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First Minister to Chair Granite Noir Festival event @GraniteNoirFest


Granite Noir – Aberdeen’s crime writing festival – has announced Scotland’s First Minster, Nicola Sturgeon as chair for one of the festival’s opening events, with Abir Mukherjee.

A voracious reader since childhood, Nicola Sturgeon will chair an event with author Abir Mukherjee, the child of immigrants from India, who was bought up in the West of Scotland, on Friday, February 22 at 7pm at the Music Hall. Their event will explore the shared heritage of Scotland and Bengal and is just one of the festival’s diverse programme celebrating, showcasing and debating the cream of crime fiction from around the world

Ms Sturgeon is well-known for her love of literature and is an advocate for reading. She established the First Minister’s Reading Challenge in 2016, to encourage children to pick up a book and expand their imagination, and her Saturday night Twitter feed is filled with recommendations from her weekly reading. She has described books as “amongst my very favourite things in life”, with crime fiction a favourite genre. Her appearance at Granite Noir follows on from recent appearances at Wigtown Book Festival and the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2018.

Ms Sturgeon recommended the acclaimed author Abir Mukherjee as one of the new wave of Scottish crime fiction authors. Abir commented that he started writing “to explore the shared history between Britain and India which…has made such a great impact on the country we live in and the values we share.”

Head of Artistic Development at Aberdeen Performing Arts Lesley Anne Rose said: “Nicola Sturgeon is known for her passion for books as both an escape and as a window into other people’s lives. As a huge fan of crime fiction and the issues and debates these novels often confront, she promises to bring a fascinating discussion to the festival and we are delighted to welcome her to the line up.”  

The First Minister will join headliners including Scottish comedian, author and presenter, Susan Calman in conversation with local crime wiring hero Stuart MacBride who will be sharing secrets of his life and work as well as discussing his latest Logan Macrae novel. As well as Sophie Hannah the author who has revived the career of Hercule Poirot.

Panel chairs include acclaimed author and broadcaster, James Naughtie. James is one of Britain’s best-known broadcasters. Born and educated in Aberdeenshire, he began his journalism career on the Press and Journal and wrote for the Scotsman and Guardian before moving into broadcasting. He’s a former presenter of Today on BBC Radio 4, and host of the network’s monthly Bookclub.

He is the author of acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction, including the spy thrillers Paris Spring and The Madness of July.

Joining James on chairing duties will be award-winning broadcaster Edi Stark, as well as Kezia Dugdale, Fiona Stalker, Alex Clark and Craig Sisterson.

Events will take place in city centre venues including The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen’s Central Library, The Belmont Filmhouse, The Music Hall, His Majesty’s Theatre and 1906 Restaurant and include In Conversation sessions; Granite Noir Workshops; film screenings; Young Criminals (family events); other Fringe events and Late Night Noir. Locals in the Limelight runs alongside the festival, offering aspiring local writers to share the stage with top crime fiction authors.

Chief Executive Jane Spiers said: “Granite Noir returns for a third year with more events, more writers, more conversation and more venues.  It’s quirky, inventive, it’s a festival designed for readers and writers alike and it takes us to far flung places.  What makes it unique is the sheer range of events and the fantastic backdrop of the city.”

Produced by Aberdeen Performing Arts, in partnership with the Belmont Filmhouse, Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archives and Aberdeen City Libraries, Granite Noir is now entering its third year and, with several events already a sell-out, this year’s festival is set to be the biggest and best yet.

This year the festival will be supported by Granite North gin and Mackie’s who have created a very special Granite Noir ice cream.

Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech @LouiseWriter @OrendaBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 18 Feb 2019 in e-book. 18 April 2019 in paperback from Orenda Books
PP: 300
ISBN-13: 978-1912374632

Tonight is the night for secrets…A taut, emotive and all-consuming psychological thriller, reminiscent of Play Misty for Me … from the critically acclaimed author of Maria in the Moon and  The Lion Tamer Who Lost…

Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago – and her killer hasn’t been caught. Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers. Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after fourteen years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father …What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station … who says he knows who killed Victoria, and has proof. Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything…With echoes of the Play Misty for Me, Call Me Star Girl is a taut, emotive and all-consuming psychological thriller that plays on our deepest fears, providing a stark reminder that stirring up dark secrets from the past can be deadly…

Wow! Louise Beech’s first foray into crime writing just blew me away. If, like me, you are a fan of Louise’s writing, you will know that her special gift is writing that captivates, entrances, and really makes you care about her characters. Her prose is rich and rewarding; she has the ability to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. This is writing that somehow manages to shine a light on the beauty of the everyday and her emotional resonance is second to none.

In Call Me Star Girl, she has used her gifts to deliver a fully-fledged dark and twisted psychological thriller that has all the hallmarks of her writing but reinforced with a steel core. This is Louise Beech on steroids and boy, is she motoring at high speed.

Told in two timelines, then and now, and predominantly in two first person voices – those of Stella McKeever and her mother, Elizabeth, with a sparing but critical third person outside perspective provided by taxi driver, Bob Fracklehurst.

Bob is a classic Beech character, full of warmth, heart and goodness. A man who wants to do the right thing and always sees the good in people. A character who does not seem integral to this dark murder story, but whose presence is nonetheless crucial to the book.

Stella is our titular protagonist. A presenter at her local radio station where she conducts a three hour late night show, before the real night hawks come on air. Stella’s mum left her when Stella was only twelve. Just sent her to a neighbour with a note and disappeared, leaving behind only a bottle of perfume that would remind Stella of her for years to come.

Stella never knew her father and all her life she has wanted to know who he was.  Now she is in an all-consuming relationship with Tom, her boyfriend. Theirs is a love affair of passion and intensity. Unpredictable, risky, it’s an all or nothing relationship where Stella’s biggest fear is that Tom will wake up one day and find her boring. So she tries to make sure that will never happen.

Stella’s mum, Elizabeth, is slowly finding a way to come back into her daughter’s life. Though she feels guilty about leaving her only child in the way she did, the sad fact is that she made a choice and if she had that choice to make again, there’s no doubting what she would do. In some ways mother and daughter are not dissimilar.

When pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago, the town was shaken. No-one has been caught and women are nervously looking over their shoulders as they walk home at night, making sure they keep to the well-lit areas as they plan their routes.

Stella too is wary, she thinks she has caught sight of someone hovering around outside the radio station on more than one evening and now she’s receiving calls to the station from a man who says he knows who killed Victoria.

But this is Stella’s last ever show and she’s not going to go quietly. Alone in the radio station, she plays out her last three hours in a show that will have consequences for everyone listening.

Tightly written, with a brilliantly executed story arc, Call Me Star Girl is an immersive dark, aberrant and sometimes very painful psychological drama that is full of memories, secrets, and long felt desires.

Verdict: Honestly, it’s hard to articulate what a powerful book this is, but Call Me Star Girl is a killer read in anyone’s book. It’s destined to be a must read of 2019 in any crime list.

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Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Reader’s Choice in 2015. The sequel, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for the Not the Booker Prize. Her third book, Maria in the Moon was widely reviewed and critically acclaimed. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice.

Louise is currently writing her next book. She lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull and loves her job as Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012. 

Follow Louise on Twitter @LouiseWriter

The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola @Anna_Maz @TinderPress @AnneCater #TheStoryKeeper

Source: Review copy
Publication : Paperback on 10 January 2019 from Tinder Press
PP: 368
ISBN-13: 978-1472234803

Audrey Hart is on the Isle of Skye to collect the folk and fairy tales of the people and communities around her. It is 1857 and the Highland Clearances have left devastation and poverty, and a community riven by fear. The crofters are suspicious and hostile to a stranger, claiming they no longer know their fireside stories.

Then Audrey discovers the body of a young girl washed up on the beach and the crofters reveal that it is only a matter of weeks since another girl disappeared. They believe the girls are the victims of the restless dead: spirits who take the form of birds.

Initially, Audrey is sure the girls are being abducted, but as events accumulate she begins to wonder if something else is at work. Something which may be linked to the death of her own mother, many years before.

The Story Keeper is set in God’s own garden, the beautiful, haunting landscape of the Isle of Skye, my favourite place on earth. Set in a time of deep trouble for its residents, when greed and pitiless cruelty were in the forefront of driving every hard-working person from the island. For his is the time of the clearances; a time when Gaelic is about to be put under serious threat; when traditional farming methods can no longer sustain families and when landlords are both increasing rents and turning people off land they have family farmed for generations.

This is the atmospheric and haunting setting for the exploration of the myths and legends of the island. Audrey Hart has travelled from London, she has pretty much run away by the sound of it, though we don’t know why and she takes the long and wet journey to Lanerly Hall on Skye. Presided over by the matriarchal figure of Miss Buchanan, Lanerly Hall is an old, dilapidated house full of stuffed animals and creaking corridors.

 Audrey has come in response to an advert placed by Miss Buchanan, seeking someone who can help her collect the stories of the islanders; the myths and legends of the legendary faerie folk that still form part of their daily superstitions and practices, especially around the sea.

For just as the islanders way of life is under threat, so is the tradition of oral story telling passed down through generations and Miss Buchanan is determined to capture the stories before they are lost for ever.

Arriving into this maelstrom of change, and with an agenda of her own, Audrey must contend with a hostile game-keeper, a laird who seems to have little or no compassion for his tenants; a minister who breathes fire and fury and a group of villagers who are less than impressed by incomers. When girls start to go missing, that suspicion only intensifies and Audrey has no idea who she can trust.

Anna Mazzola creates a beautifully dark and gothic atmosphere in which to explore the folklore and legends of the islanders. Her prose is fluid and flawless and she creates a magical and mysterious environment in which anything is possible.

Sitting at her metaphorical loom, Mazzola weaves a rich and varied tapestry with multiple threads and plot lines which come together to form a magnificent story of death, destruction and stubborn courage.

Verdict : A highly enjoyable, beautifully told story.

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Anna is a writer who, due to some fault of her parents, is drawn to peculiar and dark historical subjects. Her novels, which have been described as literary crime fiction or historical crime, explore the impact of crime and injustice. Anna’s influences include Sarah Waters, Daphne Du Maurier, Shirley Jackson and Margaret Atwood.

Her debut novel, The Unseeing, is based on the life of a real woman called Sarah Gale who was convicted of aiding a murder in London in 1837. The Sunday Times called it, ‘A twisting tale of family secrets and unacknowledged desires.’ It won an Edgar Award in the US and was nominated for the Historical Writers’ Association’s Debut Crown in the UK.

Her second novel, The Story Keeper, was published in July (paperback January 2019). It follows a folklorist’s assistant as she searches out dark fairytales and stolen girls on the Isle of Skye in 1857. The Story Keeper has been longlisted for the Highland Book Prize.

As well as novels, Anna writes short stories. She also blogs for The History Girls.

Anna studied English at Pembroke College, Oxford, before accidentally becoming a human rights and criminal justice solicitor. She now tries to combine law with writing, to varying degrees of success.

She lives in Camberwell, South London, with two small children, two cats and one husband.


The Red Light Zone – An Insider’s Laugh ‘n’ Tell of BBC Radio by Jeff Zycinski @JeffZycinski @LunicornPress @Lunicorn

Source: Review Copy
Publication: 24 January 2019 from Lunicorn Press
Pp: 280
ISBN-13: 978-0992926465

Stop! Danger! Sex for sale! A red light can signify any one of those, but in a radio station it means a microphone has gone live: the walls may be soundproof, but in studio space, everyone can hear you scream … or sneeze.

For twenty-five years, Jeff Zycinski worked for BBC Radio and became the longest-serving boss of Radio Scotland. He made the big decisions buying a new vacuum cleaner for the Selkirk office and chaired a meeting that almost erupted in violence when someone suggested cats were better than dogs. He has a lot to say about Brexit, Scottish Independence, football, BBC bias, Islam and strippers … but not in this book. Okay, he talks about them a bit … mainly the strippers. An affectionate, humorous account of inside life at the Beeb. You will never buy chips in the same way again!

Disclaimer: For a number of years I worked for the BBC in Nations and Regions communications mainly in Local Radio and Regional TV. I have even done the odd freelance shift for BBC Scotland. But although I have met him in passing a few times, I don’t know Jeff Zycinski. So I read this book partly to see if it rang true and because I’m interested in what kind of chap Zycinski is.

The Red Light Zone begins and ends with Jeff Zycinski leaving the BBC in the way many people do, after an endless restructuring process where it slowly dawns on you that your job has just been restructured out of existence and you either have to re-invent yourself or decide the time is right for you to go. Restructuring happens in the BBC about once every 4-5 years and it’s been known to make a lot of people both anxious and bitter. Fortunately, Zycinski is not one of those people.

The Red Light Zone is a light touch book full of humorous anecdotes, fond recollections and a refreshingly honest and self-deprecating take on a career spent in both commercial and BBC Radio. It is also imbued with a love for the creativity of programme makers and if there’s one thing I take away from this book, it is that Zycinski is a living, breathing member of the programme making classes, and not some BBC ‘suit’. Mind you, that’s true of most of the Senior Managers I have met in the content side of the BBC; it was love for the medium and the programmes that really drove them to stick in there.

The Red Light Zone offers a lot of humour, but it is also in many ways an inspiring story of how the child of a sailor in the Polish Free Navy who came to Glasgow during WW2 and stayed to marry in peacetime,  with seven siblings living in Easterhouse,  rose to become the Head of Radio in Scotland.

It’s surprising he got that far, given that his first job, working as a journalism student for Capital Radio, was to undertake a day’s recording in the famous Raymond’s Revue Bar in Soho. Working out how to convey nudity on radio was an interesting problem for a fledgling reporter.

Zycinski’s love of radio began when he was 14 and his big sister Rose introduced him to Radio Clyde. He loved to twirl the dial and listen to short wave station from the BBC Worlds Service to Radio Moscow and Radio Free Europe. But it was Radio Clyde’s overnight show that got him writing in an over-egged Chandleresque style and cemented his love for radio forever.

Spells in Moray Firth Radio, and Radio Clyde followed and then He joined BBC Radio Scotland as a Senior Producer in Selkirk. It is here that we first begin to understand the somewhat arcane nature of BBC structures, but Zycinski treats all such matters with a light touch humour and only occasionally does the inevitable frustration leak out.

Peppered with names you’ll know and some lively anecdotes, Zycinski is not often sharp-tongued, but when he is, you can tell he means it. The visit of Chris Evans to Inverness is a particularly pointed recollection.

In a career spanning 4 BBC Directors- General, it is easy to see why Zycinski is a survivor. His no-nonsense approach, combined with a love for creativity led to a revamp of the Radio Scotland schedule , the introduction of many of the programmes we can still hear today and his love for comedy and what we used to call in the old days ‘light entertainment’. Even if that revamp did lead to Ian Rankin describing him as a ‘numptie’.

In a nicely balanced book, the reader is able to laugh at events and anecdotes but also to understand the frustrations of a man who loves radio and yet could not understand why getting Radio 4 to talk to Radio 2 was ‘slightly more difficult than creating dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East’.

Similarly, getting his presenters on Radio Scotland to know and understand the rest of the station’s output so that they could talk coherently and confidently about it to listeners was a bit of an uphill struggle.

Zycinski spends some time reflecting on the Referendum campaign; the attacks on BBC Scotland’s coverage and on some presenters as well as the impact of network BBC news bosses finally sitting up and taking notice. He discusses strike action, morale at the BBC, the role of HR and Charter Renewal. The advice he got from Ken MacQuarrie, now Director of the BBC’s Nations and Regions, about attending corporate BBC meetings is priceless because of its simple truth.

As well as chronicling his time at BBC Radio Scotland, Zycinski offers amusement, bemusement and some honest reflections on the work. The book is interesting for all these reasons, but also because it paints a portrait of a man who loves his radio and whose heart lives for creativity in programme making.

I wish I had got to know him.

Verdict: A must read for those interested in BBC Scotland written with a light touch and containing plenty of humour to keep the reader interested.

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Jeff Zycinski was born in Easterhouse, Glasgow in 1963, the seventh son of a Polish sailor who settled in Scotland after the Second World War. He was educated at the Central College of Commerce in Glasgow, Glasgow College of Technology and University College, Cardiff.

Jeff was the BBC’s Head of Radio in Scotland from 2005 to 2018, the longest-serving occupant of that role.


He commissioned and scheduled programmes for BBC Radio Scotland and was responsible for the production teams working for BBC Network Radio based in Scotland. His portfolio included online and multi-media content including podcasts and themed audio streams.

Jeff started his career as a news journalist in 1989 and, in 1992, joined BBC Scotland as Senior Producer in Selkirk. A year later he moved to the BBC in Inverness to launch the Tom Morton morning programme. Jeff was promoted to Editor, Topical in 1998 and returned to Glasgow. He launched both the lunchtime Lesley Riddoch programme (which won a Sony Silver Award in 2001 and again in 2002) and the Gary Robertson mid-morning programme in Autumn 2000.

In the 2006 Sony Awards, Jeff was nominated as Station Programmer of the Year. Other awards as Editor include a Sony Silver for Asking For You (2003) and Sony Bronze awards for Old Firm Day (2002) and Life Stories (2005).

Changeling by Matt Wesolowski (Six Stories #3) @ConcreteKraken @OrendaBooks @AnneCater


Source: Review copy
Publication: 24th January 2019 from Orenda Books
PP: 271
ISBN-13:   978-1912374571

On Christmas Eve in 1988, seven-year-old Alfie Marsden vanished in the Wentshire Forest Pass, when a burst tyre forced his father, Sorrel, to stop the car. Leaving the car to summon the emergency services, Sorrel returned to find his son gone. No trace of the child, nor his remains, have ever been found. Alfie Marsden was declared officially dead in 1995.

Elusive online journalist, Scott King, whose ‘Six Stories’ podcasts have become an internet sensation, investigates the disappearance, interviewing six witnesses, including Sorrel, his son and his ex-partner, to try to find out what really happened that fateful night. He takes a journey through the trees of the Wentshire Forest – a place synonymous with strange sightings, and tales of hidden folk who dwell there. He talks to a company that tried and failed to build a development in the forest, and a psychic who claims to know where Alfie is…

Intensely dark, deeply chilling and searingly thought provoking, Changeling is an up-to-the-minute, startling thriller, taking you to places you will never, ever forget.

If you have read the first two books in this series, you will know that each can easily be read as a stand-alone and that each takes the form of a serialised podcast. (I really must listen to the audiobook of these, I bet it is spectacular.)

The format works really well for this kind of storytelling. Our narrator, Scott King, looks at a cold case, not investigating, just interviewing six people close to the case to see what time and distance will offer up when he speaks to them.

Scott’s job is to ask the questions, non-judgmentally and to hope that in doing so the reader can reach some kind of truth by the end.

In Changeling, the atmosphere is set from the beginning when strange events around Wentshire Forest culminate in the disappearance of 7 year old Alfie Marsden.

Wesolowski is really good at building a haunting, cold and eerie atmosphere. His prose achieves the outstanding task of taking us from 0 to 80 on the tension rev scale within the first few paragraphs and believe me, it doesn’t ever drop below that.

He has the uncanny ability to merge fact and fiction, creating a sense of urgency and deep menace which builds until you need respite from the brain storm he has created.

Is Alfie Marsden a changeling – an ugly, stupid, or strange child left by fairies in place of a pretty, charming child? Certainly something changed him from a happy child into one that knows no contentment and the genesis of that change seems to hark back to his time in the forest.

But there are no faerie folk to interview here, so Scott King goes to those who were around at the time to see what can be understood from his interviews.

The picture that emerges is one that is indeed black and not at all pretty, and the characters he interviews are, in some cases, sorry excuses for individuals. Who is lying and who is speaking truth is for the reader to decide.

I thought I had a pretty good idea where this book was heading after I had got half way through but that changed as I slowly began to realise just how clever a writer Wesolowski is, and how good his narration is in creating the perfect storm.

I found Changeling to be dark, incredibly intense, full of supressed rage and emotionally gut wrenching. It blew me out the water. I rather think Matt Wesolowski is destined for stardom.

Verdict: Superb writing and plotting of high distinction. His best yet and I would recommend Changeling to anyone. A must read of 2019.

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Matt Wesolowski is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the UK. He is an English tutor for young people in care. Matt started his writing career in horror, and his short horror fiction has been published in numerous UK- an US-based anthologies such as Midnight Movie Creature, Selfies from the End of the World, Cold Iron and many more. His novella, The Black Land, a horror story set on the Northumberland coast, was published in 2013. Matt was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in 2015. His debut thriller, Six Stories, was an Amazon bestseller in the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia, and a WH Smith Fresh Talent pick, and TV rights were sold to a major Hollywood studio. A prequel, Hydra, was published in 2018 and became an international bestseller.

Red Snow by Will Dean @willrdean @PtBlankBks @MargotBookPR @AnneCater #RedSnow #Tuva2

Source: Review copy
Publication: 10 January 2019 from Point Blank
PP: 400
ISBN-13: 978-1786074799

TWO BODIES

One suicide. One cold-blooded murder. Are they connected? And who’sreally pulling the strings in the small Swedish town of Gavrik?

TWO COINS

Black Grimberg liquorice coins cover the murdered man’s eyes. Thehashtag #Ferryman starts to trend as local people stock up on ammunition.

TWO WEEKS

Tuva Moodyson, deaf reporter at the local paper, has a fortnight to investigate the deaths before she starts her new job in the south. A blizzard moves in. Residents, already terrified, feel increasingly cut-off. Tuva must go deep inside the Grimberg factory to stop the killer before she leaves town for good. But who’s to say the Ferryman will let her go?

It is no exaggeration to say that this is my most highlyanticipated book of 2019. So keen was I to read the sequel to the excellentDark Pines, that I stalked it and its author at Harrogate, Bloody Scotland andevery crime festival in between. In fact, I am almost ashamed to tell you howmuch I hounded people for this book.

Almost ashamed, but not really, because Red Snow is acracker. I am so invested in the character of Tuva Moodyson that I spent somehours during a bout of insomnia considering why characters in the book wouldwant to shorten (?) her name from Tuva to Tuvs. I finally decided that this isa sign of affection, so from now on Tuva will be Tuvs to me.

As we begin Red Snow, Tuvs is preparing to move from Gavrikthe small town where winter is a freeze fest that dries the skin and makeseveryone smell, well, a little bit stronger than usual. Tuva has a new job in abigger town with a twice weekly newspaper and she’s finally going to earn alittle more money than the small paper she works for can afford. She’ll beleaving behind everyone she knows, including her best friend, Tammy, but nowthat her mother has died, she needs a new challenge, especially after her workon the Medusa murders, the case that brought her to a wider audience.

But in her last fortnight at the paper, she witnesses astartling death and finds herself in poll position to investigate.

Gavrik is suffering from blizzard conditions and Will Dean creates a menacing, chilling atmosphere, redolent with suspicion, secrecy and mistrust, made all the more striking by the fact that more deaths occur. Each death is related to the sole large employer in town, the Grimberg Liquorice Factory. . The Grimbergs are a strange family; a reclusive lot, with some members seeming more than a bit dotty and to add to the gothic atmosphere, the factory is run the way it always has been, eschewing any and all manufacturing updates of the 21st Century.

Will Dean stirs up a fabulous concoction of contemporary characters in Tuva, the wonderful Tammy and a new police officer, with his weird and wonderful cast of strange and not altogether lovable Gavrik characters in the woodcarving sisters, the creepy taxi driver and the writer with a penchant for menu items that make for more than one queasy moment.

I love that the day to day business of the small townnewspaper and its journalists is the perfect way to show how Tuva is able togrow and mature as a character as she comes to terms with her mother’s deathand considers the friendships she has made in Gavrik.

As she investigates the sticky, liquorice laden deaths, and seeks to track don the #Ferryman killer, Tammy will once again feel the force of a town that bands together when things go wrong and his complex and beautifully described narrative creates a compelling picture of a small town in fear for its future.

I can’t wait to see where Will Dean takes us next.

Verdict: With creepy snow skulls, dangerous conditions and a mad killer roaming the town, Red Snow is a perfect, hauntingly beautiful follow up to the fabulous Dark Pines.

WILL DEAN grew up in the East Midlands, living in nine different villages before the age of eighteen. After studying at the LSE and working in London, he settled in rural Sweden with his wife. He built a wooden house in a boggy forest clearing at the centre of a vast elk forest, and it’s from this base that he compulsively reads and writes.

Blackberry and Wild Rose by Sonia Velton @soniavelton @QuercusBooks

Source: Review copy from Netgalley
Publication: 10 January 2019 from Quercus Books
PP: 416
ISBN-13: 978-1787470750

WHEN ESTHER THOREL, the wife of a Huguenot silk-weaver, rescues Sara Kemp from a brothel she thinks she is doing God’s will. Sara is not convinced being a maid is better than being a whore, but the chance to escape her grasping ‘madam’ is too good to refuse.

INSIDE THE THORELS’ tall house in Spitalfields, where the strange cadence of the looms fills the attic, the two women forge an uneasy relationship. The physical intimacies of washing and dressing belie the reality: Sara despises her mistress’s blindness to the hypocrisy of her household, while Esther is too wrapped up in her own secrets to see Sara as anything more than another charitable cause.

IT IS SILK that has Esther so distracted. For years she has painted her own designs, dreaming that one day her husband will weave them into reality. When he laughs at her ambition, she unwittingly sets in motion events that will change the fate of the whole Thorel household and set the scene for a devastating day of reckoning between her and Sara.

THE PRICE OF a piece of silk may prove more than either is able to pay.

I have really enjoyed reading historical novels of late and Blackberry and Wild Rose is no exception. In the tradition of Laura Purcell and Jessie Burton, Blackberry and Wild Rose is a rich read, full of atmosphere, redolent with class politics and full of the small details and petty slights that make for a strong feeling of realism.

The narrative is set around the Huguenot silk weavers many of whom settled in London’s East End following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, when 400,000 Huguenots had to flee France or be massacred for their religion.

Young Sarah Kemp has recently arrived from the country and in her naivety has been tricked into working in a brothel. She is fortunate to be rescued by Esther Thorel, in an act of Christian charity. Esther offers her a position as a domestic maid, although Sarah is sometimes doubtful whether she now has a better fate. She has a difficult relationship with the existing maid in the house and petty jealousies run rampant.

Esther is married to a silk weaver but has found herself in a difficult position. She married for love, but has been unable to produce an heir and now her husband, who married outside the Huguenot circle, is looked upon as not quite of the same social standing as his peers.

So Esther is isolated and like Sarah, is trapped in the life she has opted for, only with higher social standing.

Sarah talks herself into becoming Esther’s personal maid and a strong relationship begins to develop between them.

Esther has an artistic bent and dreams of seeing her designs translated into silk, but her husband is hardly the type to encourage such feminist leanings. Esther, however, is not so lightly put off and she begins to make regular forays into the attic where her husband has rented out space to a journeyman weaver seeking to become a registered Master Weaver.

Sarah, meanwhile, has found her own connection with the weavers of Spitalfields as she embarks upon a relationship with the weaver at the centre of a fomenting revolution as the threat of printed calico begins to bite upon the craftsmen’s earnings.  

Velton beautifully captures a time of great upheaval and social turmoil as progress and imports threaten the livelihood of silk weavers, who are now more easily tempted into rebellion against the perceived perpetrators of their downfall. Although Parliament attempted to ban textile imports to preserve the domestic industries, Spitalfield workers were known to enforce their prerogatives directly by attacking people in the street thought to be wearing foreign prints. Conflicts were no less fierce within the weavers’ community, between masters and labourers where workers combined to maintain wages by attacking those thought to be undercutting prices.

Velton takes one household and its characters and uses that to showcase the social and political change that is happening in the 1760’s. Effortlessly marrying excellent research with strong storytelling, Velton weaves her own pattern of betrayal, ambition, love and hope.

The Spitalfields of the weavers comes alive in this well written tale and the position of women is nicely juxtaposed in maid and madam.

Verdict: A well told tale of two women, love, betrayal and ambition in a time of social change.

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Waterstones

Sonia Velton grew up between the Bahamas and the UK . She has travelled widely since then, including a stint at the European Parliament in Luxembourg as a Robert Schuman Scholar.

After graduating from university with a first in law, she qualified as a solicitor at an international law firm. She soon realised that corporate law was not for her and spent the next seven years specialising in human rights and discrimination law.

Sonia relocated to the Middle East in 2006. Eight years, and three children later she then returned to the UK and now lives in Kent. Sonia used her career break to establish her family and write her first novel. Now that her youngest child is almost at school she hopes to devote herself to writing full time.

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