The Rising Tide by Sam Lloyd SamLloydwrites @ThomasssHill @TransworldBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 8th July 2021 from Bantam Press
PP: 400
ISBN-13: 978-1787631861

My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review

HOW DID IT COME TO THIS?

The news doesn’t strike cleanly, like a guillotine’s blade. Nothing so merciful. This news is a slovenly traveller, dragging its feet, gradually revealing its horrors. And it announces itself first with violence – the urgent hammering of fists on the front door.

Life can change in a heartbeat.

Lucy has everything she could wish for: a beautiful home high on the clifftops, a devoted husband and two beloved children.

Then one morning, time stops. Their family yacht is recovered, abandoned far out at sea. Lucy’s husband is nowhere to be found and as the seconds tick by, she begins to wonder – what if he was the one who took the boat? And if so, where is he now?

As a once-in-a-generation storm frustrates the rescue operation, Lucy pieces together what happened on board. And then she makes a fresh discovery. One that plunges her into a nightmare more shocking than any she could ever have imagined . . .

I was a big fan of Sam Lloyd’s The Memory Wood and so was intrigued to see what his second novel would deliver.  It is certainly steeped in atmosphere.  Sam Lloyd’s description of the South West coastal town of Skental is exemplary.

The Rising Tide is the story of Lucy Locke. Lucy owns the Driftnet, a hub for tourists and locals alike,. It is a place where arts and crafts are displayed, where music is made and where you can get the best coffee and baking for miles around.

Lucy is popular in the village. She and her husband Daniel live in a big house on Mortis Point (just a bit prophetic) and Daniel , together with his friend Nick, is co-owner of Locke-Povey Marine, a major employer in the town. Lucy and Dam have two children, Billie, 18 and Fin who is much younger. It’s a wonderful life and the couple seem very happy. Lucy had Billie before she met Daniel but they are a bonded unit.

Lock-Povey Marine is in some financial trouble, and Lucy is trying to find out what’s going on when the novel opens. She doesn’t think it’s really a major issue, though Nick is someone you would want to be careful around, especially if you are Lucy.

Our story is narrated by Lucy, a woman who seems settled and happy in her life with a husband she loves and children who complete her life. So when, suddenly it all goes very wrong, Lucy is left shocked and distraught.

Lucy has sent Fin off to school and Daniel off to work when she hears that their yacht, The Lazy Susan is in trouble in the midst of a storm. Worse, her children are not where they should be and her fears are rapidly rising as it looks possible, probable even, that Daniel has not only got into trouble on the increasingly wild and turbulent sea, but that he has Fin and Billie with him.

Lucy is physically and emotionally sick. She does not understand why this might have happened. Why Daniel would not have told her of his plans? Why the yacht was out at all in such a storm? She only knows she has to go out looking for them whatever the cost to her own safety.

The suspicions of the Police are aroused, though and when it transpires that Daniel took Fin from school using a trumped up excuse, an investigation is swiftly mounted.  DI Abraham Rose is sent to investigate. DI Rose is that rarest of men, a devout religious police officer who has never married; though as we will find later, he has regrets.

The Rising Tide is mainly Lucy’s story and is told with interspersed flashbacks which cut into what becomes an almost unrelenting tension as the storm rages and becomes almost biblical in its proportions. Sam Lloyd’s descriptive powers are used full force here and his depiction of the storm is beautifully involving as we hear the sea crashing against the rocks, feel the force of tempestuous waves and let the sea take us over so that it can thrash out its rage, wreaking havoc and destruction across the North Devon coast.

There’s a curious rhythm to this tempest too; its turmoil matching Lucy’s – both thrashing about as if searching for answers, both boiling with rage and unrelenting in their pressure. This is heart –pounding drama of Lear-like proportions.  Amidst the wild sea, Lucy is on the brink of madness. At the mercy of the natural world she cannot withstand this violent storm and that only serves to make us so aware of her own vulnerability.

There is something very raw and almost biblical in a storm like this and that is underlined by the devout nature of D.I.Rose, a strange detective for this time, but one whose function is to be the steadfast rock against which all human frailty can be measured.

As we begin to understand what is and has transpired, so Sam Lloyd does the unthinkable and again ratchets up the tension, leading to some strong heart-in-mouth moments.  When, finally this complex and twisted story is exposed, the cruelty of it leaves you gasping in a jaw dropping way.

I was in thrall to this book for its wonderful, edge-of-the-seat writing and the twisty layered plot as well as Lloyd’s imaginative creation of a storm beyond storms. I would have liked a little more of Lucy’s backstory to better lay the foundations for the denouement which I felt a bit unprepared for, but that’s a small gripe amidst a powerful and fantastically written book.

Verdict: Dark, unrelenting and exposing the nature of human weakness, this is a complex and layered read that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Powerful and evocative The Rising Tide is a turbulent read that catches you up in a maelstrom of emotions.

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Sam Lloyd grew up in Hampshire, where he learned his love of storytelling. These days he lives in Surrey with his wife, three young sons and a dog that likes to howl. His debut thriller, The Memory Wood, was published to huge critical acclaim in 2020. The Rising Tide is his second thriller.

Damage by Caitlin Wahrer @CaitlinWahrer @MichaelJBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 8 July 2021 from Michael Joseph
PP: 400
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0241451113

My thanks to the publisher for an opportunity to review in advance

Sometimes, the true story is the hardest to believe.

TONY has always looked out for his younger brother, Nick. So when Nick is badly hurt and it looks like he was the victim of sexual assault, Tony’s anger flares.

JULIA is alarmed by her husband Tony’s obsession with Nick’s case. She’s always known Tony has a temper. But does she really know what he’s capable of?

NICK went out for a drink. After that, everything’s a blank. When he woke up he found himself in a world of confusion and pain, and the man who hurt him doesn’t deny doing it. But he says the whole thing was consensual.

Three ordinary people; one life-shattering event. And when the police get involved, this family in crisis might be capable of anything . . .

Wow! This is an impressive debut. Tony and Nick are brothers, albeit with different mothers. Tony has always protected his younger sibling and so when he hears that Nick has been hospitalised, he rushes to his bedside.  Nick has been badly beaten and it transpires that he has been the victim of a brutal sexual assault.

Julia is Tony’s wife and the couple have two young children. Once a lawyer, now focussing on legal policy issues, she knows about such cases. So she feels reassured when Detective John Rice is assigned to the case. He’s a seasoned detective and they both know that he said/he said cases are notoriously difficult to prove in the absence of corroborating evidence.

Nick’s attacker, Raymond Walker is not stupid either. He knows only too well how to play the innocent and it even looks like he’s enjoying the challenge. He’s been arrested and is out on bail, but he’s making the most of his freedom to paint himself as the injured party. Tony is apoplectic with rage.

Julia is both worried for Nick and fearful of what Tony will do. She knows only too well that he has had to work hard to control himself after living with an abusive father and his white hot anger is scaring her.

Caitlin Wahrer’s book sensitively handles the male rape and focusses mainly on the fall-out from that event on Nick’s family.  She beautifully portrays the life-changing impact of this assault not just on Nick, but on all those the rape has touched, including Julia herself. Nick is very vulnerable, but he is also hiding something; something he can’t bring himself to tell anyone.  Wahrer’s characters are beautifully drawn and this slow burner of a psychological drama feels authentic.

Especially relevant in our digital age is the huge weight of uninformed comment and speculation on social media that does no more than pile an unbearable amount of pressure on Nick and his family.  Nick really struggles and as he does so, Tony’s rage intensifies, and that in turn increases Nick’s despondency.

The book follows a dual timeline, starting in 2019 and looking back to the events surrounding the rape in 2015. The premise is straightforward enough – the idea that you might be provoked into doing something truly terrible to defend the one you love. But Caitlin Warher’s book is more subtle and nuanced than that and it plays with this notion while offering some surprising and left-field solutions that make this a rather clever, twisty and remarkable read.

Verdict: Beautifully written, cleverly plotted and sensitively portrayed, this is a debut that has everything I look for in a seasoned psychological thriller. I will be keeping an eye out for Caitlin Wahrer’s next book.

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Caitlin Wahrer is a Maine girl through and through. She was born to two hippies who raised her in Canaan, a small town in central-southern Maine without a single stoplight in it. Caitlin left the state for four years to study criminal justice and marriage and family studies at a college in Pennsylvania. She returned to Maine after graduation to attend law school. She practices civil litigation in Portland. She and her husband, also a lawyer, live in South Portland with their dog.

Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby @blacklionking73 @Headlinepg @lararosetamara

Source: Review copy
Publication: 6 July 2021 from Headline
PP: 336
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1472286529

My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review

A BLACK FATHER. A WHITE FATHER.

TWO MURDERED SONS. A QUEST FOR VENGEANCE.

Ike Randolph left jail fifteen years ago, with not so much as a speeding ticket since.

But a Black man with cops at the door knows to be afraid.

Ike is devastated to learn his son Isiah has been murdered, along with Isiah’s white husband, Derek. Though he never fully accepted his son, Ike is broken by his death.

Derek’s father Buddy Lee was as ashamed of Derek being gay as Derek was of his father’s criminal past. But Buddy Lee – with seedy contacts deep in the underworld – needs to know who killed his only child.

Desperate to do better by them in death than they did in life, two hardened ex-cons must confront their own prejudices about their sons – and each other – as they rain down vengeance upon those who hurt their boys.

When S.A. Cosby ‘s debut Blacktop Wasteland  came out last year, I was bowled over by his prose.  This is writing that has a genuinely distinctive voice; one that is under-represented in fiction. With Razorblade Tears, that voice is again in full flow, just as rich, perhaps even stronger, just as grounded in the realities of being poor and dispossessed in rural Virginia.

Ike Randolph has known sorrow. He did time at Coldwater Penitentiary and since then he’s worked his butt off to earn a decent living and through hard work he now has a decent gardening business. It’s been a tough haul for this black man, but he’s made it thanks to his perseverance.

Buddy  Lee Jenkins has also served time. He’s white, as casually racist as you’d expect him to be, lives in a trailer and he drinks too much. His wife left him for a richer man – an up and coming politician and he’s been overdoing the booze since then.

There’s no reason Buddy Lee and Ike would ever have crossed paths, except for the fact that their dead sons brought them together. Isiah and Derek got married and had a baby, Arianna. Then someone shot them both at close range – execution style. Ike and Buddy Lee have their sons in common, but they also share something else – a burning regret that their love for their sons could not transcend the shame that they felt for having brought up gay children.

That shame burns inside them both now that Isiah and Derek are gone. It eats at them as they regret every word and deed that they chastised their sons with, hoping to change them, as if that were ever possible. The love in their hearts was over-ruled by their bigotry and their homophobia. It never gained expression when they were alive and only now do they realise how very stupid it was that their sons never knew they were loved by their fathers.

And so Ike reaches out to Buddy Lee and they make a pact. They will find out who killed their sons or they will die trying. They will give no quarter in their search for who did this and when they find out, heaven help them.

The police have no leads – and Ike and Buddy Lee are told this is partly because the gay community is not given to trusting the police.  Isiah, who worked for a gay newspaper, had received death threats and that seems as good a place to start as any. They have no idea whether this was a hate crime, or even a racial one but they are determined to find out.

This unlikely couple sets out to visit Isiah’s place of work which in turns leads them to a gay bar and then they get their first lead. But before they even have time to consider what that means, they are set upon by a pair of brutal thugs while visiting their sons’ home.

The violence meted out sets the tone for what is to come. S.A. Cosby’s brilliant, searing, visceral novel is full of dark rage and hard violence. From racist biker gangs to survivalists, Buddy Lee and Ike will have to battle their way through unrelenting hard-core violence in order to reach the truth.

Cosby writes with a raw and authentic voice, but his feel is so cinematic you can envisage the scenes as you are reading. By fighting together, these two men build a bond despite the fact that all they have in common is their bereavement and their quest for justice.

Working together and confronted by what has happened to their sons, they are made to challenge their own ideas about what makes a man and in so doing they will find themselves closer to the truth and closer still to getting justice for their sons. Though as Ike says: ’Folk like to talk about revenge like it’s a righteous thing, but it’s just hate in a nicer suit.’

Cosby’s characterisation is brilliantly done and these two weathered and bitter men will find a way into your heart until you fear for them just as you are appalled by the brutality of the violence they both commit and endure. This is exceptionally strong storytelling with heart that takes you on a thrilling journey, never stopping until your head is reeling and you are out of breath and giddy with excitement.

Verdict: Terrific plotting, dark, gritty and authentic, this by a masterly work by a brilliant voice whose prose is sharp as steel forged in fire and yet the middle is like liquid gold, soft and viscous as it flows through your veins when you are reading. Razorblade Tears is explosive and dynamic and is another absolute triumph from an author unafraid to tackle big questions head on.

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

Come Closer by Sarah Gran @FaberBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication:  1ST July 2021 from Faber and Faber
PP: 176
ISBN-13: 978-0571355556

There was no reason to assume anything out of the ordinary was going on.
Strange noises in the apartment.
Impulsive behaviour.
Intense dreams.
It wasn’t like everything went wrong all at once.
Shoplifting.
Fighting.
Blackouts.
There must be a reasonable explanation for all this.

I’m old enough to have read this first time around, but my memory of it is so good that I could not resist revisiting Sarah Gran’s Come Closer.  This is a book that has lost none of its grip; none of its power. Come Closer is a novella. The writing is spare and taut and the beauty of it lies in its narrative structure.

Come Closer centres on Amanda, an accomplished architect, newly married to Ed. They have recently moved into an industrial loft space they plan to make their own. They are deliriously happy, but then things start to go wrong…badly wrong.

The couple begin to hear disturbing tapping sounds and Amanda dreams vivid and colourful dreams of a once imaginary friend. Over several nights these dreams intensify until Amanda ‘s head is full of troubled thoughts.

Gran’s story focusses solely on Amanda as she struggles to understand what is happening to her. Small, incremental changes in her behaviour make a troubling difference to the way she sees herself. As Gran delves deep into her psyche, it is difficult to know whether there are external forces at work or whether Amanda is slowly losing her mind. Either way, Gran’s exploration is both creepy and very unsettling.

Gran lays out small and subtle changes to Amanda’s personality, and as these increase, so does the pace of the book. Small incidents cause concern – a dog in the railway station behaves differently; Amanda finds that there are periods of time she cannot account for.

As Amanda grows more fearful, so there are people in her life who offer innocent explanations for what she is experiencing. Gran’s portrait is of a woman in turmoil who fears she is losing her mind is brilliantly executed and the sense of Amanda’s isolation is heightened in every chapter.

Gran’s writing is dark and comes with a really dark edged and cutting humour, just right to add that additional level of creepiness to this story.  The reader does not know how much of what Amanda is telling us is reliable and she begins to behave like a paranoid schizophrenic. 

It is in the struggle for control over Amanda’s mind and body that Gran excels, delivering just the right amount of tension and creepiness to weird us out, without ever losing the logical narrative structure of the story.

Verdict: Creepy, chilling and dark, this is a novella in which the reader can do nothing but watch the slow implosion of a woman’s mind as the sense of danger and mental invasion crawls out of every corner and wraps itself around Amanda’s mind.  Dark, dangerous and riveting, this story has no happy ending. This book is a one sitting read and goodness it makes an impact! Well done to Faber for reviving it. This one more than stands the test of time.

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Sara Gran is the author of five critically acclaimed novels, including Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, Come Closer and Dope. She also writes for film and TV (including TNT’s ‘Southland’) and has published in The New York Times, The New Orleans Times Picayune, and USA Today

The Watchman (Ben Bracken #5) by Rob Parker @robparkerauthor @lume_books @Lovebookstours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 24 June 2021 from Lume Books
PP: 296
ISBN-13: 978-1839012884

My thanks to the author and Lume Books for an advance copy for review

One last mission for an old friend. What could go wrong?

It’s sold as an in-and-out jaunt to The Big Apple, to pick up a harmless envelope. But when Ben Bracken is offered the assignment, he’s a little hesitant. He’s a family man now, with a duty to stay alive for his loved ones.

But, with the request coming from fellow former military man and trusted friend William Grosvenor, not to mention the eye-watering payout, one last job can’t hurt, can it?

So begins his American road trip, one that takes him from the city that never sleeps to the misty swamps of Florida. All in pursuit of one highly coveted envelope. Because it turns out, this job isn’t the walk in Central Park it was promised to be.

As he’s pursued by New York’s most dangerous mobsters, factions of federal law enforcement, and American Intelligence, Ben’s hunch is that their joint quarry must hold something of international significance.

He’s not wrong. The contents that’s slipping through these influential fingers contains evidence of the world’s biggest cover-up. Evidence that will rewrite history books and incriminate one of the most powerful men on the planet.

It’s probably best it winds up in the right hands.

I’ve been a fan of Rob Parker’s Ben Bracken series from the beginning and this, the  5th  in the series, is a real firecracker. You can read this as a stand-alone book, but I think you get more out of this high octane action packed thriller when you understand a little more of Bracken’s background and ethos.

Bracken, an elite ex-soldier with a strong sense of duty has gone through a lot to achieve some sense of peace. He has changed a lot since the early days; he’s lost friends, almost lost his life several times and now, finally, he has settled down with a partner he loves and children he adores. Living under the name Tom West, he is trying to live the life of a dedicated father, good husband and loyal citizen.

So there’s nothing that is likely to tempt him out of retirement from active ops – except for a request from his guide and mentor – a man he trusts and reveres. It’s a simple enough job. Collect an envelope and deliver it back to his mentor. The contents are need to know and Bracken is told that this envelope is so important that governments could topple if the secret falls into the wrong hands.

The request comes with a healthy pay off, too. Enough to keep Tom West and his family in comfort for some time. In the end though, that’s not what compels him to accept. That pesky sense of duty and honour that is the Bracken trademark, just won’t let him disappoint an old friend in a time of real need. It should be an ‘in and out’ job, just collect the envelope from a contact in NYC and head home.

So Bracken heads stateside and that, of course, is when all hell breaks loose.  The action takes Bracken and his US contact, Lucas into a series of explosive situations involving the Brooklyn mafia, the Secret Service, the CIA and hostile overseas agents.

The action is fast and furious, quick wits need to be deployed and these guys can burn through arsenal of weaponry quicker than you can say ‘pass me that assault rifle’.  At the heart of all this is the secret that is residing in this elusive envelope; a secret so deadly governments are prepared to kill for it.
There are some brilliant action scenes including one on a boat involving alligators that will stay in my mind for some time….

Verdict: The Watchman is a rapidly moving story full of spies, action and is founded on one of the biggest conspiracy theories of all time. It’s great fun, maintains a cracking pace and is completely compulsive reading, This is my favourite Ben Bracken so far. (even if I do say that every time)

Amazon

Robert Parker is a married father of three, who lives in a village near Manchester, UK. The author of the Ben Bracken books A Wanted Man, Morte Point, The Penny Black and the standalone post-Brexit country-noir Crook’s Hollow, he enjoys a rural life on an old pig farm (now minus pigs), writing horrible things between school runs.
He writes full time, as well as organising and attending various author events across the UK – while boxing regularly for charity. Passionate about inspiring a love of the written word in young people, he spends a lot of time in schools across the North West, encouraging literacy, story-telling, creative-writing and how good old fashioned hard work tends to help good things happen.

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Dream Girl by Laura Lippman @LauraMLippman @FaberBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 1st July 2021 from Faber and Faber
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-0571369249

My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review

How can a woman who never existed come back to haunt you?

Gerry Anderson has been having trouble sleeping. He’s unwell – bed-bound – and has only his night nurse and his personal assistant for company. But what’s really troubling him are the phone calls. Phone calls from a woman claiming to be the ‘real’ Aubrey.

But that can’t be. Aubrey’s just a character Gerry made up in a book, years ago.

Can Gerry see past the ever-blurring lines of fact and fiction and figure out who is threatening him, or has his long-overdue moment of reckoning finally arrived?

I love Laura Lippman’s writing. She’s smart and funny and her plotting is always excellent. Dream Girl is no exception. This time, Lippman is having quite a lot of fun and there’s a deal of social commentary sitting nicely alongside the story of successful literary fiction author, Gerry Anderson.

Thrice married Gerry has recently moved out of his New York apartment and returned home to Baltimore to look after his ailing mother. But he has no sooner installed himself in an expensive upmarket duplex penthouse there, than his mother dies. Still, at least the move has enabled him to sell up and leave Margot behind.

Margot moves from man to man and it’s not ever easy to get her to let go – he even tried foisting her off on his agent. So selling up and leaving her in New York feels like a final severing of the relationship.

Gerry hasn’t written anything for some time, but he did write Dream Girl, the book that brought him literary and financial success, touching a nerve in the zeitgeist of the time.

His agent wants him to write a memoir, but Gerry doesn’t feel that he wants to do that yet; still though, he doesn’t know what he does want to write.  Then one day he slips and falls on his internal staircase and lands badly ending up with a bilateral quad tear.

Stuck in bed, and dosed up on painkillers, Gerry drifts in and out of oblivion, remembering events and people from his life. It doesn’t take long to get the measure of Gerry. He is his greatest fan, for sure. He also doesn’t see women as much other than subjects for objectification, though he’d deny that, of course.  But lying in bed, immobile, means that the more the women in his life have Gerry exactly where they want him.

Immobilised, his thoughts go back to his marriages, other relationships, and his childhood where his father was a cheater, eventually leaving the family altogether. Gerry is looked after by Aileen, a nurse who comes in every night and by his assistant Victoria who is there during the day to attend to his every need.

As he dozes one evening his phone rings and a woman claims to be his muse for Aubrey, the protagonist in his novel, Dream Girl. Gerry knows that’s not possible and yet he can’t quite work out what is going on. Is he hallucinating, or is something more devilish at work? More shadowy events and then one night Gerry awakens to find the dead body of a woman on his floor.

Lippman’s use of short chapters, ranging from the present to times in Gerry’s past, make this an easy read. We see the past through Gerry’s eyes and yet cannot ignore his misogyny. Lippman also threads so many wonderful literary references throughout this book, from The Rocky Horror Show to Breaking Bad in a clever and often very witty, laugh out loud fashion. There’s even a cameo from Tess Monaghan, the accidental P.I. and Lippman’s  own fictional creation.

She satirises the world of literary affectation gossip and backstabbing, just as she evokes a kind of ‘Misery’ on Gerry. The reader has to guess what on earth is going on as Gerry’s fevered brain tries to work out why there’s a dead woman in his apartment.

Verdict: Dream Girl is a twisty and delightfully sharp thriller which is beautifully plotted and wickedly executed. It’s a layered psychological thriller with a dose of horror and a great helping of satirical humour, all of which combines into a terrific read and comes with a satisfying ending.

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Laura Lippman was a reporter for twenty years, including twelve years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working full-time and published seven books about “accidental PI” Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001.Her work has been awarded the Edgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe and Barry awards. She also has been nominated for other prizes in the crime fiction field, including the Hammett and the Macavity. She was the first-ever recipient of the Mayor’s Prize for Literary Excellence and the first genre writer recognized as Author of the Year by the Maryland Library Association. Ms. Lippman grew up in Baltimore and attended city schools through ninth grade. After graduating from Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Md., Ms. Lippman attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Her other newspaper jobs included the Waco Tribune-Herald and the San Antonio Light.Ms. Lippman returned to Baltimore in 1989 and has lived there since. She is the daughter of the late Theo Lippman Jr., a Sun editorial writer who retired in 1995, and Madeline Mabry Lippman, a former Baltimore City school librarian. Her sister, Susan, is a local bookseller.

False Witness by Karin Slaughter @SlaughterKarin @HarperCollinsUK @FictionPubTeam @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication:  24 June 2021 from Harper Collins
PP: 448
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0008303501

My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review

You thought no one saw you. You were wrong.

Leigh and her sister Callie are not bad people – but one night, more than two decades ago, they did something terrible. And the result was a childhood tarnished by secrets, broken by betrayal, devastated by violence.

Years later, Leigh has pushed that night from her mind and become a successful lawyer – but when she is forced to take on a new client against her will, her world begins to spiral out of control.

Because the client knows the truth about what happened twenty-three years ago. He knows what Leigh and Callie did. And unless they stop him, he’s going to tear their lives apart

Just because you didn’t see the witness … doesn’t mean he wasn’t there.

It’s no exaggeration to say that in her latest stand-alone thriller, Karin Slaughter is on fire!  Slaughter’s keen focus on what’s happening in America right now plays out between these pages with a blistering heat. As an immensely popular novelist, Slaughter takes her responsibility to social commentary very seriously and delivers not only a first class crime thriller but also a searing indictment on how US society fails to deal with a range of critical issues that are endangering people; from the drugs crisis to how the current Co-Vid pandemic is impacting on ordinary people, Slaughter does not pussy foot around, preferring to tell it as it is.

I wasn’t sure about heading into a full blown in-the midst-of-a-pandemic novel, but this is so well done and seamless that it felt natural and Slaughter has a more than a few well aimed remarks to make about those who choose to put others at risk.

Our protagonists are two sisters who are hiding a dark and terrifying secret. Leigh is a successful lawyer at a prestigious Chicago firm.  Married with a teenage daughter she has a self-destruct button that will not allow her to be happy for too long and now she is separated from her husband and her daughter is staying with him.  Leigh’s sister, Callie used to be a cheerleader until she broke her neck and became dependent on opioids. Now she is a drug addict who has fallen as low as it is possible to go, though she has a redeeming love of animals which allows us to see what she could have been in another life.  These girls had a harsh upbringing from a mother who was largely absent and when she was present was a believer in the ‘school of hard knocks’ style of bringing up her kids.

Our antagonist is Andrew Tenant, a good looking businessman with a car sales franchise who is a dangerous psychopath. He’s accused of rape and battery and there’s really not much doubt that he is guilty.

Tenant has chosen Leigh to represent him and it soon becomes clear that he has his own very unsettling reasons for this selection and Leigh soon finds herself with nowhere to turn.

False Witness is dark and violent, even gory in places, but Slaughter provides a picture of the abiding bond of love that exists between these two sisters; she depicts the lengths each has gone to and will go to in order to keep the other safe. Her characterisation of Tenant as a toxic male whose sense of entitlement manspreads all over the pages renders him one of the more unforgettable villains of recent years.  It’s not a new theme for Slaughter; she has tackled male violence, exertion of power and sexual assault before, clearly determined to shine a light on this pernicious, pervasive male behaviour until it is dealt with more effectively.


Slaughter draws her characters really well and as ever, the reader is drawn deep into the story from the opening pages. This is a brilliantly fast paced and engrossing book with characters you easily grow to love and some you hate on first meeting and never change your mind about.  It is a story about love and the strength of the bonds of love. It’s undoubtedly graphic in its portrayal of abuse in various forms but that is how the strength of sibling love is able to shine through.

Verdict: I loved this book. Dark, gritty and violent it captures the imagination from the outset and is instantly compulsive reading. Ultimately a thriller about the power of love, Karin Slaughter has produced an intense contemporary crime thriller that is both explosive and volcanic in its passion.

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Karin Slaughter is one of the world’s most popular and acclaimed storytellers. Published in 120 countries with more than 35 million copies sold across the globe, her 20 novels include the Grant County and Will Trent books, as well as the Edgar-nominated CopTown and the instant Sunday Times bestselling novels Pretty Girls, Pieces of Her, The Good Daughter and The Silent Wife. Pieces of Her is an upcoming eight-part Netflix adaptation, starring Toni Collette, directed by Minkie Spiro (Downton Abbey) and produced by Charlotte Stoudt (Homeland) Lesli Linka Glatter (Mad Men) and Bruna Papandrea  (Big Little Lies). Grant County and Will Trent series are also in development for television. Karin is also the founder of the Save the Libraries project – a non-profit organisation established to support libraries and library programming. A native of Georgia, she lives in Atlanta.

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No Honour by Awais Khan @AwaisKhanAuthor @OrendaBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication:  19 June 2021 in e-book; 19 August 2021 in paperback
PP: 276
ISBN-13: 978-1913193782

My thanks to Orenda Books for an advance copy for review

A young woman defies convention in a small Pakistani village, with devastating results for her and her family. A stunning, immense beautiful novel about courage, family and the meaning of love, when everything seems lost…

No Honour is an important book because it tackles head on some of the most important questions facing Pakistan in the modern age. As Awais Khan shows us, institutional corruption is rife whether in the police, in government or political circles and its therefore no surprise that the drug trade is allowed to flourish largely unchallenged. Pakistan acts as a facilitator for drug consignments, which in connivance with Pakistan’s authorities, are smuggled through the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and the profits are used to fund terrorism.

With The Taliban having such a hold on drugs trafficking, it is no surprise that the position of women in Pakistan is still a feudal one, especially in rural areas. This is the background for the focus of No Honour.

Honour killings are something we hear about happening even in this country, but nothing prepares you for the barbarity of an act perpetrated by men – family members – against women and their newly born babies.  This is toxic masculinity writ large. Distorted ideals designed to allow men to assert their dominance, using violence to prove their masculinity and to exert power and control.

It is a tool of cowards and bullies and Awais Khan’s beautifully characterised novel shows this plainly for what it is. In a powerful and utterly shocking opening, we see an ‘honour killing’ taking place and immediately it is clear that women here are chattels, existing only to do the bidding of the menfolk who would rule their families by intimidation.

What I loved about this book is that although it is the story of Abida’s journey, this is also herer father’s story – the story of two people who go through an enormous cultural change. Abida is a 16 year old girl who freely enters into a loving relationship with a young man in her village. He tells her he loves her but when she falls pregnant, everything changes. Knowing she has two options – death or flight, she finally persuades her weak young man to go with her and they flee to Lahore.

But Lahore is a city riddled with danger and the weakness that we saw in Abida’s young man flourishes in a cess pit of desire and deprivation. Alone and friendless, Abida has no option but to surrender to her terrible fate.

In other hands this could be a melodramatic thriller, but Awais Khan handles it well and sensitively, never overdoing it, giving just enough information to allow us to imagine the hell that Abida has to endure.

This Lahore is dark and dangerous and in this big city, the sharks are always circling, looking for the weak to prey on and corrupt. Isolated and friendless, living hand to mouth,  Abida has no hope of rescuing her situation and it only gets worse.

Awais Khan beautifully describes Abida’s fear and loneliness in the oppressive and sleazy atmosphere that is Lahore’s low level thuggery and criminality. He chronicles Abida’s descent into humiliation and forced captivity with a horrifying calm and matter of fact that only adds to our sense of horror.

But Khan’s protagonist Abida is a young woman who defied convention to do what she wanted and the spark of that spirit still lingers in her, spurred on by a force that is stronger than anything she has known before.

What I especially loved about this book, though, is the counter-cultural journey that Abida’s father, Jamil goes on. Himself a weak man, but the son of a strong mother, he is so used to toeing the line, to not upsetting the status quo even when he instinctively feels that honour killings are not right, he remains quiet and subservient.

It is only when Abida disappears that he finds the strength and courage to go looking for her and then he is prepared to anything he can to rescue her from a plight that threatens to take her from him forever. His journey is just as profound as Abida’s and it is the fact that both male and female  characters in this novel can make that progressive journey that really beds in the hope and the recognition that change is possible.

I enjoyed Awais Khan’s disturbing and often deeply upsetting novel. Because it is an immersive and riveting story, it is important to remember that the practice of ‘honour’ killings is all too real, and that’s what makes this well -written book incredibly important. Awais Khan is to be commended for crafting this story specifically to speak out against such inhumanity.   

Verdict: I loved No Honour for its signals of hope; for lifting the veil on an oppressive and evil practice and most of all, for the redemption that it offers. Pakistan society must find the resolve to eschew these barbaric and shameful practices which are the epitome of ‘No Honour’. I sincerely hope that this book will make a contribution towards that end.

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Awais Khan was born in Lahore, Pakistan. His first novel, ‘In the Company of Strangers’ was published by the Book Guild and Simon & Schuster. He is a graduate of The University of Western Ontario and Durham University. He studied Creative Writing at Faber Academy. His work has appeared in The Aleph Review, The Missing Slate, MODE, Daily Times and The News International. In his free time, he likes to read all types of fiction, especially historical fiction and psychological thrillers. He is hard at work on his forthcoming novels.

Cover Reveal The Quiet People by Paul Cleave @PaulCleave @OrendaBooks

Whoop! Whoop! Yes it’s a new author joining #TeamOrenda and I could not be more excited! Paul Cleave is an award winning New Zealand writer with an incredible track record and now he’s joining the best book team there is! Paul’s first outing with Orenda Books will be with his highly acclaimed book, The Quiet People. Let’s take a look at what it’s about:

Suspicion is cast on two successful crime writers, when their seven-year-old son goes missing. Are they trying to show that they can commit the perfect crime? A memserisingly twisty, dark thriller from number-one bestselling author Paul Cleave…

‘A cinematic, raging, rollercoaster of a plot with a wry humour … The Quiet People is wildly entertaining and will keep you guessing right to the end’ New Zealand Herald

‘A superb novel from a champion storyteller’ Crime Watch

‘Cleave writes the kind of dark, intense thrillers that I never want to end. Do yourself a favour and check him out’ Simon Kernick

Cameron and Lisa Murdoch are successful New Zealand crime writers, happily married and topping bestseller lists worldwide. They have been on the promotional circuit for years, joking that no one knows how to get away with crime like they do. After all, they write about it for a living.

So when their challenging seven-year-old son Zach disappears, the police and the public naturally wonder if they have finally decided to prove what they have been saying all this time…

Are they trying to show how they can commit the perfect crime?

Electrifying, taut and immaculately plotted, The Quiet People is a chilling, tantalisingly twisty thriller that will keep you gripped and guessing to the last explosive page.

Sounds completely delicious, doesn’t it? If you think I’m excited about this book, look at what others have had to say about Paul’s writing!

Praise for Paul Cleave

‘Tense, thrilling, touching. Paul Cleave is very good indeed’ John Connolly

‘Compelling, dark, and perfectly paced, New Zealand writer Cleave’s psychological thriller explores the evil lurking in us all, working relentless magic until the very last page’ Booklist

‘Relentlessly gripping, deliciously twisted and shot through with a vein of humour that’s as dark as hell’ Mark Billingham

‘Uses words as lethal weapons’ New York Times

‘An intense adrenaline rush from start to finish’ S J Watson

 ‘A riveting and all too realistic thriller’ Tess Gerritsen

 “A gripping thriller …I couldn’t put it down’ Meg Gardiner

‘This very clever novel did my head in time and again’ Michael Robotham

 ‘Cleave’s whirligig plot mesmerises’ People

‘This thriller is one to remember’ New York Journal of Books  ‘On almost every page, this outstanding psychological thriller forces the reader to reconsider what is real’ Publishers Weekly – STARRED REVIEW

The e-book is out on 25th September and the paperback in November. Pre-orders are open.

Paul is an award winning author who often divides his time between his home city of Christchurch, New Zealand, where most of his novels are set, and Europe. He’s won the New Zealand Ngaio Marsh Award three times, the Saint-Maur book festival’s crime novel of the year award in France, and has been shortlisted for the Edgar and the Barry in the US and the Ned Kelly in Australia. His books have been translated into over twenty languages. He’s thrown his Frisbee in over forty countries, plays tennis badly, golf even worse, and has two cats – which is often two too many. You can find Paul on Twitter @PaulCleave, and his website is here: paulcleave.com.

This Is How We Are Human by Louise Beech @Louise_Writer @OrendaBooks @RandomTTours

Source: Review copy
Publication: 10 June 2021 from Orenda Books
PP: 300
ISBN-13: 978-1913193713

My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review

When the mother of an autistic young man hires a call girl to make him happy, three lives collide in unexpected and moving ways … changing everything. A devastatingly beautiful, rich and thought-provoking novel that will warm and break your heart…

If you haven’t heard of Louise Beech’s book by now then you’ve clearly been on a social media holiday. Nowt wrong with that, but be aware that this book is one of those rare creatures; a completely un-mawkish, unputdownable read that is heart-wrenching and immersive.

Regular readers will know that I like my crime fiction hard-boiled and my literary fiction intelligent and both should be well-written. Louise Beech’s book is beautifully written, intelligent and features solid, three dimensional characters whose complexities underline their authenticity.

Writing about someone with autism must be fraught with danger; my antennae were alert for hints of condescension, but Beech is a much better writer than that. Her Sebastian is rounded; sometimes stubborn, always particular. He knows what he likes and he’s sure about what he wants and sees no reason why he can’t have it.

His mother Veronica loves him as any mother should love her child – completely. She only wants him to be happy and on his terms. Veronica makes mistakes in this book, but they are mistakes borne from that love and we all understand that.

Violetta is a trainee nurse. Driven by necessity she is currently making her money in ways she’d much rather not.  She is most definitely not enjoying herself. Still, when Veronica makes Violetta an offer, she hesitates. It isn’t the money, or the fact that Sean is autistic; she has a wider moral issue about what she’s being asked to do.

And it is this question of moral ambiguity that lies at the heart of this astonishing and wonderful book. It is the extent to which we persuade ourselves that there are good lies and in so doing, treat those we love as if they are different, when all the time we tell them they are just the same as us.

By underestimating Sebastian, we fail to understand how much he expects from those he loves and that, inevitably leads to disappointment and heartbreak. There’s a point in the book when this ‘good lie’ meets the truth head on. I cried then and did not stop sobbing ‘til I got the end.

There’s a truth in this book that speaks straight to the heart and brooks no flimflamming around. With a strong emotional core and warmth that comes from genuine understanding, this is a very special book indeed.

Three dimensional, complex characters are Louise Beech’s speciality. Here her narrative arc is perfectly drawn and her dialogue sings with authenticity. Sebastian’s voice in particular, rings out loud and true.

Verdict: I love this book and its characters. It’s Louise best book so far and that’s saying something. I have no hesitation in recommending this to everyone- it’s a must read!

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Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. The follow-up, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Both of her previous books Maria in the
Moon
and The Lion Tamer Who Lost were widely reviewed, critically acclaimed and number-one bestsellers on Kindle. The Lion Tamer Who Lost was shortlisted for the RNA Most Popular Romantic Novel Award in 2019. Her 2019 novel Call Me Star Girl won Best magazine Book of the Year, and was followed by I Am Dust.

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