Who Did You Tell by Lesley Kara @LesleyKara @Transworld Books

Source: Review copy
Publication: 9 January 2020 from Bantam Press
PP: 304
ISBN-13: 978-1787630055

It’s been 192 days, seven hours and fifteen minutes since her last drink. Now Astrid is trying to turn her life around.

Having reluctantly moved back in with her mother, in a quiet seaside town away from the temptations and painful memories of her life before, Astrid is focusing on her recovery. She’s going to meetings. Confessing her misdeeds. Making amends to those she’s wronged.

But someone knows exactly what Astrid is running from. And they won’t stop until she learns that some mistakes can’t be corrected.

Some mistakes, you have to pay for . . .

I loved Kara’s The Rumour, so was really keen to read Who Did You Tell? Kara writes small seaside town life really well, conveying the slightly decaying and claustrophobic atmosphere of Flintstead – a town where everyone knows everyone else and is always a bit too interested in the other’s business.

Astrid Phelps is our protagonist. She’s come home to live with her mum because she’s just out of rehab. At 32, Astrid is a recovering alcoholic. She knows she needs to put her life back together and at her mother’s insistence is attending AA meetings, but Astrid has demons from her past that she can’t outrun.

In AA Astrid meets Helen and Rosie. She likes Helen, who has the same slightly cynical attitude to the mantra’s of AA, BUT Rosie, older and wiser, counsels Astrid that these things matter in times of severe stress.

Astrid is a mess, but meeting Josh Carter on the beach has been a huge boost to her confidence. Once an artist, she is further thrilled when Josh’s dad offers her some work installing and painting a trompe l’oeil in his home.

Josh is immensely likeable. He is handsome, caring, and seemingly smitten with Astrid. You just know it’s all going to go wrong, don’t you?

But she isn’t ready yet to tell Josh about her past or her addiction and the lengths she goes to in order to avoid setting foot in the last chance saloon make her life full of tension and temptation.

Told in the first person, readers will find themselves questioning just how reliable a narrator Astrid really is.

Kara makes a great job of telling Astrid’s story; keeping the best elements until they will make the greatest impact. As an alcoholic she has everything you might expect. Subject to strong cravings; suffering from being unable to rust herself and knowing her mother doesn’t trust her at all. Astrid wants to love Josh, but she has no self-confidence and finds herself full of self-doubt, and worst of all, terrible, terrible guilt.

Astrid harbours an awful secret. She believes she is responsible for a life that was lost. Her previous boyfriend Simon committed suicide and Astrid can’t forgive herself. Simon was also an alcoholic and now everywhere she goes she gets reminders of him. She can smell his aftershave, she’s sure she sees his clothes in a charity shop, and all the time she has the feeling that she is being watched.

How much of this is her alcoholic paranoia the reader cannot know, but what we can see is Astrid struggling under extreme pressure, which reaches boiling point when she realises that Josh’s dad knows something about her situation.

Worse, it seems that someone else knows her secret and is sending her ever more poisonous pen letters.

Is there anyone she can trust, or will Astrid spiral out of control as once more it seems that everything in her life is going wrong?

Verdict: Kara’s writing exquisitely conveys the atmosphere and tension of Astrid’s life in this small seaside town. Astrid’s struggles are realistically portrayed and the levels of suspicion are layered and twisted until the reader suspects everyone.  Who Did You Tell is a psychological thriller that sucks you in and is full of suspense.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

Lesley Kara is an alumna of the Faber Academy ‘Writing a Novel’ course. She completed an English degree and PGCE at Greenwich University, having previously worked as a nurse and a secretary, and then became a lecturer and manager in Further Education. She lives on the North Essex coast.

Deep Dark Night by Steph Broadribb @crimethrillgirl @OrendaBooks #TeamLori #IAmLori

Source: Purchased copy
Publication: Published in e-book on 5 January 2020 and on p/back on 5 March 2020
PP: 320
ISBN-13: 978-1913193171

A city in darkness. A building in lockdown. A score that can only be settled in blood…

Working off the books for FBI Special Agent Alex Monroe, Florida bounty-hunter Lori Anderson and her partner, JT, head to Chicago. Their mission: to entrap the head of the Cabressa crime family. The bait: a priceless chess set that Cabressa is determined to add to his collection.

An exclusive high-stakes poker game is arranged in the penthouse suite of one of the city’s tallest buildings, with Lori holding the cards in an agreed arrangement to hand over the pieces, one by one. But, as night falls and the game plays out, stakes rise and tempers flare.

When a power failure plunges the city into darkness, the building goes into lockdown. But this isn’t an ordinary blackout, and the men around the poker table aren’t all who they say they are. Hostages are taken, old scores resurface and the players start to die.

And that’s just the beginning…

You can read Deep Dark Night as a stand-alone, but readers of the Lori Anderson series will recognise this book as a direct follow on from Deep Dirty Truth, which I loved almost as much as this 4th book in the Lori series.

Broadribb is on fire in this latest sizzling story. Caught between a rock and a hard place by Agent Monroe of the FBI, she has very reluctantly agreed to do one last job for this man whom she does not trust at all.

Lori was mentally ripped apart by her last encounter with Monroe, in which way too many innocent people died just so that he could make his case, and more importantly, his name. So she’s more than wary when he calls in the debt he claims she owes him. Reluctantly she agrees to co-operate, but makes it clear that after this, all debts are paid and she and her partner JT can walk away free and clear.

Lori heads to Chicago to play in a high stakes poker game in a swanky penthouse apartment with JT as her close protection. The plan is to entrap Mafia boss Cabressa and gain sufficient evidence to enable Monroe to lock him up for life.

Everything is at stake for Lori who is outside her comfort zone when she realises that she is the only female player in the room and that JT, along with other personal security guards are to be sequestered in a different room in the building.

In a fresh and exciting take on the quintessential locked room mystery. Broadribb gives Lori her biggest challenge yet as she faces enemies on all fronts and JT is left unable to help and protect her.

Lori has to utilise every ounce of her trademark grit and determination to make her way through the traps that have been set for her, and every moment is spent wondering if she will ever see her little girl and J.T. again. With only her moral compass for guidance, Lori has to plough a path out of that dark and deadly room in order to stay alive long enough to pay her debt.

Verdict: This is Broadribb firing fast and furiously on all cylinders as we take a massive thrill ride into Chicago’s criminal elements and find that not everyone is playing a straight game. It’s dark (in more ways than one), violent and full of tension and suspense. An electrifying read that will have you on the edge of your seat praying for Lori to succeed.

Hive Books                       Kobo                   Amazon

Steph Broadribb was born in Birmingham and grew up in Buckinghamshire. Most of her working life has been spent between the UK and USA. As her alter ego – Crime Thriller Girl – she indulges her love of all things crime fiction by blogging at http://www.crimethrillergirl.com, where she interviews authors and reviews the latest releases.

Steph is an alumni of the MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) at City University London, and she trained as a bounty hunter in California. She lives in Buckinghamshire surrounded by horses, cows and chickens. Her debut thriller, Deep Down Dead, was shortlisted for the Dead Good Reader Awards in two categories, and hit number one on the UK and AU kindle charts.
My Little Eye, her first novel under her pseudonym Stephanie Marland was published by Trapeze Books in April 2018.

Dark Truths by A.J. Cross @severnhouse #DarkTruths

Source: Review copy
Publication: 30 September 2019 in the UK and 7 Jan 2020 in the US from Severn House
PP: 240
ISBN-13: 978-0727889065

Introducing criminologist Will Traynor in the first of a gripping new forensic mystery series from an expert in the field.

When a headless body is discovered on a popular jogging trail, Detective Inspector Bernard Watts and his team are plunged headlong into a baffling murder investigation. Why would someone stab to death a young woman on her daily run – and take her head?

When a close examination of the crime scene results in a shocking discovery linking the present murder to a past crime, criminologist Will Traynor is brought in to assist the police. Aware of Traynor’s troubled past and already having to deal with inexperienced rookie PC Chloe Judd on his team, Watts is sceptical that Traynor will bring anything useful to the investigation.

He’s about to be proved very wrong …

Dark Truths is billed as the first in a forensic criminology series, and that’s what we get, an introduction, because Will Traynor is not the central figure in this police procedural/serial killer mystery.

DI Bernard Watts has been languishing in the Unsolved Crimes Unit of the West Midlands Police, but when it is disbanded, Acting Chief Inspector Brophy brings him in to head up the hunt for the brutal killer of Zoe Roberts, a young woman jogger who has been murdered and decapitated.

Brophy instructs Watts to take on a rookie, PC Chloe Judd who is characterised both by her keenness and by her high opinion of her own abilities, something that quickly gets up Watts’ nose. Though she is a P.C., Chloe takes on more of a D.C. role.

The final key player in this team is criminologist Will Traynor. Brophy believes Traynor can bring fresh insights into the team but Traynor is a damaged shadow of his former self.  His wife disappeared some ten years ago, presumed dead, but her body was never found.  He is still obsessed with finding her and this impacts on his ability to form a clear picture of the investigation. During the course of this investigation he will see links to his wife where none exist, which makes Watts’ life even more difficult.

When more heads are discovered near the site of the jogger’s body in the stifling summer heat, it is clear that the team have a serial killer on their hands. Watts believes there must be a link between these deaths but he and Judd have difficulty in making the connections they need, not helped by Judd’s  excessive enthusiasm; she is a character who is determined to prove herself, even if that gets in the way of police procedure, and the case suffers as a result.

Judd’s backstory is an interesting one and makes her a character that it is possible to have some empathy with, while Watts is more of a closed book.  Pathologist Dr. Connie Chong is a nice addition to the case, with a rather more cheerful demeanour than her colleagues.

Dark Truths is a solid police procedural mystery which relies on detailed examination of the evidence and A.J. Cross’s familiarity with forensic evidence adds authenticity to the story.

She provides a range of suspects to keep the reader guessing and delivers a well thought through puzzle for the reader to enjoy, albeit that the pace is sometimes quite slow.

Verdict: An interesting start to a new team of investigators. I hope we will see these characters further fleshed out and more character development in future series.

Hive Books                       Waterstones                    Amazon

A.J. Cross, like her heroine Kate Hanson, is a Forensic Psychologist with over twenty years’ experience in the field. She lives in Birmingham with her jazz-musician husband and is the author of two previous Dr Kate Hanson Cold Case mysteries.

A.J. Cross, like her heroine Kate Hanson, is a Forensic Psychologist with over twenty years’ experience in the field. She lives in Birmingham with her jazz-musician husband and is the author of two previous Dr Kate Hanson Cold Case mysteries.

A different kind of end of year #bookpost

It’s the end of December and I had planned to offer you a list of the books that I have most enjoyed this year. But circumstances have changed and this is going to be a different kind of post. So much so that I don’t want replies, thanks. This is personal and I’m sharing it because I want to record how important books have been to me and what the friendship of bookish people has meant.

Some of my book chums will know that I came to book blogging as a result of finding myself having to give up working as a result of severe stress and clinical depression.

In an attempt to give myself a challenge and something to keep my brain working, I began my book blog. Slowly, tentatively, it took shape. That first post, for Sarah Hilary’s Someone Else’s Skin was a tentative foray into book reviewing five years ago in December and slowly as I grew in confidence, I found that book blogging gave me back confidence, introduced me to some of the best people I have met and provided me with endless reading delights, deadline driven activity to keep me focussed and a host of book festivals to introduce me to new authors and like minded people.

This year, despite some challenging accessibility issues (I need a new hip) I have felt renewed and positive. There have been setbacks; an accident at the Edinburgh Book Festival has had long lasting repercussions for my mobility, but I still felt positive and determined to celebrate a big birthday by taking a fabulous luxury trip to Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Hong Kong.

It was indeed fabulous, and though I could have wished for better mobility to enjoy it to the full, I am so glad I took the trip. Again I met some great people and the sheer beauty of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam alone was worth the journey.

HaLong Bay, Vietnam

What many people didn’t know was that my partner of 15 years had very significant health issues which meant that we had to stay apart; he looked after in a care home; never well enough to make the journey to Scotland to be closer to me, but ever hopeful that he could make that happen. We talked most days. We knew he was on palliative care; frequently hospitalised and yet so supportive of my making the trip to South East Asia to celebrate my birthday.

I made the trip knowing he was very unwell, but he’d been that way for at least 5 years. Did he know? I don’t know. But when I got to my final stop in Hong Kong, I was concerned that I couldn’t make contact. Arriving back in London, I found that he had passed away on 23 December. Moved to a hospice while I was away, he left instructions that I was not to be told until I returned to the UK.

So this year has ended on a note that is pretty much breaking my heart. And yet, his life had so little quality, there is comfort in the fact that he is at peace now and his pain has gone. I wish I could have been with him; that will be a source of endless regret for me and yet his selflessness in refusing to bring me home (because of course I would have come home had I known) is typical of the way he would behave.

I’m angry with him, so angry at not telling me, but we make our decisions and for better or worse, we have to live and die with them.

I find though, that in grief, I turn to the remembrance of both the joy we had and the great times we had together and then to the new path I have found on my own in making book friends and forging a new life out of shared passions of a different kind.

So this post is for all of you who have helped reshape my life; who have given me new friendships and things to look forward to. Those who have come to events with me, discussed books and authors, and met me over drinks and yet more books.

I took December off book blogging for my trip. Right now, I don’t feel much like blogging, but what I have learned over the last 5 years is that renewal is possible and that it is possible to take great comfort from people I have never met, yet who feel like old friends.

Tonight I am going to burrow in, have another wee cry, and tomorrow I’m going to do my best to start a new year fresh with a new book and a brand new reviewing slate.

It isn’t everything, but it is something. That and my own friends and family will keep me sane and keep me going. For now, that’s enough.

Thanks for listening and a Happy New Year to you all xx

The Six by Luca Veste @LucaVeste @SimonSchusterUK @jessbarratt88 #TheSix

Source: Review copy
Publication: 26 December 2019 from Simon and Schuster UK
PP: 432
ISBN-13: 978-1471168147

Six friends trapped by one dark secret.

It was supposed to be our last weekend away as friends, before marriage and respectability beckoned. But what happened that Saturday changed everything.

In the middle of the night, someone died. The six of us promised each other we would not tell anyone about the body we buried. But now the pact has been broken. And the killing has started again …

Who knows what we did? And what price will we pay?

I loved Luca Veste’s The Bone Keeper which started with an urban myth – a bogeyman made large when four children go wandering in of one of Liverpool’s woodlands chanting the Bone Keeper song as they go – and then only three came back.

So I was raring to pick up The Six, to see where he was going to take his penchant for grisly tales next.

Our narrator is Matt, a man who is loyal to his friends and in love with his girlfriend, Alexandra. They are preparing to settle down and have a family. But they decide to have one last fling – a nostalgia trip with four of their closest friends – to a nineties themed musical festival.

Matt’s an ordinary bloke. He can’t help it if he thinks the best song of all time is Britney’s Hit Me One More Time. Matt’s narration takes us from the present back into the past where we learn about how the bonds of his friendships were formed and why they are so strong.

So three blokes and three girls go camping in a clearing at the edge of the woods, adjacent to the music festival field.

Everything about this opener feels right. Authentic characters, lots of vivid detail about the 90’s and cultural references that make you feel as if you were living in the era.  It’s a kind of Stand By Me for the 90’s generation.

As you’ll see from the blurb, something terrible happens out in those creepy woods. Something that will mark these six for the rest of their lives. An event that is so horrific it changes them and alters their course forever. A killing is linked to an urban legend, ‘The Candle Man’; he is a flickering figure allegedly responsible for the deaths of a number of missing people across the country. These deaths are apparently marked by the leaving of a lit red candle inside a storm lantern.

The events of that night leave an indelible blot on the six friends who drift apart; relationships are sundered and contact severed. Matt and Alexandra split up; the others simply don’t renew contact. Then a year later, five of them meet up again, at the funeral of the sixth and this serves as the catalyst for a new series of terrible events.

It’s the brilliant contrast between a group of close happy friendships – people you feel you could have known and got on with – to the pale shadows of themselves they become after that music festival. The air that was full of fabulous 90’s songs and culture is now tainted with images of blood and destruction.

Matt becomes almost completely agoraphobic. He is an insomniac, full of anxiety and constantly worried about the existence of the mythical figure who is ‘The Candle Man’.  Does he really exist and if so, is it one person, or two? The internet provides all sorts of theories that link the killings, but the police are not linking the missing people at all.

As Matt becomes increasingly obsessed, his friends start to look at him askance. Is Matt losing it, or is he onto something?

Luca Veste has plotted this book beautifully. His story paths lead us on all sorts of crooked walks, so that you feel like you’re constantly walking on crazy paving – none of which lead to the truth until the shocking, startling denouement.

Verdict: Creepy, atmospheric, full of pace and best of all, wonderfully surprising, this character driven narrative is the perfect read for a cold winter’s day. The Six is a serial killer thriller with a strong heart and an unsettling psyche.

Hive Books                                      Waterstones                                  Amazon

Luca Veste is a writer of Italian and Liverpudlian heritage, married with two young daughters, and one of nine children. He studied psychology and criminology at university in Liverpool.

He is the author of the Murphy and Rossi series. Part psychological thriller, part police procedural, his books follow the detective pairing of DI David Murphy and DS Laura Rossi. The novels are set in Liverpool, bringing the city to life in a dark and terrifying manner, with just a splash of Scouse humour. He also wrote the stand-alone novel, The Bone Keeper, published last year.
His books have been translated and published in the USA, Germany, Czech Republic, and Poland. As well as writing, Luca is also a guitarist and regularly performs with the group The Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers. Luca is also one half of the hysterically funny podcast duo, Two Crime Writers and a Microphone. If you haven’t heard Luca and his partner in crime, Steve Cavanagh, then you really should subscribe!

The Cabin by Jørn Lier Horst trs Anne Bruce (Cold Case Quartet #2) @LierHorst @annembruce @PenguinUKBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 12th December from Penguin
PP: 416
ISBN-13: 978-1405941617

It’s been fifteen years since Simon Meier walked out of his house, never to be seen again.

And just one day since politician Bernard Clausen was found dead at his cabin on the Norwegian coast.

When Chief Inspector William Wisting is asked to investigate, he soon discovers he may have found the key to solving Meier’s disappearance.

But doing so means he must work with an old adversary to piece together what really happened all those years ago.

It’s a puzzle that leads them into a dark underworld on the trail of Clausen’s interests and vices. A shady place from which they may never emerge – especially when he finds it leads closer to home than he ever could have imagined.

I like the William Wisting books. They are solid police procedurals in which the evidence is sifted and examined and proportionate weight given to each piece. Wisting is Chief Inspector in Larvik’s CID and his daughter Line, who lives just down the road with her young daughter Amalie, is now a freelance journalist. Wisting commissions her to work on his latest cold case which is very hush hush and involves the discovery of a very large sum of money at the cabin of a deceased senior politician, Bernard Clausen.

The money is around 15 years old. And 15 years ago a man disappeared and was presumed drowned. These two things seem unrelated, except that the missing man was a friend of Clausen’s son, Lennart, who died in a motorcycle accident around the same time. Wisting is tasked with discreetly finding out where this money came from without it becoming a political scandal. While Line investigates the personal life of Clausen and talks to his party colleagues, Wisting and his investigators trace the origins of the money.

Wisting himself is that strangest of all fictional police detectives and it’s no accident that Lier Horst’s own police experience has played into the creation of this detective. He has no obvious character defects. He neither drinks nor smokes too much. He loves his daughter and volunteers to look after his granddaughter. He is meticulous, softly spoken and not given to melancholia. In short, he is thorough and very competent and his cases are solved by good, old fashioned police work. I’ve said it before, but he is exactly the kind of detective I’d want investigating any case that I had to report.

The story is interesting and the inter-connectedness of the stories plays out at a decent pace. The narrative works well and there’s no hint of this being a translated work, which is how you’d expect it to be in a collaboration that has worked well between author and translator for a number of books.

The dialogue is convincing and the tension comes from an element of danger and violence that threatens Wisting’s family as their investigation gets closer to the truth.

Verdict: The joy of this book is in the slow burning, understated process and the nicely crafted plotting rather than a hugely surprising or climactic denouement, but it is a satisfying conclusion to a layered and fascinating mystery nicely topped off with a dash of political intrigue.

 Hive Books                      Waterstones                    Amazon

Bestselling author Jørn Lier Horst is a Former Senior Investigating Officer from Norway and recently winner of the Glass Key Award for the best Nordic Crime Novel and the prestigious Martin Beck Award. He made his debut in 2004 with the crime novel Key Witness, based on a true murder story. His crime novels have been extremely successful in Europe and are characterised by political and social commentary subtext.

His Wisting series has been bought by the BBC in the UK and will be screened by BBC Four next year. Jørn has also co-written a book with Thomas Enger, Death Deserved, which will be published in February by Orenda Books

Black Summer by M.W.Craven @MWCraven @bethwright26 @LittleBrownUK @TheCrimeVault #blogtour #BlackSummer #TeamTilly

Source: Review copy
Publication: 12 Dec. 2019 from Constable
PP: 416
ISBN-13: 978-1472127495

After The Puppet Show, a new storm is coming . . .

Jared Keaton, chef to the stars. Charming. Charismatic. Psychopath . . . He’s currently serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of his daughter, Elizabeth. Her body was never found and Keaton was convicted largely on the testimony of Detective Sergeant Washington Poe.

So when a young woman staggers into a remote police station with irrefutable evidence that she is Elizabeth Keaton, Poe finds himself on the wrong end of an investigation, one that could cost him much more than his career.

Helped by the only person he trusts, the brilliant but socially awkward Tilly Bradshaw, Poe races to answer the only question that matters: how can someone be both dead and alive at the same time?

And then Elizabeth goes missing again – and all paths of investigation lead back to Poe.

Last year I reviewed Mike Craven’s The Puppet Show and loved it so much that I was determined to get my hands on the sequel. Now Black Summer is out in paperback and I am shouting about it again on the blog tour because this book is everything I look for in a crime novel.

Craven has smashed this one out of the park. Washington Poe and his ‘on the spectrum’ assistant, Tilly Bradshaw, are back and this novel puts them through their paces in an expertly plotted, beautifully written and thrilling crime novel that has instantly leapt into my top books of the year list.

Poe is still getting used to the revelations of The Puppet Show, but there is to be no respite for him. An old case rises from the ashes, pausing only to put a noose over his neck and pull it tight as he becomes the hunted in a police investigation that threatens everything he holds dear.

Like MasterChef on acid, Black Summer is a five star tale of murder in a three Michelin starred celebrity kitchen.  Craven has conceived a well-researched, chilling and wholly enthralling story that grabs the attention and is utterly mesmerising.

Years ago, Poe put celebrity chef Jared Keaton in prison for the murder of his daughter, Elizabeth.  Without a body, it was forensic evidence that convicted Keaton; that and a compelling case crafted by Poe.

Now Elizabeth has reappeared and suddenly it is Poe who is in the spotlight, and not in a good way.

I picked up Black Summer meaning to read a few chapters and was so engrossed I couldn’t stop binge reading. Craven has given us a menu of options fit for a crime gourmand and the individual dishes are rich, complex, well spiced and deeply flavoured.

With Poe and the truly genius Tilly Bradshaw, who puts the real science into this clever forensic concoction, Craven sweetens a rich dark chocolate pot of complex undernotes with the warmth of chilli and a surprising  layered finish that nourishes the soul and lingers in the mind. This is a dish you won’t easily forget and there’s no doubt that I’ll be back for more

Craven’s characterisation is strong; each of Poe’s colleagues stands out as a recognisable individual and some, like forensic pathologist Esther Doyle, you know you want to meet again. Jared Keaton is the epitome of a cruel psychopath; clever, charming and utterly ruthless.

But the stars of this book are Poe himself and the wonderful Tilly Bradshaw. Theirs is a relationship that is based on mutual admiration. Poe is a loner; irascible, dark and cynical. Bradshaw is intensely forensic, a brilliant technologist with endless academic qualifications who can’t boil an egg. Slow to trust, she is devoted to Poe.

The wild Cumbrian landscape adds richness and texture to this dark and atmospheric crime brew, leavened with a sprinkling of dry humour and rich wit.

You can read this as a stand-alone, but I would seriously recommend reading The Puppet Show first. This series is so good, you don’t want to miss anything.

Verdict: A banquet of delights that leaves a lasting taste of satisfied pleasure and yet a longing for more. Craven has smashed this one out of the park and if it doesn’t top the crime fiction charts there’s no justice in this world. Outstanding.

Hive Books                       Waterstones Amazon           

M.W. Craven was born in Carlisle but grew up in Newcastle, running away to join the army at the tender age of sixteen. He spent the next ten years travelling the world having fun, leaving in 1995 to complete a degree in social work with specialisms in criminology and substance misuse. Thirty-one years after leaving Cumbria, he returned to take up a probation officer position in Whitehaven, eventually working his way up to chief officer grade. Sixteen years later he took the plunge, accepted redundancy and became a full-time author. He now has entirely different motivations for trying to get inside the minds of criminals . . .

M. W. Craven is married and lives in Carlisle with his wife, Joanne. When he isn’t out with his springer spaniel, or talking nonsense in the pub, he can be found at punk gigs and writing festivals up and down the country.

The Puppet Show, the first in a two-book deal he signed with the Little, Brown imprint, Constable in 2017, was released to critical acclaim in hardback last year. It has been sold in numerous foreign territories and the production company Studio Lambert, creators of the award-winning Three Girls, have optioned it for TV. The sequel, Black Summer, is out this month.

Website:   mwcraven.com

Twitter:     @MWCravenUK

The Home by Sarah Stovell @sarahlovescrime @orendaBooks #TheHome #mustread

Source: Review copy
Publication: Out in e-book now and in paperback on 23 January 2020 from Orenda Books
PP: 276
ISBN-13: 978-1912374731

One more little secret

One more little lie…

When the body of a pregnant fifteen-year-old is discovered in a churchyard on Christmas morning, the community is shocked, but unsurprised. For she lived in The Home, the residence of three young girls, whose violent and disturbing pasts have seen them cloistered away…

As a police investigation gets underway, the lives of Hope, Lara and Annie are examined, and the staff who work at the home are interviewed, leading to shocking and distressing revelations … and clear evidence that someone is seeking revenge.

A gritty, dark and harrowing psychological thriller, The Home is also a heartbreaking drama and a piercing look at the underbelly of society, where children learn what they live… if they are allowed to live at all…

I’m wrung out after reading Sarah Stovell’s stunning new book, The Home. After the excellent Exquisite, I knew she could write beautifully but this is another step up in her writing prowess.

If ever there was a case for a book that should include emergency puppies with every copy, this is it. Sarah’s writing though is spot on; sharp, beautifully intense and very dark. I sat down to begin this book after lunch one day and at 7pm I was still reading, unable to give it up, such is the grip it extended on my heart.

The Home is a finely crafted, beautifully wrought story of three young girls, hell no, three young children. Each has come from a very difficult background. Each has been unable to root in the foster system and now these three children are in a Home; the only occupants of Hillfoot House, out in the rural Lake District where there is less opportunity for trouble making. There may be one adult for every child, but the staff are underpaid and demoralised and the children themselves are lost and hurting in a world that has never, ever been kind to them and their behaviour is always designed to challenge their keepers, for that is what they feel like – animals in a small zoo.

These are characters who stay with you; characters who burrow their way into your heart until it aches for them; people whose hurt you want to take away, knowing that is never possible. A short opening prologue sets a devastating tone of bleakness that never disappears; preparing the reader for some very tough times ahead.

It is Christmas Eve and the manager of Hillfoot House, Helen, is preparing Christmas dinner for her own children when she receives news that one of her charges at the home has been found dead. Another lies beside her, frantic with grief.

Annie and Hope are 15 year old residents of the home who formed a bond they thought was unbreakable. Both had deeply traumatic upbringings with parents who for one reason or another were unable to take responsibility for their own lives, never mind those of the children they brought into the world. Together they have found love in each other.

The third resident is 12 year old Lara. Her background is no different, but she is younger and so completely traumatised that she no longer speaks at all, but is introverted and simply curls up as small as she can, watching and listening to everything that goes on in the home.

The story of these vulnerable children is told in three voices. Annie, Hope and Helen. Annie and Hope’s stories are grim. Theirs was no rosy cheeked childhood full of laughter and joy; rather they have tales of a darker and more sordid kind; of drugs and abuse, alcohol and harm. They tell their stories with such honesty and clarity that it is difficult not to flinch away from what they have endured.

Helen, as manager, tries her best to bring warmth and kindness into their lives, but has no resources and is overwhelmed by the challenges she faces.

Annie clings on to the hope that she can better herself through studying. She believes that she can escape her past through diligence, hard work and sheer force of will. Hope has no such self-regard; her whole life she has been dependent on others to survive and has undergone some truly awful experiences in order to do so.

But in finding each other, Annie and Hope have created a space where each feels safe with the other and they have been making plans to live together when as is inevitable, the home is forced to close in cost savings measures. Whether the reader can rely on their narration, though is a question that hangs in the air as we read.

The Home is the story of these three girls and how one of them came to be lying dead and pregnant in the churchyard, her body held by her grief-stricken partner. It is strong, compelling and has an utterly haunting impact.

Beautifully told, Stovell keeps the reader guessing as she builds up a picture of the lives of these children which comprise self-harm, child-grooming and psychological abuse and yet shows us that hope can still shine through in an immersive thriller that keeps the reader guessing until the very end.

Verdict: There’s tension, mystery and shedloads of suspense threaded through this spell-binding psychological thriller. It may be dark and heart-breaking, but it is also immersive, raw and captivating. The Home goes straight on to the must read list for 2020.

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Hive Books

Sarah Stovell was born in 1977 and spent most of her life in the Home Counties before a season working in a remote North Yorkshire youth hostel made her realise she was a northerner at heart. She now lives in Northumberland with her partner and two children and is a lecturer in Creative Writing at Lincoln University. Her debut psychological thriller, Exquisite, was called ‘the book of the summer’ by Sunday Times.

Fairy Rock by Stephen Watt @StephenWattSpit @RedSquirrelPress @LoveBooksGroup

Source: Review copy
Publication: 21st September 2019 from Red Squirrel Press
PP: 92
ISBN-13: 978-1910437841

Glasgow is correctly lauded for its wonderful characters and hospitality but at the turn of the Millennium it was dubbed the ‘Murder Capital of Europe’ with sectarian divisions and organised crime rife in the city. Four of its natives have been raised around the city’s Bridgeton area, cultivated by its ill-omened beliefs, and now have to separately find a way to subsist. But one crime family firmly believes in the tradition of torture and a novel way of disposing of its detractors. Who will emerge smelling of roses—or end up pushing the roses up from the earth below?

One of the very real joys of writing about books is the opportunity it gives me to pick up something unusual; something I might not normally have gone for but which turns out to be really quite special. Stephen Watt’s Fairy Rock is just such a work.

A crime novel in verse and not only that, but set in the midst of where I live. Not just close or nearby, but in the immediate locality. And it is dark. So dark it is as black as the devil’s soul. All the worst aspects of human life are in this book. Rape, incest, endless drug selling and taking, violence, gore, sectarianism, gun running and of course, murder all play their part in the daily lives of our characters.

Set in Bridgeton, Stephen Watt has written a powerful story that follows the lives of a crime family and four residents as they scrape their way through each day. Bridgeton is ruled with a rod of iron or in this case, with granite curling stones from Ailsa Craig, by the local crime family – and woe betide anyone who fails in their role or tries to cross them.

This is a world where the fastest runner lives longest, but even then it’s a short life. Watt’s descriptions are vivid and authentic; his characters stand out like those in a Ken Currie or early Peter Howson painting. Watt knows the awfulness of the lives they lead and squares up to it, shoving it in our faces and showing us what is going on under our noses, lest we be in any doubt.

Fairy Rock is a poet’s Trainspotting, with more violence (believe me, the de-gloving sequences are eye wateringly brutal) and yet there’s a vein of humour that permeates the whole, usually at the Police’s expense.

Danny, Seamus, Deek and Claire have their dark and sorry lives mapped out in front of them. Danny, is so messed up that fellow pupil Laura has to grass him up while at school in order to feel safe. Watt’s imagery is startling and striking and his poem follows a linear trajectory as we trace the various crimes, the impact on the characters, and the efforts of the police to stop them.

Verdict: I really got immersed in Fairy Rock, the world’s first crime novel in verse and I’d certainly read more of Stephen Watt’s raw, dark and visceral work. This author’s crime poetry is very much to my taste.

Fairy Rock is available from Red Squirrel Press

Stephen Watt was born in the Vale of Leven in 1979. His awards include first prize in the Poetry Rivals Slam, the StAnza International Digital Poetry Slam, and the Tartan Treasures award. Notable collections which he has curated include the Joe Strummer Foundation collection Ashes To Activists (2018) and the James Watt bicentenary booklet Horsepower (2019). He is Dumbarton Football Club’s Poet-in-Residence and was appointed the Makar for the Federation of Writers (Scotland) in 2019. He lives in Dumbarton with his wife Keriann and pug Beanz.

In 2017 Andrew Smith, then Director, now Chair of the Scottish Writers’ Centre, came up with a dynamic idea to run a Twitter campaign inviting poets to pitch an idea and the winner would have a poetry pamphlet published by the SWC’s publisher partner, Red Squirrel Press. Poet, critic, essayist, editor, designer and typesetter Gerry Cambridge, poet Sheila Templeton, writer, musician and Editor of both Postbox Press (the literary fiction imprint of Red Squirrel Press) and Postbox International Short Story Magazine, Colin Will, and myself took part in a panel at the SWC, ‘How to get published’ in October 2017. Andrew received many entries, a shortlist was drawn up, Stephen Watt subsequently won and persuaded me to publish a full-length collection.

— Sheila Wakefield, Founding Editor, Red Squirrel Press

Run by Jackie McLean @JackieJamxx @ThunderPointLtd @LoveBooksGroup #RUN

Source: Review copy
Publication: 17 October 2019 from Thunder Point Ltd
PP: 256
ISBN-13: 978-1910946640


DI Donna Davenport and her team are under pressure.With the hunt on for the country’s most notorious cop killer, and an ongoing complex international investigation, the murder of a local thug during a football match is the last thing the police need.But as more incidents overload the police, and fear brings vigilante mobs onto the streets, suspicion grows that the mayhem is being orchestrated.

One man can make it stop. With the city heading towards chaos and disaster Donna prepares to abandon caution and the rules, even if it means she is ostracised by her own team.

I am delighted to welcome Jackie McLean to my blog today to discuss her road to publication. Jackie’s latest novel, Run, is the final part of the trilogy that began with Toxic and was followed up with Shadows. Her books are set in the North East of Scotland and her protagonist, D.I. Donna Davenport is unusual in that every day she is living with a condition that would surprise people if they knew.

Jackie joins me today to discuss her publication process and what she has learned from her experience. Welcome Jackie and over to you.

The road to publication

My third crime novel, Run, was published in October, five years on from publication of my first one. Here, I’m going to talk about the road to publication, something of the publication process, and things I’ve learned along the way.

The first thing that I’ve learned, and that many aspiring writers may be unaware of, is how long the publication process can be. It can take a year or more from having your book accepted by a publisher to seeing it in print – and finding a publisher in the first place can take even longer than that.

When I finished the first in my series, Toxic, I decided to try and find an agent. This involved sending it out to several agents who were open to submissions for crime fiction. Agents receive many more submissions than they can ever hope to give full attention to, and so it can take a long time for an agent to get round to looking at one and responding to it. It’s a nerve wracking time for a writer, as you wonder what feedback (if any) you might hear, and as you try and temper your hopes and dreams, being all too aware of the very high chance of rejection.

As it happened, I did receive rejections from the agents I submitted to, although along with those came encouraging words, which helped. Next I sent Toxic into the Yeovil Literary Prize, where it was shortlisted. Emboldened by this, I made further revisions to the book, and prepared to send it directly to smaller independent publishers (which you can do without having an agent). I was fortunate that the first one I sent it to, ThunderPoint, were looking for new work, and they accepted Toxic for publication.

At that point, you then have to hand your book over to be edited by someone who is not your relative, and who does not have to say nice things about it – another thing that can be daunting for a writer! However, if you want to be published, you have to be prepared to see your book at this point as a joint venture. Fortunately for me, the editing process wasn’t too painful, although it did take some time – my editor had to have time to read it and decide on the changes she wanted; I then re-drafted the text based on her advice; she had to have time to read it again, and so on until the final edit was done.

This, I would say, is the second thing I learned about the road to publication – when you finish writing your book, it’s by no means the end. Be prepared to re-write it and re-write it again until your editor says it’s ready. While it’s your work, it’s the publisher who will be taking it to market (with the financial risks involved in that), and it’s important to trust their judgement about what’s going to work best.

Once the editing process is over, however, the remaining road to publication can be remarkably rapid. There’s the book cover to agree, and promotional activity to arrange (book shop events, social media book blog tours, and so on), and before you know it, publication day arrives. The third lesson I learned? Being a crime writer is a whole lot of fun! It’s a lot more important that I realised that you get as involved as possible in the crime fiction community. There are always events, festivals, and online chat to take part in, and it’s a very friendly and supportive community. If you’re a new writer, take the plunge and get involved – other writers, bloggers and readers will have your back.

Writing Toxic, took me a long time (more than ten years, in fact), because back then, writing was nothing more than a hobby. It didn’t matter how long I took to write a book, and it didn’t matter how many times I changed the ideas in it – it was only for my own amusement. Having a book published changed that for me. While I still write for enjoyment as much as I always have, I’m now much more acutely aware of deadlines. So, lesson number four…

Once you get a book published, people will immediately start asking you when the next one is coming out. For me, it was three years later, because I still had to write the book! If I was to do things all over again, I would wait until I had two (three would be better) books ready before approaching a publisher.

One final lesson? The thrill of seeing your book in print never diminishes. I was just as excited with the third one as I was with the first – maybe even more, so here’s to the fourth book (which I’m writing feverishly as we speak…).

Thanks so much Jackie and I look forward eagerly to your next book (no pressure!)


Jackie lives in Glasgow and has a varied background, including being a government economist, a political lobbyist, and running a pet shop in Glasgow’s Southside (ask her anything about pets).  She currently works with East Ayrshire Council, where until recently her job involved frequent visits to Kilmarnock Prison.
She also forms part of the Dangerous Dames and Murder & Mayhem along with a number of other crime writers.  She was one of Bloody Scotland’s 2019 Crime in the Spotlight authors.
Until recently, Jackie ran the writing group at Waterstones Braehead, and has also run creative writing sessions with the men in Kilmarnock Prison. 

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