the moment Simone steps onto the boat there is that sense of danger and impending doom that lingers in the air, making the reader catch their breath and hold it; waiting for the moment it is safe to breathe. It is a moment that never really comes.

Bouchard transports you to that ship with its icy grip; the harsh cold infecting everything, the icy danger always present and the culling of the seals a big and strenuous job that, while it has to be done, brings no pleasure to anyone, though the haul will provide for the skipper and his crew through the winter months.

Bouchard presents an honest and stark portrayal of this industry from the perspective of someone who understands how it works, why seal culling is necessary and how it is regulated.

But that’s not the only thing that is going on with the Jean-Mathieu and that’s why this journey is more than usually dangerous. There are men on this boat who are ready to do harm to Simone Lord and worse if they have to. Though she is no-one’s pushover, Simone Lord finds herself in a position no woman should ever be faced with.

Meanwhile, Constable Érik Lefebvre is using his methodical stacking process to puzzle his way through the case that forensic psychologist Nadine Lauzon is working on. When it becomes clear that there is a connection between the savagely beaten teenager and some of the men on the Jean-Mathieu, Moralès cannot stop himself from jumping in and making sure that anyone and everyone listens to him about the precarious position this puts Simone in.

Verdict: The story telling is immaculate. The writing intense, harsh and beautiful in a translation by David Warriner that once again is evocative, clear and intensely atmospheric. Bouchard captures the ebb and flow of the sea in a book that thrums with rhythm, tears at the heart and makes you marvel at the bravery of those who battle for their living in icy waters. Her best Detective Morales yet.

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Ten years or so ago, Roxanne Bouchard decided it was time she found her sea legs. So she learned to sail, first on the St Lawrence River, before taking to the open waters off the Gaspé Peninsula. The local fishermen soon invited her aboard to reel in their lobster nets, and Roxanne saw for herself that the sunrise over Bonaventure never lies. Her fifth novel, the evocative, atmospheric, beautiful, We Were the Salt of the Sea – her first to be translated into English – achieved exceptional critical acclaim. Its sequel, The Coral Bride, the second in the Detective Moralès series, was on the bestseller list in her native Quebec, before being published in English and around the world. Roxanne lives in Quebec with her partner.

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